The Way We Use Mindfulness Matters

By Annabelle Parr

It seems like mindfulness is everywhere these days. In recent years, it has exploded on the scene as the seemingly catch-all cure for a whole host of problems, supposedly promising to address mental health concerns, decrease stress, improve performance at work, and make you a better parent. Its benefits are touted across the internet – from business sites like Forbes and Fast Company, to wellness sites like the Huffington Post, to inspirational sites like Upworthy.


It’s true that practicing mindfulness can benefit us in all sorts of ways, showing not only benefits to our mind and our mood, but to our overall physiological health as well. However, when something is subjected to as much hype as mindfulness has been, sometimes in all the air time, it can get watered down and potentially misrepresented. Depending on how we talk about mindfulness and how we choose to apply it to our struggles and our lives, mindfulness can be a huge help or it can become one more well-disguised attempt at avoiding and controlling discomfort.

So what actually is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has a long and rich history rooted in Eastern philosophy traditions, which have acknowledged its benefits for centuries. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, was a trail blazer in integrating an understanding of mindfulness into the Western conception of health. He defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Meditation is an example of a mindful exercise, but mindfulness can be practiced in any moment during any activity – one of the reasons it is so appealing and accessible as a means of promoting wellbeing.

Sounds ideal, right? You can practice it anytime, anywhere! The key to a stress free life is available to you in any moment! Well…not exactly.

 As Steven C. Hayes (2019) pointed out in his new book, A Liberated Mind, “it matters what mindfulness is for.” Why are we choosing to practice mindfulness? Based on any number of headlines and articles you read online, it sounds like practicing mindfulness is about getting rid of discomfort and stress. But thinking about it this way can actually make things worse! As Carl Jung noted, what we resist persists. The more we try to escape, avoid, or control our emotions, the stronger they tend to get. What’s more, when all our energy is devoted to controlling discomfort, our lives become increasingly restricted as our choices are dictated by what we are not willing to feel. When mindfulness becomes one more tool to escape or control uncomfortable experiences, it can end up fueling the same cycle that gets us caught in suffering.


So if it’s not about getting rid of stress, why should we bother being mindful?

From an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) perspective, mindfulness helps make our lives richer and more meaningful. It does not guarantee freedom from discomfort. But it does offer us a new way to meet our pain. When we connect to the here and now rather than getting caught in regrets about the past or worries about the future, we are freed to notice what is happening in the moment and then choose to take action toward what is important to us.

The purpose is not to get rid of stress or anxiety or grief or whatever other uncomfortable feeling shows up, but rather to help facilitate awareness so that discomfort does not control our actions and define our lives. In being more present, we are free to notice not only the tough stuff like sadness or fear or frustration, but also the stuff that fills us up, like peace, joy and triumph. When we are not responsible for changing how we feel, we are freed up to change how we behave.

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, it can absolutely be helpful! And it can help you with things like stress and anxiety and work performance and being a more engaged parent and partner. But the reason it is helpful matters. A lot.

When you decide to show up to the moment mindfully, remind yourself that this is not a way to escape something difficult or painful. As psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, so poignantly noted, “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Mindfulness allows us to access that space. It allows us to hold our experience willingly and gently, allows us to notice helpful information that may be present in our experience, and allows us to make a conscious, active choice about how we want to behave. We are freed to choose to act in a way that is consistent with our values, and in so doing, we are invited to experience life as full of vitality and meaning, even when we are faced with discomfort.


I Get Nervous in Social Situations…Do I Have Social Anxiety Disorder?

By Annabelle Parr

Most of us probably know what it’s like to feel nervous about public speaking or before going on a first date. We might feel anxious before a job interview, or find our palms get sweaty right before we shake hands with someone we’ve just met. But for the 7 percent of US adults that experience social anxiety disorder in a given year, the fear of humiliation and embarrassment can be debilitating (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017).


What is social anxiety disorder?

Getting anxious in a social situation does not mean that you have social anxiety disorder. In order to receive this diagnosis (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), you must experience persistent fear or anxiety about one or more social situations, causing you to either avoid or suffer through the feared situation. In addition, you must also fear that your behavior will reflect your anxiety and that this will lead to negative social repercussions, like humiliation or rejection. Finally, the anxiety must be out of proportion to what might be expected in that context. This fear, anxiety, or avoidance around social situations must last for at least 6 months and it must make it difficult to function in important areas of life, such as work, school, or relationships. 

What are some examples of situations that trigger social anxiety?

Individuals experiencing social anxiety might find themselves feeling anxious about any number of situations, including making small talk with coworkers, interacting with the cashier at the grocery store, ordering a latte, going on dates, attending parties, eating in public, giving a speech or presentation, or performing in front of an audience. The main fear underlying social anxiety is experiencing rejection or humiliation.

Social anxiety isn’t all bad.

Like all anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder is an adaptive response gone awry. The reason we all know that heart pounding, cheeks flushing, palms sweating reaction to a nerve-wracking social situation is that we have evolved physiologically to avoid any trace of rejection. Humans are inherently social animals, and our survival has depended upon our ability to function in the context of relationships. Beyond basic survival, relationships also add joy and meaning to our lives. As a result, we are literally neurologically wired to connect with one another. We achieve that social connection by concerning ourselves with what those around us think, need, and feel. Imagine a world where everyone only cared about themselves and paid no attention to the impact they had on others…yikes! So a little anxiety around situations that might result in rejection can be a really healthy, adaptive response. However, if you find yourself so afraid of rejection that you can’t be vulnerable enough to engage in necessary or meaningful social interactions, that’s when social anxiety can become problematic.

Risking rejection is part of the process of having deeper connections.

The paradox here is that in order to seek connection, you are also automatically risking rejection. You cannot get the joy and reward of interacting and bonding with others if you are not also willing to accept that this will sometimes result in pain, embarrassment, or rejection. Social anxiety disorder – unlike manageable anxiety that shows up in any number of vulnerable situations – hinders connection because the desire to avoid rejection overwhelms the impulse to seek connection. In other words, you miss out on both the risks and the rewards.

What are the consequences of social anxiety disorder?

When social anxiety reaches disordered levels, it can make it impossible to focus on anything but anxiety, so you are unable to be truly present in the situation and you white-knuckle your way through. Or it is so overwhelming that you avoid the situation entirely, and life becomes restricted by fear. It can result in isolation, loneliness, and underperformance in areas which you might otherwise excel. The catch is that the anxiety is so strong that it prevents you from learning that a positive outcome is possible. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), this is called experiential avoidance.


Does social anxiety have to rule my life?

No! The good news is that social anxiety is highly treatable. With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), clients can learn to reframe their anxious thoughts to be more realistic, as opposed to catastrophic. They can learn that anxiety is not all bad, but how we view it drastically affects how it impacts us. And with the help of a therapist, they can learn to slowly face the things that have come to feel impossible. ACT, the third wave of CBT, can also help clients to get in touch with their values and act in ways that bring meaning to their lives, even when they are experiencing something difficult, like anxiety or fear.


