Author Archives: Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

Feelings: Friend or Foe

There is this phrase that came out a few years ago. I still love it even though it is used all the time now. It’s popularity was helped by the .gif and meme phenomenon. My friends and I use it to refer to songs or stories. My husband describes the popular TV show This Is Us with the phrase as a way of gauging if he is up for watching it or not. And my clients often use it to describe our conversations or in hopes of avoiding other conversations. Simply put, this little phrase shows up everywhere.

All the feels. 

All the feels has become the common way to pluralize our experience and allow it to be more complete. It communicates to others some degree of weightiness impacting us one way or another. It’s the quick joke that can lighten the mood of a heavy conversation. It’s the short quip that conveys the impact of an event. And it’s the phrase that has given us permission to share more emotionally than in the past. With so many feelings, even all the feels, our connections and relationships with feelings surely has changed. Or have they?

Are feelings really any more of a thing we welcome and experience than they were in the past? Or do we still see them as a vulnerability, a weakness, and a burden?

In working on this blog, I googled quotes on feelings. The results were overwhelming and somewhat unapproachable. It seems that every author, every poet, most artists of any sort, not to mention countless therapists, religious figures, and pop culture icons, all have thoughts about feelings. What a funny sentence—thoughts about feelings. Perhaps they are also expressed as feelings about feelings. But more on that at a later time.

No matter what, feelings are a shared and unavoidable phenomenon. Feelings happen as life happens. The argument of which comes first, thoughts or feelings, similar to the chicken or the egg conversation, exists in the therapy world, but that is not the debate of this platform. Here, rather, I invite us to look at our thoughts on feelings. What do you believe about feelings? Are feelings friendly, informative, even helpful? Or are they foolish, stupid, and maybe our foe?

One of my favorite therapy exercises with clients is one in which I process with them their relationship to their emotions; in essence, how do they get along with their feelings. It is often revealing as a question that many have never considered. Yet, we all have a way of relating to our feelings. On any given day I have clients who obey their feelings to a tee, listening to their every whim and worry, and then others who despise their feelings and pretending they don’t have them, bury them into the depths of their core. Some embrace all the feels and some loathe all the feels. I don’t believe any one of these is more “right” than the other, and in fact, they both have their pros and cons. But perhaps even before how we relate to our feelings, we first have to look at some of our thoughts, and feelings, about feelings.

I found a few quotes from folks current and historical that embody so much of what I hear others say about emotions. As you read these, see what internal responses are happening in you. Do you agree or disagree? Are you annoyed or in favor of how these folks articulate the relationship we have with feelings? After reading these quotes, I invite you to pause a moment and think about one belief you have about feelings that impacts and informs the way you interact with them in both yourself and others.

Author, researcher, and Ph.D., Brene Brown states, “All the stuff that keeps you safe from feeling scary emotions? They also keep you from feeling the good emotions. You have to shake those off. You have to become vulnerable.

In his work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, poet and playwright Oscar Wilde writes, “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.

UCLA psychiatrist and author, Judith Orloff suggests, “How you react emotionally is a choice in any situation.

And Anne Frank penned in her diary,But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.

Most likely your beliefs originated in childhood and/or are based on impactful experiences you’ve had throughout your life. As experiential beings, feelings are vivid and real and can impact us for a lifetime. Biologically speaking, feelings occur in our brainstem, deep in the reptilian part of our brain that is essential to survival—think flight, fight, or freeze.  And one of the fascinating things about this part of our brain, as it relates to feelings, is it has no sense of time. It doesn’t know the threat of a large dog when you are a child apart from the threat of the barista getting your order wrong when you are running late to work. It isn’t meant to give us logical information, it is meant to give us information about survival, threat, values, and the like.

What we do with this information our feelings are communicating, and in a lot of ways, what we were taught about this information, often gives way to our current way of relating to our emotions. We hate them, we love them, we express them, we bury them, we try to turn certain ones off, we avoid others at all costs—this is the way with all the feels. And while I don’t agree with all the above quotes, I think they certainly capture a great deal of the way many of us relate to feelings.

