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Peggy Handler, Therapist

Being Who You Are

To be who you are and
become what you are capable of
is the only goal worth living.
~ Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey's quote seems like a no-brainer: be who you are. Simple advice, but not always easy. The question becomes who are you really and what are you truly capable of? Who is this YOU? Is it the "you" you think you are supposed to be or you would like to be, or that your parents, partner, co-workers, society, want you to be? Is this in sync with your genuine self or is there some lack of alignment, and how do you know, how do you discern who you really are?
There may many expectations you are making of yourself or feel that others are making of you. These create a lot of anxiety, and activity aimed at giving the appearance of being confident, competent, fun, interesting, entertaining, or successful. Yet what is your internal experience? It is not a coincidence that many people are full of anxiety and a sense of internal emptiness and feel that they are impostors.
It takes a commitment of time and curiosity and maybe some nascent self-love, to explore your inner landscape, searching for clues of who you really are and in what direction your life wants to go. This may involve making some major changes that may be initially uncomfortable or frightening. Yet the benefits and ultimate payoff are vast!
When you are aligned with your authentic self and its needs ( this may evolve over time), you may feel relaxed, energized, in a flow, focused, even if you are busily working on a project; instead of stressing you out it excites and stimulates you, it comes from a place in you that is enlivening rather than depleting. It's a state of creativity, of attunement with yourself, with who you are and what you are capable of. Even if it is a challenge and pushes you out of your comfort zone, it feels growthful and aligned with something important deep inside yourself.
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Facing Whatever is True

​What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there
to be interacted with.
~ Eugene Gendlin

Frequently humans act like ostriches, sticking their heads in the sand to not see, think or feel something difficult or unpleasant. In the moment, this may seem to be a good option (often made at an unconscious or sub-conscious level) as it may be extremely daunting or painful to face an external situation or an inner conflict.
You may successfully avoid dealing with something for a while, but eventually it will have to be faced one way or another. It will eventually have to be confronted, felt, dealt with and processed. Even if you don't make a conscious decision to do so, in the end, it will find a way to get your attention, often by disrupting your life in a way you can no longer ignore.
A common coping mechanism for not dealing with things that feel like they will be too much is to compartmentalize them. This means that you literally put this situation, memory or relationship and accompanying feelings in an internal compartment; you lock it securely in the hopes that it can be safely left there and will no longer threaten to cause you suffering.
However, since this compartment is within you and not an actual safe deposit box, its contents are under pressure and will leak out or burst through, triggered by a situation, thought, or feeling. This often happens at a highly inconvenient time, and is usually more painful or has more consequences than if you had faced it in the first place!
So I encourage you to find the courage to face whatever is troubling you, or whatever situation you find yourself in. As Gendlin says above, owning up to it won't make it worse and not facing it doesn't make it go away. It is something to be worked with and processed. The only way out is through.
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Love and Fear

When we are loved we
are afraid love will vanish.
When we are alone we are
afraid love will never return.
~ Audre Lorde

Love is a precious feeling and experience. It is (in the best of cases) the first thing you experienced as a baby with, from and for your caregivers, a feeling that helped you, in your state of total dependence, to feel safe in the world. Yet throughout childhood, you inevitably felt some degree of loves loss, in ways big and/or small. There are smaller ways like not being seen or your needs not being met well at times. And there are large ways: neglect, abuse and abandonment. Yet they all have an impact on what you came to expect from a relationship.
These childhood experiences give you a unique idea and felt sense of what love is, and what it has ( or doesn't have) to offer. Childhood experiences also inform your ability to love and value yourself, your sense of being lovable and of deserving ( or not) love from yourself and others.
Love often feels elusive, and like a thing that you have to "find," "get," "discover," "search for," "deserve" or "keep." The apps and dating sites look like catalogs of people, hopefully containing one who will love you and who you will love.
Many people spend a lot of time being anxious about love: If you are single, wondering when and how it will appear, afraid you will never meet anyone you could truly love or who will love you. And if you are in relationship, there is often the fear that they will leave you in any number of ways. Fear related to childhood experiences of the fickleness and fragility of love, may lurk just below the surface, often infusing your life with worry, doubt and fear.
You may ask yourself if you will you ever have that mythical love that is in so many songs, movies and other forms of popular culture, yhat love that is free from fear, doubt, anguish and worry? What would have to change within you to allow yourself to be open and have an easier time with the unknown, to learn to love yourself and feel that you deserve to be loved? What seismic shift within would allow you to breathe freely whether you are alone or in relationship?

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Courage is not
the towering oak that
sees storms come and go;
it is the fragile blossom that
opens in the snow.
~ Alice Mackenzie Swaim

As a culture, we often think of courageous acts or courageous people as ones that are larger than life: a good Samaritan who risks his or her life to help someone, a war hero, Doctors without Borders and other aid organizations that operate in war zones, or someone who engages in extreme sports. We may feel intimidated and small in comparison. How could we measure up to that towering oak that withstands storms easily and gracefully? How is it that some people seem to embody courage and appear fearless?
Maybe the secret is in that there are many kinds of courage, many different acts of courage, many distinct ways to be and feel courageous. If you are feeling depressed, it may be a great act of courage to get up and face the day. If you live with an abusive partner, it is an act of courage to tell someone, stand up to them and/or leave. If you are anxious, it is courageous to not succumb to the anxiety but to develop some mindfulness and know that it is not all of who you are. If you have a substance or other addictive problem, it is a courageous first step to acknowledge this, talk about it and seek help or take those first baby steps to change.
If you are unhappy in your job, it may take courage to acknowledge this to yourself and begin to take whatever steps you need to take to decide where your passion in life lies. If you think you are supposed to be a certain way, yet your true self is calling out to express itself, this is a great act of courage to begin to allow yourself to be who you truly are.
Like the fragile blossom opening in the snow, every act of allowing yourself to be more truly yourself, of living your life as genuinely as you possibly can in each moment, are huge acts of courage. Courage, by the way, comes from the French word for heart: COEUR.
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Hope is the thing with feathers,
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without words,
and never stops at all.
-Emily Dickenson

Hope seems to be something inherent and essential to being human. No matter how dire things may seem to be ( or may actually be) there is usually hope that things may or will or can get better. Even when it's hard to see how this might happen, " hope springs eternal."
Hope inspires us to dream, to work toward a goal, to imagine how things might improve and what we have to do to make this happen. Hope can be a great motivator, pushing us out of our comfort zones to bring about change, to make things happen. Hope can make us sacrifice things we think we need, to give up addictions, because we hope for a better life. The hope of a more peaceful and happy life can make us face our inner pain and demons.
In the darkest moments, in times of fear or of unspeakable trauma, hope often exists as a steady though small flame deep inside, keeping us from total despair. Hope can guide the way to survival, to thriving, to taking risks when things are overwhelming or appear hopeless. Refugees who leave their countries, facing danger along the way, hoping for a better life come to mind. People who survive all kinds of abuse, who find ways to go on with their lives, are inspired by hope for something better. Hope is a good antidote for despair.
When we are facing difficult circumstances, in the world or within our own lives, we need to remember Emily Dickinson's words that "hope perches in the soul... and never stops at all."
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Your Inner Light

I will not allow
my life's light
to be determined
by the darkness around me.
~ Sojourner Truth
There are many experiences of darkness, inside and outside each of us, that can obscure our sense of our light, our freedom, our true self. You may have had a difficult or traumatic childhood. Your life may have been impacted by poverty, illness, abuse, sexism, racism, homophobia. Or you simply may not have been seen or acknowledged as you wanted or needed to be. Your light, your true self may not have been seen or encouraged and you may have felt diminished, not good enough or unworthy. Your true self consequently may not have had an opportunity to truly develop and shine its light as your life.
And there is the current political darkness in this country and in the world that can feel threatening and scary. This regressive political agenda threatens many hard-won freedoms and agencies that protect or try to protect people, animals, the environment, and is trying to intimidate, silence, ban and deport many of us.
How do we courageously continue to develop and be more of our authentic selves when faced with the inner fears and anxieties from our personal or collective history, and the external darkness of this administration? How do we continue to shine our light and be true to ourselves? Many people are asking these questions now; Sojourner Truth's quote from the days of slavery is equally relevant today as we face the dilemma of being who we truly are in the face of darkness which threatens to eclipse our light.
But just as any eclipse is only temporary and the moonlight and sunlight continue to shine, our internal light cannot be permanently eclipsed by internal or external darkness. We must continue to courageously be our light, facing the darkness and not allowing it to determine who we are and how we live our lives.

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Holding on to Dreams

Hold fast to dreams,
for if dreams die, life is
a broken-winged bird
that cannot fly.
​~ Langston Hughes

Dreams are many things including: the night visitations that we may or may not remember, and that are symbolic messages from our unconscious mind; the ideas and hopes of how we would like to live, whether or not we believe we can really achieve or be this; and the ideas and hopes we may have about what this country and the world could be - free of hunger, war, hate and violence of all kinds. John Lennon's iconic line comes to mind: "you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
At times it can be extremely challenging to hold onto your consciously held dreams- the personal ones after disappointment or loss as well as your dreams for your community or the world in times of uncertainty, danger and war or threats of war. Yet these dreams provide guidance, inspiration and direction for the next step, for what action is called for to move toward bringing your dreams to fruition.
Similarly, dreams while sleeping are messages from your inner world, from your unconscious mind, providing insight and guidance in an even deeper way than your conscious dreams can. Dreams can be difficult to decipher at times, but if you can get into the feeling of the dream, and the personal meaning of the symbols, profound insight and guidance, as well as a deep understanding of your life in the moment, is provided to you!
Following your dreams, keeping them alive, living your dreams, is an essential part of a life well lived. What are you dreaming?
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Inhabiting Your Life

The only life that
you could ever be happy in
is the one you actually have.
​~ Fred Luskin

​How often do you wish you had a different life? How often do you say to yourself or others that you will be happy when.... ( you lose weight, you have a better job, you have more money, you are in better shape, you are in a relationship.....) How often do you compare yourself to others or envy someone else's life, wishing you had a life like theirs, thinking that if you did have their life, THEN you would be happy!
So much time and energy, both mental and emotional, are often spent on wishing for your life to be different than it is, which really translates into a desire to be someone other than who you are. Happiness or contentedness seem elusive in your life while others seem to have it effortlessly. With this mindset, your focus remains outside of yourself, which perpetuates the feelings of unhappiness in and with your life.
A sense of discontent or unhappiness can actually be the doorway into happiness in your life. These feelings and thoughts are actually directing you INWARD, into building a relationship with yourself and your life, that are satisfying and compassionate. Because you will never have another life (at least in this incarnation), happiness can only be found in this very life that you have.
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Your Relationship with Yourself

Our primary relationship
is really with ourselves.
Our relationships with other people
constantly reflect exactly
where we are in the process.
~Shakti Gawain
Making resolutions or intentions is often part of beginning a New Year- there is hope that we can get a fresh start on improving or attaining something that has so far been elusive. Why not include your relationship with yourself in this 2017 assessment of your life?
Begin with a check-up of this most important and primary relationshp in your life. How do you feel about yourself? What is your self-talk like? How comfortable are you with yourself, both as who you are and where you are in your life right now? Are you a harsh and constant critic of yourself or a forgiving and compassionate friend? Do you use positve or negaitve reinforcement with yourself?
If you were dating yourself, how would you rate the experience? I often suggest to clients that they take some time to date themselves- to treat themselves the way they would like to be treated by a significant other, to give themselves experiences they would want to share with another.
It also might be a good time to look at the quality of your relationships with others- family, friends, partners, co-workers. You probably find yourself engaging with them in a similar way you engage with yourself. Are you critical of others? If so, you probably are critical of yourself. Are you patient and accepting? Then this is probably also a mirror of how you treat yourself. Do you expect perfection from yourself? Then you probably also expect a lot from others and are disapponted when they don't meet your expectations.
You can begin from either vantage point- how you treat yourself or how you treat others. You will treat others similarly to how you treat yourself.
Is 2017 a time to look in that mirror and decide to make some adjustments to how you see and relate to yourself ( and subsequently to others)?
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Antidote for Post-Election Stress

You can build walls all the way to the sky and I will find a way to fly above them.
You can try to pin me down with a hundred thousand arms, but I will find a way to resist.
And there are many of us out there, more than you think.
People who refuse to stop believing.
People who refuse to come to earth.
People who love in a world without walls,
​ people who love into hate, into refusal, against hope, and without fear.
― Lauren Oliver, Delirium

The "surprise" election results ( as well as the many months of pre-election stress and overwhelm) have strongly impacted many people. Clients, student therapists and interns that I supervise, friends, family, and myself have all had strong reactions including disbelief, anger, sadness, fear, despair, anxiety and grief. Many people wish they could leave this country.
Many immigrants are afraid both of how they will now be treated for being "other" and about whether they will be able to stay in this country.
The impact of this election feels to many on a magnitude of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco or of 9/11. Many rights and ways of life we have worked for and come to count on may be threatened, including the environment and the earth itself.
In the face of great uncertainty, how do we cope? How do we not live paralyzed by fear or anger? How do we go about our lives and at the same time take some action that will help us feel like we have a voice and an impact?
The silver lining from this election result is that many people are feeling compelled to do something, to speak up, to protest, to volunteer. It is a time of coming together. I read an interesting fact recently: when we are under stress, in addition to stress hormones, the brain releases oxytocin ( the love hormone). It's the brain's way of making sure we seek out social connection and spend time with loved ones which is a natural stress-reducer.
This is a time to focus on both self-care ( meditation, massage, eating well, sleep, exercise, yoga,etc) and joining with others in whatever way feels right. It is not only good for the planet and our country, but also for your sense of well-being and purpose.
I think we also have the difficult but important task, of holding, as Carl Jung called it, the tension of the opposites; the future feels foreboding and at the same time, life goes on, as it has throughout history. Despite immense suffering, the sun and moon continue to shine, people fall in love, babies are born and there is laughter. Can you hold that both things, the yin and the yang, are true?

If these events make you feel that you need extra support at this time, please contact me for a free phone consultation!

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