September is Parenting Month! (At least it is here!)

Let’s just take a moment of silence for parents everywhere.  I can think of no harder job than being a parent.  Wait, maybe . . . nope! No harder job!  It is filled with joy and pain; love and exhaustion.  It doesn’t give you holidays or vacations.  Even if you take a vacation without your kids, you are likely to be thinking about them while you’re gone.

At Know Better Grow Better we are going to take the month of September to talk about parenting.  You can expects posts full of honesty, grace, and hopefully some humor.  If we’re not laughing, we’ll be crying, right?

This week I went back to an oldie, but a goodie.  Five Things Teenagers Want Their Parents To Know.  (You can go read this post by clicking on the title.)  This list came from 16 years of working with teenagers as a counselor, and mentor.  I wrote this list so I could go back and refer to it when my kids are teenagers, and I’m wonder what the heck happened to them.

I am also super excited about this month, because right now I am going through an amazing online course in parenting that is flipping my heart upside-down in the best possible way.  At the end of the month, I’ll be sharing how you can also have access to this amazing resource.

So let’s dive in.  Parenting certainly isn’t for sissies!!

parenting meme

 

Creating Your Child’s Inner Voice – Will It Be A Positive One?

IMG_6864Take a moment and close your eyes.

Are they closed?

Oh, wait, if they’re closed then you can’t read what to do next! Oops!

Okay, keep your eyes open, and think about what your inner voice sounds like.  Our inner voice is that internal cheerleader or critic that comments on what we do, think, or say throughout the day.  Is it positive? Negative? A mix of both?

There are a number of things that impact the inner voice we have as adults, but the single most important influencer was your parents.  How your parents talked to you – the words they used, and the tone they used with those words creates the fabric of your inner voice.  And just as their voice turned into your voice; the way you speak to your children now directly impact how they will view themselves, talk to themselves, and interact with others as adults.

No pressure, right?

But there is hope!

Here are 7 truths to help you bless your child with a positive inner voice that can carry them through the hard moments of life they will face as both as kids, and as adults.

  1. You don’t have to be a perfect parent! See! I told you there was hope. I’m guessing there is not a single person on the planet that has not at one time or another used harsh words, or a harsh tone with their kids.  I know I have! Part of the problem of being a therapist is that I am acutely aware of exactly how I am screwing up my children.  Believe me, those are not fun moments.  Inner voices are not formed in a single moment.  They are formed over time with consistency.  If the way you talk to your kids is positive 75% of the time (I made that number up), then you are winning in my book.
  2. Harsh words, and a harsh tone can be repaired with a heartfelt apology.  When you apologize to your kids you are not only teaching them the art of asking for forgiveness, which will serve them well in their adult relationships, but you are soothing those negative voices with a positive one.
  3. Healing your inner voice will help you use a life-giving and affirming voice with your kids. This goes back to the idea that having healthy self-esteem is not selfish, which you can read more about here.  When we try to do better as a parent, but are fighting against our own woundedness, we will always lose. Using willpower to be a better parent will set you up for exhaustion, and failure.  Willpower is a limited resource, and as a parent you will likely use it up before lunch.  True healing that happens from the inside out doesn’t require willpower; it just flows out of who we are.  So do some work on you.  There are more ideas on exactly how to do that in the article I mentioned above.
  4. Learn your triggers.  I know that I am much more likely to speak harshly to my kids when I am tired, hungry, or hormonal.  All three together? It’s just best I’m not around humans at all! So, I have started to work on recognizing when my frustration level is rising when it is still a 3 out of 10, instead of a 7.  Once it gets to 7, I’m yelling; there is probably not much I can do to stop it.  But if I catch it early, I can take responsibility (as an adult should) for my feelings, and take steps to de-escalate what is happening inside of me.  I would never think it’s okay for my kids to yell at me, and they are just kids! Why would I ever think that it would be okay for me, an adult who is bigger, older, and more mature than they are to yell at them?  The answer is: it’s just not.
  5. You do not have the right to be mean to your kids.  Well, okay I guess you have the RIGHT to, but it’s not healthy.  As parents we yell for a number of reasons, but if we are brutally honest, the truth is that it feels good.  In that moment, we get an incredible emotional release.  But we get it at the expense of our children’s hearts.  Kids don’t have the kind of emotional boundaries that we (should) have as adults.  They are unable to separate our temper tantrum (because that’s really what it is) from who they are as people.  When you yell, you do damage to their hearts.  As the adult, it is your job to fix that.  It is not their job to listen better (although that is something you can work on them with). It is your job to control your anger.
  6. It is possible to use affirming words and effectively discipline your kids.  Sometimes I think parents worry about being “too soft” and that is they don’t “lay down the law” their kids will grow up to be spoiled brats.  One of my favorite quotes from an organization I love called Connected Families, “Parents want obedience. But for obedience to be sincere, it must grow out of the earnestly tilled soil of trust. So be careful when you want obedience, that you seek it from a position of trust, not a position of intimidation or fear. Otherwise what you get is not true obedience, but compliance.”
  7. You’re not alone.  There are millions are parents right where you are.  They are exhausted, they are overwhelmed, they love their children so fiercely that sometimes they can’t handle it.  And they struggle in those moments of utter frustration to not unload on their kids.  If this is something you are struggling with, be encouraged! There is hope! I used to lose it on my kids much more than I would like to admit.  I was good at repair afterwards, but it shouldn’t have been happening in the first place.  I have been taking steps over the past two years to correct that, and it is working.  Here are just a few of the things I’ve done:
    • Tell someone – this was honestly an awful experience, but I admitted to my entire church congregation on a pastor’s wives Mother’s Day panel that I didn’t like how much I was yelling at my kids.  Not only did I have so many moms come up to be afterward thanking me for my honesty, but it flipped some sort of switch in me.  Since that day the amount of yelling has decreased by at least 90% (once again, I am making that number up.  I like to do that.  You’ll learn.) When we confess our sins (which that’s what yelling at your kids is), not only is God faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9), but that sin loses some of it’s hold on us too.
    • I got my hormones checked.  This would not seem like a normal thing to do if you are struggling to control your temper around your kids, but I truly believe this was contributing to the problem.  I went to a Naturopath who found some pretty big hormonal issues in my blood work.  Working with her to level those out has been a life changer for me, and my whole family.
    • I started following Connected Families on Facebook.  This was probably the simplest step I took, but had one of the most profound impacts.  The advice this organization puts out on their Facebook page encourages, and challenges me as a parent in the best possible way.

