THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH

“Why can’t I just be changed without having to deal with all these shitty feelings?, ” I said with a laugh. My therapist laughed, too, “Well, wouldn’t that be nice! But you seem to think of things as black and white, good or bad. These feelings are just feelings. You can handle them.”

I know better than this. I’ve asked this question before. So have many of my own therapy clients. “Why does growth require so much pain? Can’t I just skip it?” I’m not sure I have the answer to why, but I do know that the only way to “get over” something is to acknowledge it and feel it. You can’t go around a feeling. There’s really no “easy” way out.

I think what we often feel is a pressure to get over things quickly. We want to be happy, productive people, good friends and good partners who don’t “burden” others with our “negative” feelings. But why do we even need to label feelings like sadness, anger, or anxiety as “bad”? Of course, these emotions don’t feel good, but does that mean they’re automatically bad? What if we could view them as simple messages?

Sadness can tell you that you’ve lost something and you need some time to heal. Anger can tell you that you’ve been hurt or wronged. These feelings are valid and important. They tell us when we need to take care of ourselves, to talk to someone, or to set a boundary.

Anxiety is a message that you’re afraid of something. It shows up in life – usually when there’s change happening or about to happen – even “good” change. Breakups, death, new jobs, new children, new relationships, these are all changes. When anxiety shows up, instead of saying “OMG, I’m crazy, how can I make this go away RIGHT NOW?”, maybe you need to ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” It might be difficult to find the answer right away. You might say, “Nothing. I’m just going to my office like anything other day.” But I guarantee if you dig a little deeper, perhaps to something that’s completely unrelated to what you’re doing at that moment, you’ll find something that needs attention. Then, over time, you’ll find you can face it and walk through the fear.

And that’s the key – walking through. Avoiding the fear will only make you more afraid. Pretending you’re happy all the time will not serve you or anyone else. Ignoring your anger and not acknowledging the hurt you feel will only hurt you more.  PLUS,  you won’t get that amazing growth and change you’re looking for!

Now, I’m not talking about wallowing. I’m talking about acknowledging your feelings, validating them, and maybe even getting curious about where they come from so that you can figure out what it is that you need to take good care of you.

What feelings have you been fighting? How can you validate them instead? When have you found that it actually was easier to move through a feeling rather than fight it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

THE EMPATH’S GUIDE TO MANAGING FEELINGS

When you’re an empath, feelings, even other people’s feelings, can be so powerful they become overwhelming.

Empaths are notorious for feeling ALL THE THINGS. Which is both a blessing and a curse. For some, emotions can get so overwhelming that they become frightening. When negative feelings show up, there’s often a fear of going out of a control and feeling that way forever. When loved ones are in pain, there’s this need to fix it because you’re feeling it, too. Trying to fix things for people gets exhausting and can eventually lead to really restrictive ways of interacting with people. Emotions you perceive as negative, both within yourself and others, become intolerable. You might try to control your feelings, and maybe even other people’s feelings. You try to block out the bad and embrace the good. Unfortunately, you can’t banish pain and get only joy. So with this avoidance of the bad feelings, you tend to lose the full impact of the good feelings, too. And so the tension builds. Your shoulders get tight. Your stomach hurts. Your head aches. You might be able to express your emotions when you paint, write, or sing, but you find it hard to be truly vulnerable with those you love.

Think about a time, probably when you were a kid, when you felt you could express yourself freely. Remember how loose you were? How easily you could move between utter devastation and vibrating joy? How you could ache with someone else and then move on to gleefully play with another? You just naturally knew that feelings were nothing to be afraid of because feelings were temporary.

As you got older, you started to learn that adults had to “keep it under control” or “suck it up”. You got messages about certain feelings being appropriate only at certain times. Or maybe you saw first hand how destructive anger, sadness, or fear can be when they aren’t handled well. Maybe you’ve been stuck in your own depression or anxiety before and you’re terrified of going back there. So you try to move away from the bad feelings and try to make sure others don’t have bad feelings either.

But here’s the irony of it all: Feelings only become dangerous if we try to change or deny them. 

Sadness, anger, and fear are not inherently bad and in fact, are necessary to our wellbeing. Pain tells us when we need to take care of ourselves. Or when we need to change something. We prolong our suffering when we avoid our pain.

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You can learn to feel negative feelings without letting them take over your life.

You already have many, many times. You really can handle the full range of emotions from yourself and from those around you. Here are a few tips to help you through the process:

1. When a negative feeling arises, take a deep breath, feel it, and allow yourself to just be. If you get scared or anxious that you might get stuck there or go off the deep end, tell yourself, “This is only temporary.”

2. Empaths in particular tend to have a lot of guilt around feelings like anger and frustration. You can see the other person’s perspective, so you know why they’re being the way they are. But just because someone has been hurt before or has learned to cope in a certain way, doesn’t mean they have a right to treat you badly. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that you have the right to feel whatever it is you feel. Try to remove the judgment and self-talk about what you should be feeling. Instead, think about how you can take care of yourself. Do you need 10 deep breaths? Do you need to talk a walk? Do you need to engage in your art? Do you need to call a friend for support? Sharing your guilt over your feelings to the right friend can help alleviate the pressure.

3. When you have trouble knowing what’s your feeling and what isn’t, take a moment, breathe, and assess. Ask yourself, “Is this mine?” If you find that you’re feeling something that isn’t yours, remind yourself, “I am not responsible for other people’s feelings.” Then do something physical. Go for a walk or run or do some yoga. One trick I like is to rub my hands on my arms and legs in a sweeping motion, like I’m dusting the bad feelings off of me. Like this!

Feelings are fleeting. Thoughts are temporary. If you get anxious about something, it doesn’t make you an anxious person. If you get angry at someone, it doesn’t make you an angry person. If you’re sad, you’re not automatically a depressed person. The same goes for the people around you. It’s ok to feel however you feel at this moment. It’s what you do with your feelings that matters.

 

YOU’LL NEVER BE READY

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“I’m not ready.”

I hear this often when people talk about why they haven’t started to pursue their passions. “I haven’t learned enough. I need more supplies. I need more time. I haven’t practiced enough.”

My response:

“How will you know when you’re ready?”

99% of the time the answer is, “I have no idea.”

Being ready to pursue creative work is tough. Often there is no certificate, no graduation, no significant marker that says, “Ok, now you’re ready. Go create.” But the truth is there’s no amount of preparation that will ever make you feel completely ready. Did I feel completely ready to be a therapist when I got out of grad school? Hell no! But I had to start. Because the only way you can know whether or not you’re ready to do something is to actually do it.

How many times have you heard a success story about someone who just jumped into a profession without really knowing what they were doing? Stories like that are SO annoying! We often jealously chalk stories like that up to coincidence and luck. But the main difference between that person and the rest of us, is that that person had the humility to accept that didn’t know what they were doing and the courage to just dive in and learn as they went.

When we say we’re not ready, what we’re really saying is that we’re afraid. Probably afraid of screwing up, being seen, or being judged and criticized. We’re afraid of what it will do to us when we get right up close to our dreams. It’s scary to pursue a dream. What if you fail? What if it turns out you don’t like it? Then what?

It’s scary to show people your art. It puts you in a very vulnerable spot. You open yourself up to SO much. Think about all the hating and judging you see from your friends on social media every day. We live in a culture of constant criticism. So that fear you feel? Totally valid. 

But it’s not an excuse to limit yourself.

I know you’re afraid. I know you don’t feel ready. But I also know you’ve got something amazing and uniquely you to share with the world. Someone out there is waiting for it. They want to read it, see it, hear it, smell it, taste it. Someone is ready to be thrilled, moved, and inspired by you. Gather your courage, balls, ovaries, chutzpah, whatever you want to call it, and start now.

