7 Steps To Achieving True Authenticity

Authenticity is the opposite of shame. It reveals our humanity and allows us to connect with others. Shame makes us hide who we are, sacrifice our needs, and say yes when we rather not – all to be accepted by someone else. It warps our communication and damages our relationships so that we control, patronize, criticize, blame, deny, withdraw, attack, and make empty promises to keep a relationship and reassure ourselves we’re okay even when we don’t believe it.

Hiding Who You Are

For most of us, our self-doubt and hiding has been going on so long that by adulthood, we’ve lost touch with who we truly are. We’ve grown accustomed to behaving in certain predictable roles that worked in our more or less troubled families, in school, and in our work. In the process, we sacrifice a degree of freedom, spontaneity, vulnerability, and parts of ourselves.

Even if things look okay on the outside, if we’re fortunate enough not to be in an abusive relationship or one burdened by addiction or dishonesty, we may feel a malaise, an uneasy dissatisfaction and not know why. If we once shared vibrant love with our significant other or used to have a joie de vivre and hope for the future, we might feel trapped and wonder where our passion and enthusiasm for life went. What happened was, we started shrinking and stopped risking being ourselves.

Falling In Love

Often when we fall in love, we open up. Loving and feeling accepted in the eyes of our beloved catapults us out of our ordinary personality. We feel expansive and come alive. We rediscover our true self through the process of being vulnerable and revealing parts of ourselves that we don’t usually experience. Doing so is why romance makes us feel so alive.

Before too long, we discover things we dislike in our partner. Our feelings get deeply hurt, our needs conflict, we disagree and disapprove. In an attempt to make love last, we start keeping things to ourselves, withdraw, manipulate with words and deeds, or even try to change our partner into the person we imagined he or she was. As things pile up, the risk of being vulnerable and honest with each other looms larger. Even if words of love are spoken, passion and intimacy have vanished. Couples yearn for connection, but feel empty and lonely without intimacy, due to their fear of rejection and loss. We endure, or if the relationship ends, we hurt. Breakups can activate shame, chip away at our self-esteem, and raise our defenses, making being vulnerable again all the more risky.

Authenticity Requires Courage

Authenticity and intimacy require courage. Each move we make toward authenticity risks exposure, criticism, and rejection, but facing those risks also affirms our real self. There’s no question that rejection and loss hurt, but paradoxically, risking vulnerability makes us safer, and our defenses weakens us. Healing our shame, building self esteem, autonomy, and our ability to be assertive and set boundaries can make us feel more secure. When we’re authentic, it invites our partner to do the same. It keeps love alive, and we’re more likely to get our emotional needs met. We not only feel stronger when we’re honest, it begins to heal our shame. It also avoids the myriad of defenses and the misunderstandings and conflicts that they create.

Sharing our vulnerability with others requires courage twice. First we must be honest with ourselves and be able to feel our emotions and identify our needs. Some of us have become numb to our feelings and are clueless about our needs if they were shamed childhood. When one feeling is unacceptable, they all more or less shrivel. As a consequence, we start to shut down our aliveness. When we don’t acknowledge our needs, they won’t get met.

1. Identify Your Feelings and Needs

The first step is being able to name what we feel and need in order to communicate effectively. People often say that something made them “upset.” I have no idea whether they were angry, worried, or hurt. Emotions can be confusing. For example, often hurt masquerades as anger, resentment camouflages guilt, rage conceals shame, and sadness covers anger.

A key symptom of codependency is denial, including denial of feelings and needs (especially emotional needs). Being authentic with our rage that’s really a defense for shame damages our relationships and pushes others way – usually the opposite of what we really want. Similarly, if, like many codependents, we believe we should be self-sufficient, we might not honor and ask for our needs for closeness or support. As a result, we end up feeling lonely and resentful. Journaling is a great way to decipher our true feelings. Developing an emotional vocabulary helps us be understood, be better communicators, and get what we want and need.

2. Honor Your Feelings and Needs

We must be able not only to acknowledge, but also honor our feelings and needs if we’re going to risk exposing them to others. Many of us judge our feelings and needs, like pride or anger and affection or intimacy. We’re also unaware of the shame that conceals and derides them. Working with a skilled therapist will help you be able to feel again and accept your feelings and needs without self-judgment.

3. Improve Your Self-Esteem and Boundaries

It takes courage again to take the ultimate risk of sharing what we feel and need. Without self-esteem and boundaries, we take things personally and collapse into shame. Our prickly defenses immediately get triggered and destroy the emotional safety we’re trying to create. On the other hand, we derive courage from risk-taking. Taking the leap to be vulnerable builds self-esteem and empowers us. When we raise self-esteem and connect to ourselves, our boundaries improve. Flexible boundaries also enable us to discern when, where, how, and with whom we’re vulnerable. We’re aware that we’re separate from others and are able to allow their reactions.

4. Learn to Be Assertive

There are constructive and destructive ways to communicate our vulnerability. Most of us lack those role models from our families where communication is learned. Developing assertiveness skills not only builds self-esteem, but enables us to communicate in effective ways that promote connection. This is especially important when we want to share “negative” feelings about things we dislike or don’t want. Additionally, when we’re able to set limits and say “No,” we’re more generous when they say it to us.

5. Nurture Yourself

We can’t control other people’s reaction, so we also must know that we can nurture and sustain ourselves. This increases our autonomy. Most codependents don’t have good parental models of nurturing. Having supportive relationships and the ability to comfort ourselves make us less codependent on others. It’s also part of healing shame and building self-esteem. Taking reasonable risks builds self-esteem and autonomy, too.

6. Heal Shame

Developing self-acceptance required for authenticity may necessitate reviewing the messages and abuse from your childhood. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, many of us have internalized shame. A therapist can help guide you to challenge and cut through the dark cloud of false beliefs that hangs over you, undermining your self-worth.

7. Get Support

Working with an experienced psychotherapist is generally necessary to undo our old negative programming and support us in trying new behavior. Attending Twelve-Step meetings helps. Once we start living authentically, whether or not we’re in a relationship, we regain our zest and joy of living.

3 Helpful Tools For Building A Healthy Sense Of Self

After a traumatic and dis-empowering childhood, much of my life’s work has been about building a healthy and empowered sense of self. Not a narcissistic sense of self, but one that is rooted in a healthy ego and a recognition of the great possibilities that live within each of us. I believe that every one of us comes into this life with a brilliant and a unique sacred purpose, a network of gifts, callings, lessons, significant relationships, and key emotional issues that we are here to clarify, to express, to actualize, and to grow through. Our sacred purpose is our unique contribution to the world.

In order to fully embrace our purpose and make self-affirming life choices, we need an authentic sense of our own value. We need to believe that we are worthy of bringing our gifts and offerings to the world. Because so few of us were given a healthy template for self-validation, we often have to forge that template ourselves in the fires of our own determination.

Here are 3 tools that helped me to reach the stage of self-validation where I could see my purpose through in a challenging world.

Tool 1: Practice the Art of Selective Attachment.

Given that our sense of self was wounded in relationships, some part of it has to be restored through relationships. We are relational beings, after all. But relational healing can’t happen with just anyone. We have to cultivate the art of selective attachment. In other words, we have to sift everything through a self-validation filter, connecting only to those relationships that support our healthy self-development. If someone bolsters our sense of value, we invite them in. If they don’t, we turn them away. In other words, self-validators enter, lite-dimmers exit. Not from a place of contempt, but from a place of burgeoning self-love. We already have enough internalized voices telling us that we don’t have value. We don’t need any more. If they don’t help you grow, then let them go. Who you surround yourself with really matters.

Of course, we can get all the validation we want, even if it comes from someone credible, but it won’t be enough. We still have to take proactive steps to confirm our value.

Tool 2: Affirm your value.

Affirmations can be a positive step in the direction of self-empowerment. It can be encouraging to repeat self-validating affirmations throughout the day. For example, “I am enough!”, “I am worthy of a healthy relationship”, “I am worthy of self-love”, “I am brilliant.” These mantras can keep you going, particularly during challenging moments and can bolster your sense of self. But on their own, they are not enough to deeply transform you. In order to build a strong and sturdy sense of self, your words need to be coupled with self-affirming actions. In other words, you need to prove to yourself that you matter. You have to make your affirmations real. There has to be a congruency between what you are expressing and what you are living before your inner world will take notice.

By making your affirmations real, you send a message to the deep within that you are worthy enough to wage this battle for self-love. If we don’t prove to ourselves that we are willing to fight for our right to the light and our right to a healthy self-concept, who will?

This work may require that we go to the edge of our discomfort, and make empowering new choices. For example, if you are someone who has had a hard time speaking up for yourself, shift the pattern by clearly and confidently voicing your needs or desiresOr if you are someone who has resisted exploring a more gratifying career path, take one step in the direction of a new career. Even the smallest and shakiest of steps can transform your inner landscape.

To make your affirmations real: finish the things you start. Prove to yourself that you can see things through to completion. This can include important and meaningful life goals. Or practical and menial everyday tasks. It doesn’t matter if they are lofty accomplishments or simple actions. What matters is that you drown your negative self-talk in a sea of accomplishment.

Tool 3: Healing Our Core Wounds.

Fundamental to our efforts to self-validate, is the importance of going back into the past to heal our core wounds. At the heart of a diminished self-concept is invariably some combination of unresolved abuse, trauma, and unmet needs. And it’s seldom ours alone- most of these dysfunctional patterns have roots in our family lineage and ancestral patterns. In other words, we are carrying everyone’s emotional material up the rocky mountain with us.

The way we break free from dysfunctional familial patterns is not by running away from them. It’s by walking back in their direction. Not because we want to keep repeating them, but because the only way to shift these patterns is to heal them at their roots. It’s okay to run from them for a time, but not for all time. Because the flight from what lives inside of you, merely delays your arrival. You may think you are on the way to a new destination yet the plane keeps circling back to your childhood home. It can’t navigate a new flight plan, until you return back to where you came from, and heal its broken wings. With your wings strengthened, there is nowhere you can’t go.

