Monday, December 28, 2015

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Generally speaking, relationships should be easy. 
Now, I don't mean you will never have to put in effort, or that things can always be smooth and conflict-free, or that there aren't going to be speedbumps and detours and challenges in any significant Relationship. It would be unrealistic to suggest that. Humans are complicated and messy and relationships necessarily grow and change over time, which can be difficult to navigate on occasion. 
Key words: on occasion. 
*In general*, I think it should feel pretty easy to be with and connect with someone you're in a significant Relationship with. I mean this in a "easy like Sunday morning" kind of way. In a "I can easily understand what you're trying to say to me" kind of way. In a "it is easy for me to remember why I love you". In a "you easily make me feel seen and valued in a way that I can equally easily receive". 
I think it is reasonable to expect that *more often than not* there should be a sense of ease to the connection. I think a lot of us waste a great deal of time and energy in relationships that do not provide us with this sense of ease, and which actually more often add stress and undue frustration to our lives. I would invite you to consider the value in languishing in a relationship that feels like a lot of hard work all the time. I just don't think it's necessary or healthy or likely to provide longterm, sustainable happiness. 
If you feel like it constantly costs you a great deal of energy to make yourself seen or understood by your partner, it might behoove you to ask yourself in a very serious way if this is the right relationship for you. If you feel that it's like navigating a veritable minefield to communicate what should be a relatively straightforward need or want to your partner, it might be a good idea to consider that perhaps you are not well-suited for one another. (Or at the very least that you might need to seek some kind of outside help to learn how to talk to each other in a way that doesn't feel so difficult.) 
I'm not at all saying you should give up on a challenging relationship without making concerted effort, especially if it's a longterm relationship or if you have children together or have committed your lives to one another in marriage. And I am quite sure there are many people who are perfectly content with their relationships just as they are, easy or not. A lot of people will never even consider that maybe they should not be with this person. I'm not advocating we all get divorced at the first sign of trouble. 
But...if you're not partnered, or if you're in a casual dating situation and considering whether to take it further, or if you are open to taking a real inventory of your current Relationship, I am gently suggesting that when you're in the right relationship, you will find that you simply breathe easily. You can communicate easily. The other person speaks your language and *sees* you clearly. There is a naturalness, a flow, *an ease* to the connection. Conflict is done well and with respect. There is a fundamental kindness to every interaction. 
If you're interested in such things, the ones hallmarked with this ease are the kind of relationships that will sustain you and meet your need to connect deeply. These are the sort of relationships that will allow you to be your most authentic selves and to be vulnerable and intimate in a profound way. Relationships rooted in ease of connection will naturally allow for each of you to grow and change. My advice for the new year would be to pay attention to where and when and with whom you feel easily connected, and to prioritize that feeling. Seek it out. Find people who feel easy to be with and stick with them. They're your people.



If you found this post useful, please support the work at www.patreon.com/amymiller

Advice for the New Year, Vol I

Advice for the New Year, Vol. 1: 

Dig a path to yourself.

By this I mean, take an inventory of your life and get clear on who you are and what you want and where you want to go and who you want with you when you get there (and who you don't). 
Humans are so dumb sometimes. We do the opposite of what will make us feel good because we think that it's what we are *supposed* to do. We stay in jobs or relationships or situations that don't serve us because we don't know what else to do. Or because we don't want the people around us to judge us. Or because it appears everyone else has their shit together and we don't want to admit that we basically don't. 
The truth is: very few people actually have their shit together or have any idea what they're doing. At least very few people that I know. 
Okay, rephrase: I do know that there *are* people in the world who are simply content, satisfied, and moving in a predictable, traditional trajectory of life between birth and death. These people are actually probably way happier than most of my people, but...
BOOOOOR-ING
I don't find those people very interesting and I'm rarely writing/speaking to them when I advise. Because my people are the messy ones who make everything harder than it has to be. My people are the ones who take 17 detours on the path from point A to point B instead of just forging forward. My people are the ones who are restless and searching and aspiring and who need to be reminded DON'T WORRY, YOU ARE DOING OKAY. 
So, to my people (and as you're reading this you can determine if you're one of my tribe or not by whether it resonates or sounds ridiculous): 
I advise you to get clear this year on your deepest desires. Tune in to the frequencies you have historically ignored. Connect with the people you love in a more profound and intimate way. Say all the words that you mean, out loud (if you don't know how, take my communications class!) <---- shameless marketing) Look for ways to be actively happy each day. Identify and adjust the places where you're showing up inauthentically. Get to know your realest self. Introduce that self to the people you love. If you don't have enough of "your people" in your life, go out and find them. Be real, be happy, do you. 
DIG ALL THE WAY IN. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

How to emotionally protect yourself: Advice for ENFJ

Oh, hello my dear ENFJs! I really appreciate and love you; you're some of my very favorite clients/friends/loves of all time. I hope my slowness didn't hurt your feelings. 

ENFJ functional stack: Fe Ni Se Ti

So, the usual caveats are relevant here: some of these will resonate with you, some of them won't. No one is exactly the same, and we all have different needs/desires. But, I'll start with the biggest thing, which if you are truly an ENFJ will for sure ring a bell: 

1) ENFJ, my friend (and I say this so very lovingly, because I know what a good place it is borne of) you've got a serious case of Major Boundary Issues. If there is one specific hallmark ENFJ has that clues me in that that's the type I'm dealing with, it's a general lack of or difficulty with boundaries. This may pop up in any number of ways, but most commonly manifesting as a lack of boundary between your emotions and the emotions of others. So let's say item #1 on our agenda is just to get clear on the fact that you're not naturally well-suited for establishing clear boundaries. It's your Achilles heel. It's the place you falter the most in your quest for genuine soul happiness, deep and sustainable satisfaction at work, balanced love and friend relationships. 

2) And next let's also clarify that these issues occur specifically because you care so much about other people and you so much want everyone to be safe and happy and cared for. I emphasize this part because I need you to know that there's nothing wrong with how you are. The world needs people like you, because you help us all out so much and you provide so much love and support. You are the givers and teachers and most generous lovers of humankind. You are inspirational! And I know that you really get a lot of genuine satisfaction out of providing all the love and support you can, and sometimes it feels like you have endless capacity to provide. It's just that...well, this lack of boundaries very often ends up making you feel shitty in the long run, (for a variety of reasons) and we don't want that. 

3) I need you to understand - deeply. in your bones. - that identifying and correcting your difficulty in establishing and maintaining boundaries is not an act of selfishness. It is not harmful to others. It is an act of self-care, self-love, and self-respect. You are setting an example for the many people who look up to you, because truly it is only through loving and caring for yourself that you can effectively sustain the love and care you want to provide for the people in your life. People look to you for guidance for any number of problems, issues, concerns, etc. You can practice and model solid boundaries with a little bit of mindful adjustment. Remember that the world does not need you to martyr yourself. There's a reason the flight attendants say to put your oxygen mask on first. 

4) So, let's start with a plan for emotional boundaries, or the fulcrum at which the feelings of other people can overpower or even become your feelings. It's basically like having emotional hypochondriasis: if you are too enmeshed in others, you can literally begin to manifest the emotional state of the people around you. You may be super happy one day, like everything is going great and there's not a cloud in your emotional sky...and then you may meet for coffee with a super negative friend who complains the whole time. And then you may spend the rest of the day in a funk you have no identifiable reason to be in. Meanwhile, your friend  feels so much better after spending time with you. You know why? Because that Negative Nancy has vampirically sucked the very joy from your veins, and you let him/her do it. You veritably offered your neck for the joy-sucking. This can happen to you so easily if you are not mindful of and actively protecting yourself against this risk. This is especially dangerous for your emotional state if you partner with someone who is very dark or very emotionally needy. You can fairly easily find yourself in an effectively parasitic relationship in which you are the sole source of happiness or positive emotion for another person or even a whole system (family/work/friend group). You may not even realize you're being drained because the siphoning makes you feel so useful and important. 

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

ENFP: How to be the very best- and truest- version of yourself

Hey there ENFP friends! You're my favorite, you know. You're everybody's favorite! (I know you know). You're delightful to be around and I really appreciate you. I just wanted to get that out of the way so that you know I'm coming at you from a really warm place. 

Here are some tips to make your life a little easier, and also for you to make the lives of those around you a little less frustrating. Some of this is going to apply to you, some won't, but I have had a lot of ENFP clients and friends over the years, so there do seem to be some themes to your behavior, so hopefully you find some of it useful.

ENFP functional stack: Ne Fi Te Si 

1) The singular mission of your life is to figure out who the fuck you actually are, and then just be that as best you can. Some of you probably feel like you're pretty authentic most of the time, and that's great. You may be one of the well-developed ENFPs who has solved the ENFP existential crisis early. Good for you! BUT. For those of you who are still working on that or haven't even named it as the fundamental crisis of your identity, wellllll....sorry, love. Here we are. Here you are. Here is the story of your life. 

2) See, the thing is: you're brilliant at socializing. Truly incredible dexterity in this department. Unparalleled, maybe. Genius, certainly. But (isn't there always a "but"?) because you tend to be so good at fitting in anywhere and being a social chameleon and doing whatever is needed from you at any given moment, you may take that too far. You may get so engrossed and tuned in to what everybody else wants/needs from you that at some point (often in midlife) you may look around and just literally can't find your true self. This is a really scary moment for ENFPs and it may look a lot like a midlife crisis. Whenever it happens, if it happens, it's like the real you got left by the wayside and is out trying to hitchhike its way back home. And sometimes it (you) doesn't get picked up right away because you don't know where to look or you don't know that you need to be looking. Which means the real you is out wandering the lonely highways of your internal landscape, lost and alone, and you are in the world just bullshitting through everything. Learning how to stop bullshitting is the key to your best life. You have to go out in your dusty old car and drive around as long as it takes for you to find the hitchhiker that is your true self and bring him/her home. And then you have to teach your true self how to stop getting lost. You have to integrate even the parts that aren't so good. Your true self has to feel loved and accepted and validated and welcome in order to be willing to stick around. 

3) Let me bring that out of metaphor and give you a little more practical advice: if you at any point find yourself feeling fractured or inauthentic or vaguely unhappy, go to therapy. It could just be that you're living the life intended for some other type and you need help finding your way out of that life and into the life you are suited for. You are meant for warmth. You are meant to connect with people and support them and help them be their best selves. But it could be that you went into banking or some cold corporate job when you should have gone into teaching or counseling. Or maybe you married a steady, practical, duty-fulfilling ISTJ when you'd be much happier and feel more connected with a warm and affirming ENFJ. Maybe you were in the military and you've had to learn to set aside all your feelings and emotional needs. Maybe you grew up in a family that didn't encourage your growth into the ENFP you were supposed to be and now you feel like you are just generally out of sorts. Maybe you're simply feeling unseen and unvalidated. Or maybe you just don't feel good but you don't know why. Go to therapy. Find a therapist who is an NF and who can see you for who you are, and who won't be fooled by your spectacular skill at bullshitting, and who will challenge you to figure out how to live more authentically. It is worth this effort. You will feel better. Being seen is where it's at. 

4) 

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If you found this post useful, please watch the video above and support the work at www.patreon.com/amymiller

Here is a post you can share with your partner that might help them relate better to you: http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2015/02/care-feeding-of-enfp.html

If you want to talk more about this, I do consults and distance coaching. Check it out at www.millercounseling.org

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How to be an INFJ in a world that isn't made for you.




Oh, my dear little INFJs. How complex you are! How difficult to explain. Luckily, this advice is for you, which is way easier than trying to define you to someone else. It definitely helps that I am one of you! And to disclaim, not all of this stuff applies to me, as not all of it will apply to you. We are all individual snowflakes, of course. But there are some themes I've noticed in my personal & professional relationships with other INFJs, so here are some tips to navigate life as an INFJ: 

1) You have to make yourself known. I know it's easy to get all "woe is me, nobody understands me" (which is a legit thing btw) but there's something to be said for doing the work to consciously allow yourself to be seen by the people closest to you. You are an onion, and as such it can take years for a person to peel back all the layers of you. And you do want this, right? You want to be seen and understood, right? It is true that you are deep and complicated and can be kind of messy to distill down, and I don't know that it's really a thing to be all the way known, but ultimately you can at least be as known as possible if you allow it and actively invite people in to your world. 

2) Speed up the onion-peeling process by offering up access to what you instinctively would prefer people would just know to dig for. Accept that they don't know, because a) most people are not as intuitive as you are and b) you are a treasure island and they have most likely never visited one of those before. Instead of punishing them for not knowing where to find the gold, give them a map. Help them dig. Sift through what they help you unearth; it's likely some of it you didn't even know was buried there. You can discover it together. 

3) Be mindful of the vibe you're giving off. I know you are at your core a warm and loving person, but let's face it: you can be kind of prickly sometimes. So remember that nobody wants to snuggle with a porcupine. I know that the prickliness is hiding a gooey center, but I only know this because I have VIP insider access. Most people don't know this. If what they see is a bunch of sharp edges and pointiness, they are not probably going to stick around to find a way around that into the beautiful garden paradise your prickliness protects. They are simply going to assume you do not want them in your space, which sometimes is true but often is not. 

4) You have to intentionally make yourself appear open and warm and inviting to the people you actually do want in your space, so that they know it's safe to approach you. Most people are not going to take liberties with you, because they will intuitively sense that you are not someone to take those liberties with. (Although the ones that do are often the ones you love best, because they are brave and undaunted by your forcefield. They bust right in like "you're going to love me, deal with it" which you secretly like. These are gonna be your ENFP types, most often.)

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Other stuff: 

INFJ functional stack: Ni Fe Ti Se

Here is a post you could share with your partner to help them understand you better: 

http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2015/02/care-feeding-of-infj.html

www.millercounseling.org

If you want to talk more about this: http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2016/12/new-service-distance-coaching.html

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

How to be a happier INFP

So, first of all, it should go without saying that not all of this is going to be applicable to every INFP's situation, right? So, if a few aren't relevant, it doesn't discount your whole life or mean anything about your identity. These suggestions are based on a pretty broad swath of INFPs I have known, both personally and professionally, and the struggles that seem to be most common. 

1) Stop being so hard on yourself, INFP! You are never going to be perfect. Perfection isn't even a thing. You're going to make mistakes (plenty of them) and accidentally hurt people's feelings and do the wrong thing and generally make a mess sometimes, and it's okay. You don't need to hide in the corner and self-flagellate when you do. You don't need to spiral into a pit of despair. It is entirely possible - and much healthier - to address whatever happened, apologize or clean it up, and move on. You're never going to be perfect, but you're good enough. I promise. 

2) Repeating: who you are is completely, totally okay. You may feel like you have no defenses in this cruel, cold world, but don't hide who you are. You may feel almost like there's something fundamentally wrong with you; you're so sensitive and have so many feelings. It can be overwhelming and you may want to hide it, but I would argue that we really need people like you, so let us see you. The world needs people who are soft and tender-hearted and gentle and who accept others in all their quirky ways. Hold that kind of space for people; that's your gift. I know you aren't going to be able to let everyone in indiscriminately, but trust that there is value in exposing your truest self to the ones who matter. 

3) Practice using words when you need to withdraw. Tell the people around you "I'm feeling overwhelmed and I'm going to need some time to myself" rather than just disappear on them and cause worry. Use words to say "I feel depressed" or "I am sad" or "This hurts me" instead of pretending like you're fine but suffering on the inside or worse, shutting down and being unreachable. When you do it this way, the people who love you worry about you. They worry they did something wrong, or that you don't love them, or that there is something terrible ailing you. But sometimes it's nothing, right? You just need to be alone for a while. Say that. Let people know you. Teach people how to treat you, and what you need, and how you are. 

4) Work on not taking everything so personally. Sometimes criticism, while hard to hear, is helpful; it's how we grow. It rarely means anything about who you are as a person. It is rarely an indictment of your character. When you feel criticized or hurt, think through what the person meant by it, what their intentions were, whether it's something to be upset about. Think about whether they might actually have a point, and then use the feedback to make some changes. But skip the part where you absorb the criticism and feel unnecessarily bad about yourself for having stuff you need to work on. We all do.  

5) On the other hand, related to the previous suggestion, you can also practice using words to say when something feels bad to you instead of pulling inward to lick your wounds. Just say "That hurt my feelings". This one is particularly hard for male INFPs, because of course we socialize men to be tough and whatnot. INFP dudes, here's the thing: you ain't that tough, and that's perfect. That is exactly right. You don't have to be tough in the traditional hyper-masculine ways the world expects. You march to the beat of your own drum anyway, so you can be revolutionary when you set an example for other men in your life that it is safe to be emotional, to be sensitive, to say "that hurt my feelings" instead of resorting to the anger or stonewalling we have come to expect from men. 

6) You are very slow to make decisions, presumably because you want to make sure you have all the information you need, but the byproduct of this is that you almost always wait too long to do something you know needs done. You are likely to languish in bad relationships far longer than you should or stay at that job you hate because you are afraid to do the wrong thing, or of being hurtful, or you aren't positive you did every single possible thing that you could to make the situation work. I get it. The problem is though that you sometimes drag your feet even when you really do know what to do. It doesn't serve you. It just wastes your time, and other people's time. 

7) Sometimes you take too long with decision-making because of fear of failure. To this I say: fuck it. You're going to fail sometimes. That's fine. You can handle whatever comes next. See #1. 

8) .....


