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The complex connections between mothers and daughters

mom-haw-3-2Today is my mom’s 64th birthday.  She died this past January and the year has invited me into many reflections on our relationship.  While she was alive we spent quite a bit of time trying to get the other one to see the legitimacy of our existence.  Now that she’s not here and it’s quiet and there is no more proving and haranguing her to see I just have my reflections and they have taken an unexpected turn.  I imagine that it is the quiet I needed to be able to see things differently—to see things and to see her with more compassion and grace and pure longing without strings and expectations.

Psychologists and counselors always talk about attachment between mother and infant when looking at how adjusted an adult is in the world.  Let’s just say that my attachment to my mother was incredibly complicated.  I didn’t feel attached.  I felt on my own from as little as I can remember, but then I see these pictures of her and I and I wonder if my memory of my attachment to her is just fuzzy.  She was young, but she looked happy and we looked at peace when we were together.  However, my memories bring me to many occasions on my own.  My parents were unhappy and there was civil unrest in our home and I remember plotting and planning my escape if things should completely come undone.  I felt like a kite that was attached loosely to human hands and in the event that I should slip away or be let go I should have a strategy for how I should land.

On the days when the storms would roll in I would expect the house to come off its foundation, but it never did and my parents would stay together and we’d have some reprieve for a few days to a week until the grey took over…

When I got older and I was a tween to teenager the rumblings pulled me into the heart of the storm where I played some role of referee, peace maker or sponge for all the spill over between my parents.  My mom was loud and made her thoughts and feelings heard; my father would retreat in depression and silence and so it was easy for me to blame her—I didn’t see that both styles were forms of violence and manipulation.  I just saw her aggression because it so often came at me or my brother that I despised her and we had no attachment to protect us or harbor us for the storms.

When I wasn’t playing mediator for the tensions between my parents I was a parenting my younger brothers.  My parent’s preoccupation with their conflicts and poor self-esteem and mom’s illness required me to parent and this produced a weird mixture of resentment and fierce loyalty to my brothers.

At 13 and 14 and 15 and 16 and 17 I was really trying my best to do good and to secure love, but the combination I had in my hands seemed to fail me and my family and my mother resented my involvements and so it was in these times I wished Claire Huxtable was my mother.  Claire Huxtable was that perfect mixture of beauty, sense of humor and grace.  She was a rock for her family—working as a lawyer, yet always ready to engage her children and all the mischief they’d find themselves in.  She wasn’t vindictive or resentful… She loved being a mother and a wife and she did it all so seamlessly and I wanted her to be my mother. I loved the way that she talked—with wisdom and grandness and grit.  She was the one I wanted.  I loved how her smile would spread across her face at the end of a conflict with her children and how she would pull them close in for hugs and kisses.  She didn’t let her kids get away with shit and her love was never questioned.   I wanted all of that and I thought only Claire could provide it so I wanted her.

As a teenager I couldn’t really see my mom.  I could only see what I thought I needed.  It would take years of therapy and heart searching to realize that my mom, in all her toiling and struggling and pushing and pulling, she was trying to use the combination she’d been given, too.

Before she died we talked about these things.  I mean for years we talked about these dynamics—we acknowledged their existence and we managed to do so and come out alive.  Even still, I wondered if my mom loved me and if I there was the slightest chance I had made her proud.

The last several years of her life were difficult.  For obvious reasons, the mystery of her illness and the ways in which her body was slowing closing up shop one organ at a time made it incredibly difficult.  Relationally it was hard because we didn’t always agree on the course that should be taken, but we muddled through it together.  Her rock solid willfulness and unyielding stubbornness drove me completely mad.  We would come up with a plan of action and on her own she’d decide to do something different—like the time that she was told her heart and kidneys were failing and she decided that she was going to quit all medical interventions to try an herbal remedy and diet instead.  I had to learn to accept that she had the right to make her own, adult decisions—even though I kept thinking, “Why won’t you fight to stay here—for me and for your grandkids”?

Over time I realized that my mom was also looking for a mother’s love.  Her mom had left her when she was about 10 or 11 years old and my mom being the oldest daughter raised her younger siblings (all 6 of them).  In order to graduate high school, she would take her two- year old sister to class with her.  Her father left before she was born and she always questioned her lovability.  I started to wonder what it would be like to have a child at 22 after you’d already raised a family…  I wondered how that felt.  Raising two kids of my own, I imagined it was exhausting and disillusioning.  There was never time for my mom to be a kid and so by the time I came along I think my mom was ‘mothered’ out.  I could never fault her for that and despite the rough edges she did mother me.

