Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Forgiveness is the letting go of bitterness and resentment resulting from an offense. Most major religions promote the importance of forgiveness. From a mental health perspective, being unable to release negative feelings can result in a sense of despair, rage, powerlessness, and depression. There are a few key points to remember about forgiveness.

First you need to be able to take perspective about the level of the offense. In other words, if everything anyone ever says or does rises to the level of severe offense, you will find yourself constantly angry and bitter. In essence, not everything is drama-worthy. On the other side of this coin are those of us who do not recognize when someone has indeed crossed the line in a significant way. If you constantly ignore offenses and various forms of disrespect, this is also not a good place to be in terms of self care and self respect. You want to get perspective such that you can distinguish serious offenses from more minor offenses.

A second key to forgiveness is recognizing it is a process. Process implies both time and effort. In terms of time, some people jump to quickly say they have forgiven someone when they haven’t given themselves time to process all of their feelings. This may result in forgiveness that is in words alone but the actual bitterness, sadness, and anger are still under the surface waiting to bubble up. It is natural and healthy to experience a range of emotions and it is important to give yourself space to work through those feelings. The working through is the process. In others words, it is not true that time heals all wounds. Time passing alone is not sufficient. If you want to forgive yourself or someone else for an offense you need to actively work toward it in your mind. You need to acknowledge the impact of what occurred and then work to heal those wounds.

A third element to forgiveness is the need to determine when to forget and when to remember. Some people will say if you remember it, you haven’t really forgiven. This is not always the case. One way to determine if you should actively remember it is whether the person has shown evidence of being truly sorry and committed to change. Here is an example. If you were molested as a child, you may have decided for your mental health to forgive or release the bitterness toward the person who molested you. However to pretend it never happen by letting that person watch your children is unhealthy. Likewise if you are in abusive relationship and the person has promised to change but continues to abuse you, you need to remember the pattern of abuse regardless of your decision to forgive. On the other hand, if a friend, family member, or romantic partner has hurt your feelings but has expressed in word and deed regret for their behavior and a commitment to being better, then you may choose to totally release it. Releasing it in this case may include both not dwelling on the past in your mind or continuing to bring up the past to the person who has changed.

The ability to forgive yourself and others is an important spiritual and emotional skill. It can free you from having to harbor resentment and anger. It also shows that you recognize that all of us are imperfect. It is wisdom and compassion that allows us to look at the whole person instead of reducing them to their negative deeds. In the end, it is for you to decide for your safety and growth, when and whom to forgive. For it to truly liberate you, it needs to come from the heart.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Psychology of Clutter

As you prepare to enter into a new season, it is a good time to commit to living a clutter-free life. This can be a challenge to those of us who hold on to things and end up living surrounded by stuff. If we don’t heal our mindset, we can de-clutter today but new piles of stuff will appear tomorrow. So to really have a life change, let’s take a moment to consider the psychology of clutter.

For some of you, the tendency to clutter is based in past experiences of not having your basic needs met. You may have grown up in poverty or you may have been neglected. As a result, you really cherish stuff and end up hoarding things with the fear that one day you may need them. You may feel that you don’t want to throw something out that it is in good condition because that may seem wasteful or unappreciative to you. The beauty of the situation is you appreciate things that many people take for granted. The difficulty is you end up holding on to so much that you don’t have room to live and enjoy your space. Work on trusting that you don’t need to constantly live in preparation for an emergency. Try to live in the present and to see the way your behavior is limiting your present happiness and/or the happiness of those around you. Also consider being willing to bless someone else’s life with the many things that you have. Things that are in good condition but that are not being used are perfect items to donate and share with those who are living with less than you have right now.

There are another group of people who are suffering from depression and low self worth. You literally have difficulty mustering the energy to clean your space. You also may feel some sense of balance that your outside world matches your inner world: turmoil and confusion. You may try to clean up a little for others but don’t value yourself enough to believe you deserve to be in a clean environment for yourself. You rationalize this by saying the mess doesn’t bother you. The reality is your space can affect your mood so continuing to live in clutter is actually supporting your depressed mood. Consider going for counseling to address your underlying issues. In the meantime, try what is called a behavioral approach which means to change my thoughts and feelings I start by changing my behavior. So if you start to clear your space, in the cleansing you may also experience an internal cleansing and renewal.

There is another mindset around clutter which is a lack of responsibility. Some of us are just waiting for someone else to do it. You may have grown up in an environment where things were always done for you by parents, siblings, or housekeepers. As a result, it never occurs to you to cleanse and organize your space yourself. You see the piles growing but unconsciously or consciously you hope someone will come and just take care of it: the pile of dishes, the pile of clothes, and the pile of papers just keep mounting. The truth is you are an adult and need to take responsibility for your space. You have two options. You need to do it or if you can afford to you need to pay for someone to help you do it. If you pay for help, you still need to take responsibility for keeping up with your space in the in between time so that you are not living in clutter and filth.

Heal your mind and cleanse your space. You deserve a fresh start and there’s no better time than the present.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Addressing Addiction

There are many forms of addiction. Some of you may be addicted to alcohol or other drugs, while others may be addicted to shopping, sex, pornography, gambling, cutting, compulsive exercise, internet use, or overeating. Addictions are largely a symptom of an underlying issue. They are a compulsion to do a particular activity even though it has negative consequences for you, physically, mentally, socially, and/or financially. We use our addictions to cope with pain, disappointment, anger, depression, fear, and insecurity. To address our addictions, we have to be honest with ourselves about what we are medicating. What are we trying to numb, forget, or erase with our behaviors? When we really look at it, we will discover not only what we’ve been trying to cover up with our addictions but we will also discover that the addiction has not helped us. Using substances to distract us from the substance of the problem is never successful in the long run. It is a temporary fix and often our tolerance increases so we need more and more to try to give us a glimpse of peace. We begin to drink more, smoke more, hook up more, shop more, gossip more, eat more, all in an attempt to escape. But as the saying goes, wherever you go, there you are. We cannot escape ourselves so it is better in the long run to face ourselves and confront the issues that are under the covers.

To address addictions, we have to first acknowledge that the behavior is unhealthy. Take responsibility for the ways you have used substances, food, credit cards, or casual sexual encounters in a manner that does not serve you or benefit you. We cannot heal what we do not acknowledge. By stopping the denial, we interrupt the silence and shame and gain the courage to face our issues.

The next thing you need to do is get around supportive people. This may be family, friends, therapists, sponsors, an AA group, or your faith community. You need to surround yourself with people who are supportive of the changes you are trying to make. When we are constantly with people that encourage unhealthy behaviors, it is hard to make a change. These also need to be people you can truly be honest with and accountable to for the decisions you make. Resist the shame and stigma that often keeps people from seeking professional help. Addictions are a major challenge and you deserve the support you need to heal and empower yourself.

Another key to addressing addictions is replacing the addictive behavior with a positive coping strategy. The way you are currently coping is not good for you. You need to try other strategies such as talking to someone you trust, meditation, prayer, healthy amounts of exercise, problem solving, relaxation, and engaging in activities/hobbies that boost your self esteem. Develop an action plan of activities you will do both when you are feeling stressed and as a prevention tool to improve your mood before negative things occur.

A final important key is the use of positive self-talk. Often we give ourselves self-defeating messages such as, “I am a bad person. It’s too late for me. I’m stuck. Nothing is going to work for me. I’m hopeless.” These statements increase our feelings of guilt, shame, and despair. You have to begin to challenge those thoughts when they come up. Everyone may have a negative thought pop up from time to time but you can decide how you respond to it. Instead of feeding it and freely accepting it, challenge it. There is more to you that the addiction. With support, your life can improve. Your life and health are worth fighting for so be encouraged and begin to address your addictions today.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Value of Volunteerism

Being selfish and overly self-centered can result in a very limited view of life. It can create a narrow view of the world and a sense of emptiness. A part of discovering your purpose is found in being generous – giving of yourself, your skills, and your resources to benefit the larger society, the world beyond your living room. Volunteerism can have real mental health benefits.

Volunteerism can give you a sense of purpose, meaning, and significant impact. Sometimes we get caught in a limited routine of simply working a job for money to pay bills. In essence, for greater meaning we need to contribute to something of greater significance. By giving to help humanity, cleaning up community, and preserving the environment, you can get in touch with your connection to the world around you.

Volunteerism can also increase your sense of self efficacy which is simply your ability to make a difference. Some people see problems around them and choose to close their eyes, surrendering to a sense of powerlessness. By taking action, you empower yourself with the knowledge that no matter how small, your life and decisions can make a difference.

Volunteerism can also increase a sense of community. A part of depression is a sense of isolation or disconnection. By volunteering with a community, national, or international organization, you can awaken within yourself a sense of community that stretches across people of all walks of life.

Finally and most importantly it is important to know that although some people may have less than you materially, they may also have more than you in spirit, heart, and even wisdom. As we give to others we also receive. You may receive a refreshing way of looking at life, at seeing the importance of gratitude, and at surviving adversity.

To make a difference in the world and within yourself, consider becoming a volunteer. In giving you will receive.

Monday, November 23, 2009

De-bunking Myths about Depression

Depression is a serious mental health issue. It can make it difficult, if not impossible to leave the house. It can result in loss of connection to family, friends, employment, and the things that used to be pleasurable. In the most severe situations it can result in suicide. Often depression is not recognized and people do not receive the help and support they need. It is important to challenge some of the myths that currently exist about depression.

Myth #1: Depression is a sign of weakness.
This could not be further from the truth. Depression strikes people from all walks of life. It is not something that just hits one type of personality. In truth, people who have struggled with depression are some of the strongest people you will meet. To simply get out of bed, bathe, get dressed, eat, and get out of the house can take more effort than those who take these actions for granted. Instead of judging people who are facing depression and telling them to “just get over it”, the more compassionate and helpful approach is to consider what they have had to carry to get from where they started.

Myth #2: If you are a spiritual/religious person, you will never face depression.
This is also not true. There have been throughout history, wonderful people of faith who have had to endure serious bouts of depression. Faith does not erase depression but for many people it gives them encouragement to keep trying to press forward.

Myth #3: Therapy is for rich people without friends and medication is a crutch.
These unfortunate myths keep many people from getting the support they need and deserve. Mental health rights are for everyone, not a select few. There are many counseling agencies that provide free and low-cost mental health support. Additionally being a friend is not the same thing as being a therapist. Being a therapist is a professional caring service based on education, experience, and a desire to help others. It is not just based on one person giving their opinion or advice in the moment but based on key concepts that have been found over many years of study to be helpful in improving the well-being of individuals, families, and communities.

In terms of medication, some people have such severe symptoms of depression that they are left unable to fight for their lives and emotional well-being. Medication should not be used as a substitute for dealing with your life issues but it can definitely be a source of help by reducing the symptoms enough for you to be able to work on the challenges before you.

So here are a few facts.
Some of the symptoms of depression are:
• difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
• fatigue and decreased energy
• feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
• feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
• insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
• irritability, restlessness
• loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
• overeating or appetite loss
• persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do
not ease even with treatment
• persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
• thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Some strategies to help combat depression are:
• Therapy
• Medication
• Eat a healthy diet
• Exercise
• Spiritual Practices
• Expressing your feelings through art or to someone you can trust
• Relaxation
• Avoiding or reducing things that are causing you stress
• Challenging negative thoughts by looking at the evidence
• Building supportive relationships

If you or someone you care about is facing depression, know that you don’t have to carry it alone. Resist the shame and be willing to reach out for help. You are worth fighting for. Your mental health needs to be a top priority.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Healthy Sexuality

Your sexuality is connected to not only your body but also your mind, heart, and spirit. There are a number of tips to help you build a healthy sense of your sexuality. The first thing is to recognize that your sexuality is a natural and beautiful part of who you are. Some people have been raised to believe their bodies and their sexuality are their enemies or are evil, dirty, and bad. Others may have had past experiences of sexual violation, abuse, or assault. These experiences can create serious barriers to healthy intimacy; you have to work to break the mental trigger that makes an automatic connection between sex and shame. The truth is that your body and sexuality are sacred, beautiful aspects of who you are.

Another challenge is when people based on past experiences have come to believe that sexuality is merely a means or tool for them to obtain attention or resources. When sexuality is associated with game playing and manipulation it robs you from a having a truly fulfilling experience. Access to your body should not be the price you must pay for housing, shoes, money, or a return phone call. Your body is a temple and should be respected as a part of you while recognizing that it is only a part of you. When you or others reduce your worth to your sexuality alone, so much more is diminished and ignored.

An additional challenge is the fact that some women based on negative past experiences have concluded that sexual intimacy is something that women simply have to endure and that it is only for the enjoyment of men. This is far from the truth. The pleasure of intimacy and affection are available to men and women; even if you have not had the experience of fulfillment, know that with time and care you can enjoy your sexuality.

Another myth is that remaining committed to one person sexually is either impossible or has to be boring. The truth is with a foundation of trust, comfort, respect, and love, you can experience the freedom of creativity and spontaneity that makes intimacy exciting, fun, and nourishing for your body, heart, mind, and spirit. Instead of taking each other for granted and falling into a routine, begin to think out of the box. Shake things up. Do something new.

So in summary to embrace your sexuality in a more healthy and growth-promoting way:
• Resist the negative myths and associations connected to your sexuality
• Choose to celebrate healthy sexuality instead of carrying shame
• Remember that your sexuality is a part of you but not all that you have to offer
• Don’t use sexuality as a tool, weapon, or strategy for manipulation
• Hold on to the belief that sexuality can be enjoyable even if you have yet to experience it that way
• Be willing to explore the ways intimacy can be most fulfilling for you, recognizing that we are all unique
• Consider the ways commitment can open the door for creative, enjoyable intimacy

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Your Faith & Your Mental Health

Many people report using religious or spiritual practice as a way to cope with stress. Spiritual and religious involvement can include but is not limited to prayer, religious service attendance, watching religious programs, reading/studying religious texts, religiously motivated artistic expression, and religiously motivated volunteerism/service/activism. Spirituality refers to the internal reflection and path of growth through prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Religion involves membership and participation is a community of believers who share a set faith. From a mental health perspective, there can be benefits from both the individual time of spiritual practice as well as the connection to a faith-based community.

The benefits of religious and spiritual practice are reported by people at all different stages of life. For teens, religious involvement is associated with decreased criminal activity, substance use, and high risk sexual activity. For college students, involvement with campus ministries has been found to be associated with more effective coping, less doctor visits, and higher scores on measures of psychological well-being. Among older adults, religious involvement has been associated with better physical health, lower depression, and greater social support. In addition, across the lifespan, a number of positive relationships have been associated with prayer. Specifically both younger and older people who engage in prayer increasingly report better health, less hypertension, less stress, more positive feelings, less depression, and a greater capacity to handle stress.

Along with the blessings that come directly from taking time to center on our spirits, there are a number of ways through which religion and spirituality may benefit us. Religious teachings can encourage a positive, optimistic world view, a meaning and purpose to life, and a sense of hope and empowerment. Through prayer and other religious activities people may feel they can affect the outcome of their lives and in this way not feel powerless or helpless. There is also the sense of social support that can be provided by members of the religious community.

It is important to also be aware that religion and spirituality can be associated with negative outcomes. The major distinction between positive and negative religious coping is one’s understand of the nature of God. Having an understanding of God as a source of love and affirmation is immensely more health promoting than adopting an understanding of God as the cruel punisher who is out to condemn you.

At the same time, we see opposing responses to mental illness on the part of religious organizations. There are numerous examples, historically and currently, of religious communities exhibiting the greatest compassion and care for those suffering with mental illness. On the other hand, there are also many examples of religious organizations and leaders condemning and even demonizing those facing mental health challenges. We have to choose the positive over the negative.

Holistic health requires that we see the connections between mind, body, and spirit. We need to invest time, energy, and resources in caring for the health of our total beings. Most importantly adopt spiritual practices and beliefs that are edifying and not destructive. Invest time in caring for your soul, nourishing your spirit, and restoring your mind. Seek wholeness!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Healing Your Self Worth

There are those of us who have experienced multiple abuses, traumas, betrayals, and violations. When this happens it is only natural to begin to feel you are not as worthy of protection or value as others who have not had these experiences. This is especially the case when there were persons who knew what was happening to you and did not intervene. The challenge here is to not let the way others treat you dictate the way you feel about yourself.

The language that comes to mind is a term that we often think about on a large scale, but not as an individual and the term is “human rights”. Fundamentally there are certain things that no one should be subjected to and the violations that happened to your body, heart, mind, or spirit should not have occurred. When people trespass your boundaries and trust that reflects something about them and not something about you.

Even though people may not have recognized your worth, you are worthy of respect, kindness, compassion, and concern. Dysfunction in individuals, families, communities, and even nations manifest itself in various forms of abuse. While there are things each of us can do to reduce the risk of violation, the truth is violation happens every day to people of all walks of life.

In terms of the healing journey, it is very difficult to believe in a “you” that contradicts the “you” that others have tried to define; however this is exactly what you need to do. The truth is you are not ugly. You are not stupid. You are not worthless. Once you begin to shed the shame and challenge the lies, you will get a glimpse of your true identity. This process can be challenging and many find the support of a therapist very helpful along the way. There are, additionally, a number of things you can do for yourself:

• Listen and discern which people in your life promote positive messages about you versus those who seek to bring you down. Spend time with the positive and minimize or eliminate time with the negative.

• Recognize and interrupt yourself from engaging in negative self-talk about your worth.

• Examine the evidence: Look honestly at the things you have managed to get right. The list may be short but the more confident you feel the more you will be able to see your strengths.

• Determine the root of the myths. Who told you these degrading things about yourself and how did it benefit them for you to believe these myths? On the other hand, how will it affect you and those around you if you begin to think more positively about yourself?

