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Dr. Karen Samuels: “If everyone could truly believe”

Every night, just before sleep ask yourself: What went well? Name and write down 2–3 things at the end of each day that went well. Not big stuff, maybe small acts of kindness, blessings, the magic of a song, a moment that was a surprise. Not, what went wrong BUT refocus on WWW: What went […]

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Every night, just before sleep ask yourself: What went well? Name and write down 2–3 things at the end of each day that went well. Not big stuff, maybe small acts of kindness, blessings, the magic of a song, a moment that was a surprise. Not, what went wrong BUT refocus on WWW: What went well? Over time it really makes a difference! TO your mood, outlook, managing worries… In the morning, what you wrote down the night before sets an imprint for the day to come!


As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Samuels, Ph.D, psychologist, Ormond Beach, FL., Founder/Director of COPE: Community Outreach to Prevent Eating Disorders.

She serves as a consultant, Family Residency Program, Halifax Medical Center, & affiliate, Center for Relational Growth, Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, Wellesley Centers for Women. A lifelong yogi, she is Guide & psychologist at www.OneOeight.com providing education and outreach for the continuum of disordered eating, body image disturbance and utilizing yoga as an adjunct for treatment. She developed middle school outreach media literacy programs, trained physicians in interprofessional Eating Disorder teams and conducted Eating Disorder group therapy with midlife/aging women. She has published articles, lectures nationally, been interviewed on Huff PostLive, blogs, and tweets about Eating Disorders and body image disturbance. Dr. Samuels received the 2014 NEDA Westin Family Award for Activism and Advocacy.


Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

I have worked in the field of psychology for over 30 years, dedicated to promoting healing and growth in mind, body and spirit. Practicing and dedicated to lifelong learning as a yogi has informed my life and my work as a psychologist. My tag #yogipsychologist is the culmination of a lifelong story of yoga practice and study, starting at the age of 12 joined with my study and practice in the field of clinical psychology which began in the early 1980s. So joining mind-body practices to promote healing and growth fostering connections is the culmination of many hours on my yoga mat and many hours in my practice as a psychologist. I am a lifelong learner and every day am humbled and touched by the deep and profound sharing of those who seek my services.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

I recently contributed a chapter for the book: Race Work and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience, Eds. Roberts, Mayo & Thomas, Harvard Business Review Press, in Press, 2019. Our chapter, co-written with a dear friend and colleague, Dr. Kathryn Fraser, is titled: “A Million Gray Areas: How two friends crossed paths professionally and personally, and mutually enhanced their understanding of relationships of race, gender, class and power.”
Our collaboration over 25 years in community social justice service, and relational awareness has deepened our commitment. Crossing bridges of difference to enhance connection is key!

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

Yes, many times in my life and work have been the “tipping point”…towards greater self-acceptance. In fact in continues at each age and life stage/season that unfolds. I remember pursuing my yoga studies to become a yoga teacher (YTT) and beginning graduate school in Clinical Psychology simultaneously. I wanted to do both and didn’t want anyone to question if I had the proper credentials. So working my way through a Ph.D. program to become a psychologist while teaching Yoga full time helped me find that life “balance” that maybe I didn’t have to choose one or the other. Yoga became the embodied practice to help me have the confidence to also become a clinical psychologist!

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

Is it even that high percentage??? We live in diet-obsessed fat phobic culture that from very early in life tells everyone (all ages, stages, ethnicities, size, etc.) what is wrong with our appearance. Then we are continuously “sold” the products, diets, sports, workouts, “cleanse”, beauty and fashion items that will help improve our self of self-esteem. In fact, it only heightens low self-acceptance and reinforces feeling never good enough!

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

We love our family, friends, pets, homes, automobile, cell phone, etc. We take good care of the things we truly love with some degree of TLC. If we can “love yourself” enough to take even a bit better care of yourself, like the way you speak to or care for your most treasured relationships, or belongings, imagine the possibilities!! So love yourself doesn’t mean 100% all the time!

It means coming back to self-care with gentleness, tolerance and patience. Just like you might a small child or a precious pet.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

It is okay to have healthy relationships and also have boundaries!!! Boundaries are a place of “connection and meeting” with the other that is for the MUTUAL good of both/all involved. Not one way, but mutual respect, mutual care, mutual compassion, mutual understanding. Not always 50:50; but still a mutual flow of empathy, care and love. We are relational beings hardwired for connections. Sometimes we think that love has to hurt or let us down more than it lifts us up. It’s okay to ask for more, for the relationship to be the place, the “we” where both feel like they get something more from the connection. If it is always a drain away, maybe revisit how to make it more mutual!

