What Does It Mean to Love Yourself?

We hear the phrase “self care” thrown around a lot. Often in our culture, it’s mentioned in conjunction with numbing out behaviors like drinking or binge-watching Netflix, or with the beauty industry activities such as face masks, mani/pedis, and bubble baths. There’s a time and place for activities like this, and they can certainly bring about relaxation and stress relief. Yet sometimes they come with a cost—a Netflix hangover, a literal hangover, or a steep bill at the salon or the bar.

The good news is, loving yourself doesn’t only mean vegging out, buying yourself presents, and making your skin look pretty. The next time you need to give yourself a little lovin’, consider these options:

  • Set gentle limits like a caring, consistent parent would. To be truly caring to ourselves, we need to pay attention to our needs. Imagine that you are a caring parent toward yourself. What would that parent want for you? They’d probably want you to be well-fed, well-rested, to have some consistency in your schedule, to get some time outside, and some time to be playful and move your body around. If they noticed you were tired or cranky, they would want you to have some rejuvenating rest. Can you give yourself these things?
  • Give yourself a hug. Touch neuroreceptors respond to the loving touch we give ourselves in the same way they respond to loving touch from a partner or friend. Squeezing your arms in an embrace, placing a loving hand on your knee, or giving yourself a gentle pat on the shoulder can signal to our bodies that it’s okay to relax, we are safe and welcome here. Note: If your physical safety is endangered, don’t do this exercise until you get somewhere safe again. It makes sense that your body would not be able to relax when sensing danger.
ninja hearts.gif
  • Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend. So often we’re our own worst critics. Try tuning your ear to your self-talk. Are the words you direct toward yourself as kind and gentle as the ones you would say to a beloved friend? If you find that your inner critic speaks to you harshly, see if you can catch it and rephrase the words to be kinder to yourself. Remember that you are a work in progress, and it’s not fair to judge yourself on a stricter scale than everyone else around you!

You are dear. You are to be cherished. You deserve love and belonging. Be sure to treat yourself that way!

Jill Hokanson



Polyvagal Theory and Intimate Relationships

In this video from, Dr. Stephen Porges discusses how polyvagal theory is involved in forming romantic relationships. (If you haven’t heard of polyvagal theory yet, start here.) The formation of safe, healthy, successful romantic relationships works a little like a combination lock that takes a specific order of code to unlock it. The first step of the code is the activation of the social engagement system, which allows the potential partners to feel safe and comfortable with each other. This allows them to be in close proximity and develop a physical connection. Then, oxytocin and neural peptides get activated to create a powerful social bond between the two people.

“But if you flip the order, you’re in trouble.” Porges shares. “You get bonded, but you might not like the person.” This may be why parental and protective figures in our lives ask those pesky questions like, “Does she (or he) treat you well?” They are wanting to find out if we feel safe and comfortable with our new boo!

If you’re interested in couples counseling to help increase the sense of comfort and connection in your relationship, you can peruse our couples counselors here, or visit the Get Started page to request an appointment.



Viva Las Vagus Nerve! A Polyvagal Primer

Image courtesy of .

Image courtesy of

Have you ever heard of the vagus nerve? Maybe or maybe not, but no matter: If you have a breath and a heartbeat, this nerve is doing some heavy lifting for you every day.

The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve. Its name means “wandering” in Latin, and it takes a long, meandering journey throughout the body. It starts in the medulla oblongata—the low brain—just behind the earlobes, and runs down both sides of the neck. It has branches that innervate the heart and lungs; liver and gallbladder; stomach, pancreas and spleen; large and small intestines; kidney and bladder; and the genital organs. That’s some nerve, right?

The vagus nerve doesn’t simply amble through these important organs, it also sends them messages to keep them functioning. These signals don’t even have to be directed by our thoughts. We don’t have to think for our hearts to beat or our G.I. tract to digest. They seem to act on their own, when in fact they are acting at the command of the vagus nerve.

Funnily enough, the vagus nerve is also critical in determining how we assess social situations and act in them. Behavior neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges’ concept of polyvagal theory suggests that there are three ways the vagus nerve mediates our social behavior. When safety is sensed, the vagus nerve manages our social engagement system, helping us to navigate relationships by sensing safety and giving us the activation needed to engage with others. And if our nervous system determines we’re in danger, the vagus nerve helps us to negotiate safety, either through mobilization (i.e., fight or flight) or shutdown (i.e., submission, collapse, or dissociation). Like our heartbeat or breathing, these systems are enacted by the vagal nerve without us needing to consciously tell ourselves what to do.

Let’s go through these three responses in more detail.

The Social Engagement System allows for social approach behavior. Think about what it’s like to see two friends meet for lunch. As the friends approach each other, they may orient toward each other, make eye contact, and smile. They may have palpable energy that is both playful and at ease at the same time. This is what social approach looks like. It occurs when the nervous system has determined that all is safe. It involves the vagus nerve pumping a steady trickle of signals and hormones through the body that let it know to relax.

The Mobilization System comes on when the body senses a threat. Think of someone hiking in the woods and realizing they are being tracked by a wild animal. Their blood pressure may rise, their palms may sweat and their heartrate may increase. Their body would be getting them ready to mobilize to get themselves to safety. In a split second, their brain would assess the level of danger and determine a course of action—either meeting the threat head-on in fight or getting away from the threat via flight.

When Mobilization is not possible, the vagus nerve can enact System Shut-Down. This response occurs when the nervous system identifies profound unsafety, and yet cannot fight or flee. When that happens, the body goes into its second-level defense against the threat—submitting, collapsing, or dissociating to try to conserve energy until the threat recedes. In this response, our own nervous system hits the emergency brake to render us immobile. This can involve symptoms such as passing out, experiencing a fog of dissociation, freezing, and signs of limited organ function, such as not being able to eat. Interesting fact: The shut-down of the vagus nerve is an ancient evolutionary structure, found in our reptilian ancestors. Any time reptile’s system gets overwhelmed, they simply go kerplunk. Luckily for humans, our more nuanced Social Engagement and Mobilization Systems mean that we don’t have to hit the floor every time there’s a threat.

Sometimes, when we are hyperalert to threats due to anxiety disorders or past trauma, it can be difficult to access the ease and relaxation of the Social Engagement System. Some of us spend a great deal of time in states of Mobilization or Shut-Down. All is not lost! Being kind and attentive toward our vagus nerves can bring about increased relaxation, ease, and soothing. Try one of the activities below and see if you notice the subtle shift toward relaxation in your body.

