Are You Willing To Do What It Takes?

I had an interesting conversation with a guy I know at a bicycle shop the other day. We started talking about my bicycle seat options and what might be more comfortable for me, so I asked him if it makes a difference that my pelvis healed into an uneven position after a car accident about 20 years ago. This led to a further discussion of lower back issues…neck and shoulder tightness, and he asked me if I have any chronic pain as a result of my injuries. I hadn’t really considered this in a while, so I shared with him that I had been a chiropractic patient for nearly two decades, visiting several times a year, anytime I felt a flare-up in my back, neck, or shoulders. However, I have been able to stay out of the chiropractor’s office for about the past two years, despite doing more physical activity such as cycling, which can exacerbate back problems.

“How do you explain that?” he asked. The answer was easy, “I practice yoga.”  He agreed that yoga is extremely helpful in developing what people need to stay active – balance, strength, and flexibility – and as a trainer he recommends it to nearly all his serious cyclists, but added that most people just won’t take the time to practice it. Hmmm…so this made me think.

In my work with clients, we quite often discuss ways that they can feel better – coping skills that they can use when they feel distressed, instead of returning to their old patterns of using food, alcohol, sex, self-injury, isolation, purging, or any other maladaptive trick that they have tried. The problem with these patterns is that, although they may temporarily “numb” us from feeling what is causing emotional pain, they end up causing harm and making things worse. So, like I tell my clients, when you take what you have been using away, you must learn to replace it with something that works…and here is where many people have a problem. Although we make a list of many other ideas that they can try when they start to feel uncomfortable, and they even admit that the new coping skills actually work, they fail to practice the willingness to continue to do what they know will help them…so why is that?

In our DBT groups, we learn about willingness vs. willfulness, and specifically how these concepts help or hurt us. Willingness is when we know what will help us feel and function better without making things worse in the long run, and we actually put those skills into practice in our daily lives. Willfulness, on the other hand, is when we know what would be the most effective way to handle a situation, what would work the best for us, and we choose not to do it.

There are many reasons why a person willfully chooses not to do what he knows will work. Sometimes people are familiar with and comfortable being in a constant state of chaos, and don’t believe they deserve anything better or different. Other times the pain of the harm they are doing is not enough to motivate them to change. Until that balance shifts and their suffering becomes worse than the discomfort associated with doing something new, many people won’t make the effort to help themselves.

In my own life, self-care is something I must stay willing to practice in order to be the best mom, daughter, friend, and therapist that I can be. It’s often difficult for me to carve out time to practice yoga, ride my bike, spend time with friends, read, and pray/meditate, on top of all my other responsibilities. But I have found that the more demanding my schedule is, or the more stressors I am experiencing, the more imperative it is that I take care of myself by doing all those things. It requires willingness on my part to make the effort, and the results are worth it in my happiness, stability, and peace of mind. I know what makes me feel better, so it’s my fault if I choose not to do those things.

Ask yourself today, “If I am unhappy with the way things are in my life, am I willing to do what it takes for me to feel better?” If your answer is Yes, and you need some guidance in figuring out what might work for you, schedule an appointment at Southlake Counseling and take the first step toward being in charge of your own happiness.

In good health,

Debbie





Lessons and My Yoga Practice

“…each moment of my day offers me the opportunity to choose between pain or peace.” ~ Rolf Gates in Meditations from the Mat

People who know me are aware of my passion for yoga, and specifically for the lessons I learn on my mat that I am able to transfer into my life. One such lesson started last summer and has recently revealed itself to me in a new way.

I began practicing at a different studio early last year at the suggestion of a friend, who had no idea the depth of my personal struggles at the time. I immediately found a sense of peace and calm with this practice that I had not experienced through my intermittent yoga practice before. Like I’ve heard…when the student is ready, the teacher appears…and I was ready.

