Contact Me

I approach therapy with a simple question: 

"What do you want out of life, and what is holding you back from that?" 

This question, and your answers, is where we begin the journey. I look forward to hearing from you.

By submitting a form you agree to the Privacy Policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Sign up for my free masterclass

When We Are Filled With Horror

Moving through horror and terror, grief and lament, and embodied activism

Read Featured Post

This blog is written as a living resource to help you on your journey.

Link to Post

I have been thinking about the difference between clarity and certainty.  

We are all looking for clarity in our lives. And often we try to find it through an attempt at certainty.

People come into therapy looking for clarity - why did this happen to me? Why am I stuck? What should I do? What’s wrong with me? Why did my abuser do it? When will my life get better?

Making meaning and gaining clarity are part of the ways we seek healing. 

And it is one of the predominant ones found in our post-Enlightenment, logic-exalting society. “I need to figure this out. I need to make sense of it.”  Essentially, we are saying: If my mind can understand it, then I can figure out how to overcome it or live with it.

Logic will help some. But it’s not enough on its own.

This is why people with trauma come into therapy wondering why the formula they were given to get through life isn’t working. It can be really disillusioning to realize that understanding and willpower can’t solve all of life’s problems. That’s the only way we’re taught to do things. 

As Tibetan spiritual teacher Sogyal Rinpoche says, “We often assume that simply because we understand something intellectually…we have actually realized it. This is a great delusion.”

And science is backing that up. Dualistic, logic-centric ways of seeing ourselves and the world are insufficient.

In the realm of psychology, this is showing up in a more holistic understanding of our struggles and ways of healing. We need all of us to heal - mind, body, feelings, soul. And they are all intricately connected. 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a top-down strategy: change your thoughts to change your behaviors.
  • Somatic Experiencing Therapy is a bottom-up strategy: if my body can release it, I can heal. 
  • My favorite modalities, Internal Family Systems (IFS) and EMDR incorporate all of them together.

Back to the matter at hand: clarity versus certainty. 

Clarity is actually one of the qualities identified as part of our Core Self, which I think is analogous to the Soul/Spirit, and can also be called our Highest, Wisest Self.

And what I have witnessed and experienced is that clarity is accompanied by wonder. 

The moment of enlightenment that leaves you feeling inspired, energized, and at peace. 

The dawning insight that gives you perspective, clarity, and hope. 

These are all infused by awe.

Now let’s look at what accompanies certainty. 

In my experience, and what I’ve witnessed, is the following: 

Certainty can bring relief from uncertainty. 

It can increase your sense of security. 

AND it leads to rigidity.

It breeds fragility.

And it leads to intolerance.

(My Consent/Closeness Matrix is one way of visualizing this. Certainty is a part of an authoritarian mindset - I have to know. And clarity is part of a radical acceptance mindset - I can embrace the mystery.)

I recently watched the movie Stutz by Jonah Hill and I was struck by psychiatrist Phil Stutz’s insight that one of the main things we are reacting to in life is uncertainty because it is an unavoidable part of life.

Can we turn the reality of uncertainty into a possibility for mystery and wonder, rather than something to be dreaded and feared?

What would need to happen personally and collectively for that to be possible?

On a large scale:

  • Marginalized groups would need to be given self-determination and full acceptance. 
  • Oppressive systems that lead to the higher possibility of danger and disaster for marginalized groups need to be dismantled.
  • Toxic pollution that leads to a higher possibility of cancer and other illnesses needs to be curtailed.
  • Extractionist ways of treating the world that lead to more natural disasters and food/water scarcity need to be shifted to earth-honoring ways. (Listen to ecofeminist Vandana Shiva talk about food communities here as one way to accomplish this.)

On a personal scale, we can give ourselves compassion around how difficult uncertainty can feel. And we can befriend ourselves in that place of uncertainty. We can embrace mystery and look for clarity. And we can listen to more than our minds and embrace all of us, which helps us live with uncertainty.

