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Tag Archives: internal family

Snow Days and Olympic Dreams

Today we finally got our big snow day.  Enough for sledding, snow ball fights, building snowmen, and everything.  But I am stuck home alone with no one to play with, so I didn’t go outside, except to take a few pictures.  I’ve mainly been knitting a sweater–which I finished–and watching the Olympics.

I really want to be an Olympian.  I don’t care about winning.  I don’t even care if I come in dead last.  I just want to wear the USA uniform.  I want to attend the opening and closing ceremonies.  Stay in the Olympic Village.  Exchange pins with other Olympians. 

The main obstacles standing between me and my Olympic dream are that I’m not that athletic or talented.   And I’m too scared to do flips in the air or go high speeds.  Which pretty much eliminates all of the events except curling.  But that seems really boring.

I could imagine myself as an ice skater.  But I didn’t grow up near an ice skating rink.  And apparently you have to wake up at 5 a.m. to get your practice in, which would have been hard for a night owl like me.  Even if I had been motivated enough to do it, I probably would not have been able to talk my parents into taking me to the rink every morning, what with my lack of talent and all.

I’ve tried to think of ways to get around the lack of talent thing.  Maybe I could do one of the events in the Summer Olympics, like badminton.  I don’t play badminton, but how hard can it be to get good at it?  It can’t be harder than playing tennis.

I thought I could also increase my chances of qualifying by competing for the Philippines.  I might even get to carry the flag since they only send about 4 people.  That’s a 25% chance.  I would need dual citizenship, which would probably mean paying taxes in the Philippines or something.  I barely have enough money to pay my bills, so that would be a problem.  Without the talent to attract sponsors, I would at least need money.

Plus, I bet even the badminton players are in good shape.  I couldn’t even talk myself into exercising for 30 minutes today, so I might lack the necessary discipline to be an Olympian.  Even if I were disciplined, my allergies, GERD, and exercise-induced asthma make it hard for me to engage in sustained physical activity.  It’s hard to be competitive when exercise makes you throw up.

Hmmm.  Maybe there really isn’t any way I can be an Olympian.  Maybe I’ll just have to settle for  knitting and watching the Olympics on TV.  I hear the accommodations in the Olympic Village are terrible in Sochi, anyway. 

Sophie drew this picture for you.

And here’s the sweater I knitted.


In Buddhism, one of my favorite meditations is the one on forgiveness. In this meditation, you reflect on the 3 types of forgiveness:  asking forgiveness from those whom you have hurt, forgiving those who have hurt you, and forgiving yourself for self-harm.

As I mentioned in a previous post, because of my fear of going to hell, I have no problem asking for forgiveness for real and imagined sins. I also do my best to forgive those who have hurt me because I believe it is a gift to myself to do so. Sometimes the best I can do is to have the intention to forgive, but in Buddhism that is enough.

From my personal and professional experience, self-forgiveness is often the hardest one to practice. One of my parts is a judge who doles out punishments for non-existent crimes. This is fairly common for people who struggle with depression and anxiety.

This weekend I had to repeatedly remind myself that it’s not my fault that I’m depressed. I cannot even articulate what I have done wrong, yet somehow I feel I have failed at something. I didn’t wake up early enough. I went to bed too late. I didn’t make enough of an effort to ask for help. I am being too needy. I stayed too long in my previous relationship. I’m not being forgiving enough or letting go of anger fast enough.

This is how the internal judge is: it can argue both ways, and either way it’s your fault.

I think that one of the reasons that we neglect to practice self-forgiveness is that it’s not emphasized as much as the other two.  For example, in the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us for our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I am certain that God would also want us to forgive ourselves, but there’s no line in there explicitly giving us permission to do so.

But I am hopeful that this will change with Pope Francis. I confess, I have never been excited about a pope before, but I believe that Pope Francis is an enlightened being. I believe that Mandela was one, as well. So it’s only fitting that as one enlightened being leaves this world, God gives us another one to maintain equilibrium in the universe. I am hopeful that we will hear more from him about acceptance and forgiveness and less about judgement and sin.

So take that, Judge!

I picked this doodle because it sort of looks like snow.

Q & A

Since no one asked me any questions in my recent blog survey, I thought I would just make up some questions and answer them, because I like to pretend I’m being interviewed.  Who knows?  Maybe I will be interviewed one day.

Q:  Do you ever worry that your clients are going to read your blog and decide that you’re too crazy to be their therapist?

A:  Yes.  All the time.