My mom taught me things that I couldn’t learn from Claire Huxtable.  My mom taught me how to be yourself.  Whether you liked her or not…with my mom—she was who she was and she inhabited her skin unapologetically.  I didn’t always understand her background and pride in her Filipino/Hawaiian cultural upbringing, but despite all the ways people tried to twist her to be more adaptable to white culture… She never did.  She loved her kimchee, rice, soy sauce and green mangos and peas and pork and she did not care if you thought less of her for what she ate, did or said.

My mom did what felt natural to her.  She’d answer the door in hot pink sweat pants and her hair all wild and pinned in random places with bobby pins and I-would-be-mortified.  I didn’t know how important that would be for me to witness her in this way.  She didn’t get all ‘cuted’ up for anyone—she did what she wanted because it felt good to her.

My mom said what was on her mind.  She didn’t mince words and she was horrible at filtering.  When people would make a mistake at the grocery store I’d pray under my breath that my mom would not see it or overlook it, because if she didn’t then I knew the person would get to hear what my mom thought about that and I’d want to slink away and melt into a puddle.

My mom did what she wanted and didn’t let status quo norms say she couldn’t.  She had always wanted to dance hula, but wasn’t able to when she was a child.  When she was in her late 40’s-early 50’s she started taking hula classes.  Within a few years she was teaching classes… people commissioned her for all kinds of events.  She danced for parades, anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, carnivals, etc.  She was such a beautifully exquisite dancer.  She excelled in her dance group and people were in awe of her talent.  She-gave-two-shits-about what people said she could do or not do.

I always thought my mom had one volume: loud.  As a young woman struggling to be a ‘good’ woman I thought how impolite and brash of her, but now I know that my mom laughed not in her throat but from the bottom of her gut because when you have to laugh then for God’s sake let it rip.  She had an infectious laugh that reminded you why it is good to live.

Since she died I have been thinking about all these qualities of her and realizing that I couldn’t have survived these forty years without what she has taught me.  More importantly, I wouldn’t want to be taught any differently because for the bulk of my life I have tried to make people happy and what I realized is that when I was doing that I wasn’t living at all.  The challenges that life has presented me with has needed me to have the same kind of authentic, gritty, scrappy, You-can’t-have-me mentality that my mom taught me.  Her survival has become my own.

Today I realize that she was exactly the right mother for me.  Claire Huxtable is great, but not who I needed.  I needed what my mom taught me—I needed to observe her and learn from her.  I needed to grow and without the ingredients my mom gave me I don’t think it would have been as possible.  She was the right mom for me.

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Call me Sam: Our Story of Gender Fluidity

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I am a gender non-conforming person.  Although, I am comfortable in my skin as a cis-gendered woman– my values, my work and my hopes reflect a non-gendered position, as I hope that all people can be who they are and live into their potential in full inclusivity and acceptance.  And alas, I know this is not the reality for many people in our society.

In terms of my work as a therapist and advocate this comes easy for me– it has been a completely different lesson where my personal life is concerned.  This is where my confession really begins.

About 7-8 months ago, my child who was born biologically female asked me to call her Sam.  This child of mine has always had a creative edge in constructing worlds and peering into realities that she was not necessarily born into.  So when my kid came asking for me to call her Sam– well, I guess on some level I thought Sam was another part of this profound imaginative world.

But then shortly thereafter, she asked me to call her he (*this is where I’ll begin using male pronouns in this post, as this reflects his identity).  He began expressing his desire to shop in the boy’s department.  He picked out a picture of the next haircut he wanted– a very short haircut that he found in a boy’s clothing catalogue.  He expressed the desire for his teacher and peers to call him Sam.  He made it a point of asking us to share with family members and close friends that he was a boy and wanted to be referred to as Sam and him.  The reality began to slowly sink in that: this went beyond a world of imagination and was a way of expressing how he sees himself.

I have truly witnessed him blossom right before my very eyes, but I didn’t want to always see it and I knew that it would require efforts and energies on my part to not succumb to the societal pressures, expectations and norms placed on him and on me as his parent.