Ways to Use the Vagal System to Soothe

  1. Take a deep breath. Even a single deep breath signals safety to our vagal nerve, which in turn communicates the safety to our body. Can you take two, five, or twelve? This may help you ease into a relaxed state.
  2. Scan your space. In a place where you know you are safe, very, very slowly use your eyes to scan the environment around you, following your eyes with the turn of your head. Try choosing a color and noticing every object of that in your line of sight, from one periphery to the other. The motions of your eyes and neck muscles communicate a felt sense of safety to your medulla, which in turn lets the vagus nerve carry the message to your body.
  3. Hum to yourself. The vocal cords run alongside the vagal nerve, and their vibration can help to soothe it. Eastern traditions teach that inhaling deeply and humming an “om” or a “voo” sound on the exhale can elicit relaxation of the vagus nerve and the organs connected to it.
  4. Massage the vagus nerve. Take two fingers on each hand and place them behind the earlobes, moving them in small, gentle, circular or up-and-down motions. Continue the motion along the jaw, sides of the neck, clavicles, and sternum.
  5. Connect with another human. The social engagement system is set up to be soothed the very best by the presence of a calming, supportive other. This is why babies fall asleep to the soft hum of their caregiver’s voice. It’s why a teacher or coach’s encouragement helps us to do our best. When we can take in another human’s calm, caring system, it helps our own nervous system know we are safe.

Does anything you’ve learned about the vagus nerve resonate with your experience? Working with a counselor can help you to increase your access to the Social Engagement System and calm and soothe your nervous system when Mobilization or Shut-Down are getting activated. Consider heading over to our Get Started page to request a counselor who can accompany you on your journey to tend to the wandering nerve.

Jill Hokanson



It Doesn't Take Long to Shift Thought Patterns Toward Happiness


Happiness researcher Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential, contends that making small changes in our daily routines can transform our thought patterns, yielding greater life satisfaction and meaning. It only takes 21 days—three weeks of daily practice—for a new activity to become habit, Achor shares in an interview on the 10% Happier podcast. He identifies five evidence-based daily activities that can quickly increase gratitude, meaning, and pleasure in our everyday lives. Can you incorporate one of these practices into your daily routine? Today is a great day to start!

  1. Look for three new things you are grateful for and why. You can do this at the dinner table, in a classroom or workplace, in the shower, or while you brush your teeth. Gratitude lights up our brains with a sense of joy and connection. To get the greatest benefit, Achor recommends you write the three new things down.

  2. Scan your day for a meaningful memory. Journal about it for two minutes and bullet point three details from the memory. Similar to the exercise in gratitude, this activity helps solidify the meaning attached to the memory and increases our sense of connection to the people or places in the memory. It helps us to tell the story of the memory—why it is important and what it is we want to hold onto. “Your brain has recorded all these separate things that have occurred within your life,” says Achor, “but when you go back and journal about it… you’re wrapping it up in a package with a beginning and with an end, and you’ve just wrapped it as a meaningful experience.”

  3. Get your heart-rate up for 15 minutes. A small amount of mindful exercise can have noticeable results, and this helps increase our self-knowledge that changing our habits can improve our mood. For this reason, Achor calls exercise the “gateway drug” to behavior change.

  4. Breath mindfully for two minutes. When Achor’s research team had a group of developers at Google practice noticing their breath rise and fall for two minutes a day, they found that the employees’ levels of accuracy improved, levels of happiness rose, and stress levels dropped. To get started, you may wish to set a timer for two minutes, or count to about twelve deep breaths.

  5. Begin each day by spending two minutes writing a positive email praising or thanking one new person for something significant or meaningful. “If you do it for three days in a row, you get addicted to this,” Achor says. Thinking about a person to thank or praise increases your sense of gratitude, you feel good about yourself for sending the email, and you feel empowered by transforming the mundane task of managing emails into an opportunity to help someone else feel good. What’s more, when Achor’s study participants did this for 21 days, their levels of social connection—the breadth, depth, and meaning of their social relationships—rose to the top 10% worldwide. Social connection is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness, and even has health benefits that increase lifespan.

Do you think you can incorporate one of these practices into your daily routine? We believe in you! If you'd like to get support from a counselor on making changes like these, visit our Get Started page to request an appointment.

Jill Hokanson



High Functioning Autism (aka Asperger’s) Part Two: Helpful Resources

In Part One of the High Functioning Autism (aka Asperger’s) blog series, we explored the unique strengths and common traits of the Asperger’s brain setup.

In this post, we will continue to celebrate neurodiversity (which is the idea that we all have neurological differences in how we think and learn) by sharing some of my favorite books on Asperger’s.

An important key to success for many people with Asperger’s is to identify and nurture the strengths that often accompany this brain setup, as well as to uncover and develop work-arounds for potential blind spots and challenges that can occur.

Actually, this is an important key to success for most individuals. Many people have told me that learning how their particular brain operates (and the brains of those they love) has played an important part in understanding and accepting themselves and others...and has helped them adjust their approach to succeed in relationships, life and work.

So, if you or someone you care about has an Autism Spectrum diagnosis, or has Asperger traits (even if these traits don’t rise to the degree required for a diagnosis), check out the book list below.

The following books offer valuable insights and information about how this brain works and how to approach life and relationships in a way that supports and plays to the strengths of this brain setup:

Christine Molina, LCSW, is a champion of neurodiversity and a skilled clinician at Therapy Austin. Christine developed this book list and has generously given us permission to share it on our blog.



High Functioning Autism (aka Asperger’s) Part One: A Brain Setup with Many Strengths

Photo from

Photo from

We know that everyone is different, and science shows us that everyone’s brains are different too—in how they process information and how they function in work, school and relationships.

The What is Asperger’s? Information Sheet below is intended to celebrate some of the differences—especially the unique strengths and abilities—commonly found in people with High Functioning Autism (also known as Asperger’s).

What Is Asperger’s?

It can be helpful to think of High Functioning Autism, often known as Asperger’s, as a brain setup that affects people’s thinking and learning styles. Most people with this brain setup are very intelligent. People with this brain setup can see the details and the pattern of those details. They can see the flow of things. This helps them come up with unique solutions and approaches to problems that other people don’t see or notice. They want facts.

These unique talents have allowed individuals in many fields to excel. People with Asperger’s are original thinkers, innovators, and a driving force in our culture. Some famous people who are thought to have Asperger’s are Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Aristotle, Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, Bill Gates, Dan Aykroyd, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Hitchcock, Dr. Temple Grandin, Vernon Smith, and Emily Dickinson.

Beneficial Asperger Traits

Most people with this brain setup are very intelligent. They can see the flow of things.

People with Asperger’s have many desirable traits in common, but possess these traits to varying degrees. Consequently, they may identify with some traits very strongly, while other traits may apply only moderately or slightly. It is also important to realize—because all strengths have potential to become a disadvantage at some point—that these traits may become problematic at certain times, in certain situations, and with certain people. Below are the most common strengths and abilities associated with this brain setup:

Attention to Detail: Ability to remember and process minute details, which gives them a distinct advantage when solving complex problems

Seeing Patterns and Connections (i.e., Higher Fluid Intelligence): Ability to find the connections and patterns among multi-disciplinary facts and ideas. People with Asperger’s have higher than average fluid intelligence, which allows them to draw inferences and understand the relationships between various concepts. This ability allows them to create new, coherent, and meaningful insights that others do not see.

Focus and Diligence: Ability to focus on one objective over long periods of time without distraction. They can work alone for long periods without needing supervision or incentive.

Internal Motivation: Rather than being swayed by social convention, other’s opinions, social pressure or fears, they can hold firm to their own purpose and opinion with conscience and personal pride. They do not give in to naysayers. They also have strong impulse control in many situations.

Independent Thinking: Willingness to consider unpopular or unusual possibilities, which allows them to generate new options and opportunities and can pave the way for others.

Visual Thinking: Some are very visual in their thought processes, which gives them a unique perspective when designing and creating solutions. They may learn better when they can see how something is done.

Going Against the Flow: Ability to recognize and speak the truth that is being ignored or set aside by others, which can be vital to the success of a project or endeavor.

Logical Decision Making: Ability to be very logical in their approach to problem solving; can make logical and rational decisions without being swayed by impulse or emotional reactions (although, they can be very emotional at times).

Loyalty, Dependability, and Honesty: In relationships, exhibiting an absolute loyalty, impeccable dependability, and a determination to seek and speak the truth. They say exactly what they mean.

People with Asperger’s have higher than average fluid intelligence. This allows them to create new, coherence, and meaningful insights.

Exceptional Memory in Certain Areas: Often possess an exceptional rote memory and/or recall of details often forgotten or disregarded by others (for example: names, dates, schedules, routines).

Strength in Individual Sports or Games (particularly in sports/games involving endurance or visual accuracy): Often prefer and excel at individual rather than team sports.

Metaphors and Puns: Ability to use advanced pictorial metaphors and a fascination with word-based humor, such as puns.

Intuition: May have an intuitive “sixth sense.”

Concrete: Prefer concrete, rather than abstract, concepts.

Value of Precision and Accuracy: Ability to be very precise and accurate with tasks and words. This ability allows them to perform very complex and technical projects with no or minimal error.

Higher Capacity for Routine Activities or Things: Ability to do the same things over and over without getting bored.

Sensitive (or Under-Sensitive) to Sensory Experiences: Acute awareness (or a lack of awareness) of sensory experiences (such as, sounds, lights, touch, colors, and/or smells). An example of this is having an acute sense of smell that allows them to pick up on scents that others don’t notice.

The above text is from “What Is Asperger’s?” Information Sheet, © Copyright 2015 by Carol York, MSSW, LCSW, and Christine Molina, LCSW. Revised February 2019. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Christine Molina, LCSW, is a champion of neurodiversity and a skilled clinician at Therapy Austin. Christine and her former clinical supervisor, Carol York, developed an information sheet on Asperger’s that lays out the strengths of people with this brain setup. Christine has generously given us permission to share this information on our blog.



Surviving the Holidays

tree of lights.jpeg

'Tis the season for hustle and bustle, friends and family, presents and treats—and for loneliness, family conflict, budget crunch, and social anxiety. Do you ever struggle with how to handle the "most wonderful time of the year"?

Do you ever struggle with how to handle the ‘most wonderful time of the year’?

First, know that you are not alone. Difficult family dynamics, grief and loss, and memories of past stressful events come up for many people at this time of year, and may be intensified by our unrealistic expectations. We all have ideas of what our celebrations are “supposed” to look like, and it’s not easy for reality to live up to the ideal!

Getting through the holidays requires that you have a plan. It can help to think ahead about where you will be, what you can anticipate and how you predict you might react. Pretending that things will be “different” this holiday or believing that somehow you will have a new experience with all the same old people doing all the same old things will get you what it’s always got you.

But never fear—help is here! The Holiday Survival Guide is designed to help you develop tangible, workable coping strategies for dealing with the difficult emotions and interpersonal situations that the holidays can bring. Create a game plan with activities such as making an inventory of the most difficult people you anticipate dealing with and brainstorming how to minimize your judgments of them. Find practical “Dos and Don’ts,” such as avoiding “hanger” (hunger anger) by eating regularly, and limiting your caffeine intake.

You can survive the holidays and hopefully enjoy some parts. Take a deep breath, ring them bells, and work through this extremely helpful packet.



Gratitude in a Season of Darkness and Light

Sky lanterns in Chiang Mai. Photo courtesy of    John Shedrick   .

Sky lanterns in Chiang Mai. Photo courtesy of John Shedrick.

Daylight Savings is done, the sky grows dark, and yet it is also a season of celebrating light and giving thanks. In India and Nepal, November 7 marks the beginning of Hindu celebration of Diwali, the joyful festival of lights, symbolizing the victory of light over darkness. In Thailand, Yi Ping, a celebration of the full moon, will take place November 22, with the launch of thousands sky lanterns into the night sky.

It can be easy to focus on the darkness. Our brains evolved recognize threats, but it can take extra effort to cultivate gratitude, light and joy. The following gratitude reflection comes from Still Mind: An Introduction to Meditation by Alan Watts (2014) and provides a way of turning our minds toward what is going well in our lives and honoring the light that is within us and around us.

Gratitude Reflection

  1. Settle yourself in a relaxed posture. Take a few deep, calming breaths to relax and center. Let your awareness move to your immediate environment: all the things you can smell, taste, touch, see, hear. Say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”
  2. Next, bring to mind those people in your life to whom you are close: your friends, family, partner…. Say to yourself, “For this, I am grateful.”
  3. Next, turn your attention onto yourself: you are a unique individual, blessed with imagination, the ability to communicate, to learn from the past and plan for the future, to overcome any pain you may be experiencing. Say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”
  4. Finally, rest in the realization that life is a precious gift. That you have been born into a period of immense prosperity, that you have the gift of health, culture, and access to spiritual teachings. Say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”



Counselor Spotlight: Sarah Akunebu

Sarah A.jpg

Welcome to the Counselor Spotlight series, where clinicians at Therapy Austin share what inspires them, how they take care of themselves, and what influenced them to work in this field. First up we have the brave Sarah Akunebu. Enjoy!

For Sarah Akunebu, showing up as a professional counselor is important, but she also places great emphasis on being her most authentic self while doing healing work.  She laughed,  “I’m probably more of a human and less of a therapist” explaining  those moments that I have with clients where we are connected human to human” is what she finds most meaningful in her work.  She joyfully announced, “I don’t want to be Sarah the Therapist, I want to be Sarah doing therapy!”.  She has even had clients return to working with her after a break and share how impactful her humanity in the therapy room has aided in their healing journey.

I don’t want to be Sarah the Therapist. I want to be Sarah doing therapy.

Even though Sarah has found the just-right formula for her therapeutic practice, she continues to be surprised by “how dynamic it (being in the therapy room) is on the inside for the counselor”.  She goes on to explain that at different stages in the therapeutic process she has hit the limit of growth in that stage, but the natural cycle of “being a human being” (ever evolving) presents her with a new opportunity to move into the next stage of development.  She highlighted that during the 10th or 11th month at Therapy Austin she was able to recognize the depth of that work with clients, and also within herself. Sarah welcomes the reminder that she continues to grow professionally through those therapeutic relationships built with those longer-term clients.

A few phrases Sarah often finds herself saying over and over to clients is “Tune In”, and she truly witnesses her clients’ experiences by telling them “I want to validate that for you”.  She explained, “I want people to naturally tune into what is happening inside of them. Whether it be physical activity or an emotional state that is happening in the physical body, or that inner voice that is there”.  Sarah believes that many people carry the very information they need to thrive, but are often told “it’s not important, or not to listen to it”.  Sarah points out that for many adults, they are disconnected from that child-like part inside of them that allows them to be mystified by beautiful moments.

SELF-CARE. SELF-CARE. SELF-CARE. That is what is drilled into most budding therapists while in school, and for good reason.  Self-care is paramount to be able to do effective therapeutic work. Sarah described her self-care practice as “always evolving”, and explained that changing up her regimen helps to keep her grounded and recharged.  Starting in early 2015, She began incorporating physical exercise into her self-care practice and it was a game changer.  Sarah vowed, “I’m never going to give it up”.  Additionally, she keeps a dream journal to “tune in” to her inner world, and incorporates daily prayer for moment of peace and quiet.  One simple trick to help her get those important Z’s is “AIRPLANE MODE”, which she turns on all of her electronics at night.

If self-care is paramount, then where a therapist seeks wisdom is a close-second for a strong therapeutic practice. Sarah shared that just as she encourages clients to tune in to themselves, she also must connect to herself to tap into her internal knowing.  She explained that in the past she sought wisdom from outside of herself assuming that “they were wise because they were older”.  She went on to explain, “Now, I realize that I was being stripped away of wisdom inside of me and told not to trust or speak on it.  Now, I seek a sense of wisdom inside myself; speaking very clearly from that space and from my heart”.  Sarah also looks to others who have had life experiences that brought them face to face with what it is to be a human being.  She values their wisdom because they have learned to not take physical or emotional pain out on other people.

Being open to people, even those who look different from me, feeds my human side and my Sarah doing therapy side.

Sarah is half Nigerian and half Mexican raised by immigrant parents in a home where different languages flowed throughout the house.  She considers that a “really unique experience”.  She has also experienced people not witnessing all of who she is, but rather only focusing on what she may look like or what language she speaks.  This impacted her in the past, and she learned to channel that negative experience into creating openness and acceptance within in her therapeutic practice. “Being open to people, even those who look different from me, feeds my human side and my Sarah doing therapy side”.

A big thank you to Sarah for letting us peek into her personal experience as a therapist! I hope you enjoyed getting know Sarah and if you feel you would like to hear more about Sarah’s practice and request an appointment with her, head over to her profile.

written by Frances Fazzio


The Gift of Receiving

The Gift of Receiving by Eva Lorini

The Gift of Receiving by Eva Lorini

I want to learn how to be the best receiver that I can ever be. Because I think graceful receiving is one of the most wonderful gifts we can give anybody. If we receive what somebody gives us in a graceful way, we’ve given that person a wonderful gift.
— Fred Rogers

When was the last time you really received something? And I mean that in the truest sense of the word: intentionally opened yourself to a particular sensation, feeling, expression, or experience?


It doesn’t come easy for many of us. So often we let the opportunity to receive pass us by, or we even actively push it away. How many times have you responded to someone thanking you by quickly saying, “No problem”? There isn’t something wrong with that response, but it’s worth acknowledging that it shuts us off from receiving someone’s gratitude.


Our capacity for receiving something falls in direct proportion to our belief in our worthiness of it. We can’t take something in, whether it’s an expression of someone’s appreciation, love, or care for us or the beauty and majesty of a sunset, unless we know in our bones we deserve it. And the more fully we know we deserve it, the more fully the goodness of it can reverberate in our hearts.


It makes sense then that receptivity can be a growing edge for us depending on the kinds of messages we got about our worth growing up. Behind every guilty, anxious, or selfish feeling for receiving and taking in the good is a doubt of our inherent, unchanging worth.


Our culture certainly doesn’t support the act of receiving, either. It promotes relentless consumption and the acquiring and possession of material things, yes. (Especially this time of year!) But receiving is something totally different.


Receiving is about staying open and connected: our hearts connected with another person; with the Earth; with the wonder and beauty of the simple and grand moments in life. It is a willingness to slow down and pause to really take something in, whether it’s someone else’s appreciation for you, the sound of the wind in the trees, the proud look on your nephew’s face when he presents you with something he created, bona fide help from a friend in the middle of a crisis, an out-of-the-blue compliment from a stranger, dusk in the autumn months, the look of the moon in the night sky. Last year I wrote a post on finding gratitude during dark times. Whether we are in a dark time or not, this is the space where gratitude emerges, in the space of receptivity.


Contrary to our culture’s messages, we really don’t need to “get stuff” to feel good. Life presents us with countless opportunities to receive its goodness right here, right now. And the best part is, we have so much more to give when we are able to receive. In fact, we can only give what we ourselves are able to receive.


Are you ready to receive? While still honoring what you may be enduring during this time, I invite you to receive the goodness of life as fully as you can this season. You are worth it. And your heart will thank you for it.



Keeping a Pillow Book

pillow book illustration.jpg

Keeping a Pillow Book

or Things We Gain by Observation

Is there any form of writing more overlooked and disposable than the list? Perhaps cereal box copy or graffiti. Fleetingly relevant, the list is written to be scrapped. Yet, astonishingly, the lists of one Japanese noblewoman have endured for a thousand years. While serving as a lady-in-waiting, Sei Shōnagon famously compiled a loose collection of musings and narratives in list form known as The Pillow Book.

We associate lists with utility, though under Sei Shōnagon’s brush, the form is expansive and suggestible. She touches on aesthetic delights as well as moments of pathos or longing. But in this eclectic chronicle, Sei Shōnagon never inhabits an emotional frequency overlong. She also takes acerbic pleasure in tallying Things Without Merit and People Who Look Pleased with Themselves, while Things That Lose by Being Painted includes men or women who are praised in romances as being beautiful.

Though Sei Shōnagon was likely writing for an audience—she artfully reworked her observations—a pillow book is, in essence, confessional. These notes might literally be stashed beneath a pillow, but don’t miss their metaphorical import. The pillow comes into nightly contact with our sensing organs and breath, pressed closer than a sleeping partner, as we drift, as we dream. What else do you keep close? A pillow book urges us to intimately examine our surroundings, and, through this act of noticing, inclinations and biases.

