In Merriam Webster there are eight definitions of grace as a noun and two as a verb. For the purposes of this writing, grace is an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or mercy and/or the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful.
Most of us have been taught that we should give grace to others in all myriad of circumstances. We should be kind and courteous to others. We should show mercy, forgiveness, and tolerance to others. We should be considerate and thoughtful of other people’s feelings, sorrows, and tragedies.
How often do we extend grace to ourselves?
Many times, we beat ourselves up emotionally and mentally, and even out loud verbally. We place blame on ourselves and feel as if we are failures. We tell ourselves any number of lies that we have been conditioned to believe by others and our brain now considers them to be truths. But grace? Not so much.
We do not offer ourselves kindness and mercy. We are not tolerant of our mistakes and errors in judgment. We have no forgiveness of our shortcomings. Grace is not something we think of giving to ourselves, only to others.
What if we practiced intentional grace with ourselves?
When we feel as if we are not doing as well as we think we should, how about a little grace for those times. When we feel as if we are failing ourselves or our families, how about some forgiveness for ourselves. When we are short on margin and quick to anger, how about some tolerance for ourselves. When we are run down and burned out, how about some self compassion.
Grace is not meant for us to only give to others. It is also meant for us to give to ourselves. We can extend all the kindness, courtesy, mercy, and forgiveness we extend to others to ourselves. We must be able to offer that cup of kindness to our own bodies, minds, and spirits.
Think of how often you have shown grace to others. All of the circumstances in which you were able to show kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and courtesy to other people. Now try to think of all the times you have shown those same things to yourself. I wager that it is not an equal scale.
We cannot pour from an empty cup. Our own cups must be filled. And we must do the filling. Be intentional with grace for yourself this week and fill your cup.
Sometimes we can be so tired in our mind and body that only a complete break from our everyday life will reset us. This past weekend, I was able to have one of those resets.
My family and I went for four days to what is called the Missouri Breaks in Montana. It is several hours north of where we live where there are almost no people and definitely no Internet, cell, or television service of any kind. The land is high prairie with pine trees, juniper bushes, and sagebrush.
The sky is magnificently big and seems to go on forever.
The only noises are the animals and birds in the morning and evening. In the in between, there is no noise. Zero noise. It is completely quiet. The peace is immeasurable.
In the morning, you can hear everything from Western Meadowlarks to Canadian Geese along with coyotes and elk and many more starting off daybreak. In the evenings, it is much the same and the music is amazing.
In the in between time, there are walks or hikes to view wildlife, find amazing rocks and fossils, and breathe in the world around us. There is also time for coloring and naps and the occasional classic movie such as Chisum or Lonesome Dove.
In the evenings, there is peace and the campfire. The hypnotic mesmerizing flames are like a colorful dancing meditation and we sit transfixed as if we are stones. We roast the occasional marshmallow and having brought my telescope we view the heavens above in all its unpolluted by light glory.
Mars is there, along with Orion, the Big and Little Dippers, Hercules, Gemini, and many more along with super bright binary stars and red giants. It is a light show unlike any other and as far as you can see there are stars. Also satellites that go streaking by very fast and shooting stars.
There are no phone calls, no text messages, no appointment reminders and no email. There is no social media distraction and no news of the day in the rest of the world. There are no work day duties. Only peace.
I sit in the sun and watch the burning embers of the fire from the night before and I feel my body, mind, and spirit being fed. It seeps into me resetting me once again.
Taking breaks is necessary for those in the mental health profession just as it is for everyone else. It is okay to take time for yourself so that you can give care to others. It is more than okay. It is a requirement for a healthy life.
In the years that I have been a clinical counselor, I have come to believe based on observations of the clients I have seen and people that I know personally, that well over 90% of the American population has had some sort of trauma in their lives.
Some trauma is fairly self explanatory and easy to recognize such as physical or sexual abuse. Some trauma is not so easily defined, such as verbal or emotional abuse. But they can all inflict traumatic memories and negative beliefs on those who receive them.
When I start seeing clients I will often times give them an assessment to briefly assess their traumas. It doesn’t cover everything, but it gives a good idea of a starting place for therapy.
This assessment is called the ACES test or Adverse Childhood Experiences. This assessment does not assess stressors outside the household such as violence, poverty, isolation, etc.). Something I feel that was left off of the ACES is death or loss of loved ones. This can be a huge trauma for children. It does not take into account any protective factors and it does not differentiate meaning not all people with high ACES scores will have a poor outcome and not all people who have zero ACES will have a positive outcome. It is an indication of greater risk of a poorer outcome and trauma responses.
The following is the ACES assessment:
Prior to your 18th birthday:
Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Were your parents ever separated or divorced? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Did a household member go to prison? No___If Yes, enter 1 __
Now add up your “Yes” answers: _ This is your ACE Score. A higher score in multiple studies has shown links to increased negative mental and physical outcomes as well as increased negative social outcomes. The website Got Your ACE Score? has multiple links to studies and many charts that lay out the possible effects of a higher ACES score.
Resilience on the other hand may help those with higher ACES scores combat negative outcomes. A secure early childhood is helpful for future living but not always absolutely necessary if one has a higher resilience. Again, this is very individual dependent and definitely not true for everyone.
1. I believe that my mother loved me when I was little.
Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
2. I believe that my father loved me when I was little.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
3. When I was little, other people helped my mother and father take care of me and they seemed to love me.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
4. I’ve heard that when I was an infant someone in my family enjoyed playing with me, and I enjoyed it, too.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
5. When I was a child, there were relatives in my family who made me feel better if I was sad or worried.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
6. When I was a child, neighbors or my friends’ parents seemed to like me.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
7. When I was a child, teachers, coaches, youth leaders or ministers were there to help me.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
8. Someone in my family cared about how I was doing in school.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
9. My family, neighbors and friends talked often about making our lives better.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
10. We had rules in our house and were expected to keep them.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
11. When I felt really bad, I could almost always find someone I trusted to talk to.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
12. As a youth, people noticed that I was capable and could get things done.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
13. I was independent and a go-getter.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
14. I believed that life is what you make it.Definitely true Probably true Not sure Probably Not True Definitely Not True
How many of these 14 protective factors did I have as a child and youth? (How many of the 14 were circled “Definitely True” or “Probably True”?) _______Of these circled, how many are still true for me? _______
Many people have had at least one trauma in their lives and many more have had traumas that are not listed on this assessment. As stated, this is just an early assessment that can offer a lot of information about how someone has experienced trauma and if they also had any resilient factors in their lives.
Trauma, unprocessed, continues to affect us on a daily basis whether we know it or not. It affects how we think, feel, and respond in every situation of our lives because it has instilled beliefs in us about ourselves that are almost always negative. It affects how we live, love, and work. Trauma doesn’t go away because we think we ignore it. It doesn’t go away because we get older and more distance from it. We carry it around in our brains because the brain records everything and then it flings it out at us again and again.
If you have unprocessed trauma, I highly encourage you to find a counselor to talk about it and process through it. Doing so could make all the difference in your life.
The sun is a vital component to all living things. It provides warmth, nourishment, and mental health boosters just to name a few things for humans.
As I have written about many times, vitamin D is essential to healthy mental health. In Montana where I live and practice, vitamin D deficiency is a very normal occurrence for people and for some people a complete lack of vitamin D is not uncommon.
Many, many studies have been done over the years that directly relate increased depression to a lack of vitamin D in the body. Most people who are deficient in vitamin D have really no other symptoms except an increased risk of depression or if they already have depression, their depressive symptoms increase.
In the last couple of weeks, the sun has been out here in my area of Montana on a daily basis. In fact, on this past Friday, the sun was out and the temperature was almost 70 degrees. The effect on my client’s affects are astounding.
Every client who comes in has said that they feel happier the last couple of weeks. When asked to reflect on what they think is causing it, to a person they say, when I wake up and the sun is out I just feel better to start the day. Just the sun through the windows is enough to jump start their dopamine. Not even going out into the sun, just seeing it causes the brain to react and the body to feel better.
Those clients who have been going out into the sun, even for just a few minutes of time during the day report that their depressive symptoms are even more decreased. Those who have been out in the sun for several hours enjoying some outdoor activities like walking, long boarding, hiking, and just sitting on their deck reading report an even higher decrease in depressive symptoms.
Most of my clients do take a vitamin D supplement as I recommend it for all of them because of where we live, but the sun has an increasing effect both physically and psychologically.
When it is cloudy, gray, gloomy, rainy, snowy for a day or days, we also can psychologically feel gloomy. With depression, we can feel even more in the depths of gloom. But let there be light and we feel happier, energized, warm, and much less gloomy.
Yesterday where I live, it rained all day. It was cloudy, gray and gloomy. It wasn’t that cold, but I felt cold all day. I felt tired and drained and even took a nap something I do not normally do. I was bundled up in clothes and throw covers. And it was not that cold. I had little motivation.
Today, it is sunny and beautiful. I woke up cleaned my closets out and have been doing writing and marketing since. I feel energized, happy, productive. And I do not suffer from depression, but the sun is a massive dopamine projector for all humans. Just the sight of a beautiful sunny day with a clear blue sky floods the senses with dopamine and the body with energy. And if you go out into it for minutes or hours, it’s like recharging your brain and body’s batteries.
If it is sunny where you are, let it recharge you. Let it wash over you body, mind and spirit. Let there be light.
Your brain will only believe what you tell it is true.
Your brain is not an artificial intelligence. It is a taught repeater. It does not make up things on its own.
The information that is taken into your brain is what your brain will put back out.
And anything that is put into your brain by either yourself or others with belief that it is true, your brain will believe it is true. It does not matter whether it is actually true or not. If you say it to your brain and you believe that it is true on any level, your brain will process it as the truth.
If it is repeated to your brain over and over and over throughout your life it becomes embedded as a neural pathway related to an image, experience, words, and trauma. Those things when recalled as memories are always attached to the truth you have told your brain about them.
Your brain will not repeat something else unless you tell it to and you believe what you are telling it that you now believe about these memories.
Think of the most often repeated phrase in your brain related to yourself in a negative way. Some of the more common ones: I am not worth love, I am stupid, I cannot do anything right, I am not perfect, I am not good enough, I am not valued, I am fat, I am a disappointment, I have to make others happy. Whatever your most repeated phrase is say it out loud.
Then pay very close attention to what image, whose voice, what experience, what trauma is attached to these words. Someone else made you feel this way. You were not born believing this negative crap. Someone caused you to internalize it. Think back, way back, these things almost always start in childhood from birth to age 7. Who do you see, who do you hear, what images do you remember, what emotions do you remember feeling?
This is where your brain started believing that this phrase was true. And every time it has been repeated by others and repeated by yourself has reinforced it into your mind as the truth…the only truth. Even though it is a lie. Your brain does not know anything other than this repeated statement you have believed is true.
How do we change this? We must repeat something else to our brains in relation to these memories. How about the actual truth? And not what someone else told you or showed you that THEY felt. It was never what you felt about yourself until you repeated it and believed it.
How long will it take to retrain your brain? It can take a while, a long while in some cases and you must be absolutely diligent in your new repetitions. Every day, every time the lies come up, EVERY SINGLE TIME. You must confront the old beliefs every time and immediately with the new ones.
It is hard work. It is a long process. And it is the only way to emotional freedom and health. As long as you live believing the lies, your emotions, relationships, and life will be chaos.
It is time to speak a different truth to yourself starting right now.
One of the biggest issues that we as humans have is that some questions have no answers.
As humans, we are driven to find answers. We feel that we must learn things and know things. We feel as if everything must have an answer. And when no answer is found, we create an answer to satisfy our need. Even if that answer is a lie we fashion into the truth.
It is always the hardest questions that have no answer. The questions that shape our lives and beliefs and we are never given the answer to the most basic question….why?
If we experience abuse as a child, we ask why. If people we love suffer and die, we ask why? If our relationships are consistently failing, we ask why. If our parents were not able to love us or care for us properly, we ask why. If someone makes us feel unloved, unworthy, not smart, not pretty, we ask why.
These questions can have answers, but most often we reject the answer in favor of something more easily believed. If the answer to abuse is that the person who abused us has unresolved trauma, that is not an acceptable reason for what they did to us. If the answer is that every human dies, that is not good enough. If the answer is that it is our own unresolved trauma that prevents us from forming healthy relationships, somehow that must be false. If the answer is that our parents did the best they could with who they were and are, it does not make anything better for us.
There are always answers, but as humans we find them unacceptable. The answer must be something else. Or someone else’s fault or our own fault. The truth is often harsh and does nothing to help our pain.
And because we are still in pain, we create answers that we can accept more easily. Even if these answers bear no truth, they make us feel better. It is like coating a bitter pill in sweet chocolate. The bitter pill that provides no relief must be avoided at all costs. It is just too hard a thing to swallow.
The search for answers about our lives provides us with one thing for certain – choices. We can choose to accept the sometimes harsh and hard truth or we can choose to create truths we can accept. This is always the choice when we seek answers.
One leads to acceptance and the other leads to constant battles within ourselves to keep our created truth alive.
For many people, happiness is something they think happens due to outside forces. If I get the grades I want. If I have a job where I am successful. If I have a relationship. If I am thinner. If people are proud of me.
I call it the happiness hamper. The place where you go to dig through all the things to find one that you think will make you happy. Trying on different ones to see which will make you happy at that moment. All of these kinds of happiness are dependent on someone or something else.
True happiness can only come if you are happy with yourself – with nothing added by anyone or anything else. Just you, in your own flesh, looking in a mirror and saying that YOU make you happy.
People that seek happiness outside of themselves from other people or things are very often disappointed and decidedly unhappy. If your happiness resides in your getting a certain job or making a certain amount of money and that doesn’t happen as you hope it will you then feel sad and as if you are now not successful or worthy.
If you seek happiness in relationships and your relationship does not work out…you feel sad and as if you somehow lacking because that person did not choose to stay with you.
If happiness does not start with you how then can you expect to be happy with anything else that you do or with anyone else. If you inherently find fault with yourself and are not wholeheartedly happy with just you – how can you expect that you would be able to be happy in some other situation? You are still the same person are you not? The same one you are not happy with. That does not change because your situation changes.
So many times my clients when I talk about being happy with themselves bring up all the trauma and suffering from their life. They believe they cannot be happy with themselves because of all the beliefs and responses they have to this trauma – that other people and other situations taught them. But they believe it, internalize it, live it with words like “my fault”, “not worthy”, “not valued”, “not smart”, “not pretty” and on and on.
I should have a sign in my office with the following words: Repetition and Reinforcement. I say it often enough. I believe it absolutely that it is the only way to change how you think about what you feel. You must repeat, repeat, repeat for as many times as is necessary. And then you must reinforce by repeating hundreds, millions, hundreds of millions until your brain believes what you are saying. Until the negative things you have internalized are gone – replaced.
Start small, say it once a day, have it written and placed next to where you brush your teeth every morning. Say it out loud looking at yourself in a mirror and smile when you do it.
I AM HAPPY WITH MYSELF.
Do it once a day for four weeks. Then do it twice a day for three weeks. Then three times a day for three weeks. It takes 21 consecutive days of doing something to make a habit that sticks. Then do it four times a day for three weeks. Ever increasing until it becomes a running monologue in your brain. And smile every time you say it – smiling releases endorphins, endorphins make us feel happier.
Valentine’s Day can be the cause of great joy and great stress. When we have a special someone in our lives we feel we have to work extra hard to keep them and when we do not have that special someone we feel we must spend all our energy trying to find them.
On Valentine’s Day, and truly every day, we can be so invested in keeping or finding our special someone, or being very sad that we have lost them or have not found them, that we forget to love the person who needs it, deserves it, and benefits most….ourselves.
Do you love yourself? Do you make you happy? Do you practice self love?
If you answer no to these questions, perhaps it is time to start changing that, right now, this moment, today. And to build in love for yourself on every day of the year.
If you believe that you do not or can not love yourself, why is that true for you? Where did that belief start in your life? You were not born not loving yourself. It started at some point after that. Experiences, trauma, caregivers who caused you to form this belief, internalize someone else’s beliefs as your own. We do not wake up one day as an infant and decide that we, ourselves, do not love ourselves any longer. We are conditioned to believe this. How were you conditioned to answer no to the question of do you love yourself?
Are you happy with yourself? If the answer is no, what parts of yourself are you not happy with? And why did you become unhappy with those parts? Again, who informed that belief, who gave you that belief? What experiences caused that belief to become something you now accept? You were not born unhappy with yourself. How were you conditioned to believe that you make you unhappy?
If you answered no to the first two, it is highly unlikely that you practice self love. When is the last time you did something to show love to yourself? Were you taught that to think of yourself and do things for yourself was selfish? Were you taught that you had to or needed to take care of others and care about their happiness before your own? When you were born your own needs were very important to you – food, care, clothing, safety. When did that change?
“Loving yourself… does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion.” —Margo Anand
Loving yourself is the most kind, respectful thing that you can do for you every single day. Repeat after me – I love myself, I am worthy of loving myself, I deserve to love myself, my love for myself makes me happy with myself.
There are lots of difficult words in therapy. Trauma, abuse, grief, change are just a few of the hard words therapy causes to surface. There is one word though that is more difficult than all the others for most of my clients.
On the road to change there are three words. Acknowledgment or awareness, acceptance, and change. Change cannot come without the other two being ahead of it on the road.
However, it is the word and act of acceptance that most of my clients find the hardest to see, say and do. Acceptance means that one has to accept fully that what has happened to them to this point in their life, no matter how much they would wish it could just be forgotten, wiped away, not remembered, will always be a part of them, always.
Most people with trauma spend their lives ignoring, running away from, or repeatedly responding to events and relationships from a place of their traumatic experience. And yet, all the while, they are trying to pretend that it is not the trauma. That they can forget the trauma, box it up, pretend it is not the cause of all the subsequent fears, traumas, failures, and unhealthy coping techniques they employ for all the days of their life that follows.
Most people with trauma work very hard to NOT acknowledge or be aware of their trauma and the subsequent trauma responses. They work even harder on NOT accepting that this trauma will forever be in their memories.
In order to progress towards real change, one must acknowledge their trauma. Face it, understand it, process it in relation to all that has followed, recognize it and be aware of how it causes you to make decisions, respond to events, and conduct relationships.
The second step is acceptance that your trauma is part of you. We cannot erase memories. Lobotomies are not performed in many countries any longer. Our experiences are our experiences. They happened. They shaped who we became after and what we thought and believed about ourselves after the trauma.
And this is where change comes in. We cannot change what has happened. We can however change how we feel about it. We can change how we react to it. We can change how we think about ourselves in relation to it. And in changing these things, we change everything.
It is a process. Sometimes a slow and painful process. Sometimes a quicker process. Each person’s path to change will be different. It will not happen overnight. But it can and will happen if we acknowledge, accept, and then change our thoughts, change our beliefs, change our reactions.
What has your trauma caused you to think about yourself in relation to it? I am not worthy of love, I am not good enough, my feelings do not matter, I am not valued, and any of the millions of things we can be taught to think and believe by our traumas. How have these beliefs affected your choices in life, your responses, your relationships? Do you know who you are outside of this trauma? Are you even aware of who that person is?
The path to change can be frightening. For all the horrible things trauma causes in our lives, we can become accustomed to it because we know it. We know exactly how it looks, feels, and what we can expect to happen. It is known. Change is unknown. The person on the other side of change is unknown. The life on the other side of change is unknown.
And so the only remaining question is, do you wish to be the same person with the same trauma reactions in 6 months, a year, 5 years, 10 years? Or do you wish to find your truer self, accepting the past, and growing beyond it?
Acknowledge, accept, change. One moment at a time. Sometimes you can make inches of progress and sometimes miles, but the journey always starts with the same words, hard though they may be. Change is possible.
Many of my clients are experiencing what I would call the winter blahs. The time of year where just being a lump of flesh under warm blankets with fuzzy slippers and doing little else seems the preferable way of living.
While some only have a slight case, others have what would be considered something more. It is a short few steps from winter blahs to depression. And it is an easy road to travel this time of year especially. Making it worse than winters past is the ongoing specter of COVID and everything that comes with it.
The winter months always come with shorter days, which means less sunlight, when there is sunlight. And that leads the next thing, there is less sunlight with more overcast and cloudy days that can include lots of rain or lots of snow. Inclement weather makes it more difficult and less enjoyable to be outside in many cases, especially if the temperatures are very cold. All of this seems to translate into an innate instinct to hibernate much as many animals do this time of year.
Unfortunately, with COVID many of use have already been basically hibernating for several months already. This leads to a feeling of “never ending” hibernation. That we are somehow trapped inside and going out may never come again. Add to that some extra pounds for many of us due to the sheer boredom of being inside so long and running out of things to inspire us or motivate us.
Inspiration and motivation continue to shrink as our waistline expands. And we feel more and more like the lump of flesh our minds believe us to be. A vicious circle of winter blahs that have actually been going on for far longer.
Winter is not over though it is moving at a rapid pace it seems as it is now February. Yet, it continues, and how do we find motivation and inspiration when much of what surrounds us remains the same.
Just as with any habit, we do it in small bits, repeated until habits form, and then we add small bits to it and repeat the process. Pick one thing you want to incorporate into your life right now, that can be done in a very small way and repeated for at least 20 to 30 days, which is how long most people take to form something into a habit. When that habit is formed and you do it without having to think about it or make yourself do it, add another small something or a bigger part of the first habit to increase it and repeat again for 20 to 30 days.
And look it will be April and spring will be near.