The conversations with family and friends have been a mixture of responses.  I am grateful for those who shared struggles and yet, went on to learn more (picked up books and resources) and ultimately accepted Sam, because well they always loved Sam and loving him meant more to them than being comfortable and understanding all of his exploration.  Ultimately, they were willing to get uncomfortable and be challenged in their own notions of gender conformity.

Oh how I wish more responses were like those above.  The other conversations were one’s filled with anger, fear and confusion.  As a parent, the questions I’ve been met with range from, “is this happening because you’re allowing it to happen” to “why are you not creating stricter boundaries”? to “why are you not simply telling her– she can’t be a boy”?  Sometimes there were no questions just judgements and accusations that we as parents were leading him astray.  Scripture versus and religious rants were bashed over my head and claims were made that it would be better for me as a parent to be drown in an ocean than for my child to be led down this “dark path”.  These comments were on the (obviously) other end of the spectrum of responses, but my point is I’ve had a myriad of conversations that have been painful and have required me to think about how to keep my child safe.

As a parent, (although I believe it to be complete bullshit) it is to be expected.  I am the adult.  I can engage these conversations to an extent and create the boundaries for the conversations I wish to not be a part of, but when they are directed at my child– whelp that’s a whole other thang.

And the thing is those comments directed at me are indirect messages to him to, “Get this kid in line– we don’t know what to do with him.  He needs to be fixed”.  When there is nothing broken with his identity at all.

This year Sam returned to school completely out about his identity.  Friends, peers and teachers who had known him as ‘she’ sometimes didn’t know what to do with ‘him’.  He faced many questions from his peers about whether or not he was a ‘real boy’ or a ‘real girl’.  When Sam answered that he felt like he was both (a girl and a boy) kids laughed and said that wasn’t possible.  Honestly, although these conversations have been difficult for Sam and have hurt his feelings I understand why these kinds of questions exist.  The kids are trying to make sense of someone who doesn’t fit within the binary framework we’ve all been given at conception and birth.  No one tells us that it’s completely fine and natural for there to be variations, diversity and difference when it comes to gender– that for some gender is fluid and their identification of their gender is somewhere on a spectrum.

Our society gives us a structure for gender.  This binary gender structure gives us two choices, two boxes: boy or girl… this or that.  What is problematic about this binary construct is that it assigns characteristics, qualities and values to external representations of human beings.  In other words, if you have a penis then you are immediately assigned the qualities and characteristics that have been deemed to go with a penis.  If you have a penis then you are viewed as an individual who likes, values and expresses oneself with qualities and characteristics that are assigned to people with penis’.  We see this all the time.  Couples find out the sex of their baby and they immediately connect characteristics and values that go along with the sex of their child (i.e. boys= blue, girls= pink, boys= trucks, girls=dolls).  These qualities are assigned to you just based on the genitals you are born with.  This social gender structure doesn’t take into account the internal– it is purely constructed on the external and the internal is supposed to just follow suit.

But what if your internal experience varies or doesn’t match the external?  What if your personal qualities, values and characteristics do not match those that you are supposed to have because you have a penis or a vagina?  What if your personal values don’t fit the genitalia-specific assignment that you were given at birth?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. The more I get involved in these conversations the more I see just how much more we love our boxes than actual people.  We love checking boxes and telling people, “you fit here and you belong there”.  We are committed to maintaining norms that make sense to us and allow us to place value on the existence of others.  We don’t even think twice about the boxes or the limitations the boxes present because these boxes afford us comfort and ease– a compass for how we are to navigate the world.

And then someone like Sam comes along and says, “the box is too tight– too restrictive– it’s not me”.  We respond with, “Oh shit, what do we do”?  Well typically we put pressure on the person to comply– conform.  We yell, “just be NORMAL”!!!!!  We may reject them… Displace them from family and community.  Sometimes we bully– we beat up and we even kill.

  • A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%). (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2011).

 

Sam feels this pressure daily.  He navigates this pressure daily.  He has an incredible read on people.  He knows who are safe harbors and who are uncomfortable, but trying to be polite and he veers clear of these people.  He feels the difference between acceptance and tolerance and he’s learned that tolerance seriously sucks.  He is learning to reject negativity and intolerance and he deflects with kindness and a sense of humor, but it still hurts.

