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5 Intention-setting Ideas to Support Change

I believe most of us have thought to ourselves “I hate change” at least once in our lives.  And the message we often hear is “Change is hard”.  Perhaps it is these messages, thoughts, and/or beliefs that underlie the approximate success rate of 10% for the New Year resolutions set at this time of year!

On the other hand, we know that change is inevitable and constant – perhaps the only experience we can count on to always be there.  The hope that comes from the trust in change is that we don’t get stuck in a rut.  However, the universe invites us to be co-creators of the changes we want to make in our lives.  This co-creation requires us to commit to learning new things . . . whether that is to learn to do something new or to learn something new about ourselves.

We are very supported at this time to initiate the process of change due to the fact that we are in the midst of a current Eclipse Gateway.  Eclipses support growth and the 2 weeks between the Solar Eclipse (12/26/9) and the Lunar Eclipse (1/10/20) is a potent time for transformation and renewal.  So, if you might want to catch the wave of energy, consider trying the following intention-setting ideas to support change this month:

  1. Reframe Change.  Perhaps consider simply reframing change as growth – or a growth opportunity – as it will help move you in the direction of embracing change versus denying its value.  You still have a choice, whether to take the growth opportunity or not.  As we begin to lean into the process of change or growth, we must also recognize the loss it creates.  If we decide to try something new, it often means that something we were familiar with falls away, even if it is due to the limits of time or resources.  Therefore, it is important to honor our feelings around the loss and even doubt that might arise around whether we made the right choice for our growth.  In those moments, reminding yourself that all of our choices bring with them information to help guide us toward our highest good will soothe the doubt, so you can’t make a bad one!
  2. Embrace Emotions!  Fear is often underlying the sense of loss of the familiar and doubt in the process of change, so it is important to look fear in the face.  Remember, emotion (even fear) is simply [E]nergy in [motion], which means turning to look at it even for a moment, instead of distracting yourself or running from it, changes it immediately!  Inviting your greatest fear, and its various emotional friends, such as anxiety, anger, or sadness, to sit for a moment with you so you might listen to what it has to say, will begin to bring clarity around what it is that you value most in life, not what others have told you in the past.  Emotions are one of the most powerful guides on our journey to discover our highest self.  Consider allowing your emotions to participate in your decision-making process and use their energy to guide you forward toward fulfilling your heart’s true desires!
  3. Think Small.  We tend to set lofty new year resolutions and when we don’t experience immediate results, we might get discouraged, providing fuel to our fears.  I like to remind myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day.  So, perhaps consider a very small change you would like to make in your life, and put it on your calendar every day, so you can track your progress.  For example, you might decide to add more walking to your daily routine.  Consider starting with very specific, yet small goals, such as parking further away from the stores you visit, taking the stairs at work or walking around the block.  Then each day, check it off your list when you achieved the goal and celebrate in some way, even if only to say out loud to yourself “See, I told you I could do it!”
  4. Find a Partner.  Whether your heart desires more peace, health, happiness, clarity, or love, change or growth requires you to transform into someone different than who you are currently.  Having someone support you on your journey of transformation is very helpful.  This person can be a source of encouragement when you sense discouragement creeping in.  They can challenge the fear that works to disconnect you from your highest self.  They can help to hold us accountable as well as provides support when we do begin to sense the discomfort that comes with change.  Discomfort is part of the process of change so having a partner to share those experiences of discomfort with can make us feel less alone on our journey.  Consider identifying someone in your life that might be willing to be that support partner for you, someone that believes in you and will help you embrace the growth your desire.
  5. Visualize.  It is important to visualize the change you desire, because if you can’t imagine the change you want, how do you know what direction to start out in on your journey?  Visualizing the result of your efforts to change or grow will support the discovery process.  Remember too that discovery is not a linear, straight line.  Often, it involves taking a winding road that might make you feel a little lost for awhile.  In those moments of disorientation, bringing your visualization back into mind will remind you of the value of change or growth, deepening your understanding of your heart’s desire and refueling the process of change.  Perhaps consider a tool to document your visualization, whether it is to draw it out, write it down, or create a vision board, so that you might reflect on your heart’s desire each day.  This practice will ease the integration of the new steps you are taking to co-create the new you!.

