This last year of entrepreneur life has been a whirlwind and there are many words I could use to describe the past twelve months. Some that I have used are wonderful, fulfilling, blessed and one that kept coming out of mouth was squeezed. I have found myself saying that word because I was experiencing the feeling of being squished in from different sides. But why? I love what I have created in my professional life. I love all of it. Every last detail, so why would the word squeezed keep coming to mind?
Therapists have a tendency (at least I do) to “therapize” ourselves and probably over-analyze our own thoughts and behaviors. While I was recently trying to understand how a career that I love so much was also causing some level of discomfort, it finally dawned on me. You know those moments when the answers flood in and you hear yourself saying something like, “Of course! That makes complete sense.” What was the root of this epiphany that I had about the word squeezed?
It’s that my two main entrepreneur brands compete with one another and as they collide, I am the middle point of contact. Ouch. No wonder.
The Two Brands
What are my two brands? I am the owner and lead therapist of an award-winning counseling practice, and I wrote a best-selling book. Both my work as a therapist and the book focus on the recovery from the types of abuses people don’t usually notice happening around them. The hidden poison of psychological abuse. Heavy topic, right? But I absolutely love the work I get to do; both in private practice and in writing the book. So how would these two squeeze together with me in the middle? It centers on the concepts of micro versus macro. The small reach and the large message.
The small reach
I officially opened the counseling agency in 2009. I took my final license exam April 1, 2009 and the doors of my practice opened May 1, 2009. I am not a wait-around-and-think-about-things type of gal. I had two years of finishing my professional license to ponder and twiddle my business thumbs. I was ready for entrepreneur life and passing the exam gave me free rein to go after it. From the beginning I knew I wanted to build what is known as a “boutique” counseling practice. Keep it small, don’t take insurance and the clients get the privacy of not having to go through office staff to make an appointment. When clients call, they get me. I do all my own phone calls, scheduling and follow up. There isn’t the experience of a crowded waiting room full of people to see one of many therapists in the same office. No secretary calling back to schedule and the first point of contact with me finally happening at the appointment. I dislike that model very much.
The owner of a boutique counseling practice is intentional in keeping things from feeling like a medical office. It is created to be an experience that feels like going to chat with a close friend, but with all the healthy professional ethics and boundaries firmly in place. I purposefully started and have fought to keep my counseling agency small enough to stay quaint and full of personal attention. I have no plans to ever change from that model.
The large message.
Now enter in my second brand. My book. I launched the book almost one year ago today and it has done better in sales than I ever could have imagined. It has been a best-seller on Amazon, featured in international news and lifestyle press, audio rights acquired and released by a well-known publisher, and our first international translation is slated to be released this fall. Side note: the first language translation will be in Italian so I am unabashedly jockeying my family to book a trip to Rome and Naples next spring so we can go visit the publisher. Sounds like a great excuse to see Italy!
With the launch of the book, my message about healing from hidden abuse (also the title of the book) has gone literally around the world. At www.healingfromhiddenabuse.com we maintain a list of available book studies. The list currently has 118 book studies in 8 countries, including 37 U.S. states. Press coverage about the book and my work has been featured in outlets like Business Insider, Teen Vogue, Bustle, Romper, PsychReg and PsychCentral. I will be a featured speaker at the national #NoMeanGirls conference October 2017. I even had to hire a publicist and am truly blessed to have Bolt Public Relations (Dallas) join me in the quest to spread awareness about healing from hidden abuse. I couldn’t maximize the reach without the incredible Bolt women. There are many other macro aspects to the book, but you get a glimmer of what has gone on this year. It has taken my breath away at times; both in excitement and exhaustion.
Small reach versus large message. That is where my two brands collide. The look and feel of a boutique practice and the international exposure as a genre author. I am the center point in which these two meet. The word squeezed makes a little more sense. My dilemma as a entrepreneur who loves both brands is how to maintain these two competing worlds.
What is my point in sharing this with you; besides using this space as my own form of therapy to see it all in typed words? The actual main point is that I am 100% I am not alone in feeling like two aspects of life collide, even though you may love both. Where can we see this happening? Marriage, parenting, work, or any other environment where we find ourselves squeezed by different demands. What are we to do to thrive through the pressure?
After the launch of the book and the speed at which it took off, I had to quickly assess where my daily work life priorities were going to be. We all have a limited amount of capacity and must make decisions about what will get our first fruits of energy. For me, that lies with my counseling clients. That does not describe the people who email asking questions, or even calling in for an appointment. In the world of therapy, a client is someone who has filled out their necessary paperwork, come to the first appointment and we both have decided to continue in the therapeutic relationship. A client is not someone who emails asking questions. A client is not even someone making an appointment. The therapist/client relationship and professional obligations start after the first appointment.
As you assess the collision of two competing interests in your life, what will be the priority that will receive your first efforts? Write it down somewhere. Remind yourself that you have chosen to make this area your focus. We do this so when other things come creeping into the schedule, it can serve as a grounding point to get back to business.
Since my true clients are my first professional priority, I had to figure out how to set boundaries so I could meet my obligations to real life, in-office clients. One area that helped with boundary setting was to establish an auto-reply on my work email. The word “inundated” does not even begin to describe what my in-box turned into after the launch of the book. Since I had established a boutique counseling practice, I did not have the assistant infrastructure in place to help me manage the new workload. Since I love owning a small counseling agency, I have no interest in changing my business model to fit the demands of others. Some emails are really nice. Some are really mean. Some are just weird and real weird ones are reported to law enforcement. I waste no time with nonsense. The auto-reply has helped me tremendously in sorting through the emails from true clients, those that are looking for more information and those who want to be ugly to me via email. The auto-reply gives all the necessary information of what next steps people can take. This boundary has helped me beautifully.
Now that you have established your priority, what boundaries need to put in place to help you stay focused on what is most important?
Stay humble and authentically grateful
I strongly believe in the mind/body connection and the power of what we put out into the world with our attitude. Just because we might be going through a time of success, does not mean it will last indefinitely. Actually most things do not. Everything is a season and we must embrace, love, enjoy and be really present in the good moments. Even though I have felt squeezed at times this last year, I quickly felt the overwhelm but then replaced it with soul touching gratitude. I am lucky to do what I do. Sure some days are busy and I need more coffee than is probably healthy, but it is a season. I want to embrace it and feel every moment. There will be a day for retirement, but that day is not today so I will enjoy as much of the roller coaster now as I can!
What will help you remind yourself to not take your season for granted, thinking it will last forever? What can you do to fully appreciate where you are right now?
My hope is that you can enjoy being squeezed by things in your life and learn to recognize them, set limits and embrace every moment!
Keep dreaming big.
“Welcome to The Mental Breakdown and Psychreg Podcast! Today, Dr. Berney and Dr. Marshall have the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Shannon Thomas, a licensed clinical social work supervisor, the owner and lead therapist of an award-winning private practice-counseling agency in Southlake, Texas and best-selling author of ‘Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse.'”
Disclaimer: For those of you who know me and my work around healing from abuse, please note that this blog is not about clinically abusive people (aka narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths). This series on adult bullies is about the other type of difficult people. The average garden-variety type of folks we run into out in the world.
The Different Types of Adult Bullies
What happens when we run into adults who don’t know how to treat other people? Our reactions can range from explosive anger all the way to deeply internalizing the ugly messages that bullies send us. Why do bullies exist in the adult world? As kids, weren’t we all told that schoolyard bullies would one day “grow up” and realize the error of their ways? I know I heard that mean kids would grow out of the need or desire to bully and yet, I see adult bullying in too many life situations.
There seems to be a few different variations of behaviors from individuals who clearly are old enough to know better, and yet, roam the adult schoolyard looking for someone to kick in the shins. Over the course of several blogs, I am going to share with you a few of the types of bullies I have either experienced myself or have been witness to through other people.
The Bitter Bully
I have personally come in close contact with this bully. It is one who appears in the form of a friendly face that is all good with you until, wait for it, the seed of bitterness comes to full harvest. What causes this person to shift from a caring friend to a snarky person who you cannot associate closely with anymore? Bitterness usually shows itself when the adult bully feels threatened by you in some way. Perhaps you stepped on their toes by achieving success in “their” self-designated area of life. It’s as if they have metaphorically tinkled on a bush like a dog to claim it as their own and you dared to come sniffing too close. You hear the low growl and turn to see their teeth showing. They don’t like you anymore. Suddenly you’re now annoying and they have numerous previously unspoken complaints of you. Their view of you has changed but the only thing that is new is your success.
Maybe your success stepped on their toes and rather than coming clean with you about their internal conflict, it seeps out through their pores in bitterness. Of course, they would adamantly deny any jealousy or bitterness. Didn’t they already tell you they are not an angry person? They are the outward picture of confidence but as an intuitive person, you feel the wave of bitterness and it pushes you away from them.
What causes the bitter bully to emerge from the outer covering of a good friend? I believe it is deeply held insecurities. When people feel overly territorial it is because they are scared that you are taking something away from them; that they will lose the goodness in their life. These individuals may have dealt with scarcity or neglect previously and they are triggered on a subconscious level by you coming to close to their now good life.
Is this your fault? Not at all. Are you expected to shrink back in life just so you don’t push insecurity buttons in someone around you? Never. We do not clip our own wings for fear we might fly too high for another person’s comfort level. Their bitterness and internal conflict is theirs, and theirs alone, to work through. However, it is helpful to pause and ponder the “why” of the bitter bully’s projection outward towards you. When we can cognitively understand why people behave the way they do, it takes the personalization out of it. We stop going over what we did to make that person change their ways with us. We start recognizing that not everyone can stay on the same road.
People say that failure will show you who your friends are and that is true. Success will show you the insecurities hiding in those around you. Sometimes, it’s not pretty. Sometimes success brings a chill of loneliness as people react in different ways and bitter is one of them.
Personally, I would rather be surrounded by a few key people who love themselves and their lives so much that anything I might have going on positively isn’t at all a threat to them. It is also my gift back to them because real friends don’t pour bitterness on one another like acid.
Keep Dreaming Big! (so big it makes people uncomfortable)
“What can therapy do?” This is a question that many people often ask, me included. With a little surfing on the Internet, it is not hard to find out the functions, techniques, or even the “promises” of therapy. However, this blog is not about any of that. Rather, it is about what therapy has the potential to be. It is about my vision of therapy with all its possibilities.
As a newcomer of the field, a Christian theologian/ethicist-in-training, and an immigrant from China, I arrived at the therapist chair from many places. From the first day I sat with clients in the therapy room, I knew that I was standing on Holy ground. I knew the presence of God had come within concrete walls. I knew the stories I heard were sacred. I knew that I was blessed to witness people’s journey of life and walk with them in their courage to heal. Through all the troubles, pain, struggles, and silence my clients bring into the room, when I look at the people sitting in front of me, I see souls that are on the journey of becoming so much more. I cannot help but wonder, maybe therapy should be a work of touching souls. Therapy should be a moment when life’s sacredness is fully realized. Therapy should be a space where one is joined by another and invited to know oneself and the world through the gentle carrying of the past. Therapy is not for the faint of heart, both for the clients and for the therapists.
I believe that the nature of therapy should be and only be about love. When clients and therapists come together, relationships are formed. When one speaks and one listens with the full self, hearts are connected. When one shares one’s self openly and freely with another, freedom is experienced. When suffering is truly acknowledged and joy is truly celebrated, love appears. Therapy is not just about changing lives. It should be about healing souls.
Healing is a path that the courageous travel. It takes more than functions, techniques, or even the “promises” of therapy. What it takes is the Divine love that first spoke the world into being and continues to make everything new. Therefore, the process of healing is holy. And the lives that are in it is sacred. Therapeutic approaches, in all its various forms, do not and cannot have the power to start this process. Before clients come to the therapy room, healing has already begun. Therefore, the nature of therapy should not simply be about tools, skills, approaches that may help clients heal. It should be about the meeting of souls and sharing of relationships between the clients and the therapists. It is finite, because of the meeting between finite beings during one session time. Yet, it should also be beyond our infinitude, because of the divine healing that is at work and the lasting comfort that one is never alone. Therapy should be a witness to the sacredness of life, the healing of souls, and ultimately, love.