Open Letter

I wrote the following in response to a former schoolmate who is a police officer. I’ve decided to post it here instead of sending it to him directly, hoping that it could do some good:

My heart goes out to you right now. I can see from your posts that you are hurting right now. I think it’s safe to say that we all are. As a nation.

Every few years the ill treatment of Black Americans by police officers around the country gets some light, and then Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives and Blue Lives Matter comes up and Black voices are drowned out. It seems to me that police officers on the whole are the scapegoats for a broken system that doesn’t respect Black bodies. It hurts to be the scapegoat.

I don’t believe that all police officers are evil or bad. I believe that many, in fact most, go into law enforcement in order to be helpful in their communities. I believe that was your intention, in fact.

That said, there’s obviously a problem with our system overall when people of certain skin colors have to tell their children to be wary of the police and give them “rules” about how to conduct themselves— putting their licenses in plain view in their car so there’s no question about them reaching for an invisible gun, having to put a stuffed animal on the back window to suggest they have a family so they’re not pulled over for driving a car that they “shouldn’t” be able to own, etc.—in an effort to remain alive in a system that is constructed against them.

I read your post expressing concern about talking to your son about your safety when going to work. I want you to think, please, about all the families in this country who have this fear every day of their lives, not because of their beloved profession, but because of their skin color. Of all the mothers and wives who have to worry that their sons and husbands won’t return home today because of experiences like George Floyd went through. It’s horrifying that his family had to lose him like that, and even more horrifying that there’s a recording of it that has been viewed around the world. Even worse is that if it hadn’t been for the video and ensuing protests, there would have been no justice for an unnecessary death. None.

I have the privilege of friendship with some amazing families, and it absolutely kills me inside to think about how their sons—smart, funny, cute—just like our own—may be killed or mistreated for jogging, for driving home after work, for living their Black American life.

We grew up in a largely white town with only one Black student for a couple of years. The Latinx students and others passed, and the openly Jewish student was regularly ridiculed. With that background, we are not in any position to fully understand the situation for people of color in our country, and we have certain biases we are not aware of.

You are obviously a leader in your community. It is my hope that you can look at your pain as a part of the pain that everyone is feeling right now and has been feeling for most of our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not, and determine how we can have effective change that benefits everyone, not just those who look like us.

It’s not an easy task. I’m engaged in this very hard work because I want my son to understand what his friends have ahead for them so he can be an ally and anti-racist. And, so we can learn how to undermine the systems in place that were created to continue inequality and racism.

We need to do more than say the Derek Chauvins of the world are the outliers and otherwise, there aren’t issues, because that’s unequivocally false. We need to make change that eradicates the school to prison pipeline that is the reality of too many American citizens and stop blaming the victims for their victimhood when we can take a long hard look at history and strive to do better. Seeing how we can create law enforcement that helps everyone, no matter their skin color, to feel safe and protected seems, to me, like a great way to start because it interrupts the pipeline.

I feel for, and understand, your pain, and I wonder if you can turn that pain into empathy for those in your community and the rest of the country who feel it even more acutely and have for their entire lives for generations.

Tickling: No Laughing Matter

This morning, I witnessed my child being tickled, and then after he hit the person who was tickling him, he was asked, “Why did you do that? I was only tickling you.” After the event ended, I set a boundary within our family to end tickling altogether.

Tickling is a complicated experience, so let’s talk about it.

  • When we are tickled by another person, that person generally has a position of power over us.
  • Tickling usually happens between a small person and someone much larger (and older).
  • We usually laugh while it’s happening.
  • It’s generally an uncomfortable experience, despite the laughter.
  • When we say, “Stop,” people frequently don’t, because the laughter suggests that we actually enjoy it.

I’ve had to step in before when someone was tickling my son to say, “He said, stop, so please listen to him.”

Today’s experience caused me to think about what I’m trying to do in raising my son and how tickling fits in. Let’s start by saying that tickling someone else is VERY enticing. I mean, we want to make cute small people giggle uncontrollably, and that’s a big pull. The thing is that enough people tell us to stop for us to get the message that we don’t really like being tickled. My own history of being tickled caused me to no longer feel ticklish, it was so uncomfortable. And, in spite of the message being there, we still do it.

With all this, I try hard to avoid the urge to tickle my son, whose intense laughter sends thrills through my body. I want him to laugh—hard and often. And my fingers get that tickly itch, and I work to quell it.

Let’s think about why we may want to stop tickling our children.

I’m going to get deep here. We live in a rape culture. This kind of society functions on the opposite principles of bodily autonomy—it says that certain bodies are for me to dominate. These bodies may be young and small, female, with darker skin, having alternative sexual identities, or with identified or unidentified disabilities or mental illness. This also happens to men and boys, as people sometimes forget. Rape culture seeks to control these bodies and does so through physical threat and violence. Sometimes, this threat appears benign, as with tickling, a childish game. When we think about it, tickling is not something that children innately do with each other—it is taught.

Wow. Where did that come from? How does rape culture fit in with tickling?

Well, think about it. We start tickling young children, and we enjoy their laughter. Many of us also enjoy being able to control the situation where we get to choose when this action ends, which is often after many protestations and requests for the tickling to stop. I have witnessed the enjoyment of domination that I mention here. Have you?

Whether the child is feminine, masculine, or as yet undefined, there are specific messages that are relayed.

  • I don’t have control over what happens to my body.
  • “No” doesn’t mean “no”; “stop doesn’t mean “stop.”
  • I can make decisions about what happens to another person’s body.
  • I don’t have to listen when someone else says “no.”
  • Others might not listen when I say “no” or “stop,” and that’s okay.
  • I don’t think I enjoyed that, but I’m not sure because the other person said it wasn’t a big deal and suggested that I enjoyed it because I was laughing—did I actually enjoy it? I must have. I doubt my own truth.

Do any of these messages sound familiar?

Personally, I want to live in a compassionate society. One where people’s bodily autonomy is respected and where people don’t use their position of real or perceived power against anyone else. I believe this starts in my home. There are a lot things that I can do to help change the system of oppression and suppression that we live in, where some bodies are harmed and killed every day, because we are given messages from a very young age in our own microcosm that we don’t own our body and that others may do with our body as they see fit.

When I advocate for my son in this way in our home, there are several things happening.

  • I teach both the children in my home that they have worth.
  • I model advocacy of self and others.
  • I help myself to change my own behaviors that have been ingrained since childhood.
  • I teach that vulnerability is okay when I share about what I struggle with.
  • I illustrate the importance of questioning norms that we are expected to blindly follow.

I hope that we’re able to look at some of our behaviors more critically, especially the ones that seem benign at a glance and think about how they contribute to society as a whole. Every one of us is charged with making our society what it is, both positively and negatively. It is on us to determine our impact. The question of whether to tickle could be a great place to start.



Acceptance in the Time of Coronavirus

Reality is tough to face right now.

It feels like our lives have been flipped upside down and torn apart from the inside.

Most of us are still adjusting to a new normal. This new homestay situation that we’re facing has disrupted our routines, our lifestyles, and our finances. Our children have had to adjust en masse to online education, and many of us have had to figure out a way of living that includes intense isolation from our support system.

Daily, I see people who are standing too close to others, kids playing together in close proximity, and large gatherings of people at parks. All while the numbers of people who are contracting COVID-19 are growing steadily. From what I can tell, there are a lot of people who are having a difficult time with a sheltering-in-place reality. These people may be experiencing denial of our current situation.

There are also people who are staying in their homes, limiting contact with everyone, including close friends and family, and wearing masks out in public.

In all these people, there may be a variety of levels of acceptance of reality. When we fail to accept the current moment as being exactly what it is without adding to or subtracting from it, we find ourselves experiencing unending suffering. Now, life has suffering from time to time. That’s a harsh reality. And, we’re currently in a situation that can cause suffering. However, we don’t have to experience unending suffering right now.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) says that we have four choices when we’re experiencing suffering:

  1. Change the situation
  2. Change how we perceive the situation
  3. Accept the situation
  4. Stay stuck in our suffering

As I said earlier, when we attempt to avoid reality, we can increase our suffering, or cause unending suffering. When we practice Radical Acceptance, we reduce the suffering to pain that is more manageable. In addition, when we practice Radical Acceptance, we can make choices about how we respond and make changes to our thoughts and emotions regarding our situation. This allows us to move forward more effectively.

When we practice Radical Acceptance, we are saying that we understand these three concepts:

  1. Reality is exactly what it is
  2. Everything has a cause (even if we don’t know exactly what that is)
  3. Life can be worth living, even when there is pain

How Do We Practice Radical Acceptance?

Before we answer this question, let’s look at what Radical Acceptance is not, and what it is. Radical Acceptance is not resignation. When we choose to radically accept our situation, we are not suddenly saying that we like the situation, nor are we showing any form of approval– that would be invalidating. Instead, we are choosing to accept reality in the moment with our entire being—with our minds, and our hearts, and our bodies. That’s why we call it “radical”– it takes our entire being, and not only a part of us.