On the 4th of July, I went to an early morning class and was not surprised to find a nearly empty studio. I was spending a lot of time up in my head those days, so I welcomed the opportunity to spread out my mat and practice without the distraction of other people inches away from me. I settled in to my usual spot by the window, and was somewhat shocked when a man put his mat down directly behind me on the otherwise empty back row. Again, I was up in my head saying, “Why couldn’t he get in one of the nine other spots on that row instead of RIGHT BEHIND ME?”…and it was downhill from there.

As soon as the teacher led us into child’s pose to start the class, I felt a tap on my arm, something I had never experienced before in yoga and haven’t since. I turned my head to see the guy from behind me squatting beside my mat, “Excuse me, but I’m going to have to ask you to take off your watch.” Appalled, I responded, “Are you serious?” “Yes,” he said. “It’s going to distract me for the whole class.”

Now remember, this guy had about 40 other spots he could have been in for this class instead of right behind me, so I was furious. I jerked my watch off and tossed it over by the wall, giving him the “Are you happy now?” look, and clearly I wasn’t.

So for about 87 minutes of the 90-minute class, I stayed mad. I went over and over in my head how awful it was that this guy had violated my personal yoga space so HE wouldn’t be distracted. I mulled over how it would have been different if he had said we don’t really need to know what time it is in yoga, and wondered why he didn’t ask the teacher to take off her bright ORANGE watch, when mine was only flat black. I allowed this guy to steal my practice from me, gave him the power to keep me in my head instead of on my mat, and obviously I haven’t forgotten it. The lesson I took away from that day was that I often give people power over me by resisting them, taking things personally, when it would be much easier for me to say, “Sure…I’ll allow you to be You. It’s not a problem.” It would not have hurt me to take my watch off, let it go, and get on with my life…

As is usually the case with my yoga practice (and my life!), things continue to unfold and be revealed, and these epiphanies are now a source of great delight for me. This past weekend, again at an early morning yoga class, the “watch guy” walked in to the studio. Although I practice several times a week, I have never seen him since that day in July, 2009. This time he put his mat in the middle of the front row, and since I was two rows back, he was clearly in my line of vision. I try very hard to keep my practice and my focus on my mat, and some days I’m more successful than others, but I couldn’t help noticing what this guy was doing every time I faced forward. In nearly every pose, he turned his head left and right to see what the people on either side of him were doing. At first I thought it was my imagination, so I became curious and watched more closely. It was obvious that he knew the poses, he didn’t need a model for what to do, he was simply checking out the pose of the woman on his right, and the man on his left…hmmmm.

Although I believed I had long ago moved past the watch incident, a new feeling of compassion rose up in me for this man who appeared to be more concerned with what was going on around him than what was going on within him. I have no way to truly know what he was thinking, but it seemed his focus was purely external, and I felt sad for him.  Aha…two new lessons for me. #1. I can have compassion for someone, even when I don’t understand where they are on their journey, and #2. I am grateful for the times when I’m able to shift my focus to my own internal point of reference, instead of gauging myself based on something external…and how much happier and healthier I am when I stop comparing myself to other people.

If you are struggling with finding your internal point of reference…your true Self…or are having trouble letting go of resistance and control in your personal relationships, perhaps we can help. We offer unique therapies to help you uncover and access your Self, with or without a therapeutic yoga practice. Make an appointment today to begin your own journey…

Namasté,

Debbie


Acceptance and My Dear Friend

In my DBT groups, I teach skills to help clients cope with challenging or distressing situations in their lives, without making things worse. One of the skills that we work on is Radical Acceptance, which means acknowledging reality, accepting it for what it is, without judging it good or bad.  I share with clients that I understand how difficult it can be to radically accept certain things, and that this acceptance is the only way they can let go of suffering.

So now it has come time (yet again) for me to practice what I preach.  I received a phone call this week from one of my dearest friends in the world, and through tears and gasps, she told me that she has been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, metastasized to her liver to such an extent that the doctors say they cannot remove the tumors.  This is an extremely healthy and vibrant young mother of a precious 5-year-old, no family history of cancer, no risk factors whatsoever, and she’s one of those friends I can count on one hand – the true ones – so I’m supposed to accept this?

Trying to recover from the shock and wrap my mind around this devastating news, I pull out the “Radical Acceptance” bullet points I give to my clients when I tell them that accepting some things is very difficult…and I start to wonder if they feel as helpless and overwhelmed as I do right now. The first bullet point reads, “Freedom from suffering requires acceptance from deep within of what is. Let yourself go completely with what is. Let go of fighting reality.” Hmmm…I’m not sure I’m ready to accept this from deep within. You see, this is my friend Lea Ann. She is more like a sister to me, she “gets” me – we are so much alike we can finish each other’s sentences, so this feels too close. We’re like Lucy and Ethel, and I don’t remember either one of them ever having cancer. Letting myself accept this somehow feels like giving in, and I seem to remember my clients saying the same thing.

Another bullet point reads, “Pain creates suffering only when you refuse to accept the pain.” Okay, this one makes more sense to me. I’m no stranger to pain, and I’ve learned to feel what I feel when something is painful instead of avoiding it or pushing it away. Pain is there to teach us something, to inform us that we need to pay attention to what is going on, so what is this pain telling me?  I don’t have to search hard for the answer – my pain is there because Lea Ann is vitally important to me. She is the person who came to my side, dragging her husband and daughter, when my grandmother was in the hospital in Kentucky and I needed some answers. She was there with me when my dad died, and flew to be with me when I felt like falling apart a few months later. This pain is reminding me that what she has done for me is be there, and this is what I can do for her now – I can show up. This gives me purpose and something to do, so I start to feel better…slightly.

The last bullet point in the list reads, “To accept something is not the same as judging it good.” Oh…so I don’t have to like what is happening to Lea Ann in order to accept it…this is comforting. I hate what is happening to my friend and how it is affecting her sweet family. I hate what she will have to endure in order to have some hope of a more favorable prognosis. I hate feeling powerless and angry and sad all at the same time, and this radical acceptance thing tells me I don’t have to like it to accept it. So I go to work on accepting…

Radical acceptance reminds me of the Serenity Prayer, and I pray it a lot these days:

            God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

            Courage to change the things I can,

            And the Wisdom to know the difference.

I know I cannot change my dear friend’s diagnosis nor the challenges she is facing, but I can be courageous enough to be there for her, offering all the support I can in friendship and love, which is exactly what she has always done for me. I am reminded of all the times my clients have been challenged to separate what they can change from what they can’t, and I feel more compassion than ever for how difficult this can be.

Most people aren’t familiar with the rest of the Serenity Prayer. The next lines read:

            Living one day at a time;

            Enjoying one moment at a time;

            Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, and we can’t do anything about it until it gets here, so we might as well live in today. My friendship with Lea Ann has been blessed with enjoyable “moments” when we both howled with laughter and silliness – our Lucy and Ethel moments. Racing down Michigan Avenue before our favorite stores closed, betting on the horses at Keeneland with no idea what we were doing, jumping off a ski lift and getting stuck on the highest gondola in Canada, and savoring the times we’ve shared dessert. Such moments are the ones I remember and return to when hardship does come, for I know such is the reality of the ebb and flow of life.

If there is anything I’ve learned from my friendship with Lea Ann, it is that the most important thing I can do is be present, and live. Show up instead of sitting back, experience instead of analyze, accept instead of worry – say YES to life.

With sincere hope that my journey can inspire,

Debbie

Creativity and My Note Cards

“You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” ~ Albert Einstein

Hmmm…Einstein was a genius, so perhaps we could learn something from him about solving our own problems. But how can I use a different mind, when obviously I only have one?

