True Self-Love

It’s kind of a funny concept to preach self-love when so many of us are totally comfortable berating ourselves at any given moment.

…I know I did well on that test, but I should have done better.


…Look at how ________ she is, why can’t I be more like her?

It’s amazing how easy it can be to revere others and detest ourselves.

Have you ever asked what’s the point in doing that?

Have you ever stepped back and brought a little curiosity to this scenario?

What is the part of me that drives me to so dislike myself?

When you think about that dislike, can you feel it somewhere in your body?

Self-love isn’t just about loving all the other parts of ourselves that do good. It can start right there, learning to love the part of you that that is doing the self-hating.

Wait, what?

Yeah, I said that and I mean it.

I truly believe that there is always a logical explanation behind why we do the things that we do.

It’s not that we should ever love the experience of being beaten up – by ourselves or anyone else. And you’ll have to trust me on this one: you never deserve to be beaten up.

But we can love the part of ourselves that has good intention, even if that intention may be a little misguided.

Just as a test, try it out. Meditate and go inward for a moment and try offering some gratitude for the part that always tells you that you’re falling short in some way. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you do this. What do you notice? Softening perhaps? This part of you wants you to listen for sure and it likes when you do.

Loving the intention of the self-critic is important, and it’s a first step; you may also be happy to know that you don’t have to forever be subject to its criticism. There is another way.

I found God in myself

and I loved her

I loved her fiercely

~ Ntozake Shange

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in anxiety, depression and eating disorders. 

Riding Out the Waves

I’ve always appreciated the metaphor of water to describe the experience of emotion. Sometimes we feel waves gently wash over us and sometimes they come crashing down. 

When water is kind, we may not even notice. But when it’s turbulent, it’s definitely got our attention. What to do? 

Everything changes. Moment to moment nothing stays exactly the same. Even times when we feel good, or neutral, the waves don’t last forever. And the same is also true of turbulence. 

Waves will always arise and will always come to an end. So why are we so often taken by surprise? I’m guessing it’s because we’d rather pretend the waves don’t exist. 

What happens if we see the waves and go into them? 

It’s ok to be scared. You can own your fear. 

Try letting go of the stories that are there, and just be with the sensations in and of themselves. Just you and the wave. Prepare yourself as you see it coming and get on your surf board to be with the wave as you ride it out. Feel the strength, the pace, the volume. 

Ask what message it’s trying to bring you. What does it need from you?

Maybe it actually wants to work with you and not take you down after all. Let it know that you are willing to listen as long as it agrees to not overwhelm you. And you’re also not going to run away. It’s understandable to want protection from overwhelm, but emotion in and of itself is harmless. It’s there for a reason. What is it trying to tell you? What does it need you to know? 

Approach every wave as though it’s an opportunity to learn something new. 

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in working with women who experience anxiety, depression and eating disorders. 

Time to Put on Your “Healthy Eating” Blinders!

I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to know what “healthy” means anymore. Especially when it comes to eating. Practically every which way you turn, it seems that someone has an opinion about what’s good for you and what’s not. If you struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating, I’m guessing that there are times when Buddha’s demon Mara comes knocking on your door to tempt you with a quick fix.

But you need to remember that your needs are individual. The well-intentioned people out there handing out advice may be feeding you some potentially toxic stuff. Toxic for you that is – it’s not really your place to assess what’s healthy or not healthy for others, so why should it be ok if the tables are reversed?

So go ahead and put on those blinders that help to keep you on track. Know that your own unique path is tailored for you with the help of professionals that know you, your strengths and your struggles. While you can acknowledge that there is a part of you that may always crave a quick fix, you can also rest assured that there is another part of you that knows better – the part that can invite Mara in for tea, look temptation in the face, laugh and resist.

Your true Self knows when you are on the right path when:

  • You are honest and transparent with your doctor.
  • You have a nutritionist and are honest and transparent with her as well.
  • You are making informed decisions about food choices (balance in portion, selection and timing) to get the vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to thrive (notice I didn’t say survive. Thrive!) on a daily basis.
  • You are not restricting in any way (remember that restricting only sets you up for binging).
  • Your doctor and nutritionist are in communication with one another AND you are following the recommendations of your team.
  • You are doing the work, going to appointments utilizing supports that are available to you in forms of people, interests and self-help apps like the Recovery Record.
  • You are paying attention to your body sensations, thoughts, emotions and subsequent behaviors.
  • You know the difference between a craving and a hunger cue and how to act on each of them.
  • You know when a slip is just a slip.
  • You are practicing self-compassion.
  • You are practicing self-care.

I know it can seem like a lot to follow, but my point is that even if your travels aren’t always perfect, there is still always a path you can follow to create and maintain a healthy you.

Keep up the good work – you know you got this!

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in working with women who experience anxiety, depression and eating disorders. 


Lighten up! Learning To Embrace Positive Thoughts

Have you ever had the experience of someone casually telling you to “lighten up” when in the midst of distress? If you struggle with anxiety, this might seem like the most inane advice at a time when your insides feel like they’re about to splatter all over the floor. For as much as these words might lack the sensitivity you would hope for, I hate to break the news, but there’s also some truth in them.

Who doesn’t want to lighten up, right? I’m guessing that if you believed you could, you would have done it a long time ago.

This isn’t to say that you should expect yourself to simply drop “the act” because as we know, it’s not an act at all. The physiological sensations happening inside your body are real for sure. And you also have the ability to manage how it all plays out.

You can start by identifying some of the unhelpful thoughts that show up in the first place. As you begin to pay attention to the stories you’ve created, you can intentionally bring some curiosity to them. You can be the observer. Isn’t that interesting? you say to yourself as you notice the unhelpful thoughts arise. What stories are you bringing me today, dear brain?

Remember that our minds are really great at filling in the blanks. If we don’t understand something, then we can make hasty automatic assessments that seem to make sense, then happily go on our way. Maybe you can see where there is some danger in doing that.

Is what I’m telling myself making me feel good? How does my body feel when I buy into these thoughts? If I believe this thought, will it take me down a rabbit hole that might be really hard to get out of?

The next step is that you’ll have to buy into the possibility that you do indeed have the power to create change. The key word here is possibility. If there is possibility that things aren’t exactly as they seem, then you slowly begin to take the nails out of the door that a part of you has so nicely boarded up. It’s all about creating new neural pathways that work in our favor. And you can only begin to do this when you allow for the possibility for new pathways to exist in the first place.

So, take that wall of “truths” that you’ve done such a great job of cementing into place and begin to challenge each one. Even if you don’t believe the opposite of that truth, you can begin to create some space, another possible explanation to demonstrate that it’s really not a truth at all. And that’s huge. Trust me, this is in and of itself, a positive thought and you can rest assured that this will lead you in the right direction.

I’m not asking you to challenge the laws of physics here, I’m asking you to question the thoughts that make you feel bad because there’s another part of you that would much rather feel good. What would happen if you checked in with the part of yourself that generates anxious thoughts – what is the purpose of it doing this? You might find some irony in the response.

The point is to break the vicious cycle. And you’re gonna have to do this with intention.

It’s not about white-knuckling it through the fear. It’s about empowering yourself to see that your fears are are most likely unfounded.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in working with women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Finding the Fear

My favorite definition of anxiety is fear without the presence of danger.

Anxiety can seem a little tricky sometimes when you feel the physical sensations and don’t know where they are coming from (heart beating louder, butterflies in stomach, breathing faster, etc). But if there’s no medical condition that accounts for these changes (you should always be sure to share physical symptoms with your doctor), my guess is that somewhere along the line negative thoughts are at play.

What is the story you are telling yourself? What is it that you’re afraid of?

Anxiety grows when we run from the things we tell ourselves are dangerous but actually aren’t.

Is that rustling in the leaves really a serial killer out to get you or could it be a stray cat walking by?

Is the stranger walking down the hall really making faces at you or is it possible that they are thinking about a joke someone told them earlier in the day?

Is it absolutely certain that you are going to throw up in the middle of your presentation?

Sometimes it’s about fearing the fear itself.

As you learn to cope with anxiety, you can begin to separate the part of you that senses danger – which is a good part by the way, because we do need to react quickly when faced with real danger – from the part of you that is discerning and can make an appropriate assessment of the situation.

What you need to know is that when you run from the rustling leaves or hate the stranger walking down the hall or avoid the presentation, you are confirming to your amygdala – the part of your brain that looks for danger –  that yes the danger is real and your amygdala will happily continue to amplify these things for you in the future.

In this way, anxiety is a choice because your reaction is a choice. When the discerning part of you steps up and offers reassurance to the part that is fearful – that actually there is no real danger – then the discomfort remains no more than an observation and you move on with your life until the next cue arises and you’re faced with making another assessment. Gradually, over time, this gets easier and those physical sensations begin to relax a little. Eventually you won’t need to fear the fear.

