Rachel Grant Coaching

March 2, 2015

Don't Put Off Joy on Your Journey to Healing!

This week, I bring to you the fabulous Zoë Wild, Spiritual Life & Business Coach, and spectacular woman. We are in for a huge treat to have her sharing her spirit and teachings with us!

Most people see the journey of healing from childhood trauma as a journey from A to B. 

Island A looks like this: you, broken, wounded and alone on a desert island.  You can’t find happiness; your past has a negative impact on every area of your life.  Your relationship to yourself and others is a constant struggle, an emotional roller-coaster.  You are miserable, unhealthy in body and mind, and you fear a happy life is simply not possible for you.  

Island B is a much sunnier place: full of kind faces and drinks with umbrellas.  You have fully healed and integrated your past.  You are in perfect health.  You are successful in your relationships, your work and you love your social life.  The best part is you love yourself and feel inner peace and joy almost all of the time – free to live the life you desire and deserve.  You can finally relax.

And to get from one to the other, you just need to follow the path of your “journey to healing” – therapy, coaching, spirituality, diet, exercise, forgiveness and whatever else, until you are there.  Right?  WRONG. 

The trip from A to B is not linear, nor is it overnight, and – once you arrive at island B – you discover a chain of islands that goes on into the horizon infinitely.  There is no such thing as “fully healed” because as a human being there is always room for more wholeness, peace, success, and contentment.  So, if you are waiting to arrive somewhere in order to relax and enjoy life, you will be waiting forever!

“That the abyss is bottomless is the bad news.  The good news is it must also be topless!” ~ David James Duncan

When you believe that joy is not possible until you are fully healed, you put it off forever and deprive yourself of the very practice that will facilitate the majority of your healing.

The journey of healing is about learning to enjoy life again.  Learning happens through practice – and that is something you can give yourself permission to start doing today, right now.  Here are a few tips on how to do that.

1.    Build your joy muscle by noticing and celebrating the little joys in your life each day; the big joys will come later. 

Each day there are things to be grateful for: even if it’s just waking up, eyesight, the ability to walk, a beautiful flower, call from a friend, relaxing bath, or a kind word from your boss or child.  Really notice and take in these moments of joy.  Breathe them into all the cells of your body.  Much trauma is stored in your body, not just your mind – so bring the new message of joy to your body as well.  Even if these moments only amount to 10% of your day – focus on that 10%.  What you turn your attention to begins to show up more in your life.  Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater by ignoring the joy available now.

2.    See Joy as an integral part of your recovery program, and commit to it. 

Practicing joy is as essential to your healing journey as seeing your therapist or attending meetings or changing your diet.  Does it matter how healthy you are if you don’t know how to enjoy it?  Also, joy has been proven to increase neurotransmitters in the brain that actually help you to create new neural pathways – ie. healing!  You can do this by the simple act of smiling.  Think of activities that bring you joy, and commit to a joy-date with yourself at least once per week, ideally once per day. You will be amazed at how much faster you heal.

3.     Surround yourself with people who make the journey worth it. 

This walk of life can be a doozy of ups and downs – good companions can make the whole thing worth it!  Choose your friends wisely.  Keep people around who bring you UP rather than bring you DOWN the majority of the time (everyone has bad days). You know the saying, misery loves company – well, so does joy!  If you surround yourself with people who make you laugh, feel loved, and experience happiness themselves, you will feel joyful.

4.    When you have a bad day – don’t compound it by beating yourself up – simply let it go.

It’s time to redefine lapses as just another step in the process rather than failure. When you have a bad day, yell at your kids, eat the whole pint of ice cream, take a drink – don’t make it worse by beating yourself up on top of that.  Be kind to yourself.  Forgive yourself.  Laugh if you can, and set the intention to do better next time.  Trust that you are headed in the right direction, and that this is not a block to your destination, but part of the path.

5.    Be present -- stop and smell the roses – take your eyes off the destination.

As someone who has recovered from complex trauma myself, I know that the healing process is a process that brings you alive.  You will explore your soul deeply, discover gifts of empathy and sensitivity that result from your experiences, a wealth of knowledge within, learn things, go places and meet people you never would have otherwise. So be here for your journey as if your soul chose this path intentionally for your own growth and in order to serve the world more deeply.  When you don’t feel like you “should” be at the destination, you are free to enjoy what’s actually happening now.

The truth is – the more you enjoy yourself along the journey of healing, the faster the ship starts to sail.  So, give yourself permission to feel joy NOW, in this moment, today.

Join us next week as we get even more awesomeness from Zoë!

Zoë Wild, CPCC wants to live in a world where every single person knows their essential, liberated nature – where the truth of each unique soul is fully and freely expressed, so we can play and explore life in radiant compassion and electric freedom, together.

As a Buddhist Nun, Interfaith Minister and Spiritual Life & Business Coach she has spent thousands of hours in personal retreat and worked with thousands of people on their own spiritual unfolding for life success. She is a beloved spiritual community leader known for her grounded, no BS approach and unshakeable love.

