Relationships

What is Identity and Why is it Important?

By Amanda Polster, LMSW

“The strongest force in the universe is a human being living consistently with [their] identity.”

~Tony Robbins

Our identities helps make up and define who we are. Our identities are comprised of both our personal lived experiences and environments (nurture), and our biological and genetic composition (nature). Our identities are made up of the intersection and layers of various characteristics, including gender, social class, age, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, religion, age and disability to just name a few. These characteristics play a significant role in how we understand and experience the world, as well as shape the type of opportunities and/or challenges we face. Identities are very complicated, and can also vary based on the situation or circumstances we encounter.

As part of our identity, it is important to acknowledge that we all have certain biases that we have learned through our experiences and environments. Malcolm Gladwell, a well-known author and researcher, helps us identify that although we all come with certain biases, we have an ability to [unlearn] some of these assumptions by changing our perspectives, beliefs, and experiences (Gladwell, 2005).

Let’s look at a riddle below:

A father and son are in a car accident and are both badly hurt. They are both taken to separate hospitals. When the boy is taken in for an operation, the surgeon (doctor) says “I can not do the surgery because this is my son.”

How is this possible?

Now if you first guessed that the surgeon is the boy’s gay, second father, you could be right. However, a less common, yet accurate guess to this riddle is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

This riddle has been used in many studies to identify gender biases, and during these studies, only about 15% of individuals are able to identify that the boy’s surgeon is his mother (Barlow, 2014).

It is important that we acknowledge our own biases and assumptions to increase our openness and connection towards others. The more grounded we are in our own identities, the more openness and acceptance we can have towards others.

Tips to help us feel more grounded in our identities

Using mindfulness to enhance self awareness

Identity formation is a key part of life, and evolves and shifts over time. It is easy to feel insecure at times, especially when we find ourselves in challenging transitions (i.e. new relationship, moving to a new city, starting a new job, etc.) To help improve self-confidence, we can begin to learn ways of feeling more secure with our identity.

We can ask ourselves questions that prompt greater self-awareness:      

1.       What part of my identity am I insecure about?

2.       What have I experienced in the past that impacts my identity?

3.       What am I currently going through that can be impacting my identity now?

4.       What do I need right now to feel more grounded?

5.       Who can I seek help from to work through these challenges?

If these questions are too challenging in the moment, this is a perfect opportunity to use mindfulness techniques to be present and accepting of this challenge. Take a few moments to breathe into the discomfort of not knowing how to overcome challenges, and validate yourself for being courageous to learn ways of building self awareness.

Using affirming self talk can help reframe challenges we may have when attempting to feel grounded in our identity. We can use some of these statements to help us think about our relationship with ourselves and with others as learning experiences and opportunities to enhance our self awareness and overall confidence:

        1. “I reflect and explore pieces of me to learn about my talents, capabilities, and growth.”

        2. “Exploring my identity in comparison to others helps me learn new cultures and experiences.”

        3. “When I feel less secure, this is a normal human experience and part of me learning about

        myself”

Using CBT to become more self aware and grounded

One way for us to feel more connected with our identity is to reflect on our beliefs, values, and actions. When we understand the beliefs and values that we feel closely connected with, we can assess whether our actions are in accordance with these values - i.e. if generosity is an important value to our identity,  do we treat others with generosity? If we find ourselves acting in ways that contrast our values - i.e. saying hurtful things during an argument - we can use these moments as opportunities to learn more about our triggers, become more self aware of what these triggers mean, and assess how they impact our behavior.

 

Asking better questions to get better answers

We all have the right to identity the way we prefer. When we generalize how we identify with others, we might be making assumptions about other people’s identities. These assumptions often come from our comfortability of wanting someone to identify the way we believe is most acceptable. We naturally categorize people into boxes to help us relate to them, yet we might be oversimplifying their identity or identifying them incorrectly. Although the intention of assuming identities may come from a place of wanting to connect with someone, we might be harming someone or minimizing their preferred identity through this process.