Don’t get me wrong, anxiety can get fairly complex. But when you’ve lived with anxiety long enough, it might be helpful to know that there are strategies you can use to counteract the anxiety that isn’t helpful, the anxiety that only hinders you. This is just one approach and my guess is that it’s worth a try.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in working with women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Magical Thinking vs Actual Empowerment

Magical Thinking. It’s one of those things that can make you feel so special when you’re a kid. When the universe seems to revolve around you and even the moon will follow wherever you go. I like to think it’s the stuff that empowers us at a time in life when we don’t have a lot of power; when the bigger decisions are made by others and we don’t really have much say in things.

It’s interesting though isn’t it that we can grow older and cognitively understand the fallacy in this way of thinking and yet so many of us continue to do it in subtle ways. I can clearly remember how in my twenties I would expect my boyfriend at the time to know just the right thing to say or not say, to know when I was happy or upset, when I wanted his company or when to give me space, what gifts to give me, what friends to bring around and when, etc. etc. And all of this was expected with no effort on my part. He would read me. He would know simply because…I willed him to? Because that would mean he was the perfect boyfriend and we were truly meant to be? And of course if he didn’t live up to this then it meant… that he didn’t care about me? I wasn’t worthy? That the relationship was bunk? It was too much effort? Slowly over time I came to learn that it was likely the latter excuse that got me stuck. The story I seemed to tell myself was that if I actually had to put in effort to get my needs met then the relationship was somehow clearly not worthwhile, which is something that I suspect most anyone with a fulfilling, long-lasting relationship will tell you is load of garbage. As it turned out, my boyfriend couldn’t read my mind after all. But I want to give myself a break here (because that’s what self-compassion looks like 🙂 ). Where did I learn that it takes too much effort to speak up in the first place? Hmmm, I can think of a few possibilities, especially as a woman. Children should be seen and not heard. A long history of gender biases by teachers in the classroom. Mansplaining. We have to acknowledge that these messages have been around forever. Often we don’t speak up because we’ve been taught not to! In our society it takes a lot of intention to be heard. It takes effort and persistence to get your needs met, to be seen and understood. And over time I’ve learned that in the long run putting in effort is waaaayy more satisfying than sitting around wishing for things to change on their own.

It’s surprising how much energy it can take to use one’s voice once you begin to initiate change. Admitting that you even need anything in the first place can be hard, especially if you’ve had the experience of being rejected in the past. I can assure you though, that it gets easier with practice. And although it’s true that just because you ask for something, it doesn’t mean that you will get it, what I think you’ll find is that knowing yourself and letting others in to know you too, will only benefit any relationship that truly matters – be it a romantic one, a family relationship, a work relationship or a friendship. When it comes to getting your needs met, it’s about being a co-conspirator as opposed to merely tagging along for the ride. While the practice of assertive (not aggressive) communication is beyond the scope of this post, maybe the first place to start is to acknowledge that you have needs in the first place. Try journaling or making a collage and share it with someone safe, someone who matters.

There are definitely still things in this world that I continue to find magical. Birth, sunsets, shooting stars, synchronicity, the creative process. But when it comes to true power, I’ve learned that the cost of sitting around and wishing it into existence, is just too high. #NeverthelessShePersisted.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Diminishers, Minimizers and Gross Oversimplifiers

Sometimes I think it’s no wonder that so many of us get stuck in bad habits when people in the position of authority often – and perhaps unwittingly – minimize our struggles. The best example I can think of is the “Just Say No” campaign introduced by Nancy Reagan back in the 1980’s. While I can appreciate the good intention, it definitely seemed to be a gross oversimplification of a massive problem that has only grown exponentially in the 30-plus years since the movement was introduced. Just Say No became a catchphrase for a decade and it’s interesting to think that this likely did nothing to help, and may have only worsened, the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Think about it: “the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to more than 400,000 by 1997.” If you can’t or don’t say no then what does this mean about you? You got duped? You’re a criminal? You deserve wherever it is you end up? Shame only keeps us stuck and it’s amazing how often we’re shamed for the things that we turn to, that get us through difficult situations. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex, food (or lack of), you name it – sometimes these things can seem like the only viable relief out there. It’s not to say we don’t likely make bad decisions along the way, but when you look back it’s really not all that surprising to see how addiction set in when choices may have seemed limited. Maybe the problem is that we don’t always know how to ask for help, but regularly I hear stories of when someone did ask for help and didn’t get any, simply because the problem didn’t appear to be of significance at the time. In one way or another their story was diminished.

