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Christmas Comparison (Some notes on perfection at this joyful time)

A client was telling me the other day that she feels lackluster in comparison with so many others. Her social media feeds were apparently full of people totally winning at life.

Among the things I heard: color coded calendars, labeled bins for everything from sweaters to utensils, staged bookshelves, yoga routines filmed in front of waterfalls…the list goes on.

Christmas, as we all know, is near. Friends and family are sharing beautiful shots of their yards bedazzled in lights and their entry ways strung with garlands aplenty. Today I noticed a new trend (or new to me) – video footage of strangers giving tours of their lovely Christmas bedecked homes being shared all over. Now I love holidays and lights, and tinsel, laughing babies, and all the happy stuff of Christmas to be sure, but as I watched Unknown Woman give a tour of her house I felt the feeling my client had described to me.

Here I was congratulating myself on having the tree up, keeping my dogs from eating the ornaments on it, and having coerced my husband into running net lights over our shrubs out front and these internet strangers have literally decked, bedazzled, sprayed, strewn, stuck, plastered, hung, draped, and even constructed the halls with boughs of holly. A tree in every room that looks like Martha Stewart got bored on her lunch break and popped over to top it off. Pillow covers changed out to display Christmas tidings. Carpets, tablecloths, toilet seat covers – a tinsel trimmed squatty potty. Wha???

I could assume a “high-horse” position and say that the holiday has become so commercialized that competition and self-aggrandizement were the next logical steps, and there may be a seed of truth to that. The real truth is that every person has a thing they enjoy, a thing that is important to them, a thing they really like to do. Some of us really enjoy color-coding life and decorating and make time or have time to do it. Others of us really enjoy just winging it or can find our sweater bins without labels. To each, their own, the saying goes. It applies here.

There is a certain distance afforded us in the social media environment. We’re engaged, but not fully. It leaves us sort of witnesses to the things that our friends or others are doing, but not participating in it. It is an Instagram world – we are looking not just through our own beliefs and thoughts, but also the filters that others show us, the filters they put on their lives. This leaves us with a faulty tool for comparison.

A house I saw in a video had lit garland running the expanse of a wooden beam across a 15 foot ceiling. It looked perfect – beautiful, but the video didn’t show the work that went into putting it up or how many times they must’ve gone up and down the ladder to move it or how the decorators reacted when they realized they’d forgotten a bit on the ground or found a bulb that had burned out. Reality and what we have delivered to us are two very different things.

Comparison is the thief of joy and this applies here too – but it is especially the thief of joy when what we’re comparing ourselves too is a trimmed up, filtered, carefully edited version of reality, hand picked to entertain, delight, please, or impress.

Unfollow, have a grain of salt with it, acknowledge the bits that were left out, and be kind to yourself. There are people watching your life unfold on social media that think you’ve got it all and you’re doing everything and that you look great while you do it – even as you burn dinner, or forget your kid’s Christmas play start time.

Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Festivus, Happy Solstice, Happy New Year – wishing you happy times!



17 Ways to Beat a Funk

Everyone has times in life when things look bleak and nothing seems to be going in the way we want it to go. No matter how hard we work to turn things around it seems to end up wasted energy. We throw our hands up and demand to know, “Why me? Why now?” As much as we resist our anger, sadness, or other unpleasant emotions, those darker times often give us a great opportunity for growth. Here are some ways to help yourself out of a funk when it strikes 🙂