It would take a great deal longer and many more words to fully unpack our relationship with feelings, but I want to leave you thinking about your relationship with them. And I want to propose a possibly new thought. What if emotions aren’t good or bad, friend or foe, but simply just are? They are a part of our experience. They have the potential to protect us or lead us into distress. They can be influenced but our experience of them is not fully in our control. Feelings come and go, they ebb and flow. They desire reaction and yet we have the ability to slow down and respond.

Maybe a hard sell to some, but I find myself on the friendly side of the feelings equation. They are there for a reason, and that reason isn’t our destruction! Life seems less colorful, passionate, and complete when emotions get pushed away. Feelings connect us, they serve us, they motivate us, and they ignite us. And yet, with all parts of our life, feelings must be in balance. They must rarely be given the reigns to completely control our decisions and behaviors. They are not the enemy, but they are also not the king.

I hope to have given you food for thought this blog. We each are continually navigating and working on all our relationships, our personal relationship with feelings included. I conclude with this quote from my beloved author C.S. Lewis, who I believe captures the essence of a balanced approach to allowing feelings a unique place at our table while also a suggesting a specific route in which they are to be engaged.

“The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”
― C.S. Lewis

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

Let’s talk about your relationship with feelings!

Do Unto Others

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The Golden Rule; it is plastered around elementary schools and rooted into our psyche with the hope of encouraging interactions with one another that honor, respect, and serve. Ideally, if we can just think about how we would like others to view and treat us, then maybe we will do the same to them. It’s a win for everyone and serves as a subtle reminder of general behavior expectations for children, adolescents, and adults.

Yet what if the Golden Rule is also for ourselves and not just how we treat others?

It’s fair to say that a great deal of us want others to give us the benefit of the doubt, encourage us, allow for our mistakes and do-overs, and genuinely think the best of us. We’d like others to be kind to us, to assume we are trying our hardest, and that our intentions are pure. A lot of us fight for this in friendships, workplaces, and marriages and we may eve debate leaving them if we don’t get this sort of treatment. In short, perhaps we want others to treat us the way we wished we treated ourselves.

So what if we did? What if we gave ourselves the grace that is the essence and driving force of the Golden Rule?

I invite you to examine the ways in which you are treating yourself and if they are anything like the ways in which you treat others? Would you say the things to friends that you say to yourself when you make mistakes? Would you call your spouse the name you call yourself when you are disappointed in your abilities? Would you tell your co-workers the things you tell yourself about your work and production?

If your answer is no, never, or no way, that’s a great starting place. Think of the mercy you freely extend to those you love and care for. How can you extend this to yourself? Maybe it’s creating a postcard to reminding you to love and accept yourself. It might be journaling an affirmation a day about something positive you embody. Or, perhaps it is finding just one of your sticky negative self-talk statements and becoming intentional about challenging and changing it over the coming weeks.

And as I offer up this invitation, I am also fully aware that some of us will answer with an emphatic yes. Yes, I would treat others the way I treat myself. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, either way, the heart of the matter is still important. If treating them kindly, then I applaud you and the way you treat yourself and others. If less so, consider asking yourself the following: Are you ok with treating others in ways that you have experienced? Are these interactions with self and others wounding, discouraging, and hurtful or uplifting, encouraging, and merciful? Does it serve you to be demanding of yourself or others? Is it the kind of man or woman you want to be?

Do unto others and do unto yourself.

And so if you desire to treat yourself and/or others differently, I encourage you to start by learning to let go of judgment. Let go of labels and ineffective interpretations and make way for more factual information. Sticking with the facts of what we observe, both inside and outside of ourselves, helps us to see what we are working with and on—in this moment, regarding this situation, and with these circumstances.

It is here, in the light of what is actually happening, be it a success or failure, an accomplishment or mistake, that we can choose how to treat ourselves. You can let go of being this or that and allow yourself to merely experience it instead. You can allow yourself to either separate from your latest performance or become enslaved by it. It is here, in the reatlity of an individual situation, that you can choose to be kind in your thoughts, be gracious in your feelings, and be encouraging in your actions—both to yourself and to others.

Go forth. Do unto others as you’d want to be done to you. And make sure both are in line with the values you hold to and the person you want to be.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Curious about how to live this way? Contact me!

