Stacey Kim, LCSW

Individual and Group Psychotherapy in Bloomington, Indiana


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Practicing Compassion–The Smallest Step Starts the Way

you-are-enough

One of the most deceptive ways we can be mean to ourselves is by taking an intention and making it a mandate.How many times have you had a thought, “I feel better when I exercise (insert write, eat well, sleep, don’t drink, take time for myself…you get the idea),” quickly followed by, “Starting tomorrow, I’m going to—insert change words here—every morning.”  This may be linked to all sorts of well-intentioned tasks such as creating a calendar that reserves space for said exercise, setting up partners to take walks, investing in the perfect shoes, and maybe even excitedly thinking about the 10 pounds you’ll shed when you do all of this right. 

This can be wildly exciting and motivating on Monday and just as disappointing on Thursday when, for any number of reasons you skipped the gym in the morning, gave up your writing time to help out a friend or meet a deadline, caved and had that glass of wine at the end of a long day.  Often when we disappoint ourselves, we are vulnerable to feelings of failure and to thoughts that we are not capable of change or that we are not good enough.

Demanding that we make too big of a change too quickly is a recipe for getting down on ourselves.  Often I ask the question, “What is the smallest possible change you can make that you will notice?” This does two things: it keeps us from setting unrealistic goals and it calls on us to really think about what might give us the feeling of having done something different.  This last part is almost always, much more subtle than we think.

As you consider living life with more kindness and self-compassion, ask yourself, what is the smallest kindness I can offer myself in the coming week?  Maybe it’s a hike in the woods instead of chores for the afternoon; maybe it’s a homemade meal eaten slowly instead of on the run; but maybe it’s more like adding a piece of broccoli to your plate, pausing before you start your car to notice the change in colors, or take a deep breath and saying,

“What I’m doing is enough.”

 

Whatever it is, commit to that one small step and do nothing more and nothing less.

Enough

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
We have refused
Again and again
Until now.

Until now.

~ by David Whyte

from Where Many Rivers Meet

Check here next Monday for more helpful information on living with compassion.


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Friday: Pics and Prompts

Diving In…

Diving In

My great niece…who seeks what she wants with singular devotion!  As a friend said after seeing this photo, “She does not see the impossible.”  Can you remember a time when you couldn’t see the impossible?  When you just dove in? Tell me that story.

Happy Friday.


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Using Our Words to Heal

“Writing…is a very sturdy ladder out of the pit.”  Alice Walker 

ladder2

This is an often-used quote when talking about the healing potential of writing.  It speaks to the enormous power that comes from using our words to  name our experience.  Whether you do this by talking—maybe in therapy or with a good friend—or in writing, the naming of something allows us to step outside ourselves for a moment and take perspective.

Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, began studying the effects of a specific type of writing on health and well-being in the 1980’s.  His studies have been replicated with numerous populations, and research tells us that cathartic writing has a positive impact on immune functioning and perceived level of well-being.  One theory on why writing is helpful is that it takes a great deal of energy NOT to name how we are feeling.  In other words, the effort required for us to ignore/minimize/push away our thoughts and feelings, contributes to our sense of distress.  When we allow the truth of how we are feeling to be put into words, we often experience a sense of relief, a lifting—physically, mentally and emotionally.

Perhaps you know all of this already, and the fact that research says writing is helpful is just the icing on the cake.  Or, if you are someone—and you are in good company—who fears writing for all sorts of reasons, think to the last time you went to a movie or read a book that told an emotionally true story.  Can you remember how the knowing of something true settled in your middle?  Made you feel connected, part of something, even if it was hard?

There is a part of us that aches to tell the truth and it is the telling that is “the sturdy ladder.”

Here’s an exercise to get you started on some truth-telling.  One of the practices I am most fond of is writing in response to a poem.  Poems, by their very nature, go right to the heart of things and can be useful as a starting point.  Read the poem below.  Read it several times if you want—underline any words or phrases that move you.  Begin with any one of them and write for 10 minutes—anything that comes to mind.  Write quickly without thinking of grammar or sentence structure.  In fact, I think it’s best to tell myself I’m going to TRY TO DO IT BADLY just to free up my critical self.  At the end of the 10 minutes read over what you’ve written.  And then ask yourself—what do I see in myself here?  Write about that for a few minutes.  Don’t skip this last step–it’s where you are practicing paying attention to yourself!

Enjoy.

Hope
–by Lisel Mueller

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
     it shakes sleep from its eyes
     and drops from mushroom gills,
          it explodes in the starry heads
          of dandelions turned sages,
              it sticks to the wings of green angels
              that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
     it lives in each earthworm segment,
     surviving cruelty,
          it is the motion that runs
          from the eyes to the tail of a dog,
               it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
               of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius we all know of God.

It is the serum that makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

Published in Alive Together, New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press.

Check back next Wednesday for more helpful information on using writing as a tool for exploring self.  For more information on therapeutic writing, click here.


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Only Kindness Ties Your Shoes

Inspired by this line from the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye, I begin this blogging journey with kindness because it seems to me that all things begin and end with kindness.  I have loved this poem for such a long time.  In it I feel a great relief for the way she reminds us that kindness can, and does, lead us out of suffering.  It also reminds me that the reverse is true, that suffering itself can be a way into kindness—kindness for self and kindness for others.

While many of us have a capacity for kindness to others, it can be much more difficult to extend the same to oneself.  Why are we so reluctant to tend to our own needs, wants, and desires?  Tara Brach, noted psychologist, Buddhist teacher and author of Radical Acceptance, puts forth that most of us have never learned to have compassion for ourselves, and that we use self-judgment as a tool for protecting ourselves from pain and suffering.   And that it is by looking directly and openly at suffering, that we have access to compassion.  But what does this look like in everyday life?

Like everything new we try, increasing our capacity for compassion and kindness takes practice.  It is not dissimilar to beginning a new workout routine—there are muscles in the body that have gone unused and the more we learn to use them, the stronger they become and the more they are available to us in helpful ways.

If you want to start your kindness workout, start with Monitoring your self-talk.

·         Perhaps the most pervasive way we are unkind to ourselves, is through our self-talk.  We may offer comfort, understanding and acceptance to the friend who is struggling with being overwhelmed or stressed out, or who is having relationship difficulties,  but we are much more likely to be judging and critical of our own self in the same situation.  Notice next time you catch yourself saying something like, “Why can’t I get this done?” or “What’s the matter with me?” or “If I would just….”  Stop right in that moment and picture yourself saying the very same thing to a dear friend.  Many times when I ask a client in session to do this they quite literally cannot utter the words when attempting to say them to another.

My rule of thumb is…

if it’s too mean for me to say to a friend, it’s too mean to say to myself.

Check back next Monday for more helpful information on practicing kindness and compassion.

 “Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
Like a shadow or a friend.”

Excerpted from Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, found in Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.  For the full poem go to www.poets.org