You have the power to bless your children with a core of self-worth that can help them succeed in their relationships, in their careers, and even help them better understand and connect with the heart of God.

talktokids

I am so excited to share in just a couple of weeks a really practical way you can turn the ship of how you talk to your kids.  I am on week two of this online parenting course, and am learning so much about how to effectively correct, and discipline my kids while still protecting their hearts.  I can’t wait to be able to open it up to all of you! If you haven’t already signed up for my email list, you can make sure you don’t miss this exciting opportunity by going to the sidebar at the top of the page, and clicking the link to sign up.  You will get one email a week from me with a link to that week’s post as well as exclusive opportunities that will be coming in the future like free eBooks, and this amazing class I’ve been talking about the past couple of weeks.

So decide today, what is one thing you are going to do this week to speak life to your children? It is a blessing they will carry with them always.

When Freedom is Hard to Find

I plopped down on the bed next to my husband who was doing his one hundredth fantasy football mock draft of the day. (That could be an exaggeration.)  He glanced over at me as I let out a huge sigh.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t get this eating under control.  I feel like crap all the time.  Every night I tell myself I’m going to do better tomorrow, and every morning I wake up and just eat sugar, sugar, sugar,” I paused, “I think I need to start another Whole30 tomorrow.”

“Okay, I’m in.”

And with that we decided to start our third Whole30 in six months.  I had mixed feelings as I lay in bed later that night trying to fall asleep.  I knew I needed to do this.  Nothing else I tried had worked.  I knew that “moderation” had turned to excess for me, and no attempt to just rein it in a little was working.  But I felt like a huge failure! Three Whole30’s in six months?! Who needed three Whole30’s in six months?! Failures – that’s who.  At least that’s what was going through my mind in bed that night. (I really needed to go back and read my past post on failure.  I hate it when my own words come back to bite me in the butt!)

The next morning I woke up and ate what had become my normal Whole30 breakfast.  As I was getting ready for a leadership training I was attending later that morning, a thought floated through my mind, “If one of your clients had to continue to go to AA meetings after six months of sobriety, you wouldn’t think they were a failure? No!  You would be proud of them for continuing to put in the work even when it’s hard.  If one of your clients was struggling to maintain their sobriety, you would never shame them for continuing to seek treatment.  No! You would celebrate with them!”

It was all true.

freedom

I had acknowledged months ago that my behaviors when it came to food added up to a very real addiction.  A sugar addiction.  I feel like “sugar addiction” sounds like a silly thing.  It sounds like it’s not real, but eating the way I was was actively detrimental to my health. It caused headaches, exhaustion, mood swings, and eventually contributed to my adrenal fatigue.  I continued to do it despite how it was hurting me.  I continued to do it despite my constant decisions to stop.  Starting the cycle always led to eating more and more and more. It felt out of my control, because it was out of my control.  It was and is a real addiction.

I don’t know why I expected one round of Whole30 to kick that once and for all.  Deep inside I expected I would move from that one round into the glorious world of food freedom where I could eat sugar once in a while, and not feel mastered by it.  Moderation would magically work for me in a way it never had before.