One way is through creativity – stepping outside of our usual way of thinking. According to the IFS model, creativity is a quality of Self, and it’s one that is often stifled during our development into adulthood. We develop parts to protect us from being admonished, embarrassed, or left out, and these parts can become extreme and also keep us from being creative. In other words, many times it may have felt unsafe for us to express ourselves creatively if that expression caused us to be punished or separated from our peers, so we learned to “fit in” by conforming. If we continue to conform to what we believe others expect of us, we can develop extreme parts such as perfectionism and people-pleasing. As we work with our extreme protector parts, Self comes forward and creativity returns, little by little.

I recently had a burst of creativity that amazed and entertained me. I had made a note card on my computer with a picture of a beautiful waterfall on the front, and sent it to a friend as a thank you note. He liked it so much that he asked me to make 50 more for him to use as personal correspondence. As I started to print them two to a page, I noticed that the picture on the right side of the page was off-center. I was not happy with this, as these would be given to someone else, and I never wanted him to think I couldn’t make something perfect! (my part that didn’t want me to be embarrassed or seem “less than”)

So I tried everything I knew to fix the alignment on the right side – I reread the directions on the template, reset the margins, copied and pasted the picture again, manually moved the picture, reduced the size – and all I accomplished was wasting more paper (which I hate!) and becoming more frustrated. I felt like screaming, “I am smart!  Why can’t I figure this out?!” But you see, I was stuck because I was trying to solve the problem with the same mind that created it – my analytical, thinking too much, read the directions and stare at the screen over and over until I get this right – mind.

With nothing else to try, I gave up. I let go of trying to “fix” the problem by centering the picture on the right side of the page. I decided I could just print the note cards one per page, on the left side only, and leave the right side blank rather than waste ink printing that side off-center. So I fed the first page into the printer and printed out the first note card, beautifully centered and on the left side of the page. As I took it out of the tray and started to tear off the blank side, WHAM! – the creative mind said, “Turn the paper over, feed it through again, and the perfectly aligned note card will print on the other side of the page.” I absolutely laughed out loud, sitting on the floor of my office. Such a simple solution, yet I could NOT get there until I let go of my old way of thinking.

Admittedly, the extremely distressing problems in our lives involve something more serious than printing perfect note cards, but the path to the solution is the same – original, creative thoughts and ideas. Many times in my life when I have stopped struggling with trying to perfectly solve a problem in the way I believe it would be best, the solution has come to me in a completely different manner, usually a much simpler and better idea than the one I struggled so hard to use. So the next time you feel overwhelmed by a problem and frustrated by your lack of ability to solve it, try letting go of fighting in the same old way. Perhaps some creativity will be sparked, and you will be able to “think outside the box” into a different and better solution.

At Southlake Counseling, we can help you discover and get to know the parts that may be keeping you stuck in the same ways of thinking and behaving, in all areas of your life. To learn more about how this process of self-awareness can work for you, schedule an appointment today and start your own journey out of frustration and into creativity and freedom!

Be well,

Debbie

Fear and My Bicycle

When I was a little girl, I suffered a fairly serious foot injury as a result of a bicycle accident at the bottom of my grandparents’ driveway. Fortunately, I healed and have no permanent damage except for a nasty scar, but I spent that entire summer having to soak my foot several times a day. I was miserable being stuck inside with a gaping hole in my foot, and feeling left out that my friends were outside playing or swimming at the pool. So for the next few years, I avoided a bicycle out of fear that it would take me out of commission from everything else that I enjoyed.

As I have gotten older, I have developed a huge fondness for cycling, and my bicycle has actually taught me a lot about fear. For instance, while I was on a recent bike ride, it started to rain. I wasn’t yet that far from home, but worrying about the sudden thunderstorms of summer, I decided to turn back and change my route to circle my neighborhood in case the weather deteriorated. While I was riding, I started to think about how this pattern reflects many other areas of my life. When something slightly different or threatening starts to happen, I often become afraid that something much worse will follow, and sometimes I even change my course to not stray too far from what is familiar and safe. How sad is it when I allow my fear of what might happen dictate my ability to leave my comfort zone? And even sadder, what am I missing by worrying that a storm may come, when a good thunderstorm can actually be fun?