• Be patient with yourself. When you have endured a lot, it takes time to heal.

Remember most of all that there is no room for abuse and no excuse for violation. It is important that a part of you holds on to this truth. When you can begin to glimpse this reality, you will feel differently and become more comfortable living a life of fulfillment and empowerment.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Life Balance

There are times that we can get consumed by our career, ambition, work, and to-do lists. This can lead to stress on our minds, bodies, and spirits. It is so important that we learn to live in balance. Being successful professionally while our families fall a part is very problematic. Likewise climbing the corporate or educational ladder but neglecting our spirits is a set-up for an unfulfilled life. When we don’t live in balance, we end up burned out. When we don’t live in balance, we end up confused and frustrated by the seeming contradiction between vast emptiness next to a growing list of accomplishments, promotions, or degrees.

At the same time, there are those of us who live off-balance in the other direction. When we spend all of our time in leisure mode we also can experience a sense of dissatisfaction. Hours of reality television, perpetual napping, snacking, and shopping can heighten feelings of depression. Even in the realm of spirituality, there is a saying that “some people are so heaven-bound that they are no earthly good”. In other words, if all my focus is on eternity, I can miss out on the blessing of the present moment.

So we have to strive to live with balance. Work, leisure, family, community, generosity, and spirituality are all important parts of life. The only way to fit them all in is to make time. We have to be pro-active about our schedules. Ecclesiastes says there is a time for every purpose under the sun. Make time to pursue your passion, take time to rest, create space and time to be with those you love, protect time and resources to share with those beyond your immediate circle, and definitely carve out time to do those things that nourish your spirit. When we live in balance, we experience greater satisfaction and we are better able to show up to the task at hand without bitterness, fatigue, or frustration.

Assess your life. Does your schedule reflect your priorities? To be realistic, I know sometimes we have to work longer hours given our financial situation. Even with those demands, make time for you even if it means waking up earlier so you can start your day from a place of balance. It may also mean looking down the road to determine if this is the pace at which you want to live your life. If it is not, what can you begin to do now so that in the future you can shift to a place of better balance? That may mean going back to school or a training program. It may mean looking for a position at a different location or it may mean turning off the internal voice that is seeking to measure your worth by your level of busyness. While there are external pressures, you can make living in balance a valued priority that guides your decision making in every aspect of your life.

Press pause and seek balance. Breathe and balance.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Heal Your Relationship With Money

The way you think and feel about money creates and sustains financial habits that can benefit you or harm you. Take a moment to think about the messages you learned growing up about money. Did your parents or guardians demonstrate to you materialism, greed, generosity, or good budgeting? Regardless of how much money you earn, your decisions can waste or maximize your resources. Let’s consider some of the money mindsets that need to be healed.

First there are those of us who feel that possessions determine our self worth. When we don’t feel good about ourselves, no amount of name brand clothing, shoes, or jewelry will fill our inner void. When we look for indicators of financial wealth to validate who we are as people, we end up spending money we don’t have to impress people we don’t know. We sometimes see this on college campuses where students who come from the most financial need are often the best dressed. In those instances, we are trying to avoid the appearance of poverty. We want to prove we belong and look for the outer appearance to give us credibility. Another example is when everything is falling a part in our lives and we do retail therapy. We go and buy things for the temporary happiness, not realizing that our true emptiness has not been addressed. We have to begin to place priority on working on the inner person before dressing the outer person. We have to begin to put our financial priorities in line with our life priorities. We have to decide if we want to look like a million bucks while being miserable or do we want to invest our resources in things that will actually transform our lives for the better.

Another money mindset difficulty is found in those of us who have inherited a sense of guilt about success. It is not horrible to have money, wealth, or status. The issue is what we do with what we have. Are we greedy or generous? Are we arrogant or kind? For those who grew up without or who grew up with religious teachings that equated wealth with sin, you may have mixed feelings about obtaining financial success. You may feel that you have somehow left behind your community, your family, or your sense of who you are. You do not have to sabotage your success in other to “keep it real” or in order to be a good person. You can be an authentic, appreciative, socially conscious, compassionate person of financial success if you make those your life values and commit to them. Recognize the opportunity and privileges that have been given to you and pass on the blessing to others through resources, information, and your time. What you have doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else. You dictate your worth by the way you live your life.

One more money mindset challenge is one that is dominated by emotional distress. When I let fear dictate my money habits, I have to hoard my possessions and can never share. When I let shame dictate my money habits, I feel unworthy of nice things and so, even when I can afford to make other decisions, I live in and dress in conditions that re-affirm my shame. When I let denial dominate my money habits, I do not open my bills and refuse to make a budget. We have to come to a place of affirmation. When we approach our finances from a place of empowerment, discipline, and esteem, we can live with greater financial freedom.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Assertiveness: Come out of the box

We all have experiences that can leave us feeling boxed in, silenced, or powerless. People who assert themselves can be labeled trouble makers or demanding and yet we also see the very real cost of denying our needs. To understand our tendency to stifle ourselves, it is important to consider the roots. This may be uncovered in part in by thinking about the models you saw growing up. How did your parents or the persons who raised you handle conflict? Were you shown on a regular basis a lack of response in the face of intolerable situations?

Sometimes we have been placed in a box by cultural oppression. People may use unhealthy religious teachings to require your silence. Some faith teachings focus on women being subservient in the face of toxic, abusive situations or they may teach that all people should quickly forgive and forget no matter the offense. This does not leave space for healthy assertiveness or the confrontation of issues that need to be addressed. Culturally we may have also been taught by those within or outside of our community that going with the flow of things, even when they are not just, is the only way to survive. Finally sometimes we have had our voice, power, assertiveness taken through other traumatic experiences such as abuse, assault, and other forms of violence.

Regardless of what or who placed you in the box, it is important for your emotional well-being and livelihood that you come out. A part of being healthy is being able to communicate your identity, thoughts, and feelings. Of course to communicate those things I have to first know what they are. In other words, if I am asserting something I have no clarity about, it creates confusion. So first get clear about who you are and what you want. Then consider the dynamics. Successful assertiveness requires that you consider the timing, place, and person. Truth-telling is important but you can make or break the experience by when and where you choose to do it. We have to also consider the recipient of our communication. People have different personalities so if I respond to all people in a cookie cutter formulaic way, I will not reap the best benefits out of my social interactions. We lose out in some circumstances not because of what we had to say but the way in which it was said. When considering what to say, along with timing and content, be mindful that you are communicating clearly and when possible, calmly. There is nothing like attempting to assert yourself and no one knows what you are talking about. It is also not helpful when we are so overwhelmed that instead of tuning into our message, people became distracted by the level of our distress. Try to take a few deep breaths, before and during your communication. Don’t apologize for what you have to say. Look at the person directly. Convey a sense of seriousness. As we create an environment for mutual respect, we transform the situation for the better. Come out of the box and express yourself.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Self care

We live very busy lives, running between responsibilities, and attempting to balance many different hats. We need to schedule time for self care. We have to make the nourishing and resting of our spirits a priority. When we constantly give without making time to receive, we end up burned out, frustrated, irritated, and less productive. Running on empty, results in bodies and minds that one day protest in emotional and physical distress. There are many symptoms of stress and strain that we can prevent by routinely pressing pause on our lives.

Take time to rest, restore, reflect, and stretch. The truth is we often micro-manage, stress over things that are not important, and over-commit. We may over-commit because we are trying to prove ourselves or because we are uncomfortable setting boundaries. Self care however is necessary for your health. We have to learn to say “no” to some things, so we can say “yes” to thinks that truly matter to us.

Living life eating out of vending machines or drive thru windows does not honor the sacredness of our temples. Living life without resting does not honor our health. There are occasional times when we have to sacrifice to meet a deadline or complete a special project but that should not be our normal state of being. Re-order your life such that you can work smart and not just work hard. Make your emotional and physical well-being a priority and protect time for you.

Self care begins with your morning routine. Instead of waking up at the last minute and having to run out of the door, make a point of rising early enough for you to get centered and grounded to start your day from a calm place. There are ways that you can re-set the pace of your life. Consider the ways you can slow down and take steps to make it happen. Begin to schedule seasons of pause into your life. There is a time for every purpose so take time to reflect, restore, and revive. You, your health, and your peace of mind, are worth protecting.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Confronting Your Fears

Fear is the anxious feeling we have about a potential negative outcome. Fear can block us from going places, meeting people, and even following our dreams. People have all different fears, including but not limited to fear of social situations, public speaking, dogs, flying, heights, success, failure, crowded spaces, driving, certain people, and even being alone. The challenge becomes how to confront and overcome the fears that are controlling your life or that are keeping you from fulfilling your potential.

There are several strategies that are helpful in addressing your fears. One is learning how to calm your anxious reactions. Sometimes just anticipating a negative outcome can increase our fears tenfold. You have the capacity to calm yourself. Practice taking deep breaths. Begin to tighten and relax your muscles starting with your face and working all the way down to your feet. Ground yourself in the present moment instead of worrying about the future or past. You can even practice visualization. Visualize a peaceful place – it may be a place that was safe and inviting the last time you were there or it may be a place you have only visited in your imagination. Visualization, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation are good skills for preparing to face your fears.

Another strategy is getting real about the evidence. In other words there are people and places that are not safe, so there are times when you need to follow your gut when you feel fear and then there are other times when you can recognize that the amount fear that you feel does not match the situation. So start to look realistically at what could go wrong if you face your fears and the likelihood of those things occurring. When you determine that some things could go wrong, just consider the worst case scenario and weigh the consequences if it does occur. If you speak in public your hands may shake a little at first or you may trip, but are those two occurrences enough to block you from talking about something that is important to you or doing something that is important for your job or school success?

Along with relaxation skills and thinking through your fears, another important strategy is to consider the benefits. If you face your fear, what will you gain? You may gain the ability to socialize, to meet people, to follow your dreams, to improve your self esteem, and to face your past instead of running from it. All of there are worthwhile accomplishments as you plan to move forward. You may also want to break down your fears into smaller steps so you can steadily move forward without having to do it all at once. A final helpful courage boost is the presence of someone who believes in you and is supportive. This may be a friend, family member, therapist, minister, support group members, or romantic partner. It should be someone who has a calming effect on you and not someone who increases your anxieties.

The truth is simply considering facing your fears in a powerful step in the right direction. Step by step, you can overcome the barriers that are blocking you. You can move forward not simply because the fear goes away but you can move forward with the courage in spite of the fear. Dare to step out – life is waiting for you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Friendship: To find a good friend be a good friend

As human beings we often desire connection, relationship, and community. Most of us experience the need to be known, understood, and appreciated. Often our patterns of friendship have followed us over the years from childhood to adulthood. In fact some of our relationship patterns may mirror the types of relationships we saw in the lives of those who raised us. The important thing to remember is that friendship is a two-sided relationship so we can actively play a role in determining the type of friends we seek and retain.

There are different unhealthy patterns you may notice in your friendships that you would like to change. You may always be the giver and never have friends who reciprocate. You may find yourself surrounded by very superficial friends but when crisis comes they are no where to be found. You may notice that you always have volatile, high drama, short term friendships that usually end poorly. On the other hand you may notice that you don’t trust anyone and end up being a loner most of the time. Whatever the pattern, be encouraged by the fact that you can make decisions to improve the quality of your relationships.

The first key is you need to know yourself and be comfortable with who you are. If you are insecure and looking for others to define you or to give you self worth, you may be setting yourself up for superficial or one-sided relationships. You will draw kindred spirits so if you are confident and comfortable with yourself, you will be able to connect with people who have those same qualities.

Secondly be the kind of friend you want others to be. In other words it doesn’t work to say you want a loyal, kind, generous, fun-loving friend, if you do not possess those qualities. We model our definition and expectations for friendships by our behavior. So work on being a better friend if you would like to draw better friends.

