Returning to wholeness

Women Returning to Wholeness

body image

February is often considered “the month of love” or “ Heart” month. This may be a time when you think more about relationship than usual. Whether you have a partner or not, I want to invite you to  make February the month where you fall in love again… with YOU.

When you’re falling in love with someone, you’re  not only excited to spend time with them, but you’re also focused on wanting to express how you feel about them and make them feel wanted. Are you familiar with the languages of love?  In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman identified that we can  use five channels to express  love. Most of us  have one or two predominant languages that we use and that make us feel special.  Today I want to invite you to explore and utilize these languages as you rekindle your love affair with YOU.

Counselling for women Burnaby and North Vancouver love affairOne of the love languages is words. Do you speak nicely to yourself or is your inner critic alive and well? What would it be like if you made a point of not judging yourself? What would it be like if you practiced self compassion? How might you feel if your inner narrative was patient, kind and loving?

A great way to change your narrative is by shifting focus.

Exercise: between now and the end of the month start your day by looking into the mirror and saying “I love you.”End  your day by writing down five things about yourself that you appreciate, that you are excited about or that you are proud of.

Another love language is touch.  Do you receive  enough loving touch in your life? Do you offer loving and sensual touch to your body or do you tend to engage with your body in a more “functional” or perhaps even critical way?Sex Therapy and intimacy counselling for women Burnaby and North Vancouver

Exercise: between now and the end of the month, I invite you to focus on a mindful engagement of your senses. Treat yourself to a special cream or body wash.  Get a massage.   Slow down when you eat and truly enjoy your food. Luxuriate in the feeling of fresh sheets or special lingerie against your skin.  When you put cream on your face (or your body), touch your skin with love and mindfulness. Honour this body of yours  with its scars, stretch marks and fat rolls. It is carrying you thru life. 

The third and fourth love languages are “acts of service” and “time.” Do you tend to put your own needs at the bottom of the list?Do you have a long list of things that you “should” be doing? (If you have done the 21 day practice of “Letting go of “I should” you have probably shifted that dynamic in your life 🙂 )  When is the last time that you just spent time being rather than doing?

Exercise: Make a list of things you love to do but haven’t done for a while. Whether it is reading a book, going thru you closet and letting go of all the things you don’t love anymore, meeting with a good friend or just “hanging”…write down at least 12 things that make you feel good. Between now and the end of the month,  plan your next day on the evening before. Schedule and prioritize one of the things from your list. 

Finally, the fifth language of love is “gifts.” If you had just met this amazing person that totally stole your heart, you would probably delight in spoiling them with small gifts here and there. Whether it was that specialty coffee you know they loved or something else. Gifts don’t have to be expensive.

Exercise: between now and the end of the month, extend that delight, love and care in gifting something to yourself. Find at least 5 opportunities to make yourself feel special with a treat.

As you read this article, did you have any thoughts about being too busy or too tired to do any of these things? Busyness and fatigue or often a place of resistance. If you close your eyes for a moment and go back to a time when you had just fallen in love and connect to that energy in your body – would you have felt too busy or tired to do any of the special things suggested today? Would you have thought that this person you loved didn’t need all that fuss, that there shouldn’t be so much focus on them or that they weren’t good enough yet? I’m sure the answer is NO 🙂

I hope you enjoy the journey of falling in love again…with YOU because it is the most important relationship of all for you to nurture and care about.Counselling for Depression and anxiety relief Burnaby and North Vancouver

Stop feeling shame with Burnaby Sex TherapyWhy do I feel sad and angry when I listen to women talk about feeling inadequate in bed during  Sex Therapy and Intimacy Counselling? Usually these feelings of not measuring up are accompanied by shame and hurting self esteem, and very often they originate because of what is displayed in public media. Especially pornography has created an expectation for men and women regarding foreplay, arousal, capacity to orgasm and what or what “should” be enjoyable for women when we have sex. I feel sad and angry when I witness the consequences for  both men and women who have bought into what is being presented as “normal.” I don’t think it is acceptable that you may feel afraid to ask for what you want or need when having sex because you don’t want to be “difficult.”

When we have sex we are on many levels at our most intimate and most vulnerable. Feelings of shame or inadequacy can turn an wonderful experience into a nightmare.

Can you relate to Claire?

Claire came to my office because she wasn’t enjoying sex very much with her boyfriend. Even though in a previous relationship there hadn’t been any “problems”, with this particular partner she was experiencing pain during penetration. She also seemed to “need” more foreplay these days. What frustrated her the most about her own body was that it was always changing. If one day she enjoyed her nipples being stimulated with more vigor, another day that same stimulation felt uncomfortable if not painful.

She didn’t want to hurt her boyfriends feelings or make him feel like he wasn’t a good lover. Some previous requests about changing positions had been met with some defensiveness. This had left Claire feeling awkward and like she “was being difficult.” Her current solution to the problem was to “praise” the things that her lover was doing which felt good in the hopes that he would catch on…and to suffer in silence when she was experiencing pain. However after having felt pain during lovemaking she would often feel disconnected and sad. Then her inner critic would kick in and she would feel inadequate and ashamed.

Let’s dispel 3 major myths:

1. Your body should respond to similar stimulation in similar fashion at different times. 

Our bodies change thru the monthly cycle as hormones fluctuate. What may have felt fantastic 3 days ago may not feel so great today. Educate your partner and clarify that this is not about him (or her) doing something wrong. This is about you honouring the changing sensitivity of your body and inviting your lover to do the same.

2. You should be lubricated and “ready to go” in about 5 minutes otherwise there is something wrong with you.

When Glamour did a survey about how much foreplay and sex women were actually having over 50% reported a time span of approx 5 minutes. Let’s get real. There are those days where you are horny, for whatever reason, and most likely don’t need a lot of foreplay. But 90% of the time, between fatigue, lack of time, multitasking, stress and anxiety, your body needs foreplay and  a little time to slow down. You need time to connect and not only open your pelvis but open your heart space. As you relax and enjoy, your body responds naturally. But if you are worried about “taking up too much time” or BORING!!! your lover, then you will actually need more time. It is

3. If you don’t get wet, you’re not turned on.

I have listened to countless women express their frustration and embarrassment because even though they felt aroused, their vulva and vagina were not very lubricated. There can be a number of reasons from hormonal changes to stress that could be contributing to lack of lubrication. Remember – our bodies are not machines that respond in some logical and predefined way. But most of all – stop feeling inadequate or settle for painful sex. Use lubricants! They are not an indication of there being something wrong with you (or your partner for that matter). Here in the greater Vancouver area we have many good sex shops. One that I recommend in particular is Womyn’s Ware. You will be able to sample different lubricants and get knowledgable  and matter of fact advice from staff.

stop feeling inadequate and start feeling sexyStop feeling inadequate or ashamed of the beautiful body you have. No matter what size, what shape or what particular sensitivities it may have, it is yours for this lifetime. Every body is beautiful and a gift so we may go out and experience life every day. Asking for what you need sexually is an act of self care and self-respect. Practicing excellent self-care is a gift to your lover, because it will mean that you can show up, stay present and be authentic, which will lead to a deeper intimate connection. 

About 50% of women come to see me for Sexual Healing Therapy or Sex Therapy Relationship counselling, because they are driven by an underlying feeling of inadequacy and/or their partner having expressed dissatisfaction about their shared sex life.

At the beginning of healing work, 80% of my clients are initially somewhat disconnected from their bodies and their sexual energy. Sadly, for some this is linked to previous trauma such as sexual abuse.

Burnaby Sex and marriage counselling can help you define your sexualityBut for many this stems from having consciously or unconsciously internalized intergenerational, cultural and societal messages that define

  • what it means to be sexy and what sexy should look like
  • how a woman should act during sex
  • what gives a woman pleasure and how much pleasure women should experience during sex
  • how often a “good” wife or girlfriend is willing to have sex

this list could go on…

In the past, Religion and financial power have often kept women in a place of accepting that their sexual needs or desires were not as important as those of their male partners. Today, women are less dependent on men for survival. But now we are confronted with images from media and pornography, that create an entirely different set of expectations to live up to.

 

As Kacey Musgraves says so eloquently in her song “Follow your Arrow”:

If you save yourself for marriage
You’re a bore
If you don’t save yourself for marriage
You’re a whore-able person
If you won’t have a drink
Then you’re a prude
But they’ll call you a drunk
As soon as you down the first one

If you can’t lose the weight
Then you’re just fat
But if you lose too much
Then you’re on crack
You’re damned if you do
And you’re damned if you don’t
So you might as well just do
Whatever you want

Change how you feel with Burnaby Self esteem counselling for women But here is the crucial question… what do you want? What do you like? Can you connect to your body and sexual energy and lovingly accept your unique self? Can you  let go of all the should’s and all the judgment and give yourself permission to explore what turns you on… and then ask for it?

Or are you too busy inventing who you should be, pretending to be and feel things you think others expect and want from you… so you can avoid all your doubts and low self-esteem?

The first step to sexual healing and to enjoying sex is connection… and the most important connection you need to cultivate is the connection to yourself. 

Sometimes you first need to peel away some layers before you can connect to what is; before you can connect to and celebrate who you are sexually.

I invite you to do the following exercises to connect to yourself:

Stand naked in front of the mirror… and listen to your internal monologue… write down everything you think and Body image counselling and self esteem counselling can improve your sex lifetake a look at all the negative comments. Identify where those comments come from…when did you start to think thoughts such as your breasts being too small or your belly too big? Did it start with the voice of  your mother who told you to suck in your stomach in or all the other girls in high school developing more quickly than you?

Strip away all these external constructs and see what is left. Can you embrace your body and love it? Can you not only love it but appreciate this vessel that allows you to do life every day? Can you forgive yourself for perhaps having neglected to take good care of your body? Can you let go of the notion that parts of your body are dirty or weird looking? Can you welcome the sensations in your body when you touch yourself without feeling guilty or wanting them to be different?

Now take a moment to write down everything you have learned or heard about sex and sexuality…from the comments your grandmother made… to what your first boyfriend said to what you have seen in movies… read thru all these messages and eliminate what you don’t like, what isn’t yours…and expand on what feels like a fit.

Remember that sexual energy is connected to your second chakra and this is also your center of creativity. Sexual energy is passion and creation. 

Sexual empowerment therapy North Vancouver Be creative courageous and define as well as design your sexuality… which is uniquely yours… yours to be proud of, to embrace and celebrate.

 

When you stand in front of the closet and feel like you’ve got nothing to wear, it can trigger negative self-talk and feelings of frustration or resignation.

Often how we choose to present ourselves in the world changes over time. Clothes offer us the wonderful option of experimenting with new styles, looks and why not, a different personality. If the “failures” of such experiments have remained a part of your wardrobe, read on about how you can use closet challenge no 3 as a transformational tool of personal growth.

#3 You’ve got nothing to wear because your closet is
filled with “mistakes”

Do you own things that still have the price tag attached or you’ve worn once but never again because they were “mistakes”? Are there clothes you bought based on your mood of that day when you indulged in a little retail therapy or when a sale convinced you that the lime green skirt would be a good buy?

Or perhaps you own a collection of impulse buys that you never really intended to wear. Those outrageous golden sandals that kill your feet within 5 minutes, the sequined bolero or the ultra-funky jacket and skirt ensemble…all items that evoke a certain image or feeling or speak to a certain longing.

The cool thing about clothes is that you can change your appearance at will. You can create a look and invent a personality to go with it. Let’s face it, most of us, at some point or other have wished we were different. It’s like having naturally curly hair and envying naturally straight hair and vice versa. The thought of feeling less shy or being seen as more assertive or sexier has made us reach for garments we usually wouldn’t buy or wear.

I know I have often wanted to look less “classic casual” and more funky, which I equate with fun and lightheartedness. So I’ve gone out and come home with some country style blouse or funky skirt. Did I wear them? Yes, maybe once or twice. Did I feel comfortable in my skin? Not really. Have I donated those items? With reluctance… after all, I spend good money on them.

Learning to love yourself, just the way you are sounds simple. But if you combine  media messages, the desire to fit in or stand out, peer pressure and internalized negative self-talk from when you were growing up, it makes sense that it’s only too easy to end up with items in your closet that represent the longing to be different.

So take a good look and be ruthless. Is it really worth keeping that mini skirt which was supposed to make you feel sexy but leaves you feeling uncomfortable and fidgety when you’re out?

Try on every impulse buy and identify – why are you not wearing it? Why did you buy it in the first place? What would be the middle ground?

How can you love and accept yourself just the way you are and allow room for playfulness and fun while remaining authentic?

It’s ok to experiment and “make mistakes.” However an important second step is to “forgive” yourself and let it go…even if you did spend good money.

Finally there’s the case of those impulse buys actually representing an aspect of your personality that’s been trying to “come out of the closet.”

Remember, what other people think about you, is none of your business.

You have no way of controlling what is going on in someone else’s head, even if you like to think you do. So you might as well go for it. Be who you are and want to be. Show up in the world from a place of authenticity and feeling good about all parts of you…. because you’re beautiful and already good enough.

I hope that you’re feeling inspired to love your closet. It can be the springboard towards loving your life and a transformational process, celebrating who you are and supporting you in showing up in the world feeling fabulous.

 

 

Summer is coming to an end, temperatures are dropping and you’re most likely rearranging your closet for the upcoming fall/winter season. Do you love your closet?

Is it a place of affirmation of who you are? Is it filled with beautiful colours that enhance your skin tone and make you look great? Is it easy for you to put together an outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks?

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “How you do anything, is how you do everything.”

Often the relationship with your closet and the clothes you own is quite revealing about how you live your life and feel about yourself.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the classic and frustrating situation of gazing at the array of garments we own only to conclude “I’ve got nothing to wear!”

Did you know that, according to fashion experts, most women wear only 20 per cent of their wardrobe 80 per cent of the time?

Let’s examine three typical “closet situations” that can be a springboard for personal awareness and positive change. In part 1 of this 3 part series let’s look at

# 1: You’ve got nothing to wear because your size has changed and /or your wardrobe is outdated.

If your closet is filled with a number of garments that don’t fit or are no longer appropriate for your current stage of life? Ask yourself…how long has it been since they were a fit? Months, a season or has it been years? Why haven’t you given them away? Is it a budget question or is there more to it?

A survey conducted in the UK at the beginning of the year found that eight out of ten women – that amounts to 20million across the UK – are hoarding millions of pieces of clothing that they can never wear.

Two thirds admitted of keeping the clothes in the misguided hope they will one day be able to wear them again. I’m sure that women on this side of the ocean can relate.

When you hold on to clothes that are too small (most likely you aren’t keeping a sexy dress you want to grow into) it can be symbolic of a general struggle to let go of things in your life. Keeping clothes that were appropriate when you just got out of high school or were still a student can also indicate that you haven’t fully moved forward and stepped into your current life or life style.

Sometimes there is an emotional connection to once favorite items of clothing because they remind you of happy times in your life. There is nothing wrong with keeping things for sentimental reasons. But they shouldn’t be part of your everyday wardrobe because rather than evoking positive memories, they risk triggering negative self-talk and stress in those moments when you’re trying to find something to wear.

 If you’re struggling with giving away what’s no longer a fit because a part of you longs to feel like you did “back then”, if you associate feeling good about yourself with being different from how or who you are today, try the following exercise:

Divide a piece of paper into two columns. In the first column make a list describing all the positive things you associate with the woman who wore the clothes that used to fit. In the second column, write down all the things you value and celebrate about who you are today.

Now compare the two. What stands out for you? Are there any items in the first column that you want to integrate into your life today? For example, if you used to feel sexier or more carefree, what can you do to welcome those feelings back into your current life? Perhaps you could take a belly dancing class. Maybe you could join toastmasters.  If you’re feeling really stuck, counselling can help you come to a place of greater self-love and acceptance as well as cope with the inevitable grief that comes with change. There are many options to help you change.

The only limits to being who you want to be, are the limiting thoughts you have bought into.

Do you listen to “I’m too fat FM”? Over the years of counselling women I have discovered that perfectionism and low self-esteem or poor body image are often connected.

Being synchronized to “I’m too fat FM” is a painful experience with ripple effect.

Many women pretend that they don’t listen to this station by putting on an air of self-confidence when they go out into the world.

Only closest friends and partners become privy to the painful internal struggle that gets triggered with every glance in the mirror. What happens is that once in a while, “I’m too fat FM” gets interrupted by spontaneous broadcasts of messages from “Maybe I’m ok FM”.

In these moments, the woman usually turns to her spouse or friend asking for reassurance. What follows is a dialogue which, repeated often enough,
leaves both parties frustrated and / or annoyed.

Can you relate to this scenario?

“Honey, do you think I look ok in this dress?”
“You look great babe! How many times have I told you that I think you’re sexy and I love your body?”
“Oh, you just say that because you love me. I guess I wouldn’t look too bad, if only I didn’t have ____________ (choose from these options – this big belly, such bad skin, fat thighs, bigger breasts ecc).”
“That’s nonsense! I’m telling you, you look great!”
“You don’t really understand. Like I said, you love me so of course you think I’m ok.”
“If you don’t believe me, why do you even ask?”

 While listening to “I’m too fat FM” or “I’m not good enough FM” maybe a habit you’ve picked up during childhood, today, as an adult, you have a choice to choose a different radio station.

You have a choice regarding the thoughts you think. Perhaps you feel  that changing these thoughts is difficult if not impossible.

If you can’t seem to break the habit of negative self-talk, ask yourself these questions:

What is the benefit of negative self-talk or keeping yourself small?

Here are some answers I have heard while counselling women for anxiety and depression: It makes me work harder and always strive to be better, it allows me to see nice things in other people, it makes me a good friend,

What is the cost of negative self-talk?

Answers women have shared: Depression, anxiety, I don’t go out and do things I want, I hide my body, I’m inhibited in bed, I become obsessed about being perfect in other areas, I obsess about my body and weight loss, I’m unhappy

What would be the benefits of listening to “I’m perfect just the way I am FM”?

Answers women have shared: I would have more freedom, I would have more energy, I would feel great about myself, I would do more things, I would have more fun, I would dress differently and wear what I want, I would initiate sex and feel less inhibited

 What would be the (imagined) costs of stopping negative self-talk?

Answers women have shared: Having to step out of my comfort zone, people thinking I’m conceited or arrogant, losing friends, conflict with partner or family, realizing that I want to live my life differently,

Here are 4 tips to help you stop negative self-talk and shift low self-esteem / poor body image:

1) Do mirror work: Many of my clients resist this exercise, but mirror work is very powerful. To avoid getting distracted by your body, start with a hand mirror and look into your eyes when you say the following:

I love you. It’s not what you do but who you are that I love. You are perfect just the way you are. You are special to me. I have confidence in you.

Start with one of these messages. Take a couple of minutes in the morning after you wake up and in the evening before going to sleep to connect with yourself. Breathe into these messages. Notice any voices in your head that disagree and just let them go. You may choose to journal about what the voices in your head are saying.

2) Practice gratitude: Thanks to your amazing body, you get to experience life. You get to enjoy the beauty of nature, taste good food, touch the people you love, hear beautiful sounds, do the work you do. You might think you’re thighs are too fat… but imagine missing a leg. You might worry about your breasts being too small but imagine losing them to illness.

3) Start a daily practice of writing and saying positive affirmations to yourself. There are lots of great books that you can use to inspire you.

4) Start doing some of the things you now don’t allow yourself to do because you imagine everybody is looking at you and thinking horrible thoughts. Learn anxiety management techniques such as EFT and thought stopping to help you cope.

You don’t have to be a hostage of your inner critic and “I’m too fat FM.” You can and you deserve to own your greatness.

Do you have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you.

Ina Stockhausen is a psychotherapist in Burnaby and North Vancouver, specializing in counselling women for anxiety, depression and stress management. She offers solution focused counselling and helps women navigate life transitions.

You might be tempted to do so  if you happen to watch the latest Nabisco Cookie commercial for the “Chips Ahoy Chewy Gooey Cookies”  because… “they are crammed with joy.” In my counselling practice for women, I specialize helping clients overcome emotional eating and address the root causes of depression.

Burnaby counselling for women helps you stop emotional eatingIn these times of stress many individuals struggle with increased depression and anxiety. As you may know, when you’re depressed, your serotonin levels are low. Low serotonin levels in turn trigger cravings for refined carbohydrates like cookies or chocolate.

When advertising helps instill the belief that a cookie is “crammed with joy” is it any wonder that the rate of emotional eating related weight gain is also on the rise?

Let’s not forget that children watch TV as well.
(The cookie commercial is geared towards children)  Between the age of 4 to 10, children develop  their ability to think. How many of us think to point out to a 6 year old that a cookie is actually not crammed with joy? To the average adult it is just advertising that we tune out. But somewhere in our brain and somewhere in the developing brain of our children this message gets logged.

So let me repeat my earlier question. Is it any wonder that emotional eating, Food Addiction and obesity are on the rise?

If we take another look at the connection between serotonin levels and cravings we also need to remember that low serotonin levels affect how you feel about yourself. Anyone who has ever felt depressed will recall that they weren’t exactly bursting with self-esteem at the time.

One of the most common grievances accompanying low self-esteem that clients share with me is their fear of weight gain and feeling too fat.

It is a dilemma. Sugar does raise serotonin levels momentarily, so it would appear that the Chips Ahoy Chewy Gooey cookies are indeed “crammed with joy”.

Personally I think I would like the ad better if it ended with one of those rapid monotonous voices we recognize from drug commercials which could say “Some side effects may apply. Eat with caution when depressed. The intense flavor may trigger binge eating, overeating or continuous grazing until the box is empty. After effects may include and are not restricted to weight gain, self-loathing, feelings of powerlessness”.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with Chewy Gooey cookies. As I always say to my clients:
There are no forbidden foods as long as you eat mindfully. So the next time you have a cookie, do enjoy and savor the smooth creamy fudge in the middle.

Then consciously take a breath, connect with your body and check in to see if you really want another cookie. Perhaps you do. If you find yourself eating  more than a whole handful, ask yourself what you are really hungry for in this moment.

Get help for depression and anxiety with Burnaby counsellingIt may well be that you are looking for a little bit of joy. And that is ok. But remember that you can make a choice. You can eat more cookies, or take another breath, put down the cookies and take a moment to remember what else gives you joy. Maybe you like to hug your pet, kiss your child, play a game, do some gardening…

Now check in again with your body. What is truly going to meet your need for joy in this moment?

No matter what choice you end up making, be present with yourself and give yourself permission to truly savor the moment and your chosen activity.