And we do this by following these steps:

  1. Observe that you are not accepting reality
  2. Gently remind yourself that the reality is exactly as it is and no different
  3. Describe what you are having a difficult time accepting
  4. Identify changes that you can realistically make to the situation or to your perception of the situation
  5. Describe how your life will be different after you Radically Accept this situation
  6. Describe how you will celebrate your freedom from suffering
  7. Turn your mind toward Radical Acceptance over and over again

Some Things to Remember

This list sounds easy, right? Well, if acceptance of uncomfortable realities was easy, then we wouldn’t have to talk about this skill at all. We would simply accept all situations that come our way, without avoidance and without suffering. This is not what we usually do, and we have good reasons.

It’s important to note that while we are in the process of accepting reality, we will find ourselves experiencing difficult emotions—sadness, anger, fear, regret, disappointment, frustration. We will find ourselves, most likely, somewhere in Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, or depression. There may be parts of the situation that are easier to accept than others. That’s why it’s important to sit down and create awareness around what we are having a difficult time accepting.

In short, Radical Acceptance requires mindfulness of painful emotions that we have been attempting to avoid experiencing. When we begin the process of Radical Acceptance, we will need to feel these negative emotions in order to reach acceptance. When we do this, we find that these emotions don’t last in a single moment for as long as we expect them to, nor for as long as they do when we attempt to avoid them.

Lastly, Radical Acceptance is not a one-time deal. It’s necessary to practice over and over. We do not wake up each morning and face each moment with Radical Acceptance. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves to turn our minds toward acceptance of a painful situation over and over again.

When we do this, we find that the situation that was once intolerable is now tolerable, and we may even be able to find some meaning in it.

This is a difficult skill to use, and it is worth the work. I promise.



Why Mindfulness Matters… Especially Now


That’s a common buzzword. It’s right up there with “self-care” in our current vernacular.

If we look at companies like Coursera, the Great Courses, and Udemy, we can find masterclasses on the subject so that everyone can become masters of mindfulness. There are retreats dedicated to the practice, and Buddhist temples, yoga studios, and therapists in private practice and agencies offer weekly or daily groups. Jon Kabat Zinn offers a program on managing chronic pain through daily mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is also one of the umbrellas of skills for Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Each module for DBT skills group starts off with a two-week training period focused on mindfulness practice, and every week starts off with some form of mindfulness practice and discussion.

Why mindfulness? What is it that we’re seeking? Why do we do it?

I want to start off responding to these questions by talking about the “How” skill of DBT called “one-mindfully.”

In our current world, a lot of emphasis is placed on multi-tasking. I can remember internship and job interviews where I was asked about my ability to multi-task, because it is seen as a strength in many industries.

The truth though is that multi-tasking is a fantasy: we are unable to effectively engage in more than one complex activity at a time. That makes sense, really, because if I’m splitting my attention between two or more activities, I cannot possibly be able to complete any of them as though I was giving it my full attention.

Multi-tasking isn’t relegated just to the work environment. We use it when we listen to podcasts while cooking, play music while driving or working out, check out social media while we’re sharing a family dinner, look at our phones when we’re having a conversation with our friends and loved ones, and more.

Most of our time, really, is spent multi-tasking. When I reflect on my own behaviors here, I can see that my attention ebbs and flows between tasks, neither getting consistent and full attention.

So, DBT suggests “one-mindfully” as one of the “How” skills to practicing mindfulness. When we are engaging one-mindfully, we are focusing all our attention on one task. For instance, as I write this post, I’m trying to focus my attention only on this task, so my phone is in the other room with my family, music, and cats. One-mindfully is the opposite of multi-tasking.

DBT, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and others recommend mindfulness as an effective way of facing life, which is becoming increasingly more complex as more and more technologies impose more and more complications to daily living. Since many of us have a limited understanding of our emotions and limited emotional vocabulary, we have an increased urge to retreat into multi-tasking behaviors without even realizing it.

So, what is mindfulness? Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. It’s the ability to focus attention and consciousness on this moment, this breath, this activity, this thought, this feeling. I mentioned earlier that mindfulness is one of the umbrella skills of DBT, and I go so far as to say, without mindfulness practice, we cannot access the other skillsets. Put another way: if I am unable to have awareness of an action urge during an interaction with my spouse, I may find myself saying or doing things that I will later regret.

When we practice mindfulness daily, we increase the chances that we will be aware of our thoughts and feelings during what DBT calls prompting events. Why is this beneficial, you ask? Well, if I’m having a conversation with my spouse and find myself acting on the urge to check social media or see if someone else has texted me, I can ask myself questions about this urge and make a choice to remain in the conversation I’m already having or follow through on my urge and accept the consequences of potentially hurting my spouse with my action.

Currently, many of us are in a “homestay” status due to the pandemic that’s wreaking havoc across the globe. During this time, we are experiencing many powerful emotions daily, including sadness, fear, anxiety, and anger. Perhaps we’re not beaten down by these emotions, and they do come up. For me, they seem to come up on Sundays more than other days.

If we’re mindful during this time, we are present for these emotions, even though they are painful. We provide space for them and look at them with curiosity.

We validate them.

If we are avoidant during this time, the emotions that arise still come—we don’t prevent them—and show themselves in ineffective ways. This may happen through irritability, tantrums, sleepless nights, changes in appetite, restlessness, etc. Some of these responses can be harmful to ourselves, and some can be harmful to others, or both.

When we’re in a “homestay” like many of us are now, this can make our situation more unpleasant than it has to be. This is why, even though we set ourselves to experience a painful moment, practicing mindfulness of these inevitable negative emotions is necessary.

The reality is that we are going to continue to have feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger—and a lot of others—and, if we hold space for those emotions, if we stop what we’re doing and let those emotions have their authentic voice, then we are allowing ourselves to better experience this pandemic, we increase our chances to look back on this experience as one of growth and connection—both within ourselves and with others.

When I’m able to give space to all my emotions—the good, the bad, and the ugly—I’m able to be mindful that I’m not scared or angry all the time. I’m not pretending that I’m happy and content all the time, either. I’m allowing myself to know that sometimes, I’m feeling happy and connected, sometimes, I’m feeling sad or outraged, and sometimes, I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all.

When we practice mindfulness, we give our bodies the message that it’s okay to feel however we feel whenever we feel it. This is so important right now, especially if one of our activities of avoidance includes going out to engage in mindless shopping at the hint of an uncomfortable emotion.

Right now, we can give ourselves the gift of validation through mindfulness. This is a gift that will last far beyond this sheltering-at-home experience if we let it.



Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring (just) because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.

 – Christine Morgan

Boundaries are important. Ultimately, they help keep us safe. Most people, though, are really taught about only one kind of boundary—physical. Is this you? Thinking back, I know it was me. But, boundaries are much more complex and much more important than just protecting us physically.

Over the years, I’ve had experiences which have left me feeling uncomfortable that had little to nothing to do with physical boundaries. Maybe you can relate to some or all of these experiences:

  • At times in my childhood, I was told, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry for!”
  • During my teens, I was told things akin to, “You would if you loved me.”
  • People I knew have shared something publicly about me that I didn’t really want a large number of people to know;
  • Over the phone, someone tried to urge me to espouse their spiritual beliefs;
  • There were even times when I heard people make negative comments about a whole race or other groups of people.

Looking back, I can see one commonality to all of these situations for me. They all left me feeling uncomfortable in a way that physical boundary transgressions have felt uncomfortable to me as well. In the above experiences, though, I didn’t have a word for what was happening, because, well, no one was entering my “personal space” in any observable way. So, I often dismissed the discomfort at hand, in spite of having thoughts like, “Well, it seems I already have something to cry for, or else I wouldn’t be crying,” or “I’ve given a lot of thought to my spiritual beliefs, and it’s really none of your business,” or “Really? Every single person in _________ group is like this?”

Maybe you can relate to that feeling of exposure that happens when someone shares something intimate about you that you didn’t want shared. For me, it’s like being caught with my clothes off in public. Yikes! It’s also something that I see happening on social media frequently.

Now, I can look back at these experiences and see that they felt uncomfortable in a way similar to physical boundary transgressions because they were all examples of others crossing my boundaries, only boundaries I hadn’t been taught about and so didn’t know how to set.

Lane Pederson, PsyD, LP, DBTC defines six different types of boundaries in his book The Expanded Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual: DBT for Self-Help, and Individual and Group Treatment Settings, 2nd Edition that we need to be aware of. Six! Most of us are taught one, in potentially awkward demonstrations, maybe two. Maybe if we want to be really persnickety, we could find even more than six.

The important message here is that there are quite a few ways that we can keep ourselves safe, and we first need to be aware of these so that we can be pro-active—sort of like participating in one of those special self-defense classes designed for women when existing in public.

Boundaries Defined

I will briefly define the boundaries that Lane Pederson discusses so that you, too, can have a place to start from when you’re thinking about your own safety—all aspects of it.


  • frequently referred to as “personal space”—individual to each person;
  • different kinds of touch and how people shouldn’t touch our “private places” without permission;
  • what you eat and drink—anything that affects your physical being.

For me, the last one calls to mind those times if we are pressured to drink alcohol or try mood-altering substances when we’d really rather not. And, it’s more than that, too.


  • what you feel;
  • how you are able to be manipulated by others through gas-lighting, guilt-trips, and the like;
  • whether or not you take on the emotional distress of others, or expect them to take on your distress;
  • what and how you share about your feelings to others, as well as to whom you share.


  • related to thoughts, beliefs, and values;
  • how you share about your internal life to others.


  • related to your choice of religion and the extent to which you are free to choose;
  • the people with whom you share your spiritual life and how you share it.


  • your history and life;
  • shares common ground with the above boundaries;
  • how and to whom your life story is shared.

This can also be an easily overlooked boundary, especially when we meet someone with whom we believe we immediately “click”; after spending a few hours sharing as much as we possibly can about ourselves to a stranger, we can walk away thinking, “I feel like I’ve known them all my life.” Definitely, an important boundary to be aware of.


  • any boundaries that are not listed above;
  • geographical boundaries like where you live and work;
  • who your family and friends are;
  • all those things that set you apart from the “people that you meet when you’re walking down the street, the people that you meet each day!” (Sesame Street shout-out!).

What’s Next

Now that you’re aware of all these boundaries that you never knew existed, you can become aware of how they work for you in interpersonal relationships.

Practice awareness of the number of times in a week or a month, for instance:

  • You walk away from a conversation and think: “Man! I wish I hadn’t said that! I don’t even know that person.” (psychological or biographical.)
  • You walk away from an outing with friends and say, “I wish I hadn’t had that drink.” (physical)
  • You share something that a friend told you in confidence, and they become upset when you share it. (psychological or biographical)
  • You find yourself feeling “crazy” because you know that what you’re feeling is valid and someone else has told you it’s wrong. (emotional)
  • You try to convince someone that they need to help you by attempting to appeal to their fears in some way. (emotional)

I think it’s important to note that if you’re noticing that you are making boundary transgressions, it’s more than likely because you weren’t taught about boundaries, and maybe you were taught how to make these particular transgressions (usually unwittingly on the part of the environment). While we need to have healthy boundaries modeled for us in order to learn them, we can also be taught in other ways, like having them defined for us. Also, awareness is a pretty powerful tool, as anyone who practices mindfulness regularly can attest. Once we become aware of a particular problematic behavior, it makes it difficult to continue engaging in it, especially when we can make a different choice about it.

There’s hope for us all! Whew!

Let me know what you think about boundaries. I’d love to hear from you!

IMPROVE the Moment Over the Holidays

Dialectical Behavior Therapy focuses on the teaching and reinforcing of four major areas of skills: Mindfulness Practice, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Emotion Regulation.

I happen to believe that these skills are helpful for everyone. I mean, most of us have had moments — and sometimes longer — that can feel intolerable and during which we can find ourselves saying, “I can’t stand this.” It’s during a time like this that DBT skills can be very helpful, particularly Mindfulness (awareness that we are experiencing distress) and Distress Tolerance (skills meant to help us move effectively from this moment to the next). Anyone can use them to make a current situation better.

On November 20, 2016, I had the honor of speaking at Sunday Assembly Atlanta. My topic was using the DBT skill “IMPROVE the Moment” during the Holiday season. Here’s a link to this speech. I hope you find something in it for you this season.


It seems as though I’ve been on quite a few simultaneous journeys for sometime now— adulthood, marriage, step-parenting, motherhood, career change from teacher to therapist, and now private practice. This space represents the latter journey, although parts of my other adventures will inevitably show up here as they frequently do in my therapy with clients. Even my office is a reflection of my past and my present, previous aspects of my life experience holding space with representations of my current self and the selves of those I’m closest to. I share all of these in the space I hold with my clients.

I have frequently not known the path given journeys would take and have frequently been surprised by the turns. My plans for becoming a teacher, for instance, initially included returning to my hometown and giving back in the school system that nourished my early life experience. Instead, I found myself moving overseas to spend most of my career exploring other countries and cultures and seeing places I had only read about previously—Australia (a potential visit here was my reason for moving overseas in the first place), Paris, France, and Egypt, just to name a few. When I decided to change careers, my plan for my counseling practice were very different from what they’ve become, and I’m happy that they’ve led me here to Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and to you, and an office of my own, that I seek to share with you.

I’m nervous and excited about this journey, and I’m happy to have you along with me! Please stay tuned as I continue to update this site with information that I have found to be important for myself and family, as well as for my clients.

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass