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Modern Dating With Integrity

(And without losing your freaking mind and faith in humanity)

by Coach Holly Coneway, M.Ed. LPC, BCC

I had a very eye-opening moment while watching a movie on Netflix a couple of nights ago. There was a scene in which a man approached a woman at a bar to strike up a conversation. She chatted with him for a few seconds and then annoyedly said something along the lines of “watch my finger” as she swiped left in front of his face. He was understandably confused and taken aback and asked what the gesture meant. She laughed in his face, rolled her eyes, and hissed something like, “You don’t know what it means to get swiped left on? It means I’m not interested. Leave me alone!” The whole scene was just terrible... Mean-spirited, cruel, devastating, confusing and wrought with all of the emotional turmoil so many of us know all too well when it comes to the world of modern dating.

In this land of apps, hook-ups, and subtle signals it can be easy to get so  lost in it all that you lose sight of what your original intention was for downloading the app or signing up for the site.

 

Dating was once a fun way to meet new people and have new experiences as you got a clearer and clearer picture of what you are looking for in a potential life partner. I fear that all too often this original definition and intention behind dating is becoming obsolete and is leaving the self-worth and happiness of an entire generation in its wake of destruction. It is my hope that these 10 tips can remind you of your why and bring back some of the fun and intentionality to modern dating:

1. Know your values and your vision.

Downloading the app(s) without a strong sense of who you are and what you want can be a recipe for disaster. Time after time, people will sign up for a site or download an app with little to no sense of what they are bringing to the table as a potential partner and even less sense of what they want or need out of one. Having this very clear picture of who you are and what you want will definitely make you LESS APPEALING and you will probably have LESS MATCHES and go on LESS DATES but THAT’S A GOOD THING! Having a clear vision/values is a natural filtering process and only those who align with your vision will make it through your filter. In the same vein that living a minimalistic lifestyle is appealing, so is having a clear vision of your values and what you want/need out of a partner and relationship. Sure there will be less options, but the options you do have are all highly appealing and life-giving as opposed to having tons of options that are not in-line with your values and simply suck away your time, energy and self-worth.

 

2. Speaking of self-worth

This process of having your entire life’s worth judged on the look of your face, the shape of your body, and the content of your teeny profile is absolutely wrekcing people. If you are one of the millions of people who use online/swiping dating as their primary form of dating...you have a responsibility. You have a responsibility to both yourself and your fellow humans traveling this journey with you. We are all trying to write and figure out the rules for this journey as we bumble through it together. We are all building the plane as we are flying it. If you think about it, there is no one dictating the rules or norms for navigating this new world... WE are creating them! So, here's a call to action: Let’s create them in a way that does not do damage to our fellow humans’ self-worth. No matter what the landscape might call for, YOU have the power to decide how you immerse yourself in it. Of course, people have their likes/dislikes and you will not be attracted to everyone, but hold yourself to a high standard if that's what you want in return. Do not ghost people. Do not make snarky remarks about people’s looks or height or weight. Do not ask people who the cute friend in their pictures is and if they are single. The same goes for the way you talk to yourself throughout this journey. Be kind to yourself. Do not take it personally if you don’t have as many matches as you might like. Do not assume you did something wrong if you don’t hear back from someone. Don’t judge your entire worth on the look of your face, the shape of your body, or the content of your teeny profile. If you are a genuinely kind and honest human, doing your best to live in integrity and spread decency in the world...know that and remember that when you are swiping! Be nice… to yourself and to others!

 

3. Remember that your online self is still your offline self... Act the same!

All too often, the format of the app(s) causes our brains to think of our online self/our dating self as some other entity than our work self, our social self or our true self. A great way to combat this mental dissonance is to set standards for your behavior that feel good to you and don’t harm others. When you are first getting to know someone, be appropriate! Most people would never dream of, for example, walking up to a stranger and, within a few minutes, asking them to take their clothes off or pulling down their pants and showing their goods, but our online selves often feel invicible and bold, empowered by the anonymity the screen and physical distance provides us. By that same token. If someone you have a casual acquintanceship walked up to you and said hello in real life, you would say hello back. But often out online/dating/texting selves forget this and feel like its ok to just not speak when someone speaks to us. That’s rude! Just communicate. Be kind. Tell people if you have lost interest or met someone else, just like you would do if you saw them in real life.

 

4. Too many choices is crippling/unmanageable

A lot of times the failure to behave like our offline personas would/want to is due to the high volume of communication expected to keep up an active online dating life. How can we possibly remember to text and message and send a pic and ask for a number and follow on IG and accept a friend request on Facebook and on and on when we are talking to too many people at once? There is only so much communication and connection one person can manage. Between work, family, and friends you are already managing a ton of relationships, so it serves us well to be mindful about how many more we can realistically take on and handle in a way that lets us connect and interact in a way that feels authentic to ourselves. I know it can be tempting to get swipe-happy and to play the numbers game when you first get online and are overwhelmed with so many potential suitors in one place, but take a deep breath and remember that 100 undernourished, underdeveloped  conversations/connections will end up being more of a source of frustration than 1 or 2 well-managed, well-nourished ones.

 

5. Remember that the face on your screen is a real person who you want to meet IRL

One of the main problems I see occuring in the land of swiping is that people linger too long before taking the relationship offline. It begins to atrophy and die before it even begins. Even the smoothest of talkers and greatest of conversationalist will sputter out and stall when having to communicate with a stranger via the app for too long. Keep it in the front of your mind that this bubble you are messaging with is an actual human that, hopefully, you want to meet in real life on a date (you are both on dating apps after all… remember that the date is the intention… not wasting hours and days messaging back and forth). So, as soon as you have a pretty good idea that this person is not a serial killer and sounds like someone you'd actually vibe with, make a plan for a real, in-person date ASAP!