So that Saturday morning my thinking started to shift.  My shame at needing to do another Whole30 just six months after starting my first one melted away into resolve that I was doing the right thing.  I felt resolve that the journey I’m on toward food freedom might involve a lot of “treatment” along the way, and that treatment for me is the Whole30.  Just like there is a measure of safety in residential treatment for a drug addict, because they just can’t use, there is also a measure of safety for me in doing a Whole30.  I can’t use my drug of choice, and even though it is physically and emotionally hard to do the Whole30 – I am safe from myself while doing it, and my body can begin to heal.

This post is not at its core about food addiction, or the Whole30. It is about how we beat ourselves up for not gaining instant mastery in areas of our lives that we have struggled in for years.  Maybe you are not stuck in a vicious cycle with food.  Maybe you are struggling to maintain changes in your life with your marriage, or parenting, or giving up social media, or any number of things.  Maybe you are feeling discouraged, and ashamed because you have slipped up again, and you wonder if you will ever find freedom.

If that is you today, be encouraged.  You are not a failure.  You are on a journey that won’t be achieved quickly or easily.  There will be steps backward, but that is part of the process.  And don’t look at people who appear to be killing it with their goals on social media after just one attempt to fix things.  You are probably not seeing the whole story.  If you need to redo steps toward freedom in any aspect of your life, you are not alone.  Victory is rarely achieved with the flick of a switch. Victory is achieved by crossing that battlefield one inch at a time.  Don’t give up!  I am not a failure, and neither are you!

victory quote

If you are struggling with food issues, I cannot recommend the Whole30 program strongly enough.  Yes it will change your life, and your body physically, but most powerfully it will force you to confront your emotional relationship with food, and the process addictions that are holding you back.  There are four books right now, with two more coming out in December.  There is also a rich Whole30 community online with recipes, support, and tips.  You can find the Whole30 books by clicking on the links under the pictures below.

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The Whole30  

  it starts with food

It Starts with Food

food freedom

Food Freedom Forever

 whole30cookbook

 The Cookbook

                                     

 

 

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Privilege and Prejudice

I’ve been rolling this post around in my head all week.  It has followed me around like a toddler who will not be ignored.  It’s not that I don’t want to write it, because I do.  I actually do a lot.  It’s that I fear I will not do it justice.  I fear that my words will fall far short of what I want them to be.

Because this is something that has weighed heavily on my heart long before white men and women decided to spread hate in Charlottesville a week ago.  This concept of my privilege has been swirling through my mind over the past few years as men of color are shot when they should not have been, when police officers are shot in retaliation, when I see friends struggling with chronic illnesses knowing they don’t have the extra money in their budgets to see a doctor who could really help them.  I see it when my son is playing with his best friend, and I wonder how old he will be when someone distrusts him for how he looks for the first time.

I haven’t wanted to write this, because the heartache is too big.  I want to pretend there is less hate, and more love.  I want to pretend there is less fear, and more acceptance.  More acceptance for the differences.  More celebration of the difference.  Not acceptance that says you’re only okay if you look, act, or speak more like me.

I’ve seen a lot of memes recently that say something along the lines of “children aren’t born racist” accompanied by a picture of a white kid hugging a black kid.  That is true: kids aren’t born racist.  But we are physically drawn toward people and things that are similar to us.  That is a scientific fact.  You can find studies that show that babies are more attentive to face the same color as theirs.  You can find studies that explain why we are more comfortable with people who sound like us. There are all sorts of debates about genetically/physically why that is, but the truth is just because there’s a reason for it, doesn’t mean it’s right.

What happened in Charlottesville? That kind of racism is taught, but people of color, overweight people, disabled people, and the list goes on and on face a much more subtle form of prejudice in their day to day lives that comes from “good people” who don’t believe they contribute to the problem.

You see, we all carry some level of privilege through our lives, and some of us have more of it than others.  I made a list of the forms of privilege I enjoy that I’m aware of:

privilege

There are probably even things on that list that I’m missing.  But here is the important thing: As someone in privilege, it is mine, and it is your responsibility to be a part of the solution.  By their very nature, privileged voices carry more weight than non-privileged voices. Privilege carries a power that can help others to join us, or can keep pushing them down so that we don’t have to share the benefits.  A black person pointing out a white person’s racism is never going to carry as much weight as a white person pointing out another white person’s racism.  It just won’t.

Jesus suffered a lot of injustice in his life on earth, but he also walked with privilege. He was a rabbi, he was a man, he was a member of the dominate race of that region.  Jesus never used his privilege to boost his own position.  Jesus used his privilege to help those that didn’t share it.  He ministered to women in public when it wasn’t socially acceptable to even talk to them.  He saved a woman from being stoned for adultery when her male bed partner was free to leave.  He ate with tax collectors who were considered the lowest of the low.  Every time he did one of these things, he modeled to his disciplines  and followers that these were people with value.  They were people worthy of love, and acceptance who deserved to be treated with dignity and respect.

My heart aches, and it should.  Your heart should ache too, because a spirit of love should always find a spirit of hate repellent.  My privilege allows me to ignore what’s happening if I so choose.  I could leave the news off, and pretend that all is right in my corner of the world.  It would be easy.  But that’s not who I want to be.

Priv

Where does it start?  I don’t have all the answers for this.  My head and my heart swim with questions.  The one thing I do know is that it starts at home.  It is not enough for me to refrain from teaching my kids to hate those that are different from them.  I need to watch for opportunities to point out their privilege that allows them to take positions that have hints of thinking they are better than someone else who is different.  I need to have hard conversations with them about what is happening in the world, and how they can be part of the solution, and not take up a position as a neutral bystander.  It is my job as a parent to create an atmosphere the celebrates differences instead of simply tolerating them.

They will walk into their adult lives with all sorts of privilege, and I’m happy they have it. My prayer is that they do something good with it.  Something that will bring justice where it is lacking, and love where it can’t be found.  I pray they understand that helping people share the benefits they have doesn’t take anything away from what they have. That starts with me.

I found it super eye-opening, and helpful to make a list of the privilege I wear as I walk through this world.  I invite you to do the same.  Pay attention to what you have the privilege to not pay attention to, and decide what part you will play in standing up for the ones who need it the most.

Listen.  The truth is that those of us with privilege don’t have to listen.  It is easy to assume that someone else is overreacting to a situation, because if you were reacting that way it probably would be an overreaction.  Listen to the stories you hear from people of color, and others who don’t enjoy the privilege you have with compassion; with a desire to understand how their experience impacts them emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Start with the assumption that what they are saying is the truth even if it goes against your experience of the world.  Someone followed them through a store to make sure they didn’t take anything?  Don’t excuse the employee as just doing their job.  Think about how that would feel every single time you went somewhere.  Listen with a heart that says, “I see you.  I see your experiences, and I honor how they made you feel.”

Privilege comes with perks, but it also comes with responsibility.  Use your privilege with the people who share it with you.  Yours might be the only voice they listen to.

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Forget “Beer Goggles” – We Need “Dating Goggles”

heart eyes

Take a moment and think back to what it was like when you were first dating your husband. (Or wife. Or partner – it got too complicated to be switching pronouns all the time, so since I have a husband – that’s what we’re going with!)

My guess is that you thought he was so cute, so smart, so funny, so AMAZING!

Now scan forward to your life now. If you’ve been together for any significant amount of time you probably think he is so dumb (sometimes), so annoying, so ARGHHHH!

What the heck happened??

Time. Time happened. And the mess of living together. And maybe kids. And financial stressors. And being together all.the.time! Life. Life happened.

To a certain extent this is normal. The honeymoon phase of a relationship can only last so long. Seriously, if we spent the rest of our lives in the honeymoon phase we wouldn’t be very productive. Either that or we would be super annoying to everyone around us!

So the honeymoon phase is not the goal, but we run scripts in our heads that can either help or hurt how we feel about our relationship. I may not have control over what pops into my head, but I do have control over what thoughts I choose to nurture and allow to grow.

Here’s the difference:

My husband leaves every cabinet open in the kitchen again.  The thought pops into my head: Ugh! Why is it so hard to close a cabinet?! He is so annoying!

Then my mind adds, “Yes! He IS so annoying! Yesterday he did this and last week he did that! Why in the world did I even marry him?”

Or . . .

My mind adds, “Wait a minute! It costs me nothing to close these cabinets. This is annoying but he loves me deeply, gives me hugs when I ask for them, and cares about whether or not I’m happy in this marriage.”

There is a saying in psychotherapy that say “neurons that fire together wire together.”

neurons

This simply means that what we do, think about, feel, or focus on creates neural pathways in our brains. And just like ditches that become deep after years of digging, those neural pathways get stronger and more ingrained the more we use them. They become the pathway that we “fall into” when those areas of our lives get triggered. And pretty soon we have a deep neural pathway that says our husband is a burden, an annoyance, and we can’t get out of that “ditch.” This internal thought life has the ability to tank your relationship!

Just like we can create strong negative neural pathways, we can create strong positive neural pathways too!

A mental exercise I started using last year is to stop in those moments when the negative thoughts pop into my head and say to myself – what did I love about him when we were dating? Guess what? The list is long! The list is just as long as the list of annoyances!

When I put on those dating goggles (most of those things are still true today 20 years later) I feel so blessed! Does that mean I never feel annoyed anymore?  Heck no!  I wish!  (My husband probably wishes too!) What it does mean is that I am able to hold onto a hint of that honeymoon phase; a reminder in those moments that the good outweighs the bad.

