acceptance

Weighting to Jump In: How Body Shame Made Me Miss the Party

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

A public service announcement for all the women

Ladies, we are heading towards the latter part of summer… and of course season change typically includes a transition in wardrobe, at least in the Northwest. And as a curvy woman, I for one am ready to be done with the pressure to find the most “figure-flattering” swimsuit coverup, and spanx to avoid the uncomfortable chafing that inevitably results from 80-plus degree weather and thick thighs in a dress.

Trending toward body positivity

In general, I believe society is making progress around body inclusivity and size diversity. Big applause for public figures like models Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham who are using their beautiful bodies, and more importantly, voices, to speak out against body shaming and diet culture. The publicity around Nike’s effort to support the movement with their full-figured mannequin was epic - and hopefully just the beginning of more clothing companies actively promoting size diversity. 

I’m seeing more unfiltered Instagram accounts and people, not just women, owning their realness. It’s about damn time, but we’ve still got a ways to go. By “we” I mean “we” as a collective and as individuals. We cannot expect change to happen unless we are willing to do our part individually. And I, a mental health professional who works with people struggling with body image and disordered eating, struggled to do my part this summer.

This is my confession. 

How I ended up on a party boat

It was a beautiful Seattle Saturday a couple of weeks back. As a plus-one, I attended a promotional/marketing event for Seafair because my partner works in the hospitality industry. The event was hosted on a partnering company’s boat, which meant swimsuits, skin, and a lot of women who fit the bill for “traditional beauty standards.” I overheard women talking about their month-long cleanses in preparation for the event, two-a-day workout weeks, and compliments on each others’ physiques. Many of these women have become dear friends, and to be clear, I have zero judgement towards anyone who values these things. I’ve noticed this is also how lots of women bond and connect with one another. 

When self consciousness takes over

As we humans tend to do, I got caught up in my head on that boat because I saw no other bodies that looked like mine in swimsuits. I thought to myself, Where are all the Ashley’s and Iskra’s? The diverse women I’ve been flooding my social medias with to drown out the other filtered, photo-CHOPPED ads that otherwise pop up everywhere? I wondered if I’d just created a safety bubble for myself and if actually, the rest of the world really hadn’t expanded beauty ideals. The hard work I’d convinced myself I’d done around accepting my curvy body flew out the porthole. 

A couple of people asked why I was keeping my pants on (they were whooey pants-- the really loose, wide-leg kind that go “whoo whoo” in the wind) and not getting in the water with my friends. I replied self-degradingly, “I might have accepted my cellulite but I’m not sure that the rest of the world is ready for that yet,” and laughed. OMG you guys, the SHAME.

The thing is, I wouldn’t have given a shit if I’d seen anyone with cellulite. In fact, there were probably plenty of women with this NORMAL thingy happening on their skin, and I didn’t even notice because my brain was scanning for data that confirmed my self-conscious thoughts. 

If I could do it all over again

I have some regrets about that day. If I could have a do over, I’ll be brave enough to be the Ashley on that boat...because maybe it would have helped other self-conscious women on that boat rock their water-wear as well. After all, it was really hot, and I was really sweaty and uncomfortable, but my body-conscious anxieties kept me from doing things I actually cared about. My partner spent most of the afternoon floating off the back of the boat, staying cool in the water. Instead of watching my first Blue Angels airshow holding the hand of the person I love most, cooling off in a floaty next to him in the water, I sat on the opposite end of the boat, fully clothed and overheated, and missed out on a memory with him. 

Tapping into my values

While I’m trying to be self-compassionate around not feeling ready to be an Ashley just yet, I allowed my fear of negative judgment to dictate how I chose to live my life that beautiful Seattle Saturday. I was distracted from my personal values of making memories with my best friend, a core concept of Acceptance-Commitment Therapy (ACT). If I had slowed down and checked in with myself, I would remember the Health at Every Size Model (HAES), which emphasizes that every body is a swimsuit body. It de-stigmatizes fatness and people with bigger bodies; it reminds us that fat isn’t bad, nor is it a sound indicator of someone’s health… and certainly not someone’s worth. These are some of the tools I use to help my clients with body image and disordered eating. 

Taking a cue from the boys

What I also didn’t notice that day was any men discussing these subjects. The guys on the boat were rocking their swimmies with all sorts of body types; none were turning down the sandwiches provided to avoid looking bloated, because heaven forbid they were hungry. I didn’t hear any guys commenting on their bodies or shaming themselves. 

Gals - what if we’re mindful about speaking about ourselves unkindly? What would we hear? What if we avoided the calorie conversations at the table or the justifications for wanting the regular sized order instead of the half? We can learn to recognize that these critical thoughts are only thoughts, not absolute truths. 

It is okay and very nurturing to give your body what it needs and wants, which might be salad one day and ice cream the next. When we relinquish the rules and judgement around food and physique, food becomes less of a shame/reward system and begins doing what it’s supposed to: nourishing our bodies so we have the energy to be present for whatever it is we care about for the rest of the beautiful Seattle days to come. 

I am here

I may be a therapist, but I’m not perfect and I’m always learning from my mistakes. If you need someone to help you leave body shaming on the deck while you go for a swim, let’s talk. The party is in the water. 


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Abby Erickson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps people with anxiety and social anxiety learn ways to better manage their angst. She also helps people struggling with low self-esteem and body image issues be comfortable in their own skin. Abby is excited that there are still a few good days of summer left to get a second chance to try out that swimsuit and enjoy the sun.

Perfection Sucks (Here's Why)

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy-- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

The lens we grew up with

Like many of my clients, I used to struggle with this aching pressure to be “perfect.” To have it all together, be “good”, hard-working...always be there for others in a time of need. That’s because patterns of human behavior are established during early childhood, both directly and indirectly, and we tend to repeat them throughout our lives… unless we are able to gain insight around them. Through lived experiences, these patterns are either confirmed or disputed. Since we’re not always conscious of them, we can go about our lives living out these messages as “truths”. For better or for worse, these beliefs then become the lens by which we understand ourselves and others in the world.

A recovering perfectionist

Hi, I’m Abby and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

My upbringing informed me that I could earn a sense of belonging and “lovability” by being “good” and doing what I thought I was supposed to. I pressured myself to hide insecurities and flaws for fear of rejection. Inevitably, those imperfections revealed themselves at times. When they did, I felt ashamed. In other words, I felt shi*y about myself… like really shi*ty.

Shame is a heavy feeling that makes us want to hide. It tells me that I’m “bad” and it did a number to my self-esteem and growth. The vulnerability in having my flaws and shortcomings be known was terrifying and avoided at all costs. My internalized belief went something like this: “If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.”

My shadowy parts were best kept… well, in the shadows.

My clients as my teachers

Enter the power of therapy. No, it’s not what you think. My clients were my teachers!

When I first began working with clients, I felt strangely connected to them as I got to know them. I wondered where it came from and why it felt so different, so much more fulfilling than any of my other relationships at the time. My clients were of different ages, genders, races, cultures, and socio-economic status… one client was just beginning to learn English. We couldn’t have been more “different.” So how was it that I felt so unusually close to them?

Brene’s work was staring me in my face.

Flaws and shortcomings: Please come in!

Clients were showing up and expressing their worries, regrets, greatest insecurities, and deepest fears. I sat with them as they spoke and felt it. They were allowing me to see their shadowy parts and really letting me in. The thoughts and feelings they exposed didn’t make them bad or unlovable… On the contrary, it humanized them and made them relatable and real. Though our stories and struggles were not the same, I was able to connect and feel close to them because of their vulnerability. As I empathize with them, they felt seen and accepted for their authentic selves, comprised of all the black and white and grey in between.

Perfectionism: You may step down now

The experience I gained from my clients prompted me to seek this kind of authenticity in other relationships. Not gonna lie, it was hard. It definitely rocked the boat in some relationships and ended others, but it also created room for more intentional relationships moving forward. I learned that while the image of perfection might attract others’ envy, attention, or idealization… it sure as shit doesn’t foster meaningful relationships or a genuine sense of belonging.

If you look at it from another perspective, the people we think have it all together often makes us feel bad… because we know we don’t. Our self-esteem gets slapped. We probably find relief in the moments when “perfect” people mess up and aren’t so perfect.