Pro tip: make sure you call this person at some point before you go on this date. I know, I know… who makes phone calls anymore?! But you really can tell a lot about a person from a quick phone call. You can hear their voice, begin to gauge if you have anything to talk about, start testing out/creating the chemistry between the two of you.

 

6. Over-communicate before, during, and after

As alluded to above, getting to in-person communication sooner rather than later could really help this new little seed of a relationship to take root. This person you are beginning a connection with is probably a complete stranger, so you should have SO MUCH to talk about! Before your first date, make a plan and make sure the other person knows and is totally comfortable with the plan. People love clarity. The decisiveness and ability to make and communicate a fun plan will really make you stand out in the crowd! On the date, bring your active-listening and genuine curiosity skills with you. Ask a lot of questions. Get to know this person. Be truly curious about them. Really listen to their answers. If you do these things, you will be pleasantly surprised how un-awkward the conversation can be. Remember that people love to talk about themselves, so ask more questions and do more listening than you do talking. If the initial conversation is flowing, take things deeper and begin to ask them about their expectations, hopes, fears, and plans for their life and for their relationships. Remember that the communication isn’t over just because the date is, though. If you had fun and want to see this person again.. Tell them that! If you didn’t feel the connection or you’re getting friend vibes… Tell them that! If you are confused and not sure where to go from here… Tell them that! If there is one thing that will make you stand out in this massive sea of potential mates it is communication: making and communicating a plan before the date, really talking and genuinely listening on the date, and making post-date ghosting a hard-no will all help make this process much smoother, clearer, and more fun!

 

7. Be mindful of your alcohol intake

With all the emotion and confusion surrounding modern dating, it is not at all surprising that most first dates involve alcohol in some way. However, more often than not, when people have too much to drink they let all of the things their logical brain knows and wants be washed away with each swig. You can have all the intentions, standards, and communication skills on the planet, but its all for naught if you drink too much. When you let alcohol dictate the date, one or both of you will almost inevitably drink too much and compromise your standards and/or behaviors in some way. Then you find yourself in a position where the whole fledgling relationship is off to a shaky and uncertain start. You aren’t sure if you actually had butterflies or you were just tipsy, aren’t quite sure if you were super attracted to them or you had on beer goggles. Mindful dating is a wonderful thing and it can be a great practice to remember right as you are about to have that pre-date glass of wine or order another cocktail with your potential new mate.

 

8. Be open

As difficult and confusing as modern dating can be, it can also be worth it! There are millions of people using these apps/sites. It has never in history been so easy to meet so many people… the odds are in your favor! All too often, people feel leary of online dating (definitely still be cautious) or make sweeping generalizations about everyone on the apps (“they just want to hook up” or “its weird” or “it never works for anyone”) and, in my opinion, these are excuses people make to deal with the confusion and discomfort that comes up when they think of trying to navigate this sea of possibility. If we let the overwhelm and confusion win, if we shut down and isolate so we don’t have to deal with it all, we may end up without the meaningful romantic relationship we seek. We have to be open (to both the pain and the possibility) if we ever want to get to the relationship we envision for ourselves. There was a hilarious, yet poignant, meme floating around a few years ago that said, “The only person you are ever going to meet staying home in your pajamas is the person who breaks in to steal your TV.” It’s so true! I talk to people all the time who desperately want to be married, yet are not dating at all. How does that work? A lot of us know the discipline and process it takes to achieve a long-term goal. We know that we have to take  small, daily actions that lead us toward the bigger picture goals in our lives… dating is no different. Get out there and meet people. You never know how it might end up!

 

9. Support each other!

Dating is fun and funny and sad and inherently kind of messy. Remind yourself often that dating is intended to be that time in our lives where we can be young and free and spontaneous… open to all the possibilities and adventures that lay ahead. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but remember that you are one of truly millions of people trying to figure this all out… you are not alone! How many great movies and shows have we seen that have groups of friends sitting around for hours dissecting and discussing their dating lives… sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Follow in their footsteps! Seek support and community with other people who are navigating all of this with you. Tell your funny first-date stories, ask for advice when you feel stuck, offer encouragement to others who are trying to figure all this out, seek support when something sad or confusing happens. Even better… talk to your dates about it all! Who better to empathize than someone living it too. Talking about dating with your dates is a great way to bond, get to know one another, and gain some great insight into where their head and heart are emotionally when it comes to dating and relationships.

 

10. HAVE FUN!

Most importantly… remember that this is all fun! Take full advantage of this time of freedom in your life. Not everyone you meet on the apps/sites is intended to be your romantic life partner. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a super fun and interesting person to get to know and learn from. As long as you are following the tips above and communicating openly with the person you meet, there is no harm in using this time to try new things, make cool memories, make some new friends, grow your network, etc, etc… the possibilities are endless when you take some of the pressure, stress, and confusion away from it.

HAVE FUN and HAPPY SWIPING!

 

>> If your friend's advice isn't getting you anywhere enlightening, we're happy to get you some smart and expert hoorah on your side to help you navigate life and relationships. It makes our hearts happy to help people live deeply and meaningfully. You can book online with us here for a session or free 15 minute consult with us.

 

The case for the technology purge

Written by: Dr. B

A few months ago I made the decision to have Technology Purge Sundays. I walked into Verizon and asked them to help me set up my new Blackberry which would serve as my red phone; the emergency line should someone need me or I fall into a hole. They were intrigued by the request and poked at it with a stick as they tried to recall how in the world to set one of these up. I was buying my sanity back and incurring the additional monthly cost as my self-imposed tax for quality life.

My Blackberry has changed my freaking life.

 

Just as vulnerable as anyone else, I'm the quintessential tech junkie. This became most apparent the first few weeks of my experiment when I would reach out for my phantom phone, horrified at my impulsive reflex to reach for it first thing in the morning and any breadth of pause longer than 10 seconds. My Blackberry was only a hair better than those phone surrogates that came out a while back. "Here, hold this black weighty brick so it feels like you're holding the real thing." My arm would spasm out and recoil back in sad, horrified recognition that I was, indeed, left to be with myself. WTF. This is exactly the kind of wild-haired idea I'd sign myself up for. 

I bought myself an iPod to accompany me with the specific purpose of music, podcasts, and audiobooks with no other apps to entice me with.

The mental difference between that and just putting my iPhone on airplane or Do Not Disturb was enormous. I was cut off. The possibility didn't even exist. My Sundays are now my most precious days. I sit in my backyard with my headphones on as I listen to books that have been rotting away on my reading list; looking at the trees and tanning under the hot Texas sun with my sweating mason jar of lemonade beside me. It's absolutely delicious.

This Sunday, the extra brain space prompted me to look around and pick up a book I bought at Barnes and Noble last Christmas that's now turned into decor on my bedside table. It's the latest book by David Sedaris; a compilation of diary entries called Theft by Finding. I cracked that baby open and took a peruse. Journaling is one of those things I do off and on.  Reading Sedaris' entries inspired me and reminded me of why I enjoy the practice so much. He mentioned his observation of a stranger eating a sandwich with his eyes closed and how freaking captivating he found it. I've missed having the bandwidth to see more of that kind of sh*t. Observation is one of my favorite past times. It's what's always kept me happy and in the moment.

As a culture, I'm afraid we're fostering an environment for ourselves that leaves us restless and infuses a sneaking sensation of unfulfillment via lost hours of life (that are snatched in 15 minute increments) and subtle messages regarding other people's successes versus our own.

When I'm mid technology purge, I don't seek out to do more with my time. My Sundays rather, are about the opposite. They're about doing less. But once the noise is gone I'm left with nothing but myself and less obvious opportunities soon present themselves to me in tiny, meaningful packages.

>> So here's my invitation for you. For the sake of fostering a new type of environment that doesn't subtly suck you dry of time and spirit:

1. Take on a technology purge.

Whether that's putting your phone on Do Not Disturb and leaving it in another room entirely or going more out-there like me (note: that's not because I'm more extreme, it's just because I know my impulse control and prefer to not have the option to slip back into old patterns). Limit yourself to activities that bring you true enjoyment. That could be music, cooking, writing, reading, or similar activities that move positive emotions and pull more creative and engaged thought. That's part of my hunch with technology's effect on our mood: we're doing something and nothing simultaneously. As human beings, we feel more fulfilled when our mind has the room to open, chew on things, and build. It allows us to ponder and engage more creatively.

2. Engage in 5 minutes of sense and savoring throughout your day.

One of my girlfriends is a psychologist and we went on a camping trip together last year. She had just come back from a week long retreat on mindfulness and thought it would be fun to do an exercise together (because mindfulness is awesome and we're nerds for psychology). The activity is to put away your phone and for 5 minutes, you tune into your 5 senses. That means bringing your awareness to what you see, hear, smell, feel, and maybe even taste. Once I stopped judging myself for how silly we probably looked as we meandered in the woods, I was amazed by what unfolded in front of me. All of a sudden I noticed the texture of the bark and the gorgeous variations of color in each portion of the tree in front of me. The bird song became more distinct and melodious. My body softened and joy came pouring in in the form of awe. Now, anytime I notice I'm going a mile a minute, I slow down and give myself 5 minutes. Whether that's to eat lunch or listen to the rain outside on the back porch with my dog. They invite contentment and bliss into my life. My 5 minutes of sense and savoring are some of my favorite moments of the day.

3. Make a list of the people you'd connect with and things you'd do if you had more time (and then refer to it).

When I feel like I'm piddling around doing nothing, I have a list I go to that helps me re-focus my attention on something I actually want to be cultivating. So when I notice I'm scrolling, I remember, "Hey, B, there's this cool new relationship you want to nurture, why don't you go ask them to coffee instead?" or "Hey, remember that time you said you wanted to be like Blues Traveler and learn how to play the harmonica like a boss? Why don't you grab that ol' thing and give it a whirl much to your husband's delight?" Sometimes we need grounding. Sometimes we need redirection.

4. Keep a journal to note your observations every day.

This practice will prime you to slow down and reflect. It's also really fun to read back as it jogs all kinds of memories that would otherwise get lost and pruned away for more important neural connections like who got into a beef with who in the latest season of Real Housewives. Write down your observations for the day. What you noticed. The moments that brought you contentment. It's something to read when we're old so we can remember that yes, we lived and it was freaking beautiful amidst all the grief and all the hard that comes with living. Or you can read it next week because we forget things REALLY quickly.

So give yourself a moment, or heck, even a day. DAYS of just being with yourself are the most incredible. No more neglect. No more sneaky sadness when your cup runs dry and you don't know how. Take on the technology purge. I'm curious to see what unfolds for you in unexpected ways. 

To the well lived life,

Dr. B

 

Read more about us and our work with people navigating life here

How much drinking is too much drinking?

Written by: Phil Landry

As a therapist, I hear the struggle to determine this line often. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, there are research-backed levels of drinking that predict whether someone is low- or high-risk for having or developing a problem with alcohol.  For women, low-risk drinking is having no more than 7 drinks per week and no more than 3 drinks on any day. For men, low-risk drinking is having no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks on any day.  If someone drinks more than the single day or weekly drinking limits, then they have a 25% chance of already struggling with medically significant alcohol problems. For some perspective, 9% of American adults drink more than both the single-day and weekly limits, and 19% of American adults drink more than either the single-day or weekly limits.  

Oftentimes, clients are surprised when I share these numbers with them. 

They can see that their drinking puts them in the high-risk category, but they have never considered that their drinking may be causing them problems worth checking into.  For others, these numbers give them permission to accept what they have suspected deep down - that their drinking is at a problematic level. I have seen this statistic motivate people to stop drinking, at least temporarily, ON THE SPOT.  I love the power of sharing research with my clients!

If you are thinking about whether it may be worth addressing your alcohol use and you are curious if psychotherapy could help, I want you to consider whether you relate to the following statements:

- you seem to only get in fights with your partner when you have been drinking

- you feel a creeping sensation to hide the amount you drink from your partner/family/friends

- you binge drink (even just a few times a year) even though you intend not to or blackout

- you are worried about how often you go to work hungover

- you engage in other behaviors like infidelity, drug use, or riskier actions only when you drink

- you feel an underlying, chronically blue sensation and have always wondered if your drinking contributes

- you drink and drive even though you know you should not

- you feel most motivated to hang out with people if drinking is involved

- you no longer engage in other activities you enjoy outside of drinking

- you have tried to cut back on your drinking before and you always seem to increase your drinking again, or you have had symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure when you stop drinking.
 

How many of these did you resonate with? 2? 3? 5? It is normal to feel afraid of talking about alcohol use with a therapist, but with all the benefits that come with it, I encourage you to push through and do so anyway!  On the other side of addressing a negative relationship with alcohol can be new levels of energy, a deepened sense of meaning and purpose, improved intimacy in relationships, increased physical health, and rediscovery of parts of yourself that have been numbed by alcohol.  I am inspired over and over by the courage of my clients who come in to address their alcohol use and the look of pride they develop after they do the work to understand why their relationship with alcohol has become problematic.

In my view, walking into a therapist's office in the midst of a culture absolutely saturated with glamorization of distraction and numbness through alcohol use, is a tremendous act of self-love.  You are worth it.

 

Read more on our work with alcohol, addiction(ish), and escapism and see how to get in contact with us here

Mo' Feelings, Mo' Problems?

My husband was interviewed a long time ago when he was first starting his company. It was his first time speaking on a podcast and he was in the early stages of his work. There was a point where the interviewer asked how he was able to be so successful when he was dealing with the challenges that come with building a company and working with family. I remember it clearly, "I just take the emotion out of it." In the moment I was like, "WHAT?" Who can just "take the emotion out of it," just like that? This was years ago and I was still in the stages of exploring whether my husband might be a robot or just really out of touch with his feelings. If you're wondering, it's true. We enter this field to help heal other people's problems and our own.

We were eating dinner the other night and I brought it up. We both had a good laugh. "Yeeaaah, that was wrong", he says. Since that interview, we've experienced plenty of growth with many emotions to accompany it. I brought it up because I was remembering how absurd and spectacular it sounded. "Wouldn't that be nice?", I fantasized mid-chew. "If I could just cut this knot out of the center of my chest, that would be amaaaaaziiiiiiing." I can't even remember what it was, but clearly, something had been stressful that day and I really wanted to put down my emotions the same way I put down my keys. My husband has owned his own life path and company for a few years more than I have. He looks at me and goes,

"If you're going to do your own thing, it never stops. You just get better at it." 

 

My mind wanted to latch onto the "it never stops" part. But my soul could feel relief in the truth that "you just get better at it." I had witnessed the evidence of that first hand. It made me remember that my coach had asked me to list my greatest accomplishments of 2017 and one of them was: I effectively held my emotions and human ego in self-compassion. I gave myself a well deserved pat on the back for all the dang work I put into being aware of my emotions so I could let unhelpful feelings simmer and keep my focus on my big audacious goals. 

One thing I hear a lot from my clients is a desire to tame their emotions so they don't get overrun by them. They want less reactivity when they run into issues with their partners, they want to sleep better after a difficult interaction at work, and they want to doubt themselves less when it comes to stepping outside of their comfort zone. Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine who is an ambitious business owner and entrepreneur about how he has managed to evolve in his capacity to move through emotions when having difficult conversations at work:

 "The feelings don't go away, but you just get more comfortable having that feeling and operating anyway. You just don't get frozen or paralyzed about it. You just feel that stuff and do it anyway. You start to think, 'I've been here before, I've felt this before, and I've gotten through it.' It's never like, 'I just love having to be the asshole that holds people accountable!' Just because I don't like it and it's uncomfortable doesn't mean I don't do it."

 

Whoa. HOW KILLER IS THAT?? I immediately started writing that down as a reminder to both myself and every other human being on this planet. I know the truth of this incredibly well, but some things you just have to hear a thousand times before it starts to sink in. The feeling can seriously suck sometimes, but it's just a feeling. It will pass and you will get through it. Just because it feels sh*tty and annoying, don't let temporary emotions stop you from moving into places of growth that require discomfort. 

If you're wondering about how to start a new process in your relationship with your feelings, start with working on becoming aware of them. Therapy is like strength training. It's a process and you build up over time. We start by helping you better understand your mind, how you tick, and gain new strategies for how to engage with your world. As a team at Modern Therapy, we're huge advocates of mindfulness and talk a lot about strengthening our client's capacity to be the "Observing Self." If you want to start settling down the emotions that come up for you, begin a practice of gently noticing what you're experiencing. This will help you cultivate a healthy capacity to recognize what's moving inside of you. That way, you can make a more conscientous response rather than dive head first into reactivity. It's an absolute practice and it requires a shift in your mental lifestyle. The practice doesn't mean your feelings go away, they'll just become less severe and distressing in your experience of them. Your core self will remain intact as you notice the experiences that move around you. It's no surprise so many ambitious and driven people take the time to meditate every day. They have bigger sh*t to deal with.

If you're a skeptic of the mindfulness meditaiton movement, here's a final point to bring it home. I was reading an interesting dialogue last week by The Atlantic between Matthieu Ricard, a molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk, and Wolf Singer, a neuroscientist as they discussed their new book, Beyond the Self:

"So far, the results of the studies conducted with trained meditators indicate that they have the faculty to generate clean, powerful, well-defined states of mind, and this faculty is associated with some specific brain patterns. Mental training enables one to generate those states at will and to modulate their intensity, even when confronted with disturbing circumstances, such as strong positive or negative emotional stimuli. Thus, one acquires the faculty to maintain an overall emotional balance that favors inner strength and peace."

Sounds pretty epic to me and a solid encourager to get back on my daily meditation practice. On that note, a mindful break is calling my name.

Yes feelings, less problems.

- Dr. B

 

Resilience and the Houstonian

"We did this for you." - Jose Altuve

"We needed this." [insert explosion of emotion] - Houston

I've never been much of a sports fan aside from my Love of community and socially appropriate excuses to yell excitedly about things. I noticed something weird start to happen to me sometime after Hurricane Harvey and the world catching on fire in a hundred different ways. With so much stress swirling in the air, I got this odd desire to watch sports. Outside of my Love for therapy and home, my number of f*cks to give was maxed out. There was too much to process. My natural response to regulate myself was literally, "For the Love of all things holy, I just want to sit here and watch someone throw a ball around." That would make me content. What's awesome is that while this was naturally going on for me, I watched an old video of Astros' Justin Verlander as he was making his transition to Houston. He specifically wanted to give us something to rally for and look forward to during this time of distress. He's not alone in recognizing the challenging times that have gone on in Houston this year. It's no secret that other players have kept photos of Hurricane Harvey devastation in their lockers as a reminder and motivator that kept them going. The game became something much larger than themselves.

Baseball became our city's therapy and source to channel our energy. #HoustonStrong became #HoustonStronger and I'm NERDING OUT over here at every turn. I was absolutely fascinated by this team and how they moved through adversity. Post the most epic game 5 of all time, Alex Bregman shared their mindset: "It was 0-4... we had our backs against the wall so we got together in the dugout and thought, 'why not play loose?.'" WTH DOES THAT MEAN??? I wanted to reach through the TV and grab the interviewers mic so Breg and I could dig into things. While I'm not sure what he meant, I was amazed by this team's capacity to tap into laughter and playfulness throughout the entirety of the World Series. While Kershaw was turning into a ball of tension and grief in the Dodgers' dugout, our 'Stros were getting nailed, refocusing, and recovering quickly. Altuve wasn't beating himself up to death after losing game 6, he was laughing his buns off while singing "ain't nothing but a heartache" to the Backstreet Boys. There was no need to stress anymore, it wouldn't serve them. It was time to let loose, support their bodies, and recharge for the next obstacle.

This, ladies and gentlepeople, is what we call resilience.

Our 'Stros modeled it beautifully for us. They came in grounded and strong as hell with a huge 'WHY' anchoring every powerful move. What they were doing extended beyond themselves and provided a greater meaning every day. They didn't just get up in the morning for themselves. They did it for their team, their fellow Houstonians, and for many, the calling they felt Created for. It brings to mind one of my favorite people to grace this universe, psychiatriast Viktor Frankl, who lived through WWII concentration camps and would often quote Nietzsche: "a [man] with a 'why' can bear almost any 'how.'" When we have a reason to move forward, whether that be family, what we create through our work, or another larger goal, meaning that extends beyond us becomes a powerful force to will us on.

They also seemed to master stress like Buddha meets Latin bro. In psychology, we look at optimal stress levels. Stress isn't a bad thing in itself. It's just a thing that serves a purpose. In many ways, it's actually good. It's our body readying itself for action. Having a negative relationship to it and experiencing too much of it for too long is where we start to run into trouble. We have to be super intentional and attuned to ourselves so we can listen to our stress, honor it, and give ourselves the mental grace we need to breathe and let go when it no longer serves us. The same way someone might train their physical body for the World Series, we can train to withstand adversity as we harness skills in relaxation, body movement, and positive self-talk to get back into that optimal zone.  

They had trust and faith that hardship was temporary and they were stronger than the immediate moment. You could see the look of frustration when Altuve would roar it out like a panther on the field, but he didn't seem to let it eat away at him as a person. This appeared evident in his capacity to flash a genuine smile shortly after. He seemed flustered at the behavior which could be improved, not himself as a faulty person. It reminds me of a model from Martin Seligman, a positive psychologist who breaks down a great model to help us move more effectively through hardship. He says, be mindful of the 3 P's; Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence. Basically, don't internalize this too hard as a personal fault, be careful to not let this feeling spread to a more general feeling of sucking across all areas of your life (you goofed, you're not terrible at life), and remember that this won't follow you around at this acute level forever. Even more importantly, you can grow. As Altuve reiterated, "believe in the process." You might not be where you want to be today, but just take it a day at a time, keep leaning in, and you'll improve. 

When hardship is bringing you down, give yourself some space to let loose as counter-intuitive as it may seem. Take a breather and remember to not get so hard on yourself when the chips are down. Remember that it's only a heartache and remember that you will get through to the other side in time. Also, remember to dance. A good shimmy is always a great idea.

Thank you, boys, for this incredible gift of joy and triumph. We needed it. 

Now let's celebrate our 'Stros and each other for this incredible year of challenge and the spirit we carry within us to overcome always. Houston, I literally Love you.

To the moon and back,

Dr. B

 

Man Talk.

"So do men like... I don't know... talk to each other about what they're feeling?" My father-in-law from the Deep South that is Meridian, Mississippi, burst into laughter. Like from the gut, how-is-that-even-a-sincere-question type of laugh. He had just gotten back from a hunting trip. I mean I don't know, I can only assume there will be whiskey and a fire burning at some point. He had shared stories of the old days and smoking peyote out in West Texas. The man has some soul to him. Surely some sort of depth conversation would arise. Instead, I might as well have been asking about how his tap-dancing lessons were going. 

WTF do men do with their feelings? Seriously? I was raised with two older brothers. All 3 years apart,  I was raised right: on Nirvana, sarcasm, and an epic ability to cram my emotions down into the ground. Just bury that crap down into the earth, ya know? Next to the dead hamsters of our childhood. It took me ages to figure out how to sort through my emotions and talk about them in a healthy way. I literally didn't have a clue how to do that. I think it's partly why I got along better with men in my younger years. We were awesome at having fun and avoiding the intimacy that comes with emotional openness. That thing that requires, UGH... vulnerability. At most we might get to a "hey, we cool? Ok cool." I remember asking my husband what he thought about vulnerability. He hated it. "Isn't that the same as weakness?", he asked.  "NO", I blurted out in a Tourette's-like fashion through sadness, anger, and welled up eyes. It is most definitely not the same thing as weakness. Is that what our men think that is? This was getting too f*cked up for my liking. Tap dancing... Where do the feelings go?

I decided to take my investigation further. I asked the two closest men to my office. "I'm doing research on men and feelings." After having to clarify my request: yes, I did mean men AND feelings, I got down to some pretty prime answers: "Drunk?" I don't think that counts as an emotion, no. "I don't have emotions" was my other favorite response. I asked my husband about his feelings and he broke down my doctoral training in about 5 seconds flat: "happy, sad, horny, angry." I don't even think he took his eyes off of the Formula 1 race on our flat screen TV. He was actually not that far off at all. Our most recent research points to four basic emotions: Happy, sad, afraid/surprised, angry/disgusted with a plethora of emotions that stem off of this core. If we were to give our men 4 basic emotions that cut across all of humanity, we set them up for two, MAYBE three of these to be expressed. Anger would be a primary one and that's partly because anger is what happens when we bottle our emotions - all we can see is hot, ambiguous red. That's INSANITY. I feel about a thousand different emotions before I'm done with my Cheerios.

"Honestly, I try to talk about [my feelings] in a logical way but sometimes it just feels futile after a while."

 

I asked one of my male subjects with a sincere and overwhelming curiosity, "what are you feeling right now?" "Sweaty," he says with a wise ass grin. I smiled. It was a warm day I'll give him that. I tried again. I asked about what men do with their emotions. "Honestly, I try to talk about them in a logical way but sometimes it just feels futile after a while." It started to reach a what's-the-point barrier. I hear this kind of thing a lot from my men in therapy. They say that they try to communicate how they feel but they don't feel like it gets received well from their partners so they just shut down or as my other subject states, internalize. Crap. Is it possible that they're actually making more of an effort to show up than we're realizing? One thing that's played out in my own world is that I'm the one with all the feels. With few emotional needs being expressed on my partner's side, I recognized how easy it was for me to take up room for my own feelings. It was tempting as hell to bypass his emotions when they weren't in plain sight. It fueled a dynamic that didn't really suit either of us for the long term. After all, we're two happy, sad, horny, angry people. 

One of the men I was speaking with shared similar reflections after a serious romantic relationship came to an end. It made him think. "I realized my emotions were dictating my behavior and I just didn't want that to be the case anymore." The logic in this response made we want to explode on the inside with a mighty YES. "Did people talk about feelings in your family?", I asked. More laughter. That was a no. He learned from trial and error. His life experiences helped him learn about himself and it assisted him in prying it out of his (now) wife when she would use similar tactics. If only we could just shove our emotions in a jar and live in peace, right? 

"It's actually pretty hard to talk to other men about feelings. I don't know why. It's hard to explain."

 

The other problem was there was less of an opportunity to talk about emotions. Period. We give our women a bajillion more opportunities for expression. Mix that with hormones, societal norms, and neuroplasticity and you have two very different outcomes between men and women in the realm of emotion. My male subject continued, "it's actually pretty hard to talk to other men about feelings. I don't know why. It's hard to explain." The reality of this stinks in the worst way. I could give two craps about whether or not men get their emotional needs met via hunting, hashing it out in a journal, or what as long as they do it and do it in a way that brings real resolve to processing their experiences. They deserve that. WE deserve that.

If you're a human, it's in your best interest to know what you're feeling so you can make your best decisions and avoid unnecessary frustrations. Emotional intelligence also makes us more resilient so we not only make better decisions, we also bounce back faster. We learn to respond rather than react. In session, my men are absolutely amazing. They don't show their internal world to everyone but they are seriously incredible and if I'm being fully honest, it feels even more special because I understand how dang hard it is for our men to have a space for themselves to open up, get deep, and evolve at an emotional level. It's hard to grow in the dark.

>>> The things that helped these men open up about their feelings to others? A genuine desire to understand their experience and open-ended questions as opposed to criticism. They emphasized the criticism.

 

So how else can we help out our dudes? I got a big wake-up call when reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I can't remember it word-for-word, but what I took from it was this powerful image from Wizard of Oz. When our men finally pull back the curtain and do open up, don't just hop in there with your opinions, criticisms, or judgments. I've heard it from numerous men in my world. Their vulnerability means giving up a lot of power. It's an honest to God piece of who they are and they don't want to have it thrown back at them. I remembered my "NO" moment when I asked my husband about vulnerability and what that means to him. Was I inadvertently shaming my man when he finally opened up like I asked him to? Huh. Pinning that one on the board for further reflection on my part. The last thing I would ever want to do is invite my man to share more of himself just to come down hard on him. I watch my reactions more carefully now and don't make a big deal of things when he shows up. I validate and try to better understand where he's coming from. It's helpful for both of us.

The author of Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel (video here), also had some interesting insights. GOOD LORD I LOVE BEING A THERAPIST. We read the most fascinating things. When our men get such few forms of emotional expression in our society, the outlet of sexual expression can be a big one. Particularly as a female, my focus has been more on empowering women rather than men when it comes to sex for a plethora of obvious reasons. Sexual expression is a nonverbal avenue to show up, be vulnerable, and intimate with their partner. It's also why therapists explore underlying emotional disruptions when sexual dysfunction occurs. A lot of psychological baggage can manifest down under. Expectations abound and so do all of the pressures that come with performing. I hesitate to leave things there because sex is such a huge topic for all genders, but for the sake of focus here, vulnerability can show up massively in the bedroom and everyone's trying to figure out how to navigate that. The bedroom is a great place to create security and safety of expression. When called for, stroke that vulnerable ego (or whatever) and don't hesitate to verbalize what you want too. Intimacy is intimacy.

To the men out there: don't get left in the stone ages despite all of the ridiculous ways we set you up for it. There are more ways to deal with emotion than bottling things up, video games, or "stuffing it down with brown" at the bar. Making room for emotions will help you refine your own capacity to understand yourself and your relationships. It will help you in your happiness, in Love, success in business, and other personal areas. For the record, vulnerability is hard. Otherwise we wouldn't be burying our emotions. It might seem counter-intuitive, but understanding and sharing your feelings will actually help you be more in control and not dictated by the things crawling around in the basement. To the women and loved ones of men who struggle with emotional expression: your man probably isn't a sociopath and you're definitely not alone. It's just that the struggle is real. Let's do a better job of supporting each other. 

Warmly,

Dr. B

 

Let's Not Figure It All Out At Once

"I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom." - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Life is a beautifully complex, miraculous, bastard of a thing. It's funny. When I was in my early 20's it was my assumption that adults had things in order. After however many years on the planet, surely they had a grip on things. Right? I was mellowing into my well-adjusted 30's and discovered the truth: we are still learning the things. My 40-year-old friends insist that they are also still learning the things. They still experience episodes of cluelessness. Bouts of existential sadness and anxiety that wakes them in the darkness of the night. There are still chapters of their lives that are best titled, Beautiful Disaster. Well, that's hopeful. Just when you think "oh yeah, I got this" and laugh in life's silly face, you get reminded: adulting is hard. 

Many years ago, I was told by a master clinician of anxiety and depression to never ask a client to do anything I wouldn't be willing to do myself. I honestly don't know how hard he lived by that, but his words embedded themselves into the sternum of my ribcage. I have lived by them ever since. Therapists are people too. We Love, we hurt, we try, we fail, we f*ck up hard, we try again. As far as I'm concerned, it's part of my unwritten job description to live like hell so that it can best inform me how to attune to my clients' experiences in the world. I need to know life intimately if I'm going to do a lick of good. I need to bury my hands into my life and knead it into something I can be proud of. I need the self-awareness of a ninja. The kind of thing that can only be cultivated by life experience, intention, and an excellent therapist. 

I went to the Lumineers concert the other night. Kaleo opened up the show and they were absolutely epic. Knocked my socks off. I wasn't quite prepared for what the Lumineers brought. Like a surge, a flood of memories arose that I associated with particularly difficult times in my life. Times of loss. Times I've stumbled through my own mess. Times I've feared losing the things that mattered most in my life. Times I've suffered in the painful silence that high functioning people know all too well. They sang and I shivered in my seat as the words rang through my bones.

"don't hang your head, love should make you feel good"

A couple of girls danced in the pit; clearly having drank too much. They danced with a youthful freedom and clumsy innocence. I could recognize parts of myself in them. They looked like such happy little fools; suspended in their tiny world. My chest grew warm with compassion and sadness for the less wise parts of myself that had to learn some lessons the hard way. I looked at them with well wishes on their path as they danced in the dark like tonight was the only night that existed.

"Make your mothers proud"

I was sitting with someone close to my heart the other day as she sat in a pool of tears. She was in the middle of a time of growth - which is often cloaked in bad life choices and paired with things we didn't know. Things we couldn't have known until now. She ached for the clock to heal her heart. To get the learning over with already. Wisdom hurts and awareness isn't cheap. We've all paid the price. I thought of the liver spots on my therapist's hands. The way he adjusts his hearing aids in session as he leans his ear towards me. I wonder about the stories he's lived through. The wisdom he carries. The Life that he's lived in all its mystery and surprise. I wonder if his learning of the things has tempered now or if he still has moments when the tectonic plates of his mind shift in new perspective he never had.

"I was blind, now I see"

Dear reader, we come into this world blind. Life unfolds slowly. Be compassionate with yourself as you move through the world and learn the things. Listen intently to what your life is trying to tell you. Give yourself some time to reflect and choose your next step wisely. And for the Love of Pete, don't figure it out alone. If you're going to be a ninja at life, you're going to need a someone that knows the path well. Someone who has the skills and know-how to help you see. Someone who nods with an empathy of a life well lived.

Warmly, your fellow life traveler,

Dr. B

Let Your Darkness Speak

I bent over and leaned my elbows on the desk. I nibbled on the back of the pen in contemplation. It was a simple enough task. 1) Write your name on this name tag 2) Name one moment that drastically changed your life. I have such a hard time with this kind of thing. The answers that immediately came to mind didn't seem socially appropriate. Oh hey, I'm B. Nice to meet you. I was forever changed the day my mom died. It was slow and sudden and it split me in half. It's a beautiful day, right? So I picked something that was both true and safe instead: Hey, I'm B and my life was changed the day I kissed that boy. I pressed the little sticky tag to my shirt and went about my way.

The room was filled with visitors within moments. We were hosting an event held by Creative Mornings. It was this past Friday at HumanHQ, my other work home. If you aren't familiar with this organization, you need to change that on the immediate. I have attended CM talks at every opportunity. This dedicated group hosts speakers from various fields (generally creative) to share their story with the aim to bring insight into their process and inspire. I will never forget my first talk. It was from a recognized, award winning cinematographer by the name of Ryan Booth. The advertised photos of him were spectacular. He looked like such a badass and was clearly rocking it out in a way I could only dream of. He walked up to the crowd and adjusted his mic, surrounded in eager gazes. I can't recall what he said word-for-word but it was something along the lines of, "Hai. So.... I don't know what I'm doing most of the time." What followed was an incredibly honest story of vulnerability and the willingness to transcend the ego for the sake of empathy: the place we create our most honest work. People. I fell in Love. I left that talk feeling warm with humanity. 

This time, the talk was a little bit different. We cozied up on couches and chairs. The candles flickered in intimate anticipation. Our speaker was Linda Geffin, a lawyer who spent a lifetime fighting against human trafficking and advocating for survivors. She shared her story about being silenced on a quiet and unsuspecting afternoon. At least they tried to silence her. She was beaten and left for dead on her kitchen floor. The room was still in collective breath for her. She shared about her struggle to feel safe in the world again. She read Victor Frankl's Mans Search For Meaning, one of my favorite books. It taught her about her own power. It taught her that no could take away her capacity to choose how she reacts. She had the ability to choose her attitude in any circumstance. It was something her attackers couldn't strip from her. So slowly, painfully... one step at a time, she entered into the world again. She left us with the wisdom she gained: At some point in your life, you're going to experience something that challenges you to the core and shakes you alive. You don't have to wait until something drastic happens to you. Start now. Be in the present moment. Make room for gratitude. This one moment is the moment we have.

I met up with her afterward and we shared a hug. I am always so taken by people's stories. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people name their darkness as their primary source of life fuel. We don't talk about it very much in the open. Hell, I felt it just hours earlier with my name tag. The hesitation. The flinch of my pen that said: you shouldn't go there. I'm not going to lie to you. When we talk about our darkness, it takes people to another place. It's deeper, and yes, heavier. But it's also because it's so rich with truth. It made me think about our relationship to the shadowy end of the emotional spectrum.

I was reading an article from New York Magazine this morning that proposed an interesting perspective on the darkness that is depressed mood. There is so much left to be discovered about the human condition in regards to depression. I'm a humanistic psychologist, so while I do believe clinical depression is a very real disease, I also believe that for the vast majority of us, we experience bouts of normative sadness that comes with living. I think it's in our best interest to use this as an opportunity to listen to what our emotions are telling us about our life. The article brought about the idea that evolution may have a part to do with depression (more scientific insight here). I'm not sure if you know this or not, but when you go into a period of darkness, it tends to lift naturally on its own with time. The idea is that maybe we're designed to experience moments of darkness so that we can enter into that state of introspection and gain renewed insight on our way out. The article quotes Iron John in this beautiful excerpt: one must "go through the door... immerse himself in the wound, and exit from his old life through it." I shared with Linda about my loss and how it's shaped my desire to create authentic spaces for people to feel something real. I'm a firm believer that the unexamined life is tragedy. Getting in touch with our internal world is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. It's where all the knowledge lies. It's where we come alive.

I took my time this Saturday morning. It was a warm day that begged to be experienced. I stepped onto my deck, feeling the warmth of the wood and its rough grain beneath my bare feet. I laid down on my back and watched the trees bend in the wind. I had gotten off the phone with my dad a few minutes prior. He reminded me that in a few weeks it will be 5 years since my mom's passing. I have this moment. This one moment. I could feel grief flush through my body with a gentle heat. My eyes welled with its brief, tearful visit. A bird soared high above me. And I smiled.