Category Archives: mindfulness

Holding Expectations with Open Hands

It’s the holiday season. A time of year that can bring with it an array of emotions and memories, hopes and disappointments, joys and longings. It can be hard to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, perhaps for the first time without a loved one lost over the past year to the battles of life. And it’s difficult to enjoy a Norman Rockwall season in the midst of estrangement, pain, or let down. We can all admit, even if we don’t want to, that holidays aren’t always easy.

Society seems too often sell us an idea of holiday spirit—of connection, of laughter, of gathering, of love. Immaculately decorated homes filled with the overflow of conversation. The scent of homemade traditions engaging our senses. The shared cooking, the loud stories, the new dessert, and the fireplace glow—we love this stuff! We connect. We laugh. We gather. We love.

It stirs in us because we were created for these.

Our hearts are moved by the expectation that this idea is what life is supposed to offer us. Reuniting with those who love us, sharing a good meal or two, and giving of time and resources—this is the stuff that moves and soothes the soul. It may be nostalgia, it may be our reality, or it may be a foolish desire, but we tend to become hopeful and expectant during this time of year.

And perhaps it is because this is how it is meant to be with expectations. We feel the mundane of the work week, basketball practice, preparing dinner, and the like. We want more from the days and from life in general. We want those things that make life richer and more enjoyable. We want and even expect happiness and ease, community and the picture-perfect Christmas. Yet few of us rarely get the total package and instead must make due with our family members in jail, our parents divorced, our kids struggling, our spouses angry, and our homes far from the magazine image.

There is so often a tension between what we want and what we have. A tension between the longing and expectation and our acceptance of reality has the potential to leave us with feeling frustrated, hurting, scared, and defeated. And so, too frequently we begin to shield ourselves from the expectations and hopes by simply letting go of them. We shift towards expecting the worst and living muted from anticipation.

However, to be true to ourselves, we must acknowledge and embrace the hope and longing. They are our life line and anchor, pulling us onward and holding us firm to rise once more and fight the good fight. Hope lights the way and expectation can motivate us toward the actions and behaviors that we ourselves become proud of.

It is in finding the balance between gripping expectations of things beyond our control and turning our back altogether on hopes and expectations that true freedom is found. Similar to an analogy I once heard about sand, the tighter we hold our expectations, the quicker they seep through our hands. Rather, we must learn to hold them with open hands, allowing them, and the metaphorical sand, the ability to simply be.

As you and yours head into the coming week of Christmas, I hope you might look at what expectations of the season, of gatherings, of family, of life, and of yourself that you are tightly gripping. I invite you to loosen your fingers while still keeping your palms up, not dismissing hope and expectation altogether. Allow for some space, for the middle to exist, and for the joy of a willing approach—willing to be surprised, willing to take care of your disappointments, willing to attend to your feelings, willing to embrace the small moments—this holiday season.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

For more by Lindsay, check out her weekly blog. And if this particular piece felt helpful, contact me today!

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!

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

 

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!

Stubbornness

The idea of stubbornness was recently illustrated to me in an interaction I had with my dog. A few days ago, Stella, my 9-year-old partner in crime, was sitting in my reading chair with me as I was doing some work. She squeezed herself in on my right side, body pushed up against my leg and her head drooping off the front edge of the cushion in an unfortunate manner. In an attempt to help her out and bring her head onto the chair with us, I shifted a bit and gently moved her body back towards me.

As I attempted to move her, she quickly and instinctively growled at me. This 5-pound little dog growled at my audacity to help move and reposition her to a more comfortable spot. She rejected my help and insisted on flopping her head over the edge with a disgruntled sigh.

And I thought about how often we do this in life.

In relationships, and for our own benefit, we must be open to taking feedback from others. Believe it or not, the willingness to hear others may serve to improve our situation. However, while genuinely hoping for someone to look out for our best interests, we sometimes growl in response. If we believe we are being moved, bossed, or feel not in control, we can react, reject, get angry and dig our heels in. Just like Stella, we snarl in our own stubborn way and do what we want, as ineffective and uncomfortable as it may be.

As I became aware of my own tendencies to do this, I gained insight into the areas in my life in which I am most likely to growl in stubbornness. Surprisingly, they are usually areas where I know I need to grow. They are behaviors I want to do differently, feelings I want to hide and avoid, or thoughts I want to change. Being told what to do in these spaces can elicit guilt and shame, even though I would prefer the help, the vulnerability and to show up maturely.

I encourage you to take a moment and mindfully think about your stubbornness and how it presents. It may be an outright growl or perhaps it is an eye roll, sigh, and dismissive response. Maybe you get defensive to hide your feelings or deny to avoid insecurity. Whatever your version of growling might be, how would you feel differently about yourself if you allowed others to speak into your life? How would it be to receive feedback from others even if it is something you already know about yourself? How might it improve your daily happiness and the relationship if you were open and willing?

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

If you recognize areas you want to grow in, reach out to me today!