Know Thyself

When I was in college, one of my classes offered extra credit for participating in the research projects for some of the graduate students in the psychology department. I decided to participate in a few.  From what I remember, most were simple questionnaires that I could do on my own time, asking about my attitudes about a variety of topics: religion, race, sexual orientation.  I do remember, however, one extra credit opportunity that invited me to participate at a specific, scheduled time and location.  The invitation asked for a written prompt about potential traumatic experiences I had, so I replied with a story about Hurricane Katrina and my mom's health.  When I arrived at the time and place, I was given instructions to enter a room, where a camera would be waiting, and simply talk about myself.  Immediately I felt on edge; what was I going to say? I got about two sentences out before I looked into the camera and said "I don't know what to say," and then left the room. 

When I reflect back on this event, I realize that I had so much trouble discussing myself because I had spent so much time trying to go unnoticed by others.  I was the person in a group of friends who nodded, laughed, and agreed, but never shared much about my thoughts and opinions simply because I didn't really know what they were. I later received similar feedback from my graduate school professors - they said I needed to speak up and participate more in class so they could get to know me and help me learn.  I fumbled through the process of trying to feel comfortable with other people and articulating what I wanted in relationships for a long time before I finally realized that I didn't really know who I was.  I could tell someone simple facts about my life, but not much more than that and really nothing to show people my true self.  

Numerous talented researches and authors have devoted their lives to exploring the concepts of true self and core identity in an effort to learn more about character, personalities, values, eclectic energies, auras, and so forth.  And if your interest lies in knowing your Myers-Briggs (INFJ here!) or what Hogwarts House you belong to (Slytherin here!), then I want you to take those quizzes and assessments and learn more about your traits and personality ticks.  I believe any time we spend trying to get to know ourselves a little more deeply is time well spent, even if we conclude that we don't agree with the results. Ultimately, understanding why we don't agree is knowledge gained! But for a lot of us, this isn't enough to help us feel connected with our identity.  

To begin gaining clarity on who you are, you'll need to spend some quality time exploring a few key ideas and for people who have experienced trauma and chaos, emotional healing is part of that journey as well.  For those of you who are interested in starting to understand who you are, I encourage you to make yourself comfortable and explore the following ideas and questions:


Values are what make life worthwhile for us and they help give us meaning.  We receive values from society, our family and culture, and from within. Our values are also fluid, meaning they occasionally change.  Some of the values we hold feel monumental and some may be more frivolous but both are important! Sometimes our personal values don't align with the values that society or our culture has given us and that's okay too.  When this happens, it's important to acknowledge these differing value systems and decide if and how we want to make space for both in our own lives.  We have specific values related to our career, health, relationships, spirituality, etc. and it's important that we know and articulate each of these, and I encourage you to dig deeper than just identifying communication as a value in romantic relationships, specifically.  What about communication is important to you in relationships? What does good communication look like in a relationship and what will it mean for your relationships? 


What are the hobbies or activities that you have passion for and feel energized by?  If you're unsure then now is a great time to start trying out new things.  Surely there's something you've thought is interesting but haven't yet tried. Spend some time with new or old activities and see which ones you like best.  The neat thing about personal interests is that we don't necessarily have to be skilled to enjoy something! I have a couple of recommendations on interests: make sure you have solo interests that aren't something you do with or because of another person, and don't let the fact that you're not skilled at something interfere with it being an integral part of your interests.  For example, I enjoy creative activities but it's not something that comes naturally to me and I'll never be recognized as a leader in the art community, but it doesn't stop me from drawing, coloring, and practicing lettering. 


What are you good at?  What comes naturally to you and not everyone else?  Skills can include mental capabilities, use of our hands, and mastery with certain concepts, just to name a few.  Our skills and interests sometimes align and that's cool but sometimes they don't align and that can be confusing at first but also perfectly okay.  Similar to interests, understanding our own personal skills may require some trial and error and a bit of creativity if we haven't spent much time thinking about them.  If you're unsure of what skills you have, ask people who watched you grow up and some of your close family or friends.  What areas did you excel at in school, extracurricular activities, jobs, and relationships?  Get to know these areas and articulate why you were successful in them.  

Internal Clock

What do you know about how your body responds to different parts of the day? Are you a morning person or a night owl?  When are you most productive and have the most energy?  What about when you're least productive and have the least amount of energy?  Do you optimize your most productive times with top priority activities? Are you a morning person but find that you've been trying to have serious relationship talks with your partner late at night?  Each one of us have an internal clock that gives us important information on how to use our time and when to rest, and ignoring this rhythm will likely result in confusion and chaos.    

Personal strengths

Often times we're much better at identifying the things we lack or the things we need to improve, meaning that it can feel overwhelming to articulate our strengths.  Luckily, if you've taken some time to reflect upon some of the earlier topics, your brain may be more willing to metaphorically pat you on the back.  Of course, our strengths can include things we're good at, but more often than not there is a mountain of character strength that's hiding somewhere inside of us, such as creativity or honesty. In considering your own character strengths, I encourage you to ask yourself this question: What kind of person am I?  If you're still struggling to identify your personal strengths take a look at this link where some really smart researchers put a lot of energy into helping us find our strengths. 

Temperament and personality

When I think about the ideas of temperament and personality, I think of all the fun quizzes on the internet designed to put us into boxes with colorful ideas, like discovering our spirit animal or our color of the universe. These can be entertaining but they don't necessarily give us huge insights into our own personalities.  Temperament is commonly recognized as a collection of inborn traits that remain fairly stable throughout life, and personality is built from that temperament and also other life experiences. For the sake of time, they're quite similar and intermingled.  Understanding your temperament means knowing where you feel most energized in life: is that surrounded by a group of people or going on a solo activity? What activities help you feel calm, relaxed, and in your element?  Knowing your personality means understanding your unique mannerisms in both how you experience the world, events, and other people.  Luckily some smart researchers have spent a lot of time trying to better understand personality and have developed a free assessment to help people get to know themselves.  This assessment focuses on five major areas of personality: Openness (to new experiences), Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.  Of course, you can think on your own about these areas or you can learn more by clicking here.  If you have concerns about what you'll discover, please take caution and meet with a professional counselor about this.   

Core beliefs

Our beliefs are the truths we hold about ourselves, others, and the world.  In return, these beliefs drive our thoughts and actions.  For instance, if I believe that the world is a good place and people are inherently good, then I'm likely to demonstrate my trust in others easily: by the way I treat them and in how I think about them.  Often times our core beliefs do not announce themselves proudly and so we have to do some digging to find them. Discovering them is empowering, though, and can help us understand ourselves more, regardless of whether or not we want to change these potentially hurtful core beliefs.  Another example: if I realize that deep down I don't believe I'm good enough to be loved, then this belief will tangle itself in my every thought and action, likely leaving me with relationship problems.  To better know your own core beliefs, and bring them to the surface, look for patterns in your thinking and behavior and ask yourself: what's that about?

Life goals

Is it just me or was it so much easier to talk about future plans as a kid in elementary school?  I think that's just because, as adults, we get consumed by the monotony of everyday life. At some point we have to stop and remember that this life is for living and building it how we want.  Ask yourself whether or not you're satisfied with the direction your life is headed.  What do you want to accomplish in the next few months? Within in the next year? Ten years? What legacy do you want to leave when you're no longer alive? How do you want people to remember you?  What fears are keeping you from doing that thing you've always wanted to do? 

Once you've spent some time answering and reflecting on these ideas, it's important to adjust your life to begin living with integrity and decrease the dissonance in your life.  Also, make room for some flexibility because a lot of these topics are fluid and represent who we are today, not necessarily who we'll be five years from now.  A value driven life is an intentionally lived life which usually makes for a happy life.  


The Story About A Family

I've been thinking about the idea of what it means to be a family lately.  You see, the narrative of of my family always felt different than the other kids when I was growing up.  I remember sitting in Spanish class in sixth or seventh grade and we had to introduce our family members by name to the person behind us. Out loud. For everyone to hear.  El apellido de mi madres es Leblanc.  El apellido de mi padres es Haydel. El apellido de mi hermana es Emile.  Mi apellido es McMillon.  I already had a hunch that my classmates probably knew that I came from a poor background and here I was ousting myself that my family relationships were messy, all because we had different last names.  

Like all children I thought people were paying far more attention to me than they really were - thank you undergrad developmental psychology for teaching me this was incorrect!  It wasn't until I went to therapy in my early 20s that I really began to do some healing and started rewriting my family narrative.  Prior to that, I had been operating under a few general beliefs all surrounded by the fact that we were poor, nobody in my extended family talked, my parents were never married, and I saw a lot of death at a young age.  These were the beliefs I developed and brought into every new encounter I had with others:

1. Love is conditional. 

2. All relationships end poorly, no matter how hard you try.

3. Being a chameleon is the only way to make friends, so I better get good at it.

4. My family secrets make me unrelatable and I'll never find a partner who will accept me.

5. My friends offer more support than my family.

Because I didn't want my past to limit my dreams and future relationships, I sought healing.  Luckily, I had put a lot of effort into building solid friendships, so I leaned on them for support as a teenager.  Going to college offered me endless resources to help in my personal development and knowledge.  And when I was ready, I went to therapy and allowed my counselor to challenge my beliefs and offer me the opportunity to replace them with better ones.  She told me I deserved the whole buffet, not just the leftovers and that resonated within me, not just then but now.  She also had me read, Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery of Adult Children with Dysfunctional Families by Charles Whitfield, which I recommend for anybody who can relate to the title.  

I don't believe or live my life by any of the statements above because I chose to change the narrative of my family story.  Healing doesn't mean that these old beliefs don't affect me from time to time, but I'm much more prepared today and allow myself grace, to be flawed without becoming consumed by these thoughts.  For instance, my mom has struggled with illness most of my life, and she had an episode a few weeks ago that has reminded me of my old family narrative, but I'd like to share with you my current beliefs based on my new narrative:

1. While some people put conditions on love, this is not the love I value, so I will not put energy into relationships with conditional love.  Conditional love says a lot more about the other person than it does myself.

2. Some relationships do have a final chapter and that's okay, but most are fluid, allowing for moments of separation and closeness.  Authentic friendships require a joint effort and a relationship  that feels forced, unbalanced, or rigid is probably not healthy.

3. Relationships require compromise, but not at the expense of my values.  When I put energy into knowing who I am and what my values are, I'll build relationships that are authentic.  I'm allowed to say no and state my beliefs and opinions without losing people I care about. 

4. My family has secrets, but so does every other family.  I choose to not give my family secrets any power over me and I'll do my best to not allow toxic relationship patterns to be passed down through future generations. My boyfriend accepts every piece of me, even the pieces that are tough to share. He also shares his family with me and for that I am grateful. 

5. My friends are my family and often times they do provide the most support, but that doesn't mean anything other than I've done a good job at cultivating a great support system.  I have members of my family who love and support me unconditionally and I can never allow my old beliefs to ruin these relationships.

My hope is that readers of this blog, especially those who can relate to the pain in some of these sentences, recognize that the narrative you've lived by your whole life isn't the only story you have to tell.  Family secrets and trauma do not have to define the path your life takes or the relationships you build.  You're deserving and capable of genuine connection, unlimited support, and freedom of personal expression in your life's narrative.   


Stop Believing You're Insignificant

I’ve been wanting to write a new blog post for the past few weeks, but I just felt… stuck.  I don’t feel right crediting writers block for my lack of blogging, not necessarily because I’m not a writer, but because I know deep down that this explanation isn’t honest.  Since my last post, I’ve had thoughts and ideas on what topics I could write about.  I’ve had “ah ha” moments where I’d think of a clever statement I could make while writing.  But I didn’t follow through and write about social anxiety or abusive relationships or any of the other ideas that I had.  I didn’t write because my thoughts were getting the best of me. 

What does she mean that her thoughts were getting the best of her? Isn’t she a counselor? Isn’t being ahead of and on top of her problems supposed to be, like, her thing? Didn’t she go to school for all those years to learn about being the type of person who could put life’s stress aside and help other people?  While parts of these statements may have reflections of truth in them, I am not a robot. 

So, when I say my thoughts were getting the best of me, what I mean is that my insecurities were taking center stage.  You see, I took a leap of faith to pursue my dreams of opening a private practice and I haven’t regretted this one bit.  But with this I’ve invited a few more stressors into my life, at least temporarily.  Also, my life is just like everyone else’s, meaning I experience my own personal life stressors.  And get this, because things felt a little more stressful, my insecurities started gaining power and, before I knew it, my thinking shifted from “oh, that’d be a neat thing to blog about” to “you have too much going on and are too stressed to write anything worth sharing with others.” My thinking betrayed me.

I have a few activities and educational material that I use with clients who have similar issues with their thinking.  My favorite worksheet has 10 types of unhelpful thinking styles with simple illustrations to help describe each style of thinking.  You might be asking yourself, there are that many ways that my thinking can mess with me?! Yes, and I routinely share with my clients that I experience the majority of each of these on any given day.  I pulled out this worksheet because I wanted to identify exactly which of the types of thinking I’d been doing myself.  Here’s what I came up with:

·      Mental filter – I was only giving credit to feeling stressed, not putting any mental energy into            expanding on my ideas or writing anything.

·      Emotional reasoning – Believing that because I was having trouble focusing my ideas that I             was a bad writer with nothing to offer.

·      Fortune telling – Thinking that no one would enjoy or learn from what I had to write.

These beliefs are not true, and it took me a while to realize that my thinking was up to some trickery.  During the weeks that I was slowly convincing myself that I was not in the right frame of mind to write, I was aware I felt more stressed and had been doing relaxation training and mindfulness exercises.  But it wasn’t until I was confronted with the realization that I didn’t think I was good enough to write something worth reading that I felt better and more at peace.  My mind shifted to thoughts that were more realistic, supportive, and empowering. 

Our thoughts become our beliefs, and if we allow ourselves to think fear-based, limiting thoughts then we risk believing that we are limited, insignificant people.  No one wants this and we should keep a close eye on our patterns of thinking, especially when life gets a little tough and scary.  If your insecurities are running the show in your life it’s time to get to know them and give them a smaller role.     

I'm not perfect and can't fix you

I've thought about this post probably 50 times in the past week.  The thing is it's public, and the thought of managing a blog makes my heart go pitter patter, but not in the fun, romantic way.  But I believe personal expression is one of the easiest and most therapeutic things we can do for ourselves, and I have thoughts to share with y'all.  

You may be wondering about the title of this post, but what I really want to discuss is the idea of resiliency.  Each one of us have both risk and protective factors woven into our identity: things that work for us or against us in life.  The fewer risk factors we have and the more protective factors we have, the better prepared we are to manage stress in our life.  The problem is that we have very little control over the risk factors we have because they begin making an impact when we're children.  Based on my risk factors, I shouldn't be living the life that I'm living.  I should be more anxious and less successful. Wait, what? I should still be plagued by thoughts of "I'll never be good enough," but I'm not, because of resiliency.  We cannot forget that we all have things in our life designed to protect us and harnessing these, along with a little hope and gumption, decreases the power of our risk factors.  

I want you to breathe a sigh of relief when reading the title of this post.  Perfect means unrelatable and robotic.  Perfectionism also breeds procrastination and giving up.  And though you may feel broken, you are not.  I don't believe people become broken because of their emotional health problems.  I believe we become versions of ourselves that lose hope and suffer, sometimes for a really long time, until we're ready and willing to do something different.  

Source: Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash