Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has proven to be effective at mending marriages and relationships. Dr. Johnson condenses twenty years of experience and wisdom into her book Hold Me Tight. I’ve been curious to learn more about this method of therapy, and finally picked up the book for myself. As a non-therapist, here are some helpful strategies that I learned from this book to stop the cycle of blame and resentment in a relationship and rebuild that trust and security.
If you search for “therapists near me,” you might find almost every therapists’ web page with the same disclaimer: We are only offering online therapy at this time. This is one small example of the “new normal” since the pandemic began. Many people have made the switch to online therapy and continue to attend every week. Some people even started therapy for the first time in 2020, and to this day have not met their therapist in-person. Some of us have experienced new levels of grief and anxiety for the first time, while others are seeing long-standing issues push to the surface. I can’t help but wonder: what, if anything, gets lost in translation through online therapy? Is online therapy the best way to deliver therapy? Is it here to stay?
Asking for what we want and need in a clear, direct, honest, and courageous way is one of the keys to healthy communication and relationship dynamics and yet one of the hardest things to do. I have struggled with it personally for a long time. Raised as an Asian American woman, being assertive felt counter to my upbringing and cultural values. Yet I have learned over time, as Brené Brown puts it, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month so I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorder is the occurrence of distressing emotional symptoms during pregnancy and throughout the first year after pregnancy. Around 15%-20% of mothers experience symptoms related to PMAD (Byrnes, 2018). The term has been broadened from postpartum depression in recent years to include symptoms of anxiety, obsessive and compulsive disorder, psychosis, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
The past year has ushered in loss and as a society, we are collectively grieving. As a culture, we have a script for honoring big losses such as the death of a loved one. We have rituals in place that allow for the mourning process to be carried forward. This helps us honor our grief and work through it. What the pandemic has really highlighted for me, however, is the question of what do we do with small losses? How do we grieve the ambiguous loss? I think of the unattended high school graduation, the canceled concert, the postponed wedding, the break-up, and the social isolation.
How are you doing? No, really. How are you? I know I have been so wrapped up with work, adjusting to the constantly changing landscape of the coronavirus, and the roller coaster of the news and media that I have not really checked in with myself about how I am feeling or coping through this time.
The coronavirus pandemic has been all over the news, dominating my conversations with clients, friends, and family, as well as constantly swirling in my mind. At such an unprecedented time in our global history, anxiety and stress are running high for very good reasons. There is so much uncertainty about how this invisible force can hurt each of us, our loved ones, the economy, and the world. We are in the middle of a medical, psychological, financial, and political crisis.
It's that time of the year again. The amount of daylight is decreasing every day. Here in Seattle, the clouds, rain, and cold have moved in. People who are sensitive to the effects of weather and sunlight may notice that their moods are significantly impacted by the change in season. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common experience here in the Pacific Northwest due to our geographic distance from the equator. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD affects 5% of adults in the U.S. and can last on average 40% of the year.
I recently contributed to a Seattle Times article on happiness at work. The article was in response to the CNBC Workplace Happiness Index research. You can find out more about the original research here. In a nutshell, the CNBC researchers asked 8,664 professionals a series of questions about their satisfaction at work. The researchers looked at five different categories of satisfaction: meaning, autonomy, recognition, opportunity, and pay; and they combined them into a single factor called the Workplace Happiness Index. They concluded that happiness at work is a multi-dimensional and complex outcome. In addition to my contribution that was quoted in the article, I want to add a few more thoughts in this blog post about workplace happiness in general and about this study in particular.
Living with a pattern of procrastination can be difficult because it is often a silent, invisible, and shameful inner struggle. You may feel that there is a cloud of dread hanging over your head at all times. As the deadline looms, the sense of dread can grow until it becomes too much to bear. You may say to yourself, "This feels awful and I will never do it again!" Only to find yourself back in the cycle of procrastination the next time a deadline comes around.
When we think of trauma, we often think of extreme experiences of life or death. War, combat, sexual assault, physical abuse are the examples that come easily to mind. This definition of trauma is reflected in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the book that mental health providers refer to when identifying and diagnosing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD is direct or indirect exposure to "death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence."
I remembered the first time I tried meditation. I attended an introduction to meditation where the facilitator provided guided meditation for the first 15 minutes and then we sat in silence for the next 30 minutes. At first, I struggled with keeping my focus on my breath and allowing my thoughts to drift in and out. I started thinking about my to-do list and the conflict that I had with my partner. A few minutes into the meditation, I was fighting my desire to curl up on the floor for a nap. I learned that meditation is not easy. But with regular practice, I can see the power of meditation in my life to reduce stress, improve sleep, manage anxiety, and increase focus.
One of the topics that has been gaining more wide-spread attention lately is loneliness. Studies have found that loneliness can have detrimental effects on our health by impacting our healthy behaviors, cardiovascular system, stress hormones, and sleep patterns. Loneliness can impact our immune system, experience of pain, and ultimately, how long we live. Loneliness is an all too common experience in the U.S. and it is on the rise. The former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called loneliness an epidemic. A study conducted by The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in 2018 found that 22% of Americans "always or often feel lonely, or lack companionship, or else feel left out or isolated." Given how many of us feel lonely and how damaging loneliness can be, I want to offer some strategies to combat loneliness and create deeper connections.
Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I know there has been so many controversies about her method. I highly recommend this article in the Huffington Post that dispels some of the misconceptions about the KonMari method and reveals the hidden xenophobia and racism within criticisms of Kondo. That topic can be a blog post in and of itself. What I want to focus on in this blog post is Kondo's philosophy of "spark joy."
I have struggled with procrastination for most of my adolescent and adult life. One time during my senior year of college, I waited until the midnight before a paper was due to sit down on the couch to finally begin writing. Before I knew it, it was morning and my laptop had fallen to the floor because I had passed out.
I have recently been immersed in the topic of childhood emotional neglect (CEN). Unlike the experiences of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, emotional neglect is harder to identify and acknowledge because it is about what didn't happen to you rather than what did happen to you. If you were abused, you were also emotionally neglected. If you were not abused, you could still have been emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect occurs when parents and caregivers were consistently not present, available, understanding, or supportive when you needed them.
Do you constantly feel like something is missing in your life? Do you feel a deep sense of emptiness, loneliness, sadness, or discontent even though your life looks wonderful from the outside? Do you long for something from the past or wish for something more in the future? This sense of incompleteness can be so painful and yet invisible or mystifying to other people who do not struggle with it. I have often struggled with this sense of emptiness in my life. This nagging feeling of something-is-missing is really confusing because I have all the trimmings of a privileged life. I used to think that this emptiness can be filled by accomplishments, friends, family, money, hobbies, career, or pets. But the more "stuff" I accumulated to fill this hole, the more empty and incomplete I felt. I came to realize that the hole cannot be paved over by anything from the outside.
Recently I listened to a podcast episode called Trust Your Body on one of my favorite podcasts, Dear Sugars. In the episode, the hosts, Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed, and guests, Hilary Kinavey, M.S., L.P.C., and Dana Sturtevant, M.S., R.D., discussed the never-ending cycles of dieting that affect so many women. One of the women who wrote to the Sugars talked about how tired she feels about "being on the roller coaster" of weight loss and self-esteem. I can relate to her struggles as I have been on the roller coaster myself for most of my adolescent and adult life.
In the last blog post, I talked about awareness and understanding of self-sabotaging behaviors in romantic relationships. In this blog post, I will focus on some things that you can do to begin to heal and repair this pattern of self-sabotage. The first step, as I mentioned in the last blog post, is to identify why you might be engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors. Understanding the why can help you recognize that this coping strategy is no longer needed or helpful in the present and therefore, it might make it easier to let it go. Here are a few more practices to consider on your healing journey to create satisfying, nourishing and long-lasting relationships:
I recently read this amazing piece in The New Yorker by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz. The article was "The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma." In this article, Díaz described how his early experiences of sexual abuse followed him throughout his life. He explained how they contributed to the destruction of many meaningful romantic relationships. He reflected on and owned up to his self-sabotaging behaviors as well as recognized that he was afraid of facing his trauma. Not only was he afraid that he had become broken and unlovable, but afraid to hope for something better. I felt both empathetic for his pain and validated by his naming of these experiences.
"Super ironic that I write and talk about intimacy all day long; it’s something I’ve always dreamed of and never had much luck achieving. After all, it’s hard to have love when you absolutely refuse to show yourself, when you’re locked behind a mask."
- Junot Díaz
Recently, I have been searching for a new therapist to work with. I believe that regular therapy is good for my mental health and important for my continued growth as a therapist and a person. As a client, I can empathize with the process of searching for a therapist. I can relate to the vulnerability to reveal so much about myself to another person and the courage to make changes in my life. I am grateful to have a space where I can lay my burdens down for a bit and sort through my thoughts and feelings with a trusted professional who can provide validation, perspective, and wisdom. The process of finding a therapist who is a good match can be hard. Even with my background in psychology, previous experiences in therapy, and an idea of who I am looking for, it still takes me several trials and errors to find the right fit.
One of the struggles that I often see with my clients, my friends, and within myself is the balance between caring for others and caring for ourselves. The dilemma of whose-needs-come-first is one that I am intimately familiar with as an Asian American woman. Both as a woman and as an Asian American, I was taught from a young age to put the needs of others before my own as the highest virtue. It sometimes feels impossible to give to myself what I so readily give to others (e.g., time, attention, compassion, love, rest).
When I applied for my Ph.D. program in counseling psychology, I learned that one of the key qualities psychology programs were looking for in a prospective student was self-awareness. I had a vague idea of what that meant and why that would be an important quality in a psychologist. I thought self-awareness was the ability to spend lots of time thinking about myself, psychoanalyze myself, and worry about how I come across to the world. Well then, I prided myself in having plenty of it. It took seven more years of getting feedback on areas that I didn't know I needed to work on and being challenged about biases and beliefs I didn't know I held that I began to learn what self-awareness really means. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich provided a compelling summary of her research into what self-awareness is, the benefits of it, and how to improve it as a skill.
Happy new year every one! The beginning of a new year always holds such promise, hope, and significance for me. It marks the passage of time, which I tend to forget when I am busy going from day to day. The new year offers the opportunity to pause and reflect on what just happened in the past 365 days. And what a year it has been! I love the Seven Questions to End 2017 with Clarity and Start 2018 with Intention from my favorite podcast On Being with Krista Tippet. I love these questions because they are great prompts for journaling. Journaling can provide so many benefits, as outlined here and here, including improving our memory, improving our communication skills, healing our wounds, and boosting our self-confidence. In this blog post, I will take a moment to answer these seven questions for myself:
The recent tidal wave of individuals, mostly women, speaking up about their sexual harassment and sexual assault experiences is the culminations of years, decades, centuries of pent up fury and silence. The #MeToo movement is growing stronger and louder every day, led by courageous individuals in the public sphere and in my personal circles on social media. I have been wanting to write a blog post about this topic for awhile; it has taken me some time to digest the growing accounts of sexual violence and make sense of my own reactions.
We created this blog to share information about living a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. We are constantly learning new things and making mistakes along the way. This blog is our way of chronicling our discoveries, musing, and lessons learned as people and professionals. We invite you to come along on our journey of self reflection, discovery, and thriving with challenges. We also hope to exchange wisdom and enlightenment from you, our readers.
The information provided in this blog is not a substitute for professional mental health treatment.