Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dance Like Nobody's Watching!

***The link that I originally included no longer works.  I've updated the post to include a working link to the video.  Enjoy!

Holy smokes!  If you haven't seen this video yet you are in for a treat!  I've watched it several times since it came across my feed on a social network yesterday.  I smile and laugh out loud every time.  This little girl seems to be having a blast expressing herself.  And, she's not following the prescribed all!  Well, maybe a little bit, but she's dressed it up with her own flavor.

At any rate, I count her among the seriously Self Strong and hope she does not lose her uniqueness and joy in expressing herself just as she is!

Hope you enjoy this video as much as I have.  And hope you can think of ways to dance like nobody's watching in your life!

(Just in case the video didn't load for you, here's the direct link:

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Monday, October 21, 2013

What Language Does Your True Self Speak?

The following is a quote from a NY Times blog post published on-line:

"How is one to know which aspect of a person counts as that person’s true self?" 
(here's a link to the article

This is an interesting question.  How do you know?  How do you know when you declare something out loud or to yourself that you have expressed a part of your true, authentic self?  How do you know when you dive into a pursuit of any kind that you are on an authentic path?  

If you've been socialized in the way that most of us have been, it may be very difficult to know for certain what is truly you and what is what other's expect of you.  If that's the case then your True Self is likely buried under layers of expectations, "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts", and "what will others think?" 

What I mean by all that is from a very early age many of us were taught to keep our feelings to ourselves, especially if they might hurt someone else's feelings.  Think about it.  How many times have you seen/heard a kid do or say something that was an honest-to-goodness authentic expression of who they were, what they were feeling, or what they were thinking only to be told by an adult something like "You don't mean that" or "That's not okay.  Take that back" or "You should be ashamed of yourself."  I'm sure many of you can make a rational argument for when these comments may be appropriate; however, what I'm referring to are the times when what was said by a child simply made an adult uncomfortable.  There was nothing really wrong with what the child said or did but it caused discomfort in someone else - and that is what was deemed to be not okay.  Instead of teaching the child how to say what they were thinking or feeling in a way that is more kind (or tactful), or letting them know that perhaps that is something that is better kept to themselves (i.e., not EVERYTHING has to be said out loud for goodness sake!) the child is told that their experience is not okay.  

At this point kids do some pretty complex psychological arithmetic.

If that was what I was really feeling.  And I was told that what I was feeling is not okay.  Then, it's not okay that I was feeling that.  Which means I'm not okay.  

Yup.  Kids really do that.  Not quite that deliberately or consciously.  But kids have a knack for seriously personalizing most things.

Throw on top of that your very typical (and seemingly innocuous) admonitions like: 

          "Put a coat on, it's cold outside."
          "But I'm not cold."
          "Yes you are, put a coat on." or "I don't care, put one on anyway."

and, thus, begins the questioning and second-guessing of our authentic experiences and the beginnings of the disconnect from our True Selves.  

Lest I get annihilated by parent readers, let me say that I am a parent of two boys.  I'd love to say that I am the first in the history of parents to be a perfect one...but, alas, I am not.  

*Moment of silence.*  

I imagine I'm messing up my kids in ways I can't see right now, but one of the things I have been seriously sensitive to is what their experiences are.  We have had really interesting discussions around the dinner table about things as simple as food preferences and that we all have different ones.  That doesn't make us weird or strange...just different from one another.  I think my kids are tired of hearing it from me, but they are now pretty fluent in the idea that different does not mean anything other than different.  Not better or worse...just different.  So when my kid says "I'm not cold" as he's running around the house in shorts and no shirt during the winter and I'm wrapped up in a sweater and an afghan, I assume he is in tune with his body and knows exactly how it feels - because I've tried my best to not interfere with his interpretation of what his body is telling him.  And btw...when my boys were younger and insisted they didn't need a coat to go outside in 40 degree weather, out they went coatless only to come back inside 5 minutes later asking for their coat.  I never said anything other than - "Here it is honey." 

So...back to the original question.  How do you know when you've landed on something about yourself that is truly a reflection of your True Self rather than a creation of someone else's idea of who you should be?  In my opinion comfort and contentment meters are excellent barometers of true self expression.

My kids and their coatless adventures quickly resulted in discomfort from the cold.  Their bodies told them what they needed and so they fixed it.  They didn't need me to tell them.  This is precisely what I try to do for myself.  I'm pretty much all set with the coat thing, but when it comes to other matters like: What do I want to do with my day?  What path do I want my career to take?  Do I really want to start a blog?  I try my best to anticipate what my realistic options are and contemplate what each one might feel like.

Granted I can't base all my decisions on how I feel - there's a lot of necessary stuff that wouldn't get done if I did.  But, my feelings and preferences are absolutely an important part of the equation.  I'm still trying to figure out all of the nuances of how to spend my time each day such as: Do I sleep in or get up and exercise?  Do I grade these papers now or watch my favorite show?  What I have come to realize about myself is that I like how I feel when I'm fit so I try to maintain a regular exercise routine.  I also like to not have grading hanging over my head day after day so I try to get it done as soon as I can.  I'm not always successful at these things.  And when I'm really unsuccessful at them I'm reminded why what I'm doing isn't so great and is therefore not a good fit for me.  I feel less energized and sluggish when my body is out of shape, or I feel the constant stress that comes from having a stack of papers that have gone ungraded for days or weeks.  

Both my body and my mind know when they're uncomfortable and when they're content.  It is my job to listen.  They're both really pretty smart.  They've both got a lot to say if I just listen.  At times, though, I'm pretty sure one or both are speaking French.  I know a little bit of French but I am far from fluent.  I get bits and pieces but can miss huge chunks of the message.  So I have tried my very best to learn the language that my body and my mind are speaking.  That can take an enormous amount of time and energy.  Sometimes I really feel like I don't have it.  But when I do, I dive in and try to decipher what they are trying to tell me.  And when I really listen, and understand the language they are speaking I hear loud and clear that they are telling me precisely what I need to know in order to live a happy and contented life; a life that is authentic and that reflects my True Self.

I really do, after all, know exactly what is best for me.  I've just got to listen.

What language is your True Self speaking?  Are you already fluent, or do you need lessons?    

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Are You Hearing Voices?

I've blogged a bit about how others in our lives may have a negative effect on our comfort with expressing who we truly are.  But what about ourselves?  How much do we get in our own way?  How much time and energy do we spend talking ourselves out of being who we truly are?  How effectively do we weaken our resolve to be Self Strong?

What I'm referring to is "self-talk."  Self-talk is the voice inside our heads.  The voice is our own, but can certainly be mimicking what we've heard other's say.  It can be positive, negative and sometimes neutral.  It is a running commentary on how we're doing.  Sometimes the self-talk thoughts we have get uttered out loud.  As a sport psychologist this is something that I address with athletes who are struggling to perform at their very best.  If you watch any sports at all, especially televised sports, you will often see athletes or coaches utter something to themselves after a play.  Even if you can't hear what they've said you can often tell if the self-talk was positive or negative by their body language.

Self-talk is also an issue, however, for most of us just trying to live our lives as productively and satisfactorily as possible.  The most damaging and defeating type of self-talk is, of course, of the negative variety.  When I work with people in my practice as a psychologist I often ask about what they are thinking - in that particular moment or at the time something else happened.  Sometimes my patients will tell me that they don't know what they are thinking or that they aren't thinking anything.  Although I typically take what my patients say at face value, this is one of those instances where I wonder if they are right.  I believe that they are absolutely telling me the truth of their conscious perception of the situation (i.e., what they are aware of); however, I also think there is a good chance that their self-talk has been going on so long it is now like background or "white" noise.  It has been tuned out - as if it is not happening.  They no longer "hear" it.

I usually call attention to the idea that they may not know what they are thinking because the thoughts are automatic, repetitive, and they are so used to the thoughts they don't know it when the self-talk starts up.  I also suggest that I could be wrong, but encourage them to see if they can catch any of the thoughts the next time a particular situation occurs.

More often than not, a patient will tell me that they hadn't realized how much they were thinking.  And, unfortunately, many of those patients also say something like "I had no idea how negative my thoughts are.  I'm really hard on myself."   We then discuss the nature of the negative thoughts.  For example are the thoughts negative because they are intended to motivate?  If so I ask if the patient feels motivated as a result of the thoughts.  Usually the answer is "No."  An alternative to negative thoughts intended to motivate are negative thoughts intended to berate and ridicule.  This type is seriously damaging.  I usually ask for specific examples of what they tell themselves to get a sense of just how nasty their thoughts are.  Usually, they are pretty nasty. 

At some point we discuss whether or not these are things they would EVER say to someone they care about.  One hundred percent of the time the answer has been "No."  When I broach the idea that they may not, then, care about themselves, a common response is a justification why the berating is necessary and that they shouldn't care about themselves as long as ______ (fill in the blank) is going on.  

My next tact is to ask them to imagine themselves as the 5-year old version of themselves.  Sometimes they close their eyes and picture themselves exactly as they were at 5-years old.  Then I tell them to imagine saying to their 5-year old self exactly what they are saying to themselves now.  This usually results in a welling of emotions.  I then ask: "Does (s)he deserve that?"  One hundred percent of the time the answer has been "No."  

In my opinion, it is certainly okay to question our behaviors and even to wonder "What on earth was I thinking when I did/said that?"  But I've yet to hear of a situation that requires being nasty and cruel to one's self when a mistake has been made.  If we make mistakes When we make mistakes, it is useful to consider what we would have liked to have done differently.  We can learn from that and work on finding ways to remember our new strategy the next time around.

We will keep making mistakes.  Kinda the nature of being a human being.  In my opinion it really isn't about the making of mistakes as it is whether or not you recognize them when they happen and fix them or repair the aftermath.  As a parent I think the single most powerful thing I can do with my children is to acknowledge when I've made a mistake and to apologize to them for having done so.  My apology does not negate their behavior.  If they did something that requires a consequence then they still need to have a consequence.  But if I doled a punishment in a way that was disrespectful or that was too punitive I admit my error and correct my mistake.  And I apologize.

We can apologize to ourselves too.  There are a fair number of memes going around social media that have to do with apologizing to ourselves for how we're treating ourselves.  It is worth considering if you owe yourself an apology.  If so, for what?  Can you write the apology out in a letter to yourself?  Can you look at yourself in the mirror (looking yourself in the eyes is expert level btw!) and tell yourself that you're sorry for the way you've treated yourself and the things you've said?  

How liberated will you feel to say:

          "I'm sorry I've been so mean to you.  I'll do my best to be more encouraging and 
          supportive.  You're pretty amazing - no matter what I've been telling you." 

How Self Strong would this make you? 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Be Your Own Minister of Magic

Someone recently contacted me to ask how I decided to settle on "Self Strong" as the tag line for my blog.  There are a couple of reasons.

First of all, when I was thinking about this blog and on what I wanted to focus, I knew I wanted to talk about ideas related to the self and identity.  It didn't take too long for me to get to the importance of being authentic.  The problem with using "authentic" or "authenticity" as a part of my primary tag line is that use of those words is not always done in the context of who we are as individuals.  I wanted to be certain that those who came across my blog knew that I was talking about identity and the self.

As I thought more about what comes to mind when I think of someone who is authentic I thought things like: "They really know who they are." "They aren't afraid to show who they are."  "They're proud of who they are."  "They will protect who they are."  Etcetera.  In other words their self is solid, strong.  

The other thing that was going on as I was developing this blog is that I was re-watching some of the Harry Potter movies.  I know a lot of people really don't care for the books and/or the movies; however, what I really like about the stories is the character development.  The main characters are complex and evolve in really psychologically interesting ways throughout the stories.  

In my conversations with my husband, who is also a psychologist, he said that he thought the entire story is a metaphor for the self and that Harry Potter (and all those on the "good" side) struggle against powerful forces that try to annihilate them.  Of course in real life we don't deal with that kind of annihilation, but we do regularly deal with forces around us that seek to crush our sense of self.  Advertisers do an excellent job reminding us that if we don't use their products we aren't good enough.  Some of the people with whom we directly interact subtly and not so subtly let us know when we're okay and when we're not.

So whether you agree with that analysis of the Harry Potter stories or not, it was the opening scene of the Deathly Hallows, Part I that solidified for me the idea of strength of self and being Self Strong.  

The scene itself, indeed the movie itself, begins with an extreme closeup of Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic, who is addressing the evil that is growing and how they will take care of it.  Here's a link to that opening scene:

Here is the transcript of that scene:

      "These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has, perhaps, faced no greater    
      threat than it does today. But I say this to our citizenry: we, ever your servants, will 
      continue to defend your liberty and repel the forces that seek to take it from you! Your 
      Ministry… remains… strong!

When I listen to that scene now and with the idea of being Self Strong in mind, this is how I would translate that scene: 

      "These are dark times, there is no denying.  Your Self has, perhaps, faced no greater 
      threat than it does today.  But I say this to your True Self; I, ever your servant, will  
      continue to defend who you truly are and repel the forces that seek to take your True Self 
      from you.  Your Self...remains...strong!"

(Spoiler Alert!)  Yeah, I know this Minister of Magic gets killed.  Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to translate that scene into the language of being Self Strong; however, the conviction of that speech is what really fits.  He is pledging to do whatever it takes to protect that which is good and to destroy evil.  He, without equivocation, says that those who are in a position to do that kind of protecting are strong and will get the job done.

That is what it means to be Self Strong.  You know what is good for you (people and situations that allow you to self-activate and are supportive of you when you do).  You know what is bad or evil for you (people and situations that do not allow you to self-activate and that may try to destroy your self when you do).  You will do whatever you need to in order to protect your self.

None of that is easy to figure out.  None of that is necessarily easy to accomplish.  But the fight is worth fighting.  You are worth fighting for.  You deserve to have the kind of forces within you that have courage of conviction and some measure of strength to defend who you truly are.  You deserve to be Self Strong.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Self-Awareness + Choice = Happiness

One of the benefits of developing self-awareness is the availability of self-honoring choice.  Self-awareness in and of itself does not guarantee happiness or contentment; however, implementing what you know about yourself just might.  Self-awareness will allow you to choose or make decisions that accurately reflect you, who you are, what you value, what you want.

When we do not know who we are or what we want for ourselves we either avoid making choices altogether or decide what we'll do based on the expectations of others.  Neither of these options typically leads to happiness or contentment.  We end up acting in ways that are best for others - not ourselves.

Of course it is just as possible for us, despite our self-awareness, to make choices that do not reflect our true selves.  We may deny ourselves and our desires for fear of the consequences we believe may be waiting for us: being ridiculed, ignored, shunned, even oppressed.  If we've self-activated (i.e., make choices based on who we really are) and were ever ridiculed, ignored, shunned or oppressed as a result then the consequences we fear aren't simply imagined.  They really happened.  That can certainly make it more difficult for us to take a deep breath and forge ahead with expressing our authentic selves.

Part of the journey, then, is to learn when it is safe to self-activate.  Literally, when.  But also around whom - mostly that.  Even if you pick an inopportune moment to self-activate if you do so around those who appreciate you they'll have your back - or at least won't throw you under the proverbial bus.

I'm fairly certain that the process I went through to reach my current version of being as authentic as I can, is similar to that which I recommend to those who are working with me in my role as a psychologist.  When we find those whom we want to let into our lives, we should do so slowly and with small, less important, parts of who we are.  That way if that part of us is rejected it won't be nearly as painful as if we had expressed larger parts of ourselves.  Each of us alone can decide what are the "big" things and what are the "little" things.  But often our preferences for things like music, food, movies, favorite colors, etc. may be a place to start.  If we reveal our preferences in these areas and are ridiculed or rejected, we can be pretty sure that more important, sacred parts of ourselves may not be treated with respect either.

If, on the other hand, our preferences are accepted for what they are - our preferences - then we can share more important parts of ourselves with that person and see what kind of reception we get.  Still accepted, or something else?

When we express our real selves and not the version of us we think others want to see, we can be more certain that those who accept us truly accept WHO WE ARE rather than some facade we've created.  If on the other hand we've only shown them a gilded version of ourselves then what?  It becomes even more scary to reveal our true selves.  What if they don't like the REAL me?

We make choices nearly every moment of every day.  How often are the choices you make a reflection of who you truly are?  If you are not deciding/acting authentically, do you know why?  Is it that you don't really know who you are?  Or is it because you don't trust those around whom you spend most of your time.

There are only a select few people in my life who really know who I am.  Others don't necessarily get a gilded version of me, but they don't get a truly authentic version of me either.  Why?  Because I know I can't trust them, I don't need them in my life, or I don't know them well enough yet to let them in.

Most of my decisions about what I do and how I act are on purpose.  Not ALL of my decisions, but most!  I'm a happier person because if it.  Happy all the time?  No.  But what I do know is that I decide if I reveal who I really am.  And I decide when not to reveal my true self because I'm protecting myself.  Either way, I'm being true to myself.

Maybe I'm talking in circles at this point (it all makes sense in my head!) but I hope you get the gist of all this which is: develop your self-awareness so that you can consciously and authentically make decisions that are best for you.  You'll be happier for it!

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