We can ask these questions to reflect on our experience with assumed identities

1.    “Have I ever assumed someone’s identity? (i.e. assumed someone’s gender)”

2. “What can I do in the future to prevent this from happening”

3. “Has someone ever assumed my identity? (i.e. assumed my race of ethnicity)”

4.  “What do I need in moments when I believe someone is making assumptions about me, and how can I communicate that appropriately?”

We all experience the ebbs and flows of forming our identity. While identities are naturally complicated, we have many opportunities to lean into our identity to increase overall self confidence and acceptance.

Barlow, Rich. 2014. BU Research: A Riddle Reveals Depth of Gender Bias. https://www.bu.edu/today/2014/bu-research-riddle-reveals-the-depth-of-gender-bias/

Gladwell, Malcolm. 2005. Blink. Malcolm Gladwell.


How Mindfulness Can Help Your Pregnancy

By Amanda Polster, LMSW

As wonderful as pregnancy is, it is still a major life change. The energy pregnancy requires can often be overlooked. Whether you are currently pregnant or supporting a pregnant loved one, mindfulness can help you cope with the stress and overwhelm during this stage in life.

Mindfulness is a healthy and accessible way to increase compassion and reduce distress during pregnancy. Although it can be scary to look inward for relief, mindfulness offers many tools to cope with anxiety, and can even support in gaining a closer bond with your baby. Research shows that mindfulness improves decision making and self regulation while conversely reducing stress levels and symptoms of depression. The foundational definition of mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2005). Many hundreds of studies prove that people who incorporate mindfulness into their daily routine have greater emotional balance in life (Neff, 2011).

 

Mindfulness in Daily Life

Bringing conscious awareness to your pregnancy each day can help sharpen your skills of building your mindfulness muscle. The benefits of mindfulness support all emotional distress through encouraging and welcoming all experiences that occur as normal human encounters (i.e. anger, excitement, frustration, hope, worry, etc). Practicing mindfulness techniques can be a preventative tool during pregnancy, and support in more stressful circumstances, like going to the doctors for test results on the health of your baby (Neff, 2011).

 

Affirmations are Key

Being validated during pregnancy (and at any stage of life) is a normal human desire and impacts our connection with others. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs portrays the way esteem and love/belonging are essential components of human motivation in the pursuit towards self actualization and gratification (Neff, 2011). Although receiving affirmations from others is important, it is not always as accessible as we would like. Self-affirmations and self-validation become all the more important during times when we are challenged with stressful life decisions and transitions, like pregnancy. Since mindfulness is one of the core components of self-compassion, “when we improve our mindfulness skills, we automatically increase our ability to be self compassionate” (Neff, 2011).

 

Mindful Body Sensation Exercises

Acknowledging our bodies as resilient is an empowering mindfulness practice. Our bodies are the foundation of mindfulness training. We live in our bodies, “so to appreciate the fullness of life we need to experience the body fully” (Germer, 2009). Practicing mindful body movements and awareness not only supports general physical and mental health, but can also support the overall health of your child; research has indicated that mindfulness may prevent premature birth and can provide healthy development during each trimester of pregnancy (Newman, 2016).

 

Because mindfulness has become mainstream, there are many free resources online to access mindful body practices. The link below offers a variety of different guided body movement and awareness practices, ranging from body scans to affectionate breathing meditations.

 

https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness/programs/mbsr/pages/audio.aspx

 

If you are interested in seeking additional guidance during your pregnancy, we would love to support you during this special and intimate experience. Our practice offers therapy sessions grounded in evidence based research models such as mindfulness based stress reduction, yoga, and greater mind-body exercises. If you are interested in learning more about our services, please visit our website at www.ruschellekhanna.com or contact us at 347.994.9301.

 

References

 

Germer, Christopher K. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. The Guilford Press. 2009.

 

Kabat-Zinn, John. Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Mediation in Everyday Life. Hatchette Books. 2005.

 

Keng SL, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clinical Psychology Review. 31(6): 1041–1056. 

 

Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Kristin Neff. 2011.

 

Newman, Kira M. Four Reasons to Practice Mindfulness During Pregnancy. Mind & Body. 2016.

 

Coping with Loss During the Holiday Season

By Amanda Polster, LMSW

Grief and bereavement are natural experiences of life, and none of us are immune to this type of pain. At some point in our lives, we have experienced grief – a death of a loved one, a loss of a job or financial security, divorce or relationship separation, an estranged family member, a miscarriage, ongoing trauma that compromises senses of safety, etc. Although a healthy response to loss, grief can lead to suffering and symptoms of depression if we are unable cope and feel supported during these tumultuous experiences.

 

The intensity of grief is often related to the attachment to the person or thing we lost. For example, if we lose someone very close to us - a partner, a friend, a parent, a sibling, a child - we will be more impacted and challenged to accept reality that this person is no longer here.

 

The correlation between our attachment to someone and the impact their loss has on our lives is not to discourage healthy and strong relationships at the fear of potential loss; it is the contrary. By experiencing healthy attachment relationships, we gain a greater connection with our identity and needs. If we are challenged with a sudden loss and are left questioning how to repair or fill this void in our lives, we are given an opportunity to identify our needs during this difficult life experience. We can ask ourselves questions that can prompt a greater sense of self compassion and connectedness. Anodea Judith, an American author, therapist, and public speaker grounds her work in internal healing methods, and suggests asking ourselves these questions in time of grief and crisis:

 

“Why was this person in particular so special to me?” 

“What did this person bring to me that I am missing in myself?” 

“What part of me was particularly bonded to this person, and what does that part need?” 

 “What have I lost touch with in myself as a result of this ending, and how can I nurture and regain that part of myself once again?” (Judith, 278)

 

Along with these thoughtful questions, below are some additional practices that can move us from pain towards healing in times of emotional adversity.

Connecting to Our Heart Center

“When our heart is heavy with grief, it is hard to open, even hard to breathe. When grief is denied, we become numb to our feelings and our aliveness. We become hard and cold, rigid and distant. We may feel dead inside. When grief is acknowledged and expressed, however, we find a vital key to opening the heart. Tears are shed, truth expressed, and the heart lightens. The breath deepens. There is a sense of spaciousness that emerges, allowing more room inside for our spirit. Hope is reborn. Coming to terms with our own grief leads toward compassion for others”

 

Grief challenges and counteracts the heart’s connection to ourselves and others, and makes it feel closed and heavy. For this reason, feelings of isolation and disconnect are common in times of need. In these distressing times, it is important to allow ourselves to share our pain with others to relieve the heaviness of these moments. Times of grief are a perfect opportunity to validate that not being ok is ok, and feeling pain is part of our humanity. Validating our state of grief allows our hearts to open during this process to begin working through the pain.

 

Using Mindfulness Practices to Grieve

“Grief, after all, is not a pathology or an illness, but a natural part of life that causes us to experience suffering. Since the goal of mindfulness practices is the cessation of suffering, it can only make sense to bring the two together” (Stang, 10).

 

The good thing about mindfulness practices is they are easily accessible - all you need is yourself. Mindfulness allows us to pay attention to our bodies with observance and curiosity, eliminating acts of judgment that come naturally, especially during times of grief. Mindfulness can help relieve various emotional expression: stress that come with expectations to grieve within a certain period of time; anger that comes naturally with the loss of someone or something we are attached to; denial that the information in front of us cannot be true.

Qualities that come from using mindfulness to work through grief:

            -improved self-perception

            -improved sense of strength

            -improved level of compassion

            -better relationship with others[1]

 

Breathe. A helpful mindfulness practice during bereavement is focusing on our breath. When grief causes panic, focusing on our breath can be very soothing and calming, and relieve us of the immediate overwhelm during adversity.

 

 

Tapping Into our Support System

When we lose someone close to us, it can feel disturbing or discontenting, as if pieces of our identity have been removed or lost as well. In these times, it can be easy to try to fill that void by taking on the role of healer and making sure loved ones around you are safe and supported. This act of kindness can demonstrate our unconditional support for those closest too us. While this might feel powerful and helpful as a distraction, it is important to ask ourselves:

“What do I need right now?”