Next be mindful of the people you select as friends. Choose friends based on common interests, mutual respect, shared good times, and the ability to be there for each other in moments of joy and moments of despair. Choose friends who you can trust to tell you the truth even when it’s hard. Choose friends who want to see you happy and successful. Choose friends over time. Instead of being best friends in one hour, take time to get to know people and to give them time to know you.

Finally develop the capacity to know which friendships are for a season and which ones are for life. If someone has shown herself to not be a good friend, your decision to spend all of your time with that person blocks the opportunity to connect with people who may actually be a positive presence in your life. On the other hand, life long friendships will have some challenges and disagreements, but when the friendship is important enough and authentic enough, you can work through the difficulties. Only you and your friend can determine the course of your friendship. So take time to really look at the situation and to be honest with yourself and each other.

Remember most of all, true friendship makes both of you better people. Friends are a source of light, affirmation, and truth. Treat them the way you want to be treated.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Body Image: A healthy look in the mirror

There are so many messages we receive daily that make us question our appearance. Whether the messages come from the media, friends, family, or strangers, we are often appraised based on our physical attributes. We are all, to some degree, affected by what has been called the “American Beauty Myth”. This myth determines who is worthy of the title “beautiful”. We are told to eliminate people based on their skin complexion, hair texture, facial features, height, weight, and figure. This myth can dismantle our self esteem while we are still too young to resist these false assumptions.

It is not only a matter of what we come to believe but what others believe as well. Research shows that children who are deemed attractive are treated better and perceived in a more positive light by both teachers and peers. Many people decide a person’s worth based on arbitrary notions of beauty. Judgments based on looks can affect how we are treated in school, work, and especially in social settings. These perceptions can even unfortunately affect the way parents treat their children.

What is the result of negative body image? Its evidence is found in many of our behaviors, including but not limited to: the amount of money we spend on cosmetic products and plastic surgery, the growing number of males and females with disordered eating, and the way we settle for relationships in which we are demeaned and disrespected.

The truth is beauty comes in many forms: from dark to light, full figured to thin, short to tall, long hair to shaven heads. If we could take all of the energy invested in covering up are so called plainness or ugliness, imagine what we could do with our lives. When we can see the beauty in ourselves, we engage in the world with more confidence and compassion. True beauty is not based on having to judge one’s self against other people, but being able to truly recognize and appreciate the diverse beauty all around us. Challenge yourself today and everyday to ignore the mythical images of airbrushed supermodels and video vixens and come to love the woman or man in the mirror. It is not always easy but as you begin to strive for self love and acceptance, you will see a whole new level of self esteem supporting you throughout your day. When you feel good about you, you are in a better position to walk into your destiny.

So here are a few practical steps to improving your body image:
 Reject the myth that beauty only comes in one form.
 Eat healthy foods that make you feel positive.
 Engage in healthy amounts of exercise.
 Get adequate rest so you can face the stress of the day.
 Remember regardless of other people’s opinions, you define your beauty.
 Surround yourself with people who are affirming and not disrespectful.
 Think of three physical attributes that you like about yourself.
 Refuse to judge people’s worth based on their appearance.
 Treat your body with respect.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Survival and Recovery

Survival and Recovery

You may have known silence and betrayal, but you are still here. You can break through the shame and nightmares. It is important to believe in the possibility of your change and remain motivated and committed to your healing.

There is healing in breath
There is healing in safe community.
There is healing in owning and telling your story in your time, at your pace, to those you trust to bear witness
There is restoration in taking time to let your muscles relax.
You have worked so hard, being on guard all day and all night.
And for so long you had to in order to survive.
But will you risk in this moment releasing muscle, tension, vigilance, distrust?
Will you in this moment imagine a place of peace?
Visualize a place where you are supported and know that you are not alone.

You may need an extreme self make-over because extreme stress, violence, and devastation, require renovation from the inside out.
You have had enough empty smiles, dead laughter, fake friendships.
There is recovery in your authenticity – your decision to be real with yourself and with others. You can come off of the stage, take off the mask and breathe. You can discover the person that lives and grows in spite of the symptoms, the self blame, and the should be’s.
Begin to remember what you have always known:
This valley has had an impact but it is not the sum total of who you are
There is more to you than scars, bruises, flashbacks, secrets, and over-stuffed baggage.
There is more to you than sleep issues and food issues and trust issues.
There is more to you than midnight and medication.
It’s time to give birth to your good morning song.

Begin by grounding yourself in the present.
Yesterday is gone.
The past is behind you.
Look around you and see this new day – one you have never seen before.
Embrace the possibilities of a new moment – a season to seek safety, sanity, wholeness, happiness, & well-being.

It is time to replace self harm with self affirmation. Move away from reliance on any form of coping that puts your mind, heart, body, spirit in jeopardy. In this season embrace self care. Care enough for yourself to let your body rest, to be mindful of what you put into your body, of reaching out to physical and mental health professionals who care about your well-being. In this moment consider the ways you have isolated yourself
Commit to breaking out and reaching out. There is strength in community, in sharing, in connecting across the abyss of fear.

True healing and recovery is not based on avoiding the past but facing it, working through it, and coming out on the other side whole. You will not be the person you were before, but you can emerge new. There is wisdom within you, courage within you, survival and thriving wings within you.

Do not surrender.
All is not lost.
You still have you.
Reach for recovery and revival.
Dare to find your laugh, your dance, your song, and your story.
You are a living, breathing testimony.
Your presence is a blessing.
There is purpose and meaning for your life.
The caterpillar days are over, time to make a shift out of the cocoon and show your radiant wings!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Healthy Relationships

For a relationship to be healthy, the individuals involved have to be healthy. If you find yourself in patterns of dysfunction, it may be a good time to take a break from trying to fine the one and focus instead on developing yourself. Our past struggles and challenges have an impact on how we see others and ourselves. So instead of trying to find our value through another person, we should first work to come to a place of happiness and peace within ourselves. If you are feeling unworthy, insecure, afraid, unattractive, or powerless, you are going to attract people whose brokenness makes them attracted to broken people. If you feel all you have to offer is your body or your money, you are going to attract people who don’t see all that you have to offer. Being a good partner requires first believing you are a good person. Once you have done your healing work, then you are ready to bring your light and joy into the life of another light bringer. In other words, your partner should not be your project or your mission. A life partner, a love partner is an equal who you respect and love as they currently exist.

