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Your Psychological Wellbeing: More Than Meets The Eye

August 19, 2014

Lately a number of people have expressed to me that they think it’s surprising and strange that their past circumstances contribute to their current reality. More than one person has told me that it literally feels like a “cliché” to them that their relationship with their parents, for example, bears weight on the way that they see the world.

One young woman was stunned by the revelation that her relationship with her father was affecting her dating life, and by the notion that she fears men will leave because her father did when she was a kid. Similarly, a young man was shocked that beliefs he has about himself are a result of the way that his mother spoke to him when he was a child.

I have nothing but respect for the insight that’s been generated in these cathartic moments, but I have to laugh at the notion of it being a cliché — because this is how it works, my friends: it’s a cliché for a reason.

All of the experiences that we have in our lives impact us in some way. Our relationships with our parents (or primary caregivers, whomever they may be) matter because they shaped us when we were just beginning to make sense of the world. Those relationships aren’t the only things that affect us profoundly, but because our minds are like sponges as children, our experiences with our caregivers have an outsized influence on the way that we perceive reality.

What seems particularly important to me is to point out that these influences matter regardless of whether the net result is positive or negative.

Let me give you a funny example:

I recently watched the Beyonce Knowles documentary on HBO, Life Is But a Dream (yep, I’m totally gonna go there – just roll with it, peeps), and I was pleasantly surprised by how Beyonce speaks very psychologically about the impact that her life experiences have had on her. For example, she says in the beginning of the film that her father was always really hard on her, and that she grew up feeling like nothing was ever good enough for him. Eventually that message became internalized, and now she feels that she’s hard on herself, and that nothing that she does is ever good enough for her.

The reason why I view this as a good example is because the net result of what we’re talking about here is neither good nor bad, per se. In Beyonce’s case, having been raised by a parent who pushed her really hard made her one of the most successful people in history. That kind of pressure has its downsides, to be sure – but it hasn’t been unilaterally negative. Being able to connect those dots without judgment and to make sense of how all of our experiences impact us – good, bad, or ugly – is the very nature of what we call insight.

Something worth adding here is a note about biochemistry and genetics. I’ve noticed lately that there tends to be an increased focus on biology to explain how people behave in the world, and it’s possible that this kind of thinking is what makes it hard for us to imagine how the experiences that we have in life shape us so profoundly.

If we use depression as an example, there seems to be an overemphasis (in my professional opinion) on neurochemical causes and pharmaceutical solutions. It’s not to say that biology doesn’t play a role in our psychological lives, but in my experience it’s extremely rare for people to become depressed solely because of a chemical imbalance. 

On the contrary, I often witness people coming into therapy, unpacking their narratives, connecting the dots, and beginning to see how things like low self-esteem are a result of (for example) childhood emotional abuse, or a difficulty in attaining the life that we feel we truly deserve to be living.

I recognize that this is a topic that many people feel passionately about, so I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a time and place for antidepressants and other pharmaceutical agents. I’m just a passionate believer in insight. I believe strongly that the code to self-understanding lies in self-exploration, and that our emotional lives are significantly more complicated than many of us have been led to believe.

As I like to say, there’s more to your psychological life than meets the eye. Look deeper.

Written By: Dr. Leslie Carr is a licensed clinical psychologist (PSY 25306) and author of the eBook When Change Takes Time. She offers therapy and coaching, both in San Francisco and via Skype. More information can be found at


When The News Causes More Harm Than Good

August 4, 2014


Whether we like it or not we live in a time where watching the news appears to be an exercise in anxiety and depression.

Regardless of whether it’s local, international, cable, or evening – its producers rarely have something uplifting to report.

Missing planes. Mud slides. Climate change. Colony collapse. I can’t remember the last time I watched or read the news and was left feeling optimistic about the future of humanity.

I also know that a lot of my clients struggle with a deep sense of anxiety about what’s happening in the world – not to mention a feeling of powerlessness over what they can do about it.

The thing that’s tough about it though is that this is only one version of “current events.” Every day on this planet good and bad things happen – people are born and people die. Lifelong dreams are achieved, while others languish.

The world is a both/and place, not an either/or. So, for better or worse, it’s up to us to choose where we apply our attention.

I don’t want to seem like I’m advocating on behalf of denial, because I believe that we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves about what’s happening outside of our immediate surroundings – but the brutal truth is that a lot of what we come across in mainstream media is stuff that we’re powerless to change, and sometimes we just need to… turn it off.

Here’s how you can tell if what I’m saying applies to you:

  • Do you ever struggle with a diffuse sense of anxiety about what’s happening in the world? Or do you sometimes ruminate on the state of the planet and its future?
  • Do you feel powerless to stop or change what concerns you?
  • Do you ever worry about things that could befall you that are NOT happening right now, just because of news exposure? (Be honest.) A good example of that would be worrying about plane crashes after watching recent CNN coverage.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, here’s what you can do:

  1. Go outside, and apply your awareness to what’s happening right around you. Focus on the grass, and the birds, and anything you can access that’s both immediate and real, and requires one of your five, primary senses to uncover.
  2. Sit down and meditate for at least five minutes. Similarly to #1, one of the best solutions for anxiety is mindfulness, or “present moment awareness.” If you don’t know how to mediate, there’s a course coming up that could be extraordinarily beneficial for you, and it’s free through the end of the month.
  3. Focus on something positive. Think about things that are happening in your life that have nothing to do with what’s going on in the news. Did your friend recently get a new puppy? Awesome [:)] Don’t underestimate the power of deliberately turning your attention to something uplifting, or something that’s within your control.

I hope this helps! 

Written By: Dr. Leslie Carr is a licensed clinical psychologist (PSY 25306) and author of the eBook When Change Takes Time. She offers therapy and coaching, both in San Francisco and via Skype. More information can be found at