An Alternative to the Emotional Band-Aide

There’s an interesting belief out there that we can “fix” our emotions so that we don’t feel sad, angry or afraid. Some people say, “Don’t worry, be happy.” I love that song,  it’s fun, catchy and upbeat. It does put me in a good mood when I hear it BUT that is not the answer to my fear. Just pretend it’s not there? I don’t think so. Some say, “Count to ten and then your anger will go away.” Yes, that can be a useful technique to keep one from doing something hurtful to another, but it is not the answer for why the anger is there in the first place. If you are sad you might hear, “Just think of how good your life is compared to someone worse off than you.” And that is supposed to lift your sadness? While each of those phrases has been useful to some, not one of them addresses the deeper need of the person or the emotion. Each is more of a band-aide to get through the moment and pretend you’re fine.
These ideas of getting rid of our emotions exist in varying forms in different cultures and spiritual beliefs. I am a believer in God. I am focused on yielding to God and allowing him to work through me, to change me, to guide me into becoming a person who genuinely loves with my words and actions. My growth on this journey does not mean that now I don’t feel anymore. In fact, I feel more deeply now than when I lived on autopilot: doing things my way but not consciously. Sometimes I hear people say that to heal from our sadness, anger or fear, we must pray more, read more, draw closer to God. I believe all of those are helpful in connecting with God, gaining a deeper understanding of who he is and who we are in relationship to him; however, they are not the antidote to our emotional states.
I believe the “antidote” to our emotional state is found in acknowledging that it is there, not in attempting to get rid of it. It is the concept of acceptance. Accept where you are at the moment. Identify it. Ask yourself the question, “What am I feeling?” In Anger and Sadness and Fear, Oh My! I wrote about the emotion clusters and challenged readers to come up with emotion identifiers. This would be a good time to use those. Look at the range of words describing joy, anger, sadness and fear then determine which one best captures where you are at in that moment. Say it aloud to yourself, “I feel intimidated right now.” This helps create a connection with your emotion.
In understanding ourselves better and developing greater awareness, it’s important to look at our cognitive (thought) state in addition to our emotional state. To do this, ask yourself what you have been thinking or what just happened that may be connected to the emotion you are feeling right now. In my example of feeling intimidated, I would check in with why I might be feeling that.  For example, perhaps I just had a conversation with another counselor who seemed to have a much better understanding of the theoretical foundations of therapy. An automatic response for me in that type of situation is to think less of myself. That would explain why I was feeling intimidated.
Now that I understand the connection between my experience and my feelings, it’s imperative that I validate my emotion. Does it make sense that I feel intimidated when I perceive someone to be intellectually superior to me? Yes, it does. Sure, there are words of encouragement we might say to someone else or to ourselves to “make us feel better” but now is not the time. If we jump to that, we perpetuate the band-aide mentality and we don’t get to the root of the problem. At this point, let yourself feel what you are feeling. I would then notice the intimidation, what it feels like, and explore why I’m feeling it. “I feel less than, like I’m just not good enough.” Now we are getting to a root.
Where does this come from, this belief that I am not good enough? For me, I didn’t get noticed very much as a child. My parents provided my basic needs for survival but forgot about my emotional needs. I spent most of my life trying to be enough for others and incorrectly figuring out what I needed to do in my quest for acceptance. In a situation with someone I perceive as superior to me, I go to a deflated state. I feel hopeless because I think, “I can’t compete here. I’ll never be enough for this person.” This is where I need to do some work. For me, this required working with a therapist to not only understand these connections all the way back to my foundations but to get outside perspective on what’s true versus the incorrect and damaging beliefs I perpetuate. I’m not so sure this can happen in a vacuum. I firmly believe we need to bring professional help into this part of our healing.
Now that you understand the why’s behind the thought and the emotion, you can continue with the healing process. As I’m standing there, aware of my emotion of intimidation – a mix of fear, sadness and anger – I can address it. It might sound a bit like this for me: “Ah, yes here you are. That part of me that feels less than. You showed up when I was little and I tried to make sense of the world on my own. If I’m not good enough then I have to beat myself up. From the beat up place, I decide I don’t like this person. She made me feel bad about myself, she’s the enemy. That way I don’t have to be around her, because now she’s “bad” in my eyes, and I can bring myself back up to “good.” That is my unhealthy response.  The truth is, I may not be as smart as this person, but that does not define my worth. I can appreciate this individual’s brilliance on the subject of therapy, be thankful that our civilization has people who know more than I do, and still value what I bring to the table. Each of us has something to offer that makes the world a better place. For some, their contribution is more visible than others, but that doesn’t alter in any way the value we each bring to one another. Ahhh, that intimidated feeling is dissipating and I can begin to hear this person without the distraction of my “less than belief” getting in the way.”
Without using a band-aide, this process encourages feeling our emotions and moving forward.  The identified emotion and the discovered thought behind it create a connection for why the emotion rose to the surface.  The underlying beliefs that triggered the emotional response were addressed and brought into a healthier focus.  With a view that is based more in reality, the emotion began to disappear.  The fuel that sparked the emotion is gone for now, replaced by an understanding of the hurtful reality of the spark.
This process, while incredibly freeing, is not easy and does not happen overnight. It takes professional help and repetition to become adept at utilizing the process. After about 8 years of walking on this awareness path, I am much better at using the skill I have described. I don’t use the skill flawlessly and I don’t use it all the time. I do not encourage perfection as the goal, just a general trend toward positive change and growth.  The next time you are aware of an emotion you are feeling, feel free to give this awareness technique a try.  Remember, you may need a counselor who advocates awareness or mindfulness and looking at your past to help you understand why you are responding the way you are.  Here’s to no more band-aides!
Disclaimer: There are some emotional states that require medication not this process to find healing.  In those circumstances, please seek the help of a mental health professional.