Clarity vs. Certainty

Can we turn the reality of uncertainty into a possibility for mystery and wonder, rather than something to be dreaded and feared?

Link to Post

Steps 3: Deep Rest & Renewal Step 4: Expansion

I started this conversation a few posts ago. I'll go over the steps I've been covering (as well as the ones in today's post) and link to them so you can catch up if you missed them.

Step 1: Recognizing the boxes you're in and getting out

Step 2: Clarity & Compassion for why you got stuck

Step 3: The Journey Home to Yourself

Step 4: Deep Rest & Renewal

Step 5: Expansion

Once you are out of the tiny ways of living and being that you found yourself in, and have done some meaning-making and grieving, you have the chance to live somewhere else.

If you're not living in the box, where are you living? In your very own body of course! The one you came into this earth with, who is deeply part of you. The dualistic separation of mind and body has caused so much harm. The reclamation of our embodied existence is amazing. As well as the reconnection to our true self, rather than the masks we have been told to wear.

The journey home to yourself, all of yourself, is powerful and healing.

There is so much joy in reclaiming parts of you that got hidden in the basement of your life because they didn’t fit in the box (like the welcome of the prodigal son, anyone?). There is also some grieving for the time lost. And grieving that parts of you shoved you in these boxes and blamed you for not fitting perfectly. They were trying so hard to help you survive. As a part of renewal, they can find compassion for their complicity with the system in their effort to protect you. And they can find new places in your inner world that work for everyone.

Sometimes you just need permission at this point, to cocoon and rest and heal. To hibernate and let your body and soul get the deep rest and refreshment they need after being in a state of constant vigilance to survive.

As this work of renewal and reclamation continues, you will find yourself coming out of this place of deep rest and renewal, feeling more refreshed. And now the adventure begins. Of exploring the furthest galaxies of possibility, or the ones close at hand that speak to your soul. This is the space of expansion.

As you step into your autonomy, self-sovereignty, and self-care, you can expand to the fullness of your soul and your body. You can nourish yourself and feel filled up for the first time. You can go on great adventures that expand your awareness and kinship with the living world. You can appreciate and celebrate others’ fullness and the shapes of their existence. You can dance together to the beat of the internal rhythms that sing in harmony with the earth’s rhythms. You no longer have to prove yourself or your worth. You can celebrate it and live out of the fullness of it. Paraphrasing Tara Teng: your body, your life, and your existence, become a work of revolutionary change in the world. Just by existing and following your calling. As you become a part of the ground-swell of life, of growth, of the rhythms and seasons of change, you both belong to yourself and know you are deeply connected and nourished.

I have found so much of my expansion in honoring and learning from the wisdom and ways of First Peoples. Their understanding of human nature, and their ways of life and community that live by honoring human needs (rather than constricting them and judging you for not adhering to them) and honoring their connection to the earth. My other place of expansion and grounding has been Internal Family Systems, with its compassionate view of human nature and healing. You may find your grounding, centering, and expanding points here as well or elsewhere. This is part of the wonder of exploration. I’d love to hear about what helps you come alive, breathe a little deeper, and live more fully in your body.

To lean into this journey of coming home to yourself, and the renewal and expansion you find there, please check out my newly published book with meditations, poems, and declarations on these themes:

I AM: Poems for Renewal and Expansion.

Renewal and Expansion

Sometimes you just need permission to cocoon and rest and heal. Then step into your autonomy, self-sovereignty, and self-care, to expand into your full self.

Link to Post

Step 2: Clarity & Compassion

You made it through the boxes challenge! Way to go identifying your boxes from my last post. That means you’ve already completed step 1 of this process. You’ve identified the the ways you were expected to show up in order to feel valued, seen, included, successful, important, etc. (If you missed the post about the first step, you can find it here.)

Today we’re moving on to step 2: Clarity and Compassion. 

We start this step with mindful self-compassion - can we notice why we ended up in the boxes in the first place without judgment or criticism? And can we give ourselves some compassion around it?

I’d like to highlight something about the boxes we find ourselves in that will help us know how to heal. You might be wondering why you ended up in these boxes in the first place. These are the some of the factors I have noticed:

  • You were born into it. It’s the cultural water you swim in. You didn’t choose to be a part of or influenced by a lot of these. It just happened by virtue of the family you were born into and where you live. Any group you belong to has cultural values and norms baked into them. Some are more transparent about it than others. For example, you are at least a part of a national culture, family culture, and any other local or widespread groups you are connected to or influenced by, such as evangelicalism, a local church, the schools you grew up in, college, your kids’ school, media culture and trends, and local culture.
  • You felt like it was the only choice. Sometimes we’re consciously or unconsciously forced into certain roles, especially as a kid when you have fewer choices over your life. You might have felt you better choose to be the good kid, or you were going to be labeled a bad kid. You might have chosen to be a “bad kid” because you were already the scapegoat in the family and that’s what everyone expected from you anyways. Or you might have chosen to do whatever you needed to do to fit in with the popular crowd so you wouldn’t be alone or bullied. You either consciously or subconsciously made a decision to cope with a situation by picking the only choice you were aware of that you could live with.
  • You experienced shame at some point in your early life. You assumed that something was wrong with you. This felt awful, so you learned to shame yourself (in order to avoid more shame from others). This bred an internal pressure, and desperation even, to fit in, succeed, measure up, do it right, and receive external affirmation. This is one of the really common cycles of self-sabotage we experience in our society. Our individualistic meritocracy only rewards you if you measure up to its standards. The ones who measure up are the heroes, the successful ones, the ones who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. We use shame as a social coercion tactic, but run from feeling shame like our life depends on it. And so shame becomes a tool to keep us small, in our place, and in a rat-race of avoiding internal shame.
  • You were trying to meet your needs. We embrace a certain box or act a certain way in order to meet our primary needs. Often other needs go unmet in order to meet the need we deem most important. That is part of what tells us the system we’re in is too confining. There aren’t enough choices available to us that can meet most, if not all, of our needs. So, we give up autonomy for the sake of feeling like we belong. We give up self-advocacy in order to avoid conflict or risk rejection. 

After hearing this, does it feel possible to give yourself compassion, and even gratitude, for doing your best to survive in a culture that made you pick boxes to live in?

Grieve, be angry. All feelings are okay. Even shame and guilt—the parts of you carrying these feelings know it felt awful to be in the boxes, but they thought it was the only place you were safe. You can let these parts of you know that you’re actually safer outside of the boxes where you can see what’s really going on and take care of yourself. 

Clarity and compassion bring the gift of release: to live outside of the box and not blame yourself for being in it in the first place. That way, you can actually enjoy your freedom. You don’t have to believe the lies that the boxes were only a problem because there was something is wrong with you. The boxes themselves were the problem! The reality is

I’m going to let you sit on the porch swing with that for now.

When and if you’re ready, let it come to you with all the power and freedom it has for you. I’ll see you again soon.

Love and light,


Why am I stuck?

Mindful self-compassion - let's try noticing why we ended up stuck in little boxes - without judgment or criticism. Instructions how included!

Link to Post

Identify the small boxes you have been told to live in, and how to get out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the contrast between constriction and expansion, and how it impacts us. Today, I’m going to focus on the first part - the constriction we’ve experienced to survive.

So much of our lives we’ve been told to squeeze into a little box.

To not be too much.

To prove you’re enough.

To fit in.

To be successful.

To be good.

To be whoever the heck you’re told you’re supposed to be.

That box may look like…

Size 4 jeans

Doing a million things without breaking a sweat

Always on top of things

Always productive

Always helpful

Enough money but not too much money

Desirable but not a slut

A player but not misogynistic

Knows how to party but never an alcoholic

Successful but not arrogant

Confident but not self-aggrandizing

Popular but not gossipy

Respectful of authority but not a pushover

Emotionally intelligent but always stoic

Always helpful but never needing help

Always improving but also completely content with my life

The good girl or boy

The golden child

The good Christian

The achiever

The athlete

The popular one

The perfect one

The smart one

The favorite one

The best friend

The fun one

The responsible one

The one everyone admires and desires

The successful one

A white, cis, heterosexual person in a monogamous relationship

Take a deep breath. 

What constriction came up in your body that you want to notice and release? 

All you need to do right now is notice with mindfulness. 

If you have any feelings come up, welcome them with curiosity if that feels do-able. 

Your feelings and body responses are here to help you process and release, not to add a burden. 

If you can, speak to yourself with compassion like you would a friend around each of the above “boxes” you experienced. Here’s what I say to myself, and my clients, and I would like to say to you: “I’m sorry that happened to you. It wasn’t your fault. You can learn to feel safe and accepted without this box. I’m here to witness your pain and help. We can go as slow or fast as you like. I don’t need anything from you, even growth or change. Just know I’m here and you’re not alone anymore.” If it feels okay inside to do so, you can also say this to yourself.

In the next post, we’ll talk about what happens after recognizing your boxes, as you begin to release yourself from the expectation to live in them.

See you then.


Note: If you want to be able to process this with more people than me, then hop over to the Trust Yourself Again group in Mighty Networks and share about your boxes there! Sometimes it feels good to know we’re not alone in all the pressures we’ve experienced and are breaking free of.

Get out of the box and into your life

Link to Post

Moving through horror and terror, grief and lament, and embodied activism

We are in a global moment of horror, and for some, terror.

We are necessarily in a state of shock.

This is the freeze nervous-system response

that our bodies use to hold us

as we witness or experience directly such pain.

It is there to cradle and protect us

as we experience more than our bodies can take in.

A moment of meaning-making before moving back to how to care for ourselves through this...

The current pain is seen in the hellish dance of terrorist attacks and state-sponsored oppression. A reign of terror and oppression is met with a grand display of terror and bloodshed, which is met with retaliatory bloodshed. I don't want to spend much time on the horror of it, but I do think we need some meaning-making here to cope.

I posit that part of the endless cycle of bloodshed that keeps repeating itself and getting ratcheted up is also a trauma/nervous-system response. If you need a refresher, the trauma or nervous-system responses that have been identified thus far are: fight, flight, freeze, fawn/appease, attachment cry, and collapse/submit. When there is not safety or space to move to a regulated response, fight response feels the least vulnerable and most active.

And so, each side (at least the parts that make the news) goes into fight trauma response in order to avoid pain, collapse, helplessness, etc. Moreover, toxic masculinity, and patriarchal systems of power and control, allow no other way for men and male leaders to face challenges. Fight or die. Fight or fail. Anything else is vilified as weakness, instead of a way through. And so they fight. Each side fights bigger and harder and more spectacularly until no one is left.

What if the mothers were in charge? How do you think things would be different? There would be space for mourning, lament, healing, accountability...and at least everybody go to their rooms, even if there was not full repair and repentance and reconciliation. Would somebody put the mothers in charge please? And tell these man-children to go to their rooms, and don't come out until you're ready to take accountability for what you did wrong and find a solution.

This is obviously too simplistic for the current situation, but I think it does shed light on part of the problem here. Trauma-induced fighting, supported by toxic patriarchal politics and weapons, is never going to create a solution. It is only going to bring more pain. And this is the pain we're living in right now, after millennia of this generational and historical trauma, of worldviews and fundamentalist religions and political systems and leaders that further occupy, colonize, polarize, dominate, destroy, and silence those who want to find solutions. And so we ask...

What do we do with the pain?

Now that we have some context, let's go back to how to care for ourselves through this immense pain. We are aware that we feel helpless and frozen to do anything. Don't worry, we'll get to the action part in the next section. First we have to honor our body's wisdom in how it is helping us. When something comes at us too much, too fast, our nervous systems are activated to help us cope. In moments or horror or terror, we most often go into freeze response. Shock, dissociation, numbness, feeling in a fog or like you're sleepwalking are common ways to experience this.

Our bodies cannot move out of freeze until they know they have enough safety, support, and resources to do so. We also need a break from the overwhelm. For those of us separate from the conflict, that might be taking a break from the news. For those with loved ones there, it might be harder. We all need moments of grounding by connecting to our senses, our surroundings, our bodies, and our breath. (Take some time to notice what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste; and some time to notice the feeling of your body in your chair and the cadence of your breath.) This brings us closer to or back into nervous system regulation. Co-regulating with another person or a pet can also be helpful. Their presence and breathing can help stabilize and ground you, and keep you in the present.

"Horror and Terror" - my processing through art

Once there is enough regulation, safety, or space to process, we can acknowledge and process the pain. Sometimes this happens along with grounding, especially with expressive modalities like art, dance, tai chi, etc. Today, I moved through the horror with artistic expression (see artwork on the right). It wasn't until after that process that I was able to feel like I was present again. First I had to be present to my horror and find a way to express it.

black and red scribbles to depict terror and horror

Our bodies know how to move through emotional, social, relational, psychological, and physical pain if we give them the time and support they need to do so. I think that both personal and collective mourning and lament are essential in this process. We must let the grief move through us, rather than get stuck in us or overwhelm us. You can't outrun grief, but you also can't process it if you're in overwhelm. You have to find a way to regulate in order to process it, or it becomes unresolved trauma. And sometimes this is unavoidable. If I was in the midst of this at the moment, there would not be enough room for processing, there would only be survival, and the bulk of the healing would have to come later if and when there was enough space and safety to do so.

As we process the pain, we can move into problem-solving and action in a more effective way, rather than just jumping into a different nervous system response to get us there. As a reminder, the trauma or nervous-system responses that have been identified thus far are: fight, flight, freeze, fawn/appease, attachment cry, and collapse/submit. When there is not safety or space to move to a regulated response, fight response feels the least vulnerable and most active. And fight is not always a problem. Anger can fuel our activism, but blind trauma-rage is just a "violent act of self-soothing" (quote from Cole Arthur Riley). Because then it is a weapon for vengeance, rather than activism for justice and repair.

One of the ways to address trauma is effective action. And so we ask...

What do we do with the problem?

That for me is a harder question to answer as thoroughly. I am trained as a mental health counselor and know best how to address that aspect of things. But I can give a few suggestions from my training in healthy internal systems (IFS), which translate into healthy external systems:

  • Learn about frameworks for accountability and repair. On Repentance and Repair by Danya Ruttenberg is a good resource. I think it is important to name that it is written by an American female Rabbi, so may not feel like unbiased enough for the horrific things happening in the middle east, but she does her best to be unbiased from her position and is open to feedback, accountability, learning, and repair. I really like her recent writing on this crisis, which I also mentioned above. I am looking for more resources from other perspectives, and would love input on this.
  • Support and be in solidarity with organizations that are working for a solution and care for those in harms way. I would love any of your suggestions to include here.
  • Advocate with local officials. JVP action alerts and email forms
  • Join organizations and advocates in working for needs-honoring, solution-focused communities, such as Dr. Christena Cleveland's Center for Justice and Renewal.

As you may have noted, a lot of my education in social justice, activism, generational trauma, and accountability come from North American harms and horrors and my resources reflect that. I would love any recommendations for ones that center the harms in the middle east to include here as well.

Living, learning, healing, and advocating with you,


When We Are Filled With Horror

Moving through horror and terror, grief and lament, and embodied activism

No results found.
Click to reset filters

Receive periodic emails with blog posts, tips, and techniques to help you cope with life's greatest stressors.

Updates straight to your inbox