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How to Face Your Parents

How to Face Your Parents

I recently made a surprise trip to see my parents in Michigan for my Mom’s birthday. Before I committed to it, I had to check in with myself about the decision because, while my relationship with my parents has always been complex, this year the struggle has been especially real. I had to hold both of them accountable for some tough and painful stuff. There was heartbreak on both sides. I stepped away and took time to process it all before I reconnected with them. 

I’ve made a concerted effort in my relationships with both of them to show up out of a desire to connect instead of out of obligation or any narrative of what daughters are “supposed” to do. After checking in with myself and deciding that visiting them felt right for me, I hopped in the car and made my way. It wasn’t a long visit but at one point, as I was walking out to the car from their home, I caught a glimpse of a chalkboard hanging on the wall. On the chalkboard was a long list to track donations my parents had recently made: Ocean Conservancy, Planned Parenthood, The Audubon Society, Doctors Without Borders, the ACLU, and more.

As soon as it caught my eye, a feeling of warmth spread through my body and sank into my bones. It was a beautiful reminder of one of the things my parents have done remarkably well: they seamlessly and effortlessly imparted to my siblings and me what an absolutely non-negotiable responsibility we have as citizens of this earth to give back in some capacity. 

Parenting is the hardest job on the planet on a good day. The caregiver-child relationship is unique and lays the groundwork for every person’s future intimate attachments. Parenthood often brings up our parents’ own childhood trauma and difficult experiences. The work of a lifetime comes in understanding our parents as people versus our parents as caregivers. We are allowed to say that our parents are good people but were inadequate caregivers. It’s okay to say that the parents we got were not the parents we needed. It’s okay to love them in spite of it or to distance ourselves because of it. 

My parents had a tough time as caregivers. But I can tell you as humans, they remain two of the kindest, sweetest people I’ve ever known. They wove kindness and generosity into the fabric of our family so effortlessly that I barely noticed until I reached a place where I could look back and see it in completion. It was as if, all of a sudden, a beautiful tapestry appeared out of thin air. 

The list of donations on the wall was a beautiful reminder of one of the things about my parents that I’m grateful for. But I was only able to get there because I gave myself the time, space and permission to heal and rage by any means necessary. 

We get so many social messages that say we need to love and support our family unconditionally and I’m here to tell you otherwise. Everyone has a different process and comfort level but if you are struggling with guilt because you don’t want to be around your family or talk to them, I want to reassure you that it is okay. It’s okay to prioritize your healing over your family members’ feelings. It’s okay to feel how you feel in its fullness. Maybe you’ll get to gratitude, maybe you won’t. But you can’t skip over the hurt and the pain on the road to healing. 

If you do find it comfortable to feel gratitude for your parents, don’t use it to rationalize cancelling out the hurt, anger, and pain you feel. We can feel opposing and conflicting feelings at the same time without having to cancel any out. Our relationships with our parents are the most complex of our lives. To view them only as black and white does a disservice to our healing process.  If you cover up the hurt with gratitude, you’ll only get so far. Your healing will reach a ceiling. 

There’s almost always some good stuff about our parents. But those things aren’t our first stops on the path to healing. They aren’t what needs to be seen and heard first. There is room for all of it but don’t be afraid of the darkness in the tunnel. If you’re courageous enough to move through it, you will find the light at the end. 

How to Grow Your Confidence

Who wouldn’t want more confidence?

Unless you’re Beyonce, chances are that you’re among the majority of people who wish that they were more confident in themselves.

How do you define confidence and where does it come from?

Confidence is a trust in your ability to handle what life throws your way. It’s a belief that you can walk into any situation and come out okay.

Some falsely believe that those who have confidence have always had it and those who don’t, never will. That’s just not true. Much like a plant, confidence is something that must be grown and nurtured, cultivated and harvested. Even if you don’t identify as someone who is “naturally” confident, you do possess the ability to grow it.

Another misconception is the assumption that confidence comes from being good at things. Of course, it’s easy to feel confident when doing things you’re good at, but that’s not what builds confidence. Instead, confidence comes from embracing vulnerability and having the patience to work through things that you’re not immediately good at. The ability to push yourself outside of your comfort zone is vital to the development of confidence.

Sowing the seeds

If you had a greenhouse to grow your confidence, challenge and adversity would be the seeds. Confidence doesn’t grow without embracing either of those.  

If you spend your days performing high-level tasks that don’t challenge you, it’s hard to achieve the surge in confidence that you get when learning to function outside of your comfort zone. If you really feel like you could use a confidence boost, know that you will have to decide to integrate challenge and difficulty into your life. Something that is objectively difficult won’t give you the results you want either. The challenge you settle on has to be something that is uniquely difficult for you.

Watering the plants

Just like when planting the seeds of challenge and adversity, there is a balance to be found in watering them. You have to be mindful of the amount and frequency that you’re doing it.

It’s important not to pick the absolute biggest challenge you can think of in the hopes that it will have a big confidence payoff. The scarier the challenge, the more unpleasant and distressing it will be. You don’t want to pick something so challenging and distressing that you are likely to give up before you’ve made it to the payoff. Doing so will have the opposite effect and erode your confidence.

The trick is to find something challenging enough that you’re outside your comfort zone but not so difficult that you’re completely overwhelmed. Allow yourself the opportunity to get better bit-by-bit.

The challenge also has to be something that you are able to practice and do with some regularity. I’d say once per week is the minimum amount of time that you should strive for.

As an example, if you decide that you want to be more comfortable talking to people at parties, but you only go to a party once every three months, you won’t build up the tolerance and comfort required to get to that point.

A more effective way to work through this challenge would be to join a group that meets regularly like a Meetup or Toastmasters. If you’re shy at parties, groups like those would put you into a position where you would have to engage with others more often. This frequency would provide enough of a challenge to give you regular practice in speaking with others, that you would eventually get used to it. And with that ease of sparking conversation, you would become more confident in doing so.

Building confidence in certain areas extends beyond the activity you are doing. The more practice you get overcoming challenges and discomfort in various areas of your life, the more you internalize it as a skill that you can transfer to other activities and scenarios that are uncomfortable for you. By doing so, you build up evidence that you are capable of overcoming personal challenges.

Letting the sunshine in

Much like sowing and watering, sunshine is necessary for growth. In terms of confidence-building, sunshine is the vulnerability and humanity you bring to the process. It feels excruciatingly vulnerable to put yourself in situations where you know you won’t be good at something, and to do so knowing you will fumble and be uncomfortable–especially if other people are around to witness it. Unfortunately, there is no solution for the internal alarm bells that go off when you put yourself in a place of intense vulnerability. You just have to take a deep breath and allow those feelings to wash over you.

In these moments, it helps to remind yourself that learning takes time. No one is good at something right away. The truth is, it’s hard to be vulnerability-averse and live a fulfilling, stimulating life. Stepping into vulnerability is stepping into humanity. Stepping into humanity is stepping into feeling more alive.

Growing strong

In developing your self-confidence, find ways to encourage yourself through the initial discomfort of the challenging situation. What self-talk will resonate with you in order to persevere? When I was traveling solo and felt super anxious showing up to hostels by myself I constantly had to say to myself, “This will get easier. You deserve to be here.” Then I took a few deep breaths and went into social and common areas to introduce myself. And eventually, it did get easier. By the end of my trip, I was showing up to new crowds of people with ease and self-assurance.

Who’s perseverance do you admire and could use for inspiration? My biggest heroes are my friends and family members who I’ve seen demonstrate courage in their everyday lives. Because I have a behind-the-scenes look into their lives, I’ve seen them fall down and get back up often. It’s okay to have famous role models of perseverance but we don’t always have a behind-the-scenes look at all that they have stumbled through. When choosing a role model, try to find someone who has a visible track record for overcoming challenges and adversity, not just someone who you only see perform at a high level.

Take some time every day to visualize the challenge and yourself overcoming it. Visualizing a task activates the same parts of the brain that actually completing the task does. This doesn’t mean that you can sit out the activity and bypass the learning process, but it can help you feel better about what lies ahead by showing you the light at the end of the tunnel.

Developing more self-confidence will require you to make the decision to move beyond things you can already do with ease. If you’re looking to boost your confidence, a good place to begin would be to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you playing it too safe to feel like you can grow your confidence?
  • Is there something you’ve always wanted to feel more comfortable doing?
  • What’s the most introductory level of that activity that could put you in a zone of discomfort big enough for growth, but not so big it chases you away?

If you were waiting for a sign to get out of your comfort zone, maybe this it. The final piece is the knowledge that the greenhouse where your confidence grows is built with compassion and kindness for self. Give yourself permission to be human in this process. Greenhouses are built entirely with windows so the light and warmth can get in. Self-criticism is the wall that keeps the light out. Give yourself the equipment and environment you need to grow and wonderful things will happen.

How to Navigate Huge Changes 

How to Navigate Huge Changes 

I’m about to head into a big career and life transition. It’s something I’ve been working towards for many years and now it’s finally happening.

