Author Archives: Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

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

If You Want To Change How You Feel, Start With What You Do

It only takes a few minutes of TV to hear promises of a thinner waistline, a better internet deal, a sexier drink choice, or an improved relationship. Ads bombard us all day on our phones and computers, always luring us to something. They hit us through comparison of another’s better car, newer technology, or more comfortable lifestyle. They make promises for tangibles and services, and yet truly are hooking us with the enticement of positive feelings.

There is an infinity loop of sorts that directly relates to the kind of lives we want to lead. It looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 8.41.31 PM

Advertisers love this because they sell us a promise of a feeling if we treat ourselves to their product. And for a minute we can feel absolutely awesome. The new car smell or the latest iPhone do indeed communicate to us a message about how we think and feel about ourselves. We are worth it! We will make it! Life is going to be ok! We feel better and think more highly of ourselves because we did something that told us we are ok, we are normal, and we are worthy.

Long-term, however, this rarely works because the feelings associated with the “new” fade and we are left with the same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards ourselves as we had before. The new phone becomes old and normal, the fancy jewelry doesn’t heal our hearts, and the thoughts of how we are still left aching only create more discomfort.

So how do we impact how we feel for the long term? How do we change what we think about ourself?

While some folks may awaken one day with a renewed sense of self-worth and love, this is rare. Still, this is what we all are wanting. When I feel like working out, I’ll get up and make it a priority. When I think it’s going to be ok, I’ll stop drinking so much. When I feel like it’s too hard, I’ll break up with him. When I think I’m more financially secure, I’ll balance work and family better. Simply put, we want our thoughts and feelings to line up with our ideal lives and lead our behaviors onward.

Yet many of us are still waiting because when we do things this way, we let our negative self-talk or pain-filled feelings take over and determine how we treat ourselves. Doubt and “I’m not worthy,” keeps us stuck. Anger and “Life’s not fair,” keeps us hurting. Sadness and “What’s the point?” keeps us isolated. And we perpetuate the cycle in a downward spiral, making choices that confirm our low self-worth and compound the unwanted feelings and thoughts.

There is hope though. Given the cyclical nature of the above diagram, we simply must start on the other side of the equation. We must begin treating ourselves in ways that line up with the values we hold and men and women we want to be. We must choose not based on feelings, but on facts found in our identity. We must choose not based on our sticky self thoughts, but on foundations upon which we want to build the lives we long for. And we must practice, practice, practice.

Just as someone who is a “healthy eater” must practice daily healthy eating, we must practice daily behaviors that line up with who we want to be — often times regardless of how we feel or what we are thinking. We must take the effective action, not necessarily the behavior that feels easiest or we can best justify. If we know we want connection but feel lonely, we must reach out and push ourselves towards others. If we know we want balance but feel the pressures of work, we must create ways to have boundaries and stick to them. If we feel worthless, we must make even small choices that demonstrate the opposite to ourselves.

How we treat ourselves not only impacts others, but most importantly, these actions impact ourselves. So if we want to change how we feel and think, we must impact these by how we treat ourselves. It’s not magic, it’s simply that we change what we do, what we practice, and how we show up.

And as we learn to treat ourselves with value, to make ourselves a priority, to show up in a way we are content with, our feelings and thoughts will catch up and even change. We will wrestle to keep making the same choices — to not let feelings and thoughts keep us on the sidelines of our own lives — and yet, one day we will arise from the struggle with renewed self-worth and different thoughts than we’d deemed possible.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

If this resonates with you, I invite you to contact me today to discuss more!

Three Thoughts On Choosing A Therapist

Last week, a dear friend of mine in another city inquired about what sorts of things to ask for and learn about when trying to find a therapist. She sent me the following message: “‘I got three counseling referrals from my pastor/friend, but I don’t really know what questions to ask to know which one is the right fit. Explain exactly what I want to learn more about with anxiety support?”

It was such a great, simple and yet actually complex question; one that many first time therapy seeking folks must navigate. I was eager to assist because not only do I love my friend, but I also love the therapy process and think the right fit and right relationship are essential. And though this is not an exhaustive list, it is a few thoughts on what you may want to ask a therapist before working together.

  • How do you view change? Most folks are headed into therapy because something isn’t working. If you are able to identify what it is in you that you would like to change — be it how you feel, relationship patterns, anxious thoughts, etc — that’s a huge first step. Getting curious about how the therapist views change is then the next. Personally, I view change as a longer, relational process. I have learned to be upfront with clients that while I can offer some quick skills and possibly even help with this or that, I believe true change only comes in long-term (think a year+) work where the therapeutic relationship has space to work on the roots issues.
  • What’s your approach? Not only is this a question regarding what theory or practices a counselor uses, but also one in which to get curious about them as a person. Some therapists allow clients to talk while giving minimal feedback and others are more directive and take the lead. Ask if he or she is more directive if you want that sort of engagement. Additionally, consider asking the counselor what he or she thinks a good therapeutic relationship looks like and see if you agree. If you don’t know what you want, perhaps think of the friends and folks you turn to when you are struggling and think about how they respond to you.
  • Ask yourself: How do I feel in and after this conversation? As you talk to a potential counselor, notice how you feel. Feeling a bit anxious is absolutely normal, but does it seem like the therapist “gets you?” Do you feel like you could tell them things and they would listen well? Do they make you laugh, do you feel safe, are their words comforting? Do you feel respected? In some ways, trust your gut. Feeling nervous, uncertain, and a bit uncomfortable is common. But if in the midst of that you think and feel like the person on the other end can help with those, give it a try. Most therapists want a good fit and are happy to help you find that if things don’t work with them.