Getting anxious in social situations is a pretty universal experience. It’s hard to find someone who has never been nervous about some kind of vulnerable, human-to-human experience. But when it becomes something that is making it difficult to engage in life in the ways that bring you purpose and joy, it might be worth reaching out for some help.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Social anxiety disorder: Statistics [Webpage]. Retrieved from 

If at first you don’t succeed, try something different

by Shoshana Shea

“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results.”  - Albert Einstein

What do you do when you run out of reasonable (or at least semi-reasonable!) coping strategies, finding that they are just not working to improve your situation? One more conversation with your partner using a respectful tone and making a request they be more mindful of a situation; hoping a person will consider you just once before they act; bending over backwards to make sure someone is OK and getting little to no acknowledgement of your help. Or, do you need to recognize the insanity of trying the same ineffectual “solutions,” perpetually expecting different results, and make some shifts in your behavior, by trying something new instead?

In one of my favorite scenes from the “Bee Movie,” Jerry Seinfeld’s character, Barry the Bee, flies into someone’s home to get out of the rain because, as the movie states, everyone knows that bees can’t fly in the rain (Seinfeld & Smith, 2007)! When he realizes that it’s even more dangerous to be inside a house with humans, he tries to leave out the window he just flew in. So he heads towards the window and crashes into it. You see, the problem is that the humans had closed the window right after he flew in. He proceeds to stand up and continue crashing into the window multiple times reciting the words, “Maybe this time; maybe this time, this time! This time! This time!” only to get shot back down by the cold hard glass. In exasperation he decries, “This is diabolical!” 


I know I can certainly relate to Barry the Bee. How many times have we tried to use a strategy over and over again, only to not have it work, even if it seems perfectly reasonable?! He flew in through the window; why would he not be able to fly back out?!


There is a great metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) of a man who is walking along and drops into a deep, dark hole (Hayes, Stosahl, & Wilson, 1999). At the bottom is a shovel, so he starts digging because there are no other tools around him. He digs and digs, only to discover he has created an even deeper hole than when he started. ‘Digging’ our way out with the only tool at our disposal seems logical at first, but it is ultimately the strategy that is holding us back from successfully moving forward in our lives.  What’s a person (or a bee) to do in these situations?


Consider these 5 ideas to help you exit the house or climb out of the hole:

1)     Acceptance– Acknowledge the reality of the situation. What is the problem or issue at hand? What strategy are we using, and is it helpful or unhelpful in resolving the situation? Have awareness of the fact that everything we’ve tried thus far is not working. Banging our head against the window isn’t going to open it.

2)     Letting go might be the best option – i.e., drop the shovel. Usually the strategy we are using is serving as an avoidance of the present moment. Barry the Bee was in a very precarious situation. I don’t blame him for being reluctant to give up the option of leaving the way he came in. It was all he knew. These situations hurt our heads, metaphorically and literally. We attempt to rationalize using the same ineffective strategy, instead of looking at the ultimate reality. The window is closed and it is not going to work as an exit strategy, whether we like it or not! The best option is to let go of the strategy that is not only not working, but likely making the situation worse! For example, staying in a relationship that we know is not serving us drains more of our energy than most of us are willing to admit. 


3)     “The window” or the solution might be all there inside of us. Sitting quietly and tuning in to our wisdom, we can usually find numerous answers. We just might have a heap of fear because it will likely require venturing out into unchartered territory. Our self-critic usually doesn’t like that…how do we know it will work? We don’t, unless we try.

4)     There might be another window, but we may not have access to it in that very moment.  This is related to the previous idea. As we sit with the present moment rather than running from it, we tune in to our “gut,” our good sense, and we see that the solution has multiple steps and may take a bit of time to get there. For example, if you are unhappy at work and ultimately decide to go back to night school to retrain for a different career, going through the steps to get there may take some time.

5)     We might need to practice what I like to call “trial and adjustment” as opposed to “trial and error”; we have to try out a new solution to see if it works. We won’t know what the outcome will be until we try. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t make it an error at all. Rather, it’s a behavioral experiment, or a work in progress where we assess the feedback/data collected and make necessary adjustments. For example, look for support from a different source, rather than going to the same friend or family member who continues to be emotionally unavailable or makes most of us feel worse than before. There is no guarantee that whatever avenue we try will ultimately lead to the solution, but we never know until we try. The famous hockey player, Wayne Gretsky, said, “We miss 100% of the shots we never take.”



Hayes, S.C., Strosahl, K.D., Wilson, K.G. (1999). Acceptance and commitment therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. New York: Guildford Press.

Seinfeld, J. (Producer), & Smith, S. J. (Director). (2007). Bee Movie [Motion Picture]. United States: DreamWorks Animation.

How did I get stuck in this rabbit hole? Overcoming negative self-talk

by Shoshana Shea

Have you ever fallen down the rabbit hole of negative self-talk and found yourself thinking…

·      “I’m unworthy”

·      “I’m not good enough”

·      “I hate myself”

·      “There’s something wrong with me”

If you said yes to any of these, you are not alone. 

Where does this come from?

These negative thoughts emerge when we are in pain. We want to unfeel our feelings, but we can’t.  We want the pain to end. This is where the self-critic comes in and wants to make sense of our pain so it can stop. When it can’t find an easy fix, it starts saying things like “There must be something wrong with me.” “I hate myself for caring and my (perceived) shortcomings.” “I’m unworthy.” “I’m unlovable.” “I’m not enough.”


If we have enough hard painful events in our lives, which most of us do, we start to have narratives (aka storylines) about who we are and how things are going to go (not well!) in any situation; we stop checking scenarios out for what they are.  Sometimes we even deny that we have emotions at all. An example of this would be if you went out on a date, had a great time, felt like you connected with the other person, and then you never heard a word from your date again. You might think that you are unlovable, hate yourself, and decide that dating isn’t for you. This is not true. Yes, you are having a painful present moment, but your interpretation and the assumptions you make may not be true. In other words, thinking you are unlovable does not equate to actually being unlovable.

Cognitive Fusion: Believing our thoughts, acting on them, and getting stuck in the rabbit hole

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), this is called Cognitive Fusion, which means that we take our thoughts as absolute truths. When we experience cognitive fusion, we feel we have to carry out our thoughts’ directives without question, even if they tell us to make ourselves small or that we are small. When we are completely ‘fused’ i.e., attached, to our thoughts, we get pulled down the rabbit hole.


Cognitive De-Fusion: Unhitching from our thoughts

So if cognitive fusion means unquestioningly believing our thoughts to be absolute truths, cognitive de-fusion means that we are able to notice our thoughts without automatically acting on them. This is where mindfulness comes in. Viktor Frankl has been attributed to have said, “Between stimulus and the response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” When we can de-fuse, or get some space from our thoughts, we are able to see them and understand them better, even though we often might not really want to see the hard stuff in front of us.   


Here are some techniques to consider for getting distance from the self-critic:

1. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt that you are feeling the way you do for good reason. There is ALWAYS a reason why you are feeling the way you do, but it is not because you are worthy of hating yourself! Take the example up above. The reason you might be feeling you hate yourself is because there was a painful present moment that you couldn’t control. You actually have no idea why your date never called back. Perhaps they were already dating someone else. Perhaps they were not in a place to move forward in a serious way in a relationship. You can’t know for sure what the reason is, and your feelings of pain are valid, but they are not an indication that they exist because something is wrong with you.

2. Name the emotion. Once you have given yourself the benefit of the doubt that you are feeling something for good reason, ask yourself what those feelings might be. Emotions are usually one word: Sad, fearful, anxious, hurt, etc. Emotions give us important information.


3. “Am I worthy?” is not necessarily the most helpful question to ask yourself. Instead, ask yourself, “What is the Painful Present Moment?” (Which I call The PPM).  Continuing with the above example, you might be dating because you would like to find a life partner. In this scenario, the PPM is that since your date did not call back, you have not yet found your partner. That, in and of itself, does not feel good and could be quite disheartening. The self-critic may say, “It’s because you are not enough.” The mind is coming up with explanations because you are in pain and it is hard to sit with that. It’s hard to accept that you probably need to keep dating, when it clearly has not been a great experience thus far.

4. Anxiety and sadness are not bad in and of themselves. They are there for good reason (See point #1); it’s UNACKNOWLEDGED anxiety and/or sadness that leads to the problems. For example, walking home at night in a not so safe neighborhood, you have two choices: you have a well-lit street that takes longer, or a short-cut through a dark alley. Which one gives you anxiety? It serves a good purpose in our lives if we examine the cause of that anxiety. So the next time you are feeling anxious, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and try find out why.

5. Have Self-Compassion. If you can’t quite access why the negative self-talk is raining down on you so hard, try to have compassion for yourself. In other words, at least try to make the effort to understand yourself, even if you still feel like the emotions are just there for no apparent cause. Practice statements like, “I get why I’m feeling anxious because...” or “I’m probably feeling this way for good reason, even if I don’t know what that exact reason is right now.” My favorites are, “This stinks” and “No wonder I’m feeling this way.”

6. Practice saying, “My mind is having the thought that (insert self-critical statement)...” For example, “...that I’m overthinking this” or “…that I shouldn’t be taking this so hard.” This helps you to separate your mind from your self, and can help create some space that can allow you to recognize that your thoughts are not necessarily cold hard truths.


7. Try slowing the pace of your words, adjust your intonation, and use a kinder tone of voice. “(Oh no!) I'm anxious!” vs. “I AM anxious, and I don't have to pretend I'm not. It's actually my body telling me that something needs my attention.” This helps with cognitive flexibility and organically shifts your perspective. The function of the mind/self-critic is to alert you that something VALID needs your attention.

8. Talk to a trusted other. If my mind is working overtime to either spin and/or criticize me, I know that important truths are begging to be uncovered and unpacked beneath the storylines my mind is trying to tell. And if I can’t uncover it on my own, I ask a trusted other to help me to create space between myself and my thoughts so I can get that shift in perspective I so desperately need. You may think you have talked and thought about this enough already, so last thing you want to do is talk about it more. Consider this idea: yes, you have been thinking a lot, but you are likely stuck in the rabbit hole, especially if there is little to no relief and the end to your suffering is nowhere in sight. Talking to someone else can allow you to formulate more helpful questions so that you can move forward in a meaningful way.

If you find yourself struggling, feeling stuck, and/or could use some help navigating your feelings, you could benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness. Dr. Shoshana Shea can help. She can be contacted at 619-269-2377.


What We Resist Persists

by Shoshana Shea

Have you ever had these thoughts: “Everything REALLY IS fine, so why do I feel so sad?”  Or “I’m unhappy, yet I have nothing to be unhappy about.”  Or “I have a lot of NOISE in my head; I can’t get this nagging feeling to go away, even though I have a ‘good life,’ overall.”  Normally, our first instinct is to rationalize or push away uncomfortable feelings.  We try to think our way out of these painful periods in our lives. And for the most part, that has worked out fine.  On the other hand, we have never fully gotten rid of the thought, “Maybe I could be happier?”  Or perhaps we know we’re not happy, but we feel stuck and don’t know what to do.  Despite trying to push the thoughts away, they can become more intrusive, more frequent, and more oppressive.  In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) there is a common saying, originally opined by famous analyst, Carl Jung: “what you resist persists.”  In other words, even our life long strategies of thinking ‘harder,’ or further rationalizing, and/or attempting to ignore our feelings, can become ineffective in pushing pain away.


This is not necessarily a bad place to be in your life.  According to Buddhist nun, author, and world renown teacher, Pema Chodron (1997), “...feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

I’m fine, but not really.

This “I’m fine, but not really” experience can happen in any situation in our life – in our romantic relationships, friendships, work, family, and inside ourselves.  Consider this scenario: Sally has a decent paying job, but she is overworked. She comes home feeling drained and anxious, sometimes numb. The boss just gave her a cost of living raise, but not a merit one.  She has the thought, “I should just be happy I have a job at all when so many people don’t.”

Why do the thoughts persist?

The thoughts persist because our body is trying to alert us that ‘an important something’ is needing our attention, and we can no longer continue the way we have been doing so.  Our job is to do a deeper investigation in order to generate more effective coping strategies in our lives and ultimately, to move in a more meaningful life direction.  The thoughts will continue as long as we don’t address the underlying causes.

Our brain runs on templates


Another reason these thoughts persist is that our brains will engage in familiar behavioral and thinking patterns that maintain the status quo.  We want a quick fix where relief is readily available.  Having to sit and do a deeper investigation of our feelings and possibly take actions that initially heighten our pain for the purpose of getting the long-term pay-off is not to our brain’s liking.  We will, therefore, look for coping strategies that are readily accessible and that we have utilized in the past. Given that our neural pathways like this familiarity and run on these (often outdated) templates to help us cope and navigate any situation, we will avoid trying something new or unfamiliar; even if that familiarity does not involve a happy outcome, it’s a predictable one. 

Forging a new neural pathway is akin to having to cut down a path through a cornfield


Furthermore, creating a new neural pathway has been compared to walking through an overgrown cornfield, as opposed to a path that is already cut down and well-tread. Forging a new path is akin to taking out a pocket knife and cutting down one stalk at a time.  That can be fairly disheartening and who knows what lies on the other side of the field, so why expend the effort?  An even more unsatisfying work situation or relationship may be at the end of the path.  So we fall back on old “safe” behaviors and continue to feel unsatisfied in our lives.

The paradox in all this is that this built-in mechanism that is meant to protect us is actually keeping us from being more content in our lives.  The Rochester Meditation Center’s Daily Tejaniya for May 2, 2018 captures that idea perfectly: A meditation student said her meditations were deeply unpleasant because she had to face a torrent of random thoughts, distracting fantasies, and harsh self-judgments.  “Do you want it to stop?” Sayadaw asked her.  “Yes!” she said. “That’s the problem,” he said.

So What Can We Do?

  1. Stop struggling, as the example with the meditation teacher and student above implies, we have to stop pushing back on the thoughts and telling ourselves we can’t think that way. Remember, what we resist persists!
  2. Thoughts are not the problem – Acknowledge that the thoughts are there, and know that our brains, albeit exhausting, are trying to find a quick fix to the situation by thinking ‘harder.’ 
  3. “You can’t control your first thought, but you can [certainly] control the second” (Hendrix & Hunt, 2013.) The first thought is our primal brain (i.e., the part of the brain that we share with many other species) reacting to pain and perceived danger. The second thought has the potential to engage our higher ordered thinking human brains, in a more fully embodied way, to include more information than our initial thoughts. This is our opportunity to look at the larger picture!
  4. Understand that the thoughts and emotions are there for good reason.  Something does need our attention; however, we need to engage our thoughts in a different way, not by pushing back on them or getting pulled down into their content.
  5. Sometimes we do have to make some hard choices – Initially, in the short run, we may have to make some difficult decisions and put in some hard work, for the long-term payoff. As in the case of Sally, she may need to find a new job and/or take a pay cut at first, so she can ultimately have more upward mobility.  That will likely involve more pain at first; our brains don’t like that, and will tell us all kinds of stories about why we can’t handle making a change in our lives.
  6. The body never lies – If we are in pain, our body is only alerting us to that and wants us to move towards a better quality of life.  The body knows making a mindful change will lead us to a better place.  Instead of loneliness and disconnection, if we tune into our “gut,” ultimately, we will come to a more connected fulfilling place.
  7. Therapy can be helpful to make some changes – A therapist can identify where we are getting stuck and help us relate to our thoughts in a more helpful way. By taking us through a deeper investigation, our wisdom can emerge to help facilitate meaningful changes and action in our life.

If you find yourself struggling, feeling stuck, and/or could use some help navigating your feelings, you could benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness. Dr. Shoshana Shea can help. She can be contacted at 619-269-2377.


Chodron, P. (1997). When things fall apart. Heart advice for difficult times. Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Hendrix, H.  & Hunt, H.L. (2013). Making marriage simple. 10 relationship-saving truths. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

The Rochester Meditation Center. (May 2, 2018). The Daily Tejaniya.

Do I Need to be Perfect Before I Can Have a Relationship?

by Shoshana Shea and Annabelle Parr

Have you ever been through a breakup and had your friends or family tell you that being single is good because now you can “work on yourself?” We often hear that the time to focus on ourselves and our own growth is when we are single. While being single can offer us an opportunity for self-development, this message suggests that being in a relationship and working on yourself are mutually exclusive. While this may be true occasionally, it is certainly not the rule. Our personal growth does not end just because we enter a relationship. Arguably, some of our most profound growth will occur within our relationships, not removed from them.

Why do people emphasize being single as the time to work on yourself? 

Theoretically, it’s easier to work on yourself when you are single; it’s primarily you that you need to focus on. In a relationship, the focus in not only on yourself, but also on your partner and the relationship.    


No one can save us from our own personal growing pains.

Additionally, we sometimes end up using the relationship as a substitute for working on ourselves. Motivational speaker, Jungian psychologist, and author, James Hollis, reminds us in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, How to Finally Really Grow Up, that “there is a telling paradox at work here. The more we wish another person to repair our wounds, meet our needs, and protect us from having to grow up, really grow up, the more dissatisfying the relationship will prove over the long haul. It will swamp in stagnation...” (Hollis, 2006).

Our partner may be able to help catalyze our growth, but they cannot do our growing for us.

In the context of a healthy, loving relationship, it is still possible to “work on yourself.” James Hollis (2006) continues, “If, however, we can see that the relationship is a summons to growth, in part by encountering the otherness of our partner, the relationship will support each person risking, stretching, and growing beyond the point where they entered.”


When a relationship ends, how long do you need to “work on yourself” before getting into another relationship? 

If you have recently been through a break up, there may be value in taking some time and space before entering into a new relationship. This single period can give you time to reflect on and process why a relationship didn’t work. There is no set amount of time or magic equation, however, that will tell you when to begin dating again. As long as you are committed to self-growth, you can begin dating whenever you feel compelled to do so.

The most important thing is that you get out there and live your life!

People can spend so much time trying to ‘fix’ themselves before entering a relationship that they don’t engage in their life. Cheryl Strayed (2015) reminds us, “You can’t ride to the fair unless you get on the pony.” People can lose sight of two important things: 1. They can continue to work on themselves and work on (or pursue) a relationship at the same time.  2. They were actually whole to begin with and it’s not about “fixing” anything at all; perhaps the last relationship just wasn’t the right fit. Jeff Foster (2014) reminds us, “...Courage is the willingness to fall to your knees, to feel pain, to get yourself dirty, shake yourself off, and forge ahead with a broken-open heart.”


When we are truly committed to our own growth, we will find opportunities to “work on ourselves” whether we are in a relationship or not.

Consider this question on your journey of self-growth posed by James Hollis (2006), “’Am I made larger, or smaller, by this path, this relationship, this decision?’” Relationships are complicated, and they are not always the right fit. When we are single and unattached, we usually have plenty of time and space to “work on ourselves” and there is no doubt that there is much joy to be found in this part of the journey. But if we have found a partner whom we love and cherish, we can be connected to them and remain connected to ourselves and our own growth all at once.


If you find yourself struggling and could use some help navigating your feelings, you could benefit from Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and mindfulness. Dr. Shoshana Shea can help. She can be contacted at 619-269-2377.


Foster, J. [Jeff]. (2014, August 6). Self esteem [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from

Hollis, J. (2006). Finding meaning in the second half of life: How to finally, really grow up. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

Strayed, C. (2015). Brave enough. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Why It’s Okay to Be Mad

by Annabelle Parr

Humans are wired for connection. Relationships bring us immense joy, but they can also be challenging at times. There will inevitably be moments when we miscommunicate and misunderstand each other, and this can lead to frustration and conflict where both partners feel angry and hurt.

Here’s an example.

Julie and Rob both have busy lives, children they love, and full-time jobs. Julie wants Rob to spend more time with the family. Rob wishes Julie understood the overwhelming pressure his boss puts on him. Julie never “signed up” to be a single parent; and Rob doesn’t seem to understand that she has pressures and responsibilities of her own at work. Julie, unlike Rob, makes time for the family. It is the third night in a row that Rob has called to say he won’t be home before the boys go to bed. Julie is tired and frustrated. She snaps, “You don’t have to come home at all, for all I care.” Rob feels demoralized. It seems like he can’t please anyone no matter what he does. Julie is fuming and can’t seem to make Rob understand how she feels so alone.

Both Rob and Julie’s feelings are valid, but neither one of them is feeling heard. Both of them are now feeling angry. Anger is not a bad thing; there are no “bad” emotions. However, when people get angry, conflict does have the potential to escalate.

We tend to equate anger with aggression, but anger is an emotion while aggression is a behavior.

The problem isn’t anger itself. As Tina Gilbertson notes on her blog, “anger has never hurt anyone.” Emotions, no matter how strong, cannot cause harm. Rather, it is our behavior and our emotional expression has the potential to inflict injury. So, our negative connotation towards anger is due to our lack of understanding surrounding how to express ourselves when we feel mad.

Allowing ourselves to get angry is actually healthy.

While getting aggressive is destructive, allowing ourselves to feel angry is vital. Here’s why.

1. Anger, like any emotion, is information. Ignoring anger is like ignoring your smoke alarm. Approaching the screeching alarm may be uncomfortable, but it’s a sign that something is amiss. When we ignore such a vital piece of information, we invite the underlying problem to turn into a full blown fire.

“…feelings like… anger… instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back…They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.”
- Pema Chödrön

“Anger is the feeling that says No to opposition, injury, or injustice. It is a signal that something I value is in jeopardy.”
David Richo

2. Anger is energy that we can use to create change. We can either take this energy out on ourselves and/or others, or we can channel it into positive, constructive change. For example, rather than getting into a yelling match with a family member, you can use your angry energy as courage to set a firm, clear boundary. Or rather than ruminating on all the bad things that happen in the world, you can use your anger as motivation to get involved in volunteering for a cause close to your heart.

“We begin to use our anger as a vehicle for change when we are able to share our reactions without holding the other person responsible for causing our feelings, and without blaming ourselves for the reactions that other people have in response to our choices and actions. We are responsible for our own behavior. But we are not responsible for other peoples’ reactions, nor are they responsible for ours.”
- Harriet Lerner

3. Anger can help protect us, at least for a time. Anger helps us to draw a line between what we will accept in our lives and what we will not. It can also help us ease into pain that we may not be ready to fully experience without a protective layer - anger. Holding on to anger across our lifetime is toxic. But allowing ourselves to be angry for a time may give us the space we need to set boundaries and create room to heal.


“My dictionary defines forgiveness as a ‘letting go of resentment.’ But how do we let go if we believe our anger protects us from further injury or, in some strange way, holds a perpetrator accountable? Resentment and righteous indignation distance us from our own pain, and we need distance to survive. At least initially.”
- Daniel Gottlieb

4. No matter how hard we try to repress our anger, it will eventually find its way out at our expense. We cannot will our emotions away. They’ll simply find other outlets or ways to catch up with us. The only way to get rid of an emotion is to feel it and allow it to move through us.

“Passive anger [passive aggression] is inappropriate and not an adult way of behaving. Strongly expressed anger is called rage. Strongly held anger is called hate. Unexpressed anger is resentment. Anger can be unconsciously repressed and internalized. It then becomes depression, i.e. anger turned inward.”
 David Richo

“Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” 
- Jack Kornfield

So next time you find yourself feeling angry, give yourself grace and permission to feel it. Because, as David Richo (1991) wisely states, “the anger has pointed to where it still hurts.”

How to Handle Anger Constructively:

  1. Pause. Take a deep breath and center yourself before trying to communicate.
  2. Acknowledge and accept what you are feeling. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt; your feelings exist for good reason. Ask yourself what exactly you are feeling – frustration, pain, fear, rejection. Get curious about what caused that feeling to arise.
  3. Have compassion for yourself.
  4. Have compassion for the other person. Give them the benefit of the doubt as well, and recognize that their feelings exist for good reason too. Get curious about their emotions and what has triggered that emotion in them.
  5. Respond rather than react. Reacting is reflexive; it’s a knee jerk reaction that occurs when someone hits one of our sore spots. Reacting is natural and happens to everyone from time to time. But how you move forward after you react is important. Notice your own reaction and then respond to it. Responding is pausing, communicating without blame, and listening from a place of compassion rather than defensiveness.

If you find yourself struggling with anger and could use some help navigating these feelings, you could benefit from Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and mindfulness. Dr. Shoshana Shea can help. She can be contacted at 619-269-2377.


Chodron, P. (1997). When things fall apart: Heart advice for hard times. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Gottlieb, D. (2010). The wisdom of Sam: Observations on life from an uncommon child. Hay House, Inc.

Kornfield, J. (1993). A path with heart: A guide through the perils and promises of spiritual life. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Lerner, H. (1985). The dance of anger: A woman's guide to changing the patterns of intimate relationships. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers. 

Richo, D. (1991). How to be an adult: A handbook on psychological and spiritual integration. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

When Panic Sneaks Up and Attacks

by Annabelle Parr 

It’s a regular Thursday morning and John is driving to work along the same stretch of freeway that he drives every day. He is having a stressful week, but his mind isn’t dwelling on anything in particular. His thoughts bounce from what to make for dinner to an errand he has to run during lunch to a meeting he has this afternoon. He doesn’t feel particularly anxious.

Suddenly, his heart starts racing and his palms begin sweating. He can’t explain what is happening; it doesn’t make sense to him. First he feels confused, then he begins to worry that something is wrong. He starts to feel short of breath and then he begins to feel as if he is going to faint. Because he is driving, he is afraid that if he passes out, he will crash and die.

John doesn’t know what happened to him. He worries it may have been a heart attack, but when he goes to the doctor, he learns that it was actually a panic attack. He is confused because he didn’t feel afraid or anxious prior to the attack. His doctor explains that you don’t have to feel panic to experience a panic attack.

Our body is built to respond adaptively to danger.

At some point or another, we have all experienced the feeling that our safety is being threatened. We know what it’s like to feel consciously afraid and to feel our body physiologically preparing for danger. Our heart starts racing, our palms start sweating, our breathing gets shallow, and our muscles tense up. Our body goes into fight-flight-or-freeze mode to help us respond adaptively to whatever threat we are facing.

Panic attacks are the body’s way of trying to prepare us for an unconscious perceived threat.

Sometimes, our body responds to a threat that our conscious mind is not aware of. This is what happened in the above example. When we do not feel afraid, the physiological response itself can feel threatening and overwhelming. This exaggerated and unexplained response can result in a panic attack. Panic attacks create the feeling that your body is turning against you rather than working to help you. What may once have been an adaptive response to an external threat has morphed into what feels like a threat coming from within.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is defined as the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within several minutes. Panic attacks can emerge from a calm state or an anxious one, making them difficult to predict. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), a panic attack includes at least four of the following symptoms:

  1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  2. Sweating
  3. Trembling or shaking
  4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  5. Feelings of choking
  6. Chest pain or discomfort
  7. Nausea or abdominal distress
  8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint
  9. Chills or heat sensations
  10. Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
  11. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  12. Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  13. Fear of dying

What’s the difference between a panic attack and panic disorder?

Panic disorder can develop when a person experiences recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, and develops a persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences and/or significant maladaptive behavior changes related to the attacks. It is possible to experience panic attacks without having panic disorder.

Are panic attacks dangerous?

People experiencing panic attacks often end up in the Emergency Room worried they are having a heart attack. While uncomfortable and overwhelming, a panic attack itself is not dangerous. But because they can arise unexpectedly, it can feel as if they are. If we have just been on a long run or are about to give a big presentation, we know why our heart is pounding or our palms are sweating. But when our heart begins pounding and we start trembling and we can’t figure out why, these symptoms are frightening. They seem to originate within our body rather than as a response to something external.

Is it all in my head?

Absolutely not. While panic attacks are psychologically rooted, they result in a very real physiological response. And though a panic attack may seem to arise out of the blue, there is always an external trigger. Our minds detect a threat, whether consciously or not, and our body responds accordingly. A feedback loop then ensues as our mind interprets our physiological response as threatening, and our body continues to attempt to prepare us to address a threat.

If you experience a panic attack, there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not a sign of weakness or that you are going crazy. It’s not your fault. Though it doesn’t feel this way, a panic attack is your body trying to help protect you.

Are panic attacks permanent?

No, panic attacks do not have to be a permanent fixture in your life. Though you do not cause yourself to have a panic attack, you can learn how to prevent and manage them. Panic disorder is one of the most treatable disorders, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been proven to be a highly effective form of treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Psychoeducation and understanding what is happening in the mind and body during a panic attack is a big part of healing. Treatment also involves examining triggers, teaching clients skills to address the acute symptoms of the attack as well as the overall stress level, and using repeated exposures. Exposure therapy incorporates an experiential piece into treatment, where the client is incrementally exposed to the feared situation and learns that they will survive.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help clients to overcome the fear of panic attacks themselves, and empower them to face the situations that they may have previously avoided in order to try to prevent an attack. Clients can learn that not only will they survive a panic attack, but that they can actually move on and begin to thrive.


If you are experiencing panic attacks, avoiding situations you fear could trigger an attack (driving, crowded spaces, public speaking, etc), or find that your day to day functioning is impacted by anxiety, you could benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Dr. Shoshana Shea can help. She can be contacted at 619-269-2377.

Navigating Guilt

By Annabelle Parr

Feeling guilty is uncomfortable; it’s a sign that something is amiss. Investigating our guilt can help us to discover why it is present. If we have done something wrong, guilt is our conscience pushing us to adjust our behavior or atone for our mistakes. This sort of guilt is useful and exists for good reason.

But it’s also possible to feel guilty even when we haven’t done anything wrong.

Here’s an example: Lily has to tell her staff that they must come to work one Saturday a month. Although this is a company mandate, she feels guilty.

Lily has not done anything wrong, so apologizing or changing her behavior will not address her feelings of guilt in this situation.

How do we move forward and address our feelings of guilt when we have not done anything wrong?

1. Identify the feelings underlying guilt.

When you do something that upsets another person, it brings up emotions in you. You may say, “I feel guilty!” However, Tina Gilbertson says that guilt isn’t so much an emotion as it is a cue that other emotions are present. We can use guilt as an indication that we are experiencing a highly charged emotional reaction, and then we can investigate and identify the emotions that are hidden by our guilt. Paul Gilbert (2003) notes that in order to feel guilt, we may also be required also to tolerate sadness. In investigating the emotions beneath guilt, we are challenged to tolerate the discomfort they bring.

In the example, underlying Lily’s guilt may be frustration with her company for this new mandate and with the fact that she must be the one to deliver the news to her staff. She may also be feeling anxiety about how her staff will react and whether it will negatively impact her relationship with them.

2. Take note of avoidance behaviors and thoughts.

When we are not sure how to address our feelings of guilt, we may try to avoid taking the necessary action that we feel guilty about.

In the example, Lily may put off telling her staff about the new mandate.

In the Healthcare episode of The Office, Michael Scott offers an example of the extreme lengths a person might go to avoid feelings of guilt. Feeling guilty about having to cut employee health care benefits, Michael tries to pass the responsibility along to Jim and then Dwight (two of his employees). As the episode progresses and this avoidance attempt fails, Michael tries to appease everyone with ice cream sandwiches, and then proceeds to lock himself in his office until 5pm.

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It’s important to remember that avoiding taking action does not assuage our guilt, but rather prolongs it.

3. Have compassion for yourself.

Acknowledge that you are in a difficult situation. Understand that it may be hard to acknowledge your feelings of discomfort. Remember that inevitably, we all disappoint people at some point or another. But it’s okay to feel disappointed, and you don’t have to “fix” other peoples’ disappointment.

In our example, Lily could be self-compassionate by recognizing that it is not her fault that her staff has to work one Saturday a month, and it is not her fault that they will be disappointed. She could say “it’s hard for me to share this news with you and it’s hard for you to hear it.”

4. Act in a way that is fitting to the situation.

Rather than giving in to avoidance, take the actions required of you even though they may be difficult. Part of acting in a way that is fitting means that you are careful not to be too apologetic. Depending on the scenario, you may share your feelings regarding the situation and the challenging position in which you find yourself, but this does not mean that you need to take on the responsibility for the other person’s disappointment or emotional reaction to your action.

For Lily, appropriate action would be holding a meeting with her staff and explaining the new policy. She does not need to apologize, but she can convey a sense of empathy for the reactions that her staff may have.

5. Step back and pause, allowing the other person/people to have their reaction/s.

If the other person is upset by your action, do not rush in to try to “fix” it or apologize. Allow them to feel their emotions, and notice what comes up for you. Have compassion for others and for yourself. And keep in mind that emotions are never permanent, and that we tend to work through them in our own time when we are allowed to feel them.

Lily might allow her staff to ask questions or express dismay. She may display empathy without wavering on the company policy or apologizing.

Guilt can affect our work, our relationships, and our behavior in all aspects of our lives.

Knowing how to navigate the sort of guilt that does not stem from wrongdoing is important. As author and civil rights activist Audre Lorde put it, “guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge.”

Have you found yourself struggling with a similar situation? Dr. Shea can help with learning the necessary tools to navigate such circumstances. She can be contacted at 619-269-2377.


Gilbert, P. (2003). Evolution, social roles, and the differences in shame and guilt. Social Research:
An international quarterly, 70
(4), 1205-1230.


Reframing “Failure”: Trial and Error or Trial and Adjustment?

by Shoshana Shea and Annabelle Parr

How do we learn new things? Trial and error. Error is vital, but it is not the endpoint the way the phrase “trial and error” suggests. Instead, it is a signal that something needs to change. It gives us the information we need to make an appropriate adjustment to our behavior to either improve or redirect ourselves. So life is not really about trial and error, but trial and adjustment.

We embrace error and adjustment with babies.

We don’t expect an infant to come out of the womb knowing how to walk. We recognize that in order to learn, they will fall and get bruised up, and inevitably encounter pain. But we recognize failure as integral to the growth required to walk.

Furthermore, because we don’t expect instant perfection from young children, we recognize, honor, and validate each milestone on the path toward success. If walking is the end goal, then crawling isn’t failure, but rather a necessary step or adjustment towards the ultimate goal.

So why don’t we embrace erring and adjusting in ourselves as adults?

Before we even have language mastered, we are taught to avoid failure.