Full disclosure: it has something to do with becoming a brand new therapist here at Real Campus, after being a clinical social worker with a bunch of organizations!

I figure, who better to riff on new beginnings than someone who has found herself smack dab in the middle of one?

I’m not someone you might think would fear change. I love novelty and adventure but over the years I’ve found that no matter how adventurous your spirit, change can still hit hard. While humans are complex and we all respond to situations differently, we’re mostly wired to feel safe in what is familiar and predictable – even when it’s not “good” for us.

I find because of my love for adventure, I often underestimate the impact that a drastic change in my life will have on me. Over the years, I’ve learned to slow down and surrender to the process—to radically accept that I’m not immune to the difficulty that change can be for a species that craves familiarity.

Here’s a road map for navigating change. It can be applied to starting a new job or going to a new school, to moving in with a partner or to have a child. All types of change deserve your attention.

Grieve the loss of what you are leaving behind

This often gets overlooked. Especially when we are moving towards a change we are excited about, or when leaving a situation that isn’t healthy for us. It’s easy to brush aside grief in our excitement or relief.  But even if we’re leaving a situation we weren’t happy with, it is inevitably something that took up a lot of space in our lives. And especially if it was challenging, we likely learned things about ourselves and our resilience that are integral to who we are today.

Maybe we found our voice to speak up against crummy conditions. Maybe we learned about our strength and capacity to stretch ourselves. Maybe we learned how to affirm our worth by saying goodbye. Almost every situation has value, even if it wasn’t pleasant to experience. Regardless of the conditions I leave, I know that bypassing grief only to focus on excitement has always made my transition more difficult.

To tap into your grief, try writing a goodbye letter to the situation you’re leaving. It doesn’t have to be all sunshine and kittens. If you have harsh truths to voice, voice them. Give voice to your whole experience. If you’re happy to be saying goodbye, say why. Towards the end of the letter, explain what the situation taught you and why you might be grateful that it happened. After you’re done, rip it up or find a safe way to destroy it. Letting go is important.

If you’re leaving behind a situation that was lovely but you outgrew it, then in addition to the letter, you might want to find a happy way to honour it. Try making a memory book of your favourite pictures to honour your memorable moments. Share your memories with the people you love and trust.

The important thing is to give space to grief. No matter what the situation was like for you, it played a role in making you who you are today and it deserves a forum. By no means will one letter or memory book rid you of all your grief but it’s a starting point and a reminder that your feelings are valid.

Practice self-compassion

Adjusting to something new takes time. You won’t have all the answers right away. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll say the wrong thing. You’ll feel scared. You’ll feel uncomfortable.  The good news is that this means you are a human being and not a robot! It’s important that you are kind to yourself as you navigate this new situation.

Write down five things you would say to your best friend if they were navigating this exact situation. Things like “It’s ok, you’re still learning” or “It takes time to adjust” or “I admire your courage”. When you start to feel discouraged, say those things to yourself. If you want greater impact, put your hand on your face or on your heart when you say them. Self-compassion is not just about what you could say but also what to avoid saying: if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself. Period.

Be curious

I know it’s tempting to fall into thinking that we have to have everything figured out on day one but that’s impossible and it leads to anxiety. What you have found yourself in is one of the most glorious grace periods in all of adult life – when people expect you not to know anything! When they expect you to ask questions. When saying “Oh I didn’t know that” is actually totally legit. Instead of taking it as a sign of your own inadequacy, enjoy it! It’s a beautiful phase that’s time limited! There will be lots of time to expect yourself to know what’s going on. This ain’t it! And thank goodness. Be a scientist. Be an anthropologist. Study your new environment with genuine interest. That way, when you discover something you didn’t know, you can be fascinated and curious instead of internalizing it as inadequacy.

Be gentle with yourself

Change is tiring. You may find you need more sleep. You may need more downtime. You may need more time listening to Bon Iver with your eyes closed. You may need to spend more time alone. You may need to pack a quick lunch instead of preparing your usual extravagant meal.

But listen, you’re using a lot of energy re-learning things you used to do with your eyes closed. Your energy reserves are going into processing and storing all this new information that will be so totally straightforward soon enough. But for now, everything takes an immense amount of effort. Try to be cool with pulling over to put gas in your tank as often as possible.

We’ve all heard the only constant is change. We don’t have to love it and we don’t have to sugar-coat it, but it certainly helps to be prepared for it. While the world around us spins, it‘s possible to be grounded in kindness and understanding for ourselves. Change will happen regardless, but our attitudes and the way we treat ourselves through it can change our relationship to it.