Alone With Myself

The busyness of life can make it easy to avoid being alone with yourself. Everything from errands to emails and carpools to committees keeps our time locked up. iPhones and Instagram give us the freedom to search and scan anyplace and allow for us to numb our own thoughts and experiences. We put music in our ears and videos in front of our eyes, entering into the noise that tunes out our own thoughts, emotions, and inner experiences. We never have to be bored and if we are not interested in something or someone, we simply tune in to tune out.

But, what is the cost of tuning out ourselves?

What happens when we forget to practice knowing, listening, and caring for ourselves is an unsettling thought. The risk of being disconnected and distracted from the one relationship we will always be a part of is significant. Self-awareness is subpar. Creativity is compromised. Self-soothing is sacrificed. Interdependence is irrelevant. And awareness is absent.

Like any relationship, to learn and know the other, we must spend time together. We learn ourselves in this same way. We spend time in thought, learning about where our mind takes us–what ideas it brings up, what stories it tells us, and what it longs to know more of. We spend time in emotion, noticing what information our feelings are giving us and how they are hoping to serve us best. And with time we become curious and responsive to our feelings rather than avoidant and reactive.

“Truly transformational knowledge is always personal, never merely objective. It involves knowing of, not merely knowing about. And it is always relational. It grows out of a relationship to the object that is known—whether this is God or one’s self.”

―David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself

As Benner writes, and I echo, “knowing of” is different than knowing “about,” or knowing facts about oneself. You can know you don’t like eggplant, classic rock, or math. Knowing of though, knowing of is knowledge about your identity. It is the backdrop to what makes you tick and how you know your worth. It’s the awareness of your comfort with certain ideas and fear around others. It’s the weight of resting in your abilities and limitations. It’s the why behind your preference of ideas and information that resonate in your head and heart.

Knowing of oneself is the beautifully messy practice of being seen by yourself, faults and all, and learning yourself. It’s going deeper into your needs and wants, stretching yourself in acknowledging the parts of you that create discontentment, and making peace through acceptance and love for the unique way in which you are you. It is learning to be ok with you, and maybe even learning to like you, not in spite of your humanness, but alongside it.

This isn’t an excuse to stay stuck or ineffective. Rather, an honest acceptance of where you are and what you are doing, effective or not, that gives grace to your faults and less desirable parts.  This self-given grace gives way to growth and change. It cannot help but give birth to ideas, talents, and passions. As you learn the ways in which you best learn, grow, connect, and soothe, you move towards goals, values, and contentment.

As the temptation towards busy arises within you this coming month, I encourage you to take time alone. Absorb the silence on an early morning run, letting your mind and heart connect. Pause over a cup of coffee, no agenda or technology, simply noticing those around you. Make space to learn yourself by experiencing yourself without distraction or easy ways of disconnecting. Learn to be alone with yourself and learn to be in the best relationship with the one person who will be with you the rest of your life.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Feel like this connected with you? Give me a call!

 

 

Worth Some Pain

Have you ever gotten a really good massage? You know, the ones that leave you a little sore the next day and even hurt a little in the midst of receiving. The massage therapist pushes on muscles that have been under or overworked and you breathe deeply to take your mind off the soreness radiating from the tissue deep within. Sometimes it tickles, sometimes you tense up, and sometimes it simply feels on fire. Your body releases tension and toxins, and slowly but surely your body relaxes and realigns.

This may sound terrible to some of you, and that’s fair, but I invite you to stick around and keep reading. It is true, this kind of massage is not for everyone. It certainly may not be the relaxing experience that you had imagined for a day at the spa. The deep tissue work that hurts can be too much for some people and they happily prefer, and are most content, with a Swedish massage. Perhaps you even think pain is a waste of money when calm unwinding is on the agenda. And in the realm of massage, this is fine and good.

But what about the rest of your life? Are there places you avoid pain and this avoidance also keeps you from relief, joy, perhaps even freedom?

There are things in every part of our lives that require a bit of pain to reach the goodness and enjoyment on the other side. Be this getting into an exercise routine, working out the pain of your marriage, learning guitar, even going to the dentist. Our muscles are sore from lifting weights, our hearts are tender as we try new ways of interacting with our spouse, our fingers hurt and our frustrations high as we strum a guitar for the first time, and our mouth poked at, maybe even bleeding, as the dentist assures the health of our gums and teeth.

We learn to withstand these things because we trust they are ultimately for our good or things we want. We accept the temporary pain and make peace with it. What seems like a terribly uncomfortable experience actually leads us to a greater joy. And yet these experiential learning labs don’t necessarily transfer to the emotional side of our life. When the possibility of feelings of rejection or insignificance arise, we dodge and manipulate with the best of them. Why do so many of us actively avoid pain?

Because it hurts.

And that’s the point.

Not all hurt is equal and not all hurt is bad. Our relationship with pain is of utmost importance because pain usually accompanies growth. The saying “pain is temporary” couldn’t be truer and our mindset around our ability to tolerate the temporary nature of pain must be strengthened. We must learn new ways to accept pain as necessary for the lives we want to live and the men and women we want to be. We must practice ways to endure pain for the pleasure, peace, and possibility that lie on the other side.

This is not a call to run haphazardly into foolish relationships and unsafe experiences. Pain will find us; we do not need to run head on into it. However, it is an invitation to not avoid pain at all costs. Pain often times isn’t good or bad, it just is. It’s a part of our experience and a part of our life. We are not given the choice of pain or no pain, and yet we are given the complete ability in how to respond. Our journey is how we respond. Our growth is how we allow for and dare I say, embrace, the pain that comes our way.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

For more on creating a new relationship with pain, email me.

 

Containing and Keeping Yourself

It is common for folks to discuss the need to protect themselves from unsafe people. Often times, this stretches beyond the physical safety and presents an emotional concern. A roommate, a co-worker, a parent, or partner each have the potential to create lasting wounds. As I hear stories of abuse and abandonment and hurt turned to harm, it is understandable what these folks mean and gives context to what they deem as unsafe.

This painful impact that others have created has the potential to give great understanding to the recipients’ behaviors. In response to the pain we’ve survived, we adapt and change in ways to help us avoid pain in the future. Some folks shut down and withdrawal. Some busy themselves and pursue perfection. Some let loose and let go. There is no one particular right way to react all the time, though some routes are more effective than others. When we are trying to make it, it is important we learn to protect and boundary ourselves from the unsafe people and places of this world.

Typically when we discuss the idea of and need for boundaries, our minds drift to building a fortress of safety around ourselves that no one can penetrate. Our hearts are tucked away from hurt, though we may portray a desire for closeness and present welcoming. We learn to manipulate and orchestrate ways in which to get our needs for relationship met all the while staying in our safe little bubble. And as we deftly avoid pain, our well-intentioned protection can become a way of qualifying our own hurtful behaviors.

It doesn’t start out malicious. Perhaps our boundaries look like leaving a conversation without regard for the other or exploding in anger after being wounded. We justify our reactions, our behavior, and our truth. Our emotions drive us and we create wreckage in our rearview. Our protective lies become our only reality. It might be drinking to numb or fighting to connect, defensiveness to protect or blaming to avoid. Slowly and surely our previously adaptive ways of protecting become swords that wound others. So as we acknowledge the different styles of coping, we also must begin to see boundaries as not only a way to protect us from the world, but also to protect the world from us.

I once heard it said that boundaries are like hula-hoops, one around us to protect and one around us to contain. Protection, we get that. Containment, on the other hand, containment is so equally important and yet so easily overlooked. Containment is our way of taking care of ourselves and not recklessly letting our baggage crash into those around us. Containment is self-soothing, problem-solving, keeping our side of the street clean, living our values, meeting our own needs, showing up in difficult situations, and taking responsibility. Simply, containment is essential.

The idea of containing and keeping one’s self is not based on a belief that we are all dangerous and terribly harmful to one another. Rather, containing and keeping one’s own self, allows for healthy space between us and others, and allows for the best possible solutions to our own problems. When we contain ourselves we know what’s ours to own and what’s not, we can take responsibility for our actions, and we are free to show up as the men and women we desire to be.

Containing myself allows me to be the solution to my problems, and this is the ultimate gift to myself. Keeping means I learn to check in with myself and meet my own needs, especially when others are unable to meet them. Containing gives me the freedom to set boundaries in a way that I am proud of. Keeping myself provides safety because I am able to care for myself in ways perfectly unique to what I need and want. Containing myself prevents my hurt from hurting others. Keeping myself allows me to hold myself together when it feels the world is trying to take from me.

Containing ourself is just as much for the world as for us, as it provides a foundation for own contentment. So how do we contain and keep ourselves?

Perhaps best learned in relationship, containing yourself is often first practiced in the safety and space of trust and bumping up against others who won’t give up or let go. We learn that others are not able to make us ok and yet that doesn’t relate to their care or love for us. We experience their consistency while recognizing they are not picking up our emotional distress. We are encouraged to find new ways to soothe ourselves and create practices that help us be our own best resource.

As we learn to be the answer to our own problems, ultimately, we must tune into ourselves. Containment requires a sense of honesty and knowing one’s self. This looks like mindfully learning and tuning into what we are feeling beneath the outbursts or isolation, saying no to things that we cannot offer free of expectation, asking for what we need, and accepting that others may or may not meet that need. We take ownership of our behavior rather than make excuse. And remembering we are responsible for how we treat others, we handle our pain in order to not injure another.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

 

Learning to Let People Down

It’s been over a month since I’ve written much. Not just a blog, but anything. The last blog was a bit hard and though well-received, it didn’t make life easier. I have been busy and tired. I have had to renegotiate my schedule and stay true to my own boundaries. I have had to sacrifice keeping my word at all costs and release the irrational belief that I have control over what folks think about me and how I impact them.

Ultimately, I have had to learn to let others down for the sake of myself and my sense of well-being.

I typically blog weekly and have multiple blogs in waiting for weeks when life does get chaotic and busy. It helps to eliminate the pressure on myself and allows me a comforting cushion on a self-imposed deadline. I also blog not only for myself but for others who have encouraged me and share my writing. I have folks holding me accountable for taking the risks of putting my thoughts out there, all of which keep me on a schedule.

For the most part, I love this. I find joy in connecting with others through struggle and story. The creativity of saying possibly recycled thoughts in new ways, ways hopefully folks can relate to, has fueled me. I literally have 43 titled and unfinished blogs in waiting because I get ideas after a session or in conversation with a friend or over dinner with my husband and start something I don’t have time to complete. I enjoy the process. I enjoy the challenge. I enjoy the regularity. I enjoy the creating. I enjoy the writing.

But life happened and I got behind.

As weeks passed, my computer closed and my will lacking, guilt and shame stated to creep in. The days I typically post a new blog would come and go and my inner voice would whisper words of disappointment. I’m a failure who can’t keep her commitments. I knew I shouldn’t have taken this on. I was probably just lucky folks liked them anyway. Maybe it’s best to stop while you’re ahead. After allI had committed to something and here I was, having only made it a few months.

It wasn’t only here that I found shame creeping in. I also wasn’t able to take on some of the workload I wanted. I had to create gaps for the exhaustion and boundaries for my schedule. I had to say no, often followed by an apology and plea for forgiveness and grace. I passed on commitments or showed up the best I could because in this season that I was struggling to give my all.

Life was forcing me to let others down. Life was forcing me to choose me.

The feelings of guilt and shame and the thoughts that something was wrong with me because I couldn’t hold and do it all pulled on my heart and made choosing me difficult. I tried to push myself while knowing the truth. If I didn’t let go of somethings, it was going to cost me a lot of things. My values would be compromised and I would ultimately be much more distraught with myself.

So I picked me and I made hard decisions. I let things slip and I passed on offers for more this or that. I negotiated responsibilities that others tried to give me. I allowed the space for the feelings and fears, yet kept true to the woman I want to be, the wife I want to be, the counselor I want to be, the daughter I want to be, the friend I want to be, and ultimately the disciple I want to be.

While, I can never truly know if I let others down, my heart says I did. Most people report that I did no such thing; their grace and mercy abounded. I experienced kindness and care from my inner circle and few questions from those impacted. Nothing and no one, other than myself, suggested that anyone was let down by my need to take care of me. I was intentional in how I let others down and perhaps the manner in which I did so helped as well.