This is just the tip of the iceberg– we’re just at the coming out phase with friends and family and it’s been hard.  We still have much more to consider: bathrooms, healthcare, community and safety (to name a few).

For now I want to say something on behalf of our family.  I hope other gender-non conforming families feel safe and will be able to share their experiences, too. For families and individuals out there needing support please feel free to contact me and reach out.  We have to find ways to support each other.

To non-believers and the rest of society:

  1.  It’s my child’s right to explore and figure out his gender identity.  You don’t have the right to tell my kid who he is and/or who he can be.  Any comments or confusion or fears you have regarding this– is your stuff– you get to deal with that on your own and not displace that on my kid.  If you are an ally there are books and resources to help you in your own personal process.  My kid has enough on his plate with just developing and growing and learning and he doesn’t need any additional pressure to conform to your comforts.
  2. It’s my right to parent, love, accept and support my kid.  You don’t get to shame me or pressure me to do things the way you would.  You see, I know my kid and I value him. I don’t have time to educate you and help you to see that gender diversity is healthy and natural. I don’t have time to answer questions about his/our process. This is not some freak show for you to gawk at and make judgements. This is our lives and my kid is someone of dignity and I won’t allow you to reduce him to anything less.
  3. We all have a lot to learn about gender.  Here are some helpful definitions:

Gender Identity: what you know and feel to be true about your gender (Meet Polkadot)

Biological sex is defined as the parts a person’s body has: chromosomes, hormones, and physical body parts. Both gender identity and biological sex are “normal and great” no matter what they are. Sometimes gender identity and biological sex do not match 100% and that is normal and okay (Meet Polkadot)

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity is aligned to what they were designated at birth, based on their physical sex; 2) A non-trans* person.

Designated Sex (Designated Sex at Birth): The sex one is labeled at birth, generally by a medical or birthing professional, based on a cursory examination of external and/or physical sex characteristics such as genitalia and cultural concepts of male and female sexed bodies. Sex designation is used to label one’s gender identity prior to self-identification.

Fluid: A gender identity where a person identifies as 1) neither or both female and male; 2) Experiences a range of femaleness and maleness, with a denoted movement or flow between genders; 3) Consistently experiences their gender identity outside of the gender binary.

Gender Expression: How one chooses to express one’s gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, body characteristics, etc. Gender expression may change over time and from day to day, and may or may not conform to an individual’s gender identity.

Trans*: Umbrella term, originated from Transgender (see below). Used to denote the increasingly wide spectrum of identities within the gender variant spectrum. The asterisk is representative of the widest notation of possible trans* identities. Aimed at promoting unification among gender variant communities by placing focus on gender transgression over specific identity labels, genders, or bodies.

 

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Gender DiversityGender Diversity

Gender Definition & Terms 

Injustice At Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (2011)

Meet Polkadot by: Talcott Broadhead 

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves by Laura Erickson-Schroth 

 

 

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Mental health is about… well… health!

May is Mental Health Awareness month.  I think the thing I hear from people more commonly than not is…  “Mental health is really not about me.  Mental health is for those with mental health problems like depression”.  For some reason in this culture, we’ve dissected mental health from the equation of a person’s overall health.  This mentality leads to either/or– black or white kind of thinking that goes something like this for individuals:

No registered or diagnosable issues like depression or anxiety = no mental health issues, which equals I don’t have to think, talk or reflect on mental health in my everyday life

or

Depression or anxiety = mental health condition, which equals a irreversible crisis that I want nothing to do with.  

In fact, within this mentality it is common for people to believe that mental health issues are a rare thing. mental health stigma   Mental health has become so fraught with negativity and stigma that most people cannot even admit to themselves when it is time to examine this as an area of self-care in their lives.

Stigma is defined as: a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.

We punish people and stigmatize them for mental health conditions that are out of their control.  Yet, we wouldn’t dare do that to someone with cancer or a heart condition.

And stigma is one of the primary reasons why people do not seek help for their condition. Mental-Health-Awareness-image-mental-health-awareness-36499914-500-647 One way that we can end stigma is by actually talking about mental health as a necessary part of what it means to be healthy, whole human beings.  It’s one aspect of our holistic selves.  We have to start telling our stories and accepting this as part of our human condition.  And we have to stop telling ourselves that mental health issues are these horrible, terrible, irreversible conditions that we can’t change or do anything about.  We have to stop fearing mental disorders and those that suffer with them and find stories that raise the dignity of those who suffer, as well as stop giving into the sensationalism of media and how they present stories of mental health.  Let’s join in becoming a collective body of hope to heal ourselves and the world of stigma so that those who need it get the treatment and care that they need.   stop-the-stigma-of-mental-illness

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Don’t want to make waves…

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Intimate relationships take a lot of work.  In partnerships there are always two sets of needs, desires, hopes, dreams, etc.  How does one balance one’s own needs, as well as their partner’s needs?

A problem that comes up often in figuring out a balance is when an individual hides her/his personal needs to meet the needs of their partner.  This gives off the feeling that the relationship is balanced.   However, what many find is that in hiding personal needs they realize their relationship is not balanced and this leads to resentment, frustration and loneliness.

It’s true there is no balance in a relationship where one is hiding his or her personal needs from the other.  This dynamic tilts the relationship toward one end of the relationship.

There are a variety of reasons why people hide their own needs:

1)    Trauma- one can’t identify personal needs because abuse and trauma have embedded a message that her/his needs are irrelevant, unimportant or non-existent.

2)    Family of origin issues- family of origin modeled a communication style that was restrictive and repressive.  The family did not communicate openly, authentically or honestly about their feelings, desires and thoughts.

3)    Belief systems—some believe that to have needs is to be selfish, self-centered or self-serving

4)    People realize that to have needs and to communicate those needs complicates the balance dynamic in a relationship.  Additionally, sharing one’s needs (especially when it’s not in alignment with the partner’s needs) can invite conflict.  It takes much more communication and work to identify one’s own needs, communicate them and listen and receive your partner’s needs.

I hear people say all the time, “I don’t share my needs because I don’t want to make waves”.  What if my partner gets upset with me or worse, yet, thinks I’m selfish.  As a therapist this tells me a few things:   1) It’s really scary to be vulnerable– even in the safest relationships.  2) it takes a lot of work to accept that as human beings we all have needs that are valid.  It’s not a selfish thing—it’s just a human thing.  Figuring out what those needs are and meeting them is complicated, but worth figuring out with your partner and 3) many folks do not feel that they have the skills needed to communicate in a way that honors both sets of needs.

Your needs are important.  It’s worth figuring out what they are and acknowledging them.  Part of the negotiating aspect will be to figure out how, when and where to meet those needs.  Your partner can be a supportive part of that process.  Identifying needs doesn’t necessarily mean that those needs get met immediately, but there is something relieving/kind/compassionate about taking time to figure out if, how and when they can be met.

Try it: take a moment to write down a need that you haven’t told anyone about.  Maybe it’s something you’ve been hiding for fear it would be interpreted as selfish.  You can write it down or draw it.  Give yourself the free space to completely explore this need.

–       What is your need?

–       Why is this important to you?

–       How can this need get met?

–       What resources can you identify to aid you in this process?  Is there a financial cost?  Will there be a sacrifice of time or energy?

–       What’s a timeline?

Remember this an exploratory process.  At this point, don’t get bogged down in logistics.  Just have fun with it.

I always encourage couples to identify their personal needs and learn skills to communicate those needs with one another and here is why:

Identifying needs bring greater clarity and empowerment in the individual’s life.  This exploration allows the individual to know her/himself more deeply.  This is a meaningful process as one becomes more aware of self.  I have seen nothing but liberation, freedom and acceptance in people who allow themselves to go through this process.

When people do the work of understanding themselves and they are transparent about who they are in their relationship it brings deeper intimacy in the relationship.  I really think that the reason why we couple up is because we desire to know and to be known.  Unfortunately, when we hide certain aspects of who we are our intimacy with our partner is cut short.

Yes, it is scary, vulnerable and hard work to live in a transparent relationship, but it is also beautifully satisfying to take the risk and find love on the basis of being known for who we really are. 

Book resources:

Couple Skills Making Your Relationship Work by Matthew McKay PhD, Patrick Fanning and Kim Paleg PhD

Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson

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Loving every imperfect and blemished inch

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(Me first thing in the morning without make up or getting done up)

Most would never know that I’ve struggled with weight and self-image my whole life.  I don’t tend to come off that way to most people.  In fact, the other day while teaching a class with my mentor she said, “DeAnza, is always so well put together”. This is the first time I’ve talked about this in public.

Growing up in a mixed race family with a poor Filipina mother who always navigated the world like a force to be reckoned with and a white grandmother who adored high- end fashion from Nordstrom I definitely acquired identity confusion.

Let me give you the backdrop:

In Filipino culture there is a strong matriarchal presence.  Although, there is an adherence to traditional gender roles (males=bread winner, females=home maker) the underlying power and leadership is on the matriarchal side of the family.  Women are the driving force.  Women are the ones that keep their families going.  They are the leaders behind the scene.

We were poor so we shopped at Goodwill and Kmart for our clothing.  I usually was made fun of at school and excluded from the ‘cool’ circle of girls.

On the other hand, my grandmother (my father’s mother) who helped raise me had a taste for quality.  Upon arriving at her house, she would arrange for me to go to Nordstrom to pick out a wardrobe that was acceptable to her qualifications and most of my peers’ standards.

I very much enjoyed these shopping excursions—who wouldn’t?

But growing up I continued to feel conflicted about myself.

An addition to this confliction is the fact that I have always been slender and petite.  This seemed to bring quite a bit of attention to me (still does).  People were either very complimentary or completely concerned about it.

In high school I had a group of women tell me that they were praying for me—in hopes that I did not have anorexia or ‘get’ anorexia.

Upon arriving home, I’d hear my own mother discuss her concern with weight.  This seems to be a preoccupation of Filipino culture—the idea of weight is very much tied to worth.

All of these (and many more) experiences in conjunction with our Western standards of beauty that are practically intravenously fed to us from the time we are born created an inner conflict.

In the sandwich of these messages I developed some real anxiety and concern over my presentation.  This tends to escalate over the holidays.  As we enter into this season I feel the ramp up of the eating-restricting dance that so many of us women know.  It goes something like this:

***

Soon we will take pleasure in delightful, mouth- watering tastes that we swear off all year round and now make glorious exceptions.  We eat and we feel round.  We may even feel glory.

We participate in one holiday meal after the next.  And for a short time it feels good, warm and filling.  The buzz of tryptophan rocks us mellow and sedated.

The following day when we wake from our coma we swear ourselves off for the previous night’s binge on mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies.  We are feeling our roundness as regret when we say, “we are bloated—something must be done”.  We take to a quickie resolution plan—only water and salad for the next five days.

We convince ourselves that to get back on track is to restrict, i.e. starve ourselves back into acceptability.

Sound familiar?

The trouble with the food hangover and then the food starvation plan is the self-loathing and self-hatred that we find ourselves entwined in.

We mistake this feeling of restlessness for a lack of peace with food, but really what it is a lack of peace with ourselves.

We are doing our damndest to mold ourselves into an acceptable configuration of beauty, which may not be our norm but someone else’s.

We stop listening to ourselves.

We lose sight of who we are.

We place everyone else’s standard before our own.

We reject our voices and our needs.

Is there hope for change?

Here are a couple of ideas to consider:

1)   Change the Narrative

2)   Face Reality

3)   Radically Accept

Change the Narrative:

The holiday season is a time of celebration—no matter what you believe this time of year brings us together with friends and family for a time of celebrating life, the year’s triumph’s, successes and victories, blessing and relationships.

Across all traditions and cultures food is a primary platform for celebration.  Food gathers and unites people.  Food ushers us into the season with its smells and textures.  It prepares us for the season at hand.

Changing the narrative is saying, “I deserve a time to be celebrated and to celebrate”.  It’s changing the dialogue that has previously said you are unworthy and unwelcome.  Instead it is embracing the idea that you are a part of this community and, as is the case for every-single-person in community—there is space for you to partake in this celebration feast.

You may decide that there are still boundaries or parameters that you wish to employ in celebration, but you walk yourself through that process by asking:

How do I want to celebrate?

What does that look like practically?  Where do I want to eat?  With whom do I want to eat?  What do I want to eat?

What foods will be nourishing to my celebration process?

How will my soul be filled, as well as my belly?

Face Reality:

You are imperfect.  You are imperfect in body, soul, heart and mind.  The enticing dance of binging and restriction is a dynamic that seeks to control the chaos of imperfection and the fear that other’s will find out just how imperfect you really are.  It is a rage against your body’s futility and inability to invoke any real change.