Try writing a list under one of these headings from The Pillow Book:

  • Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster
  • Things That Are Distant Though Near
  • Things That Are Near Though Distant
  • Times When One Should Be on One’s Guard
  • Surprising and Distressing Things
  • Things That Give a Clean Feeling
  • Things That Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past
  • Things That Have Lost Their Power
  • Things That Cannot Be Compared

Soon your own headings will occur to you. You might list Things Left in the Employee Refrigerator, The Types of People I Forever Seem to Be Meeting, Things I Never Should Have Done Twice, or Things My Children Consider Possible and Impossible. A list does not have to be about you to be revealing. A list of Enviable People might prompt examination of why the people selected are enviable and what made you take this perspective. Significant omissions can be just as telling. Who would you leave off a list entitled People Who Will Always Tell Me the Truth?

The point is to slow down and engage in mindful observation. You may find your writing coalescing around sense impressions or images. Avoid being proscriptive. A list can be brisk and focused or unsystemic and rambling. Subjectivity is encouraged, but remain honest. As Sei Shōnagon wrote, “I never thought that these notes would be read by anyone else, and so I included everything that came into my head, however strange or unpleasant.”

The list is a form to be filled.

If you’d like to explore this and other mindful practices with the help of an experienced therapist, head to our Get Started page and request an appointment.



Living With Loss: The Value of Grief

I wondered if this was a helpful time to write a blog about loss, being at the tail end of our sunny Texas summer and months away from the holidays. However, I quickly remembered the heart of the message I want to convey in this piece; that being human is an inherently vulnerable experience, and loss is an inevitable part of being alive, no matter the season.

The ability and willingness to open ourselves to grief, as ironic as it might seem, is essential to living a full, enriched, meaningful life. The deeper and fuller we are able to feel our grief, the deeper and fuller we open ourselves to the gratitude, love, joy, awe, and peace available to us in this life.

The sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour, as the saying goes. Decades of research have supported the ancient, intuitive truth behind those words. However, our western culture is obsessed with self-sufficiency, “staying positive,” “bouncing back,” and “moving on.” And depending on the kinds of messages we received about our feelings within our families, grief may seem, consciously or unconsciously, dangerous, shameful, or simply unbearable to feel. All of this in tandem with grief’s innate intensity, it’s no wonder we have such a tendency to run from grief.

None of us are free from having to live with loss, however, and the problem with running away from our feelings is that it doesn’t make them go away. The more we defend against them, the more we shut ourselves off from our authenticity, vitality, and fullness.

This is to say nothing of the sanctity of grief. To know grief is to know life on a profound level.

To bravely touch this sacred ground, it may be comforting to remember these truths about grief:

  • Grief is a healthy, adaptive emotion.
    We humans are social creatures at our core. We are wired to connect and share, see and be seen by one another. We attach, we love, we get close. When we lose someone who meant something or even had the potential to mean something to us, our physiology wisely responds to this painful loss through grief.
  • Grief is messy.
    We can’t fit it into tidy steps. There isn’t a timeline for it. There is no “completion” of it either. Our organized left-brains struggle with this and it can often make us believe we aren’t grieving “correctly.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. While it’s okay and understandable to feel the need for containment around it, it’s also important to remember that our grief knows the way before we do. With genuine support, we can move with it and through it. 
  • Our grief falls in proportion to how much we loved.
    That grief is probably the most intense, overwhelming emotion we ever face as humans points to what is most important to us as a species: the love and connection we share with one another. The magnitude of our grief reflects the magnitude of our love.
  • Loss comes in all forms.
    Grief is often tied to people still alive: parents or partners who were unable to meet us in the way we needed and deserved, for example. Or to a soul with whom an important and meaningful connection existed but who we never got the opportunity to know, such as within an adoption or a miscarriage. It’s tied to things unseen but sincerely felt: dreams, hopes, expectations. It’s easy to feel isolated around these kinds of losses because they aren’t as publicly recognized. If you are grieving one of these losses, know that it is as valid as any other and as deserving of support as any other. 
  • Loss is complex.
    No one lives in a vacuum. You aren’t abnormal or crazy for discovering more layers of feelings or losses within your grief or that emerge around it. In fact, I’d say that is the norm.
  • It’s healthy and strong to need support for your grief.
    Grief is about as intense of an emotion as it gets. Surrounding yourself with as many people as you can who can bear it with you will nurture your healing in important ways. 
  • Grief originates from what has mattered to us, and it returns us to that place as well.
    Nothing puts us in touch with the fragility of this life like loss. In daring to know this fragility, we open ourselves to a depth of gratitude, sincerity, mystery, and grace not otherwise possible. Grief opens the door and wisely leads our way.

If you are in the midst of grief, and feel like you would like some support, to explore it, or process through it, you are welcome to contact us. We are here for you.

-Eva Lorini



Look For The Helpers

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Image courtesy of Getty Images

We know many of you have friends or family impacted by Hurricane Harvey. It can be frightening and overwhelming to see the news about the destruction happening across the Texas coast. In scary times like these, it can be helpful to do what Mr. Rogers suggested and look for the helpers. Wherever there are disasters, there are also good-hearted people who do their very best to provide aid. It can also be healing to become a helper, allowing us to shift from a helpless role to an active one. Here are some ways to help our neighbors.

Here are some actions we can take locally:

These food banks are accepting online donations:

These organizations support specific groups of people who are especially vulnerable:

Local and National shelter, relief and clean-up funding:

It’s totally normal to have a fearful, sad, angry or numb response following a natural disaster. Our brains aren’t made to respond to big, overwhelming bad news. And yet we can respond to a neighbor in need quite well. Connecting to others face-to-face and hand-to-hand during times of suffering can help ease the heartbreak, and can put us back in touch with our greatest strength-being there for each other.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you do not have to go through that feeling alone. Visit our Get Started page to get connected with a counselor who can walk alongside you through the scary parts of your journey.

-Jill Hokanson



Changed For Good: A Love Letter To My Clients

Dear Clients,

Don't worry, neither of us is the good witch or wicked witch. We contain both sides--just like Glinda and Elphaba.  Image courtesy of 

Don't worry, neither of us is the good witch or wicked witch. We contain both sides--just like Glinda and Elphaba.

Image courtesy of 

I know, I know, I know. Just the title of this post sounds a little too mushy to keep reading. But this is the FEELINGS business, people! And so I’d like to discuss one of the feelings that comes up often in the therapist-client relationship – L.O.V.E.

One of the best pieces of advice I received in grad school came from Professor Allyson Jervey, LCSW, who said, “It’s okay to love your clients.”

You may be curious about if your therapist can really love you. If you’ve been in therapy before, you know that boundaries are a really important part of it. The amount of time spent together, the location, the fee, and the sharing of resources all create boundaries in therapy. And therapists cannot have dual relationships with their clients, such as being friends or having romantic encounters. I appreciate all of these boundaries because they actually make it safe for therapists to love our clients in a way that is healthy and healing. It's not the same love as that of a partner, parent, sibling or friend. It has a place of its own.

My love for my clients is kind of like this: I want to take the bravest part of me, the most accepting part of me, the most magnanimous and mindful part of me, and give it to you as a gift.

I feel so honored to get to be there to watch your lives unfolding. I want to provide a space for that unfolding, to hold open all the possibilities of who you are and who you are becoming. Without judgement, without telling you what you “should” do. Together we can create a space that has room for the whole story, the scary parts and the funny parts, the lonely parts and the together parts. It makes me smile to think about how enormous and long and unique your stories are, how full of grit, and courage, and connection. I expect there will be many more twists in your stories!

Because of the boundaries on the therapeutic relationship, I do not share with you all the things about me and my life. (After all, I wouldn’t want your session to become about me!) But I want you to know that your unfolding stories are woven into my experience of the world. I long for justice when you share with me the ways you have been harmed by the world and the people in it. I feel hopeful when I see you build up your resources to meet challenges. I feel gratitude when I hear about the webs of family and friendship that cocoon around you in times of sadness and fear, and stretch to let you explore in times of growth and change.

You are a part of my web. Your ideas and feelings and actions float through me, surprise me, inspire me. Hearing your stories unfold each week changes my own story. Thank you for letting me be your therapist. Thank you for letting me draw upon my best self to meet you and help you draw upon your best self. I believe that because of our time together, we will be changed for good.

Are you wanting to get connected with a therapist who will accept and explore your WHOLE story? Learn about Therapy Austin’s Counselors and then fill out our easy, confidential online request form to Get Started.

-Jill Hokanson



Trust Your Process: In Praise of Slow Growth

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Good Will Hunting. After only a few months of therapy, Will, the main character, has a major breakthrough in his therapist’s office. Then, he weeps into his therapist’s arms, he walks out the door a changed man, and changes his life.

It’s such a moving scene. We’ve been rooting for his character, and it’s touching to see him transform and live the life he deserves.

We all wish for moments like that. For that dramatic change that we’ve been working so hard for to instantaneously emerge and forever alter the course of our life.  

Many people imagine that going to therapy is all for the lead up to that one, giant insight that changes your life. And it is true that some people, whether they are in therapy or not, certainly do have major breakthroughs that alter their inner world and life outside of it.

For most of us, however, change and growth take a different pace.

The truth is change is often slow. Unhurried. And occurs in tiny moments that can be easy to miss.

I know this is probably not what you wanted to hear.

When you’ve been living with a problem that you’re becoming more and more aware of, it makes sense to want the change to happen now. I get it. It’s frustrating.

We also live in a success-driven culture obsessed with fast results. So it can be very easy to feel like we’re not measuring up when change is taking its sweet time.

But after living with a problem for so many years, it also makes sense that it would take time for new patterns to develop.

In fact, this is how healing and growth actually occur. Our psyches are designed to fall apart so that we have the opportunity to go through the process of putting them back together, building upon novel experiences and perspectives one step at a time. A new form slowly takes shape, one that includes what has happened in the past that engendered our crumbling, along with the new, higher-order understanding of ourselves and our experience.

This is solid, lasting change, built from the bottom up. And we can’t make it happen any faster than it needs to.

The beautiful thing about this kind of change, though, is it allows us to grow into it. So often, we don’t even realize it’s happening because what is happening feels so hard. Feels like we’re never going to get there. Feels like we’re doing life wrong because we’re not there yet.

When, actually, deep change is occurring under the current of these stories in the mind. You are on the path. The willingness to struggle and tolerate uncertainty and darkness is the very manifestation of growth. The kind of growth that stays with you for life.

There is potential for profound transformation in falling apart and rebuilding, one slow step at a time. Trust that your growth is happening in every moment of struggle that you stay with yourself and honor the unique, precious rhythm of your life.

To assist in your process, take a look at our outstanding counselors to request an appointment.

- Eva Lorini



The Sensation-Emotion Highway in Highly Sensitive Persons

Maybe you remember hearing it on the playground. “Stop being a baby.” Or after crying at work. “You need to learn how to not be so sensitive.” Undoubtedly, you’ve seen the debates in opinion columns. “Was everyone this sensitive before the internet?” 

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

There is no shortage of cultural messaging that equates sensitivity with weakness. But it turns out, all humans are sensitive in that we all experience the world around us through our senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. The information these senses provide about our environment and our bodies leads us to have feelings. Perhaps that’s where the word “feeling” comes from – we feel the sensations in our bodies that are connected to our emotional states. In the English language, we have many idioms that demonstrate the connection between sensations and emotions. At different points throughout life we may experience butterflies in our stomach, a knee-jerk reaction, a broken heart, or the need to get something off our chest. These phrases aren’t an accident. Our nervous system connects our body and brain through a network of nerve cells that reach all the way to our fingertips and toes, like a series of roads conveying information back and forth. Sensations, emotions, emotions, sensations.

For some of us, these roads are lightning quick, or rumble with reverberations as information travels up and down them. In fact, for about 20% of the population, the five senses are more highly tuned than average, and the feelings they connect to can be more intense. In her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You (1997), Dr. Elaine Aron explains that for the fifth of the population whose nervous systems are more sensitive, the experience of the environment can be overstimulating. Loud noises may startle them. Harsh smells may be intolerable. A slight change in the temperature may cause a strong reaction in their bodies.

And because sensations are so closely tied to feelings, “Highly Sensitive Persons,” or HSPs, may also have more intense internal experiences, such as vivid imaginations, heightened emotional reactions, being deeply affected by others’ emotions, and having difficulty “turning off” their brains. These traits can be both a gift and a challenge. According to Aron, HSPs “tend to be enormously aware of the suffering of others,” allowing them to have great empathy, and a capacity for deep and fulfilling relationships. However, the intensity of HSPs’ feelings can lead to exhaustion and burnout if their nervous systems are continuously overwhelmed without the chance to recharge.

The first step in coping with a highly sensitive nervous system is to recognize that it’s a real thing! When we feel bombarded by sensations (which may happen as often as every day for an HSP), our nervous systems tend to react by discharging some emotion. Emotional release can look like crying, shaking, blushing, or needing to move around a bit. This is the point at which it is easy to criticize ourselves, or we may find ourselves being judged by others. (Remember those taunts of “Grow a thicker skin!”?)

Once we recognize our nervous systems’ sensitivity, we can start to develop compassion for ourselves when we feel overstimulated or overwhelmed with emotions. Try this self-compassion mantra: “It’s okay to feel what I’m feeling. Everyone has intense feelings sometimes. I can be kind to myself in this moment.”

If you’re interested in further exploring ways to cope with being highly sensitive, you can request an appointment on our Get Started page!

-Jill Hokanson



"There’s No I or You in Team"

"Human beings are inherently relational and relationally dependent”
-Harville Hendrix, Foreword in Wired for Love


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and although many brush off the holiday as a Hallmark holiday, there are also those with high expectations for this special day. The expectation might be that your partner remembers something you subtly or not so subtly hinted at six months ago or it might be that you are finally going to be treated like the royalty you really are. Whatever the expectation might be—if your focus is on your individual needs or what your partner needs to do—you are likely to be disappointed.

 /* Style Definitions */
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
     Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Murray Bowen —founder of Bowen family systems theory— notes that every relationship faces the constant push-pull of two opposing forces: individuality and togetherness. As gender equality increases, there are fewer relationships formed out of necessity. More often relationships are formed out of romance with partners hoping to support each other’s hopes and dreams. It is no longer uncommon for both partners to have their own careers and individual sets of goals. There are many benefits of the modern romantic relationship, but the one shortcoming appears to be an overemphasis of the “I” or “you” at the cost of “we.”

As adults today race from one place to the next struggling to meet the demands of work, themselves and others, it can be very difficult to balance a partner’s needs with their own. The good news is these two realms do not have to be mutually exclusive. When we shift our thinking from what is good for ourselves, or our partner, to what is good for the relationship, there is less room for criticism and feelings of inadequacy.

In long term relationships it is not uncommon to find the very personality traits and habits that used to complement each other so well now seem to compete and polarize the relationship. For example, one partner is the designated “planner.” In the beginning this is a win-win situation because Sally loves initiating plans and being in charge and Joe is always along for the ride. Years later Sally might request Joe take the reins on Valentine’s Day; a seemingly simple request for anyone but Joe. The result: an hour long wait at a restaurant Sally “would’ve never picked” and the couple eating in silence on Valentine’s Day.

In this scenario, or one similar, it is easy enough to see the flaws in our partner or feel sorry for ourselves because we feel we deserve more. However, what if instead of focusing on two individuals you focused on a team that needs a little reorganizing or re-storying? Shifting roles in a relationship is no easy task because the way we interact with our partners consists of many reinforcing behaviors creating an (at times) deeply entrenched cyclical pattern. Many of these interactions operate outside our awareness. Additionally, when our partner does not respond to our needs the way we would like we often assume it’s because he or she doesn’t care. It’s important to keep an open mind to the possibility your partner does not know how.

In the meantime, however, it might relieve some tension to recognize what you are experiencing is not an “I” or “you” problem, it is a “we” problem, and if one partner has a problem—you both do. It might also help to recognize that in times of high expectations or crisis, relationship patterns typically become more entrenched. Despite increased efforts, each partner does more of what he or she knows. In these situations, it becomes very important for both partners to recognize they are doing the best they can.

Lastly, perhaps this Valentine’s Day you and your partner collaborate to decide what the relationship needs (hint: gifts and activities do not override the need for connection). If the relationship needs more quality time, it is worth discussing how you and your partner can be most present with each other. Skip the debates on who always chooses where you eat or which movie looks better. Instead, discuss which restaurant provides a better atmosphere and which movie will lead to a more engaging discussion afterwards. As Harville Hendrix states “When you make your relationship primary and your needs secondary, you produce the paradoxical effect of getting your needs met in ways they can never be met if you make them primary.”

If you and your partner feel stuck in a negative cycle or narrative, or would like some relational tending, please consider our couples counselors for assistance.

-Alex Behne





A Light in the Dark: Finding Gratitude in Difficult Times

Don’t worry.

This isn’t a post on positive thinking, or how to find the silver lining in your heartbreak or crisis or tragedy.

I’m not saying that silver linings are nonexistent, but it’s certainly the last thing we want or need to hear when we are suffering.

This is a post on remembering the goodness life offers us, because you are inherently good and deserving of life’s goodness, no matter how much it feels like you are getting the opposite message.

Gratitude is the act of remembering this goodness. It’s acknowledging that we are worth taking in the good. It’s savoring, to whatever degree possible, the smallest pinhole-of-a-moment of relief, delight, or basic okayness in the middle of despair.

This doesn’t mean we must feel grateful for our recent breakup, or job termination, or death of a loved one, or whatever loss or difficulty we are enduring. Nor does it mean we should deny our pain and only try to feel grateful and happy all the time. It means holding these two truths: that we are suffering right now, and goodness is available.

This can be a challenge. Thanks to primitive brain circuitry that evolved to keep us watchful for threat, our brains have a tendency to be more vigilant for negative experiences than positive ones, and to react more intensely to negative experiences than positive.

In other words, it’s oh-so-easy to fall down the rabbit hole of despair and hopelessness when we’re going through something trying. It’s our brain’s ancient protective mechanism trying to shield us from more pain by making us hyper-aware of every conceivable negative possibility.

Ouch. Helpful 200,000 years ago. Not so much in 2016.

But the good news is we’ve evolved newer brain circuitry that we can call on in these trying times to help us endure pain, find comfort in grief, and ultimately grow as a human being. Decades of research has supported that remembering gratitude during difficult times has a powerful effect on our overall well-being. It takes practice and intention, but it is possible.   

Here are some ways of incorporating this practice into your everyday life when you are struggling.

  • Start with noticing your okay-ness in the midst of struggle.

This doesn’t mean you feel okay necessarily. It means recognizing you are alive, breathing, and have a functioning mind and heart. You may be smack-dab in the middle of some intense unknown right now and can’t see your way out yet, and you are okay and alive and breathing.

  • Take it a step further and realize you are not only okay, but also courageous because you are struggling. Feel thankful for your courageous and tenacious heart.

It takes strength to feel pain and walk through darkness. Not everyone is willing or able. Recognize that you have the courage to go through this, trusting that enduring the messiness and hardships of life is how human beings grow and thrive. You will be a better person for it. You already are.

  • Look for what you’re grateful for when you’re not in the eye-of-the-storm part of your pain. Then, the next time you are in that intense place again, remember what you were grateful for earlier.

This can be a helpful way of building a foundation. Our difficult feelings will ebb and flow. Harness what you can when you’re feeling more capable, and it will be easier to call on when the difficult feelings intensify.

  • Pay close attention, because you can be grateful for literally anything.

During one of my own dark times, when I was having difficulty feeling grateful for anything, I was looking out the window and happened to notice this shade of orange in what was an otherwise gray winter scene. I sat with it for a minute or two, just noticing and appreciating the color. This simple act of noticing and appreciating the orange amidst the gray shifted into feeling fortunate to be able to see color at all. That was something I never considered before. And I sat with that feeling for another minute.

Nothing is too small. In fact, it’s those small things that can mean the most when the going gets tough.

  • Take in the goodness with intentionality.

A warm bath is lovely. It’s even lovelier when we remember to feel grateful for it. We take it another step further if we really soak in the feeling that we are taking in the loveliness of this bath because we deserve to feel nourished and supported in the middle of our struggles.

This may be challenging for those of us struggling with beliefs about our self-worth. But see if you can find some part of you somewhere that believes you deserve the goodness you find and experience. Give that part some breathing room.

  • Write it down.

Try journaling at the start and/or end of your day. Or start a daily gratitude jar. Or write what you're grateful for on your bathroom mirror. Explore and find the way that works for you.

  • When you can’t think of a single thing: keep it simple and savor the good.

Does that slow sip of hot tea or wine at the end of your day taste heavenly? Don’t worry if you aren’t feeling grateful for it. Just enjoy it. It’s pretty close to the same thing as feeling grateful, and will activate the same parts of your brain.

  • Remember this is a practice.

It may feel forced at first. That’s okay! It will take time to start spontaneously noticing those little things that so often go unnoticed, and to develop that backbone of gratitude that allows you to breathe with your pain and feel a sense of stability amidst chaos. But with practice and intention, it will happen. And we can feel grateful for that.

If you'd like to learn more strategies to take in the goodness of what can be a hectic season, fill out a request form to speak with one of our counselors today. 

By Eva Lorini




Family Boundaries at the Holidays

How’s everybody feeling about Thanksgiving? Are you ready for some family bonding, planning to spend it with friends who make up your “chosen family,” or anticipating some time for solitude? Even without an election, the holiday season can bring up feelings of anxiousness, anger, fear and grief. This year as our country faces some major upheaval, I personally have been worried about the conflicts that might arise at Turkey Time. I’ve been digging through my psychotherapy “toolkit” to find ideas for creating healthy boundaries, diffusing conflict, and taking care of yourself this holiday season.

Set some ground rules. Are there topics that your family cannot engage in without it turning into a shouting match? Consider what it would be like to agree ahead of time on a set of rules for how family members will treat each other. There is a concept called active listening that can help lower the tension when disagreements arise. In active listening, we agree ahead of time to:

• Give each person in the discussion equal time to express themselves

• Use “I” statements to express our own feelings rather than speak for the other person

• Listen fully, without planning our response while the other person is talking

It can be transformational to listen and validate the feelings of someone we disagree with.

Recognize that all feelings are valid. Whatever you are feeling right now and in the weeks ahead, it is okay to feel that way. When we notice our feelings and just let them exist without judging them or acting on them, it gives us the opportunity to put some mental space between the moment the feeling occurs and the moment we decide to act. Try an activity that allows you to breathe into your feelings before reacting to them. Many of my clients find yoga, mindful breathing, or vigorous exercise helps them to do this.

Emotional safety is just as important as physical safety. If there’s anyone in your family who makes you feel emotionally unsafe, you may want to create an emotional safety plan for times when you’re expecting to be around them. Include in the plan:

• An exit strategy (“If Grandma starts criticizing me, I can go outside and play with the dog.”)

• A list of allies who will be present (“I can always go talk to my sister.”)

• Grounding reminders that you can bring with you (“My beaded bracelet makes me feel fierce,” and “The smell of lavender lip balm helps calm me.”)

• Someone in your support network who you can enlist for debriefing conversation after the stressful event (“Can you be available for a call when I’m driving home on Saturday?”)

We are creatures of story. One of the gifts of being human is the ability to create meaning. We get to choose whether the stories we tell are full of discontent and disillusionment, or full of connection and empathy. Is there a story you can tell yourself right now that centers you? A story that reminds you that peace and hope are attainable? A story that you know to be true? Here is the story I am repeating to myself right now:

When I was in kindergarten my best friend’s grandmother went to Germany and brought home a piece of the Berlin Wall. I held it in my hands.

This small story immediate conjures up the sensation of touching an oblong chunk of crumbling, graffitied concrete that is touchpoint for many meanings: Walls can be torn down. Countries can right themselves. Families on different sides can be reunited.

Can you think of a story like this? Maybe it is something you could share with family and friends to highlight values that we all share.

I hope that the upcoming holidays give you many opportunities to build healthy boundaries and strengthen your relationships with others. If you find it would be helpful to talk through these ideas and get extra support, our doors are open at Therapy Austin. Schedule an appointment today-we are here to help!

by Jill Hokanson




Anger, and the monsters under our bed

Anger gets a bad rap, and I don’t quite understand why. We’ve all heard that anger really only hurts us in the end, and that the first person to get angry loses the argument, and that we have two wolves inside us and we can’t feed the angry one.

Yeah, yeah. Sure. Those things are all probably true on some level. 

Image courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios TM 

Image courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios TM 

But, humans have had anger as an emotion for thousands of years. We haven’t evolved out of it, and chances are, we’re not going to. Is something so completely natural really...toxic?

 I don’t think so. Just like all of our emotions, it’s here to tell us something. It has information for us, and we need to know whatever it is that our anger is trying to tell us.

When did you last get angry? Like reeeeally white hot, blaze-of-glory angry? Who were you talking to? What were you doing? Were you feeling threatened? Devalued? Or maybe you were fighting for something or someone you really love. Maybe, underneath that anger, you were very hurt, and you didn’t feel comfortable expressing your pain.

Maybe, because you live in Austin, Texas, you were in traffic on 35, and let me just take a minute to normalize that anger, friend!

Anger is like our emotional body guard. Times when we aren’t emotionally safe to be vulnerable, or when we think we won’t be heard, are times when anger comes out to protect us. Remember that cute Pixar movie, Inside Out? When Joy and Sadness went AWOL, Anger stepped up to the plate, because Anger can take control. Anger is strong, anger is passionate. Anger protects us. We need it when, for whatever reason, we can’t give room to our joy and our sadness.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me; stewing in your anger or letting it jump in the driver's seat whenever it wants to, is not going to get you where you want to go. Unless where you want to go is a very isolated, lonely place full of health problems. But, funnily enough, ignoring it, denying it exists, will take you to that same place. Recently, a client shared with me that she views her anger like a monster that lives under her bed, and she’s trying to starve it so it dies. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a pet that you’ve forgotten to feed for a few hours, but I have definitely done that, and let me tell you how loudly angry my cat can get. And rightly so; she was pissed with me! It’s a great example of how her anger helped her get her needs met.

If you starve your anger, all that will happen is that it will start screaming at you.

Like my cat.

Just like our other emotions, anger can be explored, understood, and expressed effectively and safely. Scream in your car, punch some pillows, write a nasty letter and burn it (safely!). Expressing anger, as long as you aren't hurting anyone (including yourself!) is incredibly healthy. 

But listen to your anger, learn from it. Maybe you're angry with someone for crossing a boundary, and maybe your anger can help you know where that boundary actually lies. Maybe anger can give you clues to discover your values, and maybe it can help you assert your feelings when someone has treated you poorly. Maybe it shows you what you’re truly passionate about. If there’s no anger, there’s no passion. The funny thing about anger is, the more we give it our mindful, intentional attention, the less intensely we experience it.

So, my dears, would you like to have a better relationship with your anger? We’ve all got monsters under our bed, but if we invite them to come out and play in safe ways from time to time, maybe they don’t have to be monsters that haunt us.

We love your angry side. We love that healthy voice inside you that says “I do not deserve mistreatment.” We even love the anger that's gotten away from you a little, and we love helping you meet it on different terms. We welcome your anger with open arms. Bring your little monster in, and we’ll teach you how to talk to it, and how to love it. We've got you. 

Head on over to our Get Started page, and let’s get angry friends.