Mind the Grey

dead flower

We broke new ground in my therapy session yesterday. For the first time ever, I was given a homework assignment at the conclusion of my hour: write a blog post on “the grey area of life”. Upon receiving this instruction, I beamed with excitement. Finally, the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what I’ve learned from the session and how I can apply it to my life. Any homework assignment that involves personal reflection and self-expression is one that I will readily take on with open arms. I have always loved to write, as I find it therapeutic and insightful. This assignment proved to be no exception.

If you’ve ever known a perfectionist, or if you consider yourself to be one, then you are probably aware of how invasive the desire for ‘perfection’ can be.  It has the potential to penetrate any number of areas of your life, whether it be your career, your education, your family life, or your romantic relationships. You start to notice distinct black & white thinking. If something isn’t perfect, then it’s no good at all. You choose to remove it from your life as best you can. But herein lies the problem. Nothing in life is perfect. Life is messy and unpredictable. Expectations are not always met, and disappointment is inevitable. When you limit yourself to accepting nothing but perfection, you limit your life to few possibilities. And of those possibilities, the options become even more obscure as life continues to muddy the waters further. Even if something appears to be ‘perfect’, it may not always exist in a perfect state. The perfect person makes mistakes. The perfect flower ultimately shrivels and dies. The perfect day turns into night and then vanishes forever. Perfect is not a reasonable standard. There is room for imperfection. There is room for the grey.

If you begin to compartmentalize the world according to black & white, you’ll soon find that many things do not fit well into either category. A third category begins to outweigh the other two: the grey category. Life isn’t as concrete as we hope it to be, and sometimes all we can do is accept it. I don’t believe in standards being too high, but I do believe that standards can be too extreme. And unfortunately, I’m beginning to think that I’ve set too extreme of standards with little room for imperfection. Maybe it’s in my nature…or maybe it’s from my upbringing.

I remember when I was little (and even to this day), being limited to the types of trash that I could throw in my father’s waste basket in his room. No food, no crumbs, no dirty tissues, and no crumbled up papers. All disposables for that trash had to be neatly folded papers. He was anal, and had extreme expectations for perfection. I remember being warned not to eat a tic tac even 2 hours before dinner since it would “ruin my appetite”. I remember being scolded for trying to draw lines free-handedly on my projects. “Don’t you want it to look nice and neat? Don’t you want it to look like you spent time on it? You need to use a ruler”. I remember being forbidden to ride on a school bus in the rain (on account of the danger), causing me to miss out on class field trips with my friends. I remember coming home from school, excited to share a “B+” grade, only to be asked why it wasn’t an “A”. So maybe it is a bit of nature…but my suspicions tell me it’s nurture.

I have been programmed to strive for perfection, and to look for perfection in everything I do and in everyone I know. And while in many ways this is a blessing, it has also doubled as a curse. I have scared away many good people from my rigid judgements and extreme expectations. I have discounted the good because it wasn’t good enough. I have allowed myself to feel disappointed from people and things that have not even truly been disappointing. I have allowed myself to dwell on the future and fear imperfection, rather than revel in the present and appreciate the now.

So I challenge myself to mind the grey; to accept the fact that the world is imperfect, and that many things in life will not be black or white. I challenge myself to get comfortable with grey areas in my life, and to find the good in even the things that aren’t the exact way I wish them to be. I challenge myself to be mindful, and to seize the moment without the mistake of tainting it with flawed and senseless suppositions of the future. A friend at work once told me of her favorite quote, which resonates nicely with the theme of this post: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. I challenge myself not to.

xx allie

 

 

 

 

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2017 Reflections

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Luckily, I had much to be grateful for in 2017. This past year was a year of personal growth. I spent a good deal of time and effort bettering myself and working on my shortcomings. It was a year of recovery from depression, personal psychotherapy sessions, reading self-help and psychological novels, and coming to know more about who I am as a person and what I am looking for in a future. I have come to acknowledge and accept my weaknesses, and have discovered the potential I have to be a great therapist nonetheless.  Because even therapists are not perfect. Because even therapists do not have all of the answers. We are all human, and we are all susceptible to the obstacles inherent in being alive.

Through trial and error, and hardship and hurt I learned about what I am not looking for in a relationship, and consequently the things that I value most. I learned that no amount of love for a person supersedes compromise or respect. I learned that not everything can be fixed, and that sometimes letting go is the best, albeit the hardest, solution.

I learned that people who block your path to betterment and success are better left behind…not with anger or hatred, but with compassion toward their self-set limitations. When you are ready to let go of the people who are holding you back, beautiful things begin to happen.

After letting go of my last relationship, I was able to divert misused energy and passion to something that truly mattered: my education. Gone were days of tears, anger, bewilderment, and betrayal, and instead came feelings of self-fulfillment, gratitude, and pride.  A sense of completeness came over me, as I felt more whole on my own than with anyone else. Nothing had the power to upset me now. Nothing had the power to knock me off my feet, except my own exhilaration and momentum in life.

I started graduate school in August of 2017, and began to surround myself with anything and everything that steered me closer to my goals. For the first time in years, I found myself sitting down to write papers at coffee shops on weekdays—my absolute favorite thing to do. I could immerse myself in the topics and literature that fed my passions and left me itching for more. Everything felt right again. Everything felt purposeful. I completed my first semester with nothing but ‘A+’s, and I couldn’t be more proud of the hard work and countless hours that I devoted to earning those grades. Nothing came before school. Nothing served as a distraction. For that, I feel lucky.

In 2017, I was able to adhere to a good routine involving a number of various exercises per week. I lifted weights, took Zumba, played tennis, and became a new member at Studio Barre in Newbury Park. The community at Studio Barre, paired with the physical challenge, kept me coming back and actually looking forward to it. Exercise ceased to feel like a hassle, and therefore I kept it up. This year I experienced less “phases” and more of a hard-wired lifestyle.

I have managed to hold on to all of my best friends, despite occasional tiffs or disagreements. Again, I was graced with another year of proof that my friendships are solid and shatterproof. The health of the ones I love is, for another year, pristine. There is nothing that is more of a blessing to me than this.

Wealth has entered into my life in many forms. But monetarily speaking, I cannot say enough great things about the cryptocurrencies that I’ve invested in during 2017. I feel that good earnings will continue to come, and I truly encourage people to educate themselves on these types of investments and join in while they continue to rise!

It is true that 2017 brought with it a few unforeseen endings. However, with endings come new beginnings…and I can’t say enough about how excited I am to embark on the new beginnings that have recently entered my life. I feel good vibes heading into the new year, and I am excited to be carried by life’s waves of spontaneity and good grace.

Happy New Year to all. Let’s make it the best one yet.

xx allie

 

 

Learning & Accepting Your Limits

limits

As I get older, I realize more and more that there simply is not enough time in a day. Over the course of the last few years, I have discovered what is largely important to me to feel happy and complete inside. Among these are the following:

Spending quality time with my best friends and family

Working out regularly (mainly for the emotional benefits and stress relief)

Reading for pleasure (to quiet my mind at night and continue to self-learn)

Maintaining outside camaraderies with my coworkers

In order to see to it that I accomplish these goals on a weekly basis, I find that my days are jam-packed! I leave the house at 7:30am for work, and oftentimes don’t return home until 8pm or later. By the time I eat, shower, and prepare myself for the next work day, there is little time for tv or reading before turning in and going to bed before 11pm (which is what I tend to aim for on the week nights). From an outsider’s perspective, it looks as though I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But to me, this has become pretty much the norm. I have grown accustomed to having a busy life, and for the most part, I don’t mind it.

There come times however, where I must acknowledge my limits and take time to preserve my energy and nurture my mental well-being. For instance, I try to plan my workouts for the upcoming week on Sunday so that I can make my other plans around these time blocks. In many cases, this works well for me as I have made it a HUGE priority for myself to work out at least 3 days a week in order to combat depression and the onset of stress. In fact, since I’ve been working out more routinely, I’ve noticed a decline in my susceptibility to illness. Not only is my mental well-being gaining strength and resilience, but so is my body and my immune system. WIN-WIN. However, I would say that at least one day a week I finish work and realize that I just simply do NOT have the energy, and would be better off skipping out on my pre-planned workout. In these cases, I feel that it is important to listen to the signals my body is sending me and take time to rest and recover. Although I’m always a little bummed out that had to forfeit my workout, I know that I am doing my body a favor by listening to it. This is a prime example of knowing my limits.

Sometimes I’ll have a friend ask me if I am available to hang out on a weekend night or do something fun on a week day night. While I always feel a strong inclination to want to accept any invitation to spend time with my friends, sometimes I have to take time to deliberate whether I have the resources to. What do I mean by this? In many cases, I have already planned at least 2-3 hangouts with different friends during the week, and while I might be available during the time that they’ve requested to hang out, it might be the better option for me to just relax and take a breather. In other words, I don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) book every free minute of my day. Sometimes it is nice to be able to recharge during the weekends and get a good night’s sleep. While it is tough to decline a fun hangout, sometimes it’s what my body and mind truly need. This is another example of knowing my limits. Despite my desire to stay busy and continue to nourish my friendships, I also allocate time in the week to block out for rest/recovery.

If you know me at all, then you know how much I love to read at night before bed. Some days, however, I am just so exhausted from a jam-packed schedule or mentally arduous work day. While it somewhat disappoints me to have to skip a night of reading, I understand that sometimes my brain needs a rest from thinking. For this reason, there are times where I forgo my book and choose to be on autopilot while watching a mindless tv show or series. It is so fulfilling to sit back, relax, and be entertained without having to put forth any effort in return.

I chose this topic to write about today because I am starting grad school in exactly a week, and I know that once I do, I will have to re-learn my limits and adjust accordingly to my new challenges. While I am cutting down my work hours from 40 to 20 per week, I realize that classes and homework will account for much more than what I’m surrendering. I will likely have to make sacrifices in order to accomplish my responsibilities. This might mean less workouts per week, getting less sleep, spending less time with friends/family, or even putting ‘on pause’ my pleasure reading. While it is hard to anticipate how drastically my schedule will change and exactly what kinds of sacrifices will be in order, I am prepared to be flexible and morph into my new role as a student again. I am working towards my professional career, and that often does come with some sacrifice. I simply cannot wait until I am finally a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, whatever that may take!

Since the inception of my blog in January, I have been doing my best to continue adding new posts at least once per week. I will continue to try to update my viewers with new posts, as my journey is only just beginning! Please be patient with any inactivity for the next few weeks as I try to re-learn my boundaries, adjust to my changing schedule, and allocate time for this very important blog. I appreciate all of the amazing comments you send me, and the extreme level of encouragement to continue. You all are the best!

xx allie

Predicting the End.

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Oftentimes, relationships last in what people call “the honeymoon stage” for 6 months to a year (in my experience). When the excitement wears off however, the relationship can often turn sour rather quickly.

As an undergrad that double majored in Psychology and Communication, I spent a good deal of time studying relationships, and the ways individuals communicate to effectively (or in many cases, ineffectively) get their messages across to their partner. One of the most monumental researchers I learned about in school, Dr. John Gottman, has been of particular interest to me both within the realm of academia and in my own personal experiences or observations of others. Dr. Gottman has an approach to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. According to his research, there are four telling communication patterns that, when combined, lend themselves to what he calls the “Apocalypse of” the relationship.

Let’s look more closely at these 4 patterns:

  1. Criticism

Criticism is not the same thing as simply voicing a complaint. It is a personal attack that is not necessarily specific to a thing/behavior that your partner has done, or a mistake that they’ve made. Criticism of this sort involves dismantling your partner at their core, aggressively speaking to their character, or personality as a whole.

  1. Contempt

Contempt is an extremely volatile way of speaking to someone you care about. People that speak with contempt mock their partners, ridicule them, call them names, mimick them, eye-roll, or display other degrading body language to make their point. When people speak with contempt, they undermine any efforts they have previously made with their partner to show respect. Contempt is the ultimate way to degrade a person, thereby bringing their spirits down. Believe it or not, couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to experience illness as a result of a lowered immune system. So not only is contempt emotionally painful, but it also doubles as a hazard to your health. According to Gottman’s research, contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce in a relationship. If you are experiencing contempt in a relationship, it is important to recognize this pattern and communicate to your partner about the danger of continuing to argue in this way. If the contempt continues for much longer, it can only further erode at the relationship and wither any chances for improvement.

  1. Defensiveness

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been defensive at some point in our lives. However, this begins to be a problem when you are confronted with a form of defensiveness any time you try to voice your frustration, make a complaint, or describe your feelings about something. When people make excuses for their behavior, they are unwilling to take responsibility for something they may have been able to handle better. They are not validating their partner’s concerns or emotions, and find a way to turn the tables and blame them instead. Defensiveness is a roadblock for making progress. No progress can ever be made when someone is not willing to admit there was a problem that could have been avoided or diminished, and therefore not open to making changes for a better result in the future.

  1. Stonewalling

Last but not least is stonewalling. This phenomenon occurs when one partner decides to suddenly withdraw from the interaction. They shut down and close themselves off from the other partner. They refuse to answer or respond to anything that is said to them. It is as if a stone wall is standing between the couple. Obviously, this is not an effective way to communicate, as it disallows the couple to engage in a conversation that is validating and effective to fixing the problems at hand.

Why am I bringing this up? When we notice that a relationship is starting to veer off course and go downhill, we often panic and scramble to fix things at all costs. Our desperate attempt to ameliorate our issues immediately may result in worse problems. Patterns don’t fix themselves over night. Big changes take time, patience, and persistence. But, if you are able to notice negative relationship patterns ahead of time (and possibly before they become damaging enough), you may still have time to stop them in their tracks. Being knowledgeable and informed about these styles of communicating can help you when you’re confronted with a difficult situation and just want to feel heard. The most important thing to remember is to speak to others the way you would want to be spoken to. It may sound intuitive, be we often forget about this simple notion when we are in the heat of the moment. Have respect for people, and show your respect through your actions and behaviors. Thinking before you speak can only ever result in a better interaction. If you work on your patience, and will power to refrain from saying hurtful things while feeling worked up, you will notice your relationships drastically improving over time.

Words can be like daggers. You can really hurt a person by the things you choose to say. Some words leave scars, which may take a very long time to heal. Before leaving those scars on another, take a moment to consider whether your word choice is carefully selected, accurately portrays how you feel about someone, and is what you are trying to say. Will your message come across effectively? Do you think you will be heard? Will you be deliberately hurting someone in speaking your mind? There are many things to consider, and often not a lot of time to do so. So be careful what you choose to say. Your diction and delivery are everything.

 

xx allie