I think we all have to get a little honest with ourselves here.  I can hear folks saying, “I know… I know… I’m not perfect, duh”!

But the thing is you desire perfection.  You may desire perfection more then you desire authenticity.  If you’ve said anything even remotely close to this then you know the perfection dance:

  • Last night at the Christmas party I couldn’t stop eating!  There goes last year’s resolution!!  No more carbs.   No more alcohol.  No more sweets for me!
  • Ugh!  I looked in the mirror and what happened?!?!  I couldn’t even button up my favorite jeans.  I am so bloated—it’s disgusting!

Your path has been one of either 1) attaining perfection or 2) hiding the imperfect.

It is slowly killing you—your passions, your joy, your delight in life.

The first step to breaking the cycle is to be honest with yourself.

Radical Acceptance:

Marsha Linehan developed the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for people who suffer with self-harm tendencies.  A component of this model is the technique and term: Radical Acceptance.

It makes all the more sense when you hear Dr. Linehan’s story.  When she was in her teenage years she was hospitalized for suicidal ideation and self-harm tendencies.  Every therapy model used, including electroshock therapy, did nothing to improve her condition.  She spiraled into deeper despair.  It wasn’t until a pivotal moment when she recognized that the only way that she could heal was if she looked honestly at herself and then take the incremental steps to accept herself radically.  The radical nature of this is that not only did she learn to accept her strengths, but she also learned to accept her weaknesses.  All of these aspects made her uniquely who she was.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy step.  There are no magic pills or formula to make this happen—much of it has to do with will and choice.  It’s a willful embrace on the individual’s part.

When I talk to people about the idea of self- love—it happens so often that people confuse self- love to be a feeling rather then an active embrace.

Becoming loving and accepting of oneself is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling that washes over us and makes us think that we’re just swell, rather loving self is active.

So…  a loving thing to do for yourself is to check in with yourself regularly to ask what you need.

You don’t have to wait for the emotion… No, instead you create space to assess your needs and then respond to the need.  This is a loving act.

It’s what we do for people we love…  So why not do it for ourselves?

What do you need? –> What can you do to meet that need? –> Choose not to reprimand yourself for your needs –> Make the space to nourish that need

This is an active way of loving yourself.  It’s not based on emotion instead it’s a way to lovingly treat yourself and nourish your body, mind, heart and soul.  Taking the steps to act in loving ways toward ourselves allows us to shift our perceptions of ourselves, which lead to an opportunity to feel genuine love toward self.

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Self Esteem or Other Esteem?

This was posted on Psychology Today and I really felt it helpful.  It speaks to all the multi-faceted aspects of self-value and how it’s played out in our culture and the individual.

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Self Esteem or Other Esteem?

Seek the former, avoid the latter.
Published on July 29, 2013 by Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W. in A Shift of Mind

In my previous article, Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis, I proposed that a devaluation of one’s self lies at the heart of most psychological and emotional disorders. Let’s now explore more deeply what the term self-esteem denotes and come to appreciate what we mean by it as well as what gets in our way of attaining it.

I have come to believe that the way the term self-esteem is used is actually a misnomer. The first half of the expression, self, would seem to indicate that esteem, the second half of the expression, is derived from one’s self. Yet if we look closer, we find that most people seek a sense of worthiness from that which lies outside of them. For a student, it might come from good grades; for a businessperson or worker, it’s derived from a promotion or a raise; and for most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide a temporary increase in esteem. Our society generates billions of dollars in revenues from inducing people to seek the quick fix of vanity as a means toward feeling better. Yet none of these actually contribute one iota to self-esteem. Ironically, they may even get in the way.

Other Esteem

Since the self-worth described above is paradoxically sought from external sources, we confront a dilemma: What we call self-esteem is, in fact, other-esteem. Admittedly, being approved of or valued by others may make us feel good, but if we betray our authentic self in order to achieve these results, we decimate genuine self-worth. Some individuals become people pleasers and go to great lengths to keep the peace or avoid displeasing others. In such cases, they are not invested in properly valuing their own sense of self. The self becomes subordinate to others’ considerations. 

Our culture as a whole induces us to conceal aspects of our genuine self – as we are taught to hide our insecurity and vulnerability – and mask it from others, which is utterly destructive to our investment in our self. We modify and mold so much of our behavior and, even more, ourpersonality to achieve other-esteem. We actually create personality masks through this harmful endeavor, many of us presenting to others the person we think they would approve of.