Change is tough and learning, like all growth, tends to be uncomfortable, if not down right painful. Learning to let others down, to possibly disappoint family and friends, co-workers and clients, it isn’t easy for a great deal of us. After all I am in the helping profession–I come alongside others and help shoulder their burdens for a season–so it’s reasonably hard to have to limit those I can help. Especially because I love what I do.

However, I am a better woman when I take care of me first. I am a stronger woman when I let go of the fear of letting others down and choose what I need. I am a content woman when I act on my values. I am a healthier woman when I listen to my body, heart, and head. I am an intentional woman when I know what I can and cannot give. I am a grounded woman when I live in balance and mindfully negotiate my priorities. And I am a more complete woman when I learn the beauty of letting others down.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

It is hard to let others down and yet it is so freeing when you allow yourself the grace and space to accept it will happen. To talk more about this journey, contact me today.

When It’s Hard to Hope

I recently had coffee with a good friend and we discussed marriage, travel, ideas for an upcoming talk I have; the normal things between long-standing friends. We laughed about memories and made plans for us and our spouses to get together. I knew we had connected to discuss a recent loss in my life and yet talking about the normal things felt safe. I wasn’t exactly intentionally avoiding, but I wasn’t just letting things out.

And then she asked how I was doing.

Not good, ok, heart-broken, better… they were all the truth. It depended on the hour and who I was with. It depended on the last time I had cried and what I was doing. Sometimes even I didn’t know how I was doing because sometimes life throws you a curveball that you don’t see coming. And while you want to talk about the struggle, sometimes you want to just talk about the other stuff and pretend your world is normal.

The pain that occurs with loss can be overwhelming. You wrestle with your reality throughout the day and perhaps finally come to terms with it only to go to bed and awaken with the pressure to reaccept it once more. The world continues to turn, to celebrate birthdays and baseball games, to gather and go to school and work. No one seems to pause and take note of your grief. And the heartache makes it hard to move forward with hope.

So, what do we do and where do we turn when heartache makes it hard to hope?

In the days following the news I alluded to, I noticed my dueling desires. I wanted to be alone, watch TV, and not face the rising sun and incoming day. This was alongside my longing to connect, to have someone reach out and ask how I was doing, to gaze into friends lives on social media, and constantly check my email and texts. I wanted to exercise, to run, sweat and push myself. I also wanted to stay in bed and not even move so far as to the living room. I wanted to cry and I longed to laugh. I wanted to give up and I was desperate for hope.

And somedays I didn’t know what I wanted or where to turn. But I did know this: Whatever you do, Linds, keep on going. For it was necessary to be together and necessary to be alone. It was important to laugh and important to cry. It was helpful to push myself physically and helpful to give myself grace. And it was essential to continue on, both continuing routine and creating space to pause. Even amid the truth of it being hard to hope, we have to keep going.

And as we keep going and allowing for the different twists and turns our heart takes us on, we turn to God, to friends, and to those who have walked a similar journey. We let others know of the ache and risk being a burden to allow others the gift of caring for us well. Slowly an hour turns into an afternoon and an afternoon into a day and we realize we are still going. We become less annoyed at the morning and more willing to step out and show up. As we hold onto our basic values and practices, share with others, and allow space for feelings, heartbreak slowly gives way for hope to return.

However, hopes return is not without going through the mess, the feels, the ups and downs, and the risks. Hope is a scary thing. Hope has the potential to let us fall and fall hard. Hope has the ability to leave us embarrassed, hurt, lonely, sad, and wrecked. When it’s hard to hope, we may be tempted to throw in the towel, but little is to be gained from giving in and giving up. Hope, even when it’s hard, must return to propel us on onward.

A life without hope is simply no way to live. We have to have hope. And ultimately, when it is hard to hope we must connect. This may be to others and is most fully with God. Hope in things and outcomes, like all hope, has the potential to leave us heartbroken. Yet hope in something bigger than ourselves allows us to get out of our own disappointment and pain to a hope that sustains. We accept we are not alone, we navigate the pain and sorrow, and we show up to answer the question, “how are you doing?” and we make way for hope once more — because hope embodied does not disappoint.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC