Emotional Hygiene: Say Goodbye to Box Thinking and Emotional Buildup


Listen to the audio version of this article on Soundcloud

Listen to the audio version of this article on YouTube

Attaining emotional health is not a one-time event. Rather, emotional well-being is an ongoing, dynamic, proactive process, just like any other healthy lifestyle behavior. Emotions are a physiological experience, meaning they happen in the body. When we experience an emotion, our biology changes: heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, blood pressure, and even temperature can all shift when an emotion fires. To prevent the effects of emotional buildup (e.g., overwhelm, sleeplessness, fatigue, anxiety, depression) bodies must metabolize each emotion that occurs, and we do this by paying attention to the emotional sensations in our bodies. When we are not aware and do not know what we are feeling or where we are feeling it, emotions get stuck. We become emotionally clogged, and buildup happens. Read (or listen) on to learn how to sidestep “box thinking” and invalidation, both recipes for emotional buildup and the antidote to freedom and empowerment.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DAILY EMOTIONAL HYGIENE

With other health behaviors, such as eating, we understand the need to attend to this habit daily if we want results. For example, if after years of eating nothing but unhealthy processed junk we changed to a healthy eating lifestyle, we wouldn’t tell ourselves that after a week or even a month of healthy eating, that we are healed. Even more so, we wouldn’t go back to a diet of processed foods, head for that fast-food drive-thru, and expect to have stellar health and maintain our nutritional gains. We would understand that to continue to reap the health benefits (e.g., stabilized weight, even energy, balanced mood, trouble-free digestion), we must continue our regular practice of feeding ourselves nutritious foods.

Most of us are not taught to take time out of our day for emotional processing. Much like brushing our teeth or other personal hygiene habits, emotional health requires daily attention.

What prevents daily emotional hygiene? Box thinking and Invalidation:

 BOX THINKING

 “I’ve already dealt with that.”

Instead of viewing emotional health and processing as a daily practice, people sometimes are under the false assumption that they have “dealt with” whatever emotional experience they have endured; meaning that they have talked about it, experienced emotions, and can now put it away, never to be felt again. I have heard people use the phrase, “I’ve already dealt with that,” to describe their emotional processing of the death of a close loved one or past abuses or trauma. Other phrases under the “I’ve dealt with it” umbrella include “I’ve already talked about that in therapy,” or, “I’ve cried about that; I have no more tears to shed.” It is as though the emotional experience is a box to be opened and examined, and then taped shut and put up in the rafters, never to be seen again.

What’s the problem with box thinking?

The problem with “box thinking” is that…

Box Thinking = Emotional Buildup

I once heard a friend use the phrase, “I’ve already dealt with that,” regarding her father’s death, meaning that she was not supposed to have further emotions about it because she felt what was there and then neatly put it away. Taking my friend as an example, can you imagine her not feeling anything when her father was not able to be at her wedding, the birth of her children, holidays, other important markers in her life? Of course not! Emotions are NOT dealt with and then put away in a box and tied up with a bow.

Remember, emotions are a dynamic, flowing, ever-changing process. Emotions are not a one-time event that happens and then goes away forever, especially when the event prompting the emotion is significant to us. When we view emotions this way, we tend to deny ourselves the opportunity to feel them. For instance, if we decide that we are no longer allowed to mourn a loss in our lives (e.g., breakup, divorce, job loss, death), we learn to quickly shut it down when the feelings of sadness or grief start to appear. We lock it into that box and distract ourselves, rationalize that we don’t really feel that way, and inadvertently, create a layer of emotional buildup.

INVALIDATION

“There’s nothing wrong. Why am I crying?”

This statement often precedes a judgment such as, “This is so stupid,” or, “There is no reason to cry,” or, “I don’t understand what my problem is.” People even apologize while wiping away their tears. When we can slow things down and approach the tears or sadness or pain from a curious and nonjudgmental space, we can always validate the emotional experience.

Emotions are sufficiently explained by science. They are a physiological experience and fire when something prompts them. Feelings do not randomly fall out of the sky. If we are experiencing an emotion, by definition, that emotion makes sense. Even if you cannot see the cause in the moment, the mere fact that you are experiencing an emotion means that something prompted that emotion to fire.

When we can get curious instead of judgmental about our feelings, we can better understand where they are coming from and what we need. I have never once walked away from a therapy session or a conversation with somebody where I’m thinking “yeah, I don’t know why you’re crying either.” There is always a reason, and if we are curious and interested, we can understand.

I may ask a patient of mine a few questions about what’s been going on, or what was happening right before the person cried, and it is almost always something clearly upsetting. I might hear about a conversation where a person was informed that they did a horrible job, or they just had an experience that made them think of how much they miss their mother. Typically, something happened that understandably led to sadness, but instead, they judged themselves for feeling, and this clouded their ability to comprehend.

BENEFITS OF DAILY EMOTIONAL HYGIENE

Wouldn’t it be liberating to allow ourselves to freely experience emotions as they ebb and flow; without trying to categorize them or saying when we should be feeling them? Imagine knowing that we can handle whatever emotion comes our way, that we know how to ride the waves, and we are valid in our experience(s). Envision being able to trust our bodies to the degree that when we feel something, regardless of its content, we immediately respond, “Oh, something is happening here. It must make sense, even if I don’t know why, because I am feeling it.” All of this can happen, and I have seen it happen with so many of my clients, with a daily emotional hygiene practice as their foundation.

Emotions happen daily, just like healthy or non-healthy eating occurs every day. If we want robust emotional health and the kind of clarity and empowerment that comes from processing our emotions, we must practice. Read (or listen) to the following Daily Emotional Hygiene practice to help clear the clouds of emotional buildup, gain regular access to your wisdom, the ability to see clearly, and learn to trust in your body and yourself.


DAILY EMOTIONAL HYGIENE PRACTICE

Listen to the audio version of this practice on Soundcloud

Listen to the audio version of this practice on YouTube

Emotional health requires daily practice to clear emotional buildup. This practice will help you develop and sustain a relationship with your emotional self. The stronger that relationship is, the more internal power and wisdom you have access to. You can liken it to a relationship with another person; if it is somebody you never see, and you do not put effort into spending time with them or calling to connect, the relationship is going to dwindle: you need the quality time to bond. You certainly wouldn’t treat your children in this way saying, “Okay, I’ll talk to you in a few weeks, go to your room.” Instead, you want to be involved, and know what is going on, and the same is true for building a relationship with our emotional selves. Let’s practice.

Let’s use these next few moments as quality time to connect with your emotions and your body, and clear emotional buildup.

We’ll start with paying attention to 3 breaths. You do not have to change or alter your breath in any way, simply notice what your breath is doing in this moment, for 3 inhalations and 3 exhalations.

Now, ask yourself, “Hmm, where in my physical body is my attention drawn as I notice my breath?” Notice where in your body you pay attention as you feel your breath in this moment.

Throughout this practice, as you mind wanders, when you noticed it has wandered away, very gently, with no hint of harshness, guide your attention back to your breath, coming home to your body, each time you notice your mind has gone on a walk and wandered away.

Now, take a brief scan of your body from your feet up to your head. Make a note of any sensations that come into your awareness, no matter how big or small…Scanning your body and noticing any sensation.

Coming back now to anchor yourself in your breathing, I’m going to ask you a question. When I ask the question, you can simply focus on your breathing. There is no need to search for an answer or try to come up with anything; simply notice what information your body gives you, if anything at all. Noticing your breath flow in and out, now asking your body, “What emotion is present in this moment?” Just notice and breathe. Breathe and notice.

If you noticed an emotion name came up such as anger, sadness, joy, or even if you noticed not knowing what emotion is present, now, again, focusing on breathing in and out and ask your body, “How do you know? Where is this feeling (or lack of knowing) located in my body?” Breathe and notice what comes into your awareness.

Whether you have noticed emotional sensations or not at this point, pay attention to a few more breaths while simultaneously noticing any physical sensations that are present. It doesn’t matter if these feelings stay the same or shift and change. Your gentle task is to create a soft, welcoming environment for any sensation to arise. As you notice any sensation, take a few breaths as you pay attention to this feeling. Then, after a few breaths, ask yourself curiously, “Now, what do I notice in my body in this moment?” It doesn’t matter if you notice the same thing or something different. By paying attention to sensations in your body in this way, you are allowing emotional feelings to arise as they please, be noticed and felt, and waft away when they are ready. Anything you have felt thus far in your practice has been processed and metabolized, that layer of emotion digested and released.

If you would like, you can continue this practice of noticing sensations and breaths in your body for a little while longer, or you can conclude your practice for now. Think of this exercise like brushing your teeth, but for your emotions. If this is the first day in a long time you have brushed your teeth, you are going to have some buildup, and the first brushing may seem insignificant. However, if you keep at it, consistently, little-by-little and day-by-day, emotional buildup will release and you will be able to feel at peace and at home in your body.

Remember to pay attention to your breath and body every day, even if only for a few minutes. This is how you develop strong emotional hygiene and robust emotional health and healing. If any part of this meditation was difficult, I invite you to continue to gently practice, noticing if your experience shifts over time.

Happy practicing!


September Newsletter

Welcome to my September Newsletter!

This month, we are officially entering the Fall season! Depending on where you live, you may soon experience colder weather and some gloomy, cloudy days. With the change in seasons can come a change in how you feel. If, when the temperature drops so do your emotions, I encourage you to be proactive: Start thinking about how to buffer your resilience now!

In this installment, you can read (or listen to) my article, Daily Emotional Hygiene, and commit to a daily practice of attending to your emotions. By developing a deliberate practice and getting a jump start, you will build a robust and stable foundation for weathering painful feelings. Also in this issue, find out what your wisdom has to do with bone broth, meet a therapist who helps you face any flavor of anxiety head-on, and learn about what one company is doing to provide mental health service coverage as an alternative to insurance. I hope you enjoy this issue. Happy Fall!

Great news: You can now follow me on Instagram! Check out drbando for updates, interesting tidbits, comments on current events related to health, psychology and well-being, and spontaneous pictures and fun stuff. Hope to see you on social media!


FEATURED ARTICLE…


Attaining emotional health is not a one-time event. Rather, emotional well-being is an ongoing, dynamic, proactive process, just like any other healthy lifestyle behavior. Emotions are a physiological experience, meaning they happen in the body. When we experience an emotion, our biology changes: heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, blood pressure and even temperature can all shift when an emotion fires. To prevent the effects of emotional buildup (e.g., overwhelm, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression) bodies must metabolize each emotion that occurs and we do this by paying attention to the emotional sensations in our bodies. Continue Reading


MOTIVATION AND AN ALTERNATIVE TO INSURANCE FOR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES…

Lyra Health is a company that employers hire to provide free mental health services to their employees. Employers contract services with Lyra to offer each employee a certain number of therapy sessions per year (I have seen anywhere from 25 to 50 sessions covered yearly).  Lyra hires an extensive network of mental health professionals (myself included) to provide care. In their own words, Lyra Health “is transforming mental health care by creating a frictionless experience for members, providers, and employers. Using technology and data, we connect companies and their employees to mental health providers, therapy, and coaching programs that work.” Last month I was asked to be a contributor to their blog, and you can read my article on motivation here: lyrahealth.com

ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW…

One of the things that I love most about my profession, is learning, growing, and being inspired by other professionals. One of those people is CBT Therapist, anxiety expert, and author, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT. Jennifer has devoted her life’s work to helping people cope with, instead of run from, anxiety. She wrote the first social anxiety book for teens (nothing for teens suffering with social anxiety was previously available to the public), and is passionate in her focused and science-backed approaches to taking charge of your life instead of shirking in fear as a result of anxiety’s threats. Jennifer also practices what she preaches. She was a victim of the Sonoma County 2017 fires and lost her home, and she chronicled her journey through the devastation via her blog. Jennifer practiced the skills and coping strategies she teaches and laid it out bare and raw for you, the reader, to benefit from her surviving this extreme hardship. If that’s not fierce, I don’t know what is! For access to Jennifer’s books, blogs, videos and therapy services, check out her website: jennifershannon.com

DID YOU KNOW…


Nutrition is a key health behavior that influences not only how we feel physically, but our mood, emotions, how we make decisions, how we sleep, and our relationships? Check out my video below explaining how eating affects individuals differently and also learn to make a nutritious bone broth in your own kitchen!

DR. BANDO’S BONE BROTH RECIPE:

This recipe is extremely forgiving and can be tailored to your preferences. Feel free to eyeball the quantities and combine ingredients in amounts that look right to you.

Remember to source your ingredients well!

Ingredients:

  • Bones from one pastured chicken (included skin and any leftover meat on bones)
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ¼ – ½ onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 – 3” chopped fresh ginger (use more for spicy ginger notes and less if ginger flavor is not your favorite)
  • Carrot or celery (both, or whichever one you have on hand)
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 heaping T sea salt
  • 1 ½ t peppercorns
  • Filtered water

Instructions:

  1. Put all ingredients into a slow cooker.
  1. Pour over enough filtered water to cover the ingredients and all of the chicken bones.
  1. Turn the slow cooker on “low” and allow to simmer for 24 hours.
  1. Filter the broth and store in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for longer. (Make sure to leave a couple of inches at the top of your jars if freezing. Liquids expand when frozen and you don’t want the bummer of broken glass in your bone broth.)

Drink as often as your body wants and enjoy!

Rather than taking my word for it, if you are interested in learning more about the benefits of bone broth, please visit PubMed or Google Scholar and see the data for yourself. If you prefer a summary, I’ve provided links to a few quality blogs providing an overview of the data and important benefits of this health elixir. Happy researching!


WANT MORE?

My recent articles and guided meditations and practices are now available with an audio option – all for free! If you would like to enhance your mindfulness practice, experience this month’s or any recent offerings, please visit my Soundcloud page.


LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO JUST SURVIVE.
THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you would like to become a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, you can do so by clicking the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page.
Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Body Image and Weight Loss Part 2: Nonjudgment/Curiosity

If you are like most Americans, the word “overweight” immediately brings up a judgment such as, “No!” or “Ick!” or “I don’t want that,” or some idea that being “thin” is better than being “overweight.” We even have the term “plus-sized” for people who require larger clothing, indicating that they are not a “normal size” in society’s eyes. Conversely, we do not frequently use a term such as, “under-sized” for people who are under average weight, because society does not have the same harsh judgment for this situation and may even encourage it.

If you would like to listen to this article, click here.

For many people, the concept of weight can immediately bring up judgments toward ourselves and others. Once we learn to practice the skill of Nonjudgment, this helps pave the way to get past those mental roadblocks that keep us from making changes to our health, including weight regulation.

If you are grappling with your own Body Image and/or Weight Loss, consider the following four elements as your skills to practice on your way to achieve mastery and confidence feeling comfortable and at home in your skin:

  • AWARENESS
  • NONJUDGMENT/CURIOSITY
  • REINFORCEMENT
  • SELF-COMPASSION

We discussed Awareness as it pertains to Body Image and Weight Loss in the first part of this series, and in this second part, we’ll take a look at nonjudgment and its role in helping to move past seemingly impossible obstacles.

Nonjudgment/Curiosity

A stance of being nonjudgmental and curious is imperative for you to begin to raise your awareness about what you are doing that is effective, and what you are doing that is not working for you at this point in your life. If you are judgmental (as most of us have learned to be) and feel shame when you notice your behaviors that are not working, it becomes so aversive to pay attention to these ineffective behaviors, that you start to tune out. When your awareness wanes, the change you want also goes out the window. When you learn to notice a judgmental thought and label it as such (“a judgmental thought just came into my mind,”) and look at your situation and behaviors with curiosity instead of evaluation, you are able to gain information about how you are feeling and behaving. Gathering data is the key to being able to change behaviors, and the stance of nonjudgment and curiosity allows you to do just this. This stance transforms an aversive and shameful situation into something interesting to notice.

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth. Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to the issues in your own personal life that are keeping you from making a change. You will start to notice life go differently for you if you practice approaching problems with nonjudgment, which can then lead to compassionate and effective action.

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to emotionally charged life circumstances, start practicing with more every day, ordinary, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of Nonjudgment. When you become stronger at applying this skill, you will notice more success when you gradually apply a nonjudgmental stance to larger, more significant events in your life and the world around you. To discover essential steps to get you started, click here.

The practice of Nonjudgment does not eliminate the pain. Rather, it can take the suffering down a notch so that you can breathe, get a bit of distance from the intensity of emotion, and regulate the emotions and/or solve the problem. If you are interested in further developing the skill of Nonjudgment, try the practice suggestions below:

  • Practice noticing judgments throughout your day.
    When you are aware of yourself (or someone else) making a judgmental statement, or you have a judgmental thought, say to yourself “judgment.” (Over time, noticing and labeling judgments helps us become more aware of them and gives us a choice about the most effective way to proceed.)
  • Sit and focus on your thoughts for 30 seconds to a minute.
    Imagine two different boxes, labeled “judgment thoughts” and “other thoughts.” For the next 30 seconds to a minute, notice any thoughts that come into your mind and imagine placing them in the appropriate box.

The next time you notice yourself being judgmental, see if you can describe (verbally or in writing) the same situation nonjudgmentally; truthfully and descriptively, without judgment.

After some time practicing, you may notice increased awareness of what is going on around you and in your life. When your eyes are opened, it allows you to take the steps needed on your road to change.

To listen to the Nonjudgment Practice audio, click here.

Nonjudgment Practice

Take a moment to bring your attention into the present moment. You can use your breath as a grounding or focus point. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. Every time your attention wanders away, very gently come home to the feeling of your breath in your body. If you’d like, you can try to gently notice your breath in the background as you listen to my words. Your breath is always in the present moment and you can always bring your focus back to your inhalation and exhalation when your mind wanders.

Now we are going to spend the next several moments paying attention to thoughts. However, rather than involving ourselves in the content of our thoughts, we are going to sit back and observe thoughts that come into our mind.

First, imagine that you have two boxes or containers in your mind’s eye. You can design and create them any way you wish. Now, imagine that one is labeled “judgment thoughts” and the other box is labeled “facts.” Your task, for the next several moments, is to observe any thoughts that come through your mind and place them in either the box marked “facts” or the box marked “judgments.” To be clear, facts are everything you take in through your senses – eyes, ears, nose, skin, mouth. Anything you add to this is an opinion or judgment. If I have the thought, “that painting is framed and has blue and green colors,” I will place that in the “facts” box. If I have the thought, “that painting is ugly,” I will place that in the “judgments” box. See if you can not only observe your thoughts, but also place them in one of these two boxes. We will do this in silence for the next 30 seconds. Remember, take the observer stance, notice any thoughts that come through your mind, and place them either in the box labeled “judgments” or the box labeled “facts.” I’ll let you know when 30 seconds has passed…

Now, gently let go of the images of the boxes in your mind’s eye. Bringing your attention back to your breath, notice that you are breathing, feeling your breath in your physical body. And now, reflecting on what you noticed during the 30 seconds of watching and categorizing your thoughts. Did you notice mostly judgments? Mostly facts? Did your mind go blank? Were you flooded with so many thoughts it was hard to catch them all? Did you notice not knowing whether your thoughts were facts or judgments and weren’t sure in which box to place them? Take a moment to reflect on what you noticed. See if you can do that without judgment (or, if you notice judgment, call it a judgment and return to the facts).

It doesn’t matter what you noticed during this practice. Your practice is first, bringing your mind back when it wanders (that’s mindfulness), and second, embodying a stance of curiosity and interest in place of judgment.

Practicing nonjudgment is just that: a practice. Nobody walks through their day without any judgmental thoughts, and we wouldn’t want to. Judgments are useful. By practicing nonjudgment, we expand our capacity to notice when we are judging and then allow for ourselves to make a choice whether proceeding forward with that judgment is helpful or harmful. The key to nonjudgment is repeated, daily practice, practice, practice, and then more practice. If you are interested in building the muscle of Nonjudgment, set an intention for your practice now. Make it short enough that you can practice daily – 30 seconds of daily practice can be useful. How will you practice? Will you watch your thoughts as we just did, take some of my other suggestions I’ve written about, or come up with your own practice?


August Newsletter

Welcome to my August newsletter!
For return readers, you will notice that I’ve changed the format around a bit to not only include my current writing/articles, but also what’s fresh on my mind, and some relevant commentary on what’s happening in the world around us. In this issue, please enjoy Part 2 of my Body Image and Weight Loss series, an introduction to a psychiatrist who prescribes NO medication (shocking, yet true!) and a little tidbit on healthy eating and what happens under the influence of a big corporation not interested in our health or side effects.
Great news: My recent articles are now available in podcast form. This means that you can choose to read or listen.
I hope you are having a great summer and this issue adds to your sunshine! Happy August!

FEATURED ARTICLE…

My featured article for the month of August is Part 2 of my Body Image and Weight Loss series. In this installment, I discuss Nonjudgment/Curiosity, and I also have a guided practice that you can listen to, which will help you along the path of Nonjudgment. Click here for Part 2
You can also read/listen to Part 1 of this series by clicking here.

CATCH UP…

If you have enjoyed this month’s article and would like to read any of my previous articles, you can do so by clicking here.


ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW

Kelly Brogan is a NY-based psychiatrist who prescribes NO medication “under any circumstances, ever.” Rather, she helps people eliminate their psychotropic medications (anti-depression, anti-anxiety, and even anti-psychotics) and change their lifestyle with some remarkable results. Much like my perspective, Dr. Brogan is an advocate of informed consent. Simply put, this translates to educating the consumer/patient by making relevant information available and understandable so that YOU, the consumer, can make an informed choice. Too often, doctors prescribe medication without offering other options or even assessing the patient’s lifestyle. If you are curious about some possible alternatives to psych meds, check out this podcast (Joe Rogan interviewing Dr. Brogan).

Disclaimer: While I may agree with some opinions that some people discuss, my endorsement is never of the entire person and is not an implication that I agree with everything they say or do. As always, please filter everything through your wisdom; use what works for you and discard what doesn’t.


DID YOU KNOW…

Monsanto supplies Starbucks with their milk products? This means that every time you order a mocha, latte, frappacino, or any Starbucks drink with dairy, you are getting a dose of Monsanto’s chemicals as well. Buyer beware, and take heart: I say this without judgment and simply for your own information. Knowledge is power and you may do with it as you wish. Recently, I was driving with a friend (I was the passenger) and she said, “Don’t hate me, but I just really want to stop at Starbucks right now!” Even though she has known me for a few decades, because of my personal boycott of Starbucks, she assumed I would look down on her choice. Rather, I told her that I choose not to spend my money at Starbucks and make information available to others who want to receive it but I do not wish to make anyone’s choices for them. Long story short, I sat with her in the Starbucks drive-thru while she purchased her drink, and we continued our friendly conversation. The point here is that education is for empowerment, not to control others’ choices. So, no judgment from me if your everyday morning routine involves Starbucks or Monsanto-supplied milk right out of your fridge. I do support your right to know what is going into your body and your right to choose whatever decision you make about that. As always, consult your wisdom.

Speaking of Monsanto, did you see this recent article? Monsanto has been ordered to make a huge payout to a school’s groundkeeper who contracted cancer after years of spraying their pesticide as a part of his job. This is more information to keep in mind regarding Monsanto products and the risk to your health.


LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO JUST SURVIVE.
THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you would like to become a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, you can do so by clicking the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page.
Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Living an Authentic Life

You may have heard the term, “Living an Authentic Life”. This phrase has different meanings to different people and there are countless ways to embody this, depending on your personality, history, talents and soul purpose, to name a few. My way of helping you live authentically is teaching and facilitating your ability to tune into your Wisdom. Most of the time, this starts with emotional awareness, understanding, and experiencing, and developing your expertise in harnessing your physical experience to align with your values and what is most fulfilling for you in this life.

Listen to the audio version of this article.

Every person has Wisdom. Just as we all have logic and are able to reason things through, we have emotion and can act impulsively or with love or out of fear; we all have blood coursing through our veins and bones and muscles in our bodies. In the same way, we all have Wisdom. I define Wisdom as that place where knowing exists. It may occur to you as a settling sensation, a sense of peace, clarity, intuition, or really any number of experiences. Your wisdom is distinctively yours and how you encounter it is unique to you. My life’s work is to help those who are seeking to access Wisdom in such a way that you are not only making big decisions from a Wise place but also living your everyday life informed by this valuable source. I believe being able to part the clouds of your noisy life and tune into the knowing deep inside is your key to unlocking the door to living your Authentic Life.

This begs the question, “How do I reach my Wisdom?” The answer: by treating your life as a Guest House and putting out the welcome mat. In our society, we are heavily reinforced from a young age to “think things through.” While some thoughts can be distressing, most people do not have trouble welcoming in and being aware of thoughts. Even when someone asks how you feel, a typical response is to report what you think, e.g., “I’m stressed because I just sat in traffic,” “I’m looking forward to going to a movie tonight.” In fact, discussing how we feel is so foreign in our society that responding to the question, “How are you feeling?” is never answered by, “Well, let’s see. I have a very slight fluttering in my stomach, I am noticing my feet touching the ground, and there is a feeling of lightness in my chest. Overall, I’m feeling hopeful.” Try responding in this way the next time someone asks how you are and you will most certainly meet a furrowed brow and possibly awkward conversation.

Yet, as the poet, Rumi, so aptly stated many years ago, “This being human is a Guest House.” What he meant is that emotions flow through us, they come, and they go, much as visitors of a guest house. It is a natural process, and we are plagued with much suffering if we fight off, suppress or ignore what we are feeling. Never does Rumi say to brace yourself and clench your teeth until the unpleasant emotion passes. Rather, he writes about “a depression, a meanness…a crowd of sorrows” and urges you, “Welcome and entertain them all!” “Meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.”

The human condition is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, being a guest house to our emotions is a practice. When we practice, we rid ourselves of emotional buildup, and we allow ourselves to simply be, with the confidence we can handle whatever comes our way. And when we do this, we clear the clouds of emotional chaos and create an opening for our Wisdom to appear.

Are you looking for the Wisdom to Live an Authentic Life? Please take a look at my articles*, exercises, worksheets, and audio guides to help you achieve your personal goals as you shift from surviving to Thriving!

*Stay tuned for next month’s article, Part 2 of the four-part Body Image and Weight Loss series started this past June. If interested, you can access the written and audio versions of Part 1 here.

_________________

Guided Meditation

Listen to the audio version of my guided meditation to help you live an Authentic Life.

Living your authentic life involves tuning into your Wisdom. This starts with emotional awareness, understanding, and experiencing, which helps lead you on a path to aligning your day-to-day life with your values, resulting in your deepest fulfillment.

By treating your life as a Guest House, as the author, Rumi, suggests in his poem, you can cultivate a welcoming, accepting and nonjudgmental attitude toward your emotions. You can learn to allow your emotions to flow through you, leading to clarity, a sense of peace and knowing, and ultimately access to your Wisdom, the gateway to living your authentic life.

I am going to read the poem, The Guest House, by Rumi, twice. Your task is to listen to the words, allow them to flow through you, and notice any sensations as they arise. When your mind wanders, that is perfectly fine, as minds are meant to think, just notice that your mind is thinking and ever so gently, bring your attention back to the words, back to your body and sensations, back home to your house of Wisdom.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

By Rumi

As this recording comes to a close, you may choose to sit in silence for a few more moments, gently noticing the sensations of your breath and your body, knowing that allowing your experiences to flow through you provides access to your Wisdom and to your Authentic Life.

Thank you for listening. I’m Dr. Bando, licensed psychologist, happy to help you shift from surviving to thriving!


Body Image and Weight Loss Part 1: Awareness

body image and weight loss: awarenessMy definition of the word “overweight” may be different than yours. We can probably agree that the word “overweight” immediately brings up a judgment such as, “No!” or “Ick!” or “I don’t want that,” or some idea that being “thin” is better than being “overweight.” After all, the idea that thin = good and fat = bad is probably a message you have received your whole life. Body Image and Weight Loss are a concern for many, so if you struggle with either, you are not alone.

Listen to the audio version of Dr. Bando’s article.

It certainly doesn’t help that you are constantly bombarded with society’s opinion of how the ideal body should look. We even have the term “plus-sized” for people who require larger clothing, indicating that they are not a “normal size” in society’s eyes. Conversely, we do not frequently use a term such as, “under-sized” for people who are under average weight, because society does not have the same harsh judgment for this situation.

Receiving these messages over and over in your life – from your family, school peers, and the media – creates a breeding ground for shame. Regardless of what you weigh or your body shape and size, it is common to feel embarrassed and shameful, to some degree, about your weight and your body.

You may know that feeling ashamed of how you look makes you feel miserable. Do you also know that shame significantly contributes to your weight and size? You can think of shame like a subtle, poisonous bacteria, worming its way throughout your cells and influencing not only the decisions you make about your health, such as what you eat, how you exercise, and the quality of your rest, but also how your body metabolizes, what you crave, and how quickly you feel satiated. Often, the people I work with in regard to managing their weight or body image are not aware of the extent of shame they feel, and so do not have any agency over how this shame is influencing their bodies.

If you are interested in learning more about your relationship with your body and building skills to improve that connection, read (or listen) on.

The first skill imperative for a healthy, happy relationship with your body is:

Awareness

However you view your weight (e.g., overweight, underweight, ideal), cultivating awareness of your physical body is key in not only maintaining a weight that supports your health and well-being, but also fosters feelings of calm, peace, and feeling comfortably at home in your own skin. You may use your actual, physical home as an example, and imagine having harsh, stiff furniture that you don’t like to look at and feels uncomfortable when trying to sit and relax. This is what it feels like to be disconnected from your body. In contrast, imagine your ideal home where you feel like you can exhale, kick your feet up and be completely embraced and supported by comfort. This is what it feels like to have awareness and connection to yourself.

Let’s think about the link between awareness, and body image and weight loss. Even if being overweight is not a problem you have experienced, we all know that feeling of eating too much during the holidays. That Thanksgiving food hangover is all too real: your stomach hurts, your clothes feel tight, you feel lethargic, and your physical activity is limited. Who wants to move, dance, walk, be sexually active, or just physically engage in life when feeling over-full? Now, imagine eating this way on a regular basis. In order to overstuff ourselves the next day and the next, we must be numb to what we are feeling in our body, or we wouldn’t be able to tolerate the discomfort and would change our eating habits. Eating becomes a way of tuning out instead of tuning in.

When you reach a point of being overweight as a result of eating, and not because of health problems outside of your control, it tends to be easy to become unaware of your situation which in turn cuts you off from the emotions you should be feeling as a result.

To continue to overeat, we have to dissociate from our experience of feeling. When we pay attention, it feels horrible to eat too much. Painful, even. Think about being as extremely overweight as you can imagine and how uncomfortable that would feel. You would have to have to have no awareness and dissociate from your emotions to continue down your current path of gaining more or sustaining a weight that is physically painful.

Frequently, when I see patients who are significantly overweight, feel stuck, and cannot lose that weight, lack of awareness is an issue we attack first and foremost. There’s usually a correlation: the more overweight and stuck the person is, the more they tell me they are “fine,” “good,” “great,” and can’t figure out why the weight is staying on and they are struggling. This equation equals severe LACK OF AWARENESS. If I step on the scale and it says 350 lbs. (and I am a woman standing 5’5” tall), everything is not fine! Yet, I hear this report time and time again. Our weekly session time comes, and my client can’t think of anything to work on or anything difficult that happened during the week to bring up. I see this as a habitual state of dissociating/zoning/tuning out of how their body feels until they don’t know what is going on, what they are feeling, or what they are struggling with. In fact, at first, they may also not know how much they are tuned out.

If you see yourself in this description and it brings up shame, you are not alone. It is so common to feel shameful about this process of eating and lack of awareness and then turn away and not be able to face it. If you feel this, I encourage you: take a deep, slow breath (maybe three), and keep reading. You do not have to continue to suffer in this way. This does not have to be a life sentence.

Why and how does this happen?

In our society, problems with body image and weight typically come with shame. Lots of it. Thinking about how emotions work: one thing learned from DBT (a therapy developed to help regulate emotions) is that all emotions have what is called an “action urge” associated with them. In other words, emotions propel us to want to do something:

  • anger = attack
  • guilt = apologize/fix it/repair
  • love = get closer
  • shame = hide

Imagine a situation where you might feel completely ashamed or embarrassed. Maybe you’ve had a dream where you were naked in a crowd – what did you do? You tried to hide. Now, think about being criticized or made fun of for your weight. Even if you were never directly ridiculed, you probably have witnessed others being criticized for their body weight. Either way, no one is oblivious to our society’s values in regard to body shape and weight.

The fact that we have the term “plus sized” for people who wear a certain size of clothes is a subtle indicator that this is more than the average and not okay. We receive subtle messages all the time that thin is good and fat is bad, and if we don’t fit the mold of what society says we should look like, we feel shame.

The feeling of shame can lead to hiding behaviors, such as not eating certain types of food in front of people for fear of judgment, lying about your weight on your driver’s license, wearing clothes that look “slimming,” avoiding full-body pictures, and many other behaviors. Think about how subtle behaviors like these can seep their way into your daily life, and how as a result, you are getting a daily dose of shame. Little by little, if these behaviors of hiding increase as they often do with weight gain (eating “bad” foods in secret, going shopping alone so nobody knows your size, minimizing physical pains and discomfort that are related to your weight), shame increases. Remember shame = the urge to hide. If you are unaware (and therefore, unable to make an intentional choice) and are giving in to this urge to hide day after day, eventually, hiding is what you do. When hiding becomes your go-to, it is easy to trick yourself into pretending that everything is okay when in reality, you feel far from okay.

The Remedy

The remedy is a ton of mindful awareness practice. I don’t mean sitting on a cushion and meditating for hours, although if someone chooses, that may help increase awareness. We do need to repeatedly turn on the lights, look around the room, and notice the clutter if we are going to organize it and clean it up. There are many techniques for raising our awareness in this way. Here is a guided practice you can listen to as often as you want to help increase your awareness of your body and your experience:

Listen to Dr. Bando’s Guided Meditation

Take a moment to feel the bottom of your feet. Can you feel the surface of the bottom of your feet? Notice. What do they feel like? Are they touching something soft, hard, cold, warm? Do you feel the air on the bottom of your feet? Notice and place your awareness there.

Can you feel your clothes on your body? Notice what this feels like. Where do you feel your clothes the most? Is it everywhere or a particular location on your body? See if you can describe to yourself what your clothes feel like on your body. Is there a temperature, weight or lightness, or other sensations? Can you notice with curiosity and put judgments aside? Taking a stance of: Hmmm, what does this feel like on my body?

Now, can you notice that you are breathing in and out? Notice where does your attention go as you are placing your awareness on your breath in this moment. Keep noticing your breath and see where your attention goes at the very end of your inhalation? Where in your body do you place your awareness at the end of your inhalation? Some people say this is a place where they find Wisdom. Does it feel like that to you? Or does that not resonate or feel confusing to hear. Notice your experience.

Now, ask yourself: How hungry am I in this moment? If you had to rate your level of hunger on a scale of 0 (no hunger at all) to 10 (the most hungry you have ever felt), how hungry are you in this moment? Now, ask yourself how do you know? Is your mind telling you how hungry you “should” be or are you noticing particular sensations in your physical body? Where are you picking up on hunger cues? Where are you looking?

Now, ask yourself: How full am I in this moment? If you had to rate your level of fullness on a scale of 0 (not full at all) to 10 (the most full you have ever felt in your life), how full are you right now? What do you notice when you ask yourself this question? How is it similar or different to what you noticed when asking yourself about your level of hunger?

You have just spent quite a bit of effort noticing your physical body. Now, take a moment to offer yourself some compassion. Place a hand on your heart or over your other hand as a reminder that you are bringing not only awareness but kind and compassionate awareness to yourself, your body, and your experience. Take a nice, deep, slow breath. And now say a compassionate phrase to yourself: May I be kind to myself, May I be patient with myself, May I accept myself as I am, or May I learn to accept myself as I am. Choose a compassionate phrase to say to yourself in this moment.

If you have been in therapy with me, or you have access to tools, such as the Model of Emotions, recording emotions, urges, and behaviors on a diary card, Wise Mind practice, or other Mindfulness skills, you can also use these. The important point is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then, when you think you have practiced enough, PRACTICE some more. My Zen teacher says that we cannot change who we are. What we can do is practice, practice, practice every day until one day, what we have practiced becomes us.

If you have found yourself in a position where you feel you are stuck, and you would like to make changes in your life so that you can be healthier and happier, contact me today to get started on a path to a new you.


Motivation: Start Lifting Yourself Up and Stop Beating Yourself Down

Motivation, non-judgment, authentic life
Listen to the Audio Version of Dr. Bando’s Article.
Often, clients or prospective clients approach me for help with motivation. We all want to live vibrant lives and maybe increase exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by, and we realize we haven’t made that change we wanted at all. We can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever make that change.

Finally Fed Up?

Maybe we finally decide to get serious. We are disgusted enough with ourselves that we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a brief time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by, and we are sick of being restrictive and “depriving” ourselves, so we give in and “indulge,” feeling stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

It’s Time to Get Motivated!

MOTIVATION happens when our goals align with our values, then the behaviors we take to move toward our goals link closely to our values, and we reinforce those behaviors. I know from personal experience that the key factors in staying Motivated are reinforcement, which inspires and ignites Motivation, and punishment, which extinguishes Motivation. When we narrow it down to these two simple principles, we begin to realize how straightforward it is to start down a path to lasting change. By reinforcing yourself with simple things like clear goals, being in tune with what is truly important to you, and staying passionate (by focusing on what works and reinforcing the hell out of it), you are guaranteed to break yourself free from that cycle.

Audio Meditation for Motivation:

Listen to Dr. Bando’s Audio Meditation
To stay motivated and moving toward goals that you value, you must build the muscle of Reinforcement. Finding what you are already doing that is working, or taking very small steps forward, and then rewarding those actions creates sustainable motivation for change. Think of it this way: punishment extinguishes motivation and reinforcement creates, ignites, awakens and maintains motivation. Where you have reinforcement, you can create motivation.

Let’s practice building this muscle:

Start with noticing your breathing. You do not have to change or alter your breath. Simply notice that you are inhaling and exhaling. Pay attention to where in your physical body you feel your breath.

Now, for the next three to five breaths, pay attention to where you feel your breath in your physical body and when your mind wanders away or zones out, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

When you notice yourself wander and bring you attention back to your breath, you can think of this as a weight lifting rep, or an exercise to build your ability to put your attention where you want it.

Now, let’s go further. Using this idea of placing the mind where you want it to be in the moment, recall one thing you did in the past day that was effective. Unless you achieved a huge goal in the past day, this exercise requires you to let go of judgments and find where you were effective. Do not dismiss anything for not being “good” enough or “big” enough. If you were tired and you got up on time, that is an accomplishment. If you felt depressed and did not want to get out of bed but you took a shower, perhaps that was effective. It does not matter how big or small you think this action was, take a moment and pick one effective action you engaged in over the past day.

When you have that behavior in mind, reinforce it. You can reinforce this behavior a number of ways: you can reinforce with self-talk, such as, “Good job,” or “I did it,” or “Nice!” Remember, your focus is on what you did well and reinforcing it. If your mind wanders to telling you that it wasn’t good enough, your practice is to gently bring your focus back to what you did well and reinforce it. You may also reinforce your behavior through soothing touch. Maybe if feels soothing to place your hands over your heart center and notice the warmth, or one hand over the other hand, or gently cup your face with both hands. This is touch that feels loving and sweet. Again, when your mind wanders to you or your behavior not being good enough, gently bring your attention back to what you did well and reinforce it.

This is the practice of increasing your motivation in a way that is sustainable and reliable. You can practice this every day – find one thing you did well and practice turning your mind toward noticing what you accomplished and reinforcing it. When your mind goes toward judgments about you or your behavior not measuring up, this is punishment. It will extinguish your motivation and ability to move forward. It’s not wrong, this is just what minds do, they wander, and they come up with judgments. Your task is to calmly notice when this happens and bring your attention back to reinforcing your accomplishment. Practice, practice, practice this and you will notice your motivation grow and your ability to take more steps toward your goals increase.


When Others’ Opinions Get You Down (and What to Do When You Feel Fat)

judging ridicule others' opinions feeling fat
We’ve all been self-conscious about our appearance, and have at one point or another worried about what other people think of us. Whether it’s how we dress, speak, act, or even weigh, that concern can at times be overwhelming. While it’s important to take in others’ opinions (this gives us a reflection of ourselves and how we are perceived), over-valuing what others think or may think, while under-valuing our own ideas can damage our self-respect. If you’d like to spend less time concerned about others’ opinions and more time embodying your own values, I’ve put together a few strategies that will help you in this area.

Tuning In

Tuning in requires focusing on your internal voice and turning up the volume so that it is louder than the opinions around you. When you find yourself in a situation where you feel over-worried about what someone else may think of you, ask yourself, “What, in my deepest values, do I believe about this situation?” You may also ask yourself how you would respond to a friend who was in your shoes. Would you shame and browbeat her or tell her that you understand where she is coming from and she did not do anything to be embarrassed? The strategies of asking how you feel, what you believe and to what standard you would hold someone you care about, gives you valuable feedback about whether you want to correct your behavior or if the problem is not your behavior but worry thoughts and shame entering your mind and body.

Your Values, Thoughts, and Emotions

When you have discovered that you have behaved, dressed, spoken, etc., in line with your values but are still plagued by embarrassment and worries about what others think of you, the first step is DON’T CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR. If you change your behavior when your behavior is not the problem, you are sending yourself a confusing message and shame is likely to build.

For example, Marla (pseudonym) found herself concerned that she was not “thin enough” and felt embarrassed about her appearance in certain social situations. As a result of this embarrassment, Marla would tug on her clothes, check herself often in the mirror, avoid being in pictures, and plan her outfit days in advance in response to excruciating worry thoughts. When Marla asked herself about her values, she realized that she would never ever treat a friend the way she was treating herself. She would never judge a friend based on her weight or fit of her clothes and would not want to associate herself with anyone who would judge in this way. Yet, she had been behaving as though she should be ashamed.

Marla’s strategy became clear: Treat her body as perfectly fine and refuse to apologize for how she looks. This means that Marla resisted urges to tug on her clothes, plan the perfect outfit in advance, and even volunteered to be front-and-center in photos. Initially, her self-critical and worry-thoughts increased, and she felt embarrassment wash over her when seeing a full-body picture posted on Facebook. Marla was determined, though, and she persisted.

Over time, her mind and body understood the consistent message that Marla was sending. The message was, “I will not apologize for how my body looks because there is no reason to apologize.” Her self-hating thoughts and worries about what others thought of her began to quiet and feelings of embarrassment lessened over time. Now, when Marla feels a surge of her old urge to apologize for her appearance rear its ugly head, she knows what to do and prioritizes her mental health and self-respect.

As my wise Zen teacher says, “You cannot force yourself to be different. All you can do is practice every day until one day, you become what you have practiced.”

Your Breath and Sensations

If you find it difficult to tune into your values and priorities, start with your breath. Any of my past or present patients will tell you that at least once per therapy session, I will ask them to stop and notice three inhalations and exhalations. This offers an opportunity to notice what the breath is doing in the body. Stop and try it now – place your awareness on your breath for three inhales and exhales. Notice: Where in your physical body does your attention go as you are placing your awareness on your breathing? Your breath is a readily available sensation that can help you start to tune into your body and then your wisdom.

After noticing how your breath feels in your physical body, you can also start to pay attention to sensations. Start to ask yourself questions, such as, “How does my body feel when I am having fun, trusting myself, following what feels right?” Are you relaxed in some areas, tense in others? Do you notice changes in your posture? How about temperature or a feeling of moving energy in various parts of your body? The more you tune into how your body feels, you will begin to get clear messages from your wisdom and be able to sharply access your values and priorities in different situations.

Now What?

The more you practice paying attention to your breath, listening to your body and feelings, identifying your values and behaving as though they matter, the easier it will become. With any new behavior practice, practice and then more practice is needed to help the new habit stick. As my wise Zen teacher says, “You cannot force yourself to be different. All you can do is practice every day until one day, you become what you have practiced.”

Identify a step from this article that you can put into practice today and practice doing this every day until it becomes easy for you. Then, identify and take a next step. If you are a person who has loud self-critical thoughts, it will take a while for them to calm down and for value-driven thoughts to take up your mind space. Give yourself the time you need and devote yourself to one small practice every day.

If you want additional help learning how to truly experience and enjoy your life, contact Dr. Bando today for an online consultation and start shifting from surviving to thriving!


When Everyone Turns to You, and You’d Rather They Didn’t

Everyone occasionally gets assigned to be the Point Person: the one people turn to for making plans, coordinating, and figuring everything out. The people around you may have the impression you are the most knowledgeable, capable, or willing to do the work. They may look up to you or see you as an authority. For whatever reason, you become the Point Person, the hub of responsibility in a situation or group.

Sometimes it can be preferable to be the “Point Person,” but there will be times that you just do not want the responsibility. You may have been told to “just say yes” or “step up to the plate” when you have been put in this position. People may try to cheer you on, thinking you just need encouragement and that leading or organizing will be good for you, or that it’s your duty. Still, you do not want to do it. So, what now?

Your Health

Consider whether it is healthy for you to take on unwanted tasks. The associated stress increase can cause you harm. We all know excessive stress is harmful, but the chronicity of stress that comes from being a “Point Person” can be especially injurious, because there is no apparent time for your body to realize that the situation is over, signaling that it is time to relax.

Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety” – National Institute of Mental Health website

when you're the point person, assigned responsibility, appointed in charge

Your Relationships

Allowing others to decide that you are in charge can be detrimental to your relationships. It is best to talk about what you are comfortable with early before you grow resentful for having endured a situation you felt forced into. This can also prevent tensions that would inevitably arise in the course of you trying to fill that “Point Person” role.

Feeling pushed into a default role of responsibility most likely does not help you put your best foot forward and shine. Your performance as an unwilling “Point Person” may disappoint people that matter to you, or matter to your success at work or other areas of your life.

How to Handle Being Elected Point Person

Once you decide how you feel about being the responsible party, you can then set limits that protect you from absorbing more responsibility than you want. Be clear with yourself about what bothers you, what feels right in your wisdom, and how you would like to interact with the project or situation ahead of you. Then you can set parameters with the people looking to you for guidance.

Setting limits promotes better health and well-being. Some of the benefits of being clear about your boundaries include that you learn more about yourself, you become a more transparent and effective communicator, and you have more time for the things you value.

It can take practice setting boundaries with others. Here are some tips to help you set your boundaries:

  • Do your homework: Ask what others expect of you without assuming.
  • Know yourself and be truthful: Before starting a conversation about your limits, know what you are willing to accept and be honest about it.
  • Negotiate: Be willing to try to find a solution that works for everyone if it exists, don’t accept “solutions” that truly do not work for you.
  • Self-care: Stick with your commitment to take care of yourself.
  • Be assertive: Don’t try to disguise your limits or make them seem like something they aren’t. Be direct and clear.

If you want to learn more about limit setting or other ways to take your health from surviving to thriving, contact Dr. Bando today.


Validation is Good for Your Health

Why Validate?

Everybody craves validation. Even babies need to be responded to as though their experiences are valid and have their needs met. To be told that you matter, and your experiences make sense is a deeply regulating and nourishing experience.

What is Validation?

When you validate, you are NOT saying you agree, approve or condone. In fact, you can validate someone you completely disagree with (more on this later). You can also learn to validate your own experience even when you have self-judgments, such as thinking you “should feel differently.”

Validation is not a compliment or an insult. Validation means expressing that the person you are validating (yourself or someone else) has an experience that makes sense. Science tells us there is a cause-and-effect process to your emotions and behaviors, meaning that if you feel or act a certain way, there is a reason. In other words, your emotions and actions make sense. They come from somewhere.

To complicate things a bit, everyone does not feel validated by the same words and actions. Different people and situations require diverse ways of validating. Sometimes, simply saying, “How you feel makes sense,” can be enough. There are also situations that require spending some time listening and asking questions before the other person feels they have been heard.

Read on for tips on how to validate and understand the benefits to your health.

How to Validate

Give verbal responses to show you are engaged and listening.

This can be “um-hum” or “ah” or “I see” or “keep talking” or “I’m interested in what you are saying” or “tell me more.” You can also ask follow-up questions, “Then what happened?” or “How did you feel about him saying that to you?” Respond with whatever feels natural to illustrate that you are following along and giving attention to what the other person is saying. The key here is to be genuine. If you are rolling your eyes or sighing with boredom while at the same time verbally expressing your interest, this can be experienced as confusing or invalidating.

Express that you are listening with body language.

Instead of slouching back in your chair, looking at the wall, or fidgeting with a pen, look at the person speaking. Watch their expressions and listen as though you are interested. This is a time to practice putting down your electronic devices and silencing them. You can lean your body slightly forward or sit forward in your chair toward the person speaking. This indicates interest and can be reinforcing for many.

validation is good for you

Verbalize you are listening by saying it.

Validation is about recognizing and expressing that what a person is experiencing matters and is real. You can show this by simply saying it. Phrases such as, “I can understand why you feel this way,” or, “It makes sense you would be frustrated,” or, “I think anyone in your shoes would feel this way,” can communicate validation.

Search for the kernel of truth.

If you are trying to validate but disagree and so do not know how to validate the person, the remedy is to get curious. You must take a stance that even if you cannot see it, this person’s experience makes sense and then throw yourself into discovering “the kernel of truth.” In other words, you do not have to agree to validate. You can even disapprove of another’s point of view and still validate. A common type of conversation for this difficulty to arise is in political conversations when you have one point of view and the other person has an opposing view. Or, perhaps your friend tells you about an argument and you agree with the others person’s stance and disagree with your friend. The thing to do here is let go of the content (specifics of the conversation) for a moment and try to identify and make sense of the other’s emotion. While you may disagree with your friend’s political stance, you can still validate that he feels passionate about it or frustrated or whatever the emotion is at that moment. Here, you are communicating, “I may not agree with you, but I still think you make sense and that your experiences are valid and worthwhile, even if we never see eye-to-eye on this.” Through this validating stance, you are accepting how a person feels or perceives a situation. That’s it. You are not approving or condoning; you are simply accepting their experience for what it is.

Validating those you disagree with is an advanced practice. It requires that you let go of framing it in your mind as wrong, illogical, insane, or any other judgments. This exercise further requires you accept that somehow this person makes sense, even if you cannot understand why in this moment. Practice this in less intense situations first until you get the hang of it, then apply it to more emotionally tricky situations. Experiment with validation and investigate the effects it has on your relationships. (Warning: You may experience less conflict and even get your own needs met more frequently.)

Validation is Good for Your Health

If you only learned one skill to improve your relationships, I would cheerlead for that to be validation. Validation is extremely effective in reducing conflict and increasing the bonds between people (this means increased endorphins and all the pleasant-feels and chemicals in the brain and body). Validating others also releases you from the trap of thinking you must tell them what to do, how to feel, what you would have done or otherwise, how to problem-solve their situation. Letting go of the desire to guide or critique others who are perfectly capable of doing that for themselves is a release of perceived responsibility for you, which can be an immense stress reliever. Less stress means lower cortisol levels (regulates your ability to relax and sleep) and often, regulated serotonin (mood regulator).

So far, you have read about validating others. Validating yourself is just as crucial to your health and well-being. People who have a history of chronic invalidation and learn invalidating self-talk suffer profoundly. Chronic invalidation, including self-hating thinking, can lead to depression and symptoms such as binge eating and other behaviors destructive to your health. Your ability to validate yourself is a major strength and allows you to trust your own decisions and wisdom. Building confidence in what you believe, feel and think brings a sense of calm and centeredness that is impossible to attain when you do not trust yourself. Self-validation can promote your general well-being as well as harmonious relationships. Use this short Self-validation Handout/Worksheet to help you practice.

For help validating yourself or others, or learning more techniques and strategies that can enrich your life, contact Dr. Bando today and shift from surviving to thriving!


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Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando