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.
I have been struggling with getting enough quality sleep lately. I used to be a really good sleeper. I could fall asleep just about anywhere. On my flights back to China to visit family, I used to be able to sleep a solid 10 hours out of the 14 hour flight. I used to be able to sleep from the moment my head hits the pillow to the time my alarm sounded in the morning. Then things began to change as I got older, busier, and more stressed. I know that I function best when I get 9 hours or more of sleep per night but sleep was the first thing to go in college and grad school. Now good quality sleep is as rare and elusive as sunshine in the Seattle winter. I recently listened to two podcasts on the importance of sleep, which help me reflect on my quality of sleep and think of ways I can make sleep a priority again.
It's been a few months since I last wrote on this blog. Since the last post, I have ended a job, moved to a new state, moved in with my partner, and started a private practice. So much has happened and I feel almost like a different person from the one who last wrote in June. Through this time of transitions, I am reminded that transitions are hard. They are hard because they are full of instability and the unknown. They require so much physical, mental, and emotional energy to get through. I found myself feeling excited, fearful, anxious, on-edge, sad, overwhelmed, rejuvenated, creative, optimistic, and empowered. So many emotions at once! Here are the three practices that have kept me grounded in the past few months:
I recently watched this amazing TEDx Talk by Jia Jiang on how he embraced his fear of rejection by challenging himself to ask for things that are likely to be turned down. He documented his 100 Days of Rejection on his blog with Youtube videos of each attempt. His asks are hilarious, ranging from asking to plant a flower in a stranger's backyard to sleeping in a mattress store. Along the way, he learned to manage his fear of rejection and discover how to turn a "no" into a "yes."
I am the type of person who thrives in structure and certainty. I am definitely a Type A personality and I score high on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a J, which means that I like order, planning, and control. My need for structure, stability, perfectionism, and long-term planning has gotten me far in life.
This week I have been thinking about forgiveness. I was inspired after listening to the TED Radio Hour episode on forgiveness. I was particularly moved by the TED Talk by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger titled "Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation." Thordis and Tom talked about their shared experience as the perpetrator and survivor of rape. Thordis was 16 years old when her then boyfriend, Tom, raped her. He was an exchange student from Australia and he left for home shortly after the incident without recognizing what he had done. After 9 years, Thordis decided that she wanted to confront Tom and to find forgiveness. She said so powerfully in this talk, "But deep down I realized that this was my way out of my suffering. Because regardless of whether or not he deserved my forgiveness, I deserved peace. My era of shame was over."
I realized that I have been trying to understand men from my perspective as a woman, which has not gotten me very far. Recently I have been listening to podcasts and reading articles from men's perspectives that are helping me better understand the men in my life. The Women In-Depth Podcast had a wonderful episode titled "The Secrets Men Carry," which featured an interview with Jungian analyst Dr. James Hollis. Dr. Hollis provided some insight into men's experiences, which I briefly paraphrase below:
Confession: I don't know much about men. I thought I did. After all, I grew up with them, I learned from them, I work with them, I care about and love them. But when I reflected on my understanding of men and masculinity, I have to admit that I know very little about them. Why do men struggle with expressing emotions? Why don't men talk to each other about their struggles and vulnerabilities? Why are men more aggressive than women? Do men have different needs in relationships than women? Why do men have a hard time acknowledging their power and privileges? Why do men shy away from talking about sexual harassment and sexual assault? In sum, why can't men be more like women?
This week, I am excited to share with you a brief interview that I had with psychologist and blogger Dr. Christy Barongan. She is the writer of Normal in Training: A Psychologist’s Blog About the Practice of Self-Acceptance. When I first had the idea to start a blog that blends my personal story and my professional interests, I looked to Christy’s blog as an inspiration.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In honor of this month, I spent some time exploring the impacts of trauma on our bodies. This is a topic near and dear to my heart as a trauma survivor and a therapist who works with trauma survivors. I love this definition of trauma by Dr. Gabor Maté in episode 79 of the Therapy Chat podcast:
Trauma is not what happens externally. So trauma is not the sexual abuse. Trauma is not the being hit with the belt. Trauma is not watching somebody close to you be murdered. That's not what the trauma is. Trauma is what happens inside of you as the result of that event. And what happens inside you, is that you experience all kinds of emotions, such as rage, such as terror, such as fear, such as grief, and that then changes you. They change you because in order to deal with those difficult emotions, which are responses to life events, we have to be able to feel those emotions and express them. When these events occur in an environment where a child has no capacity to express herself, to be heard, to be seen, validated, and soothed, then those emotions become frozen in the body and the brain, basically. So the trauma is the freezing of emotions.
Now that I work in an integrated behavioral health setting with medical providers, I know there are real limitations to Western medicine to treat some of the most common problems such as chronic pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, insomnia, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. As a patient, I have also been disappointed by Western medicine for its limitations. This led me to do some more research and explore other forms of treatment.
Recently, I noticed some small but significant changes in my body since I turned 30. Looking into the mirror one day, I discovered a few moles that were not there before. My partner found a baby grey hair that was starting grow on my head. I I noticed that my clothes don't fit the way that they used to; I am gaining weight around my belly and my thighs. These cellulite, stretch marks, and wrinkles are here to stay. Given my past struggles in my relationship with my body, I was surprised to find that I did not react to these changes with criticism, disappointment, or panic. Instead, I found myself observing these changes with a sense of calm curiosity. I realized that I liked what I saw.
