What's the F***ing Point episode 16: Lauren Martin on Embracing "Petty Problems"

Y’ALL. Lauren Martin is a force of nature, and by the end of this episode I know you’ll adore her as much as I do.

We talk about everything from emo music to keeping it real as a new mom, her transition to Orthodox Christianity to what it means to embrace and validate the idea that "if it matters to YOU, then it matters."

To listen to this episode, you can stream or download from the embedded player below, or find and subscribe in your fave podcast listening app. 

Thanks for listening, and if you dig, please share it with a friend and review the podcast on iTunes because it helps more people find it! xx

About Lauren Martin, LPC-MHSP

Lauren Ruth Martin is a psychotherapist at a group practice in Nashville, TN, and she believes that therapy should be anything but boring. Lauren practices from the philosophy that feeling "stuck" is actually good news because it is a signal that something needs to change. She loves, loves to help clients with severe and pervasive depression in addition to working with anxiety, phase of life issues, codependency, self-harm, suicidality, eating disorders, and self-esteem issues. 

Lauren is intensively trained Radically-Open DBT (RO-DBT), a specialized treatment for disorders of Over-Control (OC) . Radically-Open DBT promotes openness, flexibility, and direct communication. Lauren practices DBT and Cognitive Behavior Therapy to fidelity, specializing in Adolescents.

In addition to her mental health practice, Lauren shares her personal practice of coping skills with a dash of sarcasm on Instagram at @allthepettyproblems. With the philosophy of "if it matters to you, then it matters" she addresses the big meanings behind the small stuff that get to her (which means it might also get to you too). The concept of duality is a constant in her life...whether it is loving rap and emo music, practicing Christianity and cussing, or eating cupcakes and doing yoga...she is all about living the life that works not the one that "should" be done. 

Mentioned on This Episode:

the 3 types of mindfulness: are you practicing them all?

wise-mind-dbt Earlier today, I listened to the latest episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Insights at the Edge, hosted by Sounds True publisher and founder, Tami Simon. The interview guest for this episode is Dr. Erin Olivo, a clinical psychologist and author of the recently published book, Wise Mind Living. Before digging into the Mindfulness topic, let's unpack that title a bit.

The "Wise Mind" concept, borrowed from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), is one that often resonates in a big way with almost all my clients. Here's the quick version: on one side of the spectrum, there's Rational/Logic Mind, which (as it sounds) uses purely logic and reason to guide choices. (Wouldn't we be a super-functional and cold robot world if we all only operated from this state of mind?) One the other side is Emotion Mind, which is when our thoughts and actions are guided by our emotions. That's certainly not always "bad" (since most of us don't, in fact, want to live in said robot world), but I'm sure you can think of more than a few times that Emotion Mind gave you bad advice about what to do, and you had to live with the consequences later. Wise Mind, on the other hand, is the synthesis of both logic and emotion -- so we can assess the facts of the situation, cause-and-effect, and also validate and tend to (rather than negate or suppress) our emotional experiences. Win-win. The tough part is the process of getting to Wise Mind in the first place,  so we can make choices from this wisest part of ourselves.

And that's where mindfulness comes in.

Mindfulness is one of the four core modules of DBT -- the others being Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Many of the skills in all four modules are all about helping us access our Wise Mind. Mindfulness is also one of my favorite topics, because it is so foundational to healthy living. I'm glad that it's finally getting so much time in the spotlight (including tons of research proving the gajillions of benefits of mindfulness practice), but that can sometimes mean that the word is just thrown around without much context. I liked how Erin simply explained the three main types of mindfulness (covered in both her book and on the podcast), so I'll break those down for you below.

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose to whatever is happening in the present moment (internally and externally) from a stance of curiosity and non-judgment. 

