Monday, November 15, 2021

How to Give Yourself Grace - and Move Forward

by Therese Daniels

The times when we need grace the most are the times when we are least likely to give it to ourselves. The term grace has many different meanings, but for this purpose we can consider “giving ourselves grace,” the act of giving ourselves permission to forgive our mistakes, our lapses in judgement, and our hurtful behavior. We forgive ourselves because we are all human, and life can be hard. Author and Yoga teacher Dianne Bondy, in an article on giving yourself grace says, “Grace happens to give us some space, acceptance, and room to take a hard swallow or step back.” She believes that we cannot use grace as an excuse, but rather as an opportunity to take action and move forward.  Here are some ideas on how to give yourself grace and move forward:

1.     Re-evaluate your goals/expectations

I never want to advise anyone to not dream too big or shoot for the stars. It is great and important to have big long-term goals. But the key to achieving them is to start off small. If you start the New Year saying you are going to go to the gym every single day, but you have been going zero days, that is a big leap. Start with 1-2 days a week, be happy if you make that achievement, and use the motivation to get to the next level. Start with the big goal and then work backwards and break them down into smaller steps/goals and check them off the list as you go along towards the bigger, long-term goal. A strategy called SMART goal setting can be a helpful tool to get started.

2.     Just say NO

We live in a world where we feel the need to say yes and constantly people please. “Yes, I’ll take the extra project,” “Yes, I can help you with that,” “Yes, I can add an extra appointment,” “Yes, I can drive you there,” “Yes, I can watch your child.” Helping others is admirable and desirable, but anything to the extreme can be unhealthy. Balance is key. Allow yourself to say no AND to not feel guilty about it. While it can, and usually does, feel good and provide satisfaction to do things for others, there is certainly a limit that we do not always pay attention to. It is healthy to set boundaries. It is a way to be kind to ourselves, recognize our limits, and it sets us up for satisfaction and success versus frustration and burn out. 

3.     Stop saying “I should”

We need to stop “shoulding” all over ourselves. I do not love this saying, but it carries a lot of truth. Psychologist Clayton Barbeau coined the term “Shoulding yourself,” meaning putting pressure on yourself to do or be something based on what you or others think you’re supposed to be doing or having regret for past actions (or non actions). This type of thinking is very common and provides little to no space for action. It helps us shame and guilt ourselves and leads to a lack of motivation. It keeps us stuck in the past. While we can learn from past behaviors, putting too much pressure on ourselves and living in regret wastes our mental energy. Accepting things from the past and learning to move forward with kindness is a much more productive and beneficial mind set. Replace “should” with “I want to…” or “Next time I will…” and you will feel a difference.

4.     Flip the Script

We all talk to ourselves, in our heads (and sometimes out loud). There is a constant reel of automatic thoughts going through our minds all day, every day. And very often these thoughts are negative. We say mean things to ourselves, about ourselves. Research in Cognitive Therapy shows that thoughts cause feelings. Most people believe that events cause feelings, but it really comes down to what we are saying to ourselves. If someone is stuck in a traffic jam and thinks, “Oh no, I am going to be late! My boss will be mad. What if I can’t get all of my work done? I should have left earlier! Why did I make myself coffee?”, then chances are, that person is going to feel anxious and flustered. If someone stuck in the same traffic jam instead thinks, “Ugh, traffic is annoying, but oh well, I can’t control it.  I’ll just let my boss know what happened, and I will take this time to get more prepared for work, listen to good music, and roll the windows down to get some fresh air” then, chances are that person is going to feel calm and ready for the day ahead. Same situation – but very different thoughts and very different feelings. It is helpful and important to “flip the script.” Change what you are saying to yourself. When you notice yourself starting to feel a negative emotion, pay attention to what you are saying to yourself in your head and flip it! Replace it with something positive. It may not feel natural at first, but the more you try, the more it will become your typical thought response. I often offer my clients Refocus Bands. It is something you wear on your wrist and on the inside there is a positive phrase. You wear it, flip it, and then refocus. Another idea is to write words or phrases on popsicle sticks and keep them in a bag or in your pocket and pull them out when feeling down. Small things like that are simple but helpful

In closing, I invite you to give yourself grace. Use the month of December to begin practicing self-kindness and let the momentum build throughout 2022. Start with yourself and watch the kindness spread to all of those around you! Let 2022 be the year when compassion was contagious – and it spreads like wildfire.

Therese M. Daniels, MA, LPC has been in the mental health field for 20 years. She provides individual, couples, and family counseling for ages 6 and up. She specializes in anxiety, depression, self-esteem, life transitions, and more. Learn more at / and Contact her at or 410-919-9673.

Regret, Self-Blame, and Learning to Give Yourself Grace

by Therese Daniels 

The month of December tends to be a time where we look back over the past year. Many of us expected a lot more out of 2021. I can clearly remember so many people proclaiming strong goodbyes to 2020 with a swift strong kick saying, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” All with hopes of a much brighter year to come, one filled with family, friends, travel, and simple reconnection. Well, I am not sure about everyone else, but I get the sense that 2021 did not quite deliver. Things have certainly improved since this time last year, especially in recent weeks; however much of 2021 was darkened by COVID, natural disasters, and much more. COVID variants and spikes caused cancelled events, travel, and social gatherings. Natural disasters displaced people from their homes. Increased anger and violence cost people their lives and loved ones…I could go on.

Within the stress and storm of these ongoing events, I have noticed a concerning mindset and repetitive theme in the ways people talk about life lately. It is a pattern of guilt, shame, regret, and self-doubt. I have heard countless statements that begin with phrases such as, “I should have done___”  or “I should not have done ____”  or “I can’t believe I didn’t ___” or “I wish I would have ___”. I have heard even stronger self-condemnation in the face of hardship, shared as strongly as “I hate myself for ___”. Hearing this, I am struck by sadness and even fear. If we cannot be kind to ourselves as individuals, then how can we genuinely show kindness to others or even hope others will extend kindness to us?

The unfortunate truth is that we really have no control over the external events that happen all around us. So much that happens is outside our control. It makes sense that we wish we had more control than we really do and even that there is a problem-solving part of us that looks at past events with an eye on preventing painful events from recurring. But this isn’t always possible. We can’t stop a tornado. We can’t go back to 2019 and prevent the pandemic. And while we can do our best to prevent our three year old or elderly parents from contracting COVID, we cannot guarantee it. 

Something we can have control over, however, is how we treat and talk to ourselves. Especially in the face of pain and hardship. Rather than berating ourselves (and others) for what we could have, should have done differently, we can pause. We can allow ourselves to acknowledge the pain. We can invite in kindness, acceptance, and grace towards ourselves. In doing this, we can interrupt the pattern of negativity and regret. While fueled by a desire for control, the blame game (ourselves and others) simply adds to the pain. When we pause and welcome self-compassion, we may start a domino effect of compassion that extends beyond ourselves. Offering ourselves kindness and acceptance, we become more able to offer kindness and acceptance to others. Starting with ourselves and then extending kindness to our loved ones, neighbors, and even strangers in our community, we are empowered to spread positivity where before negativity and fear lived.

The Pay It Forward Foundation was started in 2000 and is described as acts of kindness, generating a ripple effect from one person to the next, one community to the next. There are countless stories of people buying coffee for each other, paying tolls for the car behind them, spreading joy through quiet, unbidden acts of kindness. People experience such joy from doing and seeing things like this for others, yet sometimes have a very hard time applying this concept to themselves. What might it look like to “pay it forward” in your own life? To give yourself the gift of kindness – and then build upon that to be increasingly, consistently kind towards YOU?