The healing can happen in many forms. Talk therapy can be an effective tool in seeing and understanding the roots of our diminished sense of self. With the right therapist, you can talk through and reclaim those parts of you that got lost along the way. You can come to terms with where the voices of self-hatred and internalized shame originated. But identifying and analyzing our wounds is not always the same as healing them. Excessive analysis can perpetuate emotional paralysis- strengthening your mental capacities while possibly delaying your deeper healing. An effective recipe for healing is to couple your talk-therapy with a body-centered psycho-therapeutic approach. Body-centered models like somatic experiencing, bio-energetics, and core energetics, engage both your mental faculties and your capacity for deep feeling, supporting a more integrated healing. Your negative self-talk may be manifest as thinking, but its roots are often in the traumas endured within the emotional and physical bodies. Our traumas were a felt experience, and if we want to transform them we have to meet them directly, within the body itself. The feel is for real.

The key to the transformation of challenging patterns and wounds is to heal them from the inside out. Not to analyze them, not to watch them like an astronomer staring at a faraway planet through a telescope, but to jump right into the heart of them, encouraging their expression and release, stitching them into new possibilities with the thread of love. You want to live a self-empowered life? Heal your heart. That’s the best affirmation of all.

CONTINUING THE WORK

Building a healthy self-concept takes more than recognizing why we don’t have one. We have to do the work to construct a new egoic foundation. That work is not merely conceptual- it is rooted in embodied, lived experience: supportive relationships, positive affirmations coupled with meaningful action, addressing our emotional wounds, and eventually healing our way home. If you can stay with these tools for long enough, the voices of internalized shame and self-hatred will grow quieter, and a voice of self-love will rise up to occupy space inside of you. Your inner narrative will shift from a tone of shame, to a tone of self-value. You will no longer make choices sourced in an over-compensatory quest for external validation, you will make choices that are rooted in self-love. Self-regard will become your natural and organic way of being, and you will become emblazoned on your path, living your life like the force of purposeful nature that you are.

We are all beautiful and brilliant beings, at heart. The trick is clearing the obstacles and doing the rewarding work to build a foundation of enduring self-regard. When we do, we stop getting in our own way, and we live the life we were born for.

5 Reminders To Read When Your Dark Thoughts Are Starting To Scare You

1. You’re not as fucked up as you feel. Nothing is wrong with you. You’re not broken. You’re not a lost cause. You’re not destined to fail, destined to disappoint, destined to feel this miserable forever. You need to stop beating yourself up about things you’ve done wrong in the past and the questions you have about your future. Above all, you need to stop feeling so ashamed about the way your mind works, because your feelings are truly valid. Your fears are valid. You are valid.

2. All you need to focus on is today, this second, this moment. It can be overwhelming to wonder about tomorrow and then next day and the day after that. But you don’t have to think too hard about your future right now. You can focus on the moment. Focus on getting through whatever you are feeling, right now, and worry about the rest later. Right now is all that matters. And right now, you need to breathe.

3. You can’t put off asking for help for any longer. You should reach out to someone who can help you get through this time, whether it’s a therapist or a trusted friend. You’ve held onto your feelings for long enough. You’ve tried staying silent — and now you should try being honest. Instead of worrying about how others might look at you if they heard the ‘crazy’ thoughts swarming around in your brain, you should be more worried about what will happen if you never say those words out loud. You should be more worried about what will happen to you if you bottle everything up inside. You need to work through your pain. You need to take the proper steps to heal yourself, and that requires asking for help.

4. You know yourself better than anyone else does. Other people might assume you’re fine. They might have no idea you’re going through tough times because you keep your worries in your head and save your crying for when you’re all alone. You can’t wait around for someone else to realize you’re struggling and help solve the problem. No one else is going to play the part of your hero. You need to take care of your problems on your own. After all, you know yourself best. If something is wrong, you shouldn’t ignore the feeling in your gut. You shouldn’t keep putting off getting help until you reach your breaking point. Take your future into your own hands. Start taking better care of yourself today, because you deserve it more than you realize.

5. You are going to survive this, just like you’ve survived everything else. You can’t waste too much time doubting yourself. You can’t question your strength. You’ve made it this far. Even though it was hard. Even though there were moments when you wanted to give up hope. Even though you struggled. You’ve proven yourself wrong before and you’re going to do it again. You’re going to be okay again soon. You’re going to get through these harsh moments.

What Depression Actually Is, Because It’s More Than ‘Just Being Sad’

Depression isn’t the saddest person in the room. Quite contrary actually, depression sometimes is the person you would have never expected. Along with trying to convince you they’re happy, they’re trying to convince themselves.

Depression isn’t that melancholy person, you don’t want to be around. Oftentimes, it’s the person everyone loves because of the light they bring to a room is so bright but that’s only because they know darkness.

Depression isn’t the person screaming out for help. It’s the silent person dealing with battles they’re still trying to understand themselves.

Depression is doing everything you can to hide it. Because there’s nothing glorified about it. There’s nothing beautiful about a bad night as you fall to your knees, in a silent scream, that no one hears because you’re alone and you need to be until you get through it.