After we learn to walk and talk, our world shifts. Our culture exalts strength and success, yet ignores the fact that these things only come from failing and growing as a result. So we are taught that it is no longer okay to fail. That now we must present this image that we have life immediately mastered.

We are all busy hiding our mistakes, so it looks like no one is making any.

We don’t want to admit that we make errors, though one of the only things that we can say about life with certainty is that we all make mistakes. We are all trying to make it appear like we only need one trial to succeed – trial and success, never trial and error. We have created this grand cultural illusion that success is instant, fairly effortless, and painless.

We know that failure hurts.

Our instinct is to shield ourselves from that pain. It feels easier to stay well within our comfort zones, never having to feel unsure of the outcome of our efforts. It’s comfortable to be certain that we will succeed because we have aimed lower than our full potential. So we confine ourselves to crawling because we don’t want the bruises that come with learning to walk.

Here’s the harsh truth: we can choose to act on fear, but we cannot avoid failure.

As J.K. Rowling (2008) reminds us, “it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” Failure does hurt, but we can avoid neither failure nor pain in this life. What ultimately harms us more than either of these things is our refusal to try, err, and adjust; our refusal to live and embrace being human.

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Our rejection of failure…

…affects our kids, their education, and their development.


As soon as our kids enter elementary school, we no longer allow them to fail. An “F” is a terrible thing – a sign of either laziness or lack of intelligence. We teach them to fear failure and to be ashamed of it. They learn to avoid trying new and challenging things because anything less than immediate success is intolerable.  

 …stunts innovation, creativity, and success.

In her TED Talk on shame, Brené Brown (2012) notes that TEDx should be called the failure conference. She means this as a positive thing because the people who achieve truly innovative solutions to the problems in this world are the people who are not afraid to fail, and have courageously done so over and over again.

I can guarantee that every single “successful” person that you admire failed a whole lot before they became the person that you now look up to. Their failures and mistakes helped to shape them into the admirable, wise, resilient human you now look up to.

…bleeds into every important area of our life, from our careers to our relationships to our education to our physical wellbeing.

When we do not allow ourselves to try and to err, we miss out. We limit ourselves from achieving the height of our potential because we are unwilling to face the depth of our imperfection.

When we allow a fear of failure to run our lives, we do not go after that job that is beyond our comfort zone. We do not take on that project that sounds difficult. We do not engage in the vulnerability required to open our hearts and experience real connection. We take the easy class rather than the challenging one. We do not apply to that reach school. We do not walk in to the gym or join that fitness class.

We limit ourselves and our ability to feel joy and confidence because we are afraid to know the other side of that coin. So instead we confine ourselves to the safety of certainty.

The Rock Garden Metaphor

There is a metaphor in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that offers much wisdom in the way of uncertainty. It is called the Rock Garden Metaphor (Follette & Pistorello, 2007). In Japan, there is a rock garden with fifteen rocks. From any given point in the garden, one rock is always hidden. In order to view the once hidden rock, one must move to a new spot. But there is no point in the garden where all fifteen rocks are within view.

Such is life. We can’t ever have all the knowledge. There is always something we can’t see or we don’t know yet. Maybe what we can’t foresee is failure or heartbreak or loss. But maybe it is success or love or joy. We won’t know until we take a leap to a new position.

So rather than wait for certainty that won’t come, we can cultivate self-awareness, do our best to make decisions in line with who we are and what we value, and take the leap of faith necessary to move forward and find new perspectives. We can evaluate afterwards how it went, what we learned, and if an adjustment is necessary. But we will remain stagnant if we wait to for that hidden rock to show itself or if we wait until we are no longer afraid to move.

Uncertainty is scary. But we don’t need to eliminate fear in order to act.

As Carrie Fisher wisely instructs us, “stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” We don’t eliminate fear by heeding it, but rather by defying it. Thus allowing ourselves to build the kind of enduring confidence that is only born when we risk failure, allow ourselves to fall and gain the knowledge that we can get back up.

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Though acting on fear shuts us off from growth, fear itself is not our enemy.

We can be afraid, allow ourselves to feel that fear, and still choose to act in spite of it. As David Richo (1991) put it, “when change and growth scare me, I still choose them. I may act with fear, but never because of it.” Fear is actually a beautiful thing because it gives us the choice to be brave.

We can learn to welcome fear as a positive sign.

As Pema Chodron notes, “fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” Rather than trying to eliminate fear, we can embrace it as a companion, a sign that we are moving towards growth and truth.

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Error is vital, but it’s the adjustment that’s important.

Ultimately, life is about trial and adjustment, more than trial and error. Error will always be part of the process; however, reframing this statement can help us to acknowledge that failure is not a permanent state of existence. We will inevitably make mistakes, but this is the place where we learn to adjust our behavior. It is the adjustment, the learning, that we should focus on, rather than the error.

Furthermore, even when we do mess up, it is never an error to live our lives. It is never an error to step out of our comfort zone or take that leap of faith. We may try things and we may fail, but it was not an error to fail. It was simply a necessary step in our journey toward becoming the whole person that we are meant to be.


If you or a loved one might be interested in mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, weight, eating, body image, substance use, or challenges related to relationships, work, or other life transitions, Dr. Shoshana Shea can help. If you would like more information or if you are interested in setting up an appointment, please contact her at 619-269-2377 or


Brown, B. (2012). Brené Brown: Listening to shame. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Follette, V. M., & Pistorello, J. (2007). Finding life beyond trauma: Using acceptance and commitment therapy to heal from post-traumatic stress and trauma-related problems. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Richo, D. (1991). How to be an adult: A handbook on psychological and spiritual integration. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Rowling, J. K. (2008). J.K. Rowling: The fringe benefits of failure. [Video file]. Retrieved from


When Pain Demands To Be Felt

by Annabelle Parr

We all struggle at some point in our lives. To hurt is to be human, no matter how much we want to avoid it. For most of us, our natural, reflexive reaction is to try to move away from pain. But avoidance will not serve us; it only brings us more anguish in the long run. The response that will serve us best is to feel. As author John Green (2012) wisely put it, pain demands to be felt.

Instead of viewing emotional pain – grief, loss, sadness, anxiety, stress, fear, or even depression – as a threat or as something inherently bad, we can get curious about these feelings, the wisdom they offer, and the purpose they serve. As Rumi reminds us in the poem The Guest House, every emotion is simply a guest. No emotion is ever permanent, but each one serves a purpose. “Each has been sent as a guide from beyond,” so we should learn to sit with each emotion and ask why it is present.  

It can be scary to make contact with the pain that life brings, especially if that is exactly what you have been trying to avoid doing your whole life. It can feel overwhelming and unknown. A therapist can model for you how to approach your pain with mindfulness and compassion, showing you how healing that experience feels, and teaching you to approach yourself and your emotions in the same way. They can help you learn that leaning into the feeling does not mean that the emotion controls you, but rather that you are simply giving it the space it needs to move through you. They can help you to come alongside whatever is causing you pain, and look at it more deeply with you so that you can begin to heal, instead of staying stuck. In fact, the connection that comes from leaning in with someone who profoundly sees and hears you can be incredibly healing.

The more we are able to embrace the pain in our lives, the more deeply we will feel those things that we all desire: love, joy, connection, and peace. Because emotions are not actually opposites, but two sides of the same coin. To know love is to know loss, to know joy is to know sadness, to know connection is to know isolation, and to know peace is to know conflict. And as Brené Brown (2010) reminds us, “you cannot selectively numb emotion. When we numb [hard feelings], we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”

Here are some tips based on mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy for you to begin this process of being with pain, thereby allowing the wisdom inside you to emerge:

  • Practice RAIN (Brach, 2013). This mindfulness acronym can help us to connect to the moment and to our feelings in a meaningful way.
    1. Recognize what is happening. Name your thoughts or emotions, or any feelings or sensations you are experiencing.
    2. Allow life to be as it is. Do not try to suppress or push away the discomfort that may accompany your thoughts or feelings. Simply allow yourself to be as you are.
    3. Investigate with kindness. Connect more deeply with what you are experiencing, using a gentle curiosity to delve into your experience. You might think about how you are experiencing your feelings in your body, or perhaps ask what it is your feelings want from you.
    4. Nonattachment. Rest in the natural awareness that your thoughts and feelings do not define you or your identity.
  • Pick up a good book that offers some helpful wisdom regarding being with our emotions. Here are some suggestions: Constructive Wallowing by Tina Gilbertson, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
  • Remind yourself that pain is a universal.  No person is impervious, although its content varies by person. Therefore, try not to compare your pain to others.  "Pain, no matter, how large or small, is still painful," and needs our attention.
  • Consider the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) concept, "pain can be our ally." When we are hurting, often that pain can remind us of what is most meaningful, and help you to turn your attention to how you can get your values better fulfilled.
  • Practice using compassionate self-talk and self-love. For example, say to yourself “no wonder I feel this way.” Put a hand on your heart, cradle your face, or even give yourself a hug. Small gestures and touch have been shown to be very healing. Try this self-compassion exercise from Kristin Neff if you need a little guidance:

  • Reach out to a friend or family member for support.
  • Contact a professional if you feel you could benefit from some deeper exploration. 

If you or a loved one might be interested in mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, weight, eating, body image, substance use, or challenges related to relationships, work, or other life transitions, Dr. Shoshana Shea can help. If you would like more information or if you are interested in setting up an appointment, please contact her at 619-269-2377 or


Brach, T. (2013). Working with difficulties: The blessings of RAIN. Retieved from

Brown, B. (2010). Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Green, J. (2012). The fault in our stars. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.


Give Yourself the Gift of Kindness This Holiday Season

by Annabelle Parr


Somehow the holidays have snuck up on us once again. Though this time of year is meant to be filled with joy and cheer, for many of us it is also filled with stress, anxiety, and maybe even sadness or pain. The holiday season does not erase preexisting struggles, and it can add an extra layer of stress on top of what we may already have been dealing with. If you are having a hard time during the holidays, you may not feel like you have permission to be anything but happy.

But it’s important to remember you are not alone if you’re feeling stressed, tired, or less than joyful. The holidays can be difficult for many people and for many reasons. Engaging in the annual holiday traditions may bring back upsetting memories for those who experienced trauma, loss, or pain at this time of year. You may feel the weight of a recent change or loss, or you may notice that things have stayed the same from one holiday season to another when you desired a change. Maybe you have a challenging relationship with a particular family member that you have to navigate during the holidays, or maybe going home and back into your family system brings up unresolved conflicts or issues. Or maybe you enjoy the holidays, but you find yourself rushing around trying to accomplish everything on your to-do list within a budget of both time and money, and as a result you are unable to appreciate a time of year that you love because you are feeling so harried.

Whether your heart is feeling full of joy or full of pain, or some combination of both, here are a list of things that you can do to be kind to yourself and manage the stress that may accompany this season.

1.     Remember that “comparison is the thief of joy.” So, heed Theodore Roosevelt’s wise words, and try not to compare your holiday experience with what you see on TV, in movies, or on Facebook. And try not to set unrealistic expectations for yourself and for whatever holiday you celebrate. As Voltaire wisely put it, “perfect is the enemy of good.” Your holiday doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. So give yourself the grace for a few mistakes or snags in the plan because they are inevitable.

2.     Give yourself permission to say no. There is only so much time in the month of December. Though it is easy to feel the pressure to say yes to everything holiday related, it is important to know your own limits. Setting clear boundaries for yourself, with both your time and your finances, can help to reduce stress. Giving yourself some time to rest can allow you to more fully appreciate those things that you do choose to say yes to.

3.     Acknowledge your feelings. If you are feeling sad, anxious, lonely, or depressed, know that it’s okay. Allow yourself to feel those things without beating yourself up or feeling guilty for feeling this way at the holidays. Remember that we get ourselves into trouble when we try to avoid distressing feelings. And keep in mind that happiness and sadness can coexist. We can have moments of each, and even moments of both. But if we are busy trying to deny or avoid our pain, it’s going to be much harder to feel the joy at all.

4.     Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion means that we “mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain, while providing the optimal conditions for growth and transformation” (Neff, 2016).

5.     Practice kind self-talk. Listen to the thoughts running through your mind. Do you talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend or loved one? Or are you beating yourself up for mistakes, imperfections, or feelings you wish weren’t there? If your self-talk is less than kind, try to remember to give yourself the same grace you would give to the people you love.

6.     Breathe. Frustrated with a long check-out line? Angry that someone cut you off in the parking lot? Feeling overwhelmed with your to-do lists? One of your relatives pushing your buttons? Remember to take a breath. Focus mindfully on each inhalation and exhalation, noticing your belly rise and fall with each breath. Mindful breathing exercises can help center you and calm your nervous system down.


7.     Take care of yourself. You know what you need better than anyone. Taking care of yourself might mean staying active and setting time aside for exercise – whether that is a long distance run or a stroll through your neighborhood. Or maybe you need a night in, wrapped in a blanket watching your favorite holiday movie. Self-care might mean surrounding yourself with your closest friends or family, or it might look like taking some time to be alone and read a good book. Ask yourself what you need and listen to your body’s response.

8.     Seek support when you need it. If you are feeling overwhelmed and everything is just too much, know that you don’t need to handle it alone. If you have too much to do, consider asking your loved ones to help you tackle a few things. If you’re feeling lonely or down, reach out to a trusted loved one to talk. If you feel you might benefit from some professional support, therapy is a good place to come work things through with an empathic, non-judgmental counselor. Talking with someone who knows how to listen and who can provide you with some coping tools can be incredibly healing.

If you or a loved one might be interested in mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, weight, eating, body image, substance use, or challenges related to relationships, work, or other life transitions, Dr. Shoshana Shea can help. If you would like more information or if you are interested in setting up an appointment, please contact her at 619-269-2377 or


Neff, K. (2016). Tips for practice. Self-compassion. Retrieved from