“Am I allowing myself the time to grieve?”

“Why is it important to me to help others at this time?”

 

Additional Resources

Honor yourself for your openness to explore this time of adversity with hope and optimism.

 

Grief is very powerful.

 

It can change your relationship to others, your worldview, and your relationship to yourself. The energy that comes with grief can influence our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional capacities. However, we have the power to determine how we grieve. We have the ability to allow grief to either hinder our progression or become an opportunity for self reflection compassion, and acceptance. This form of acceptance does not mean we have to fully accept that our loved one is no longer with us, but we can accept our ability to move forward and to have a different yet still personal relationship with someone who holds a special place in our hearts.

 

If you are seeking additional support to work through your grief, we can help. Contact Us Today for a free 15 minute consultation.

 

1.      Judith, Anodea. Eastern Body Western Mind. 2004. Anodea Judith.

2.      Stang, Heather. Mindfulness and Grief: With Guided Meditation. 2014. CICO Books.


[1] Stang, Heather. Mindfulness and Grief: With Guided Meditation. 2014. CICO Books.

Self-Care For Turbulent Times

By Amanda Polster, LMSW

Social media can be toxic and scary. As much time as we spend on social media, we need an equal (or greater) amount of time mentally recovering from the bombardment of painful images and rhetoric. Today’s blog is all about stressing the importance of being in tune with our energy and checking in with thoughts and feelings that come up during this turbulent political climate.

We can use any activity as self care if we do it mindfully.

Part of implementing self-care is practicing being in harmony with our mind and body. During this blog, practice noticing the emotions and sensations that come up, and acknowledge yourself as courageous for taking this opportunity to learn healthy and sustainable methods of personal growth. At any point during this blog, if you begin to feel uneasy or triggered, recognize that as an opportunity for observation and take the necessary steps for yourself to take a break. Breathe

Breath is the foundational practice of self-care. We can focus on our breath no matter the activity. We can begin to practice it now in this blog.

Breathe.

Mindful Self Care Becomes Even More Important When Tragedy Strikes

This blog hits close to home in the wake of recent national events that have occurred unexpectedly, yet are now occurring ever too frequently. Especially in an era where violence has become more prevalent, it is important to identify ways we can take care of ourselves so to not get consumed by the losses in our community.

The more we practice self-care, the more capable we are at supporting our ourselves, our families and our communities

Below are some tips on how to reframe and implement self-care in our lives.  

1.      Self-Care is Not Selfish – You cannot serve from an empty vessel

You may have heard the saying, “you can’t help others if you are not helping yourself.” Or, as they always say on the airplane before takeoff, “In the event of an emergency, make sure you put your oxygen mask on first before helping the person next to you.” If we do not take care of ourselves, we will not have the capacity to support and serve others. Now, some people are great at helping others as a distraction from dealing with their internal struggles. However, this is not a sustainable practice, and without self-care and proper support, we will eventually reach a breaking point where we feel too overwhelmed and overloaded. In these instances, setting boundaries for ourselves becomes a practice of self-care to identify ways to most appropriately limit the amount we are giving and provide greater opportunity to receive and give back to ourselves. An example of setting boundaries is noticing our triggers and removing ourselves from spaces where we acknowledge triggers may occur. A personal example is recognizing when social media is not serving me and choosing to take a break to limit my access from overwhelming information that comes through my news feed.  

2.      Self-Care is an Opportunity to Grow

Many self-care practices are opportunities to observe and understand our own identities. Self-care practices are things that make us feel happy and provide us with joy and ease. They are activities that give our lives meaning and remind us of the importance of taking care of ourselves, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. These practices help us learn where we feel we are the most supported and areas where we may feel neglected or want additional support. Self-care is also an opportunity to check in our self-talk, and acknowledge the ways we are either affirming and validating our experiences, or judging ourselves for our emotions and behaviors. While we often seek validation and support externally through our support networks, self-care is also an opportunity to learn greater self-compassion and self-gratitude. Mindfulness practices such as loving kindness meditations are a great way of tapping into these self-care practices.

3.      Self-Care is a Priority and Necessity, Not a Luxury

This is my favorite tip, because people often think of self-care as a luxury or privilege. Now, I am not dismissing or denying the fact that not everyone has the same access to a diverse range of self-care practices (i.e. gym memberships, travel opportunities, health care resources). However, many self-care practices can occur internally, such as meditation, self-reflection, self-talk affirmation, that only require conscious awareness. Using our physical bodies as forms of revitalization and energy is often one of the most effective self-care practices. As Tony Robbins states, “emotion is created by motion,” and how we feel is often determined by the physical state our body is in at any given time.

Regardless of if we choose to join a new yoga class, or take a moment to “smell the roses,” self-care requires an investment in taking time for ourselves to remove ourselves from the stressful and often fast-paced environment we live in daily. Taking time for ourselves is not only vital to our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual capacities, but also supports in our ability to be the best versions of ourselves and aids in our overall quality of life.

If you are in immediate distress please contact the number below:

The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

1-800-273-8255

If you would like to make an appointment for ongoing care, schedule a time to speak.

Maintaining Sexual Intimacy In Your Relationship

By Brittany Dursi, LMSW

Ah the “honey moon stage.” The phase of being an untouchable, connected, happy couple. A mix of intense emotions, blended with just enough spice to leave your taste buds begging for more. It is a chapter many hope to experience yet seldom remains central through the relationship.

So, what is it about the “honey moon stage” that fades?  There are endless possibilities, exclusive to each relationship: loss of loved ones, betrayal, money dilemmas, miscommunication, exhaustion etc.  The list is limitless.  When we take one, or multiple obstacles, and allow them to control the relationship it is undeniable romance can lose its spark.  When this happens, every so often it is easier to create distance from our partners instead of working to maintain unity and support.  It is even common to feel like strangers.

Sex can become…well sex.  That is, if it is existent in the relationship.  When our mind is flooded with stressors we can forget how beneficial physical touch and connectedness with our partner is.  We fail to realize being intimate can relieve stress, physical pain, such as headaches and can lead to feelings of security in the relationship.  We may find ourselves rolling over in bed as a result of exhaustion instead of taking a moment to cuddle up to our loved one.  So how can we maintain a consistent, satisfying and exciting sexual relationship with our partner?

 

Communication is Key

 

Sustaining a strong sexual relationship first starts with communicating efficiently with our partner.  That means: asking questions and listening. Our partner’s day is just as important as ours.  Ask specific, individualized questions. Listen to understand, not to respond and not to accuse.  Listen to relate, create depth and explore new ways to approach and acknowledge their feelings. Even in times of distress, vocalize your feelings.  You cannot be faulted for expressing how you genuinely feel.  Being transparent and honest with your partner can lead to an increase in trust and ultimately more security within the relationship.

 

Stay Curious

 

Remember when you first met your partner?  Everything about them was interesting, the way they walked, the way their hair felt between your fingers, their scent, how they took their coffee, the energy they showed when doing something they loved etc.  We get so used to the distinctive traits that make our partners who they are that sometimes they go unnoticed.  Stay curious. Our partners are ever growing and changing. Take notice.  Find new quirks, interests, things that can create new conversation and build off of it.  We are ever changing, our partner is ever changing, our relationships are ever changing and it is our responsibility to keep up with it.

 

 

Explore Together

 

Mentally, none of us are programmed the same.  We have different interests and fixations that stimulate us, making us all unique.  It is common to feel uncomfortable or unsure about things we may want to explore in the bedroom; and in some cases, results in remaining concealed from our partner.  It is far-reaching to discuss some of these interests with our partner.  It allows our partner to be open with us as well and explore agreed upon options to satisfy the needs of both partners.  When we understand our partner, are open with them, feel understood by them and work together we have a higher chance of both sides feeling satisfied and secure in discovering different layers of the relationship.