Anger and Sadness and Fear, Oh My!

The common thread here is emotions and our dread of them.  People generally like to feel good.   We are most comfortable with the emotions that fall in the joy realm.  I adhere to the belief that there are four main clusters of emotion: fear, sadness, anger, and joy.  Any given emotion might be purely in one cluster or a combination of two or more.  I use the word “cluster” because under each heading are many variations of that emotion.  Anger can be frustration, irritation, or infuriation, just to name a few.
When we feel emotions that fall into the joy category, we have a pleasant sensation associated with them.  All is well in the world or at least we are content with where things are.  We want this emotional state to remain constant and will sometimes ignore reality in an attempt to stay there.  Some of us try to medicate to maintain a sense of joy.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, humans are capable of feeling all emotions.  Emotions are not something to be feared.  They are a barometer of sorts indicating our reaction to something that has happened or words we have heard.  Our emotional response gives us the opportunity to attune to an internal boundary that indicates our preferences, what we are ok with or not.  If someone important to us dies it is normal to feel sad.  A person we liked is gone and we cannot be with that person any more.  Our barometer says, “This does not feel good to me” and the natural response is sadness.  If a person stops suddenly in front of us while we’re driving, we might respond with anger, “It is not OK with me if you put my life in jeopardy.”  It’s appropriate to feel that.  (How we respond to our emotions is an entirely different topic that I will address at another time.)
If the entire emotional realm  is one which you attempt to avoid, I challenge you to give it a bit of thought.  Think of all the words you can to describe each cluster heading: fear, sadness, anger, and joy.  Notice how the words you come up with describe degrees of intensity.  It might also be helpful to give some thought to the idea that our emotions are a barometer.
The topic of emotions is vast.  We are just skimming the surface at this point.  Consider this Emotions 101.  There will be more blogs to come addressing this far-reaching territory.

About Me

I’m a licensed counselor with a private practice in Lafayette, CO (near Boulder and Denver).  I believe in the therapeutic process.  I believe that change is possible.  My focus as a therapist is to uncover the underlying causes of ineffective behaviors and attitudes, empower my clients to heal, and equip them with healthier ways of relating to themselves and the world around them.  So much of who we are as adults is affected by what we had to do as children to get the love and acceptance we needed to survive.  In a healthy family unit, a child is provided with unconditional love and acceptance.  The environment is warm, truthful and encouraging.  The problem is that most of us didn’t get that.  Maybe bits and pieces, but our parents or caregivers were imperfect and couldn’t possibly give us everything we needed just as we needed it.  So we learned to hide parts of ourselves that we thought (most likely at the subconscious level) were unacceptable.  Maybe we heard the negative verdict about those parts directly or maybe we interpreted  the information that way with our young minds.  It doesn’t take a major event or abuse to cause a child to put a part of herself into hiding.
Many of us are walking around with unhealthy beliefs about ourselves and others.  Those unhealthy beliefs get in the way of living in freedom.  Do you ever feel stuck?  You just keep doing the same things in relationships and can’t figure out how to change?  That’s where therapy comes in.  Once we figure out the wound that you are dealing with, we work to create healing opportunities.  Believe it or not often all we really need is for someone to know everything about us and stay.  That’s what I do.  I stay.  I hear what you really think and feel and I don’t leave.  I encourage you to find safe people who can do the same:  know everything about you and stay.
We work on changing some of the false beliefs you have about yourself with the truth.  We are all created with purpose.  Not one of us is an accident.  Each of us brought joy to our Creator the moment we came into existence.  Before we did one thing we were loved.  The doing part of our life doesn’t change the amount of love God has for us, not any less and not any more.
Skill building is another facet to changing unwanted behaviors and attitudes.  We work on that, too.  Sometimes we have to rewire the way we handle certain situations or triggers.  It can take a lot of time and be quite frustrating, but in the end, it is worth it when you see yourself living life the way it was intended: in freedom.  No baggage, no shame, no burdens pulling you down.
I share my thoughts and views about life and counseling in this blog.  This blog is not intended to replace therapy.  Please find a good therapist if you need one, don’t rely on my written word to bring about the changes you seek.  A few places to start are and  They are sites that list thousands of therapists around the US.
Some information about my training:  I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Master of Science in Counseling and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor.  I have received additional training in EMDR, DBT, The Hendricks Institute Foundations Seminar, Gottman Method Couples’ Therapy and Shadow Work Basic Facilitator Training.  In addition, I attended the Cloud and Townsend Ultimate Leadership Intensive and One Week Intensive for Counselors.  I am currently attending the Counselor Training Program, a one year training with John Townsend. (

The Benefits of Assertiveness Part II

Just before I clicked “publish” to post “The Benefits of Assertiveness Part I,” I knew I was going to write a follow-up.  That’s when I edited the title, adding “Part I”.  I realized that the encouragement to go for it with assertiveness could be paralyzing for some.  Often the parts in us that seem to be in hiding are not simply going to emerge with gusto just because we’ve read an inspiring article.  I know, I’ve been there.  I’ll read something that makes life change seem so simple.  Broken down into tidy steps: 1, 2 ,3.  I see myself taking the steps and voila! the problem is gone.  When I actually attempt to make the change…well…it sure doesn’t resemble anything that would be preceded by “voila!”
The journey toward emotional health rarely follows a straight line upward and to the right.  It looks a lot more like a zig zag going up and down, all over the board, yet still revealing a general trend heading gently upward and toward the right.  It can be challenging to notice that our movement isn’t always consistently going in the direction we want it to, but that’s reality for most of us.  We are flawed, imperfect beings.  We are inconsistent by nature.  The goal in our growth cannot be perfection.  Not only is perfection discouraging, it simply isn’t possible.  When we set the bar so high that we can never reach it, we tend to find ourselves stagnated by discouragement.  Ever been there?
If being assertive is a challenge for you, I hope that you will find comfort in knowing that you are not alone.  Sometimes it helps just to be aware of that.  “Oh, so this part of me that doesn’t work the way I want it to is something other people deal with, too?”  Yes!  You might even be surprised if you could hear the very real and honest thoughts of those around you.  Thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, thinking they are too much or not enough just to name a few.  Acknowledge what you are dealing with and how you feel about it.
Notice that part of you when it shows up.  In my example with assertiveness, I started being aware of it.  I would notice what it felt like when I had something to say, but held it in or chose to be inactive instead of acting on something.  I asked myself what was holding me back.  In most cases it was rooted in a long-held belief that I have to be liked.  I thought people only liked those who were always amenable.  There is another root for me and that one is perfectionism.  If I attempt something and it’s not perfect, I believe I will not be accepted.  The work on those two pieces actually required therapy.  Yes, even therapists need a therapist.  In fact, I believe a good therapist has participated in therapy and continues to work on her stuff!  You may need to work with a therapist, too.  If you continually find yourself stuck, desperately wanting to change but never seeing any results, I recommend you find a good therapist.
Once you’ve identified the why behind not being assertive ask yourself the risks involved with changing.  For me, the risk of being assertive meant not everyone will like me and I might not execute things with perfection.  I grew to be ok with that.  As I let go of my desire to be liked by everyone (which is just not possible, anyway) and my perfectionism, I began taking steps toward expressing my assertiveness.  It’s not always neat and tidy.  I stumble along the way, but I’m moving.  I like to think of working on our undeveloped parts being like a baby learning to walk.  Have you ever witnessed this feat?  They never go from laying on the ground to walking.  NEVER!  They first have to develop the muscles necessary to get themselves up on all fours, gradually moving to pulling themselves up to standing.  When they finally take that first step it is wobbly.  They typically fall, a lot!  Oh, and they never go from first steps to running with ease overnight.  It takes years to graduate to smooth running.
I like to keep this in mind any time I am changing a behavior or developing a new way of relating to myself and those around me.  We can be so hard on ourselves when we don’t see immediate change.  Just accept that it isn’t possible, be gentle with yourself as you travel down the road of emotional growth.  It takes time, it is messy, inconsistent and so worth it!

The Benefits of Assertiveness Part 1

I’m in a Counselor Training Program with Dr. John Townsend and Scott Makin.  One day out of every month I am in Indianapolis being challenged in my personal growth as well as learning all about the counseling approach of Drs. John Townsend and Henry Cloud.  The training involves teaching time and small group counseling also called process groups.  During one of the process groups I stumbled upon a realization that I have a crippling fear of being assertive.  It doesn’t usually show up in my office with clients, but anywhere else I shrink back or regret having opened my mouth.  I have thought that assertiveness is negative.  It’s not that I have never been assertive but when I am I feel like I am pushy and bossy.  Maybe those things are true because I am not very skilled at being assertive but I am gaining an understanding of the importance of being assertive.
At the end of each training day, the 21 of us who are participating take time to share our homework for the next month.  It has to be measurable and challenge us in some way to be stretched.  I came up with the assignment that I would write 10 things that happen when I am assertive.  John added that I write 10 things that happen when others are assertive.  As I pondered the positive results of my assertiveness it was a bit difficult.  I kept running into the negative piece.  When I wrote about the benefits of others being assertive it created a shift inside of me.  I saw how important assertiveness is in the health and growth of the world.  Our very existence depends on assertiveness. This shift opened up a new value for my own assertiveness and the ideas began flowing out of me.
Here they are:
Ten good things that happen when I am assertive
1. I’m not left wondering if I missed out by holding my tongue
2. I feel a sense of accomplishment even if things don’t turn out my way
3. I connect with people versus holding back and being closed
4. I finish things (I’ve spent most of my life dreaming things up but not doing anything with the ideas)
5. I experience forward momentum instead of just swirling in the same old place
6. My creativity is flowing
7. I use the gifts I’ve been given
8. I model self-respect and reap the benefit of respecting myself
9. I create an opportunity for others to find healing
10. My needs get met
When others are assertive
1. Lives are changed physically (like a Dr. helping someone or a person seeking care or health)
2. People’s eternities are altered
3. Dreams are accomplished
4. People are protected
5. Connection happens
6. Employment is secured
7. Babies are born
8. Marriages are saved
9. Truth is spoken
10. Change happens
So here’s my challened to you:  Write ten things that happen when others are assertive and your own list of ten things that happen when you are assertive.  Ponder that list and then get out there and go for it!  The focus isn’t so much on what you accomplish, just that you are actively, instead of passively, living the life that you have been given.  There’s a parable in the Bible that talks about using the talent we’ve been given.  The one who buries the talent is the one who loses out.  Those who go for it, knowing that there is a risk of screwing things up, are the ones who benefit.  So take one step today to move toward really living!