When she’s not bringing people to their knees in awe of themselves or exploring the deepest questions of life with her community -- you can find Zoë hiking the red rocks, riding horses, and learning to sing.

Her book The Little Book of Being is scheduled to be complete by summer 2015.

You are so much more than you know. Liberate yourself at www.zoewild.com

February 26, 2015

The Transformative Power of Practice

This week, we wrap up our series with Staci Haines of Generative Somatics. Enjoy!


What is Practice?

A central component of any change process – personal change or organizational change – is the concept of practice.  But what is practice and why is it so important?

Practice is simply the act of doing something, whether that something is as complicated as doing a piano solo or as simple as washing the dishes.  We call it practice when the act becomes a repeated behavior.

Practice can be both distinct and indistinct.  We can set aside time to intentionally focus on our practice, such as when we set aside time to practice a musical instrument, practice basketball, or practice meditation.  Practice is also indistinct in that we are always practicing something, whether we are conscious of it or not.  The ritual of our morning coffee and newspaper, how we behave in meetings, our attitude when it is time to do unpleasant activities – in all of these situations we are practicing how we should be, though usually without conscious intent.

This is important because generally speaking the more we practice something the better we get at

it.  Our experience of course teaches us that sometimes we practice and we don't seem to get better, but in fact we are getting better – we just may not be getting better at what we want.  Each time we practice piano with a grumpy attitude, then we may get better at piano, but we will also certainly get better at being grumpy.  Or when we practice meditation and consciously allow ourselves to daydream, then as time passes we get better and better at daydreaming while sitting ever so still.  Practice is always happening.  It is continuously shaping us: opening us up to new ways of being, or increasingly calcifying the way we think, act, and feel.

There are two central areas we need to focus on to understand practice as it relates to how we grow and change:  default practices and intentional practice.

Default Practices
Default practices are the deeply rooted behaviors that we do automatically, consistently, and unconsciously in response to any given situation.  By automatic we mean that it is the primary reaction that is triggered in us when we are in a particular situation; consistent means that it is the reaction that we engage in more often than not; and unconscious means that we do it without being consciously aware that there are probably other responses that we could choose in the situation.  

For example when we feel a conflict arise at work and we find that we begin to start avoiding the issue or avoiding the people involved, then we are probably engaging in our default practice around conflict.  The behavior happens before we know it, and when we finally realize the behavior we are doing, it usually seems like we had no choice, or it was the only thing to do in that situation.  They are so rooted in us in fact that often they feel like who we are…”that’s just me, that’s what I do.”  This sense of ourselves is natural, we identify with what we experience over time.  But where do these kinds of behaviors come from?

Default practices are learned behaviors and reactions that are inherited through our life experiences.  Our families, cultures and the social conditions in which we live invite and at times demand certain ways of being.  Violence, oppression, rejection, loss, or other situations that threatened our safety as children (and as adults) all played a role in shaping our default practices.  We have a practiced response to anger or to sadness, a practiced way to interface with power and intimacy, and countless others.  These practices were formed at a time when we needed them – they played a crucial role in our survival and our ability to belong.

However, because our default practices have often been shaped out of difficult experiences when we had limited means of dealing with and processing them, these practices often don’t align with our present-day values, politics, and/or what we most care about.  We can find ourselves acting and reacting in ways that make us more difficult for others to trust, less effective in our work, or more limited in our approaches to systemic change and movement building.  Where once they were essential survival strategies, they may now be problematic.  Because they are so practiced and have now become unconscious behaviors we can feel like we have no way to change them.

The good news is that we can learn to observe our default practices, instead of reacting out of them immediately.  We can learn other ways to take care of what they were taking care of – other ways to deal with conflict, power, our own and others emotions and need for safety.  We can begin to purposefully take on practices that align with our values, to become organizers, leaders, and people who more embody or model the social visions we hold.

To become more aware of your default practices begin to pay attention to your own automatic reactions.  Do you move toward or away from conflict?  Can you feel and tolerate your own emotions (sadness, anger, guilt, joy, fear) or do you need to rid yourself of them by denying them or putting them out on someone else?  When you don’t understand or know what to do, do you cover it up, blame someone else or take more responsibility than is yours?

The easiest way to learn about your default practices is to feel your own sensations and emotions and to observe your own thoughts.  Meditation, centering practices and self awareness are new practices that can help you learn about your default practices.  By building awareness of your default practices you begin to uproot them.  You stop the automatic reactions and prepare the ground for new ones.  You build in time between your internal reaction and your external action.  You can feel more without reacting.  This allows you to begin to make choices and take actions more aligned with your values and your politics.

Intentional Practices

Intentional Practices are those that we choose to do in order to transform the way we show up in the world.  Through new practices we increase choice and alignment with our values.