Formal Mindfulness Practice

The most common type of formal mindfulness practice is mindfulness meditation -- and there are many varieties of it. For many people just starting a formal mindfulness practice, it helps to work with a smaller chunk of time (perhaps 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening) and to have something to focus on, whether it's a guided meditation track, your breath, or simply noticing all the individual sounds in the room. Most of the research done on the benefits of mindfulness is based on some sort of formal meditation practice. While some may find that sitting for 45 minutes to an hour a day is incredibly life-enriching, I am oh-so-not at that point in my own practice and don't know if that will ever be my cup of tea. My main goal right now is consistency, which many argue is way more important than duration.

Informal Mindfulness Practice

Informal mindfulness practice is basically the process of setting the intention to bring a quality of mindful awareness into a some sort of activity or task, such as taking a shower, washing the dishes, or exercising. In the example of taking a shower, you'd say to yourself, "I'm going to take this shower mindfully," and then you'd pay attention to all the experiences of your five senses and any internal (thoughts or feelings) experiences that show up while you're in the shower -- rather than making your to-do list for the day. I find that making the conscious choice to be mindful during daily tasks is part of what helps me wake up to the wonders of the world that I so often take for granted. Of course, I could do it far more often -- but hey, progress not perfection, right?

Mindful Living

Dr. Olivo calls the third type of mindfulness "Mindful Living," and it's essentially the overall goal of developing your mindfulness muscles via the other practices. When you're living mindfully, you can get distance from your thoughts and feelings, and be truly present in this moment, rather than ruminate on the past or worry about the future. Every human being will go on autopilot at times (it's part of what helps us survive!), but the more that we can bring this quality of gentle, curious awareness of the present moment in our day-to-day, the more "awake" we really are to the experience of being fully alive. Having a consistent formal practice and sporadically adding in informal practices will ultimately help you more readily access this third type of mindfulness.

What is your favorite way to practice mindfulness? What helps you get from Emotion Mind to Wise Mind? 

emotional intelligence jam session: 5 key truths to understand & work with your emotions

emotional-intelligence I love talking and writing about emotion, and while it can be an incredibly complex phenomenon, learning a few core truths can make understanding and working with emotions much more approachable. Also, I just have to say, I had a total dork-out moment just now when I realized how I wanted to title this post: "emotional intelligence jam session." I think I just came up with a whole new series of posts! I will plan to do regular "jam sessions" on different topics in which I lay out the most fundamental info on a topic (not going super deep into any one area), because I know sometimes that's all you have time to read.

So let's jam for a few minutes about emotion, shall we?

1 // Know your "core emotions."

Know them, identify them, speak them. Having a large emotional vocabulary can be useful at times, but it's even more important to be able to identify and label the most basic "core" emotions. These differ depending on who you ask, but I've found that these nine cover it pretty well: happiness, joy, love, fear, anger, sadness, loneliness, guilt, and shame. When you're in an emotionally charged situation, it can be really difficult to separate the facts from the story. When you say "I feel hurt and disrespected," this might be part of how you're interpreting the situation, but if you identify and label the core feelings under this experience -- perhaps anger, fear, and loneliness -- this can ultimately be more empowering and validating than just using the language of your interpretation. Communicating core emotions also tends to help you be "heard" better than just speaking your interpretation. Another good rule of thumb: When you say "I feel _______," try to be conscious of actually using an emotion word there, rather than a statement like "I feel like you never listen to me!" That's a thought, not a feeling.

2 //  There are no negative emotions.

I say this with a mild caveat, in that I have a hard time finding value in the emotion of shame, but there's definitely value in guilt (which some folks call "healthy shame" as opposed to "toxic shame"). Still, there is no way to totally prevent or avoid shame, so we're better off accepting its inevitability and having an action plan when it shows up rather than demonizing it altogether. And there's undoubtedly value in all the other core emotions, even though they may not always feel pleasant at the time. The only way out is through, right? (Sing it, Alanis.) When you look back at the experiences in life that you've grown the most from, are they all happy ones? I highly doubt it. As NY Times columnist David Brooks writes, "It should be said that there is nothing intrinsically ennobling about suffering. Just as failure is sometimes just failure (and not your path to becoming the next Steve Jobs) suffering is sometimes just destructive, to be exited as quickly as possible. But some people are clearly ennobled by it ... Often, physical or social suffering can give people an outsider’s perspective, an attuned awareness of what other outsiders are enduring."