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TO READ #8-14 (and tons of other stuff about personality types and love and life and communication and happiness), please go to 

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INFP functional stack: Fi Ne Si Te

Here is a post you can share with your partner to help him or her  understand you better: 

http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2015/02/care-feeding-of-infp.html


If you want to talk more about this: www.millercounseling.org


Friday, November 13, 2015

Doing Conflict with Love

Advice of the Day: 
Enter every difficult conversation with someone you love with the idea held clearly and firmly in your mind *that you love them*. If you engage in every single conflict or disagreement, however major or minor, from a place of love, you will default to respectful language and kindness even when you're frustrated. You will actively strive for a win/win, and engage in conflict in the spirit of collaboration. You will stop being afraid to express yourself because you will learn to trust that the space will be safe even in the midst of conflict. 
If you love a person, you do not have any desire to harm them. In fact, you would willingly do whatever was required to protect them from harm. This includes verbal harm, first and foremost, even though sometimes we forget that words are fully functional weapons. This includes *even if/when they have harmed you first* and you feel it is grossly unfair for you to have to do any emotional heavy lifting or apologizing. If you love a person, you know you lose nothing when you apologize first, because your priority is resolution, not retaliation. 
If you love a person, this includes taking no pleasure in making your loved one cry or in saying whatever cruel thing you can conjure up to ensure they end up feeling as badly as you do. If you love a person, you do not kick them when they're down, you reach your hand out and help them up. You feel as invested in their happiness and comfort as you do in your own. 
Sometimes when we are in a really sad or hurt or angry place, it seems nearly impossible to muster up positive intentions towards even our most intimate partners. But conflict, when done well, is about catharsis. It's about saying what needs to be said so that you can find a way to move forward and let go of the problem once it's solved. It's not an inherently negative thing to have conflict. Some incredibly healthy relationships can contain a fair amount of conflict, especially when you combine two strong personalities. It's not the conflict itself that is damaging, it's the *collateral* damage of unnecessary harm caused by sharp words and emotional retaliation. 
If you love a person, always remember that you love them. If you can't talk to them right now, remember my earlier advice and say "I love you too much to have this conversation right now" or once engaged in conflict, one or both of you might want to say "Don't forget that we love each other." Being able to hold in your mind that you first and foremost love this person and wish them no harm will radically change the way you do conflict. (I promise- it works).


Next class on How To Do Conflict Well (aka Don't be an A-hole) is Thursday, 9/1 from 630-830 p.m. in my office. $50
www.millercounseling.org

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"Active happiness"

The question of "comfort vs. happiness" comes up repeatedly in my sessions. A lot of my clients come to me to help sort out where they are in their lives and how it aligns with and supports where they want to be. Often, people are feeling some kind of existential "emptiness" that they can't quite put their finger on. My first question is always this: 

"Are you happy?" 

Usually the answer is…"not really" followed by a "…but…" 

The rest of this post has moved to its new home at https://www.patreon.com/posts/8808380


Thursday, October 22, 2015

JUST ASK THEM.

Advice of the day: If you really want to know what or how someone is thinking or feeling, or you are wondering how you should interpret their behavior in the absence of clarity...before you jump to conclusions and risk harming the relationship, **just ask them**. 
Be direct. Be honest. Own your shit. Say "this is how that seemed to me; what did it mean to you?" and give them the opportunity to correct your interpretation if indeed you were mistaken. 
I almost always do this. It's taken practice, and sometimes I wait too long and things get messier than they need to, but overall my relationships are far stronger as a result. But you would be surprised how unusual it is. Very often, when people are complaining about someone, I'll ask "okay, did you tell them you felt that way?" and 9 times out of 10 the answer is no. WTF? How do you expect people to stop doing things you don't like or to start responding differently if you don't actually talk to them about it? 
I've said this before, but it bears repeating: PEOPLE CANNOT READ YOUR MIND. The very worst thing you can possibly do in a situation like that is to just draw your own conclusions, and behave as if your version is true. It usually is not.

I love you too much to have this conversation right now.

Advice of the day: 
For those of you inclined to lose your temper and lash out in anger at people you love, I'm going to offer you my most valuable piece of advice ever. I won't even charge you my standard rate for it, but you're welcome for potentially saving your marriage or relationship (or friendship, or whatever) from some unnecessary damage. It's definitely saved mine a time or two, because while I am definitely slow to anger, once I get there it can be ugly. 
So, when you are angry, and you feel yourself at that threshold beyond which you KNOW you're going to say a lot of shit you don't mean and/or should never say, instead form your mouth (or fingers, if god forbid it's via text) around these words immediately: 
"I love you too much to have this conversation right now." 
And step away. Or set the phone down. Or whatever you need to do. Wait until your heart slows, the shaking stops, your core temperature returns to normal, and you are once again able to think clearly. Then, think about why you reacted that way. What did the situation trigger for you? What were you feeling in that moment? Then, respond thoughtfully and with intention. Then, you can say, "The reason that made me angry was because _______" and go from there. 
Never, I repeat, never speak to someone you love when you're angry if you can possibly help it. It's okay to have conflict; sometimes conflict is necessary for growth, as painful as it can be. However, while it is okay to disagree or have conflict, it is not okay to be harmful. 
Practice so that this line enters your lexicon and becomes a reflexive response to anger: "I love you too much to have this conversation right now."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Masculinity & Mental Health

THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I want to shout this from the rooftops to all my dudes out there who are suffering and struggling in isolation. There is no shame in asking for help. Truly. I've said this before: men have the very same needs as women in terms of emotional support and healing. But men often erroneously believe they can handle everything on their own, or that they *should* be able to, and that the fact that they maybe can't is a glaring sign of weakness. It is not. (I promise).
(Obviously I'm generalizing, so if you're a super emotionally competent male adult, please don't be offended. This comes from a place of love and wanting all the dudes to get where you are and be happier!)
Anyway, I think a layer of the story is also that men often don't even know how to name how they feel. Part of the "stigma of masculinity" includes that old outdated adage that "boys don't cry" (for example).
Here is an an analogy I often use in my work:
Through socialization, women get a whole built-in emotional vocabulary instilled in us whether we like it or not. We get free access to all the feels. For better or worse, the world at the very least *accepts the idea* that we are emotional creatures to varying degrees. We learn how to name our feelings, and how to distinguish between closely-related feelings. How this works in our life: most of us can open up our neatly organized emotional spice drawer and be like, "here is my anxiety! here is my fear! here is my frustration! here is my vague sense of insecurity! here is my loneliness! here is my not-good-enough feeling! here is my sadness! here is my grief!" (etc etc) ….
Whereas, conversely, men basically are handed a sh*t bucket where all the feels get dumped in a decidedly disorderly fashion. They're all mixed up and squished together, but for some reason, anger tends to want to float to the surface. So when men get overwhelmed with emotions of any kind, they may reach in blindly and pull out whatever is closest to the top and use that to cope. Since anger is the easiest to access, it is often the emotional response we *see* from men. However, generally speaking, that anger is merely an expression of any number of other, more complicated feelings that sank to the bottom of the bucket, into the uncharted, messy depths where they tend not to go.
In part due to this lack of access, men often just feel vaguely unhappy or irritable or angry, but don't know why or how to say how they're feeling. Depression in men can look so different from women that it gets overlooked as such. While woman may present with tearfulness, feeling like they can't get out of bed, weight gain or loss, and various other visible classic symptoms that are clearly linked to what we understand as "Depression", men may report feeling something more vague like "a crippling sense of responsibility" or "like I can't breathe" or something along those lines.
Read this article- it speaks to the idea that men have the same needs for emotional support and mental health services and basic human connection as women. Opening up is like medicine for many men, especially men who generally have not practiced opening up and emotionally connecting. Slowly, there seems to be a shift. I am seeing more and more men in counseling, (although I will say black men seem less likely to seek counseling than other demographics, which I realize speaks to a whole slew of additional barriers/issues/extenuating circumstances unique to black men.)
Anyway. I love this article. I am so happy there is more attention being paid to the emotional and mental health needs of men.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thoughts on the Ashley Madison information leaks

August, 2015 

(This was written in response to an online article about all the people who have committed suicide after it leaked that they were involved in the "cheating website" Ashley Madison. I can't find the article now but I'll update this post later if I find it. My points remain the same.) 

So. Infidelity is a complex thing that's much more nuanced than "s/he is a cheater". I may have unique insight given that I do a lot of marriage counseling post-affair and as such I get access to deep reflection on how and why infidelity occurs. And I'll say that it's almost always complicated. 

Both personally and professionally, I tend to not be judgmental of people who have affairs, because most of the time, happy people don't cheat. Most of the time, infidelity occurs as a symptom of a gap in connection or as the result of an unattended wound in a relationship. It rarely is *just* because somebody wanted to have sex with someone else or because they are a callous person who intends to harm their spouse/partner. And if it were simply about wanting to have sex with someone else, I would still not be terribly judgmental because I also think we do people a disservice by culturally enforcing the idea that monogamy is a one-size-fits-all recipe for a happy life. For some people it's simply not, but they try it anyway, and then fail because it does not suit them or they do not actually want to live that way.

All of that is to say, generally speaking (**although I'll admit to some smug satisfaction with people like Josh Duggar being outed because it's just icing on the hypocritical cake that is his faux-religious life**) I think the outing of the AM users is much more negative and damaging than it could ever be "just" or "right". Living in alignment with one's publicly stated values is important, as is honoring the commitments one has made, but so is privacy and the right to self-determine one's life without such public shaming.

The moralizing around this leak is gross to me. Basically everyone has something in their past or present that they'd prefer not get out, something that paints them in an unflattering light, or about which they are not proud. I would venture a guess that nearly all of the people who are tsk tsking and finger-wagging from their high moral ground live in a glass house and probably shouldn't be throwing stones. Shaming people for shit we ourselves do or have done or might do someday is a shallow source of satisfaction.

The idea that people have committed suicide over this information leak is also troubling and sad. I hope that for most of the outed AM users, this will be an opportunity to more wholly live their truths and own up to whatever they haven't been owning up to, whether that be about sex or love or connection or power or whatever. Hopefully at least some of the marriages will end up stronger, and the ones that don't will end as amicably and painlessly and shame-free as possible.

GET HELP (from a personal FB post)

June, 2015

I'm starting counseling with a new therapist today. I've tried counseling before and haven't gotten much out of it. I hope I like her. I hope she "gets" me and we can connect, because I've got some personal stuff going on that I could really use an objective set of eyes on. I also feel sort of spiritually wounded by all the bad things happening in the world and I just need a place to lay that down safely, without the fear of overburdening people who are also feeling that way.
But don't worry, I'm fine, I just need to talk it out. Sometimes the healer needs healing, you know? It doesn't mean I'm crazy or fucked up or anything; I know there's still stigma in some circles concerning reaching out for help in this way, but I assure you there's no shame in it. I don't feel remotely bad for saying I need help. Granted, I do this work for a living, so I know how healing it can be. Too, I'm not particularly prideful in this way, but even for those of us who are, I believe it should be met with admiration when someone is brave and honest enough to say they can't handle something on their own. Because: trauma is real, both acute and multigenerational trauma (e.g., the effects of racism). Anxiety is real. Fear is real. Sadness and grief are real. To experience those emotions, even in large, seemingly overwrought doses, is normal, and to deny them only gives them more power to wreak havoc on our lives.
I want to make sure that's clear right now in particular while all this mess is happening in South Carolina. Often, when white men go on killing rampages like the one that just happened, instead of addressing things like systemic racism, we focus on the alleged mental illness of this individual person, which we insist must have informed the heinous act. While our cultural attention to mental health is a **very** important discussion to be having, my concern here is manifold: first, in this case, it ignores the other issues, (which in this particular case is clearly the deep roots of racism). Secondly, it fails to hold the person accountable for his actions: "He was crazy." Perhaps he is mentally ill, but from what we can tell thus far, these acts were premeditated and carefully executed, decidedly not the rash actions of some active psychosis.
But what this conversation also does is conflate "mental illness" with violence and extreme behaviors, which serves only to further stigmatize "mental illness", when in fact many people struggle with very manageable/treatable mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD).
I say all of this because I was realizing today that there are so many people traumatized by acts like this (as well as everyday things) who will not be getting the help that they need for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that there is a lingering (erroneous) perception that to say you have "mental health issues" is to somehow place yourself in a category with deeply disturbed people like Dylann Roof. Which is simply not accurate. To have "mental health issues" in many ways is simply to be human, because to greater or lesser degrees we all have something going on in this area.
So, I would like to extend an invitation to anyone suffering from any emotional or mental health issues that you consider reaching out to someone for professional help. Even if you think your problems are "no big deal", and you can "handle them on your own"...if you've been having the same patterns come up in your life that are causing you to disconnect from people, or feel poorly, or not sleep well, or worry all the time, please note: you do not have to live like that. You can feel better, you just might need a little assistance getting there. There are tons of mental health providers around, some of whom are really good, some of whom are probably not that great. You may have to shop around. Use available resources. Ask friends for referrals. Google. Call your insurance company and ask for providers who accept your insurance if finances are a concern.
Most of all, please believe me when I say: there is no shame in seeking help. The real shame is suffering needlessly. I have watched my clients radically change their lives and go on to be significantly happier than they were when they first came to me. I'm not a miracle worker; they did most of the work. But it's amazing what having a little extra support and encouragement and challenging feedback can do. You can still be strong, and resilient, and prideful, while allowing yourself the space and opportunity to heal. It's okay to say you can't do it alone.There are so many scary, negative, bad things happening in the world that I would venture a guess most of us have some healing work we could do around cultural trauma. Black people experience the trauma of racism on a regular basis, just woven right into the fabric of their lives. Millions of women have experienced unreported sexual assault and just carry on with their lives as though nothing happened. I wish we would all treat our mental health as as legitimate a concern as our physical health, and remove any lingering stigma from reaching out for help. We'd all be so much happier.
Meanwhile, I'm off to therapy. Sorry for the lecture. You know I'm extra. :) 
Wish me luck!

**UPDATE: October 2015. She wasn't a great fit for me, but she was helpful and I'm glad I went, and you should go too. :) 


be brave enough to break your own heart.


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solo adventures!

I talk about this all the time. I am an advocate of solo adventures. People often express reluctance to go do things if they don't have a person (****even when they don't enjoy that person's company, they would still just rather not be alone- this is how many people end up staying in relationships way too long, but that's another story).
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"this is what you shall do…"


“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

-Walt Whitman

Relationships as Agreements

My (personal and professional) feeling about relationships is that they are basically just agreements. And like all agreements, the terms may occasionally need to be revisited in order to ensure that all parties are having their needs met within the context of the agreement. This goes for friendships, intimate relationships, marriages, and even familial relationships.
So, if you are in a relationship of any kind that is decidedly not meeting your stated needs, you have ***every right*** to negotiate the terms of the agreement. You do not have the right to be harmful or disrespectful, but likewise you are not obliged to continue participating in a relationship that is harmful or disrespectful to you.
Yes, even if you are married and have committed yourself before God and all your people, even if the person you're being harmed by is your blood relative, even if the person is a lifelong friend. A relationship is still a reciprocal, dynamic, fluid thing and requires attention and occasional modifications. Whether the other person believes they need to change anything or not, the terms of a healthy relationship are always open to negotiation. You are not stuck. You are not required to participate in an arrangement you do not agree to.
I say this because I know too many people who languish in unhappy or unhealthy friendships or "love" relationships and never quite feel empowered to address the disconnect they feel. So they stay, and they agree to be miserable. I say this to remind you that you have agency over your life and the way you are treated and the agreements you make. I say this because you are entitled to happiness, and have more authority than you may believe to cultivate it in your life.

HOW TO LOVE AN INTROVERT

You may not even know who in your life is an introvert. Sometimes we are hiding in plain sight! You can deduce that I am one because of these telltale signs: I love to be in my pjs at home alone, I go out to breakfast alone (on purpose) several times a week, I take myself to movies, I sneak out of yoga class first so I don't have to chat anyone, I avoid parties, prefer small group interaction, and I cancel plans sometimes because I just literally can't deal with anything. But if you didn't know (thanks to my oversharing on FB) that I did these things, you might not know that I'm an introvert, because I also chat strangers at the grocery store, make friends everywhere I go, go on dates all the time, provide therapy to strangers, sing in public, am on a nonprofit board, and am generally (mostly) socially competent.
Introverts are not always shy, or socially phobic, or awkward. In fact, I know a lot of introverts who do public speaking or are performing artists or who are in leadership positions. Instead, it just means that introverts are energized by quiet and solitude and downtime, and are drained of energy by social interaction or constant stimulation. Introverts need to "recharge the batteries" at some point in order to continue performing at optimum capacity. This is true to varying degrees for all introverts, but some are more or less equipped to handle long stretches of energetic exertion. Introverts need to have coping strategies for these times, and it helps for the extraverts in their life to understand how they work and what they need.
I worry specifically about my introverted working parents. When do you get time to recharge if you're working around people all day, and then coming home to care for children and a partner and fulfilling household responsibilities? One thing that can help is for couples to negotiate for the introverted parent to get 15-20 minutes of quiet (a nap or some mindless activity) when they get home before they are thrust into family life. That small window of downtime can be the difference between cranky, overwhelmed introverted parent and patient, loving introverted parent. (If both parents are introverts, you may need to alternate or find ways for both parents to get this sort of respite.)
If your child is an introvert, try to not correct, embarrass, chastise, or even excessively praise them in front of people. Take them aside and discuss privately whatever the thing is. If they prefer to warm up slowly to strangers, don't make them hug or kiss someone they don't know well. If they prefer to play alone, don't try and force them to interact with other children all the time. If they get overstimulated at a crowded event and start to melt down, move them somewhere quieter and let them chill for a few minutes. If they ask you to not tell everyone at the restaurant that it's their birthday because it freaks them out when strangers come gather around and sing, honor that. We don't often pay attention to these needs in children because historically, American childhood is sort of designed for extraverted kids, but introverted kids will do better in slightly modified environments and we will honor our children's unique ways of being by being mindful of these things.
If your romantic partner is an introvert, make sure you give them the opportunity to be alone sometimes without making it about you. Don't give them a guilt trip if they're like, "I know we had plans to hang out tonight, but I really need some quiet time. Can we reschedule?" That has nothing to do with you or not wanting to be with you. That is an act of self-care. That is your introverted partner saying "I am overstimulated and would not be good company." But if you make an introvert feel badly enough and they go ahead and spend time with you despite feeling this way, they will probably resent you and be weird and quiet anyway, so you might as well just give them the space they're requesting. Once they've recharged, they can reconnect and you'll get a better, more rested version of them.
Don't make your introverted partner go to a bunch of parties or events or gatherings if they really don't like or are uncomfortable with that sort of thing. Prioritize the ones that are legitimately important to you, and request their presence at those events with the explanation that you would really appreciate if they would go with you. Understand that not wanting to go to every single event isn't a rejection of your (family/work/friends) so much as a deep discomfort in large groups. Instead, if there are people in your life that you'd really like your introverted partner to get to know, plan smaller, more intimate gatherings. Dinner parties of 4-8 people are ideal. Your introverted partner will likely be more comfortable, more authentic, and better able to connect with people. Introverts tend to be uncomfortable making small talk for any extended lengths of time, so any opportunity they have to avoid it and instead engage in meaningful dialogue will be enthusiastically taken. They will also appreciate that you understand this about them.
Give an introvert processing time. If you're trying to have an important or heavy emotional discussion, an introvert can sometimes get overwhelmed and not feel able to respond adequately in the moment. Be patient. Let them formulate their responses and do not interrupt while they're expressing themselves. Extraverts often want to get it all out immediately, and will become frustrated at an introvert's pace. If you wish to have a healthy, happy relationship with an introvert, it would behoove you to be mindful of giving them equal floor time in discussions even if it takes a moment to get there.
Understand that quiet does not equal unhappy. You don't need to ask an introvert 835 times if they are okay just because you've noticed they are being quiet. Sometimes they are just listening and observing and thinking, all of which are actually engagements of a sort. They are just internal engagement that you cannot see. Sometimes it means nothing at all that an introvert is being quiet. That said, sometimes it may mean they are overstimulated and are attempting to recalibrate within the environment. If you sense that your introverted partner may be overwhelmed, instead of asking another time if they're okay, simply offer to step outside with them.
(I have often been known to retreat to the restroom for a few moments when I feel overstimulated at an event, or in a crowd, or when there is a great deal of noise.)
Introverts often feel like the world isn't made for them, and struggle to balance everything they have to do and all the people they have to talk to despite sometimes just wanting to spend days at a time alone in their homes without human contact. It helps to have people around who understand and appreciate that there isn't anything *wrong* with introverts. They just process things differently and have different needs than extraverts.
Introverts often really appreciate having extraverts around to do some of the social heavy lifting. Personally, I love having an extraverted partner or friend around. It takes so much pressure off of me. (I'll write one of these for them in a bit).
There are a million other tips I could give for how to love an introvert, but I know the longer the post gets, the less likely people are to read it. smile emoticon This comes up in my client sessions a lot, though, because so many people don't even know they're introverts, much less how to explain that to the people in their lives. Hope this helps!



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Men & Sex.

Many of you know from my previous posts that I think men are fascinating creatures and I am deeply intellectually curious about maleness and masculinity. Many of my best friends and many of my clients are men, and so I've had the privilege of digging deeply into some issues pertinent to men that as a woman I might otherwise have never realized were there. I'm also interested in sex (in general) and work with a lot of clients (and talk to my friends) in this area as well. Most commonly, I will say that women report dissatisfaction with something about the *actual sex*, whereas men report dissatisfaction with the frequency. When there seems to be a disconnect in a couples' sexual desire or enjoyment or basic compatibility, I find that it often is actually rooted in some emotional disconnect.
I've written before that I think our culture does men innumerable grave disservices when it comes to socialization around the expression of feelings and development of emotional intelligence. They also receive mixed messages as to what is expected of them. We women often inadvertently contribute to the confusion they report feeling: we want men to be tough, but tender. Emotional, but not too much. Be there for us, but not smothering. Nurturing, but still "a man" (whatever that means).
Walk an impossible tightrope, but make sure you stand up straight and don't cry while you're (inevitably) falling off.
I've also written before that I believe men have the same capacity for love, empathy, emotional responsiveness, sensuality, and tenderness (etc) that women have, but that we often fail to teach them how to access them, much less how to healthily express themselves in these ways. This can result in myriad dysfunctions including deep unhappiness, anger, frustration, and/or this profound sense of emptiness/loneliness many men report experiencing. I opine that it impacts the sexual relationship between men and women as well. (I am sure it also impacts same-sex relationships in both similar and different ways, but for the purposes of this post, I am referring specifically to hetero sex).
My thoughts are that in general, we don't do a good job of socializing men to be able to genuinely connect with women sexually. This becomes problematic in relationships because for many women, emotions and sex are inextricable. So when a woman feels emotionally disconnected, sex is likely to be less enjoyable (and become less of a priority, because why bother if it doesn't feel good?)
Many men do not realize that they could/should be doing sex with an eye to the ways it specifically works best for women, or to be intuitive and flexible and to pay attention to each woman's *unique* sexual energy. Like it or not, women's bodies are mysterious and wonderful things that are far less straightforward in their responses and their needs/wants/desires than men. What worked perfectly for one woman may leave another woman completely unsatisfied, and thus, relying on one's "tried and true methods" is often a recipe for disappointment.
Because of the pressures they feel in the world and the way they are programmed to behave out there, I find that men often don't know how to dramatically shift gears in their intimate relationships. Men can have a tendency to approach sex as if it is a "performance" (thereby placing too much pressure on outcome at the expense of being fully present) or as if it is a list of tasks to be completed (rendering sexual contact transactional at best).
Too, whether they are conscious of it or not, it is true that some men have absorbed (to greater or lesser extents) the mores of the porn industry and a misogynistic culture that teaches men that women are there to provide pleasure for them. Unfortunately, nothing about porn is relevant to real sex, and misogyny is a fully dysfunctional lens through which to view heterosexual sexuality. As such, men have to essentially undo most of what they are taught. Men also have to basically start with a fully blank slate with each new female partner in order to connect sexually with women in a way that legitimately prioritizes **her** and how she feels. I think that men also (simultaneously) have to consciously reject the idea that tenderness and generosity in a sexual context isn't "masculine".
Anecdotally, it seems to me that most women do not enjoy aggressive or rough sex all of the time (some do, of course, but I always wonder if that is inherent or whether that's somehow related to how we are socialized to do it the way we think men like it?) but then again, as a result of their personal lived experiences of sex, many women also probably think that's just how sex is. This is a vicious cycle considering many men do not know how to access the more intuitive, emotional aspects of themselves that would permit deep intimacy, and many women do not know how to ask for it or that it is even there. I have often said that sex is easy, but intimacy is hard.
From what I have gathered from my work and my personal life, it seems fair to say that a man who is great in bed is one who makes her feel like his female partner's pleasure is *the* most important thing to him. It's a win-win, because women who feel respected and adored and prioritized are more likely to be open and generous lovers in return. And frankly, men are *most likely* going to get theirs regardless. (No, it's not as easy for some men as it is for others, but hopefully we can agree that as a general rule, male orgasm is a less complex and elusive thing than the female orgasm). Because 70%+ of women can't get off from intercourse alone, sometimes women end up feeling like there is something wrong with us because it takes more/longer/different than it takes men. And I will say that some men are very attached to the idea that their penis should make every woman automatically fully satisfied. It is simply not possible for many women, so for men to be disappointed (or worse, to make her feel it's a failing on her part) is a complete waste of energy and a guaranteed way to interrupt the potential for deep sexual connection.
It also seems like a major component to sexual dissatisfaction is the simple fact that a lot of men have internalized the idea that male sexuality is the norm, and female the aberration. In fact, this only speaks to the socialization/indoctrination of and by a male-dominated world, not actual reality. I feel like if we taught men how to more easily access their emotions, they might find it easier to accept a shift towards connecting a more "feminine" way, and to pay attention to their female partners in a deeper way.
Please note: nothing I've said is intended to criticize men; again, it's largely a result of a culture-wide acceptance of male sexuality as the norm coupled with our unreasonable/inconsistent expectations of men that causes this disconnect.

self-care

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Alignment

Do you ever feel just sort of generally off? As if you are out of alignment in some fundamental way? As if you are somehow out of step with the people around you, or with your career, or in your Relationship?
I use the word "alignment" a lot in my counseling practice. It's something I started thinking about specifically in my yoga practice, but which has analogously expanded to account for much of the unhappiness I see in the people around me.
In yoga, there is great emphasis placed on proper alignment of the body in the postures. In my early years of practicing, I tried to follow the instruction to the letter, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I thought that was how to "do it right". I thought my body was wrong, and yoga was right, and that I needed to re-shape my natural physical tendencies in order to "be good at" yoga. Consequently, I practiced for years without consideration to the needs of *my particular body,* and as a result actually created new dis-ease and discomfort and even injury.
What I learned over time (and after several minor injuries that required me to modify my movements) was that the alignment instruction is a guideline. It's a prescriptive set of instructions that is generically designed for the human body *in general*. Not every body is going to be able to do every posture the same way. I had to learn through mindfulness which instructions worked for me and which caused me discomfort, and do it the way it works for me. The teacher is there as a guide and a support, but ultimately I am completely responsible for how I move my body, and for keeping it safe, and I honor it much more by listening to it. Just because (for example) most people keep their leg straight during a pose doesn't mean I don't need a microbend in my knee to achieve the pose safely.
Get what I'm saying? Once I figured out that *my* correct alignment was specific to me and my body, and I stopped trying to force myself into every pose the way you're "supposed" to, I found a great deal more freedom and movement and relief of the pain I was feeling.
It has been my experience that much human discontent is born of similar misalignment, but of the spirit rather than the body. When people report feeling unhappy, or restless, or even just vaguely dissatisfied with their job or relationship or Life, and we dig into what's going on, we often find that the problem is that they are not quite on the right path *for them*. They may have done all the "right" things, and be making a lot of money, or have an attractive spouse, or live in a large home, or whatever, but that does not equate to "happiness" for many people.
With prescriptive ideas in our culture about the "right" way to go about thing or the "traditional" trajectory of life, many of us just agree to do it the way it's done because we don't even know there's another way. But at some point, if we are out of alignment with our true nature, we will begin to feel it. It will begin to show up just beneath the surface. We may feel edgy, or impatient, or irritable, or depressed, but not really know why. We may act out. We may cheat on our spouses or use harsh words with our children. We may over-eat or drink too much or become addicted to sex or pornography. In my experience, most behavior like that (especially around mid-life) is probably symptomatic of misalignment.
Examples:
Oftentimes, people who are very sensitive and emotional get messages early on that they shouldn't be that way. So they push aside their feelings and they "toughen up". They stop responding in the ways that have been called "sensitive" or "emotional." But that doesn't actually make them less sensitive. Instead, it just stunts their growth. In denying a fundamental part of themselves, the way they develop then naturally fails to equip them with coping strategies for their sensitivity, because it's become buried and is not welcome as an outward display. These people will likely have a reduced tolerance for emotional discomfort and be either very emotionally cut off or extremely volatile. They literally may not recognize themselves in descriptions like "sensitive" or "emotional" because they have spent their lives fighting their basic nature and building a new, more acceptable version of themselves. That is an example of misalignment.
Or, oftentimes people who are very creative get messages early on that being creative is not very "practical" or that they will "never make any money that way". The thing that they are very good at or love dearly may be (consciously or unconsciously) devalued by the people around them who believe in the traditional trajectory of life, and so these creative people may begin to see how they will not receive the approval they may seek by pursuing those "less practical" fields. So they may abandon their creative endeavors and go into business or banking or become lawyers, despite the fact that they are actually not that interested in those fields. They may be very successful at lawyering or banking, but lingering beneath the surface is a vague dissatisfaction, because what they were *made* to be was a writer, or an artist, or a musician. So their whole life is sort of vaguely infused with a sense of being in the wrong place. And these people may make a lot of money, and have a lifestyle that requires them to continue along this path, but they can't shake that feeling that this isn't where they really want to be. This is another example of misalignment.
So. Think of the ways in which you may be living out of alignment. Are there places in your life that you keep forcing yourself to "fit" that you just don't? Are there relationships that you feel out of synch in? Is your career a good fit for your temperament? Do you feel satisfied when you look at your achievements? Did you forge your own path or are you following one you felt pressured to follow? Are you in the right place *for you*? Do you tune in to yourself when those vague inklings of dissatisfaction pop up? Take an inventory: are there places you can make adjustments that might move you into closer alignment with your true nature? You will feel great relief if you are able to do this. It's like when you get used to a chronic pain or discomfort to the point that you don't even notice until it suddenly goes away and you are like "OH MY GOD I FORGOT HOW GOOD I COULD FEEL."
You can tell you're in perfect alignment when what you're doing or who you're doing it with feels natural, comfortable, safe, and does not require extreme energy expenditure to maintain. When you feel as if you can breathe and move freely and authentically. If that's not how you feel, aspire to it. It's possible.