In fact, I recently found out that a parent of one of my clients read my blog on perfectionism, and for a moment it made me reconsider this whole blogging thing.  But she didn’t tell her daughter to transfer, so that was encouraging.  I’ve had clients transfer to other therapists before, so if they decided to transfer after reading my blog, I guess I can live with that.  You can’t be all things to all people.  Although I do still try to be.

Q:  Are the posts where you write about different parts of yourself based on any particular theory?

A:  The idea of conceptualizing our problems into separate parts of ourselves actually comes from two of my favorite theories: narrative therapy and internal family systems therapy.  In narrative therapy, a mental disorder is conceptualized as an entity separate from the client.  This helps the client and family stay focused on treating the problem rather than blaming the client for not getting better.  “Life without Ed,” by Jenni Schaefer, is one of the most well-known books that illustrates how this therapy works with eating disorders.

Internal Family Systems therapy is the other form of treatment that focuses on parts of the client.  The main premise is that these parts have become extreme in their efforts to help the person.  So for example, the inner critic tries to motivate you to do your best, but in an eating disorder this may mean starving yourself to be thin enough.  So in working with this part, you acknowledge that it has good intentions and try to come up with other ways that it can be helpful.  Ordinarily, we just feel overwhelmed by self-loathing, so this is a much better alternative.

I think the idea of parts can be useful for anyone as a way to have self-compassion and self-acceptance of the aspects of ourselves that we don’t like.  Usually these parts have a sort of archetypal feel to them, which is why people have the experience of thinking exactly like I do.  The reality is, this is how everyone thinks.  It’s just that no one wants to admit it because they’re afraid that it means they’re crazy.

Q:  Have you ever suffered from a mental illness?

A:  Yes.  I struggle with anxiety all the time.  In fact, I have been so consistently anxious all my life that I didn’t realize that it was severe enough to be a disorder until after I got my Ph.D.

I am also prone to depression and had a fairly severe episode at the same time my dad did about 4 years ago.  The other severe bout of depression that I had was when I was 18, and that was the last time my dad was depressed, too.  I’ve had a lot of less intense episodes of depression, as well.  I probably had dysthymia (a more chronic, lower grade depression) from the age of 13 until I started meds for the first time, which was when I was about 30.

I have to do a lot to make sure that I don’t trigger anxiety and depressive episodes, which is why I obsess so much about sleep, eating, exercise, meds, relaxation, etc.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what I do, because sometimes life is just stressful and overwhelming.  But it is scary when I start feeling like I’m going back to that dark place.  Particularly with depression.  When I’m feeling anxious I can take an Ativan and that’s often enough.  When I’m depressed, there’s sometimes nothing I can do in the moment to feel better.  I can see why people self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs.  It is very painful to be depressed.

Q:  You mention that you want to turn your blog into a book.  What would the book be about?

A:  My plan is to blog until I have 100 posts.  Then I’ll pick the most popular posts and turn them into longer anecdotes. That way, even if someone has read my entire blog, they would still have a reason to buy the book.  A book would allow me to reach even more people, because then I’d get to make public appearances and have more visibility.

Although I am surprised at how much these posts are helping people already.  And if it turns out that I never get my book published, I will reach more people through this blog than I could ever reach through individual therapy alone. Plus blogging is a gift to myself, so I will continue to blog no matter what happens.

But I will get my book published, even if I have to do it myself.

Children, Part 2

I babysat for my niece over the Thanksgiving break, which was tiring but a lot of fun. I never had a sister growing up but really wanted one, so it’s fitting that Sadie likes to pretend that we’re sisters. I told her about Sophie and she wasn’t phased at all. I guess kids don’t think it’s crazy when you tell them that you have an inner child because so much of their play revolves around their imagination.

Sadie has recently discovered that she’s a really good singer, so we started off the day belting out country songs and show tunes on Youtube during breakfast. The song “Tomorrow” has been running through my head for over a week now. I promised Sadie I would wake up early so the singing started around 7:30 a.m. while I drank my coffee and tried to wake up.

Then, because snow is a rare occurrence in Knoxville, we went sledding in the back yard. I was never big on sledding even as a kid so I was not expecting this to be much fun but it turned out to be a blast. I usually try to get exercise by playing tennis or obsessively counting steps, but it’s much more fun if you do it by playing, like kids do. So I counted that as my workout for the day.

After that I took Sadie shopping to buy her very first Christmas gifts with her own money.  It was sweet and hilarious to see how excited she was about it. Not only was this a good lesson in altruism, but it also taught her the value of money. By the last gift she realized that she didn’t have enough to buy a My Pretty Pony or whatever those things are called, so she asked me to buy it for her since she’d been so generous. How could I say no to that?

We treated ourselves to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory and shared the pumpkin cheesecake. Which was awesome! When we got home I helped Sadie wrap her gifts and drank more coffee. I was still really tired by then so we watched Brady Bunch episodes until her parents came home. At which point she made them open their Christmas gifts and told them that she bought them with her own money but now she didn’t have any left. They reassured her that she would probably get more money for Christmas.

I took a nap shortly after their arrival.

One of the less intuitive findings on happiness is that having children does not make people happier on a day-to-day basis, but parents believe that children make them happier to justify all of the hard work in raising them. Sort of like the principle behind hazing as a way to bond with your fraternity.

I’m not sure I buy that explanation. Having children isn’t about happiness. It’s about love. And love doesn’t always make you happy. In fact, sometimes it makes you miserable. But when you choose to love someone, you do it because you want to experience the full range of what it means to be human–even the negative stuff. And children definitely allow you to experience that full range.

I wrote this blog post because Sadie asked me to write another one about her last week but I never got around to it. Here is a picture of her modeling her sledding attire.

And here is Sophie’s drawing of Sadie and me.



I consider myself a recovering perfectionist.  I don’t think I can ever be cured of it, but I do what I can to keep this part from causing me unnecessary suffering.

Perfectionists come in many varieties.  I am not the type that is meticulous about my appearance or my house.  I don’t spend hours on assignments or projects trying to get everything just right.  I am more of the variety that cannot tolerate failing, being terrible at something, or making a mistake. 

I was one of those annoying students who thought that a C was failing.  I didn’t get many of them, but when I did I cried hysterically to my professor, begging for some way to redeem myself.  To this day, I think back on the one C I got in college and think, wow I wonder how my life would have been different if had I at least gotten a B in Anthropology.  And then the voice of reality kicks in and reminds me that it wouldn’t have made any difference.

It’s hard for me to do something I’m terrible at.  I once went bowling and played two games.  In the first game I scored a 16 and in the second one I scored a 31.  I’m pretty sure that most 5 year olds could score better than that.  And I’m sure that with practice I could improve my average.  But the thought of doing something where I am at risk of embarrassing myself is too anxiety-provoking, and it’s easier to choose something that I’m good at like tennis.

Making a mistake–particularly one where I am chastised for doing something wrong–is the hardest of all.  As I indicated in a previous post, criticism sends me into a spiral of anxiety, self-doubt, and shame that far exceeds what might ordinarily be expected from the actual remark, which might be something as innocuous as “I thought that ball was in.”  I never forget a mistake, and I try never to make the same mistake twice.

Blogging has been an opportunity to practice something that I do well–writing and talking about myself–along with something where I have no idea what I’m doing—promoting my blog.  While the writing part is going surprisingly well, the promoting part is a constant source of stress. 

For example, I did not realize that publishing multiple posts in a community in a short period of time constitutes spam, and when you do this the administer of the site will remove your posts.  Which means I broke the rules and have been punished accordingly.  Now I’m terrified of doing anything out of fear that I may unknowingly further violate protocol.

So I’ve decided to take a break from promotion and write a blog post instead.  This is the part I really like, anyway.  And I’m trying to remind myself that it is OK to make mistakes.  That no one knows what they’re doing before they do it.  That it doesn’t make me a bad person.  That I don’t have to be perfect.

And then I took an Ativan, because that’s what my psychiatrist told me to do when I’m having an anxiety attack.

The Inner Critic

While I spend a lot of my time with the drill sergeant, the inner critic is my constant companion.  The two of them are great friends and they often like to show up together:  the drill sergeant will tell me what I should be doing, and the inner critic will give a running commentary of what a terrible job I’m doing.

Take this morning, for example.  I finally felt well enough to get out of bed and eat, so I was looking forward to making some coffee and oatmeal.  I even had enough energy last night to do the dishes.  One of the dishes was that plate that goes in the microwave that lets the food rotate while it cooks. 
So I was putting that plate back in the microwave, and I guess I must have hit the front glass on the door because the entire glass panel shattered, spraying shards everywhere. 

The inner critic had a field day with this.  Look at what you’ve done!  You’re so uncoordinated, you can’t even put the plate in the microwave without destroying the whole thing.  Now you have to clean up all the glass and you better make sure there isn’t a single shard anywhere.  And now you’re going to have to buy a new microwave so don’t think that you have any spending money this month.

I am trying to practice acceptance of this part of myself but this one is tough because it just seems abusive.  It seems like the inner critic wants me to be perfect so that nothing bad ever happens, but that doesn’t make me feel any compassion toward it.  I guess I need to think about this one some more.

The best I have been able to do is to channel my inner optimist to counteract the inner critic.  I’ve needed her a lot the last few days since I’ve been sick at home alone with no one to check on me.  Plus now I have two light bulbs out, so my place is even darker than it was last weekend.

So the optimist jumps right in whenever the inner critic talks and says things like, well at least the glass didn’t get in your eyes and blind you.  Or you could have gotten cut badly and had to go to the emergency room.  And now you have a good excuse to call your friend over to change your light bulbs because he will have to install the microwave, too.  So really it all worked out for the best. 

Tomorrow I’m going microwave shopping.  I’ve talked to my friend and he’s going to come over next Sunday and play handyman for me.  And I finally felt well enough today to play tennis and even had dinner with a friend.  All in all, after a shaky start, it ending up being a pretty good day.

So take that, inner critic!

Meet the Drill Sergeant

Allow me to introduce you to the Drill Sergeant–one of my most challenging parts. Many of you may have a similar part. My drill sergeant demands productivity at all costs, and not in a nice way.

I am not a morning person, as I indicated in my first post. The drill sergeant doesn’t give a crap. He (I think of it as a he) doesn’t give a crap if it’s a weekend, either; he still wants me to get up. I don’t listen to him, of course, but I pay the price. For every extra hour of sleep I try to get, the drill sergeant yells at me, telling me how other people are up doing normal people productive things, while I am lying in bed wasting my life away.

It doesn’t matter if I don’t have anything pressing to do. The drill sergeant will make up random to do lists as though these things are of the utmost importance. You need to wash those bath mats! There are scraps of paper all over the house that need to be put in the recycling! I’m pretty sure there’s a mug in the sink that needs to be washed! Get up!

I have been sick for the last few days, which is very frustrating for the drill sergeant. I always get sick at this time of the year because, despite my best attempts to manage the stress of my job, I still get exhausted and can’t function. The drill sergeant is frustrated because I was just two days from making it to Thanksgiving break, but I had to miss a day of work, anyway. And I have to say, that frustrates me, too. But what can I do? I don’t even feel like playing tennis. Or eating! If you know me, you know that’s bad if I don’t want to play tennis or eat.

In my efforts to practice self-acceptance, I’m trying to get to know the drill sergeant better, understand his point of view. I can see how he’s trying to prevent me from a life of sloth-hood. And I do have to wake up early to get to work. And occasionally you really do need your drill sergeant–like when you have to channel your inner warrior on the tennis court.

So I’ve struck a deal with my drill sergeant. As long as I am waking up when I need to, fulfilling my obligations, and being a productive member of society, he can be at ease. But I have promised to call upon him when I am in need of some ass-kicking motivation.

So far, it seems to be working.

This doodle reflects my less positive emotional state at the moment. I think it looks like some kind of scary octopus with floating eyeballs, albeit in pretty colors.



Today I was looking for blogs on self-acceptance that are similar to mine, and there really aren’t any. Interestingly, most self-acceptance blogs specifically deal with acceptance of your body. Apparently that’s the main thing people have trouble with. I guess I’m in the right business.

Anyway, I realized that the phrase self-acceptance only appears once in my entire blog, and that’s in the little blurb on the top of the first page, so I figured I better correct that. This probably should have been the first post, but oh well. Better late than never.

I believe that, no matter how well-adjusted someone is, everyone has a part of them that tries to make them feel bad about themselves. Call this part what you want–your inner demon, your inner critic, your superego–but there’s no question that it’s there. And there are lots of other parts of us, too–children, warriors, and rock stars, just to name a few. And just like in real relationships, sometimes these parts don’t get along.

We are often at war with ourselves: there are parts of us that we do everything in our power to get rid of and hide from the rest of the world. That’s why people want and fear therapy at the same time. On the one hand, we think, hey wouldn’t it be great if I told someone my deep, dark secrets and she said I wasn’t crazy? But at the same time we think, but what if she does think I’m crazy? That would be terrible. That’s why it’s always a courageous thing when someone goes to therapy.

Therapists have the luxury of hiding behind their professional status if they want to. You don’t want to seem too crazy, or no one will want to come see you. But if you seem too perfect, then it’s hard for clients to relate to you. Although I want to be transparent, I know I err on the side of seeming perfect because it feels safer that way.

But as I get older, I want to be more honest about who I am and accepting of all my flaws, and I want to do this in a way that inspires other people do the same. It’s always better to show someone how to do something than it is to tell them how to do it, so that’s why I started this blog.

Sometimes it’s still terrifying to publish some of these posts, but when someone tells me that they related to one them, that they think just like I do, then I know I’m doing the right thing.

Since some of you liked my last doodle, I thought I’d post another one for you.



I captained 5 tennis leagues this year, which most people would describe as an exercise in torture.  Rescheduling matches is a pain, and it’s hard to make everyone happy, but for the most part I enjoy it.  I see it as an opportunity to be a sports psychologist. 

One of the messages I try to instill is the idea that, just as we all have inner children (Sophie, for me) we also have an inner warrior.  Granted, some warriors are more deeply buried and out of shape than others.  For those players on the team, we have the Warrior in Training program (WIT).  A good time to channel your inner warrior is when there is a crucial point, like serving at 30-40 at 3-3. 

The levels of warriorism have evolved over the years.  Last year I had an asthma attack during a singles match.  I’d had a few of them before but I just assumed I was out of shape.  But my friends saw that my lips turned blue and I was wheezing, so after the match they told me I was having an asthma attack and that I should have retired.  It was this match that made me finally go to the doctor, which is how I found out that, in addition to allergies and exercise-induced asthma, I also have GERD. 

For these reasons, I no longer play singles.  But at the time, I just thought I needed an extra-strength dose of warriorism.   I channeled my inner drill sergeant (we all have one of those, too) and started yelling at myself:  soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam didn’t get to quit.  They had to deal with fatigue and lack of sleep and mosquitos and rain and fear of getting killed.  So what if you can’t breathe?  So what if you’re losing?  So what if you can’t move?  You still have to finish the match!

My friends thought is was so funny that I used soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam for motivation that this became our new rally cry.  Before a team mate got on the court, we would yell “jungles of Vietnam!”  Later this got abbreviated to jungles for short.  I even got my team mates pins to put on their tennis bags with the word JUNGLES on it in an army-looking font. 

I also found some monkeys and apes, so I bought those, too.  I would have preferred a variety of jungle animals, but it was pretty amazing that they sold apes and monkeys at all, with exactly 12 per pack–one for each team member.  Even more amazing is that I was able to pick a monkey that represented each player.  So then our rally cry became ape and monkey calls for those team members who can imitate them.  I can’t so I still yell jungles.

The last level of warriorism is when you are in the trenches of the jungles of Vietnam.  This would apply when you’ve lost the first set and are down match point in the second set.  Or when you haven’t slept in over 24 hours and have to play at districts in the deciding match, which happened to me this past summer.  Because it requires you to channel so deeply, this level should only be used in dire circumstances.

I remember at the end of that match, after mentally preparing myself for battle the entire day and spending a good amount of time in the trenches, I was shocked that we still ended up losing.   Then I realized that in war, there are warriors on both sides, and half of them will lose.  In fact, a bunch of warriors on the winning side will get killed, too.  So it’s not a fail-proof strategy.

Still, if I’m going to be in the trenches, I’d rather be there with my warrior in charge than any other part.


One of the few perks of being middle-aged is that people stop pressuring you to have kids.  I still get the occasional, “you never know: my mom had me when I was 45,” but for the most part people have stopped asking.  Not being married helps, too.

Along with the divorces, not having kids is another thing makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong with my life.  You’re supposed to have kids–the Bible says so.  And if you’re a scientist, then evolutionary theory says so.  In my defense, I did try.  Or at least I didn’t try to prevent pregnancy.  But I am relieved that I didn’t get pregnant.

It’s not that I don’t like kids.  I love kids.  I would rather play with the kids at a party than have to interact with the adults.  And I’m really good at playing with them, too.  I get all into it.  It’s not hard, since a part of me is really still a child.  I even have a name for my inner child; I call her Sophie.  She is part of the internal family I mentioned in one of my first blogs.

I know some of you may be thinking I’m crazy right now, but the truth is we all have parts of us that almost seem like separate people, and they don’t all see eye-to-eye.  That’s why we can argue with ourselves about why we’ve stayed in this terrible relationship for so long or why we ate that entire bag of Oreos.  I am sure you can think of at least one time when you were absolutely dumbfounded about why you made such a terrible decision.  And you probably cursed yourself for doing so, too.

Anyway, Sophie gets along really well with my niece, who is 7.  In fact, just this weekend my niece wanted to pretend that we were sisters.   However, the adult in me finds this level of intensive play exhausting, and I can see why parents go to bed so early.  Perhaps the reason why I am a night owl is because I don’t have children.

Even though this is not where I thought I would be at 44, for the most part I am OK with it.  Sophie got to carve a pumpkin with two of my other nieces when I went to BSG, and I got to introduce my youngest niece to football this past weekend.  And she had a great time, even though we lost.

In fact, this post is dedicated to her because she asked me to write about her.