Addiction hits us hard in the reward centers of our brains. Of course we want to feel good, who doesn’t? Addiction is about taking the shortest path from A to B where A is pain and B is feeling better and our brains are really great about getting us there asap. The problem of course is that while this is super effective in the short term, few can anticipate the longer, harder and sometimes lonelier road it takes to get your life back on track once the cons of addiction become apparent (ie serious medical conditions, loss of relationships, loss of work, etc).

I think the danger is when we begin to minimize our own stories; we follow what was modeled for us and internalize the same message. And maybe it is because the struggle appears to be invisible. Or maybe because it feels too big for anyone to tackle on their own. When you take the time to connect with your Healthy Self, **You** know when something is a problem. And you know when it’s something bigger than others may be able to recognize at the moment. We don’t have to believe minimizers in the same way we don’t have to believe judgment – whether it comes from others or comes from within.

I’m bringing this up, not because I want to shame the diminishers, minimizers and gross oversimplifiers – as that would likely be counterproductive. My point is that throughout history we’ve seen how huge problems can go by seemingly unnoticed. And thankfully we can also look back and see that while the authority figures we hoped would address problems in a meaningful way but for whatever reason chose not to or were unable to, there was usually an unsuspecting someone (or many someones) who were more capable and who did take action. Just because no one has a quick fix, it doesn’t mean that the bigger problems can’t be solved. Bigger problems call for bigger solutions and this can mean turning to more than one person or place for help. Part of resilience is believing in yourself and not giving up no matter how long it takes – finding the resources that support you even if they don’t come in the form you may have wished.

One important thing to remember is that diminishing/minimizing/oversimplifying is only part of who we are, only a part of who anyone is. My hope is that when we begin to increase awareness of this phenomenon, we’ll also be better able to generate compassion towards self and others and use that as a way to move forward.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

The Layers of Coping and Healing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what helps in therapy and how many people, including me, have tended to dip their toes in and out of the process. There’s no simple solution obviously, or therapy wouldn’t be the big business that it is. But what’s important to me as a therapist is that I maintain faith that the process can be healing.  The fact that not only have I experienced levels of healing myself but also witnessed moments of healing with my clients, this makes me all the more motivated to spread light on the possibility of full recovery.

Sometimes the women I work with initially end up in treatment for an eating disorder with little to no insight about the underlying mechanisms that brought them there. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told by women in recovery that they didn’t even think they had a problem to begin with. It’s only when they begin to explore questions about the impact of the ED on personal work, school, relationships, and mental health that it turns out yes, the concerns are valid. A wise woman recently shared about her frustration that the world view of EDs still seems to be categorized as a vanity issue and I was relieved to see that her artwork was able to reveal the knowledge of pain beneath it all. Not that I want anyone to feel pain mind you, quite the opposite. But the truth is that healing won’t likely take place until the pain is addressed in one way or another. And the irony is that as far I can see, EDs often begin as coping mechanisms to distract from the pain in the first place, with the intention of taking you as far away from it as possible.

It may not seem fair to generalize this when the experience of an ED is so individual, as is treatment. But still, in my experience as a therapist, I find time and again that somewhere beneath all the depression, anxiety and symptom use is a vulnerable place that is often avoided at all costs, and understandably so when you consider the shame and stigma associated with mental health disorders. It’s as if the whole process starts with the use of unhealthy coping mechanisms to move away from pain, and once in treatment new coping mechanisms are set in motion that take you on a path toward wellness. At times people may choose to stop there, but I think it’s important to point out that while healthy coping mechanisms can have healing qualities, healing is not a coping mechanism in and of itself.

It’s a slippery slope, this process of recovery. At times a well-meaning therapist may go too quickly into the pain, or conversely someone who is eager to get the process over with might go straight to the pain without being prepared to do so and either of these scenarios can be disastrous.

I find that healing is the thing that is supported by healthy coping mechanisms on either side, like little bundles of light that have a continuous need to be protected, cared for and nurtured. These moments of healing might come in the form of “a-ha” moments or a release of emotional tension from one’s body, and without these healing moments chances are you can remain in survival mode indefinitely. I often come across women who find themselves somewhere in the limbo of recovery who are “managing” symptoms to get by and yet feel there is much more therapeutic work to be done even after they’ve discharged from treatment centers, and I agree with them. There is more work, and there is more possibility for a better existence. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving.