Because if even they mess up, perhaps we can too.

Free to be fully me

Once I’d decided enough was enough, there was this sense of liberation in knowing that it was okay to have flaws and screw up and be wrong. The shame subsequently dissipated because I no longer believed the shadowy parts made me “bad.” Negative feelings come and go easier. The sky isn’t falling when I realize I mess up or when I hurt people I care about. The “I’m sorry” doesn’t taste like vinegar.

Free to be fully you

We all feel pressure to conform to an idealized image of ourselves, whatever your version of “perfection” is. Please don’t judge yourself for it… it’s not your fault. And, if you do judge yourself for it… that’s okay too. We can work on that. You might struggle with criticism, difficult relationships or low self-worth. If that’s the case, you can start your journey toward self-acceptance and real connection with others. I’m here to walk alongside you, and your shadow.


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Abby Erickson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps people with anxiety and social anxiety learn ways to better manage their angst. She also helps people struggling with low self-esteem and body image issues be comfortable in their own skin. Abby looks forward to meeting each new client, because each person she meets is an opportunity to grow and learn from each other.



Why It's Not Easy to Just Be Happy

Photo by Geralt on Pixabay

Photo by Geralt on Pixabay

Why can’t I just be happy? This question, or something like it, often comes up frequently during initial sessions with folks I work with. Typically I respond to this question…”Well, what does ‘happiness’ actually mean to you?” In a perfect world...what would that look like, how would you know you’ve reached “happiness?”

Constant happiness, anybody?

Not to burst bubbles - the reality is that we humans are not conditioned to live in a state of happiness at all times… though it may seem that way when looking at the lives of others. Now if we hung out with these “happy” people in different settings, we would likely notice that at times they too find themselves in a space of emotional “meh,” anxiety, sadness or fear. We are conditioned to perform in various environments in order to achieve or avoid certain outcomes. For example, Sara is outgoing, lively and smiling around the office, every day… All. The. Time. She may be hoping that her optimism and great people skills will eventually land her a promotion.

Keeping up the happiness

We also get comfortable with roles we believe we are expected to play. Maybe one day Sara had a rough morning and did allow herself to show up bummed out. Then Jon two cubicles down, continuously pestered her about why she wasn’t “being herself” that day. “What’s going on with you?” Others have now confirmed Sara’s identify as the office’s ‘perky, go-git-er,’ expecting her to show up that way.

The part we don’t see is that Sara, fully human, still has rough days. But, instead of exposing that at work, she goes home, cries with her cat, and downs a bottle-size “glass” of wine (you know the ones I’m talking about). The moral of the story is this: We see others as they think they should be seen, at the expense of not allowing them to show up as they really are.

First things first: survival

Ever considered why 24-7 happiness is not possible? If we look at this through an evolutionary lens, we can conclude that our primitive brain’s most critical goal is survival. We survive by accessing primary resources including food, shelter, water, and sex.* If you don’t accomplish those pursuits, you are screwed. Even if you lived on but were laissez-faire in your approach to survival, your genetic line will likely become lunch.

And here’s something else: Another aspect of survival involves belonging to a group and connecting with others.* Cause’ back then, flying solo didn’t mean strength and independence, it meant YOU DEAD. It meant you literally didn’t have someone to cover your back and it’s you against the saber tooth tiger. Ergo, humans are social creatures: we hunted and gathered together so we could share resources and survive.

Some things haven’t changed

The thing is, that drive-to-seek-resources instinct hasn’t gone away with time.* If anything, we’ve evolved to become more sensitive to threat; the threat just looks different in the modern world. Nowadays we are bombarded with messages that tell us we aren’t good enough the way we are - that we need to be better, buy more, go faster, or be forever alone and unhappy. It’s pretty hard to be happy when society tells us that happiness is only achievable with success and material goods. But even with success and stuff, happiness isn’t guaranteed. Consider all the tragic deaths of celebrities via suicide and overdose… even the people with the most access to resources don’t always reach the “happy” we think we need to find.

Challenging baseline happiness

So does all of this happiness crap just mean we’re modern-day screwed? Fortunately, the answer is no. The good news is, simply becoming aware and practicing certain skills can help us see happiness through a more attainable, realistic frame. We no longer need to pretend to be someone we’re not. We can have the flexibility to feel the ups and downs of our emotions, happiness or otherwise, and make choices that make for a meaningful life.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of therapy that tackles a lot of misconceptions about happiness. With practice, ACT helps to rewire our brains and experiences, guiding us to respond to positive and negative emotions in healthier ways.* I work with these concepts regularly and teach tools to help you be Gucci (Millennial phrase I guess… Urban Dictionary told me it means “good”. Last I checked that was just another kind of bag I can’t afford, but whatever). We can work together to figure out what’s really important to ya in your life and help you find your true, genuine “happy.”

*Borrowed from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris (2007)


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Abby Erickson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps people with anxiety and social anxiety learn ways to better manage their angst. She also helps people struggling with low self-esteem and body image issues be comfortable in their own skin. When she’s not in the therapy room, Abby finds her moments of happiness from working out, reading, or hitting up an acoustic show with a glass of vino in hand.

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Tidying Up

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Marie Kondo has spread spring cleaning fever across the nation with her Netflix show Tidying Up. If you’ve been watching and think you might want to venture on your tidying up journey, maybe my experience will inspire you to take the plunge. I read Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up a few years ago and followed through with her KonMarie method to declutter my life.  

Don’t let the title fool you - there is no magic trick it; the process is tedious, emotionally draining and physically exhausting. But the result is absolutely magical. The KonMarie method helps you declutter with mindfulness and intention, and it might just be the most rewarding project you’ll ever set your mind to.

How do people become collectors?

As the daughter of an immigrant mom from the old country, I inherited a tendency to hang on to things. Growing up, everyone in my family had their own collections - I collected stickers and stationary;  my older siblings saved stamps and coins, my dad had his books. At the dinner table, we did not waste a drop of food and ate leftovers for weeks. We complied treasures at yard sales every weekend, and never threw functional things away, because “you never know if you’ll need it.”

Not only do I hold onto practical items, but I’m also sentimental - and not just for heirlooms from childhood or memorabilia. I’ll attach sentimental value to a shopping list from my adult life 10 years ago because it reminds me what I bought when I was living in that brownstone apartment in downtown Portland. If I don’t keep it, how else will I remember those days?

If your stuff is piling up and you don’t know where anything is, it’s probably contributing to your stress. But anyone who gets attached to things knows that their stuff is more than that. Stuff symbolizes important times, events, rites of passage, and sometimes it just brings us comfort.

When life forces you to make a change

My first indication that I had a problem was my fridge. You open my freezer at your own risk (of avalanche). The wake-up call was when my boyfriend cleaned out my fridge and found enough expired condiments and rotting food to fill a black 55 gallon garbage bag. Seeing it all in the bag was a shock!

I had become my mother.

I was actually upset with him for throwing away ancient freezer-burned food. I was strangely attached to it, because I bought it at some point for a reason, and I felt connected to it. And I felt embarrassed. A whole slew of emotions come out when you’re confronted with your own hoarding tendencies.  But I understood that my attachment to 3 year old frozen veggie dogs was ridiculous - and that was my turning point. Once the food was in the bag, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I wanted to face my clutter demons all over the house.

At the time I read Kondo’s book, I was moving from an 1100 sq ft apartment with storage where I lived on my own, to an 800 sq ft space with no storage that I’d be sharing with my boyfriend.  I had no choice but to downsize, which was a great motivator. If you’re about to embark on the great tidying, it helps telling yourself you have to downsize as you go through your stuff - even if you don’t. Someday you might, and if you have too much stuff, it’ll just be more work for you, later.

The Joy of Giving

Parting with my stuff was hard, but what made saying goodbye easier was knowing that my things would be more appreciated elsewhere. On the day I moved, I had a giveaway “free-sale” and got to see my old stuff spark joy in others. My Anatomy and Physiology textbook was going to a college student who would continue to use it. Craft supplies went to a kindergarten teacher and a mother of young kids. Tennis rackets were going to a couple of best friends in high school. My old pottery work that I wasn’t too proud of was going to be treasured in someone else’s kitchen. My stuff was doing a lot more good with others than in dark corners of my closets.

This brought me joy.

The decluttering process

The KonMarie method guides you step by step on how to part ways with different types of items, starting with clothes. Clothes can be overwhelming to sort at first, but become easier the more you do it. I had collected so many items in my 20s that I kept into my 30s -  vintage dresses alone made a mound that took up my whole queen bed.

It took me weeks to sort through clothes, and it was tedious at first. The difficulty came from the feeling that by getting rid of things from my past, I’m dismissing my former self. But the beauty of this method is that you get to honor those items by parting with them lovingly, thanking them for their service. While this may sound corny, showing gratitude was crucial for sentimental folks like myself who get attached to things.

I kept only items that “sparked joy” that I wanted to bring with me to the future. I got rid of about 75% of my clothes and have no regrets. Now I know where all my clothes are, and I wear only things that fit well and represent who I am now and who I want to be. While it’s not perfect, I take pride in the organization that I’ve kept up. That’s part of the magic: once you’ve started a system that makes your life easier, you never go back to keeping things in unruly piles.

Reckoning with your past and present

Sorting through old papers was emotionally draining, but the epiphanies I had as a result were truly life changing. I attach so much importance to papers. I used to keep all my homework, notes and essays from college. School papers represented what I learned -  ideas that changed me and helped me grow as a person. Would throwing away these things be a denial of my own identity? And was it even my identity now that 15 years have passed? Am I the person I hoped to become 15 years ago? These thoughts fully spiraled into an identity crisis as I sat on my bedroom floor buried in piles of paper, overwhelmed and emotionally distraught. When I watch the Netflix show and see people go through similar struggles while sorting, I realize how universal this feeling is.

When you find things from your past, you’re forced to reckon with who you were, who you are now, and all the ways you’ve changed. Going through it was an important ritual for me in order to accept my current life and let go of the past. It was time to forward. What I discovered was this: I can get rid of things and still know who I am, and accept how I’ve changed from who I used to be. If you watch the show, you see that other people find self acceptance through this process. The work is brutal, but they come through this process better in the end: free of things that used to hold them back.

How I parted with sentimental items: the power of one

I used to keep brochures from a good play, invitations to friends’ weddings, academic journals from interesting college classes. Written documents represented my life and I honored those times through keepsakes that spark nostalgia, but not necessarily joy. Ultimately, it’s not sustainable to keep everything as a memento.

I took the time to glance at each document and process how it made me feel. I chose the one item that represented each time in my life, or each person I wanted to remember best. I only kept one example of an essay from each important class, one love letter from each relationship, one birthday card from a good friend. I took pictures of documents and journaled how it felt to read old letters. I extracted the memories from items, without having to keep them - and said goodbye.

In the end I consolidated 4 banker boxes of paper to just one box of items I cherish most. I’m thankful to have gone through this, because now when I look at that box, I no longer feel the overwhelm, guilt and avoidance I used to feel. Prized possession are inside. There is something cathartic and therapeutic about going through old stuff. Once you do it, you’ll get it out of your system and feel better - like a good cry.

Loving your space and mental clarity

We moved to our first home since my tidying days, which meant that I got to bring only things we love into our permanent space. We’ve curated our things and keep only our most valued and precious items that spark joy. My partner’s favorite photos from art school and only my presentable pottery pieces are displayed. We feel at peace when we spend time in our home together. We have our spaces for doing art, for relaxation, for working. My mind is less cluttered as a result of a cleaner house. We can concentrate, relax, and breathe in our space, and this has done wonders for our mental health and our relationship.

If you’re feeling the burden of too much stuff, Kondo’s book is a good place to start. It could plant the seed for a magical transformation in your life.  

And, if you feel like your emotional life is too cluttered, call our therapy office. Our therapists will be glad to help.


Karen Lenz People Bloom Counseling Redmond Executive Assistant.png

Karen Lenz is the Office Whiz Extraordinaire at People Bloom Counseling. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is thankful to get to share her experiences with you. Her Tuesday evening plans involve doing laundry, an activity she now enjoys because every shirt has its place, and every sock has its partner. She hopes you can find your joy in decluttering too.



The Guest House

Dragan/stock.adobe.com

Dragan/stock.adobe.com

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

- Rumi