When we begin to look at our own practices and then practice on purpose, the first thing we want to ask ourselves is: “What matters to me?”  “What do I care about?  “What am I committed to?” The answers to these questions become the guide for taking on new practices.  Organizationally we want to ask similar questions:  What practices do we need to be in as a staff and organization?  What practices do we want to support in our member base to align with our vision and political commitments?

There are three key aspects to the transformative power of practice:

1. Practice is organized around your commitments.  What are you committed to?  What practices will help you realize this commitment?  The answers, individually and organizationally, act as the guide to developing your new practices.  These questions can be answered based on your mission and politics and/or based on what default practices you want to change.  For example if you are committed to building a strong movement beyond any one organization, then you may consider engaging in a practice of regularly assisting organizational allies, even if your organization gets no immediate benefit from it.  Your organization could have a monthly practice of giving another organization 5 hours of volunteer time, helping them build a skill around something that your organization has expertise or competency in.

2.  Practice lays bare all of our resistances to change.  It is like a backdrop, a canvas against which all of our anxieties, fears, anger, denial are vividly painted for us to see, if we choose to see them.  Each time we do the practice, even if it is a practice we relish, we will find that one way or another some part of our “selves” will want to resist it – to find some means of escape and relief from the practice.  This desire for escape may be subtle or it may be pronounced.  It can become particularly noticeable once the practice moves past the initial novelty stage.  The desire to escape the practice shows up in a variety of ways, tailored specifically to our unique persona and hot-button triggers.  It can show up as boredom, anger, frustration, discomfort, fear,

daydreaming, exhaustion, sleepiness, fake joy (trying to make the best of it), and many others depending on the situation and your personality.  And the bonus is if the practice is sufficiently frequent and consistent, this glorious picture of our resistances, or variations of them, gets painted with startling regularity.  They will show up again and again – they are actually there for us to see them all the time if we are present and attentive.  You can track these reactions and use them to help you see the default practices you have been in.  This can inform what new practices you can engage to shift toward what and who you want to be.

You can expect that you will have a complex relationship to new practices.  Sometimes you will likely love them and other times hate them.  You are purposefully changing yourself, changing your practices, and this involves being uncomfortable.  It can feel weird, not like you, or surface old emotions, memories, and struggles that you have tried to stay away from.  All of this is normal in the change process.  Throughout, we want to keep orienting back to what we are committed to.  This mission, this commitment, needs to be emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and politically engaging enough to you to mobilize you through discomfort.  Before you begin your new practice, remind yourself of your commitment – why it is that you are practicing.  This then becomes a powerful aspect of your new practice and helps build a sense of conscious purpose toward positive change.

3. Practice begins to orient and shape how we show up in the world.  Practice changes our minds, bodies, and moods towards the new way of being, because we are in fact momentarily living a new mental narrative, a new emotional orientation, and a new physical shape.  Each time we do the practice we are spending that moment of time interrupting the old habits and living the new pattern that we seek to put into place. Literally, as we practice new movements, internal conversations (reminding yourself of what it is you are committed to) and new emotional states, we are creating new neuronal pathways in the brain and new muscle memory in the body.

So we want to ask ourselves, “What is it that I want to be practicing?”, and take this question seriously.  If what you want for yourself is being present with yourself while you can also listen to others, then this is what you need to practice.  If you need to deal with certain emotions, like anger or grief, more effectively, you need to practice facing these emotions and learning to feel them, instead of avoiding them.  If you need to learn how to give direct and useful feedback, or ask for it for yourself, you’ll need to practice feeling but not acting out of your anxiety, and squaring up to direct conversations with care.  Each practice can be built to have you be more present and more choice-full (less reactive).  Each practice can be designed to help you learn and then embody a new skill, or way of being.

Once you know what you care about and have built a relevant practice for that, you want to practice regularly.  You don’t want to wait for the heat of the moment to try to practice something new, you want to practice it like you would the piano or basketball, during practice time, daily.

Practice while being present.  Pay attention to your mental narrative, emotional orientation, and physical organization of your body as you practice.  Feel your sensations and your breath.  Watch if you go into default reactions or old practices.  If you notice you are there, come back, and make the correction.  Move back into your new practice, even if you need to start over.  Anytime we slip out of attention and the present moment, we run the risk of practicing unwanted behaviors, and we definitely practice being out of attention.  On the other hand if we practice with consciousness and intention we hold the capability of fundamentally changing how we show up in the world.  In this case we are practicing what we seek to become and also un-practicing our old habits.

Practice is transformative because you begin to embody new ways of being.  Through repetition what was a new practice becomes natural, easy, a new habit.  You are in fact beginning to become somebody new.  You will begin to see more clearly and quickly the choice that opens up in the moment about how you want to be.  We are what we practice.  Are we practicing what is most aligned with our vision for the world, for justice?  This is where we want to continue to hone ourselves, organizations and work.

The Road to Transformation
Practice is the fundamental element of transformation.  If we are going to practice towards transforming how we are, then we should strive for mastery at the level of change we seek.  We may not get there and we may not even ultimately wish for mastery, but the intention of mastery can compel us to put our best effort forward in our practice, to be fully present and committed to what we are doing.