Along with being a healthy person, each of us has to work on our communication if we are going to have a healthy relationship. While it is wonderful when people know you well, it is also unfair to expect people to read our minds all of the time. Relationships require that we relate and communicate our hopes, dreams, fear, plans, needs, and wants. Open the lines of communication about goals, finances, family, expectations, sorrows, joys, and intimacy. Now all of this information is not for the first date, but for the relationship to grow you have to move from surface conversations to a place of deeper connection and knowing.

A healthy relationship is also based on mutual love and respect. It is not a one-sided partnership. Both people have to be invested for it to work. The person you choose to spend your time with should be someone who lifts you up and doesn’t pull you down. A relationship built on respect has no space for abuse, manipulation, intimidation, or violence. Respect is about appreciation and affirmation. We should seek to bring out the best in ourselves and each other. The way we treat each other and talk to each other should start from a place of mutual love and respect.

Finally and of great importance, healthy relationships have joy. Bring the joy into your relationship with moments of pleasant surprises, laughter, affection, and celebration. The world is full of things and people that will create chaos and drama. Aim to bring joy into each other’s lives with random acts of kindness and funny moments of absolute freedom. While you have to be willing to work at your relationship, there needs to be moments of lightness, fun, and peace to remind you both that the relationship is more than worth the investment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Manifest Your Dreams - Reach Your Goals

Greetings dream seekers and visionaries. There are three important keys to manifesting your dreams. First you have to allow yourself to dream and when I say “dream”, I mean setting a specific goal that is larger than your current circumstance. Dreaming or goal setting requires vision and faith. Trusting that your life experience can be more than it is right now. This step alone is revolutionary. There are so many messages we receive from people around us, the media, and the inner voice of fear that seduce us into settling for the mediocre. Your life experience will not change, until you free yourself to dream again – to believe again that more is possible. Simply stating, “I want a good life” is a start but you have to get specific. What would a good life look like to you? Begin to draw in the details. A building is only built after the architect develops a design. A film is not shot until the filmmaker has story boards or pictures or what the story would look like when told visually. You need to be able to articulate what you want? What do you desire to be and to do? Your life is a canvas. What is the picture you would like to draw with your days?

Once you have the dream or the goal the next step is to take a step and then another step. Dreams without action remain dreams. To see manifestation you must do more than wish and wait for it to appear. You need to research, strategize, study, implement, and re-assess as you go along. Most people who are considered over night successes have spent many seasons in preparation for the moment you see them “arrive”. Begin to invest in your dream. Your investment of time and resources will inspire others to take your dream seriously. Many people say what they are going to do but as the Chinese Proverb says, “Talk does not cook the rice.” You have to move from talking about your goals to making them happen. Determine today at least one thing you can do to further your goal. Take a class, research on-line, talk to someone who has done something similar, or practice your craft.

The third key to manifesting your dreams is perseverance. Anyone who has a dream must be prepared for obstacles. There will be barriers, mountains, doubters, and challenges. This is a guarantee. Dream manifestation or goal attainment requires a can-do spirit regardless of the circumstance. When some people see storm clouds, they stay home. Staying where you are is safe but is that what you really want to do? When you are facing a brick wall remind yourself of the dream, the vision, and the possibility. If it is where your passion lies, continue to press for it. Find people and things that feed your spirit, encourage your heart, and nurture your soul. When you face a set-back, take time to learn from the experience and then dust yourself and determine to move forward. A dream deferred is not a dream denied. Achievement is within reach but you will have to stretch.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cleaning Up Your Life

This is a good season to get your house in order. Not just your physical house but your life. We have to get rid of the old way of thinking to make room for new visions and opportunities. We have to de-clutter our space, relationships, conversation, habits, and thoughts. If you are ready to move to the next level, if you want growth and increase, there are some things you need to clean up. Clean and therapeutically design your home, car, and office so they can become places where you can breathe, reflect, and imagine. You deserve a clean environment.

But it doesn’t stop with your physical space, clean out your thinking. Letting go of shame, guilt, anger, and fear will create space for confidence, self esteem, peace of mind, and courage. Cleaning the inside takes effort and commitment, just like cleaning the outside. We also know that cleaning the outside is a continuous process. We would never say, “Oh I cleaned the bath tub last month. It’s clean.” Transforming our way of thinking takes constant maintenance. Old habits are difficult but not impossible to change. When the old, negative way of thinking pops into your mind, interrupt it, challenge it, and give yourself a clean slate and a fresh start.

Not only do we need to clean our physical space and mental space, we also need to clean up our relationships. Often we are in cycles of dysfunction, where the people may change but the pattern remains the same. Take an honest look at your relationships including the type of people you are drawn to and the nature of the relationships. Whatever is not edifying is destructive. It is better to have a few quality relationships than to be surrounded by people who bring negativity and drama into your life. Clean it up.

We also have to clean up our relationship with our bodies. When depression begins to weigh on us, it is often reflected in our neglect of ourselves. Whether it is your hygiene or the need to make the doctor’s appointment you have been putting off, make your physical health a priority in this cleansing season. Clean up habits of over-eating, lack of exercise, and living off of vending machines and fast food. Clean up addictions to caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs. When we are committed to cleaning up our lives, we are willing to seek and receive help. Some cleaning jobs are too large to try to handle alone but you can do it by reaching out for help.

Finally it is time to clean up our finances. We can not afford to continue living off of credit. We can not continue to think not opening bills will make them disappear. We can not continue to live without a plan for our future. Clean it up. Determine how much you owe and create a plan to pay it. Create a budget for clarity and peace of mind. Create and act on a plan that will increase your streams of income.

Clutter promotes stress in every area of our lives. Stress takes energy away from our goals and purpose. De-clutter and cleanse your internal and external world. You deserve a healthier, happier life and the change begins with you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poem for the women of Iran

They did not know we were building an army behind these veils
We cast eyes down yesterday, so we could lift fists today
The dawning of revolution that’s been germinating for decades
Marinating in mind wombs

Sisters in solidarity – hungry for sun on face
Fresh rain on arms re-creating the order of things
From the chaos of unholiness

They bent our ballots
But will not break out backs

They forget we their sisters, daughters, wives, mothers are sacred power
The essence of stories that shatter centuries of silence

But our righteous brothers remember – they remember our names and speak them,
Text them in code, record them on secret rooftops

While the armies of oppression arrest our professors, strangle us on streets, stretch to lock us in cells
For they fear us
And they should.

Our eyes have seen too much, hearts have had to bear too much
We are scratching our survival, pitching our tents
Not merely for ourselves, but for sons and daughters unborn

We write poems in our mother’s tongue but write signs in English
This message must/needs/will be heard on global super highways

We are hiding on campuses, nursing children, prostrate is prayer
Crying out into midnight
And the Radical Light that is Truth can not deny us
Praying women, protesting women can not be denied

Everywhere we look they want us to see red
Blood in pools, dripping, soaking, suggesting we surrender
But we see green
We choose to see green
Emerald green growing
Forest green springing
Pressing toward freedom

Last week we poured into the street
With brutality they planted hot lava on the road

So now we take to the sky
Twittering, soaring, rising beyond their grasp

They do not realize they can not take lives
Only bodies
Our breath remains

We are already pregnant with tomorrow
And these babies are coming forth today

We hear out sisters and brothers across this international matrix
Calling for us to push

We women warriors of Iran
Wonder if some have mistaken our tears for weakness
That would be a mistake
Do no underestimate this war cry
This is a cry of outrage, emerging from our mourning song
& this sound will echo through the mountains
Of our ancestors
Traveling through space manifesting into glorious peace

We will not be forgotten
& greater still our sacrifice is not in vain

Waging peace,
Women are rainbows climbing across gray skies

Inch by inch we take the sky

Our mothers taught us well
doves must fly

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Time to Shine

To my sisters who have become dusty with the residue of racism, the stains of low self esteem, and the pollution of poverty
To my grandmothers who have known bruises, burdens, and break downs
To my mothers who have suffered set-backs, sexism, and loss of sanctuary
To my daughters who have sinned against themselves by forgetting who they are
The alarm bell is ringing and it is time – past time – for you to be washed in the healing waters of your destiny, washed in the holiness of your sacredness, washed in the memory of your possibility
This is the day – a day not like any other
This is the season – a season that the universe has not known
For yesterday is gone and you must take off the heavy coat of regret
Yesterday is gone and you need to put down the luggage of limitation
Clear your mind with the anointing of the One who really knows you – the One who created you
Bathe yourself in integrity and dress yourself for the divine appointment
For this is the time for you to shine
You are right on time for the miracle that is you
The miracle that God is working in you and through you and for you
You are more radiant than the sun, your wings span mountain tops, your gifts are deep as the Atlantic, your wisdom is beyond your years, and your victory is guaranteed
It is time for you to shine
No more hiding, fearing, worrying, fretting, betting on your demise
Tic toc, tic toc
Women of the sun, daughters of the Son
It’s your time to shine

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Obama and Biden: Rape Victims Need You

It is Women's History month and as a nation we can not lose sight of the global ways in which women and girls are under attack. One of the tools of oppression is sexual assault. As a psychologist who counsels rape survivors and their families, I was heartened by the words and works of Obama and Biden. I was encouraged to hear Obama speak about the fact that people close to him have been affected by sexual assault and that he cares deeply about the issue. I was also glad to hear about his work in promoting sexual assault awareness and preventative education for our children. As a sexual assault researcher and educator, I know that elementary school is not too young to learn about sexual abuse (“good touch” and “bad touch”). Unfortunately there are children in our classrooms who know far too well the experiences we are afraid to mention. I was particularly inspired by Obama and Biden’s dedication to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

As we move forward as a nation to bring about change we can believe in, I hope that sexual assault does not get lost in other important agenda items such as the economy and security. For too many Americans, economic advancement has been nearly impossible as they confront the profound security breach of their bodies. Sexual assault occurs across demographic lines and often leaves shame, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicide in its aftermath. Whether we are speaking of sexual assault victims on college campuses or military bases, in marital bedrooms or in alleyways, on prison yards or on first dates, the nation’s silence has been deafening. We as a nation choose to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil and our collective silence supports the continued rape of our sisters and brothers. It is easier for us to pretend these violations do not exist. It is easier to assume that people are lying to get attention or that they somehow wanted the assault. If we can believe these myths we are safe. If we can believe these myths we can continue to do nothing.

When the Obama/Biden campaign and supporters scream out, “Yes, we can,” I for one am working and organizing so that this is an inclusive “yes, we can.” Yes we can make rape unacceptable in our society. Yes we can end the silent shaming of victims, regardless of background, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Yes we can create a just and safe society, starting with just and safe homes, schools, and communities. Yes we can empower the nearly 80% of victims of who never report the violations they experience. Yes we can demand respect for the sacred body of all community members. Yes we can protect and advocate for the modern day victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery. Yes we can end the widespread molestation of our children. Yes we can have justice that does not re-victimize rape survivors. Obama and Biden, we need you to follow your past words and deeds regarding sexual violence as we try to carve out a nation that stands firmly against sexual assault.

As the Obama campaign and transition team have noted, real change is not only about leadership but about people. As a nation, we have to condemn the rape supportive aspects of our society and culture. The commonplace sexualization of children and objectification of women in the media from cartoons to commercials to feature films has to end. We also have to transform distorted thinking that says using violence, threats, manipulation, power, and drugs to obtain sexual contact is a normal part of sexual intimacy. Sexual contact by coercion or physical force is not sexual intimacy, it is a violent crime. So, yes we can and yes we must end the false arguments that blame the violated for being victimized. Yes we can hold rapists, pedophiles, and traffickers accountable and responsible. Yes we can promote physical and mental health by using our votes, actions, policies, and words to end rape. Yes we can and yes we must.