  1. Acknowledge your situation. In Star Trek the Borg people take over and assimilate other cultures with the phrase, “Resistance is futile.” This applies here. Resisting your circumstances won’t change them! Insisting that things aren’t so bad or that everything is fine won’t help dissipate the situation or the feelings. Before a solution can be found or the situation can be worked through you have to first know where you are.
  2. Describe your situation with facts. “This is so bad, it’s awful, I can’t imagine things getting any better, my whole day/week/month/life is ruined…” Those are judging statements. Try facts instead. Facts come from what you can sense with your five senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, hear) and from identifying how you feel emotionally and physically, without judgment. (And try to skip the judging about the judgment – if you’re doing this and you catch yourself slipping into opinions and judgments, just note it and move on!)
  3. Reframe. Each experience we have is something that teaches us. Feeling low, sad, afraid, frustrated, and the like may be uncomfortable, but they aren’t “bad” feelings. Strong emotions educate us about what is important to us or not. They can teach us about our personal values and desires. Instead of warring against those emotions identify them and treat them like a tool that is helping you discover things about yourself.
  4. Grow Gratitude. If you find yourself feeling negatively and that feeling becomes something you can’t just shake, sit down and make a list of some things that you’re grateful for at present. It’s easy to focus on the “bad” in a situation that isn’t going how you’d like it to. We’re actually wired to do that – it’s part of our survival system to look for the problems in a situation, but it isn’t always helpful. Examining the things around an event or situation that isn’t going according to plan will often help reveal things that are going right and even give you a renewed sense of purpose in the moment.
  5. Stay aware. If you’re feeling intense emotions that you don’t like, it’s often because you’re thinking things that don’t support feeling things you do like. Thoughts precede feelings, so examine your thoughts. What are you thinking that supports the more negative feelings you’d like to better manage? Are those thoughts factual? Are they helpful? If they aren’t, what could you tell yourself that is factual and helpful? Try saying that back to yourself in place of, or immediately following more negative thoughts you notice yourself having.
  6. Feelings aren’t facts. Remember that emotions aren’t unchanging facts. They’re both temporary and subjective. Right now you may feel angry or sad, but later you will feel other things and before those feelings hit you felt other things. The expression, “This too shall pass,” has become a bit cliché with overuse, but it applies and can be helpful here.
  7. You aren’t your emotions. Our common expressions are structured like this, “I’m angry,” not, “I have anger.” There is a difference! Since emotions are temporary and subjective it’s also important to remember that we aren’t our emotions; we just have them. When we’re nonjudgmentally observing and separating ourselves from our emotions it is easier to be at peace even in turbulent circumstances.
  8. Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins create a positive feeling in the body. Regular exercise helps improve mood, relieve anxiety and depression, and reduce stress overall.
  9. Try a guided meditation. Meditation may invoke images of people on isolated mountain tops sitting in uncomfortable positions, but there are guided meditations that require only some time, quiet, and attention that will work to get both mind and body back into a feeling-state you’re more comfortable with. My personal favorite: Andrew Johnson (find him on the app store for both Apple and Google!).
  10. Talk it out. Sometimes just speaking about an issue or feeling out loud can help you feel better. Try a friend, family member or qualified therapist.
  11. Get creative. Paint, write, or draw. Using your favorite creative expression (or even a new one you haven’t tried yet) can help you get a feeling out of your body and mind. Making it external helps express rather than repress what you’re feeling.
  12. Go natural. Spending time in nature has been shown in studies to help relieve stress, and improve mood. Sunlight, living plants, beautiful scenery, and fresh air can do a lot to ground you in a positive moment and be invigorating.
  13. RAOK. Performing a random act of kindness creates feelings of gratitude and goodwill. This can also release oxytocin into the body, which is a feel-good hormone. Putting your focus onto others who are in need can help you create connection with others and help you gain perspective.
  14. Keep your self-care in check. When you’re in a funk its easy to let your self-care fall apart. Taking care of yourself is essential to making sure that you feel good. Proper eating, plenty of rest, and other little self-care essentials (hot showers, fuzzy socks and other comforts) can help you stay on track emotionally, mentally, and physically to better manage stress.
  15. Watch your goals. People who are experiencing depression frequently set unrealistic goals. Setting goals is important to motivation, but setting unattainable ones increase feelings of dissatisfaction and hopelessness. Consider working with a qualified therapist to help create realistic goals.
  16. Practice self-kindness. When you ask yourself, “Why am I feeling so bad?” and the answer has to do with past events that evoke feelings of shame, regret, or guilt. It is harder to forgive ourselves than others. Keep your humanness in mind as you explore your feelings. Life is a learning process and if you relive your past too frequently it is impossible to put the lessons those mistakes have taught you into action.
  17. Know when going it solo isn’t good enough. When you try and try to improve your mood and nothing is working, reach out for help. Depression and consistent bad moods are detriments to quality of life and can lead to more serious issues. Depression, anger, stress, anxiety, and other issues are completely treatable! There are online services that fit your schedule and your budget that you can check out.

Whitney 🙂


The Last Word

One of the hardest things in adulting is learning that I don’t have to have the last word. Whew…seriously, this is hard for me “the therapist”. Society has kind of decided that we professional emotion and mind helpers aren’t supposed to have those kinds of issues, yet – I choke this particular bit of wellness down coughing and gagging at best. But I manage. Here’s how you can, too.

The need to be right is ingrained in me (and most other humans). Freud would call this an ego issue, and I don’t completely disagree. We have an innate desire to be right, particularly when we are.

To quote Fraiser Crane’s character, “I’m passionate and right and passionate about being right!”

For example, a while back someone made a joke about me not pitching in to pay for a party I’d helped organized about a decade ago. Had I not been surrounded by strangers and young children I adore I might have cried or jumped back into my car and left.  The statement was made in front of people who don’t know me well. I felt insulted, embarrassed, hurt, and like I had been called a bad person for not paying. I knew I had paid, though. I knew I was right and the other person was wrong.

All the way home I was silent – fuming. Once at home, I’m logged into an old and now closed bank account I had a decade ago looking for the statements from the month of the party. Indeed – I had paid for the catering and some other related items. I saved the bank statements and attached them to an email.

My cursor blinked on my screen. I sat there staring. I counted to 10, got up, went out for some air, came back in and deleted the draft.

I made a list of questions for myself:

  1. What do I gain from asserting my rightness in this situation?
  2. What will this really change in my future dealings with this person?
  3. How might this impact my family/associated network overall?
  4. Does my asserting my rightness help me in some profound way?
  5. Does asserting my rightness help others?
  6. Is it kind for me to assert my rightness? OR Am I/can I assert my rightness kindly?
  7. Is my rightness 100% factual and concrete?
  8. What feelings does my desire to be correct in this situation arise from?

Ultimately I chose not to declare my correctness in the situation. The only thing I gained was the feeling of vindication. I realized after answering my questions that with this particular person they work overtime at painting me as less-than in most situations and asserting my rightness would only create an alternative route for them to do so. (“See how silly she is looking up decade old bank statements?!”) If not that I don’t pitch in it would ultimately be something else.

It would’ve created additional conflict in the network I share with the person and at no real gain. I can’t change the person or their beliefs about me with some bank statements. Their opinions of me and treatment of me are a reflection of them, not me. Asserting myself as right wouldn’t do anything to help me or others.

I could’ve done it kindly, but again it wouldn’t help. While my being right was totally provable – heck, I had paperwork on it! It just didn’t serve some grander purpose; only my ego. My desire to be right in that situation was derived solely from my desire to be approved of. I can’t control other people’s approval of me or how they treat me.

The assertion that we’re right in a relationship is often the desire to have the last word or close a topic but relationships where this becomes an issue sort of revolve around this type of conflict. No matter how much you hope it will be the last word on an issue, it likely isn’t – and your rightness won’t have an impact on the other person’s behavior.

Being right is a good feeling, but before you go asserting it, check in with yourself using these questions. A basic cost benefit analysis of sorts can help you determine the best course of action and help you separate yourself from the drama that a lot of our relationships often come with.

Ultimately sometimes the best medicine is “killing with kindness” and just allowing people to go on with their behavior. If you notice it, it’s likely that others do too and that’s the best vindication in many situations.





As I was doing some research the other day and reflecting on it I came to some conclusions based on that research and the concrete evidence I’m privy to thanks to my work with others in counseling. I posted a short blip on my Facebook page, but the thoughts deserve some fleshing out.

I see and hear lots of commentary about how the past doesn’t matter and your parents don’t matter and what really matters are you and your choices. These types of statements are grotesquely over simplified.

The truth is the past absolutely does matter because it shapes you. Science has long attributed our personality development in part to experience. The experiences we gain shape character and our outlook on life. They’re a place from which we approach all other events, places, people, and relationships. The past and all its contents (parents included) often serve to build our resilience or lack thereof.

Resilience is a thing we’re sort of leaving by the wayside. It isn’t as prized as some of our other skills. Really it’s lesser known and even more rarely talked about than juggling or spinning plates.

Instead of encouraging resilience through tough times and experiences we’re seeing a push back at those we feel have wronged us. We’re locking them out and we’re trying to control events – things that science says we simply can’t do. Navigating life and indeed the world without painful experiences and hurt feelings just isn’t possible. We can’t control others or events and what is offensive is subjective enough that no golden rule can be made to protect us from it. Lucky for us, we’re designed to learn from experience how to pick ourselves up, create coping mechanisms, heal, dust off, and redirect. We can’t develop this vital (I daresay lifesaving) skill without experiences in our pasts. So, the past totally still matters.

That said, the past doesn’t get to decide things. Once upon a time the research was “clear” – if you were abused you’d likely remain injured forever or even abuse others yourself; if you were the child of an alcoholic you’d likely marry one or become one yourself. Over time, this research grew thinner. It hasn’t held up as well as it would if it were ultimately and absolutely accurate. The numbers today show that we’re more likely to do life differently than it was dealt to us.

Every day I encounter people committed to exactly that. They are doing life differently than it was dealt them. People survive, cope, and rise from incredible pain every day. This superhuman ability resides within all of us. It involves painful stuff and our willingness not to run but turn and face the past. Some of us have to chip away at it and work with it a little harder than others.

Resilience skills are the ones that set us apart from the crowd. The stories that make “feel good” news, and fill up our social media feeds with people overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles are in fact tales of resilience. We all have the ability to create it.

The truth is that if we can spare some time away from the things we do to cope that are less healthy – our smoking, drinking, drugs, distractions – and sit with our past, create a story with it, hold, accept, and tolerate it and honor what we did to survive our traumas – we are able to move forward. We are able to come into therapy looking forward and think, with the science on our side, “I have a chance at living a better life than the one I began with; I just have to work for it.”

That’s resilience and it makes us super.

Go get it, Superhumans!