Love-vs-Logic

I feel compelled to add that if you are dealing with deep, painful struggles in your marriage, this is not intended to send the message that if you think more positively, your marriage will magically get better.  This is for those times where we are feeling annoyed or being critical, but the relationship on a whole is functioning well.  There is truth in the statement that how we think about things impacts both our feelings and our behavior, but I don’t want to trivialize the real pain that a hurting or broken marriage can bring.  I see you.  I see the depth of your hurt.  You are not alone in your struggles, and I want to encourage you to surround yourself with support whether that’s friends, family, your faith community, and/or a therapist.  A hurting marriage can be a lonely place, but don’t stay alone in that pain.

**I want to add that if you are in a situation that is abusive, this post is not meant to over simplify the issues in your relationship. Abusers have a way of blaming their victims, and over time it is easy to start blaming yourself as well.  Abuse of any kind is never okay, and it is never your fault.  You could do a horrible horrible thing and you would still not deserve to be physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually abused or punished.  There is help, and there is hope just a google search away for resources in your area to support any changes you might need to make. You can also click on the Abuse tab on the bar at the top of this page for more resources.

(Photo credit for first photo)

 

One Question That Can Change Your Life

My kids fight.  They fight like normal kids.  They fight over things like whose turn it is to pick the TV show, but they also fight over not wanting to apologize, or being upset over what one of them has said to the other.

And I say, “What would it cost you to use kind words? What would it cost you to say you’re sorry?”

Couples in my therapy office fight over the husband not feeling appreciated when he does things around the house.  The wife says why should she show appreciation for something that he should be doing anyway.

And I say, “What would it cost you to say thank you?”

What would it cost you?

That question has become a touchstone for me over the past year.  I don’t remember how I came up with it.  I don’t even remember if I used it at home first, or at work, but it is something I say regularly to my kids, my clients, and myself.

Those moments when I don’t want to be kind, because my husband has done something that irritates me, I ask myself, “What would it cost me to let that go?”

Those moments when I don’t want to play one more game of Candy Land, because I’m tired, and frankly I keep losing, I ask myself, “What would it cost me to say ‘yes’ to my daughter’s request?”

Those moments when I wish I could snap at the person walking very slowly down the grocery store aisle, and blocking my attempt to get this trip done quickly, I ask myself, “What would it cost me to be patient?”

The answer to that question is always NOTHING! It will cost me nothing!  Or maybe the answer is pride, because in those moments that we want to withhold something good, or lash out with something bad – it requires laying down our pride, laying down our right to hurt other for hurting us first, laying down our selfishness.

Next time you feel that urge to be mean, or petty, or selfish stop and ask yourself, “What would it cost me to extend grace, or patience, or kindness?”

What would it cost you?

That question has the power to change your life, your relationships, and your attitudes about both of those.

whatwoulditcostyou

It’s Not You, It’s Me.

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with my boss about a referral she wanted to pass on to me. She said, “This woman was referred by an old client of mine who is a real sweetheart and pretty high functioning, so I think she’ll be really fun to work with.”  I said, “Great!” And gave her a call. Later I was reflecting on that conversation and thinking about how we do that often in the office: we make assumptions about how healthy a client might be based on who refers them.

Why is that?

I will tell you exactly why that is: as a general rule we tend to attract and be attracted to people who have the same level of emotional health as us.

If you are an emotionally healthy person with good boundaries, you are going to be less willing to tolerate unhealthy behavior in your friends, and your romantic partners. You won’t be able to stand it. The friendship will fade, or the relationship will end.

You just read that and said to yourself, “Wait a minute!! I’m having problems in my marriage because my husband is really messed up and doesn’t know how to communicate!” Or “There is always so much drama with this friend of mine, but that’s not my fault, that’s her fault!” So here is the tricky part: not all dysfunction is the same. 

I separate dysfunction or unhealthiness into two main categories: covert and overt.  When you interact with someone who is overtly dysfunctional, you know it!  Everything about them screams emotional unhealthiness, and it is often exhausting to be around them.  However, when you interact with someone who is covertly dysfunctional, it can be a little harder to see.  Their dysfunction is more hidden, and often comes through after the interaction is over.  You know those times when you interact with someone, and it’s later that you suddenly stop and think, “Wait a second . . . something about that didn’t feel good.”

The problem is that when overtly unhealthy people get together with covertly unhealthy people, those covert people look pretty good!  If you’ve ever witnessed a relationship that left you wondering why one person put up with someone who seemed so unhealthy, it may be because their dysfunction; their reason for tolerating that behavior is hidden by the other person’s “crazy.”