In Thom Rutledge’s book Embracing Fear, he proposes that fear is healthy when it is the rational kind and is warning us of some real and imminent danger, yet unhealthy when it is neurotic and based on the past or our imagination. Healthy fear is quiet unless there is something actually threatening our safety, then it is very clear about what we are to do. Unhealthy fear is that constant chatter in our heads warning us about what could happen, even though we may have no evidence to prove it ever will, and it certainly isn’t at the moment.

Back to my bike. Healthy fear was engaged a few weeks ago when a deer ran out in front of me on a bike ride, and I had to make a snap decision whether to go right, go left, or try to stop. The fear was very clear in its message – watch what the deer does, and do the opposite. Unhealthy fear would be in play if I never rode my bike on that road again, because I was afraid a deer might run out in front of me. I have, and it hasn’t. And besides that, if I handled the situation the first time, I certainly could if it happened again. 

So today I went on a ride, and was listening to that neurotic fear chatting away in my head about a totally different situation in my life. “What if … You better not … You know what’s going to happen if …”  You get the picture.

As is fairly common on my bike rides, I had an epiphany as I started to descend a hill over a section of broken pavement. How much scarier is it for me to go fast down this hill, than it was to climb it about an hour ago?  Translation: Even though nothing in my life is a huge struggle at the moment and I’m basically “coasting,” I am more comfortable when things are hard and I’m forced to climb and claw my way to the top. WOW… there is nothing to be afraid of staring me in the face, and yet I had allowed myself to listen to this neurotic chatter about fear that was taking up valuable space in my head, for no reason. Am I really that afraid of coasting along, allowing things to happen, and enjoying the ride?

The answer is NO. I’m not afraid, and I am grateful for the wisdom that came from that descent. 

Thom begins the first chapter of his book with a quote by Oriah Mountain Dreamer: “There is only one freedom: the freedom from fear.”  Ask yourself this question – do you feel free from fear? Can you listen to your fear and determine if it’s a healthy warning or neurotic chatter?  What would you be doing in your life if you weren’t afraid?

At Southlake Counseling, we understand fear and how to listen to it. If you are troubled by fear and want to take the first step in your personal freedom from it, schedule an appointment with us today.

Be well,

Debbie



Are You Worried About Your Daughter?

Adolescence is a tumultuous time, in which rapid physical, emotional and mental changes occur, along with profound environmental transitions. Over the past decade, parents, teachers and therapists have become increasingly concerned with the effects of this period of development, and particularly with how adolescent girls are managing this critical time. Research has shown that adolescent girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer from depression, and the causes contributing to the prevalence of this problem are varied. Society pressures, combined with their desire or need for the approval of others, makes these girls overly sensitive to signals from other people that confirm or deny their feelings and behaviors as appropriate. Unfortunately, our society may be guilty of socializing young girls into depression proneness.

Friendship attachment has been proven a strong predictor of healthy mental development in adolescent females, and girls with lower levels of friendship experience higher levels of anxiety and depression, and exhibit less effective coping skills. Another study indicates that girls cite disconnection from important people in their lives, including peers and family members, as a major factor in causing depression.

The 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey, conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals some troubling facts about adolescent girls in the United States. According to the data collected from almost 7,000 high school age girls, 37% of them reported having felt sad or hopeless to the point that they ceased their usual activities for two or more weeks during the year preceding the survey, and almost 22% of them had seriously considered attempting suicide. The incidence of depression in adolescent girls is prevalent at a serious level and can lead to a wide range of social, physical and mental problems. Mary Pipher in her bestselling book Reviving Ophelia points out that depression in adolescent girls ranges in degree from ordinary adolescent misery to the extreme of severe clinical depression, but that given the impulsivity of this age group, any degree of adolescent depression should be taken seriously.

Research on the effects of socio-evaluative concerns theorizes that girls experience depression at higher rates than boys, because they are more concerned with what their peers think of them. Although there are benefits to the importance that girls place on interpersonal relationships and the support that they provide, there are also negative consequences when an adolescent girl worries incessantly about concerns such as her appearance and being accepted by her peers. Adolescent girls cite feelings of loneliness and lack of support as contributors to a purposeful withdrawal from social interaction, leading to depression.

As a concerned parent of an adolescent girl, what can you do? First, pay attention to your daughter. Get to know her friends, be supportive of healthy friendships, and acknowledge her dreams as well as her fears. In order to keep their true selves and grow into healthy adults, girls need support and acceptance from both family and friends, meaningful goals, and respect, as well as physical and psychological safety. They need identities based on talents or interests rather than appearance, popularity, or sexuality. They need good habits for coping with stress, skills for self-nurturing, and a sense of purpose and perspective.  They need quiet places and quiet times, and they need to feel a part of something larger than their own lives.

Secondly, allow your daughter enough freedom to make some of her own choices, with clear and consistent consequences. Girls need homes that offer both protection and challenges.  Inside that home, they need both affection and structure.  The best message for teenage girls is “I love you, and I have expectations.” Ask your daughter questions that encourage her to think clearly for herself.  Listen for what you can respect and praise in what your daughter says, and whenever possible, congratulate her on her maturity, insight, or good judgment.  In other words, “Catch her doing good.”

At Southlake Counseling, we offer individual, family and group therapy services for adolescent girls and their families. If you are concerned about your daughter’s well-being, schedule a confidential assessment and allow us the opportunity to provide the guidance and support that she may need to thrive during this difficult phase of her development.

Be Well,

Debbie

Debbie Parrott, MSW, P-LCSW
Southlake Counseling

What is IFS?

The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model of therapy has been developed over the past two decades by Richard Schwartz and is based on the concept of self-leadership as the ideal. IFS relies on a client’s own intuitive wisdom and therefore offers a safe, nonpathological, and empowering approach to psychotherapy. Schwartz believes that any client can benefit from the techniques used in IFS therapy, but that it is particularly helpful for the client who has been humiliated and feels worthless, or for those who have suffered loss or been devastated by trauma.

The basic premise of IFS is that internally, an individual is constantly listening to many different voices and is engaged in various thought patterns and emotions, which are similar to complex external relationships he may have with other people. When a person believes himself to be “thinking,” he is often having an inner dialogue with one or more of his parts. As people develop, their parts develop and form a complex system of interactions among themselves, and the functioning of this internal system can be examined using the systems theory. The IFS model posits that each individual is composed of many internal parts, and that the Self is the true core of each individual. The Self is not only viewed as separate from the other parts, but the goal of IFS is to for the Self to be recognized and respected as the leader of the other parts. Schwartz uses a board room analogy to illustrate the ideal role of the Self at the head of the table and in the position of chairman, with the parts in the chairs around the table. The parts are all respected and important in their roles, but the chairman (Self) does not give up his seat at the head of the table to any of them.

IFS also contains spiritual components in reference to the Self as being similar to the soul of a human being. Schwartz promotes that all individuals have at their core a true Self that innately possesses qualities such as curiosity, compassion, calmness, confidence, courage, clarity, creativity, and connectedness – natural leadership qualities. As individuals go through life and experience various events which their system perceives as traumatic, or other extreme emotional consequences, their true Selves become obscured by these new emotions and beliefs, which become their parts. IFS assumes that the intention of each part is something positive for the individual, such as protection or motivation, therefore there are no “bad” parts. The goal of IFS therapy is not to eliminate the parts, but to help them find less extreme roles. The goal for the individual is to be able to separate his true Self from the parts, view the parts with compassion and curiosity, and regain his innate sense of calmness, confidence and clarity.

The parts in the IFS model of therapy are those separate internal characteristics of an individual that are not qualities of his true Self. They could be emotions or beliefs such as anger, fear, shame, or distrust, which have been programmed into a person by external events or messages, and they all have a reason for being there or an ingrained role to play. For instance, if a girl grows up in an abusive environment, she may eventually come to believe that she is worthless and is not deserving of being treated with kindness and acceptance. Through IFS therapy, her worthless part can be separated from her true Self and be seen as only a part of her. Then perhaps her true Self can be curious about how the worthless part came to be, what it is telling her, and how she can develop compassion for it. In this way, her true Self can come to acknowledge and respect the worthless part, and either unburden it of its feelings of worthlessness based on the abuse she suffered, or give it a more helpful role to play in protecting her. Schwartz believes that after an individual’s true Self becomes curious about one of his parts and begins to acknowledge and respect it, he can begin to have compassion for its purpose in his internal world.

One of the most important aspects of the IFS model of therapy is the safety of its use with the client, and the safety the client feels in referring to any undesirable emotion or characteristic as only a part of him. In IFS parts sessions, the client is in control of which parts to address and to what depth, so the therapeutic process is safely client-driven. Likewise, most clients are more accepting of referring to an undesirable trait as only part of them, and not their true Self. For instance, the woman who was abused as a child may be more comfortable saying, “Part of me is still very angry at the person who hurt me when I was a little girl,” rather than, “I am still very angry at this person.” The difference is that while it is healthy to acknowledge the anger and hurt, it may be liberating to accept that the adult woman is not obligated to carry it around with her and allow it to affect every aspect of her life if it is only a part of her, and not her true Self.

Debbie Parrott, MSW, P-LCSW

Southlake Counseling


What are you waiting for?

Things aren’t going well for you, and you don’t really understand why. Compared to other people, your life isn’t all that bad, so why do you often feel like you are trudging through your days carrying a weight on your back? Do you ever really feel satisfied with anything?

At times it can seem that we go through life struggling through the motions in an effort to make things better, trying to feel more happiness or satisfaction, only to find that nothing we do brings us much pleasure – at least on a consistent basis. Quite often, the problem is that we constantly search outside ourselves for our sources of happiness—our jobs, our relationships, our material possessions, our own accomplishments or our children’s, or any number of “addictions” such as alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, or exercise. Only when we learn that our true source of lasting satisfaction and happiness is within us can we truly experience peace and joy—no matter what is going on around us.

Sounds simple, but how do we access that inner source of contentment? Is there some “secret” formula that we can use to help us understand what will make us happy? The answer is that only when we truly spend time and effort getting to know ourselves can we discover what we need to be happy. We call this knowledge “self-awareness,” and it is an elusive concept for many of us who have spent our lives trying to please other people or mold ourselves into what we think they expect of us.

To become more self-aware, you may first need to examine some of the common barriers to this kind of growth to ensure that you are ready to begin thinking in a different way. Change can be both exciting and frightening, as it may require us to leave old patterns behind. Here are some obstacles that can hinder growth toward greater self-awareness:

Denial – It’s nearly impossible to change if you don’t think you need to. Listen to the quiet voice inside yourself and to what your loved ones are saying. Get the support you need to see the truth.

Seeing yourself as a victim – If you’re always blaming others for your situation, you can’t become the empowered person you are meant to be.

Substance abuse – Your problems won’t go away until you are willing to face them without relying on chemicals to escape or avoid.

Fear – Acknowledge the frightened parts of yourself, praise your courage to examine your fear, and be as gentle with yourself as you would a friend.

Rage – Extreme anger signals a need to pay attention to our triggers, but sometimes we get stuck there. Accepting what we can’t change and working toward creative expression of our feelings can give us freedom.

Busyness – Constantly moving is a distraction and allows no time for the reflection that lays the foundation for self-awareness.

Defensiveness – If we accept the reality that humans make mistakes and can stop being defensive about what we judge as “wrong,” an ever-expanding life awaits.

Debbie Parrott, MSW, P-LCSW
Southlake Counseling