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Creating Healthy Boundaries

What I have experienced since learning about and setting healthy boundaries is much more freedom and less stress in my life!

However, before a healthy boundary can be created, we need to understand what a boundary is and is not.  Boundaries are anything that limits something.  For example, time is a boundary, because there are only 24 hours in a day.  No matter how much we might want to negotiate for more, Mother Nature is not going to budge!

On the other hand, boundaries are not selfish.  In fact, boundaries can be quite empowering.  I was once offered a way of looking at setting boundaries as a gift that I can give another person, to help them reconnect with their own autonomy and competence, building their self-confidence.  This way of looking at boundaries does not mean that we stop helping others out when they are in need; however, it does ask us to deploy our skills in discerning what the best choice is in each moment.

When we can embrace the idea that setting boundaries is self-care (not selfish), then we can begin to take steps toward identifying the boundaries we want to create that will benefit both ourselves and others.  A mantra I was offered to assist me in shifting from the belief that it is selfish to prioritize my needs over the needs of others is “Say no, so others can grow”.  Take a moment right now and write this mantra down on a piece of paper or index card and place it somewhere that is accessible to you on a daily basis.  Now, think about it for a moment longer.

If you are still not buying it, here is an example that I think most people will be able to connect to.  Imagine a child is ready to learn how to tie their shoes.  You begin to teach the child how to do it.  Each day you teach the child, you watch them trying it on their own, showing progress and excitement as their fingers start to cooperate.  Now comes the hard part – the day you have to tell them “No, I’m not going to do it for you anymore, because I know you can do it by yourself”.  It hurts you to hear their protests and see their tears, but you stand your ground.  Now envision their face when they come back into the room and want to show you how they were able to tie their shoes by themselves.  Can you feel their joy!

Think of this example when you begin to explore setting healthy boundaries, remembering that when you say no, you are creating space for another person to figure something out for themselves because you BELIEVE in them, that they are capable of doing it without you doing it for them.  I know first hand that this sounds easier said than done, so below are some intention setting ideas to support your efforts in establishing, clarifying, expressing and reinforcing healthy boundaries:

  1. Identify Boundaries.  Many of us may have grown up in families that did not explain or demonstrate healthy boundaries, so we might need to take a moment and think about any boundaries we might have established or are aware of in our lives.  For example, the walls, windows, and doors of our houses create a boundary that we call home.  Our bodily reactions might have not allowed pets or certain foods in the house due to allergies.  Our spiritual roots might have offered rules of conduct that limit our behaviors, such as no public display of affection.  Creating time to identify some boundaries that exist in your life, starts to grease the wheels of the healthy boundary making machine because the growing awareness invites in choice.  For example, just because you might be allergic to cats, doesn’t preclude you from having a dog!
  2. Explore Emotions.  When you sense you are having an emotional response – whether positive or negative – stop and explore!  Emotions are the part of our intelligence that informs us about what is working and what is not working in our lives.  Emotions are the best guide to knowing when a healthy boundary is needed.  When an emotion arises, ask yourself ‘What is this emotion I am experiencing in this moment?’, ‘What is it telling me?’, and ‘Do I want more or less of it in my life?’.  When the powerful emotions such as anger (and all of its variations), pain and fear arise, the universal message is that your needs are not being satisfied.  Consider taking a moment to identify some recent situations where you felt one or more of these powerful emotions arise and write them down in the context of what brought them up.
  3. Clarify Your Needs/Values.   Now comes the hard part.  When we realize our emotions arise in response to our needs, whether they are being satisfied or not, it means we now need to own the fact that we have needs (AND WE ALL DO) and we have a responsibility to identify exactly what those needs are if we want to deepen the connections we have with ourselves and others.  Another way to view our needs is to consider them our core life values – what is it that we value enough to fight for in our lives.  To help you get started in this area, there are some universal human needs:  autonomy, connection, physical well-being including safety, honesty, peace, play and purpose.  If you would like to take a look at a longer list of such needs/values, Marshall Rosenberg has a Needs Inventory that I would recommend.  Reflect on this list along side of your emotional responses to help you narrow down the list to your top 4 values that will help guide your healthy boundary creations.
  4. Communicate a Healthy Boundary.  Now that you are armed with the knowledge of your needs/values and what happens when those needs are not being met or worse, being ignored or disrespected by another, the next step is to plan for an appropriate confrontation in order to express your healthy boundary.  Keep in mind that confrontation does not equal conflict and that you have a right and responsibility to ask for what it is you need.  Also keep in mind the other person might not be able to give you what it is you need; however, that must not stop you from at least asking and trying to negotiate a healthier space.  To help you craft your healthy boundary, consider using the 4-step process developed by Marshall Rosenberg which was designed to diffuse emotionally-charged situations by reducing blame and shame.
  5. Make a request.  It is not enough to tell someone that your needs are not being met and expect them to know how to respond to such a communication.  It is important to clearly ask for what it is you would like from them in order to have your need be met.  For example, if you determine that you value beauty as reflected by a neat and clean home and become distressed when when your need for beauty in your home is not being honored, the request might be “Will you help me clean our home or keep our home clean?”.  Such a request might lead you into a negotiation about the specifics (e.g., frequency, specific tasks, etc.), so consider making requests as concrete as possible (inviting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response) such as “Will you help me keep our home clean by washing your dishes in the sink?”.  One last thought – when you start to clarify and express your healthy boundaries, it may seem awkward for both you and the other person because it might be a new way of interacting.  Some suggestions to support success include:  start with setting a healthy boundary around something that feels relatively minor on your emotional scale, write out the process (including your feelings, needs/values and request) and have it in front of you when speaking to the person, and know in advance that you will most likely have to communicate your boundary more than once (often several and sometimes many times) before the person fully integrates and consistently implements the request agreed to initially!

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

Is self-compassion the answer to happiness?

If we are lucky, our parents actively taught us the concept of compassion towards others.  If we were very lucky, our parents actively taught us self-compassion.  Unfortunately, it is only recently that such concepts have come forward in the research as tools to support our body, mind and spiritual health, so most of us may not feel lucky.  Fortunately, compassion – and self-compassion – can be cultivated and integrated into our experiences, both with others and with ourselves, no matter how old we are currently.

So what is self-compassion?  Many of us might think it includes self-pity, which will tend to keep us from cultivating the belief that we deserve comfort and care when we are experiencing pain and suffering.  Dr. Kristen Neff defines self-compassion as having three elements: 1) self—kindness versus self-judgment; 2) common humanity versus isolation; 3) mindfulness versus over-identification.  The three elements build upon the need to accept that we are human and, as such, are perfectly imperfect.  This means we will all fail at something in our lives, we will all subjected to loss at some point and we will all trip up and make mistakes on our journeys – these are all facts of life.  When we think we can bypass these inevitable experiences or ignore the pain that such experiences cause us, we open ourselves up to a deeper level of suffering.  It is when we encounter such challenges in our lives that we need to offer ourselves the same kindness and care as we would offer to someone we love, instead of offering judgment or criticism.  That’s self-compassion.

There is so much judgment and criticism in the world, which comes from a place of fear and creates darkness, separateness, and negativity.  When we can invite understanding of the shared human condition into our awareness, remembering we are not alone in our pain, then we can open our hearts from a place of love and invite in light, connection, and positivity.  When we experience the pain of failure or loss, we must allow ourselves to acknowledge the pain and not ignore it, yet be mindful at the same time that the powerful emotions that arise with the pain do not define us and, if honored, will move through us.  If we try to ignore the pain, either by stuffing it down or distracting ourselves from it, our body and mind will begin to express the effects through illness. We must embrace that pain, along with such powerful emotions as disappointment, rejection, judgment, fear, anger and sadness, are part of the common human phenomenon.  We are all going to experience these situations and emotions – no one can escape them for long!

I grew up in a family where one of my parents wore their emotions on their sleeve for everyone to see, while the other one learned to compartmentalize their emotions for no one to see.  So when I experienced powerful emotions, I hadn’t learned how to work with them in a way to bring a balanced state of being, until I learned about self-compassion as an adult with the help of kind and patient psychotherapist.  Prior to that point, I bought into the saying that “We are our own worst critic”, judging myself harshly, feeling very alone in my pain, and doing my best to deny or distract myself from my emotions.  It was until I embraced my humanness and those powerful emotions that humans experience and must express that I was able to create space in my heart for compassion.  From that point, I had to learn how to offer myself kindness and care when disappointment, rejection, or grief greeted me.  With practice and patience, I have come to experience offering compassion to myself in painful times as one of the most powerful tools in my self-care tool kit for health, peace, and well-being.

Now the research is validating that self-compassion is a powerful practice for inner peace and health!  If you are interesting in reading more, click on this link below:

How did “talk therapy” work for me?

My journey to a life experienced with more awareness, insight, acceptance, compassion, gratitude, and ultimately forgiveness for myself and others did not just happen and I certainly wasn’t raised in an environment that supported such practices or values. My first encounter with therapy was when I was about 10 years old, when my single-mother-of-three-children took the family to the Division of Youth and Family Services for help. When I reflect on this early childhood encounter with the mental healthcare system, I wonder if it was the first step on the long and winding road to becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist today. I do know that the experience opened me up at that very tender age to the fact that sometimes we need help from someone other than our family and friends, a route that I found myself taking at different stages of my life. I didn’t know that seeking support through therapy was viewed in our culture as a stigma, suggesting that I was either weak or crazy, as my mom was a platinum member of the therapy frequent flyer club who shared what her therapist said to her to anyone that was willing to listen.

Flash forward 20 years, when I find myself married, working two jobs and back at school to pursue a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration (have I mentioned yet that I had acquired an overly developed work ethic by this point?). My attachment to work and “doing” (being productive), not creating enough time and space for my relationship with my partner or myself for that matter, and my need for a sense of value and belonging somewhere produced the ideal environment for the perfect storm. Just reflecting on that time through writing these words is making my belly and chest tight! I found myself back in therapy, both with my partner and individually, on-and-off for the next four years.

Initially, therapy did not progress smoothly as it took several attempts to finally find the ‘right’ therapist to help us as a couple and another one to help just me. I didn’t realize that every therapist had a different approach; all I knew is that after a couple of sessions I didn’t feel like I was being heard or understood. My partner was a bit more direct than I was when he would simply say “I don’t like him and I don’t want to go back”, so the search continued. Even after a ‘good fit’ was found for us to do the work, we would experience progress, terminate therapy, and then we would hit another pot hole and find ourselves back in session. It wasn’t until my therapist guided me to focus on and discuss my past relationships, specifically with my parents that the real healing and change began.

What I learned about myself – the past influences going back multiple generations in my family that shaped my world and how I learned to adapt to survive – was beyond powerful. On one side of my family, emotional expression was very high while on the other side, emotional expression was not tolerated – so what was I “to do” when I felt a moving emotion? I spent a great deal of energy stuffing my emotions down, only to have them leak out in some of the most inopportune moments. I would think to myself “Why can’t I control my emotions?” or “What is wrong with me?” My compassionate and patient therapist would listen to my stories of how I navigated between the chaos on one side of the road and the desert on the other side to avoid being flooded or dehydrated. She encouraged me to feel my emotions, explore the benefits of those emotions, and even discover new, more subtle (yet no less powerful) emotions such as compassion and gratitude.

Once I was able to honor my emotional intelligence and tap into the reservoir that I had built up over the years, I developed a very close and dear relationship with my emotions and now depend upon them for their guidance, especially the ones that most people try to avoid, such as anger, fear, sadness, and even helplessness. What I have come to understand and value is that all emotions serve a purpose and our overall health and well-being depend upon the ability to experience a broad range of them in order to live life to the fullest, especially in our relationships with our significant others where a deep emotional connection is the life preserver that helps us weather the many storms and pot holes life presents along the way.

I found myself back in therapy once again as I took the final steps on the path to becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist. It was important to my development as a therapist to once again explore and expand my emotional awareness as I navigated this latest life transformation. Through my personal experience of therapy, my education, and my training, my view of life has grown. I now have a deeper appreciation for the resiliency of the human spirit as I developed a greater understanding of our reactions to life’s challenges as normal, natural adaptive responses motivated by a desire to stay connected, to be accepted, to belong, and to survive.

If my personal reflections on how ‘talk therapy’ changed my life and my relationships don’t convince you that psychotherapy works, check out some of the latest evidence gathered by researchers by clicking on the link below: