Ethics, Legal, Mental Health, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Support, Uncategorized

Integrity in Self-Help/Wellness Communities

I received an email yesterday that I nearly deleted, unread. At first glance, I thought it was spam. I get a lot of spam. The subject header was “Is someone using your article?” It sounded like clickbait, but something made me click it anyway. I read:

Hello,

I am a clinician in behavior health and was looking for information to assist a client with an ill father.  A simple Google search yielded your article written for Good Therapy: 

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-cope-when-your-loved-one-is-ill/  

However, I also found this article with a different author that seems to be a revision of  your  article:

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12804/5-ways-to-cope-when-a-loved-one-is-ill.html  

It may be nothing but, thought you may like to know.

Regards,

Xxxxxxx

It took me a minute to process, sitting and staring at the screen.  I clicked the links. The first article was mine, from years ago, about coping with a family member’s illness. I was a Topic Expert for GoodTherapy.org, and this was an issue close to my heart, both personally and professionally.

The second link went to my article, too. Funny, I didn’t remember being published by MindBodyGreen. Oh, wait. It was my article…but with someone else’s name listed as the author.

I checked, and then re-checked. The MindBodyGreen article was mine. Word for word. The “author” had added in a few words of her own at the beginning and the end. “Be positive!” stuck out the most, for some reason.

My work had been plagiarized. It wasn’t the first time, but it was probably the most blatant, and the most public. Apparently, three years ago someone found my article at GoodTherapy.org, cut and pasted it and added her name as author, and MindBodyGreen published it. MindBodyGreen is a major, influential company in the wellness community, and the stolen article was viewed and shared by thousands of people. The ”author” had several other articles published there. I wondered who this person was, and if any of her other articles were taken from other authors. She has a website listed next to her profile at MindBodyGreen. It says she is a yogi. She states “I hope to empower, inspire, and motivate you to bring out the best in you.” She talks about karma, and hard work. She positions herself as an expert on relationships and parenting. She teaches people how to be writers.

Curious, maybe even morbidly fascinated, I Googled her other articles, then cross-referenced the titles. It took about 3 minutes. Sure enough, many of her articles and even her personal blog posts took, verbatim, chunks of other writers’ work and published them as her own. No references were cited. My curiosity gave way to indignation. How did a self-help guru justify content theft? And how did a major player in the Body/Mind community, MindBodyGreen.com, enable this to continue for years, unchecked?

Fast forward to the end of the day. Several emails and calls later, MindBodyGreen’s response was to remove the article and to state that they would not work with this author again. It was an anemic response, but they did remove the article.  The author then sent me an email stating that her intention had not been to steal my work (?), but that she had read it and been inspired by it and gosh, somehow there it was, published with her byline. (I didn’t ask her about her other articles and apparent plagiarism there) A couple of friends commented that perhaps I should be flattered. I’m not flattered. It’s not about my work being so utterly fabulous that someone simply had to re-post it. Theft is theft. There is no justification for it. It is a personal and professional violation.

This was a relatively small issue in the bigger scheme of things, but it still nagged at me all day. I’m not a ruminator…where was this coming from? I realized my indignation had more to do with the nature of the content and its intended purpose, than the theft of intellectual property itself. My article was written to help others who might be struggling with the illness of a family member. I made no money from that article or any other that I contributed to GoodTherapy.org. MindBodyGreen calls itself a “lifestyle media brand” – for-profit, complete with a clickable shopping cart on every page selling classes and wellness events. They present their mission as being here to make our lives better. Self-help, spirituality, yoga, plant-based eating, etc.  I, and many of my friends, have followed them on social media for years. Until today.

I looked at their information for aspiring authors. They warn against re-posting content which has been published elsewhere, directed toward writers who submit articles to more than one site. Nowhere does it mention copyright infringement or content theft. Technically speaking, the woman who cut and pasted my work as her own may not have violated their Terms of Service, as written. I find this perhaps the most disturbing piece of information of all.

Warning others about the hazards of the internet and taking everything you read there with a grain of salt really hits home today. We can’t trust always what we see or read, and sometimes even websites that seem established and legitimate can take the lazy way out. Not screening content before publishing it is as sloppy as it gets.  It’s a magnet for people who want to make a name for themselves, or a quick buck, without doing the work.

That brings me to my last point. I learned through this experience that I hold people who claim to help others more accountable than, say, someone who is on the internet selling widgets. Particularly those without credentials – counselors, life coaches, psychics, healers, energy workers, and other professions without standard licensing procedures and regulations. Before I am labeled an elitist, let me explain what I mean. I have no issue with the concept of energy psychology, I think a trained, ethical coach can help people with goal setting and personal/professional development, and I am more likely to talk to my own psychotherapy clients about mindfulness than I am about medication. My private practice embraces a holistic approach to mental health. In my opinion, it works. What does concern me, however, is accountability. When a person is unethical or out of their scope of competence and they place themselves in a helping role, they can hurt others. Their target audience includes some of the most vulnerable among us. In their zeal to gain clients or followers or subscribers, they may miss danger signs, they may not know what to ask, they may spread misinformation, and they may not even be aware of what they don’t know in terms of ethical behavior. Worst of all, if they do cause harm, their victims have no recourse. In my situation, a few people suggested that I “report her!”  To whom, exactly? Self-appointed gurus or coaches are usually not legitimately licensed or credentialed by their state the way licensed mental health and medical clinicians are, which hampers an individual’s ability to investigate a practitioner’s legitimacy or to file a grievance. I experienced copyright infringement, but imagine if I had followed some “lifestyle advice” and actually been physically or emotionally hurt. I got off relatively easily.

Unethical behavior, such as content theft or aggressive, misleading marketing, doesn’t usually go hand in hand with trustworthy service to others. I am speaking out about this experience because I believe that those of us who purport to work in the best interest of others have an obligation to maintain high ethical standards and to speak up when something is wrong. Individuals who work in unregulated jobs like life coaches and spiritual advisors, perhaps even more so. A few unethical people can do an enormous amount of harm. I came away from this reminded to regularly scan the internet to protect my copyrighted work, including utilizing services like Copyscape, to continue to provide consumer education for those seeking emotional support or wellness in a competitive and confusing market, and to support my colleagues who are providing ethical professional or volunteer services to others. My deep appreciation to the colleague who brought this to my attention – when we work together, we can try to bring a sense of integrity into the wellness community, for the good of those we serve. When we experience otherwise, we have an obligation to bring that forward, as well.

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Self Esteem, Solutions, Support, Toolkit

Silencing Your Inner Critic

By request, this is the transcript from a video made almost 5 years ago. I hope you find it helpful 🙂

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Most of us have had the experience of negative self talk – criticizing yourself, beating yourself up over things you wish you could change or had done differently. What I have noticed as a therapist is that these little nasty voices in your head in no way help you change for the better. In fact, they more often get in the way of you being able to move forward in your life and feel good about yourself. This video is going to talk about negative self-talk, how and why so many of us experience this, and how to substitute the critical tape playing in your head, telling you you are not good enough, for more positive and realistic messages.

People typically judge and criticize themselves for their appearance, financial status, relationships, parenting skills, weight, and the list goes on and on. Where do these messages start? A variety of places. Sometimes we receive critical messages as children – from our parents, family members, even in the schoolyard. The media is quite often not self-esteem friendly, making you feel that if your skin is not flawless, you are not a size two, your earning potential is not what you want it to be, your relationship is not perfect – you are a failure. And finally, we make mistakes in life. We show poor judgment and we don’t always do the right thing. So guilt can linger from past mistakes, and we find we can’t let it go and forgive ourselves.

Let me ask you this. What type of language do you use with yourself when you notice a flaw or make a mistake? Do you insult yourself, beat yourself up, or do you take a more compassionate and understanding
tone? Many of us are our own worst critics, and our inner voice is unforgiving and harsh. Let’s say your inner voice is highly critical – does this help you feel better about yourself? Or does it tear you down, making you feel flawed and like a failure?

– When you notice something about yourself you don’t like, instead of feeling cut off from others, or do you feel connected with your fellow humans who are also imperfect? Do you tend to feel cut off from others when things go wrong, with the irrational feeling that everyone else is having a better time of it than you, or do you get in touch with the fact that all humans experience hardship in their lives?

– Ask yourself about the consequences of being so hard on yourself. Does it make you more motivated and happy, or discouraged and depressed? If being hard on yourself doesn’t make you a happier person, then clearly it’s not working. Time for a new perspective.

– Another question to ask yourself – how do you think you would feel if you could truly love and accept yourself exactly as you are? Does this possibility scare you, give you hope, or both? I have had clients tell me they felt self-acceptance was narcissistic or selfish. It’s neither.

– When you run into challenges in your life, do you tend to ignore your pain or struggle, and focus exclusively on fixing the problem, or do you stop to give yourself care and comfort?

– When you come up against problems or mistakes, do you make a bigger deal out of it than you need to, or do you tend to keep things in balanced perspective?

If you feel that you lack sufficient self-compassion, check in with yourself – are you criticizing yourself for this too? If so, stop right there. Try to feel compassion for how difficult it is to be an imperfect human being in this extremely competitive society of ours. Most of us live in cultures that do not emphasize self-compassion, quite the opposite. We’re told that we’re being self-indulgent if we don’t hold ourselves to harsh standards. We may feel that no matter how hard we try, our best just isn’t good enough. It’s time for something different. We can all benefit by learning to be more self-compassionate, and now is the perfect time to start.

Here is an exercise to not only help silence your inner critic, but to instead create your inner friend.

Create in your imagination a friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and
compassionate toward you. Imagine that this friend can see all your strengths and all your weaknesses, including any aspects you criticize yourself for. Think about what this friend feels about you, and how you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, with all your human imperfections. This friend recognizes the limits of human nature, and is kind and forgiving towards you. In his/her great wisdom this friend understands your life history and the thousands of things that have happened in your life to create you as you are right now. Any perceived faults are connected to so many things you didn’t choose: your genes, your family history, life circumstances – things that were outside of your control. Your friend sees through these human imperfections to the core of the real you, and accepts and loves you the way you are.

Now. I’d like you to sit down with a pen and paper, or in front of the computer. Write a letter from this friend to you. What would this friend say to you about your mistakes or flaws from the perspective of unlimited compassion? How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for the pain you feel when you judge yourself so harshly? What would this friend write in order to remind you that you are only human, that all people have both strengths and weaknesses?

If your imaginary friend might suggest possible changes you could make, how would these suggestions express unconditional understanding and compassion? As you write to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend, try to infuse your letter with a strong sense of acceptance, kindness, caring, and desire for your health and happiness.

Once you have finished this exercise, sit quietly for a bit. Step away from what you have written, and come back to re-read the letter in a little while. Maybe an hour or so. As you return and read, allow the compassion expressed in the letter to flow into you. Become aware of how it feels to experience kindness, loving acceptance, and forgiveness.

This experience can become a part of your daily life, in the way you speak about and to yourself. Replace your inner critic with an inner friend. Your work will not fall apart, I promise you. You may find that holding positive feelings about yourself allows you to increase your motivation and lessen depression or internal criticism. If you’d like to, take a few of the positive sentences expressed in your letter, write them on a sticky note or a piece of paper, and put them up around your home so that you can see these positive words as you go through your daily life.

It’s not enough to silence your inner critic. You have to fill that void, with positive self talk and an idea of friendship toward yourself.

I hope this simple exercise will help you begin to let go of being your own worst critic and begin to become your own best friend.

You can watch this video on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/tDm50j5m9Po

Follow us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/SanDiegoTherapy/

Anxiety, Communication, Dermatillomania, Family of Origin, Family Ties, Parenting, Relationships, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Self Esteem, Solutions, Support, Therapy

Understanding Shame and Guilt

In this blog post we will be talking about the difference between shame and guilt, where shame comes from, and how you can begin to heal from feeling shame.

Guilt is generally a reaction to something you have done.  It may be something you have actually done, like telling a lie. Or it may be something you’ve done or thought of doing that really isn’t wrong, but you still feel guilt about it anyway. More about that a bit later. Guilt is an emotion that is experienced when you violate your own values.

Shame, on the other hand, is less about something you have done, and more about feeling a sense of disgrace about who you are. Let me go back to the example of lying. If you lie and you feel guilty, you may think, “Lying is wrong. I should not have told that lie. I feel bad about doing that.” Shame says “I told a lie, I am no good. Something is wrong with me for having done something like that. I feel bad about myself.”

Guilt is a message, sometimes justified, that notifies you that you are deviating from what you consider to be right.  Shame is a feeling that tells you that you may not be adequate or worthy. It’s far deeper than feeling bad about a behavior – the person experiencing shame can feel inadequate and unworthy. In fact, shame can be a part of a person’s everyday way of being in the world – a sense that they are not good enough.

Let me back up for a moment and talk about feeling guilt when you haven’t done anything wrong. Where does that come from? If you are in a situation and doing your best with the resources you have, why feel guilty about the outcome? One reason can be taking responsibility for the feelings of others. Maybe you have plans to go to a family gathering, when a friend asks you for a ride to work. You say no, but carry a lingering feeling of guilt throughout the family event. Or you take a test in school, and don’t get the grade you – and maybe your parents or peers – expected to see. In each case, you probably did the best you could, someone else may have felt disappointed, and your sense of guilt is partly connected with their emotions. Guilt is not necessarily a bad emotion. It can help us hone our own moral compass, signally us when we act in ways that don’t fit our values. In the previous example about telling a lie, guilt lets you know that lying is an uncomfortable behavior, and it can end up doing more harm than good. Guilt teaches you that lying is wrong, and that you don’t want to do it. You can learn from the experience, forgive yourself, and move on with new knowledge.

Shame, though, can have deeper roots. Sometimes we are wounded in childhood, whether by our parents or teachers or friends. A part of us believes that we are fundamentally not good enough, and when we don’t measure up to expectations (whether our own or someone else’s), we feel unworthy and ashamed. Shame tells us we are bad, or not worthy of love or acceptance.

How to deal with feelings of shame:

Be aware of your thoughts: The next time you face a situation that makes you feel ashamed, examine the thoughts that come up. Then, challenge them. Are they true, or are they just old tapes that tear you down and make you doubt yourself? What more realistic, positive messages can you replace them with? As you keep practicing this over and over it will become a normal part of your thinking pattern.

Examine where you first felt shame: Were you a child, unable to make a hit in softball? Did you develop slower than the other kids in your class? Do you lack the artistic talent that your sibling excels in? Was your family life dysfunctional, such as alcoholic, violent, or otherwise not as nurturing as all children need?

Reach out for support and healing: It’s never too late to find acceptance and nurturing, whether from friends, family, support groups, or even a professional counselor. Ultimately, your goal might be to be able to nurture and comfort yourself.

While guilt may have some uses in helping us correct behaviors that we want to change, shame is nearly always destructive. Take the time to explore feelings that distort your perception of yourself and the world you live in, and know that there is always hope to say goodbye to shame and feel better about yourself.

Anxiety, Mental Health, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Self Esteem, Solutions, Stress, Support, Therapy, Toolkit

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder

In this blog we will be revisiting the topic of Social Anxiety, including a couple of updates from the new DSM 5, or the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Social Anxiety Disorder, which was formerly called Social Phobia, is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.

A person with Social Anxiety Disorder basically feels fearful that he or she will make mistakes, look bad, and be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. The anxiety can be severe enough to build into a panic attack. As a result of the fear, the person either tries their best to endure certain social situations even though they are in extreme distress, or may avoid them altogether. To receive a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety must be “out of proportion” to the actual threat or danger the situation poses. Symptoms may include blushing, sweating, heart palpitations, trembling, dizziness, and nausea.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder often suffer “anticipatory” anxiety — the fear of a situation before it even happens — for days or weeks before the event. Most of us may feel nervous before a job interview or a public presentation. For the person with Social Anxiety Disorder, the way they feel is far beyond a simple case of nervousness. It can be crippling, and can prevent the person from fully participating in their own lives.

In many cases, adults tend to be aware that the fear is unreasonable, but they are unable to overcome it on their own. Children may not have the maturity yet to recognize that their anxiety is extreme.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder may be afraid of a specific situation, such as speaking in public. However, most people with Social Anxiety Disorder experience fear more than one social situation. Other situations that commonly provoke anxiety include:

  • Eating or drinking in front of others.
  • Writing or working in front of others.
  • Being the center of attention.
  • Interacting with people, including dating or going to parties.
  • Asking questions or giving reports in groups.

Although worries about some of these situations are common, people with Social Anxiety Disorder worry excessively about them before, during and after the event. They fear that they will do or say something that they think will be humiliating or embarrassing, or that those around them are judgmental or critical.

Social Anxiety Disorder can have a negative impact on a person’s functioning, disrupting normal life, interfering with social relationships and quality of life and impairing performance at work or school. People with Social Anxiety Disorder may misuse alcohol or drugs to try to reduce their anxiety, and in some cases, alleviate depression which can co-occur with anxiety.

Social Anxiety Disorder can sometimes be linked to other disorders, such as Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and depression. Without treatment, Social Anxiety Disorder can negatively interfere with the person’s normal daily routine, including school, work, social activities, and relationships.

Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder

As with most mental health disorders, there is no one answer for the best way to treat each individual case. Nor is every person with Social Anxiety Disorder the same. That said, I will do my best to give you an overview of the most common thinking about the disorder, and some links below where you can investigate and learn more.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder are thought to suffer from distorted thinking, including false beliefs about social situations and the negative opinions of others. I can give you a couple of examples to help this make sense. A faulty thought which can contribute to anxiety looks like “If I speak up in this meeting and ask my question, I will look like a fool.” Or “I am no good with making conversation. People at this party are going to hate me.”

That leads me to one of the most widely accepted therapies for Social Anxiety, which is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If we can work with you to help clear up any distortions in your thought patterns, improve your self-concept, and develop a realistic perception of the likelihood that others are evaluating you in a negative way, it can help develop new ways of thinking that are more realistic and healthy.

We also sometimes include assertiveness and social skills training in helping people overcome Social Anxiety. There may be a genuine sense of not knowing what to say or do in social or work situations. Speaking up or meeting someone new can be stressful if you aren’t sure how to do it.

Relaxation training can be an enormous help in dealing with any type of anxiety. We work with clients to help them recognize the signs that they are becoming anxious, and then set up steps to relax and calm any fears.

Finally, there is medication available to help with anxiety, usually in conjunction with the therapies I have already mentioned. My suggestion in most cases is to try therapy first, and if we don’t see improvement within an agreed-upon period of time, we will discuss a referral to a physician who can prescribe medication.

As I mention often, I want to know what my client with anxiety is eating or drinking. If you feel anxious, and you are drinking coffee or soda with caffeine every day, your symptoms are likely to be worse. I would say the same for a diet with lots of sugar and processed food. There does seem to be a correlation between diet and mental health – be kind to your body, feed it nutritious food, and chances are your mental health will benefit as well.

Thank you for reading, and feel free to add your comments below about Social Anxiety Disorder.

Video on this topic: http://youtu.be/Wma-UXKVfNg

Anxiety, Communication, Family Ties, Intimacy, Marriage Counseling, Mental Health, Relationships, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Solutions, Stress, Support, Therapy

When Your Partner Has a Mental Illness

Mental illness can happen to anyone. Conditions like bipolar disorder, depression, or severe anxiety don’t discriminate. What can you do if it is your partner or spouse who is mentally ill? How can you support them and still keep yourself together?

Mental illness can have an overwhelming effect on a marriage or committed relationship. Whether or not the relationship can survive depends a great deal on how you deal with your partner’s mental illness. This video will provide you with some ideas for ways to cope.

1. Educate yourself about the illness. Learn everything you can about what your partner is experiencing, along with treatments, triggers, and prognosis. Knowledge is power, at a time when you may be feeling completely helpless. Learning about the illness will help you know what to expect and enable you to be a member of your partner’s treatment team. I will put some resources in the downbar to help you get started.

2. Realize that you cannot fix your mentally ill partner’s mental illness. You did not cause the illness, and you can’t make it go away. Your partner is the only person who  can make the decision to follow treatment. Encourage and support your partner’s efforts, but it’s important to accept that he or she must make and follow through with their own decisions.

3. Avoid blaming your spouse or partner. Just as you wouldn’t express hostility or anger if your partner were struggling with a physical illness, people with mental illnesses don’t choose to be that way. Symptoms of mental illness can appear to be laziness, avoidance, or lack of consistency. It’s hard not to take those symptoms personally.

4. Feelings of frustration, sadness, and even anger are normal for you to experience. This may not be anything like the relationship you had hoped to have. Your mental health is important right now also. Finding a way to express your feelings safely, like to a trusted friend or a counselor, can help you validate and process what you are going through.

5. While taking care of your mental health, it’s important to take care of yourself physically, as well. First, be sure you are sleeping, eating, seeing friends, and participating in your own activities as much as you can. Second, there are some mental illnesses which can cause the person to act out in verbally or even physically abusive ways when they are in the midst of a crisis. Keep yourself and your children safe from harm, above all.

6. Reach out to others who understand. There are groups for partners of people diagnosed with mental illness, both in person and on the internet. Sometimes just speaking with someone who has been there and understands what you are going through can be an enormous help.  Don’t let stigma or shame prevent you from seeking the support you need.

Mental illness can be very difficult for couples and families to deal with. Remember that in most cases there is effective treatment available, and support for you as well. In every committed relationship, couples face hurdles and this is a big one. At the same time, there is always hope that symptoms can be managed and the two of you can face this hurdle successfully, together. Not all couples are able to weather the storm of mental illness – it can tear families apart. But it’s always worth a try, and you may find yourselves with a stronger bond when you make it to the other side.

Communication, Family of Origin, Family Ties, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Saying Goodbye, Solutions, Support, Therapy, Toolkit

Writing Your Personal Story

Here is the written version of my recent interview with author Johannah Warren. The interview can be seen here: http://youtu.be/Dsa5AdiEBuo

“Hi and welcome back to TalkTherapyChannel on YouTube. Today I am going to be talking with Johannah Warren about the experience of writing your own life story.  Johannah is the founder of Saint Columba Press, where she publishes and promotes these unique treasures.  Welcome, Johannah.”

1. What are the benefits of writing down your story?

People write down their stories for a variety of reasons; usually to leave behind a personal accounting of their life.  Whether they served in combat or were a farmer’s wife, it offers a sense of purpose and meaning that these experiences will not be lost forever; that they have some wisdom or “life lessons” to pass on.  [There is a quote that I like from The Bridges of Madison County, from a mother who leaves behind a story and prefaces it with, “…as one gets older, one’s fears subside.  What becomes more and more important is to be known.”]

However, you don’t have to approach the end of your life to be able to reflect on it.  For the writer, it can be transformative.  Writing down your story is a form of taking personal inventory.  Some of it is just plain nostalgic, like the childhood curiosities and blunders.  But traveling down memory lane is not 100% uplifting.  When I shared with people that I had been writing my own memoir and some things were coming up that were unpleasant, I heard things like, “What’s the sense in digging up the past,” and “There is a reason you’ve put these things out of your mind.”  I disagree, because understanding one’s self is critical.  It’s completely natural to want to put things behind us, focus on the positive, and keep moving forward.  I’m not suggesting dwelling on negativity, but anyone familiar with the expression, “sweeping things under the rug” knows that these little things build up.  We are a collection of our experiences, and the rug starts to get lumpy, maybe even turns into a mountain – and it can affect our judgment, our relationships, and our well-being.

Some of the experiences are not traumatic but simply have not been processed appropriately because they happened in the developmental period of childhood before we were emotionally mature enough to understand their significance.  But with a pen and paper (or laptop), in a non-judgmental environment, recalling the details can give a shape to these events – a story with a beginning, middle, and end and ideally an acknowledgement of how you became the person you are.

For example, I was able to recall vividly a humiliating comment by my 2nd grade teacher about how I smelled like cigarette smoke.  Of course it was from my parents, but I was already self-conscious about their lifestyle.  And everyone deals with things differently.  The same comment made to my sister would have provoked a response that landed her in the principal’s office, but I internalized it and let it contribute to my already existing sense of isolation.  I never thought about this again until I began writing, and now as an adult I can put it into perspective.  It certainly wasn’t positive but it was very influential, and I believe being the recipient of such insensitivity made me more empathetic, which is something I’m quite proud of.  I could only see that in retrospect.  Overall, the process was cleansing and changed the way I looked at myself.

In writing my own story, I was able to recognize patterns that I wanted to change, and the sense of isolation that sort of lurked in the background and created a ceiling on my growth.  I was able to admit things that I didn’t even know I felt.  Most importantly, I finally accepted what a colorful kaleidoscope of life I had been a part of.

2. Who might want to try personal storytelling, and why?

Personal storytelling has become very popular for professionals as a way to connect with their audience, fan base, and customers.  Many of us know the story of how Steve Jobs dropped out of college and was ousted by his own company.  Business leaders like to tell the tale of how they overcame obstacles to become the successes they are.  But you don’t have to be the head of a Fortune 500 corporation to do so.  You don’t have to have a rags-to-riches scenario or even have crossed the finish line yet.  Everyone has a story, and inspiration can be found in the smallest things, in any industry, in every walk of life.

People in transition are probably the most likely group to benefit from the therapeutic effects of storytelling.  Divorce and unemployment are just two of the major life changes that can trigger someone to look for answers, and – as cliché as it sounds – the truth can usually be found within.

Not all transitions are undesirable or sudden, like the newly retired or the Empty Nesters, but they still bring about mixed emotions of freedom and restlessness, excitement and fear, as you find themselves with time on their hands to examine the richness and wisdom of a bygone chapter.

There are also those who have overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers – both external and internal.  Sometimes the triumph of the human spirit is heroic in itself, like overcoming addiction.  There are also those who took a painful experience like the loss of a child and channeled it into a movement to help others.  Stories such as these are moving and inspirational for the people who are going through the same thing by reminding them that anything is possible and there is light on the other side of healing.

3. What are a couple of key points to help someone get started?

I would say the most important thing is to identify what’s unique about you.  Some people are naturals – they can talk about themselves all day long with complete strangers – and others take a little more coaxing to share.  The obvious identifying markers are thing like where you were born, marriage, children, career, but these only tell part of the story.  The truly defining moments are usually thrust upon us; the detours that changed who you would become and possibly your worldview.  These stories within the story are the gold.  You can start with the obvious, like immigrating from overseas to New York City fifty years ago.  Or maybe you grew up in an orphanage.  The back story will begin to leak through.

If I’m making it sound easy, my apologies.  And there are many ways to get the thoughts flowing in ink before you dive into the deeper issues.  My favorite prompt is for you to make a list of all your addresses and jot down the first memory that is stirred from each.  Then pick one to describe.  How old were you and who else lived there?  Was there a particular neighbor that aroused curiosity?  Maybe it was on Skid Row.  Imagine that you will take this writing and roll it up into a bottle anonymously, send out into the water, and it will be found by a stranger.  The best advice I ever heard with respect to memoir writing was from Joan Didion who said, “Remember what it was to be me:  that is always the point.”  As a reader, I want you to take me there.

4. If a person needs help in this process, where can they find it?

There are some great books on memoir writing, various blogs, and local writing groups.  I have been involved in an exciting project that will launch this month, so make sure you go to my website and connect with me if you want more information.  There will be a link below.  In summary, it is a hub of resources as well as a Road Map to Writing your own Memoir.  There will be a place to connect with other writers on the journey, collaborate, and share your stories (privately or publicly).  I have been collecting these stories for publication, and I’m really excited about where this will lead.  My hope is to have a positive effect on understanding the human race, beginning with ourselves.

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