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

My many years of working as a clinical psychologist and a lifelong yogi has heightened my awareness of the overwhelming need for compassion. For self, for self-in-relation to others, for self-in-relation to our community, the environment, the world writ large.

I will return again and again to the question of how to accept with tolerance, ourselves, our relationships, our communities, our environment?

It always begins with…..

I am enough. I am enough. I am enough.

Not that I will be enough if only…if only I lose weight, wear the right size, find the right partner, the right home, the right job, the right car, the right clothes, the right “belief system”, even the right self-care practices.

Instead, each and every day ask what will help me better accept “I am enough”? If I am enough, then the lens through which my eyes view others will be able to see the “enoughness” in others. This much more growth fostering than the critical, divisive ways we tend to berate ourselves, our neighbors, our co-workers, family members, you name it.

This is a lifelong ever-changing practice. No one ever truly believes “I am enough” and that’s the endpoint. It comes up multiple times a day. Keeping perspective. I am enough. You are enough. We are enough.

Or at the very least, we are in the process of becoming “enough”.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

As a practitioner and teacher of Relational Cultural Theory, from the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Centers for Research, Wellesley College, the underlying belief system is the CHALLENGE to the concept of “separate self” as the key to growth. Instead, human beings are biologically and neurologically hard-wired for connection. That we grow and heal through connections, connections that are based in mutual respect and mutuality. So from this perspective, we may rest, regroup, regenerate, reflect and recharge through our ability to be alone with thoughts and feelings. That our disconnections even serve the purpose to move us back towards growth fostering connections. So the practice of being alone is not the goal. But to allow the time with self is a part of being relational. We are better in our understanding, compassion and empathy with others when we practice the same with ourselves.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

As just mentioned, when we are able to practice self-empathy, self-compassion and our self-care needs are met, then we enlarge our capacity to see the same in others. Our empathic possibilities, our compassion and care deepens in our connections with others.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

BE KIND! BE ACCEPTING of difference. We all have ways we hold some “isms” the things in others that make us uncomfortable. It’s okay to have them just not okay to act on them in unkind or inconsiderate ways. It always comes back on you in a negative way. It’s natural and normal to be hurt, frustrated, angry, intolerant, etc. But not to turn it on yourself OR others.

In my work and life, the focus is primarily on how to promote empathy. For self, others and community.

I offer the empathy “self-check”: are you checking in with yourself and paying attention to what your needs are? Feelings, thoughts, reactivity, energy states are quite transitory…they pass as quickly as the clouds floating through the sky. Remember to check in with yourself to assess am I listening to my needs and honoring them?

Am I practicing empathic attunement with others? Not simply “can I put myself in their shoes?” but truly appreciate the experience of the other person? Here’s the hardest part of practicing empathy: do I recognize and understand the impact I have on the other person(s)?? This is much more challenging, to really appreciate your impact on the other and take it into consideration when expressing and practicing empathy.

In society, how does our cultural context practice and consider empathy and engagement for marginalized others? So many feel “invisibilized” by the dominant culture’s pressures for conformity to very rigid and narrow demands. Speak up and make an extra effort to recognize and engage with those on the margins and invite yourself to be curious about and truly listen with empathy when someone shares their experience. Listening to someone into expressing their truth and making safe spaces for this dialogue is the ultimate empathy practice!

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Practice #yogaeverydamnday!-I do my home yoga practice every single morning. If not, it feels like the day wasn’t quite started, like not washing your face or brushing your teeth. My bedroom is a half yoga studio with my mat, and all the yoga props. Personally, I have long believed morning coffee and yoga are a perfect combo first thing in the morning.
  2. My husband and I take a morning walk in our neighborhood second thing almost every morning. We try to meditate for a portion of the walk. We listen to the natural sounds of the environment…the wind, birdsong, our steps, and our breath. He likes to listen to the 2 minute National Newscast on NPR…I urge him not to plug into news until after our morning of yoga and walking.
  3. Grounding practice. What will today bring? What am I looking forward to? What are your intentions for this new day? I spend about 2–3 minutes in grooming and getting dressed before running out the door for my day at the office with my clients. I pick out clothes the night before, and in the morning my preparations are spent on the yoga mat, on my morning walk and on my breath. My day unfolds from this very deep place of pure “being”.
  4. 4. WWW: Every night, just before sleep ask yourself: What went well? Name and write down 2–3 things at the end of each day that went well. Not big stuff, maybe small acts of kindness, blessings, the magic of a song, a moment that was a surprise. Not, what went wrong BUT refocus on WWW: What went well? Over time it really makes a difference! TO your mood, outlook, managing worries… In the morning, what you wrote down the night before sets an imprint for the day to come!
  5. Connections: I make a point of seeking a loving connection at some point every day. Saying “I love you” to someone else. I’d rather be in a growth fostering connection, an authentic moment to moment exchange than anywhere else
  6. Journaling- I have kept journals for my entire life. Love having this outlet to reflect, review, remember…Today I can reread about travels or experiences from different ages, stages and seasons of my life. These memories inspire me to keep adding to the story.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

Too many to recount:

BOOKS:

bel hooks All about Love; bel hooks speaks to my heart and soul about how to love, the importance of living your one true life from a heartfelt place of practice love for others.

Jean Baker Miller Towards a New Psychology of Women Jean Baker Miller wrote this book in the mid-1970s when I was in college. It blew my socks off then and ever since. Jean speaks the revolutionary truth that human beings are relational beings that grow through and with our connections to others, not separately or apart from them! I had the amazing good fortune to train with Dr. Jean Baker Miller for many years and she inspires me every day.

Carol Gilligan In a Different Voice This book was published in the same time frame as Jean Baker Miller’s book. They are really companion treatises from a time that was groundbreaking in recognizing that women’s development and experience was truly unique from men’s and needed examination and inclusion!

Susie Orbach Fat is A Feminist Issue Susie Orbach’s book first intrigued me and drew me into the field of disordered eating, eating disorders and body image. I have worked in this field of psychology for over 30 years. Also had the unique opportunity to spend a year in training with Susie Orbach at the Women’s Therapy Centre in London in the early years of my professional growth and development.

Eve Ensler The Vagina Monologues Just read it. This book has inspired young women to perform it on Valentine’s Day “V Day” across the globe on college campuses. Another speak out revolutionary book!

Sharon Salzberg Real Love Sharon Salzberg is one of my most beloved meditation teachers. She inspires mediation and loving kindness in her teachings and writings!

Daniel Seigel, M.D. MindSight Dan Siegel’s work in relational neuroscience brings out the neuroscience geek in me and brings the relational, biological, cultural and social justice pieces carefully woven together in wise and accessible ways. I have loved the opportunities of studying with both Dr. Siegel and Sharon Salzberg together! Teaching relational neuroscience and mediation together. How great is that?!?!?!!

Podcasts:

On Being by Krista Tippett On Being is my favorite go to podcast, with a current cultural context and always a thoughtful, spiritual way of learning from brilliant interviews on all sorts of subjects.

Real Love by Sharon Salzberg Sharon Salzberg also interviews some of the most wonderful meditation and mindfulness teachers across the globe. Like getting a meditation, mental and heart massage all in one!

From the Heart by Rachel Brathen Rachel is the founder of YogaGir.coml, oneOeight.com and a number of other nonprofits. She blends her sweet humor and heart with yoga and real life as a yoga teacher, speaker, writer, new mom and accessible “girl next door” sort of friend.

Resources;

Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Centers for Research at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.

OneOeight.com yogagirl.com

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center Marc Program

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

Living freely across the lifespan in the bodies we are given. Free of the socio-political and relational pressures of conformity to the 60 Billion annual campaign to disembody our lives.

If everyone could truly believe:
“I am”

“I am enough” and

“I am exactly where I am supposed to be”

Imagine the creative and collaborative energies of the millions spent on trying to become something or some other version of ourselves. That we never were meant to be.

I am enough.

The greatest mantra and wisdom of all time!

To truly live in peace and harmony with our bodies. Across the lifespan. That everybody would be celebrated in its fullest expression of love, acceptance, understanding and compassion.

For ourselves and others.

Imagine the possibilities!!!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

John Keats in a letter to his brother in the early 1800s: Human’s greatest challenge in life is:
“The capacity to be in uncertainty, mystery and doubt, without irritable reaching after fact or reason”. I like to rearrange the letters of “uncertainty mystery and doubt to M(mystery)U(uncertainy)D(doubt); i.e. the challenge is being in the MUD without reaching for facts/reason (or the fix)!

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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