Be aware of counselors who make big promises and speak into your situation without much information. Learn what your referring friend liked and disliked about their work with the counselor in consideration. There are techniques, experience, and style that all play a role in great therapy, but without relationship, I believe little is to be gained. At the end of the day, I hold fast to the following: They won’t care what you show them until you show them that you care.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

 

 

Finding Your Filters

It’s rare that any of us have escaped growing up without picking up outside messages about ourselves. From infancy, the world around us and the people around us are speaking into what kind of person we are. Some folks are fortunate to hear outright messages of strength, courage, and beauty. They are given space to explore and fail, always with parents or support systems in place to help separate the kind of kids that they are and will become from the kind of mistakes they make.

Others receive messages less encouraging and are told directly or indirectly that they are weak, incompetent, and destined to fail. It may be in a parental disregard for ones feelings or a well-meaning sibling stepping in and overshadowing. Or perhaps a teacher’s criticism or coach’s critiques echo louder than comments of personal self worth. We are told of our weaknesses and become one with them.

All of us have these messages that start to take root.

As we grow into adolescents and adults, both the subtle and overt messages we absorb become our core beliefs. The world around us and the people around us now are filtered through our belief system, similar to the work of an air filter. However, in lieu of removing the dirt and toxicity, we pick it up. A compliment, request, comment, or question is transformed in our reverse filter, passing through our negative core beliefs, and left to simply reinforce what the world and others have told us in the past.

It all begs the question, can we change the filters? And how?

The quick answer is, kind of and it takes work. A great deal of work. No one escapes  filters because no one is raised by perfect people in a perfect environment. Even those that receive the most encouraging and empowering childhood pick up filters. Because these beliefs are formed so early, we spend a good deal of life living with them in place. Some of your beliefs might be easily recognized and addressed, while others are working overtime and will take trusted relationships for you to find, clean, and possibly change.

And so it’s not out of defeat that we discuss the effort it may require to engage our filters, but from a place of empowerment and invitation to fresh air. You can begin to recognize the filters in your life and notice the beliefs that feel so absolutely true about you that they can’t possibly be challenged. I invite you to become more aware of the messages about yourself that you return to over and again. Look for labels that you stick on yourself like I’m a failure or I’m not worthy. And let’s begin to dream about how you would feel if life didn’t pass through and pick up the dirt of these filters.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

If you feel encouraged to take action on the filters in your life, lets talk!

Standing On The Sidelines

When we think of morning devotionals, we often think of encouraging words and connections to Scripture to start the day. These reminders of the call to live as we are created and show up as the men and women we want to be help with the outflow in our coming daily interactions. We may remember an idea or phrase, rolling it over in our mind as how to best incorporate or practice it throughout the day. Some of these thoughts become sticky, convicting, or calls to action.

There is a quote in the popular devotional My Upmost for His Highest that does just this. The March 24 reading discusses our role in sharing the gospel and ends with, “You may often see Jesus Christ wreck a life before He saves it.” It’s sticky and stays around a bit. It’s convicting and hits you in the gut. It’s a call to action, in this case that of inaction. Simply put, it’s an invitation to stand on the sidelines.

And standing on the sidelines is scary. Standing on the sidelines is painful.

Standing on the sidelines is hard.

Parents, bosses, friends, spouses, whatever the relationship, it can be gut-wrenching and beyond aggravating to watch a loved one make poor decisions, run from truth, avoid responsibility or create their own negative consequences. The unknown outcomes that race through your mind and the needless pain that seems avoidable can create an internal tension that seems impossible to tolerate. How do you not jump in, how do you not say something, how do you not share your two-cents? After all, it’s for their benefit!

And yet, to stand on the sidelines when you can take action is sometimes the most faithful, helpful, and effective thing you can do.

As much as we’d like, we can’t change others. Often they do not hear the suggestions we offer if they themselves aren’t asking the questions. This route of offering information can seem helpful, but instead of leading to the outcomes we are hoping for, it often leads to rupture and resentment. Children angry at parents who jump in and don’t let them learn, spouses resentful towards one another as they offer unsolicited input, friends put out by assumptions that their way is always wrong.

So how do we move aside and watch as God grows and teaches and changes the hearts and lives of those we love?

In order to stand on the sidelines, we must examine what is happening in us–both thoughts and emotions–that wants something different. Perhaps it is to avoid painful emotional consequences, receive validation, or simply save time. As we figure out what we are needing, we must learn to take care of these needs ourselves, as best we can, while allowing the other the space to struggle, fail, grow, and learn.

It may mean waiting it out while a child stays up to finish procrastinated homework. It might be sleeping on an airport floor with a spouse who refused travel input. It could be faithfully standing by while watching a friend date someone unhealthy. And instead of adding advice and the “I told you so,” we mindfully choose to remain in quiet prayer, discern the times to speak up, talk to a trusted confidants, set new relational boundaries, or possibly forego a hoped for shared relational experience. And all this while God works and you wait.

The difficulty in allowing others to experience what they need for growth often forces us into discomfort ourselves. But perhaps the most beautiful thing is that we too learn to struggle well as we stand on the sidelines.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.