My partner and I recently started couples therapy. Phew! There, I said it. Admitting that I am going to therapy, especially couples therapy, makes my heart race and my face flush. Although I work in the mental health field, there is a stigma against the therapist having problems and seeking help. We expect ourselves to be superhumans who have it all figured out. After all, we can apply our training in helping others to help ourselves, right?
Not so much.
Fairy tales, folktales, and mythology have traditionally been the messengers of moral lessons. Even the acculturated, modernized, and romanticized versions from Disney can provide some pearls of wisdom. There is nothing quit like a Disney movie to warm my heart and make me cry. I saw the new Disney movie Moana this weekend. Of course, it is full of the movie tropes and scripts that Disney is so well known for. The climax and ending are predictable and the cultural references are blended together and watered down. I won't go into a full critique of this movie as cultural appropriation as many writers have already done so here, here and here. I am just glad that the heroine is a person of color, which is a small step in the right direction.
I spent this past weekend on the Oregon Coast with my parents, my partner, and our two dogs. I didn't realize how much I needed this time away until I came back on Sunday night and I noticed that my shoulders were a little less tense and my outlook a little more optimistic. Taking a walk on the beach, even on a cloudy day, was so healing. Research shows the sense of awe that I felt from taking in the beauty of the ocean can biologically boost my immune system and my mood.
I struggle with delay of gratification. Delay of gratification is the ability to hold out for a bigger reward or pleasure when there is something tempting right in front of you. For example, I have a hard time saying "no" to a fun trip with friends when I should be saving money toward bigger life goals such as getting out of student loan debt or buying a house. Recently, I heard a wonderful podcast by On the Media titled "Busted: America's Poverty Myths #2 Who Deserves to be Poor?" that helped explain why I am struggling so much with delay of gratification and self control. This podcast episode is part of a 5 part series on the American poverty myths. The whole series is really worth a listen. But on this blog post, I am going to focus on the study on delay of gratification that is mentioned in the beginning of this podcast episode.
Delay of Gratification Research
The "marshmallow study" is a classic test of delay of gratification for children. The children are given one marshmallow and told by the researchers, "You can eat this now or if you wait for 15 minutes, I will give you a second marshmallow when I come back." It is excruciatingly hard for children to wait 15 minutes with a tasty treat right in front of them. The ability to wait, based on this simple test, has been shown to be correlated with better outcomes and success later in life. That is one powerful marshmallow!
In a new study, the researchers from University of Rochester showed that previous experiences can greatly impact the ability to delay gratification. These researchers gave the children a box of crappy crayons or stickers and then promised them a new set of art supplies if they waited. For half of the children, the researcher came back with new supplies as promised; for the other half, the researchers returned and apologized, saying that they do not have the new supplies after all. Then the children were given the marshmallow test. The children who received the promised new art supplies were able to wait much longer for the second marshmallow compared to the children who did not receive the promised art supplies. Makes sense right? When life promises you shinny new boxes of crayons but then gives you crappy ones, it's going to be so much harder to delay gratification next time and trust that life will keep its promises.
When life promises you shinny new boxes of crayons but then gives you crappy ones, it's going to be so much harder to delay gratification next time and trust that life will keep its promises.
Self-Compassion and Self-Care for Long Term Goal Achievement
As I reflect on my past, I realized that my experiences growing up with financial hardships, immigrating to the U.S., and through grad school all added to my experiences of "crappy crayons." It's no wonder that at this time in my life, when I finally have some financial, professional, and personal freedom, I am having a hard time waiting for the rewards down the road. Now that I know this is crappy-crayon-phenomenon exists, I can practice self-compassion for the times when I chose an instant gratification over the long term goals. I can also be more intentional about giving myself "new crayons" in the forms of small rewards (e.g., a chocolate bar, a bath, a cup of tea) so that I do not feel so depleted and deprived.
Online Counseling in Washington State
Following through on goals and delaying gratification is a learned skill. With the help and support of a licensed counselor, you can practice self-compassion, care for yourself more often, and strengthen your ability to meet your long term goals. If you are exhausted, lost, or looking for a change, consider online therapy at Thrive for the People. Contact us to learn more about our services, and see if our compassionate therapists are a good fit for your needs.
I remember the first time I was introduced to the idea of positive psychology in my undergraduate psychology class. Until then, I have never heard of positive psychology. I thought psychology was about the study of mental illnesses and how to treat them (a.k.a, the deficit model). It blew my mind that mental health can be about happiness and thriving, instead of just about the absence of problems. Is thriving possible? Can I live a life that is more than get up, go to work/school, come home, got to bed, rinse and repeat? After 10 years of higher education, clinical training, traveling, and learning from people around me, I think the answer is yes.
Positive Psychology and the Research into Happiness
Below is a TEDx Talk by psychologist Shawn Achor about human potential and happiness. Although it is titled "The Happy Secret to Better Work," I think his advice can be applied to any area of life. This is one of my favorite TED Talks because it is entertaining, informative, and inspirational (if only all lectures can bring me to tears of laughter!). Here are the main points of his talk:
Ready to Be Happier? Begin Therapy in Ballard
Are you tired of feeling unhappy? Are you ready make the changes that will lead to a fulfilling and thriving life? You don't have to go it alone. If you are looking to utilize evidence-based strategies to improve your wellbeing, we can help. Our licensed counselors draw from positive psychology to help you reach your full potential. We are located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle and also offer online therapy. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation today to see if we are a good fit for your needs.
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.