3 // We have limited control over our emotions.

Yeah, this one sometimes sucks. But it's just true. There is no opting out of sadness, fear, or loneliness, no matter how many positive affirmations, spiritual practices, or meditation you do. If your motivation is to try to prevent unpleasant emotions, you'll find yourself chasing your tail -- and chances are, you'll actually end up creating more suffering with some of the things you do to avoid feeling. Also, as Brené Brown always reminds us, there's no such thing as selective numbing. You want to numb fear and anger? You'll end up numbing joy and love, too. Once you start thinking of your emotions as teachers and communication from your body instead of annoyances to rid yourself of ASAP, you can start to have a different relationship with even the not-so-warm-fuzzy ones.

4 // Emotions show up in your body, not your head.

Starting to recognize how and where you feel each emotion in your body is a huge step toward cultivating emotional intimacy with yourself and in your relationships. Most people in our hypertechnologized culture are largely disconnected from their bodies from the neck down, living totally up in their heads. In order to connect with emotion in the body, you have to first start with connecting with your body in general. This can be done via any practice that involves conscious awareness of your body, like meditation, yoga, dance, or balancing your chakras. When you get more familiar with how each emotion shows up in your body, you can determine better how to tend to those emotions. Also, the emotion-based “gut” often tends to be more accurate and intuitive than listening to the constant over-analysis of the mind. As my colleagues and I like to say, “ask your body, not your brain.”

5 // With that said, your feelings are not an emergency.

A client was actually the first person I heard this phrase from, and I shouted “YES!” because it rang so true. I often need this reminder in moments of intense emotional charge when I want to react immediately to “fix” things in the short-term — because in those moments, I know that my judgment is often clouded by urgency and I’m not considering all the long-term repercussions of my actions. What I really need to do is get to a journal or a trusted friend and process the situation and my feelings before reacting impulsively and doing or saying something I’ll later regret. In DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), the sign of an effective crisis coping skill is not whether it made you feel better emotionally, but whether you got through the crisis moment without making things worse for yourself. That’s a much more realistic goal, because often there is nothing that can be done (beyond sharing your story with someone) that can immediately improve a tough situation or your feelings about it.

I hope you enjoyed this first jam session! I would love to hear any comments you have about this post or emotions in general, and any requests for future jam sessions. 

the wisdom of imperfection + loving yourself when it's really hard {a personal story}

Last Sunday, I was given the opportunity to sing one of my favorite songs ever in my church (First Unitarian Universalist of Nashville), accompanied by our Minister of Music, Jason Shelton — also my choir director, and a ridiculously talented composer and musician — along with a few other experienced musicians. It was truly one of those situations where the Universe intervened, because I had been thinking for months of mentioning to Jason that if it ever worked out with a service topic to sing this particular song, That Wasn’t Me by Brandi Carlile  that I would love to do it. Then right after my wedding, he contacted me out of the blue asking if I’d be available that Sunday to sing that song. I was ecstatic but also a nervous wreck about it. I wanted to do mad JUSTICE to the song, and also I still have very limited exposure to solo performance in public.

So, I practiced singing it in my car all week (sometimes there are benefits of my hour-each-way commute) and making sure I knew where all the words went, and on the day of, thought, “meh, I could make a printout of the lyrics and that would be okay, but I’ve sung this song a million times and really should’t need it. If I change my mind I’m sure I can make a printout at the church.” Would I go back and change that decision if I could? Not totally sure, to be honest.