Transformation will always at some point engage our emotions and an emotional process.  Nothing is wrong with this, it is just to be expected.  As we change default practices and engage in new practices the internal terrain of who we are is changed.  This often brings old avoided emotions to the surface to be dealt with and healed.  Transformation can also bring new emotions that we may

be unfamiliar with or not yet identify with, be it compassion, fear, full hearted commitment or having to confront the unknown.  The more you notice your emotional landscape being changed, stirred, and engaged, the more you know you are on a road of transformation.

At the end of the day there are no shortcuts or magic tricks.  Practice offers this brutally refreshing reality:  practice only puts into place what you practice.  If you don’t put in sufficient practice, embodiment of the new way of being simply won’t come.  In fact the key to good practice is to accept this fact and to strip away all that is superfluous and distracting from the bare practice itself.  Strip away the stories and narratives about how difficult and punishing the practice is.  Strip away the stories about what a great person you are for walking the path of practice.  Release the desire to be seen by others as magnificent or as a martyr.  Simply practice with intention, and pay attention to what happens.

Each period of practice is a flagstone on the path to self mastery.  Self mastery is a path that we are always on.  In fact it can be said that we are never not on a path to mastery because we are always practicing.  We may not be conscious of what we are practicing in any given moment, but the fact remains that we are constantly in a process of mastery.  The long path to mastery has the power to transform who and how we are.

This ultimately is the best way to change ourselves.


Staci K. Haines is the founder of generative somatics, and is committed to the interdependence of personal, collective and systemic transformation.   “We are shaped by our deeply personal experiences and our social conditions.  Through embodied transformation and collective action we can move ourselves, communities and society toward what is life-affirming.  The focus of generative somatics is to bring the transformative power of somatics to serve social and environmental justice movements.”

Staci is also a founder of generationFIVE, a social justice organization whose mission is to end the sexual abuse of children within 5 generations through survivor leadership, community organizing, transformative justice approaches and movement building (www.generationFIVE.org). She has been working and organizing re: child sexual abuse prevention since 1992.

Lastly, Staci is the author of Healing Sex: A Mind Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma (Cleis 1999, 2007), a how-to book offering a somatic approach to recovery from sexual trauma and developing healthy sexual and intimate relationships. Healing Sex includes both men and women as survivors of sexual trauma, and represents people from a diversity of communities, and has both English and Spanish subtitles (www.healingsexthemovie.com).

February 17, 2015

A Gateway to Healing Trauma: Embodied Transformation

This week, I am super excited to be introducing you to Staci Haines of Generative Somatics. I have been following Staci's work for some time and her book, The Survivor's Guide to Sex, had a huge impact on me and my healing. In this two part series, Staci is going to be sharing with us some beautiful somatic techniques for healing. Enjoy!


Healing from traumatic experiences, those that break a deep sense of safety, belonging, trust or dignity, is an embodied experience.  What do we mean by embodied? I’d like to invite you to think of embodied as the “whole self and how we relate,”…not just adding the body to psychotherapy, and not even just understanding the brain better through neuroscience (although this is great!).  

Embodied includes our thinking and belief systems, our nervous system, muscular system, endocrine system, skeletal and circulatory system, our felt senses, our actions, our relatedness to others and life, our heads, hearts and guts, our identities.  All of this is embodied, or in Somatics we call it the Soma.   We are organisms, relating with other organisms. 

When we are hurt or deeply threatened though abuse, violence, certain kinds of loss, oppression or hate crimes, we automatically move into a deep set of survival reactions.  These are built in -- we didn't have to learn them -- they come with the package of being human.  

Our entire system moves into a complex set of survival responses that include: flight, fight, freeze, appease and dissociate.  All of these are deigned to take care of our safety, belonging (to love and be loved), dignity and our significance.  These later are core needs as humans.  We adapt, and adapt to survive.  

Sadly when adaptation is driven by harm or shock, or lacking love connected to safety, things get complex.  Our survival strategies become automatic, even when they don't serve our lives anymore (i.e. distrust of self and others that is generalized, giving up safety to find connection or visa verse, isolation, constant anxiety, etc.)

Below is an embodied process of transformation, we call the Arc of Transformation.  This is an overview of the aspects of healing through the Soma that are a part of embodied transformation.  By Transformation, we mean that you can take new actions, make new moves and choices, even when under pressure.  When looking at transformation and healing trauma, it means you are not “managing” your symptoms after trauma, not being driven by that hurt, rather, you have new ways to generate safety, belonging and dignity… that safety and love are re-connected, rather than split.  Most people talk about feeling lighter, like the trauma is behind them, that they are able to feel and embodied themselves, etc.


In each area of work there are somatic conversations, processes and somatic practices.  This work also integrates somatic bodywork and breath patterns.

Current shape:  This is what is currently embodied in you -- thinking, actions, emotional range, ways of relating.

Circle 1: This is a time to explore: What do you care about?  What matters to you? What do you long for?  The body usually has a different answer than the mind alone.  We form declarations for the future.  Also, this is the time to build the relevance of the Soma and begin feeling and listening deeply to the whole self and body (sensations, emotions, aliveness).

Circle 2: The embodied exploration of  “conditioned tendencies” (our embodied adaptations), of resilience, and our safety shaping.  How did you adapt to find safety, belonging and dignity?  What of this works still and what is automatic and limiting your choices?  We build new practices for safety, connection and dignity, learning embodied consent.  What deep embodied resource did you access, and how can you practice that on purpose now? 

Circle 3: Processing the historical contractions and numbness in the Soma through the body.  The body holds our history and adaptations to our experiences through contractions, numbness and physicalized patterns.  We call this body-up learning.  When the Soma opens, new information will emerge from the body, and inform the thinking and identity.  We hold that there is an inherent healing system that wants to re-harmonize…like an immune system for healing the self.  When we help the Soma open old safety contractions and numbness, this system works.  It is a very quick way to heal. 

Circle 4: Mutual connection and healing shame.  We are inherently relational.  Loving and being loved is core to our human experience, and usually the place we need to heal and grow to get good at.  Feeling ourselves and others at the same time.  Dignifying self and others simultaneously.  Where there is trauma, there is shame.  We hold a multi-phase healing shame process that includes: education (often we think things are our fault that aren’t), blending with shame, spirited commitment to dignity, centered accountability (not over or under accountable) and cultivating forgiveness (self and others).  Lastly, learning to build more connection, rather than split), when there is conflict.  Conflict as generative.

Circle 5:  Embodying new practices.  We become what we practice, we are always practicing something. Are our practices aligned with what we most care about?  In this phase our purposeful practices are more and more aligned with what we care about and who we want to be. These are embodied practices with purpose and intention behind them.

New Shape:  This is the phase of embodied transformation when you have, and are, the embodied commitments and longings you began with.  Perhaps you yearned for an ability to create intimacy with yourself and others, or for the experience of safety and connection combined, for an ability to have centered boundaries that care for you and others, or to speak and pursue what you care about…etc.  Your actions, thinking, expanded emotional capacity are more aligned with what you most care about and your values. Because we continue to grow and deepen, the “New Shape” becomes your “current shape” and we get to continue to move through the Arc.  This is an iterative process.

Lastly, another way of thinking about “embodied”, is that our human form/body is the result of 3 billion years of evolutionary wisdom.  Why would we only attend to our rational mind when we have all of that wisdom?

Join us next week when Staci will be sharing with us how to understand trauma and resilience on a somatic level!


Staci K. Haines is the founder of generative somatics, and is committed to the interdependence of personal, collective and systemic transformation.   “We are shaped by our deeply personal experiences and our social conditions.  Through embodied transformation and collective action we can move ourselves, communities and society toward what is life-affirming.  The focus of generative somatics is to bring the transformative power of somatics to serve social and environmental justice movements.”

Staci is also a founder of generationFIVE, a social justice organization whose mission is to end the sexual abuse of children within 5 generations through survivor leadership, community organizing, transformative justice approaches and movement building (www.generationFIVE.org). She has been working and organizing re: child sexual abuse prevention since 1992.

Lastly, Staci is the author of Healing Sex: A Mind Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma (Cleis 1999, 2007), a how-to book offering a somatic approach to recovery from sexual trauma and developing healthy sexual and intimate relationships. Healing Sex includes both men and women as survivors of sexual trauma, and represents people from a diversity of communities, and has both English and Spanish subtitles (www.healingsexthemovie.com).

February 1, 2015

Are you unbreakable?

I'm always following stories about how women are treated when they report abuse, rape, and assault. And, unfortunately, most of the time what I hear is disheartening. On the heals of what's happening with Bill Cosby, not to mention the countless number of other cases, it's important that we understand how to respond when people say stupid shit so that what they say doesn't break us!

With that in mind, I'd like to share with you all today a lesson from my guidebook that addresses this very topic.

“We are all meaning making machines.”

I first heard this description of “how we humans work” years ago at a course I was attending. Recently, when I Googled it, I got over 5 million results! Clearly this is an idea that has been floating around and changing the way people interact with each other and frame their experiences for some time. This certainly was the case for me, so let’s break it down and figure out exactly what being a “meaning making machine” means.

We are wired to automatically assign a meaning or interpretation to each experience we have. We have a craving to explain why things have gone the way they have. This happens without a conscious effort on our part, but takes root and influences the way we feel and react to any given situation.

Psychologist Albert Ellis developed his theory of Rational Emotive Behavior in 1955. According to his theory, we develop irrational beliefs during childhood that influence our feelings and behavior then and later in life. On a neurological level, the “meanings” are often the same in many situations because an old pathway that was wired long ago is “lit up.”

For example, imagine one of your teachers chastised you for a wrong answer in front of the class. Ellis would call this the “actual or activating event.” As a way to explain why that happened, you develop the irrational belief, “I’m not smart.” Years later, a boss criticizes your ideas and the meaning you assign is—you got it—“I’m not smart.” As a result, you may feel inferior, inept, lose confidence, or avoid taking on new projects. The emotional and behavioral consequences are in full swing.

We need interpretations in order to navigate the world and our experiences. However, more often than not, our first interpretation or meaning has much more to do with our own history, baggage, fears, and false beliefs than with what is actually going on. As we have learned, the mind likes to reinforce the pathways that are already wired and resists creating new ones. So, when we find ourselves experiencing something that is familiar, the mind will go straight to the interpretation that is already wired rather than make an effort to do something different.

A client of mine recently shared with her husband that she wanted to travel more. The husband responded by saying he needed to do some research before he could make a decision. Immediately, my client took it to mean that he wasn’t willing to change or make sacrifices for her, which reinforced one of her other false beliefs, “I am on my own.” In that moment, she fell into meaning making, reinforced a false belief, and now, when she returns to the conversation with him about traveling, she will already be set to interpret what he does or says as further evidence that he will not make changes or sacrifices for her.

How do we turn off the meaning making machine instead of greasing the wheels? Well, the bad news is we can’t; we are wired this way. However, we can decrease the frequency with which our negative meanings get first priority and decrease how long we stay “stuck” in a meaning once we notice that is what we are up to by using the following steps. 

The first step is to identify the bare bone facts of what happened, strip away emotions and interpretations. In the example above, what happened is the husband said, “I need to do more research.” Period, end of story. This is a critical first step because it forces us to step away from our meanings and pay close attention to just what was said or done. As Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

The next step is to determine what story we made up, what was our interpretation. Usually, being quiet for less than a minute will allow the false belief to bubble up to the surface. The meaning in this story was, “He’s not willing to change or sacrifice for me.” Oftentimes, the meaning we come up with in one situation shows up in many circumstances. So, more globally, my client had a general false belief that “People won’t change or sacrifice for me.” 

Now it is time to challenge the initial interpretation by looking for other possible explanations. Recall Ellis’s Rational Emotive Theory I mentioned in the last lesson. He would describe this as “disputing the belief.” In this example, my client and I brainstormed other possibilities—“He needs more information before he can make a decision—after all, his personality type is such that he does look for facts and details before making decisions.” Or “He’s nervous about traveling more since it is not as comfortable for him, so he needs to read more to feel solid about his decision.” Or “He was watching football and just wanted to get me out of the way.” You see, there are a ton of different interpretations, all of which are possible (and, by the way, her initial interpretation is also a possibility).

What is important to notice at this step is that the initial interpretation is not the end-all, be-all interpretation, which creates room for the false belief to be challenged. By challenging the initial false belief, we are actually weakening the neuronal connection rather than reinforcing it! This opens the door to new behavioral and emotional consequences (the final step in Ellis’s theory).

With this understanding about how we are interpreting the other person’s words or actions, it is time to have a conversation. By going to her husband and sharing her interpretation, she is giving him the opportunity to share more about what is really going on for him so both parties are on the same page. This step is often the hardest, because we are revealing a bit of ourselves. Additionally, it is within the realm of possibility that her husband could say that he doesn’t want to change for her. This is one of the main reasons we avoid communicating. We think that hearing the person say something out loud will be much worse than just having the thought running around in our mind. However, if our goal is to lead an authentic, fully expressed life, understanding the needs and wants of the people who we are close to is crucial, even if it stings!

Disclaimer: I am not advising we ignore or completely distrust our interpretations. I am advising that we hit the pause button and check in with ourselves. For example, if someone says they are going to call and they don’t, we may initially make it mean something like “I’m not worth their time.” In that moment, do the above-mentioned steps to shut down the meaning making machine.

If it is the fifth time that the person has failed to follow through, well now, it is time to notice that our initial interpretation might not be so far off the mark. The only way to find out is to have a conversation. We may find that they have indeed been avoiding us because they are not interested in continuing the relationship or we might find they have lost their job and want to avoid any social interactions. It is very important that, if it is the former, we do not globalize the experience to mean “I’m not worth anyone’s time.” That is a false belief that will cause lots of trouble if allowed to take root.

By the way, determining the root cause or first time a particular false belief occurred may be helpful, but is not necessary when it comes to challenging the story. We can identify and challenge our stories in the present and transform our lives even if we never determine exactly where the false belief came from. The important thing is to identify the nagging false belief regardless of the instigating experience.

So, the next time someone says or does something that elicits a high emotional response, hit the pause button and take a moment to do the steps outlined above and see if there is a false belief that needs to be challenged.

In fact, why wait ... let’s try it now!


Write about an experience that left you feeling upset, agitated, disappointed, or frustrated. Identify what happened—just the facts!Example: No one came to check on me when I was crying.

Identify what you made it mean, your interpretation, your story.Example: I am on my own.

Explore other possible explanations.Example: My mother was too far away to hear me.

Would communicating with someone about this make sense? If so, what would you say to the person?Example: “Mom, when I was abused the first time, I ran to your bedroom and cried and cried. I know now that, because no one checked on me, I decided that I must just be on my own. I’ve been thinking a lot about how that false belief has been impacting me still.”

Now that we have practiced challenging the meanings that come up as a result of experiences, let’s take a look at what happens when we create meanings based on what people say.

In addition to the experiences of the abuse, we are often told things that are exceptionally powerful or hurtful and shift our meaning making machine into high gear.

Which of these have you heard (or use the blanks to list your own) (from Shelter from the Storm)?
  • Why are you making such a big deal of this? You were very young at the time it happened.
  • What did you do to make this happen?
  • You’re the problem. You’re just using this as an excuse to get your way.
  • Why didn’t you stop it from happening?
  • You mean you didn’t tell anybody when it happened?
  • Why can’t you just forget it?
  • You should just forgive and forget.
  • I don’t believe you were ever abused.
  • What is past is past. Let’s just not bring it up again.
  • Why can’t you hurry up and get over this?
  • I’m so sick of hearing about your needs. What about my needs?
  • You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.
  • Can’t you just let go of it? Nothing is happening to you now.
  • It couldn’t have been as bad as you say.
  • Others? ___________________________

What meanings or interpretations did you create when these things were said to you?

As Cynthia Kubetin-Littlefield writes in Shelter from the Storm:

“Sometimes people make these statements because they have absolutely no understanding of abuse issues. Other times the speaker may be mentally exhausted with the survivor or the recovery process. Still other individuals simply may not wish to deal with this difficult situation, because it is threatening to them and consumes too much time.”

Practice challenging one of these meanings or interpretations:

Identify what happened—just the facts!
Example: My boyfriend said, “Why didn’t you stop it from happening?” 

Identify what you made it mean, your interpretation, your story.Example: It’s my fault.

Explore other possible explanations.
Example: My boyfriend is confused and unsure how to support me.

Would communicating with someone about this make sense? If so, what would you say to the person?Example: “When you asked ‘Why didn’t you stop it from happening?’ I thought you meant it was my fault that the abuse continued.” 

Oh, and the bad news is …In case you are wondering if there is any way to permanently shut down your meaning making machine or stop yourself from “getting into story,” let me save you the time and effort you would put into researching that and just say right now, there isn’t.

Yes, this even includes me. My five stories listed below are mine—all mine—and they aren’t going anywhere.  

But, the good news is …We can decrease the frequency with which our stories pop up by weakening the neuronal pathways so that they are not so easily lit up. In addition, we can decrease the duration or length of time that we are caught up in meaning making and story by recognizing when we are doing this and using the skills we are learning to pull ourselves out.

January 28, 2015

Let's Talk About Sex - Part 3

This week, we wrap up our series with Tina Nies, Holistic Sexuality Coach. In this post, we get to the heart of the matter -- how to actually talk about sex!


To begin to build confidence and clarity around talking about sex, I shared a few simple, yet powerful, exercises in parts one and two that may be helpful to you. There are lots of ways to build your confidence and whatever you decide to try, remember to continue it as a practice. Like anything, talking about sex gets easier with practice. So that’s where we’re going now.

Let’s talk about sex!

In previous posts, I also gave some examples about how a child might explore life and even sex without even really knowing it (acting out scene in adult magazine and playing house). They were just quick mentions to maybe trigger some innocent memories of your own, without much discussion, without judgment.

What we talk about with friends and/or share with our partners regarding sex has a lot to do with what we learned and experienced around sexuality. Those early experiences also impact what we believe about ourselves and our sexuality, what is “right or wrong” regarding sex, even things we might secretly or not secretly be turned on by later in life.

I was raped and sexually abused from the age 12 to 16. I was date raped and escaped an attempted rape in my teens. A boy I liked in high school, after I wouldn’t perform oral sex on him, called me a slut at school. I dated (and loved) a ‘college guy’ in my senior year of high school, but he turned out to be leading a double life and was married with children. I was raped by a man I trusted while in college. My early experiences around sex and relationships were negative, really negative.

Sex felt good sometimes, sometimes sex was just something I did because I thought it was expected, but I had no idea what orgasms really were. I had no idea that sex could be amazing, intimate, healthy, and powerful. I just didn’t know. What I did know was about secrets, sex and secrets, secret sex, abusive sex (that my body naturally responded to), coerced sex, etc.

Whatever your experiences were, good or bad, whatever reactions and results you experienced, good or bad, whatever you felt, good or bad, all led you to how you relate to intimacy now. It’s okay to feel or think or fantasize about anything. (Of course, it’s not okay to act out in ways that harm others, but you’re not a bad person for having thoughts.) It’s also okay to want to let go of some of those thoughts. Talking about sex, all of it, good and bad, can help you get clear about what you want more of and what you want to let go of.

In the past, I could talk about sex… secretly. I kept secrets. I loved secrets. Sometimes the secrets around sex was an excitement for me. Honestly, secrets still excite me and that’s okay. It’s also okay to keep secrets. No one needs to or probably wants to know everything in my mind.

Today, I can talk about sex, even talk with clients about extreme sexual fantasies, with the casualness of talking about the weather. I can even talk about my own sexuality in that way. Yes I can talk about sex. I love talking about sex. And even as I write this, I’m improving my own level of talking about sex – because I practice talking about sex!

Recently, a group of teenage girls giggled when I told them that they can tell a boy what their expectations are. This conversation began with whether or not they believed they could reach their goals. Some expressed concern around preventing pregnancy and I told them it was “easy to not get pregnant.” I shared with them the idea that they can and should have conversations about what they want or don’t want LONG before they “fall in love” or are talked into having sex or their hormones take over during a hot date.

I’m glad I can say this to them at their age, regardless of whether or not they believe it to be true or if they ever tell a boy what I recommended, “I am not getting pregnant and I’m not getting an STD.”

I’m glad because their giggles and laughter told me that no one else was having this conversation with them in this way. They might hear, “use condoms, don’t be stupid, don’t have sex,” etc. But no one is telling them that they can and should take the lead and talk about sex with their partner.

You can take the lead in your relationships too!

When you know what you want to feel and you know the experiences you would like to create, and you express that to a partner BEFORE you have sex, that’s really powerful. And if that new partner can express to you their expectations and what they desire, that creates intimacy. If you’re already in a relationship, begin to have these conversations outside of the bedroom. It’ll make it easier to also have them in the bedroom.

If you are worried about reactions from your partner or something seems too intense, too personal, too much risk, then begin to open up the dialogue and talk about sex in general. If you rarely talk about sex, begin the next time you are intimate with your partner. Afterward (or during), share a complement about what you enjoyed most, maybe hint that you’d like to do more or try something a little different. This will be easier if you’ve been practicing saying “I’m grateful for you because…” every day. You will have opened some space.

If you’re ready to share something deeper, then just go out there, say it and get it.

Yes, it may be scary. Yes, you may be taking a risk. So, before you say it, plan it. Plan how you will say it – especially if this is something really new for you. Sometimes a TV show, movie, magazine article, etc. can help you get the conversation started. Mention an article you read, plan to watch a particular movie together, something where bringing up YOUR sex topic is easier.

Here’s an example that has come up more than once, (seems to be a popular issue). I was asked how in the world a man might share just how much he enjoys his wife’s intimate scent. He was afraid she would think he was weird, that she might be embarrassed, that she might start showering or using perfume or something to cover her scent. But he really wanted to be able to tell her and it became a problem for him that led to secretly sniffing her clothes. He was embarrassed and worried she might catch him and really freak out. It was affecting his life.

That is what our natural curiosities, preferences, fantasies, can do – affect our life – when we begin to feel bad and ashamed for something that is just simply a desire.

So in this case, I gave him reassurance that there was nothing wrong with him. In fact, our scent attracts us to each other in many ways. It’s natural. But it is possible that she would freak out if she caught him in the laundry. So, it was important to bring it up in a positive natural way.

I suggested he begin by complimenting her scent while they were having sex, telling her how much he desired her and how her scent turned him on. We practiced things he might say. We also practiced what he might say to her if she responded with something like “I’ve just worked all day, I can’t smell good or I need to shower.”

Think about what it is about sex that you want to talk about. Do you have a fantasy to share with your partner? Do you want to just get it out of your mind and out, to someone, somewhere?

If you’re not ready for a face-to-face conversation, there are websites where you can post anonymously. Just be careful - some sites and apps allow people to also comment anonymously and some people can be judgmental and mean. If you’re worried about electronic trace to your post, go to www.postsecret.com where you can write a secret on a postcard and mail it! Pictures of the postcards are posted on the website. It’s a great site to visit when you feel like you’re the only one with a secret. Some of the postcards are funny, some very deep and personal. Another site that allows any type of share, nothing is taboo, is www.mysecretpost.com. When you put it out there and you see it, it can be a tiny relief. It’s a step in opening up and talking about sex.

Like anything, getting more comfortable talking about sex takes practice. Start wherever you feel comfortable and go from there.

So, speak up and share a secret, a fantasy, whatever you desire with your partner, a friend, or even anonymously. If you’d like to build your confidence and self-acceptance, you can read my bestseller, 40 Day LoveFest for You, free, visit www.40DayLoveFest.com/freebook.


Tina Nies is a Happiness Consultant, Mentor, and Holistic Sexuality Coach. She works with individuals & organizations to build self-love, acceptance, and respect as foundations for success and happiness through programs about Love, Smiles, and the Power of Choice. http://www.40daylovefest.com/

Resources, personal stories, communication techniques, and strategies for survivors of sexual abuse who are ready to break free from the past and return to their genuine self.