It’s the sleepless nights as you lay awake at 2 am staring at the ceiling.

It’s that time of year, you just get a little bit sadder for no reason.

It’s the tears you don’t tell people you cry because you don’t really know why you’re crying, you just know you need to.

It’s the want and need to be around people but at the same time, you push them away.

Depression is watching across social media, everyone’s highlight reels and you know it’s not an accurate depiction of their life yet you still compare yourself to them.

It’s the plans canceled last minute because you couldn’t muster the strength to get out of bed.

It’s your alarm going off in the morning and you just want to go back to sleep.

Depression is that cloud that doesn’t seem to go away ever. And even in those happy moments, you cling to, you know it’s still hovering over you. Depression waits. It creeps and lurks. It waits for the best day of your life and your happiest moment just so the next one can be your worst.

It’s the fear of such happiness because you know it’s bound to fade.

It’s every good day, that are few and far between and that’s what you hang onto.

It’s the struggle in explaining to people when they ask why are you depressed? You just don’t know and you don’t know how to fix it. It’s just a feeling you can’t shake but you’re learning to work through.

Depression are toxic habits or people you gravitate towards.

It’s drinking the way you do because at least for a moment your pain is numbed. You know the effects lead to being even more depressed the next day. And you know alcohol is a depressant but being numb helps sometimes.

Depression is the constant imbalance of things in your life.

It’s either overexercising and being at the gym for hours or staying in bed for weeks immobile.

It’s either sleeping too much or too little. But no matter what, you’re always tired.

It’s eating too much or just never being hungry. It’s someone asking, ‘When was the last time you ate?’ And you actually don’t know the answer.

It’s weight loss that people commend you for but you know even you couldn’t help it.

Depression is people asking if you’re okay and you don’t respond with ‘I’m sad.’ You simply say, ‘I’m tired.’

It’s the envy of looking at others and just wanting to be that happy. So you glamorize your own life so it appears that way.

Depression is the overcompensating in relationships and trying too hard. You know you’re tough to deal with but there isn’t anyone you love more than those who accept you, as you’re still trying to accept yourself.

It’s that really scary moment when you open up to someone about what it is you deal with. And that new level of friendship you reach, when they welcome you with open arms and it almost brings you to tears.

It’s loving people unbelievably hard because you’re still learning to love yourself.

It’s looking ahead and looking forward to certain days in your life and really appreciating everything.

And even though you might not say it, as often as you should, it’s the love you have for everyone in your life which gives you strength.

Depression is becoming addicted to anything that gives you purpose. Whether it’s being a perfectionist in academics or becoming a workaholic. It’s becoming the most involved in a group or organization because you need something to look forward to. It’s excelling in sports because it really helps to have that and a team to fall back on.

It’s the need to be busy because if you’re not you’ll spend too much time alone and everything will get worse.

But more than that, depression is the person who would do anything to make others happy because someone else’s happiness is their own.

Depression is being overly observant because you know what it’s like to hide things, so you look for it in others.

It’s being the first one willing to help and being the person you wish you had. Knowing well, there’s nothing you can say or do but be there for them and that’s okay.

But more than that, depression is a  strength in you because there’s nothing harder than overcoming demons within yourself.

It’s the trust people have in you, knowing they can turn to you without judgment.

It’s the excitement you bring to others because even though you’re sad, you do love life.

Depression is being the happiest, saddest person, people know but there’s a bit of beauty to someone who knows both emotions at such an extreme level.

Depression is an appreciation and gratitude for life. It’s knowing no matter what happens things will get better.

Depression is hope even in moments that seem hopeless.

It’s not letting this define who you are but rather learning to live through it and being the example others can follow.

If You Feel Like It’s Time To Take A Mental Health Day, Read This

At some point in your life, you’ve probably woken up and thought, “I would rather do ANYTHING than get out of bed and go to work today.” There’s nothing wrong with feeling burnt out, anxious, or stressed, but letting these emotions build and fester can lead to problems at work and with your mental health.

Taking time off for your mental health is becoming more of a priority (as it should!), but not without some pushback and feelings of guilt. Keep reading for tips on getting past the guilt and how to spend your mental health day once you take one.

How to tell when you should take one

Are you dreading going to work? Does the idea of sitting at your desk another day make you feel heavy and overwhelmed? Does thinking about the pile of work waiting for you cause your stress and anxiety to go through the roof?

It might be time to take a mental health day.

Burnout or overworking could be contributing to these feelings of overwhelm and stress. In order to continue to be productive and not completely hate your job, it might be a good time to take a step back and take care of yourself for a day or two. Giving yourself permission to have time to recharge can help you get back to 100% and ready for your job.

What to do during one

Focus on activities that bring you joy and comfort. That could mean many different things depending on what you enjoy. For some, it could mean cleaning the house and doing yard work; for others, it could be getting a massage and baking. Think about the things you WISH you had time for during a hectic work week.