And when you get afraid of what people will say when you show them what you’ve got, keep this incredible quote from Theodore Roosevelt in mind:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”

I’m ready to see YOU. 

I challenge you to do something courageous today. Share something you’ve made, something you’re working on, or even just the start of your creative journey on Instagram with the hashtag #courageouscreatives and tag me @empoweringcreatives. I may even repost what you have to share.

Or share your work, links, images, writings, thoughts, ramblings, whatever you’d like in the comments below.

You’ll never be truly ready, so you might as well start now.

5 WAYS TO STOP CARING WHAT PEOPLE THINK

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I talk to myself. All the time. If you see me walking down the street alone, you’ll probably see me talking to myself. It’s how I plan and process ideas. If it stays in my head and doesn’t come out of my mouth, it’s not tangible to me. It’s just the way I work.

I know I look crazy, but it’s not really something I can stop doing.

I also run into things and fall. All the time. I’ve had many a friend laugh at my stumbles over the years. I’ve actually got great balance, just no spatial awareness. The other day, I twisted my ankle walking down unfamiliar steps because I was reading my email. I fell, cursed, checked my ankle (it was fine), and then looked around immediately to see if anyone saw me. No signs of life. Hooray! Just then a security guard walked up and said, “Are you ok, Ma’am?” I laughed and said, “Oh, I’m just learning the lesson: Don’t look at your phone while walking down stairs.” He laughed, too and we went our separate ways.

Now, I could walk around for the rest of the day thinking about this incident. I could be mortified and beat myself up about how dumb it was, how much of an idiot I am, and how I should pay better attention, damnit! Or I can learn the lesson, laugh at myself, acknowledge that I’m a human being who makes mistakes (that security guard is human, too, by the way), and move on with my life. I choose the latter.

Because it’s a choice.

But the choice isn’t, “Care or don’t care about what other people think.” The choice is really, “Love and trust myself or don’t.”

I know I’m not crazy. I know I’m not an idiot. So why would I care if someone else thinks I am because of some momentary interaction?

Is this choice always easy? HELL NO. It takes a lot of time and practice. This is especially true if you’ve spent most of your life valuing external opinions and devaluing your own, relentlessly chiding yourself when you make a mistake, are in a bad mood, or fail at something. In the therapeutic world, we call this “negative self-talk” and in my opinion it’s one of the best places to begin when you want to stop caring so much about what others think.

So, how do you get rid of negative self-talk? I’ve got some suggestions…

1. Look at the actual evidence

Are you really an idiot who can’t get anything done? Or are you a person who screws something up every once in awhile? When we’ve done something wrong, get embarrassed, or someone criticizes us we often feel shame. Not guilt, but shame. As the researcher Brené Brown has noted, guilt tells us “I’ve done something bad”, while shame says, “I am bad.” Big difference there. That voice saying, “You’re stupid! What were you thinking! They’re all gonna laugh at you!” is shame. Give shame a reality check. Are you really dumb? Nope. Are they really all gonna laugh you? Nah. (Unless you’re a comedian and you want them to. But even then, not everyone is gonna laugh. Sorry.) When you look at the evidence, you’ll probably find that much of it is contrary to that nasty negative self-talk. If you have trouble finding that better evidence, keep digging. It’s there. I know it.

2. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend

I say this one all the time, but it bears repeating. If you really can’t seem to talk to yourself in a helpful, loving way then think about how you would talk to a friend who was in your situation. Would you say hateful, mean things to your friend, calling them stupid over and over again and dwelling on their mistakes? Or would you try to comfort them, contradict their shame, and offer to help out? My guess is you’d choose the second option (if you’d do the first, I doubt you’d be reading this blog). So why do you deserve any different? Because you know better? Because you just should be perfect all the time? Nonsense. Why should you be perfect when everyone else gets to make mistakes? Talk to yourself in that same comforting, reasonable voice you talk to your friends with. You might not believe it at first. It’ll probably feel weird. Do it anyway. Just try it a few times and see what happens.

3. Forgive yourself

YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING. I’m sorry, but you’re not a robot. Not yet… You are imperfect and you always will be. None of us are perfect. What even is a perfect person, anyway? If you think about it, the opinions on perfection vary pretty widely. So how can you possibly live up to anyone’s expectations? Be you and when you screw up, and you will, forgive yourself. Sometimes that even means forgiving yourself for talking to yourself badly.

My father died in May after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. This last year, I was just not myself a lot of the time. It was hard to function normally. I made some mistakes in that time and I’ve worked hard on forgiving myself for them. Recently my energy healer (yes, I’ve got one of those) said, “You might need to forgive yourself for judging yourself.” That was hard to wrap my head around. But really, it’s about forgiving myself for that negative self-talk. Because sometimes when we catch ourselves talking to ourselves badly, we can then get down on ourselves for getting down on ourselves! Isn’t that ridiculous? Just writing that sentence feels ridiculous. So, when you hear that negative self-talk, shut it down and try not to judge yourself for judging yourself. Forgive yourself. It’s ok. You’re human.

4. Find the lessons

Talking nice to yourself doesn’t mean you get to get away with not learning anything. Life is trial and error. When you make a mistake, think about how the mistake was made, and then decide whether you want to make it again. Error is useful, but you get no use out of focusing on the error and freaking out about it. Stop, look at what happened, learn the lesson, and try again. I like to think of my computer engineer brother who essentially figures out how errors occur for a living. Understanding how something happened is useful, but you can’t learn if you’re stuck in a shame sprial. Like I said when I fell down those stairs, “Whelp, that’s why you don’t walk and stare at your phone at the same time.” It’s a lesson – a funny one – and that’s all it has to be.

5. Remember: No one really cares what you do

It’s a paradox: People are watching and they aren’t. Most people are so wrapped up in their own lives that they really aren’t paying much attention to what you’re doing. But when they do notice and say something, it’s helpful to trust and love yourself, so it’s easier to brush it off. Because…

When you’re more centered within yourself, you’re less likely to get thrown around by the opinions and actions of others.

Now I want to hear from YOU! How does negative self-talk affect your opinion of yourself? What helps you let go of how others think of you? How can you apply these steps to your creative work? Leave a comment or question and I’ll be so happy to answer.

The problem with being creative & intelligent

HOLY CRAP I MADE A VLOG.

I was writing my blog for this month, again talking about vulnerability and connection and it just wasn’t feeling really exciting for me. It didn’t feel right, but I figured I was just in a mood or something and I would post it anyway.

Then yesterday, it hit me: How can I ask people to be really vulnerable when I’m not willing to do it myself? Whoa. I’d been considering doing video for awhile, but I had tons of excuses as to why I hadn’t done it, yet. The truth is: I was afraid. And for a multitude of reasons (maybe you’ll identify with some of them when it comes to your important work): fear of criticism, fear of being seen, fear of being more successful, oh and the ever-present “fraud police” – Who the hell do I think I am?” But yesterday I quieted those voices down a bit, put my phone in my office window, and hit record.

So, here’s my vlog all about how, despite how amazing you are, I know it can get lonely being highly creative and intelligent. No matter what, we’re human and humans need other people. Here’s how you make meaningful connections (hint: you have to put yourself out there.)

This was a scary one for me, folks. Really putting MYSELF out there.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the loneliness of being creative and how you take risks to be fully you and make connections.

Also – do you want to see more vlogs? Now that I’ve taken the big leap, I’m perfectly happy to make more in the future. Let me know what you want to hear about!

Share in the comments below, on my Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Remember, you’re not dysfunctional, you’re creative and you are awesome!

xo

Lauren