Not only is this a self-deprecating experience, but it also sabotages our relationships, for these masks that we now wear impact them. When we act in this manner, we are truly taking our well being and serving it up to other people. It then becomes the other person’s duty to decide if we are worthy. This is not a healthy place to be, and it is a soul-defeating exercise. We should never judge ourselves based upon how we think others see us. Yet many people are so sensitive to the judgment of others that they alter their behavior in the drive for other-esteem.

Who is the Judge?

The simple truth is that others can’t judge us. People can have opinions of you; that is entirely natural. To elevate their opinion to the status of a judgment, however, is simply ridiculous. No one can judge you unless you grant him or her the power of being your judge. Why would we put a judge’s robes on an ordinary person and confer such power upon them? The only person who arbitrarily has such power presides in a courtroom; all others are people with opinions. With a healthier measure of self-esteem, we might more easily tolerate others’ opinions without elevating their beliefs into construed judgments and objective truths.

Esteem must be generated from within and can then radiate outward. When we focus outwardly for approval, we are seeking it in the wrong place. And, in so doing, we subordinate our authentic being in a vain attempt at happiness. Such fulfillment is dependent and superficial, and it undermines our personal evolution. This seeking of externalized affirmation is what I call other-esteem.

When we set up this drama regarding approval, we create issues around notions of rejection. The concept of rejection can be misleading. With a healthy self-esteem, one doesn’t consider rejection. Another person may not like you or may disapprove of you, and you may feel badly about that. But it shouldn’t induce you to offer yourself up to the altar of approval.

When we solicit approval from others, we are actually rejecting our own self – and concurrently debasing our self-esteem – by seeking it from others. If that approval isn’t granted, we have a habit of claiming that we were rejected. In truth, we have rejected ourselves when we set others up as judge. The degree to which we are overly reactive to others’ opinions of us is inversely correlated to our level of self-esteem.

Reframing Self-Esteem

A reconsidering of our understanding of self-esteem might be helpful in reframing our cultural expectations of happiness. Almost all parentswould claim that they are thoroughly invested in their children’s self-esteem. Educators and guidance counselors also place great value on the development of children’s self-worth. Yet I would argue that most don’t begin to comprehend self-esteem. If an A student becomes depressed by a B, it is abundantly clear that their esteem is contingent upon their performance. Performance should be seen as the icing on the cake, but the cake, so to speak, is your relationship with your self. Similarly, athletic achievement or popularity are things that we may understandably encourage in our children. When put into proper perspective, we might see that these factors might enhance their lives. But it is critical that they not be the cornerstones of how they see themselves. For in that case, the average student or the mediocre athlete is relegated to the imprisonment of low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is the legitimate foundation for a healthy relationship with others and ourselves. Genuine self-esteem removes the construct of neediness so prevalent in most relationship challenges and liberates us to thrive, as issues of rejection and judgment recede. If we seek our esteem from outside, we leave ourselves in a tentative and dependent place. When the sense of worth emanates from within, life unfolds in an empowered manner.

Vulnerability is Strength

Enormous percentages of people struggle with marginal self-worth. They have come to believe limiting and negative stories about themselves and therefore experience their lives accordingly. The more they do so, the more they may try to hide or disguise their insecurity. This is at the heart of the problem.

The pathway toward self-value requires embracing your vulnerability. We are culturally taught to act strong – and to hide our vulnerable side. In reality, this messaging promotes fear and exacerbates our insecurities as we hide our inner self from others. This decimates our sense of self-worth, for it is here that we defer to others as we abandon ourselves. It is only the most exceptional person who doesn’t struggle at some time with self-doubt, fear or insecurity. This is a normal human experience and we should engage it as such, without embarrassment or apprehension. One who is comfortable with their vulnerability has nothing to hide from others and is indeed genuinely strong. The person who acts strong is not authentic as they are acting. The key to a powerful self-esteem is found by embracing your vulnerability – your fears and insecurities. In doing so, you liberate yourself from setting up others as your judge, as you have nothing to hide. You must embrace your vulnerability to attain inner strength.

In my next article I will explore in detail how you can move toward deconstructing your negative beliefs and liberate yourself from the damaging torrent of old thoughts that imprison you.