So what does this mean for us?  I think for me it boils down to two things.  One, if you want healthy relationships, you need to become a healthy person.  A truly healthy person is not going to be able or willing to tolerate you if you are dealing with some significant areas of covert or overt unhealthiness.  And two, if you find yourself in an unhealthy situation and you feel that there is no hope for the other person to change, then start with you.  I know that can sound simplistic and maybe even condescending if you find yourself living with someone who truly makes your life miserable, but starting somewhere is better than starting no where.  Go to therapy yourself, start to surround yourself with healthier friends, search your heart for what attracted you to that unhealthy person in the past, and start to grow.  One of two things will happen – you will either become happier right where you are, or you will no longer be willing to tolerate that level of unhealthiness from the other person anymore, and be moved to make some changes.  Either way you become healthier, and that’s a good thing.

No one is perfect, and I am certainly not suggesting you grow to a level of sainthood, but we all have areas in which we need to grow and change.  I certainly do, and my career is centered around helping people become healthier! Growing can be a scary thing, but the rewards are immense.  Go to therapy, talk to a wise and trusted friend who will tell you the truth, read a self-help book.  Take one step and then the other.  That slow change is going to get you where you want to go, and you will find your relationships becoming healthier along the way!

**I want to add that if you are in a situation that is abusive, this post is not meant to judge why you ended up in that situation, or why you are still in that situation.  Abuse of any kind is never okay.  It is true that abusive people behave that way because they are unhealthy, but that is not an excuse for the behavior, and is also not an excuse to tolerate that behavior.  There is help, and there is hope just a google search away for resources in your area to support any changes you might need to make.

I Wish I Were A Food Blogger – The Comparison Game

I wish I were a food blogger.

Maybe it’s because I follow a lot of food bloggers on Instagram, and I see all the great food they’re eating, and all the free stuff they’re getting from companies that I love. Maybe it’s because of the beautiful pictures of food they create and post. The problem is I don’t like to cook. And recipe development? I’m pretty sure that’s a big part of food blogging. That’s not really in my wheelhouse.

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My best attempt at a food blogger picture. I didn’t make this though. Does that still count?


I also wish I were a home decorator/DIY blogger. Then I feel like I could have good excuses for spending money on home projects. I’d just say to my husband, “I have to install this backsplash in our laundry room! It’s for my next blog post!”

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Home improvement blogging is just buying stuff for your house, right? I mean, that sounds awesome!


Even though I just started this therapy/personal growth blog I’ve already gotten sucked into the comparison game. I’ve already thought, “What kind of cool things is a therapy blogger going to get sent for free? Books to read and review? That doesn’t seem that cool!”

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. You may not look longingly at food bloggers with their 30,000 followers on Instagram and their drool-worthy marbel counters, but I bet you look longingly at something.

You know the saying – comparison is the thief of joy. Really stop and think about that. Comparison is the thief of joy. We live in a world that is completely and totally set up to entice us to compare. We have a unique opportunity with social media to compare ourselves to people we know, and people we will never meet that has never before existed in history.

Sometimes I will stop and think about what it must have been like for my mom when I was little. She had opportunities to compare herself to people she knew from work or church. She might see mom’s at the PTA that she could compare herself to. But that other mom 1,000 miles away? She had no way of knowing what she was or wasn’t doing with her kids, what she was making for dinner cooking, whether or not she was working out, if she went on vacation.  Nothing.

Sigh

Here’s the thing – the saying isn’t, “Other people having or doing things is the thief of joy.” Besides, that’s not very catchy! The saying is “Comparison  – Comparing yourself to what other people are having or doing – is the thief of joy!”

Comparison is ultimately my issue to deal with. It’s not a social issue. It’s not even a social media issue. It’s a me issue. There are times when I can look at people around me rocking what they’re doing in life and feel nothing but excitement for them; times where their success becomes my joy.  Other times all I can feel is jealousy, and discontentment with my own life.  Those two feelings are about as far away from joy as you can get.

So how do we battle this?  I think the answer will be a little different for everyone.  Isn’t that the truth for most answers in life?  For me, it usually does mean taking a little break from Facebook or Instagram to be fully present in my own life.  When I am focused on my own life, I’m not as worried about whether or not I’m missing out or measuring up. I’m just living my life. I focus on what I really want to do with my life instead of being swayed by all the shiny things that it seems other people are out there doing.

I have also noticed that I’m most likely to struggle with this when I am having issues in an area in my own life.  Maybe my blog isn’t growing the way I hoped it would.  Maybe I’m having issues with one of my kids.  Maybe I really wish I could go on vacation and can’t afford it. The problem is that sitting around comparing myself to everyone else doesn’t fix the problem I’m facing.  It just makes it seem insurmountable to fix.  Either that or it keeps me stuck as I sit and think about how I will never be able to be like that other person.  The thing is being like that other person isn’t ever going to be the solution to my issue.

I will never be a food or home improvement blogger.  Do you know why? Because I wouldn’t even like it!  That’s the danger of comparison.  It steals our joy, but it also leads us down paths that don’t belong to us.

What triggers your comparison game? What have you found helpful in being about to stop that cycle once it starts?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Why You Can’t Have Healthy Relationships Without Healthy Self-Esteem

Whether or not you have healthy self-esteem will directly determine your ability to love, celebrate, and cherish the people in your life.  It will directly determine how you think and feel about everyone else around you, even strangers.

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What?

That doesn’t seem to make any sense!

Too many of us believe that having healthy self-esteem will make us selfish and conceited, but the very opposite is true.  For this to make sense I think we need to define some terms.

Self-Esteem/Self-Worth is how you feel about yourself – about who you are as a person.  In healthy self-esteem our value comes from our existence.  We are born with it.  We are valuable just because we are human.  That means I can make mistakes, not be good at something, or not look like what our culture holds up as beautiful, and my value is unchanged.  When we have healthy self-esteem we are able to hold a position called “same-as.”  I have the “same-as” value as you.  I am no better.  I am no worse.

Unhealthy self-esteem comes in two forms.  Low self-esteem or a sense of shame, and high self-esteem or a sense of grandiosity.  Low self-esteem holds a position called one-down.  Other people are better than me, look better than me, have better things than me. High self-esteem holds a position of one-up.  I’m better than everyone else around me, and I will freely judge them for their failings.

Probably most of you reading this struggle on the low end of this continuum.  We live in a one-down position, and if we wander into one-up it’s only to make us feel better in the moment.  If I am judging you, then in that moment I feel just a little bit better about myself.

Healthy self-esteem is a tricky thing to achieve.  We are constantly being reminded by social media, magazines, TV, and random people looking all cute at Target that we don’t measure up.  Maybe we grew up in a family where our parents sent us the message that we weren’t good enough, or maybe we got the message that we were the best thing since sliced bread and no one could compare to us.  Maybe we were bullied in school.  There are so many things that can knock us off that small center of holding onto our value as a human being.  But if you can get there, it is so worth it.  There is freedom in healthy self-esteem.  There is freedom for you, but there is also freedom for the people you love.

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Here are some of the dangers of unhealthy self-esteem:

  • Everything becomes a competition.  If I place my value in what I do, what I look like, what I own, it becomes very difficult for me to celebrate the successes of those around me.  Their successes feel like my failures.  They feel like one more way I am not measuring up.
  • We can only feel good about ourselves if others feel good about us.  If that’s true then I can’t let you have your feelings, because they are threatening to me.  I have to manipulate and control my relationships to maintain my ability to feel good.  That could be by doing things that look really good on the outside like voluteering for every committee or ministry opportunity, but if our motivation is to feel better about ourselves it will never feel like enough.
  • We can’t say no.  All other areas of health flow out of our ability to love ourselves and hold our value as within us unrelated to external things.  If I am constantly worried about winning the approval of others, then I can’t say no even if it is the right thing for myself or my family.
  • We are judgemental.  I know this one seems crazy, because it would seem that people who struggle with low self-esteem would be the least judgemental people there are, but when we can’t hold onto “same-as” then we can’t gift it to other people either.  We are constantly walking through life evaluating where we stand in relation to other people.  Are they better than us?  Are we better than them?  It’s absolutely exhausting.

No one is perfect.  You will hear me say that in almost every blog post I write.  No one is perfect.  Perfection is not even the goal.  The search for perfection is a way to get to the one-up.  We don’t like feeling one-down, and one-up feels like the only other option.

It’s not.

Holding tightly to our true value as human beings – the value that resides in all of us is not easy.  We are often fighting against years of conditioning to believe that we are not enough.  But there is hope.  I tell my clients to start with just noticing when they are going one-up or one-down.  Pay attention to why that is happening, where it is happening, when it is happening.  Are there any patterns?  A question I ask all the time is, “What do you notice about that?” You can’t fix a problem that is undiagnosed.

Then comes the tricky part, actually growing in your self-esteem.  Treatment is almost always more difficult than diagnosis.  For me some of this has come with age and maturity, but the biggest impact on my ability to stay in that same-as center of the continuum has been leaning into God’s love for me.  The more that I connect with the unconditional love of the God who created me, then the more I am able to hold onto that core of value INSIDE of me – that core that can’t be touched by outside mistakes, failures, and disappointments.

Doing my own therapy has also helped.  It has been invaluable to walk through past or current hurts in my life with a professional with the distance and wisdom to help heal those old hurts.

If you can’t go to therapy, I once again have a book recommendation.  Any of the books I recommended in last weeks post, which you can get to by clicking here would be really helpful.  I have also personally been helped by:

uninvitedUninvited by Lysa TerKeurest – you can click on this link to order a copy of your own.

What is the hardest thing for you when it comes to staying in the center with your self-esteem?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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The Letting Go of Growing

Toward adventure! Girl relaxing and enjoying road trip. Happy gi

I am not the same person I was when I graduated college 16 years ago. That’s a good thing! As people we should be growing and changing as we age. But it can also be a hard thing. Sometimes change happens so slowly that we have time to grow into our new selves. But sometimes the change is fast and jarring. Sometimes the change comes as a result of tragedy that leaves us breathlessly wondering who am I?

I attended a small, Christian, liberal arts college. Wheaton College was such a huge blessing in my life. I met my husband, I made friendships that are able to stay alive through the blessing of social media as I watch these people impact their corners of the world for Christ, I had professors that turned into mentors. I had four years to grow into adulthood. One of the benefits of going to a school like Wheaton was endless attempts to learn more about myself. Myers-Briggs? Check! Strength finders? Check! Spiritual Gifts Inventories? Double check!

These personality tests gave me labels, and I loved those labels! People in their late teens and early 20s are primed to love labels. It helps us make sense of the world that feels like it is shifting around us at a blinding pace. It gives us identity exactly at a time when we are searching for it the most.

As I headed out into the big bad world where I was starting a career, starting a marriage, and paying my own bills I wrapped myself in these labels. They brought comfort.

Fast forward 16 years and a lot of life has happened. My husband and I have moved more than I ever thought I would in my entire lifetime. We have done the hard work of learning how to really love each other in this wonderful but difficult thing called marriage. We have walked through significant health issues with our children. We have grown as people and grown in our faith.

But I didn’t really feel grown.

Sure! I felt those changes percolating within me, but more often than not I would ask myself, “What would an adult do in this situation?” And then I’d just do that thing. Oh I was fully an adult, but something inside of me didn’t want to let go of those labels that comforted me so in college, because without those labels who was I?

A friend recently wrote on Facebook about how much freer she feels as a person and specifically as a woman now that she is 40. A lot of the old insecurities and hang ups had faded for her, and she felt free to be herself. I feel like I hear that a lot, and I started to wonder if that is automatic. Like is there something magical that happens as you approach your 40s that allows you to be free? To drop the labels that no longer work and embrace every part of who you really are?

Unfortunately I think the answer is no.

I have plenty of clients in their early 40s who continue to struggle with these very issues. Who struggle with understanding or even embracing who they are.  Our therapy centers around growing the parts of them that aren’t serving them well, and learning to accept the parts of them that they had previously not wanted to embrace.

So what do we do when we feel like we don’t know who we are anymore? When we know we have changed, but we are having difficulties feeling comfortable in our new selves.

The obvious solution is finding an amazing counselor and working through these issues with them. I mean it’s not like I’m biased or anything that therapy is the answer! 🙂

Another great thing to do is find a mentor or trusted friend who can help you process some of the changes you are experiencing in your life.

The people who approach 40 feeling more at ease in themselves, are most often the people who have done the work.  They’ve gone to therapy, they’ve surrounded themselves with mentors, they read books that grow them as people.

There are certain books that I recommend most often to my clients to help them figure out who they are, and grow as a person.  (You can click any of these titles to quickly and easily link to them.  These are affiliate links.  See the disclosure at the bottom of the post.)

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Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody –  If you have struggled in your life with low self-esteem, difficulty with boundaries, feeling like you need to be perfect, being too dependent or not dependent enough on other people in your life, or if your life has just felt too controlled or too chaotic, then this book is for you!  Actually I suggest that most of my clients read this book, because everyone either struggles or has struggled with at least one of these areas in their lives.  Pia Mellody’s “Meadows Model” of therapy serves as one of the backbones of what I do with my clients.

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Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldridge –  This book has been amazing in my own life to learn more about how God sees me, created me, and desires to grow me as a woman.  I have so many favorite quotes from this book, but one of them is, “You know what we do as women when we feel afraid: we reach for control.  We do it in relationships when we self-protect But when we choose to protect ourselves in fear and withdraw, we have already lost everything. We are already alone.  Self-protecting is not our ally.  As Beth Moore said at a conference I attended in 2008, ‘We can self-protect ourselves right out of our calling.’ We can self-protect ourselves right out of our becoming, right out of the will of God.  God is a God of love, and we are commanded to love as well.  Do not fear!  Love!

letting go of shame

Letting Go of Shame – Shame can be a huge barrier to growth in our lives.  Shame sends the message that who we are is not good enough, is not okay, is not worthy.  This book is amazing because besides the incredible knowledge and wisdom shared in the text, there are exercises at the end of each chapter to help you grow in that area.  If I ever have a client who has to quit or pause therapy for financial or scheduling reasons, I recommend they get this book and work through it.  It’s like doing some good therapy in the comfort of your own home.

 

What has been your experience growing and changing as you age?  Has it been something easy for you to embrace, or a struggle?  Do you have a book you have found helpful in your life? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

 

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