Sometimes the healing process spans both time and a variety of therapists – where ideally one action builds on the other – but I truly do believe that for most, if not all, full recovery and healing is a possibility; it is an option.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Enhancing Intuition through Mindfulness and Art

Sometimes even the most “put together” people can get thrown off course and get swept up in the tide without even realizing it at first, me included. Recently I found myself being pulled in different directions between work, family and relationships and with so many “shoulds” running through my head, I felt the pressure – and desire – to keep up with obligations and others’ expectations of me and not really knowing how to make it all happen.

The other morning I did the best thing for myself that I’ve done in a long time. I created space for my intuition and invariably I find that it’s always, always the right thing to do. I had to get back to basics of course because it seemed that I’d been ignoring intuition for a while. In my yoga practice that morning, I allowed my body to dictate my needs. Before this I had been feeling the need to accomplish something – to push myself in some way that I didn’t necessarily want to be pushed. But something told me to stop. So I listened. I began to stretch my body in gentle, non-traditional yoga poses and while one voice in my head was saying “yeah, but this isn’t really yoga” I could also hear another compassionate voice echoing the encouragement of the more nurturing teachers who have said “it’s ok, do what your body tells you to do, just trust and listen.” And I can say that thankfully I have access to the latter and it worked. This gentle compassion led to a more fulfilling yoga experience that left me feeling satisfied and nurtured in a way that I’m sure I would’t have felt otherwise.

It’s sort of ironic to think that the intuitive path is less accessible at times you are faced with outside pressure, as judgment and comparison thoughts scream through one’s head. It seems that intuition may abandon us at times when we need it most. But maybe it’s the opposite – that we’ve abandoned it. So often we’re given the message that pushing through is the best approach, or the only approach, that we can’t even hear the wisdom of self-compassion when it knocks on our door.

But my belief is that as a life rule, it will always be important to take time to nurture and enhance intuition. And what are the benefits of listening to the the intuitive voice within? For one, I think it creates longevity – how many times has the pushing, punishing voice started you down a path only to have it falter and send you reeling backwards? I think intuition guides you to the best available path that life has to offer. I think that in the long run it makes life easier, not harder.

I write this because I know that so many women out there don’t have access to intuition in this way. So often life circumstances can lead to self-denial, impulsivity and/or self-doubt that intuition sadly gets left by the wayside. My belief though, is that we all have an inner voice that can guide us back to a healthy path and intuition, and that intuition can guide us towards a more fulfilling life.

Maybe to start, you can begin to take a look at where those pressuring voices come from in the first place. The push voice might come from well-meaning teachers and coaches. It might also come from a misguided concept of tough love. Maybe it comes from the critical voices of family or peers. If you listen, can you hear who is saying those words to you – or maybe who is implying those words to you? Does it really come from within? I think it’s important to question that. When part of our brain – the amygdala – is actually built to detect danger as part of basic survival – including in social survival – it’s really not so surprising that this part can feel so much louder. “If you don’t do well in the game/match/race/performance then you will let your team down!” “If you don’t get an A on this test then your peers will surpass you and you’ll be left behind!”

Not to say that pushing through doesn’t have it’s time and place, because I believe that it can and does. But how do you know which way to go? When you’re in recovery for an eating disorder, there may be times when pushing through is a life-saving necessity and even though it may feel like crap, you can remind yourself that it’s temporary as you take steps to nurture healthy intuition all over again, or maybe for the first time.

I get that recovery can feel like all control is being taken away and that maybe the loss of control is one of the things you most feared to begin with. I believe you can still enhance intuition while you bring intention to work through recovery.

Next, try to identify your strengths, embrace them and build on them.

Let go of expectations and work with what is there in front of you.

Gradually you can learn to approach something instinctively rather than with conscious reasoning, because that’s literally what working intuitively is all about.

Nuances matter the way that brush strokes matter or the way composition matters through the lens of a camera.

Do this through mindfulness as you consider nuances in each part of your body, how it feels and how it works. As you consider your environment and take in what supports you and what doesn’t. As you consider your thoughts to identify what is helpful and what isn’t. As you look in the mirror and verbalize the things you can admire in all that you are and do in physicality, character, and style.

Do this through art making. Just because we can’t draw like Renoir, it doesn’t mean we can’t engage in self-expression that resonates with who we are, and open our eyes to what markings are still beautiful in their own right. Where would we be without people like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Willem De Kooning, and Ralph Stedman – artists who’s art might be considered perfectly imperfect? What would happen if you allowed yourself the same consideration?