I got to church early that morning and we ran through the song twice before the first service, and when my time came about 2/3 through the service, I had already gone to the bathroom probably 3 times in the past hour because of how anxious I was. I got up there and sang it with heart. People loved it, and I felt great. Next, doing the sermon, was visiting speaker, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, also known as the Holy Rascal. Right after I sang, he said in Jason’s direction, “I didn’t know you got Taylor Swift.” The congregation laughed and objected, “No, she’s way better!” I was embarrassed about the attention, but it also felt nice.

We ran the song again once or twice before the second service, since a few other choir members came to help with backing vocals in that service. Again before and during that service, I wondered if people thought I had some kind of health issue with how much I was running to the bathroom. I got up there, sang it with heart again, and then when I got to the last verse, I skipped a stanza. I realized it but it was too late, and looked at Jason (next to me on piano) with a look of somewhat-disguised-panic, and knew I had to Just Keep Going. I sort of fixed it, the best way that I could, and ended the song awkwardly, looking at him and mouthing “DAMN!” before sitting back in the first pew.

My heart was racing wildly. I wanted nothing more than to run out of the church, or at the very least, to appear that I was calmly going to the bathroom again and then continuing outside to the parking lot to cry. I even had old thoughts of scratching myself and pulling out my hair, something I’ve only done once in a moment of panic since I was a teenager (back then it was more frequent.) My self-talk was pretty brutal, and I was so ashamed. I knew that the rest of the song had been good, and that I salvaged the last 30 seconds or so the best I could, but here I was singing one of my favorite songs that has the power to bring people to tears (“when it’s sung RIGHT!!!”), and I’m wanting to cry for a totally different reason.  Even writing about it now, I can feel my pulse starting to pick up again and my eyes welling up a little.

But of course, after I sang, the very next thing was the sermon. And guess what the topic was? The Wisdom of Imperfection. Of Freaking Course. I had really enjoyed it during the first service, and I knew the irony of me beating myself up or escaping during this particular sermon, but I wanted to run nonetheless. When Rabbi Rami got up to the podium after I sat, no Taylor Swift jokes, no anything. And of course I told myself, “He doesn’t want to draw any attention to you because you just screwed up.” The cool thing about Rabbi Rami is that he never does the same talk twice. He brought in all kinds of different anecdotes and jokes the second time around, so ultimately I was glad that I had stayed, but man-oh-man was it difficult.

I listened to him as he referred back to the reading he’d done earlier in the service — Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece, which he deemed “one of the great spiritual texts” (I agree with him). He talked about how we are often taught by religious institutions that on one side we have Life and Prosperity (and Heaven!), and on the other side, Adversity, Suffering, Sin, Death (and Eternal Damnation!). And of course, we want to pick the former — but he argued that it is not actually either-or at all, but And. If we spend our lives trying to “get rid of” our “sinfulness” or our dark sides or our imperfections, we are missing out on the truth of humanity and life. Since this is one of my core foundational philosophies as a therapist (it lines up perfectly with DBT’s Dialectical Thinking concept and also the “Acceptance” of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), I needed no convincing of this from an intellectual standpoint. During the first service, I sat there with rapt attention, nodding vehemently and going “Amen!” in my head.

During the second service, however, at first I was doing the internal eye-roll, thinking, “sure, perfection isn’t realistic, but ROYALLY SCREWING UP IN FRONT OF HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE ISN’T OKAY!!” Still trying to convince myself to not get up and run.

This was one of those times that I was just as much in need of coping skills as any of my clients in residential treatment right now. So what did I do?

Well, after I was done cursing myself, I just did my best to accept what was happening with me.

I breathed.

I crossed my arms, grabbing my shoulder with my opposite hand, and I squeezed, literally holding myself.

I let my eyes well up.

I listened to Rabbi Rami.

I stared at the ground.

I just let it happen.

And at the end of the service, I did more or less run out to the parking lot, get in the car, and self-pity-cried for a minute. My husband comforted me the best he could, telling me I did amazing and that my flub was not that bad. At first I told him to just drive on to the grocery store, but he didn’t rush, and I pulled my head up a little and said, “maybe we should go back in for a minute.” I dragged myself out of the car and we went back into the social area of the church. Numerous people came up to compliment me, a couple saying “I know you thought you messed up, but it was great,” and one lady saying that plus “It was so powerful I was tearing up.”

I didn’t feel like I necessarily needed these accolades from a standpoint of external validation — it was more about that I was going to allow myself to receive them even though I wanted to run from it because I didn’t feel like I had deserved it at first. But I changed my mind. I deserved to hold my head up high and not run just because I was embarrassed about my mistake. I deserved to be gentle with myself because mistakes are inevitable, and because dammit, Shel Silverstein and Rabbi Rami are right. Perfection is not real. If I want the sweet, I have to also accept the sad, because in embracing both, I am human.

I am me, and I can be loving toward toward myself — flubs and all. And only when I do that can I truly love others and their mistakes, too.

5 common self-sabotaging statements

(not really me, of course. click thru for meme.) I originally titled this post "Shit My Clients Say That Drives Me Crazy," but let's be real -- self-sabotage is something we all do to a degree, not just people in therapy. As a therapist at a residential treatment center, I have understanding and compassion for the fact that my clients are not in a place in their lives where they can easily access inner strengths and coping skills that work well for them -- or they wouldn't be in treatment. (And a lot of the time, when I hear the stories about their childhood or trauma history, it makes complete sense why they have trouble doing so.) Of course, I believe that they absolutely have those inner strengths already, and the capacity for learning and using tools for communicating and coping well. They just need guidance to learn how to uncover and access all of that.

They also have to work toward practicing self-compassion (or call it worthiness, self-acceptance, or whatever you prefer), because without some level of belief like they deserve a good life, all the coping skills in the world won't help, because they won't use them. Finally, they need to be open-minded to feedback that can sometimes be difficult or painful to hear. (For example, clients who easily fall into the "victim" stance or have beliefs of entitlement aren't going to get very far if they don't start to own up to those pattern when others point them out.)

That said, I am human and I get frustrated hearing the same self-sabotaging statements again and again. I work with my clients to see when they're recreating that cycles of self-sabotage and become more aware of how the language they use impacts their emotions and behaviors. Below are 5 of the most common self-sabotaging statements that I hear and how to begin working with them. (Excuse the mild ranting below... I can't rant to my clients but I can on my blog!)

  1. "I need to figure out _______." There's a client right now in my group who says this a lot, and she hasn't yet caught on to my repeated redirection (either that or she just enjoys tormenting me). As they say in AA,"Self knowledge avails us nothing." I couldn't agree more. Sure, sometimes gaining insight into your past or present can be helpful or healing, and there's a place for that. But when I repeatedly hear people say things like, "I just need to figure out how to get out of my head" or "I need to figure out why I'm so anxious," I just want to go all Yoda on them -- there is no "figure out," there is only "DO." Another favorite phrase about this one is that "too much analysis leads to paralysis." Is it possible that your overthinking/overanalyzing are part of the problem? Probably. Which leads me to... __
  2. "I'm working on it." (Or even better, "I really need to work on _____.") WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN? Okay sorry for yelling, but really. What does it mean to be "working on" something? What are you doing differently that's going to give you a different result? This statement is so incredibly vague, but it also gives the illusion that you are doing "something" and therefore should expect results. What I have found with this is that it might mean that a client has discussed her patterns of entitlement or passive-aggressive communication (or whatever else it might be) in a therapy session and has more insight about them and where they come from, but just like with #1, insight only takes you so far. I am not a classically trained behaviorist by any means, but I do use several variations of behavioral therapy (primarily ACT and DBT) and I firmly believe that real change requires specific, realistic behavioral goals. Of course, for perfectionists or black-and-white thinkers, this can get a little tricky because we can map out exactly what we need to do and then hold ourselves to too-high standards or say "well I didn't do it exactly as planned, screw it." So, it helps to have a therapist, coach, or accountability partner in your corner when determining the specifics of how you want to work toward behavioral goals... but for the love of all that is holy, don't let yourself off the hook by saying "I know I have this problem so I'm working on it" without knowing what that really looks like for you. What would I be able to see you doing differently today if you really were "working on it"? __
  3. "I'm really not present." Ok, I have to be fair on this one in that some of my clients struggle with varying degrees of dissociation related to PTSD, have full-on ADHD, are withdrawing from substances, and/ or are just starting to give their bodies the nourishment that they really need. So especially in the beginning, I completely understand why they have trouble focusing or being present in groups. But especially at times like right now, when the majority of clients in our group have been with us for over 30 days, I really have to watch my frustration when I read them a freaking beautiful poem (requiring not even 3 minutes of attention) and afterward it's clear that only two of them were actually listening. (Normally I'll give them copies of things to read along because it helps, but come onnnnn) Then they'll say, "yeah, I was totally somewhere else" or "I'm just really not present today" and I really have to use my DBT skills (just breathe, non-judgment, non-judgment...) because what I really want to say is, "Do you think that I am just naturally this 'on' all the time? No, it takes a serious amount of effort for me to be 'present'! I certainly am not 100% of the time and I will totally own that, but I have to have the intention and make the conscious effort to bring myself more fully present into situations, conversations, etc. many times a day." Like I said, I know there are people who have circumstances that make it even more difficult for them to focus, so I get that, but for most people who repeatedly say "I'm not present" or "I'm just in my head" and are not doing anything for themselves to improve that (like even a 5-minute daily mindfulness practice, or using something sensory like Play Doh to stay more present), I have difficulty being very empathetic. Then it's back to #2... so what are you doing? There are so many amazing free resources out there for mindfulness practice, so dig in! __
  4. "I just need to get rid of my (fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, etc.)." This is a really tough one because it's counterintuitive for most people and certainly on a cultural level. I could write a whole post about this (and maybe I will!), but for now I'll get straight to the point: There is a very good chance that your repeated attempts at trying to squash or avoid your uncomfortable thoughts/feelings is not only not helping you, but is also creating more problems. This is pretty obvious when it comes to blatantly self-destructive behaviors like excessive drinking or drug use, bingeing, purging, restricting (used to dampen fear, sadness, anxiety, etc.) -- and less obvious but still just as true with other "control behaviors" like shopping, Netflix bingeing, obsessive phone-checking, etc. Now, I'm a huge fan of Brené Brown's work on shame resilience, and I don't think that shame actually serves anyone (guilt for actions out of line with your values, maybe, but not "I am bad" shame). But the idea that you have to wait until a magical day when you no longer have "not good enough" thoughts until you can act your dreams? Good luck with that. And guess what the definition of a panic attack is? Anxiety about your anxiety. I'm not saying it's easy to deal with anxiety or to stop wanting it to go away, but just that the way you approach it will impact how successful you are, and fighting anxiety typically doesn't work. I also love Kate Swoboda's work over at Your Courageous Life on embracing fear as part of courageous action ("Hating your fear is a total waste of time.") What would happen if you started putting more of your time and energy into what you want more of in your life, instead of what you want less of? __
  5. "Easier said than done." When I read badass-life-coach Andrea Owen's comments on "easier said than done" recently in her book, I shouted out (um, internally) a big HELL YES, because she is so right on with this. So I'll just let you hear it from Andrea directly:

    Here’s my response today about, “It’s easier said than done”: NO FUCKING SHIT. That is the most obvious statement that has ever come out of my mouth and I vow to you and Jesus that I will never say it to anyone again. It always seems to follow up a piece of wisdom or advice about life or healing or moving forward. So, here’s a news flash: LIFE IS HARD. HEALING HURTS. MOVING FORWARD IS SCARY.

On that note, go forth and remove these phrases from your vocabulary! If you want change in your life, do something different. If you don't know where to start or need help, ask for it. I know of tons of great resources that I can share with you!