 

Schedule Together Time

 

We make time for work calls, meetings, bills to paid, errands to be run and other essential daily tasks.  So why not make time to embrace our loved one and give the relationship the nurturing that it deserves.  We lead busy lives, but it is always crucial to take care of ourselves and that means taking care of our relationship.  Why not schedule in a one hour time block to turn off our phones and pay total attention to the one who has our heart?  Even if you live together, or spend hours a day together, is it true quality time? Make the time to embrace one another, talk, laugh and give the attention we all need.  Time together is a human need, schedule it.

 

Compliment Each Other

 

When we feel confident and appreciated in our relationship the positive parts of our personalities often will take the forefront.  The same goes for our partner.  If your partner is feeling belittled, betrayed and unworthy the relationship will feed off of that.  Remind your partner of the qualities you like about them.  Have conversations about what you each appreciate, lift each other up and help build confidence.  When each partner feels confident, understood, appreciated and loved the relationship will also be more likely to feed off of that. Never have too much pride to express what you love about your partner.  Never have too much pride to build your relationship.

 

Need Help Connecting With You Partner?

Contact Us Today To See If Couples Therapy Can Help

 

 

 

 

 

Denial of Toxic Love

By Brittany Dursi, LMSW

Denial. Denial. Denial.  What is it?  Could it be our mind claiming something to be untrue, even if the facts say otherwise? Maybe it’s a shield of defense when reality is too much to bear. Or possibly, it’s the fear of surrendering to the truth.  Whichever the case, denial is no stranger to us.  We all have used it in our own unique way: to cope, to avoid, to protect etc.   In love, denial is a common mechanism adopted to protect the relationship in times of distress.  For the time being it encases the relationship in a thin lining, a band aid for when we aren’t ready to clean the wound.

Often times, the foundation of consistency in a destructive relationship is the damaging and deliberate use of manipulation and abuse.  This creates a mask for the partner being victimized, losing parts of their identity.  They may constantly feel guilty when they actually did nothing wrong.  Depending on the relationship, some may report feeling as though they were never good enough for their partner: fighting for acceptance, fighting to prove they deserve them.  Some may feel a heightened sense of emotion, or absence of, due to their lack of control in the relationship and a decrease in self- worth.  Often times the relationship is priority over work, personal interests and family or friends.  So how could anyone stay in this?

Here’s the thing.  When we are faced with isolated and constant real or perceived threat, our body instinctively responds. Stress hormones are released, shutting off the part of our brain used to solve problems (prefrontal cortex) and we enter a stage of fight, flight or freeze. This is great if we are being chased by a lion, the problem is when our stress hormones are activated for too long.  Our brains naturally will put a threatening situation to the forefront and shut down everything that is not necessary for that threat.  If we are constantly feeling threatened by our partner, we are consistently in a state of fight, flight or freeze, making it impossible to function appropriately. 

If we are being faced with infidelity, abuse (physical, mental, verbal, emotional) confusion, lack of self-worth, fear, anxiety etc. it is too much for our brain to sort through.  Manipulation commonly becomes the focal point in destructive relationships, resulting in the vulnerable partner feeling dependent on the toxic one.  The threat also becomes the safety blanket in these relationships.  While we may be living in a state of constant intimidation and emotional distress, the moment validation, intimacy and acceptance is received it stimulates our reward system and we feel safe again, creating a debilitating cycle.  For example, maybe our partner cheats, the facts have been proven, and we become emotionally distressed.  They lie about it but begin to show interest and connectedness to us, we might choose to believe it, because in those moments, they are accepting us.   Somewhere in us we know it is not true but we push it so far down because denial is sometimes perceived easier than facing the facts

Facts are Facts are Facts

If there is concrete factual information, it happened. 

If your significant other hits you because you came home an hour later than expected but then cooks you a three course meal, it does not change the fact they hit you. 

If your significant other calls you cruel names regularly but will also spend quality time with you and makes you feel special, it does not change the fact they verbally hurt you. 

If your significant other is not loyal but will not admit the truth, it does not change the fact they betrayed you. 

If they are hurting you in any way and try to validate their actions based on something you have done in the past it does not change the fact they hurt you and chose to be spiteful. 

You are not to blame for their actions. You cannot alter facts.