How Do You Want to Grow?

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In my part of the world, this has been the epitome of a beautiful spring weekend. Warm sunshine, a little rain, and that magical spring air that lets you just feel the world coming back to life around you. The earliest blooming flowers have already started showing their faces, and my favorite ones - lilacs - will follow soon. Although spring can be unpredictable, it is a time of awakening, renewal, and growth.

Sometimes the changing weather prompts a parallel internal experience - a spring of the soul, if I may be a little dramatic. I’ve never been much for New Year’s Resolutions, personally, but springtime almost always brings a renewed sense of interest, motivation, and energy toward the rest of the year. It feels natural to begin thinking at this time of how I want to shape and direct my growth in the coming months.

So, I thought I would share that sense of anticipation and forward-thinking with you today, by presenting 5 thought points to help you get into a growing space! Grab yourself a journal, or pull up a keyboard, and let’s get curious about growing.

Ready? Ok, let’s jump in!

How do I want to grow?

I know, I know, Captain Obvious here. But if you don’t know how you want to grow, you won’t know where to channel your energy. Energy is a finite resource. Rather than flailing around without direction and wasting precious energy, think about how you want to grow your life. Are there skills you want to develop? Interests you’d like to explore? Relationships you would like to strengthen or redefine?

For each area that you want to grow in, consider what growth looks and feels like. If you want to grow in assertiveness and confidence at work, what would that look like? How would it feel different than your current sense of yourself? Create a picture in your mind of growing in these traits will feel. How will you stand when you are more confident? Will your posture, your nonverbal communication, or your tone of voice change? What do you anticipate that will feel like?

Imagine, with all the detail you can muster, what it will be like to achieve growth in your chosen area. Visualize yourself embodying whatever skills, traits, habits, or other changes you aspire to make. See it as an event that has already taken place - now you just need to get there.

How can growing in these ways improve my life?

We generally choose goals based on the belief that achieving them will improve our lives in some way. How do you anticipate your areas of growth improving your life? Taking a class in photography, for example, will help you develop your skills with a camera. That could benefit your life by enabling you to take beautiful photos that evoke a profound emotional experience when you view them. On another front, learning to speak in public might empower you to take a more leadership-oriented role at your job. You might even find it easier to handle social anxiety outside of work.

Think about all the ways your chosen area(s) for growth could improve your life. Imagine your life already better in those ways. What does it look and feel like to live in that improved space? Be detailed!

What is keeping me from growing?

Chances are, you’ve wanted to grow in one or more of these areas before. For one reason or another, it hasn’t happened yet, or maybe hasn’t happened to the extent that you wanted. What do you think has contributed to that? Think about what might make it difficult for you to grow in the ways you want to. Are there things you fear about the changes you would make? What kind of risks are involved? Are you afraid of failing?

Are you afraid of succeeding?

If you pursue growth, your life will change. There may be parts of you that are not fully on board with changing. If you feel ambivalent, or anxiety keeps rearing its head when you contemplate growing in your chosen areas, be curious about the resistance. What are your resistant parts worried about? How might they be trying to protect you by resisting change?

How can I tend the soil to support my growth?

Some plants are delicate, and require very careful and particular care. Others are hardy and need the bare minimum. Whether you feel more like an orchid or a dandelion, you will grow best in an environment that supports and nurtures you. So what do you need to create that environment?

Think about the people, places, and things that make you feel good. When, where, and with whom do you feel most safe? Most loved and appreciated? Most you? 

The answers to these questions are what make up your most fertile grounding. Take a moment to imagine being steeped in that care. How can you create that sensation more often? Visualize yourself growing and thriving in this enlivening space. What does it look and feel like? How can you build that around yourself?

How have I already grown?

This is important. Having goals and aspiring to growth is wonderful. A growth mindset reduces stagnation, empowers and enlivens you, and enlarges your world. But a growth mindset should also be balanced with a gratitude mindset - toward yourself.

Now is not the first time in your life that you have grown. What has your journey looked like up to now? What are you building on? Even if you feel like you’ve been stuck for ages, I promise you have experienced growth in your lifetime. As ye olde ska band Relient K once sang, “I struggle with forward motion.” But struggle does not mean the forward motion hasn’t happened.

In your readiness to move forward, take a moment to look behind. Send some appreciation to yourself for the growth you have achieved already. That growth is the foundation for the growth yet to come. Trees grow both into the sky and into the earth. There is value in your history as well as your future.

Grow on, my dears.

Seeing the Hidden Picture: Narcissistic Families in 3D


Do you remember those old-school 3D puzzle pictures that used to be printed in the comics section of the newspaper? (Remember physical newspapers?) They looked like a bunch of squiggly lines, or a frozen kaleidoscope at first. There was a trick to seeing the image within the squiggles - you had to let your eyes drift out of focus slightly until...there! The image within the image pops out. And once you saw that hidden picture, you saw it every time you looked at the image. What was seen could not be unseen.

I used to hate those puzzles until I figured out how to see the hidden picture. What seemed to come easily to others was a source of frustration to me, until one day - it clicked. Now I was part of that special group, Those Who Could See. For a nerdy tween, this was heady stuff! Once I knew the trick, it was easy to find the hidden image.

Recently, we explored what it’s like to be One Who Can See among those who cannot, and some of the difficulties that can present. Today I want to revisit that status of being sighted among blind, but from a different angle. Today, we’re going to talk about the ups and downs of Seeing What Cannot be Unseen.

Rosy glasses knocked askew

How about another trip down memory lane. When did you begin to question whether your rosy view of your personal history was fully accurate? What made you tilt your head, squint your eyes, and begin to wonder if the picture in front of you was all there was to see?

Many times, an adult child of a narcissist has grown up with a narrative that their family was loving, close, supportive, and above all - “normal” (whatever that is). Narcissistic families have a lot to lose by letting go of that narrative too soon, so they tend to be fiercely protective of it. The first cracks in the frame come when someone begins to question why their felt experience doesn’t quite line up with what they’ve been told. At that moment, the rosy colored glasses begin to slip, and there is an opportunity to see the picture differently. 

Narcissistic parents can provide mountains of evidence of what wonderful parents they were. They do not understand (or do not accept) that the trips to Disney World and outward shows of love do not cancel out the emotional abuse or neglect. Or, if you have a martyr-type narcissistic parent, they will dissolve into guilt-inducing tears at the possibility that they could have been less than perfect. For them to feel ok with themselves, they need to maintain their own personal narrative that they did well. A child’s incongruent experience has no place in their world.

Time for a new prescription

The moment when those rosy glasses slip is a watershed moment. If you take them all the way off and look more closely, you risk crossing an invisible line: the line of Those Who See. Because once you see the dysfunction, the emotional neglect, the distorted version of love that narcissistic families live in, you can’t unsee it. And when you see what can’t be unseen, going back to the way things were before is no longer an option.

This moment is important, life-changing, and potentially devastating for all involved. For the adult child of a narcissist, seeing the hidden picture within the surface image means re-evaluating everything you thought you knew about your own life. Once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it, and you have to make adjustments in your thinking about what that image represents. Letting go of a particular image of your family can be a loss. Learning new terms like enmeshment, emotional proxy, and parentification may be a piece of knowledge you’d rather not take on. But once you see it, you can’t unsee it. 

For a narcissistic parent whose child begins to question their version of reality, the moment of Seeing can be panic-inducing, infuriating, or confusing. In their revisionist world, they created a great life for their family. To have that questioned or denied brings up a host of questions they’d probably rather not explore. Unfortunately, this often means either lashing out or giving a cold shoulder to the child who does not fall in with the party line. Or, failing that, the parent may dispatch flying monkeys to convince the adult child to return to the fold.

For both adult children and narcissistic parents, seeing in 3D changes everything. The relationship will inevitably be affected by how both sides handle their respective responses to this shift in focus.

What if your prescription is mismatched?

Sometimes a client comes to me with an old and very clear awareness that one of their parents is narcissistic or abusive. The other, they are quite sure, was the better parent. That other parent was also a victim, and couldn’t be blamed for not protecting their child. That other parent may be immature in their own way, or perhaps distant, or unwilling to take on the narcissist, but they weren’t as bad. Because at least one of those lenses had to have a rosy tint, or the world is just too dark to tolerate.

Walking around with one clear and one rosy lens means you are probably still only seeing part of the image. And there may be parts of you that absolutely rebel against the idea of really seeing the whole thing clearly. Because what if you let your focus change, and what you thought was a hidden picture of a unicorn turns out to be a chimaera? A friendly dog becomes a wolf? A smile becomes a vacant stare? There could be a lot to lose in seeing the whole picture. Because once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And then you have to decide what to do next.

The ups and downs of seeing the hidden picture

Seeing clearly with both eyes presents options and potential conundrums. Once you see what is really happening below the surface, it’s harder to tell yourself it’s just Mom’s anxiety making her so controlling. Or you have to decide what to do when Dad starts pressuring you to get involved in a dispute that shouldn’t involve you. You have to ask questions and make decisions you may never have had to make in the past. You’ll have to weigh out the potential consequences of each choice and decide which fork in the road you can handle today.

But with those questions comes an awareness. You are still in uncharted space, but now you know there are black holes and supernovae about. You are less likely to be pulled off-course when you know there is something or someone waiting to do so. Sight is a double-edged sword, but at least one of those edges works in your favor. Knowing the danger zones allows you to better prepare to respond to or avoid them.

What's there is there

Ultimately, whether you want to see the hidden image or not, one fact remains: the hidden picture is there. It exists, even if you don’t want it to. Even if you could go back to being ignorant, it wouldn’t make the narcissistic dynamics go away. Seeing What Cannot be Unseen may be hard, but it is less a creation of difficulty than an awareness of what was always there but not always visible.

Take heart in knowing this this. Seeing the hidden picture gives you an opportunity that the rosy glasses folks don’t have - the opportunity to change a pattern. Seeing the whole picture gives you the chance to rewrite a legacy that may have hurt many generations of your family. There is pain in facing an ugly truth - unquestionably. And there are no guarantees that your vision will be celebrated or validated. But in it lies the hope for change. And you are the bearer of that hope.

And that is no small thing.

See clearly, my brave ones.

DBT Skills: Building Healthy and Fulfilling Relationships

“You can be a good person, with a kind heart, And still say no.”

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I can’t tell you how many times a week our Teen Team shares this quote with clients. We usually hear statements like:

  • “I can’t tell her I don’t like when she says that! She’ll get mad at me!”

  • “There’s absolutely no way I can share how I feel about what he did. What if he doesn’t like me anymore?”

  • “I can’t ever say ‘no.’ It’s too uncomfortable and I want people to think I’m nice.”

It can be so hard for many of us, especially teens, to build healthy relationships where we can both ask for what we need AND have the ability to say no to something we don’t like. In DBT, your teen will learn interpersonal effectiveness - in other words, skills to improve relationships.

We often get stuck in unhealthy relationships because we don’t value ourselves enough to know we deserve better. Teens want to fit in, and fitting in often means not being unique, which creates the perfect situation to lose yourself in an unhealthy friendship or relationship - one that does not align with your teen’s morals or values.

We want your teen to know:

  • they matter

  • their opinion is valued

  • it’s ok to have needs and wants

  • it’s ok to be different and unique

  • it’s ok to say ‘no’

Not only do we want your teens to know this, we want them to practice communicating being assertive. We want them to learn that assertiveness does not equal being “mean,” and that if someone doesn’t like them because they were assertive, they don’t have to bend themselves for that relationship.

Think your teen could benefit from practicing assertiveness to build healthier and happier relationships? Your teen will learn all about this and 4 other DBT skills at our DBT Spring Break Workshop! Click the button below to learn more and receive DBT-based parenting tips.

DBT Skills: Helping Your Teen Tolerate Distress

We see hundreds of teens a week here at The Center for Family Empowerment and help them cope through crises regularly. Here are some situations that might trigger a crisis:

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  • failing a test

  • getting in a fight with friends

  • being teased

  • parents divorcing

  • having to take an airplane

  • not getting the desired role in the school play

A lot of teens don’t yet have the skills to manage crises effectively - they might self-harm, overeat, engage in drugs and alcohol, participate in risky behavior, completely shut down, burn relationships, avoid doing anything, etc.. And the consequences to dealing ineffectively with a crisis might be: damaged relationships, poor health, feeling embarrassed/guilty/ashamed, being hospitalized, etc.

One of the many things your teen will learn in DBT is distress tolerance: how to cope with difficult emotions when they arise. The goal here is to teach your teen NOT to get rid of emotions or never have them, but to have them and cope with them.

One of the most valuable skills for your teen to learn are called Crisis Survival Skills - which require balance between dealing with the crisis and taking a break. These breaks are meant to be planned and temporary as avoiding a crisis will result in higher emotions and more distress.

Think your teen could benefit from learning concrete ways to tolerate crises and make healthier choices? Your teen will learn all about this and 4 other DBT skills at our DBT Spring Break Workshop! Click the button below to learn more and receive DBT-based parenting tips.

DBT Skills: Regulating Big Emotions

Does your teen ever say any of the following:

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  • I shouldn’t feel this way.

  • I’m supposed to feel happier.

  • I’m a bad person because I fee depressed or anxious.

  • There’s something wrong with me because I feel bad.

  • People won’t like me if they really know how I’m feeling.

These are some of the most common misconceptions about emotions, and ones we hear our teen clients say on a weekly basis. It’s common to think this way, but it’s important to learn that these statements aren’t true. Remember we talked about emotions triggering judgments, which triggers the emotional spiral? Well, here we are. Those statements above hold so much judgment about what we should be doing, or what is right vs wrong.

What your teen would learn in DBT is emotion regulation: learning to understand and balance emotions. This part of DBT teaches us skills to help:

  • observe and describe emotions (focusing on facts to get into Wise Mind)

  • increase positive emotions

  • avoid emotional suffering

  • act effectively when feeling difficult emotions

The thing is, emotions are complicated, confusing, enjoyable, and a huge part of what makes us human. It’s so important for your teen to learn:

  • emotions hold no judgment (they aren’t good/bad or right/wrong)

  • they are not their emotion

  • they can’t get rid of or ignore emotions

  • emotions don’t last forever!

  • emotions are not facts

  • they can both have an emotion and not act on it

  • emotions are unique to them

Understanding the above points will help your teen decrease judgments, reduce their emotional spiral, and offer acceptance and compassion for what they are feeling.

Think your teen could benefit from better regulating their emotions? Your teen will learn all about this and 4 other DBT skills at our DBT Spring Break Workshop! Click the button below to learn more and receive more DBT-based parenting tips.

DBT Skills: Stopping The Emotional Spiral

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How many of us can relate to emotions feeling like they spiral out of control? How many times have you seen your teen start at an emotional 1 and end really quickly at 100? You might hear things like:

  • “I can’t control my feelings right now”

  • “there’s nothing I can do to help myself when I’m this upset”

  • “no, I will NOT use my skills because I’m too emotional and they don’t work!”

DBT would say that often times our emotions spiral out of control as a result of judgments we have while in Emotion Mind. When we are emotional, it usually triggers a judgment response:

  • "That is so unfair!"

  • "I can't believe they made the wrong decision. They should have listened to me!"

  • "I wish I wasn't so ugly."

  • “I can’t believe I failed my math test. I’m SO stupid!”

Judgment words (as bolded above) are rooted in emotion mind, and offer no logic or facts (therefore making us unable to be effective in Wise Mind). And it’s these judgments that create the emotional spiral! It’s also these judgments that hinder self-esteem development.

The thing is… we all do this, but judgments can be especially detrimental to the developing teen. As they begin to pull away from parents and search for their identity in their peers and in society, their judgments about others and the world impact their worldview and their self-worth. They begin to believe their opinions (judgments) are facts, and it shapes their sense of self. How many times have you heard your teen use a statement like the ones above? And for the teen that continually judges someone as better/prettier/more popular than they are, that becomes their "truth." Knowing all of this, it's no wonder that self-esteem peaks at age 9!

The good news is that DBT skills can help! There's a skill called Non-Judgmental Stance, which means focusing on the facts. We do this by identifying our emotions and opinions in order to differentiate them from the facts. Since judgment increases anxiety, depression, and negative thoughts, this is one of the first foundational skills our DBT Spring Break workshop will teach.

Let's use this example. Emily is a teen girl who just failed her math test. Her first thought is "I'm so stupid. I can't believe I failed!" This is highly emotional AND judgmental. I'm sure you can imagine how detrimental these thoughts can be, especially to teens.

Thus, the spiral continues. We can imagine Emily felt disappointed by her grade. This disappointment triggered her judgment of being stupid. And now that she’s telling herself she’s stupid, she feels angry and worse about herself, which increases her judgments about herself, which then makes her more emotional. And so the spiral continues. You can see how it’s pretty easy to go from 1-100 now, huh?!

A replacement statement might be: "I'm frustrated that I got a lower grade than I was hoping for. Next time I know that I need to spend more time preparing." This statement has no judgment, and allows Emily to acknowledge her true feelings behind the low grade, validate them, and decide how to do it differently in the future.

Practicing a non-judgmental stance is really hard, and nobody is ever perfect at it. But if you are able to start challenging some of the judgments - both yours and your teen's - you will find positive results. As nonjudgmental thoughts increase, depression/anxiety/negative self thoughts decrease as well.

Our DBT Spring Break Workshop will teach your teens how to identify their judgments, how to identify their underlying emotions, and how to create replacement statements to avoid the emotional spiral.

Think your teen could benefit from learning this skill and 4 other DBT skills at our DBT Spring Break Workshop? Click the link below for more information and get more DBT-based parenting tips!

DBT Skills: Helping Your Teen Make Healthier Choices

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I’m sure we are all aware of how big emotions can get for teens.

“OMG! I hate my math teacher! I’m never going to her class again!”

“There’s no way I can possibly go to school tomorrow knowing how anxious I am!”

How could she do this to me?! I’m so angry I could break something!”

The things is… these emotions are valid. Your teen is allowed to feel that way. AND what most teens don’t know is that they can feel those feelings and not act based on them.

DBT says that States of Mind are our outlooks or perspectives on different situations. What State of Mind we are in has a big impact on what we experience and the decisions that we make. DBT teaches us that we have three States of Mind: Emotion Mind, Logic or Reason Mind, and Wise Mind.

When we are in Emotion Mind, we are focused on and driven by our emotions. This means that our feelings are driving the car, not us! In Emotion Mind, we aren’t focusing on facts but instead focusing on feelings. Here are some examples of Emotion Mind:

-         Ripping up a test after getting a disappointing grade
-         Getting into a screaming match during a disagreement
-         Engaging in self harming or self destructive behaviors based on anxiety or depression

Logic or Reason Mind is the opposite of Emotion Mind – here we are solely focused on being logical and what we can prove, not on how we feel. Here are some examples of Logic or Reason Mind:

-          Baking or following a recipe
-          Counting
-          Reading a book

Finally, Wise Mind is the combination of both Emotion and Logic Minds. This is the ideal – the space we want to be where we can feel our feelings AND focus on the facts. We are most effective here because we can validate our emotions and not necessarily act just on them. The beauty is in the balancebalancing what we feel and what we know. Here are some examples of Wise Mind:

-          Studying for a test before watching TV
-          Using DBT skills instead of making an unhealthy or unsafe choice
-          Taking a break from a fight, calming down, and then revisiting what happened

It’s normal for each of us to spend time in each of these States of Mind. Being aware of what State of Mind we are in greatly helps us determine how to be effective and healthy. If your teen is aware that they are in Emotion Mind, they are better able to both learn and use their skills to bring themselves into Wise Mind; thus creating a space where your teen can feel empowered knowing their feelings are valid AND knowing they can still be healthy and safe.

Think your teen could benefit from understanding States of Mind to better manage their emotional overwhelm and make healthier choices? Your teen will learn all about this and 4 other DBT skills at our DBT Spring Break Workshop! Click the button below to learn more and get more DBT-based parenting tips.

Love Languages, Part 2: You Loving You!

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And we’re back for part two of the Love Languages miniseries! Last time, we looked at each of the five love languages and how they might be expressed in a relationship. Hopefully more of your relationships look like the healthy version of expressing these languages than the toxic versions. If that is not the case, hopefully you now have a better sense of how a healthy relationship can look - and you can start building up the relationships that show those positive qualities.

Today, we’re going to look at another very important aspect of speaking your love language: how you speak to yourself! Truthfully, I could have reversed the order of these articles, since loving others works best when you have love for yourself. But we’re here now, so let’s dig in and have a look. If you took the quiz, you probably have a good sense of what your top one or two languages are. All five are relevant, but you’ll want to pay especially close attention to those that speak most to you.

Ready? Ok, let’s get to it! 

What is self-love, actually? (Stop giggling)

Yes, it can certainly include that. And that’s actually a great way to express the language of Physical Touch to yourself in a positive way. But it’s not the only definition of self-love.

Aside from the slightly scandalous definition of self-love, what does it mean to truly have love for yourself? For some of us, our relationships with narcissistic family members or partners may have seriously skewed our impressions of self-love. And it’s true that one of the traits of a narcissist is excessive self-admiration and vanity. But it is possible to have self-love without being narcissistic.

Really loving yourself involves knowing yourself and welcoming all parts of you. In my favorite therapeutic way of working, Internal Family Systems (IFS for short), we call the place that holds this unconditional love, Self. Everyone has a Self, and everyone’s Self has unconditional love, acceptance, and compassion for each and every part of them. Even the ones that make you feel embarrassed when they come out. Even the ones that self-sabotage you at times. The love that Self has for those parts is a love that sees the inherent value in a person or part, and has appreciation for the good intentions of each of your parts.

True love for yourself can be expressed through each of the five love languages. Let’s take a look at how you can reach for that Self and access the unconditional love that you carry within you. 

Love language: Words of Affirmation

To review, author Gary Chapman defines the language Words of Affirmation as “using words to build up [another] person.” Verbal praise, compliments, expressions of appreciation, and encouraging phrases are all expressions of this language. Expressing this language to yourself includes being aware of your self-talk, or how you respond to yourself within your own head and heart.

Most of us have some kind of running dialogue in the back of our minds, narrating our choices and commenting on the proceedings. Is your running commentary more like Mystery Science Theater 3000, with snark and sarcasm? Or is it a voice of encouragement, affirming your value even if you mess up? (Don’t get me wrong, I love me some MST3K - but those would be hard voices to carry around all the time).

Pay attention to how you talk to yourself.

If you make a mistake, do you berate yourself? Or are you able to say “well, that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I did my best, and hopefully the next time will work out better.” One is an expression of Words of Affirmation toward yourself. The other is its antithesis. Which sounds more familiar? And how can you practice speaking to yourself in a kind and loving way?

Love language: Gifts

Review: Gifts can be anything given or purchased for you specifically because someone thought of you. They don’t have to be expensive, and there should be some meaning and intentionality in the giving. You can express this language to yourself through material gifts or gifts of time, space, and rest. You can also express this language by choosing not to make yourself “earn” these gifts, instead offering them to yourself as an act of love.

How many times have you told yourself you would only purchase that new outfit once you lost weight, so you’d look better in it? Maybe you’ve been waiting to buy a much-desired pair of shoes because you feel like you don’t deserve something nice, no matter how much you want it. Or you choose not to attend to your social needs because you feel like you should do something else, whether or not it’s what you actually want.

If you are an introvert, one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is quiet time to recharge after socializing with other people. If you are an extravert, the gift might be accepting the invitation to a party where you can gain energy from being in a crowd. And expressing a love language does not require you to earn the gift. It’s an offering that you make to yourself without reservation. An expression of recognition that you have intrinsic value, and that you deserve to be kind and loving to yourself. What is it like to give to yourself in this way? 

Love language: Acts of Service

Review: An Act of Service is an action or behavior that you do because you know that it will please your loved one. When the loved one is you, that act may look more like accepting an act of service from someone else. One specific but fairly common way that this may show up is in accepting help as a new mom. If someone offers a free meal or wants to come entertain your older children while you adjust to newborn life again, you can accept the offer. Of course, the caveat is that if you know the offer comes with strings attached, it may be more in service to yourself to decline. But if the offer is in good faith and genuine, accept the gift of another’s Act of Service to you.

Other ways to show love through Acts of Service may include giving yourself permission to farm out tasks that you struggle with. If it is within your budget, you may have a cleaning service deep-clean your home or apartment every so often. Or you may hire a neighborhood kid to mow the lawn, since you hate doing it with a passion. And doing so out of Self-love means you can hire the kid without having to justify not doing it yourself six ways from Sunday. It is a choice you can make because it feeds your soul to free yourself from having to do it.

Love language: Quality Time

Review: Quality Time is time spent giving someone your undivided and genuine attention. Rather than just passively watching television, you are engaged with the other person and fully present in the moment with them. In Self-love, you may speak this language by carving out time to fully focus on yourself. Maybe you set aside time each morning to meditate and hold an intention for a positive, peaceful day. Or perhaps you decline an invitation to a family event that will bring stress, because you choose to give yourself that time instead.

Quality time may also look like creating space for yourself. Maybe if you do go to the family event, you choose to stay at a hotel rather than at your father-in-law’s house. That way you have an escape when things become tense or exhausting. You can check in with the parts of you that find it hard to be around him, and give yourself the gift of your own full attention. What is it like to give yourself the care, concern, and compassion that you so easily give others? Or, if you never have - what could it be like to try that?

Love language: Physical Touch

Review: Last but not least, Physical Touch is an expression of love through any form of physical contact. This can be sexual or nonsexual, and does not require a partner when acting in love toward yourself. As noted above, sexual gratification can be an expression of this love language, and may be a great way to explore what feels best for you. For those whose sexual needs have been exploited, unattended to, dismissed, or mistreated, masturbation may be part of a healing journey of regaining some control of this piece of yourself.

You can also engage in nonsexual physical touch as an act of love toward yourself. Notice how you engage with your body in daily life. Do you wait until your bladder is bursting to excuse yourself to the bathroom, because you’re trying so hard to be a good, dedicated employee? Or do you attend to your needs in a timely fashion? When you’re rushing to get ready in the morning, are you yanking the comb through your hair or gently working out the snarls? If you are sore from the gym, do you force yourself right back into it despite the pain, or can you gently massage the sore muscles and modify your activity until you feel better?

Our physical bodies are intimately connected to our emotional and mental experience of ourselves. Showing lovingkindness to our physical selves can be a way of beginning to access emotional and mental kindness to ourselves. Your body carries you through this world. How can you show it love and appreciation for what it does for you?

What if I can’t speak my language to myself? 

It is very likely that you will find one or more languages that you struggle to speak to yourself. Maybe the one that means the most to you from others is the hardest to speak in your own life. If that’s the case, remember this: practice makes it easier. It takes conscious effort to change the way you interact with yourself, but it’s very much worth that effort.

Practicing Self-love brings you into a different heartspace. From that heartspace, you can more readily, easily, and deeply engage in healthy and loving relationships with friends and family. And you can better protect yourself from the wounds of those who cannot be healthy with you. When you care for yourself - truly care - you are slower to rationalize and justify accepting abusive treatment from someone else. It is easier to set boundaries, because they are an act of love for yourself rather than an act of defense against someone else.

Give it a try. See how your mindset can shift.

And remember, you are worthy of your own love, care, and compassion.

Love Languages, Part 1: You in Relationships


How was your Valentine’s Day? Full of affection, hearts, and chocolate? Wine, cheese, and chick flicks (or sci-fantasy, whatever floats your boat!)? Whether you look forward to the holiday or view it as just another money-maker for greeting card companies, I hope it was a happy day for you.

Although the holiday has passed now, it does highlight something that I think is worth thinking about all 365 days of the year: love! This will be the first of a two-part miniseries in which we explore what love actually look like. Today, we will look at love in romantic and platonic relationships. In Part 2, we will look at what it means to love ourselves.

How full is your love tank?

In the book The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman focuses on three key concepts. First, there are five core ways to show and receive love, and we each identify with one or two as our primary languages. Second, your satisfaction in a romantic or even platonic relationship is strongly influenced by how full your “gas tank of love” is (hey, don’t look at me -  I didn’t pick that analogy). And third, your best relationships will be those in which your friends or partner willingly and enthusiastically speak your primary love language.

There are two aspects of this that I want to talk about today: how much your partners and loved ones contribute to your tank being full or empty, and how much you can fill or empty your tank. Single or partnered, we all have social ties that can either make our lives better or bring us pain. And we all walk around with ourselves in our own heads 24/7. So let’s take a look at how you and your loved ones impact your love tank.

Love language: Words of Affirmation

Chapman defines this love language as “using words to build up [another] person.” This includes verbal praise, compliments, expressions of appreciation, and encouraging phrases. In a loving friendship or romantic partnership, your partner might express this by telling you how great you look as you get ready for a date - or hang around the house in your comfy sweats and messy sock bun. You might speak this language by telling a friend how much you appreciate their support and encouragement.

If your primary love language is Words of Affirmation, you’ll also notice its absence in relationships that are toxic or unhealthy. Disparaging remarks, insults, name-calling, backhanded “compliments,” and accusations will all cut deeply. Sarcasm and condescension from a loved one can be especially hurtful for those who speak Words of Affirmation.

Love language: Gifts

Gifts can be anything given or purchased for you specifically because someone thought of you. A gift may be an expensive piece of jewelry or a pretty flower picked along the side of the road. The focus is not the size of the gift, but the intention - to give something you anticipate will bring joy to another person. A friend or partner may speak your language of Gifts by giving you meaningful things of any size. Souvenirs from a trip, flowers when you’re feeling down, or a little “thinking of you” trinket are all Gifts. A caring romantic partner may give special attention to gift-giving holidays such as Christmas or birthdays, to ensure that you feel special and acknowledged.

In narcissistic relationships, gifts may be used to manipulate. If someone says “my love language is gifts” and then proceeds to use gifts as leverage, they are not truly speaking this language. Money, clothing, expensive items, and even favors may be used to pressure the recipient into doing what the narcissist wants. This is not in the spirit of speaking the language of Gifts, which are given with no strings attached.

Love language: Acts of Service

An Act of Service is an action or behavior that you do because you know that it will please your loved one. Some examples of acts of service could include changing the oil in your wife’s car, taking care of the laundry pile that’s been growing in the corner, or mowing your friend’s lawn for them when they’re overwhelmed with new parenthood. If this is your language, it may be especially meaningful that your partner takes out the trash or empties the litter box every week so that you don’t have to. You may speak this language to someone else by taking on a task they find onerous, because you know they will truly appreciate not having to do it themselves.

In an unhealthy relationship, a toxic loved one may twist Acts of Service by guilt-tripping after the fact. They may perform an Act of Service but will never let you forget that they did it - and will expect something in return. Usually that something is compliance, submission, uneven repayment, or undying loyalty. While all healthy relationships involve a level of reciprocity, doing something explicitly to obtain a return should not be the motivation.

Love language: Quality Time

When you speak the language of Quality time, you give your undivided attention to another person. So not Netflix and chill - more like having a conversation without cell phone distractions. Going out to dinner and soaking up the time spent together. Taking a walk where you don’t even have to say anything - you can just enjoy each other’s presence. Many people mistake time spent around each other for quality time. The difference lies in both intention and attention.

In a narcissistic relationship, a narcissist may substitute an excess of together time for quality time. There is such a thing as too much time together. Families who spend too much time together don't have the opportunity to develop as individuals. Enmeshed families may spend nearly all their free time together, but quantity is not the same as quality.

Love language: Physical Touch

Last but not least, Physical Touch is an expression of love through any form of physical contact. Touch may be sexual or nonsexual, and should convey care and affection. Hugs, kisses, holding hands, and sex may be expressions of the language of Touch. So can platonic shoulder bumps, pats on the back, and high fives. As long as the touch is consensual, welcomed, and received as respectful, it can be an expression of love. It should go without saying that touch can be a physical boundary as well, and that you should not assume your boundaries and a friend’s or partner’s are always the same. When in doubt, ask! And respect the response you are given.

A toxic or narcissistic loved one may use Physical Touch to dominate, coerce, or hurt another person. In these relationships, Touch may be misrepresented as "loving" when it is anything but. When Touch is used to control or hurt another person, that is not love. Nor is it love when Touch is exercised purely for the empowerment or benefit of the toucher instead of the touchee. This does not have to be sexual in order for it to bring pain.

What's my language?

Now that you know all five languages, think about when you feel most or least loved. What love language do you think is your primary one? Which one(s) speak to you least? And which relationships fill up your love tank the most? If you're unsure, take the quiz and find out!

Tune in next time as we explore how you can fill up or deplete your own tank!