Try not to go in totally blind. Not having a plan could add stress to a day that’s meant to relax and recharge. It doesn’t need to be rigid and down to the minute, but a flexible outline with a few activities you enjoy. Having at least an idea of what you’d like to do during your mental health day ensures you partake in something that brings you joy.

What NOT to do during one

Avoid catching up on emails, housework, laundry, etc. Unless the actual act of these tasks is therapeutic for you, try to focus on other activities.

It’s tempting to use your mental health day as time to catch up on everything that collects throughout the week, but this won’t leave you feeling recharged the same way taking this time for yourself would. Again, if these kinds of activities are therapeutic for you and bring you a sense of calm, then by all means, go ahead! It’s important to plan your day to bring you calm, comfort, and relaxation.

How they benefit your overall well being

Taking a day to recharge your mental batteries can help you be more productive at work. Some findings even claim that taking a mental health day and returning at 100% is more beneficial than staying at work while struggling with your mental health. The level of productivity is higher for those who take care of their mental health and return recharged.

Learning when and how to put yourself first helps you connect with yourself on deeper levels. Self-care activities are a great way to get to know yourself, take care of yourself, and recharge your mind and body.

How to get past the guilt of taking one

For some careers, taking a day off requires more work than just staying and powering through it. Others create a mess for coworkers. To try and avoid these complications, plan ahead for when you want to take your mental health day. Get your work done early so your coworkers don’t have to pick up the slack. If you’re in education, have a couple of emergency lesson plans on file to take a little stress off when you do need to take a day for yourself.

If you don’t put yourself first, who will?

While taking a mental health day is not a replacement for a prescription or professional mental health services, taking a day for yourself can help you relax, de-stress, and prepare to return to work at 100%.

At the end of the day, it’s all up to how you feel and what you enjoy doing in order to connect with yourself. Mental health days are an important step in getting to know yourself better and allowing yourself time to recharge and take on the world when you’re ready.

Why Trauma Survivors Can’t Just ‘Let It Go’

It seems the deeper I journey into the healing and recovery process, the more I find that much of our cultural and conventional wisdom does not help trauma survivors. All the trite platitudes and sayings that might help someone having a garden-variety bad day can actually become giant triggers for someone living with trauma.

Let’s assume everyone wants to live a healthy, pain-free, abundant and productive life. There are hundreds of motivational books and centered on “fake it ’til you make it” principles, which encourage people to “think positive,” “let it go,” “don’t sweat the small stuff,” etc. They may have helped some people. Judging by book sales, they have probably helped many. Yet, for many trauma survivors searching for relief, these books and motivational coaches don’t help. In fact, many, like myself, feel more depressed, broken and impossibly disconnected after reading them. Here’s why.

Trauma survivors are often highly motivated people. Many are conditioned to be hyper-aware and hyper-vigilant out of survival. They are often overly critical of themselves because they were held to impossible standards by their abusers, and their attempts to please them often went sour. Some become overachievers, yet never feel like what they achieve is enough. Because nothing is ever good enough to appease an abuser, some survivors give up trying, becoming the self-fulfilling prophecy of whatever their abusers told them they were. Many survivors internalize that they are “lazy” when it’s not a lack of motivation that keeps them from their goals, it’s trauma. Trauma causes the nervous system to fight, flee or freeze, and for many survivors, their bodies are either stuck in one of these, or alternate between the three. Holding this pattern together is a web of toxic shame that is extremely difficult to break. Think of a race car stuck in first gear, with a foot on the gas and a foot on the break. That’s how many survivors get around.

To a survivor, telling them to “think positive” sounds cruel. I mean, that’s exactly the problem for anyone recovering from any type of abuse. Their thoughts were hijacked by someone else, and now they are fighting for their sanity to get their own thoughts back. And it’s not just their brain that was taken over. Emotional trauma gets hardwired into the physical body. Not only does it cause mental anguish, it creates a lot of physical pain, which can sometimes morph into serious long-term disease. Doctors and scientists are currently making great strides in connecting the dots between trauma and disease, but the general public is years behind in understanding and accepting this reality.

“Positive thinking” shields the reality that sometimes people feel shitty. In order to heal, survivors need to let down their shield and feel their feelings.

Here’s the other problem when a trauma survivor feels pressure to “think positive.” Often, for a survivor, this can sound like it’s not OK to feel whatever they are feeling, so they stuff it away, often relegating it to the subconscious. Trauma survivors are experts at burying their feelings. But burying feelings doesn’t mean the pain goes away, it means the survivor is less able to access what they need in order to heal. Many survivors experience dissociation. Dissociation is a common coping mechanism that needs to be broken by actually facing the terrible thing that caused so much terror that mentally “going away” was the only option.

Similarly, minimization plays a huge role in coping, either by the survivor or the people around them. Usually, it’s both. “It’s not that bad, ” or “It’s not as bad as X has it…” is not only a huge roadblock to recovery, it’s a road block to being aware of the trauma in the first place.  So, when a survivor decides not to “sweat the small stuff,” the small stuff turns into a giant, insurmountable mountain of shutdown feelings and emotions. Getting into a pattern of not speaking up, whether to keep the peace or to avoid uncomfortable emotions means more skeletons for the pile in the subconscious mind.

Survivors need to pay attention to the small stuff.

Here’s another one. “Just let it go.” If only it were so simple. If survivors could, they would gladly be doing it. While this is actually the end goal for resolving trauma, it often gets waved in front of the trauma survivor’s face like some shiny, magical, yet unattainable talisman. Too many people are trying to let go of trauma they haven’t yet fully grasped. To let go of something means you need to be aware that you’re holding it in the first place. Trauma that is stored in the locked closets and cupboards of the subconscious mind continue to control from within, often without the survivor fully understanding what’s happening. The process of letting go can’t happen until those things are dragged into the light and fully processed. Once again, that means feeling uncomfortable feelings. It means grieving. It means giving yourself the kind care and attention that no one else did. Sometimes, it means wallowing for a little while. The harsh inner-critic of a survivor usually doesn’t allow this for very long. It means sending the critic away. It means bringing all of our subconscious thoughts into our conscious awareness to objectively take stock of what we’re working with.

So, next time you feel compelled to encourage someone to “let it go,” don’t. Instead, see if you can encourage them to lean in to whatever it is and feel it. Letting go will happen in its own time. That is, if you allow them to give their brain and body what it needs to heal.

The 8 Most Helpful Things I’ve Learned In Therapy Thus Far

1. The hardest part is taking the initiative to go to therapy.

I was weighing going to therapy and talking myself out of it. I felt that at times, I would be doing myself a solid by going to therapy – which I was – and other times felt that I was not good enough or that I couldn’t do therapy. The important thing to realize in my journey of whether to go to therapy is that once I was ready, I knew I was ready. You can’t go to therapy unless you’re ready.

At the time, I was comfortable with weighing whether I wanted to go to therapy or not. The real change slowly started when I finally took the leap.

2. Past traumas shaped me but do not define me.

In therapy, you’re going to learn a lot about yourself. Mannerisms, triggers, and habits could all be a product of past traumas.

The important thing to remember is that past traumas — especially things completely out of your control — do not define who you are. What defines you is who you choose to become.

3. It just helps to have someone thinking logically when I’m thinking emotionally.

I’m an emotionally-driven person and I’ve always been that way. So when something happens, good or bad, I react more with emotion than I do logic. With therapy, I’ve been able to talk through things with my therapist, who not only offers advice for those situations, but also helps me see the logic side of the situation.

4. Self-awareness is key. The conscious thoughts can overpower the negative thoughts.

This kind of piggy-backs off of my last point about being emotional versus logical, but it’s quite valid in me managing my mental health. Through therapy, I learned how to be more self-aware of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Because I became self-aware, I was able to notice what was causing my triggers and work from there on how to stop them from happening or diminish the symptoms of my issue. Creating conscious thoughts about your mental health — especially in a time of mental health crisis — is no easy task and requires you to actively learn how to do so so you can better understand what causes triggers for your mental health issues.

5. Being able to talk about “that” freed me.

Until therapy, I didn’t realize how badly I needed to talk about the thing that’s been a weight on my shoulders for years. I feel like there’s one story everyone has that they need to get off of their chest, but they just don’t know how. That was the case with me. I knew there was something that was bugging me for years until I finally had the chance to talk about it and why it made me feel the way it did. I’m gonna tell you now, it felt soooooo good being able to release that weight off of my shoulders. Since I discussed that with my therapist, I’ve literally felt somewhat empowered and free.

6. I wasn’t totally open at first, but that’s okay.

Confidentiality laws, opening up to a stranger, and other housekeeping rules your therapist will tell you is enough to be overwhelming in concern to what you feel safe talking about. Know that you are safe and your therapist is there to help you in the best way possible. Eventually, you’ll feel more comfortable discussing everything that is on your mind. It’s okay if you don’t explain everything just yet.

7. Sometimes it just helps to talk about something that may seem insignificant.

If you’re having an off week because you forgot your keys but you were already out the door or your two dogs work together to wake you up at five in the morning, then you know sometimes some things may just set you off. If you feel like there’s an issue with why something — even small — might be setting you off, it’s okay and actually great to discuss it with your therapist. Something that you might downplay as not that bad might actually be something worth talking about, and it’s better to talk about something small and insignificant than to keep it bottled in.

8. On the contrary, it feels great to discuss when things are going well in your life.

One thing I didn’t really realize about therapy is that it’s not always about discussing heavy, negative situations. You can talk about when things go well in your life, too. It’s supportive and invigorating to let your therapist know what’s going on in your life, good and bad.

I wrote this article not only to share with others what good therapy can do, but also to remind myself how far I’ve come in my mental health journey even in the times it may be difficult. I was super nervous to take the leap at first, and I even thought that my therapist would downplay my issues. That was not the case. My therapist listened each and every time and provided the most helpful tips and tools to help me continue to be mentally healthy. If you’re on the fence about going to therapy yourself, I highly suggest you take the leap like I did.

Mental Health Is Physical Health

Mental health is physical health.

I preach that a lot on my social media because, simply put, it’s true.

At the risk of sounding educational and writing this like a school paper, I want to inform you of just a few things.

1. Mental health is physical health. I said this already. Got it. But knowing this could help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. There are still so many people who believe depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. are all made up and that people with those illnesses are just “crazy.” And that’s another thing: stop calling people who live with mental illnesses “crazy.” It’s not appropriate nor is it even remotely accurate.

2. Mental illnesses are not only mental, they are physical as well. Ask anyone with an anxiety disorder. I’ll use myself as an example. I battle with severe anxiety. It keeps me from having a job like any other “normal” person. When I go out in public, I feel physical symptoms. It’s not just “I’m so nervous!” It’s also sweating, racing heart and dizziness. That doesn’t even include the symptoms from a panic attack I may have.

3. Depression can be fatal, just like any other physical illness. Yes, for real. Suicide is not just something people do to “get out,” “get bailed out” or do just for “attention.” I can promise you if someone dies by suicide, they struggled… bad. For some people, suicide is the final symptom of depression. Not everyone with depression dies by suicide, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t struggle too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen on social media, even from friends on Facebook, that people still believe that suicide is selfish and that the person who passed away “took the easy way out.” Come on. That’s not fair and it’s undermining the battle that the person might have fought literally on a daily basis.

4. “You’re making it up to get out of doing (this) or (that). Just smile!” OK… first, that’s just not that easy and you know it. Second… don’t you think if we could “just smile” and everything would be fine that we would have done it a long time ago? Depression can take away your energy. You have to make yourself to do anything. So no… we’re not just “making it up” to get out of anything.

Think of it like this.

Just like you can sometimes “see” other health conditions on tests and scans, PET scans have shown you can see the difference between a “depressed brain” and a brain without depression. Just because depression is “invisible” to other people (because as we know, depression shows physical symptoms as well), does not mean you don’t deserve the help, whether it be with therapy, medication or even ecotherapy. Broken bones heal and they’re good to go after a month or two. But unfortunately, mental illness often isn’t that simple.

Please stop thinking depression or any other mental illness is not as important as physical health. It is physical health. The brain and the body should not be categorized into two totally separate types of healthcare. Mental health is physical health and physical health is healthcare. Healthcare is healthcare.

The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

There is no health without mental health.

A Short List Of Things I’d Do If I Didn’t Have Depression Or Anxiety

There are many moments in my life when I’d just stare into space and think about how my life would be so different if I didn’t have depression or anxiety. How I’d take more chances. How I’d stand up for myself when I need to the most. How I’d be more secure, more decisive, and just happier.

I wouldn’t think about the thousands of ways I could possibly die. I wouldn’t be afraid to make drastic changes for my health, sanity, and overall well-being. I wouldn’t keep self-sabotaging. I wouldn’t let the most excruciating pain of the past drag me even further behind. I wouldn’t isolate myself from others. I wouldn’t let my irrational fear of scarcity control the way I think or force me to accept a fate that keeps me wandering off to dead end after dead end.

Instead, I would live a life that’s closer to the one I envision for myself instead of surrendering to all the constraints of a harsh reality that keeps me paralyzed and fearful of uncertainty. I would take better care of myself and do more of what’s valuable to me and cut out any thought that’s extraneous to my future, irrelevant to my true self, and toxic to my mental health.

I often wonder how my life would turn out differently if I didn’t have depression or anxiety. But what I wonder about more often is how I can start to act upon the best interests of my future self, moving and taking control as if I didn’t suffer from severe depression or crippling anxiety. These are all the things I’d do:

Network with people

I’ll be honest here – I view networking as disingenuous and sleazy. I always stop myself from reaching out to people because I somehow equate advocating myself with “using other people for my own selfish gain.” Which is why I don’t do it at all and don’t even talk about the skills I have. My insecurities keep telling me that I have none – they tell me it’s because I’m worthless, I’m irrelevant, and I don’t deserve to ask for anything better in life, since I haven’t proven myself worthy yet. But recently, I’ve gotten so fed up with keeping myself stifled, silent, and small that I can’t move on with my life to greater things because of my irrational fear of being judged as incompetent and unqualified. If I didn’t have these thoughts of the worst possible outcome or feelings of worthlessness, I’d network my butt off. I’d tell people what I can do, even when I may not be a master at anything yet, because I have to start somewhere. I have to believe in myself and stand up for myself because otherwise, I’d be stuck in the pitiful stage of paying my dues for a lifetime.

Write more, even when depression makes me abnormally exhausted

I’m tired of keeping myself stuck with writing. I’m tired of holding in the thoughts that I still have yet to share – thoughts that have the potential to turn into thousands of articles, essays, and poems if I allowed myself to be even more vulnerable, resolute, and honest with myself. But my mind is a never-ending war zone, and every time I self-sabotage, my mental exhaustion manifests itself physically, and I shut down before I have a chance to express myself and share more of what’s on my mind. If depression didn’t affect me this way, I’d definitely write more and write my way to the freedom I’ve always craved – the ultimate freedom from my treacherous enemies that keep making their home in my mind.

Create more solutions to recurring problems

If I didn’t have depression or anxiety, I’d create more solutions to problems that always recur in my life: I’m too shy. I don’t stand up for myself. I let myself be a doormat. I let people make me feel grossly inferior and wallow in self-pity because of it. I avoid confrontation, even when confrontation is the only way to solve the problem of me not advocating for myself when I need to. I’d act in spite of the overwhelming feelings of inferiority, which tells me that I’m never going to be good enough to get what I deserve. I’d be a more solution-oriented thinker instead of a problem escapee and work my way out of my problems.

Love myself as I am, regardless of how others are doing “better”

I’d be bolder and claim that I am worthy, I am healing, I am evolving, and I am capable of freeing myself from what hurts me the most – the past, the deep-rooted terrors that control me, and agonizing self-hatred. I’d love myself for who I am and not beat myself up for lagging behind others who seem to be more outwardly successful and have what society considers as “better lives.” And the truth is, my life isn’t worse than someone else’s, but if people evaluate me harshly for it, I shouldn’t give their opinions any weight because my life is mine, and I will not spend the rest of my life hating myself or contorting myself just to fit into someone else’s agenda. If I didn’t have anxiety over how poorly I’m fitting in and if I didn’t get easily depressed about how worthless I seem on the outside compared to other people, I’d love the hell out of myself first and foremost, and then I’d build a life upon this abundance of love and settle for nothing less than that.

But now, it’s no longer a matter of what I would do.

It’s a matter of what I can do.

In Defense of Using Crying as a Coping Mechanism

Sometimes the pain of talking is too overwhelming and the pressure in my chest is just bursting to come forth, and I let it out.

I silently weep.

There are times when talking doesn’t help. When fear just is and finding a friend to rationalize a solution to an unsolvable problem simply generates more angst than staying silent. Talking about the impossible solution creates a sense of shame for feeling anything at all. Ignoring what cannot be solved somehow diminishes a painful experience.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for wallowing in misery — which is one of my special superpowers. But nor do I advocate ignoring problems just because they can’t be solved. It seems to me that shoving a problem into a metaphorical filing cabinet doesn’t solve the problem — it’s simply shelved for another day. And my access to metaphorical filing cabinets is pretty spasmodic.

I confess to being cowardly in conflict. I don’t do it well. I don’t do it at all. I shroud myself in a suit of patched up armor and hope there’s enough structural integrity left to weather the rain of emotional onslaught, then I stuff that armor into its sturdy little bag and trot home. Away from the intensity of interpersonal conflict where I feel no sense of safety in myself. I need to be alone.

Then I weep.

There is nobody to judge my silent tears. There is no limit to the outpouring of grief and fear — gathering up every unbridled thought and shining a big shiny light on it. Then let it all out, as the saying goes. Ironic as it may seem to others, weeping in my bedroom is an important coping mechanism for me. It’s the place where I validate my fears, shed my tears, then gather up the strength and determination to move on and try to practice acceptance.

Acceptance is — apparently — a willingness to tolerate a difficult situation. Sometimes the head is willing long before the heart. Is that biological? I have absolutely no idea. I know people who find that when life slaps them in the face with the biggest, slimiest fish, they just take a small moment to stare at the fish then move on. I honestly envy these people. When I’m slapped in the face by a fish I spend a lot of time wondering if the fish is OK. But still — in my own steady way, I work towards accepting the lot that life has for me.

For me, acceptance comes after the tear-shedding. Not before. My speedy little brain does flips and spins and slides and turns the impossible into the implausible. A catastrophic catalogue of all the possible outcomes for all the improbable scenarios. And quite honestly — in my personal experience — nobody wants to hear that. I don’t particularly want to hear it myself, but when it’s stuffed in my head it just keeps ballooning until my brain is just oozing chaos and then it’s time to close down and close off.

It’s time to weep.

I’m very bad at letting go and very good at bottling up. Some things just are. This is one of those things.

I’m very bad at letting go of the emotional stuff, but I’m pretty good at the practical stuff. I don’t berate the traffic lights for turning red or curse the traffic for building up. I don’t yell at the sky to wish the rain away or glare at the tide for inconveniencing me. I don’t let financial sparsity spoil the appreciation for how much or what I do have. There is so much in the day-to-day world that I spectacularly appreciate and accept even though that can also come with its own share of difficulties. But so much in the emotional world that takes me time and tears to come to terms with. My loss of identity. The health of the people I love. Stresses in my relationships. Finding purpose in my life. The worries of complete strangers. All these things send me to my weeping bedroom where I need to cathartically cry out every impossible scenario, beg God for forgiveness and fortitude, and slowly — over time — work towards tolerating the seemingly intolerable.

I sense that my way of coping doesn’t make sense to other people. I hear a lot of people telling me to just get over it and don’t worry about things I can’t control. Unfortunately telling someone not to worry does nothing to reduce worry. It simply pushes it down so nobody else can see it. Crying is my catharsis. Silently sobbing where nobody can see is my happy place for being sad. It’s my safe space. When the overwhelm becomes more than I can bear I find a place just for me.

I silently weep and that is OK.