Take watercolors for example, which can be one of the most frustrating mediums to work with. It’s only because I’ve learned to embrace all the nuances they have to offer that I’ve come to love the process. Painting on wet paper is a completely different experience than painting on dry, especially as you watch colors bleed into one another; when you allow water to create natural movement. Or when you learn to direct the water to concentrate flow and have pigment follow its path. Or when you allow one part to dry only to come back to it to later and create a sense of shadow and depth. To make each brushstroke thick with pigment or watery and translucent. To manipulate pigment with media like rubbing alcohol or sea salt.  Watercolor is my favorite “letting go” medium because there are so many factors that contribute to unpredictability and yet you can still create guidance within that realm that can feel so satisfying. It’s as though you let go of control while gaining a sense of control at the same time. It’s not about becoming a master watercolorist (though it may happen for some), it’s about paying attention. When you apply a similar approach to almost any other medium, it only gets easier. I know for me at least, that once I start practicing intuition with small decisions, I find that the big decisions can move intuitively as well.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Reawaken Your Healthy Self

I think that most people can identify with the feeling of being thrown off balance at given times throughout life. That feeling you get when you’re deep in a relationship, or work, school, trying to catch up with bills or just plain old busy – times when so much of your energy goes into just trying to keep your head above water. It can happen when life throws you off track – like when you experience the loss of a loved one, or you lose your job or go through a divorce – or even start a new job or get married. The worst of course is when trauma happens (little t or big T) and it truly does seem like you need to rely on time to heal wounds. But the more I do the work that I do in this field and the more that I learn about theoretical approaches, the more I recognize the need to help people become centered again and reestablish the sense of Self that seems to get lost. As Carolyn Costin says in her book, 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, “Your healthy Self will heal your E.D. self” and I couldn’t agree more. Of course that may be easier said than done when the act of reconnecting with one’s sense of Self often requires a lot of intention, and yes, sometimes a lot of time too.

For many people this act of centering is just a matter of grounding oneself through things like meditation or connecting with a similar sense of flow through loved activities such as sports or art making  🙂 . But for others, the process is a little more elaborate when Self seems to have taken a hiatus. I regularly meet women who are terrified of letting go of their eating disorders because they feel that their E.D. is their identity and what will become of them without it? I get it, I know it’s a lot of trust to ask for, but I truly believe that once you start looking for healthy Self, you will find it.

Some of the wise women I’ve worked with have been able to describe the healthy Self as an inner spark that they’ve had a sense of since childhood – the part of themselves that knows right from wrong, that knows they are innately good, healthy and deserving people. Sometimes, I’ve been told, this part of themselves has had to be shelved in order to adequately deal with hostile environments – when using one’s voice may have meant violent repercussions. And so Self goes quiet, internally, perhaps until safety returns and treatment is sought, and only then is one able to take action.

As far as I can tell, curiosity and exploration are essential when it comes to reawakening Self. In Buddhism, Beginner’s Mind means cultivating an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions – and I believe these are absolutely qualities needed to discover Self again. Become curious as if you are exploring aspects of yourself for the first time – and know that Self is doing the exploring. What are your values as opposed to the values that may lead you towards dysfunction? What are some strengths that you have? Although it can be helpful at times, I believe that Self doesn’t ultimately need to rely on external validation to know its worth. Even the most rudimentary of strengths are worth identifying. Mindfulness teaches us to observe our thoughts as clouds going by in the sky. Self is the observer. Self is the one high up on the mountain where it can see clearly all that is happening below. True Self knows what feels toxic; it knows the difference between survival mode and thriving. It knows when competition feels healthy and when it’s more of a hindrance. The healthy Self is a like a good friend who wants to encourage you to do and have what’s best for you. It takes your physical, mental and emotional well-being into consideration and takes you down a path towards health and wellness. It might feel a little angelic or as though it’s a higher power. The healthy Self knows the difference between enabling and nurturing because it knows the values that are true to you. It knows your soul. It knows that living a life of secrets and lies will be more harmful than helpful in the long run. Your healthy Self knows what’s keeping you sick, and might also understand that there’s a reason for the actions you’ve taken in life and why things have played out in the way they have, and it can do this all with a sense of care and compassion.

If you’re not there yet, you can always try what Costin suggests and use your imagination: simply ask yourself, If I had a healthy voice, what would it say? I believe that most, if not all, people have access to Self that can lead them through recovery. It’s the place where you can find clarity, perspective and freedom, where you can be with yourself in the present; it’s calm and confident, open-hearted and lighthearted. And I believe that it’s from this place that all other work can be done.

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.