Connect with strangers — Whether it’s through volunteering or making new friends (or both), think of something you’ve always wanted to try (yoga, skydiving, a kind of cuisine, etc.) and figure out what you need to do to get that in your life. You will probably have to encounter another human being to accomplish this task. As you can see, I strongly believe in a balance of self-reflection and self-forgetting (not a word, I know). We have to keep in mind that it isn’t all about us, and we have very little control, so listening to another person’s story, asking questions about what they know, finding out more about the experiences of others go a long way in understanding ourselves. And ultimately, we find that we are not alone in our struggles, and that is comforting.
Asa part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Kayce Hodos. She is a therapist (Licensed Professional Counselor) in private practice in Wake Forest, NC. She specializes in supporting new moms through the most difficult adjustment of their lives.
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.
Ihad no idea what I wanted to do with my life during college, but I loved writing and literature, so I majored in English. Since I definitely did not want to teach, I worked in advertising, web site development, and even flew the friendly skies as a flight attendant for two years. It was during this experience that I noticed people opened up to me about their life stories, opinions, worries, and feelings. This realization led me to go back to school for a Master’s degree in counseling.
Throughout my career, I’ve focused on helping people with a variety of issues, including loss, life transitions, and stress management. After I had my son in 2012, however, everything changed when I struggled through a very dark experience of postpartum depression and anxiety. Thankfully, I was able to climb out of the isolation with the help of my own therapist, and once I was healthy again, I found a new passion for supporting women through their pregnancies and beyond.
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?
While I’ve mainly concentrated on working one-on-one with therapy clients, I’m now dipping my toes in the world of online courses as a way to use my skillset in more of a coaching role. I hope to launch my first course soon on guiding new moms in the transition of going back to work after maternity leave.
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?
To be honest, I think self-acceptance and understanding involve a process that never really ends. We are always growing and gaining a better sense of who we are, our needs, fears, wants, and goals. With age comes wisdom and confidence, but as soon as we gain a little comfort with ourselves, there’s a tendency towards self-doubt. I think we have to keep practicing self-love along this path, treating ourselves with kindness and patience. We’re like children hitting developmental milestones. It feels amazing to learn to walk and discover a whole new world we can now reach, but it’s also terrifying. For me, every new opportunity (going to college, getting my first job, moving to NYC, moving back home for grad school, starting my practice, marriage, baby, etc.) teaches me incredible things I never knew about myself. When I feel myself sinking into doubt, I remind myself that fear is natural, and the only way to conquer it is to push through it. “Do it anyway” is my motto. Sure, new things are scary (FOR EVERYBODY), but fear doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever do anything new! On the other side of fear is a beautiful view of self-acceptance.
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?
Our beliefs about beauty are so irrational because we’ve allowed the media to define beauty for us instead of the other way around. We have to take back the reins and decide for ourselves what makes us feel beautiful and more importantly, what makes us satisfied. I try not to use the word “happy” because it’s kind of like striving for perfection. No one is always happy, but I think we can be satisfied with who we are and can figure out what keeps us moving forward.
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?
I don’t think it’s cheesy at all. Loving yourself is really the only part you control. We can’t make another person love us. All we can do is be our best selves. When we can accept and love ourselves, embracing our unique strengths and what makes us who we are, this ease, kindness, and peace will be reflected in our treatment of others.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
Fear. Plain and simple. Fear keeps us stuck in unhealthy situations, whether it’s a toxic work environment or a mediocre relationship. We don’t know what else is out there, so we stay where we are, telling ourselves it might just get better, something else will come along, or some external force will eventually make it all work. For anyone who is feeling this way, I would say go back to my motto from three questions ago, “Do it anyway.” Speak up for yourself and take a step in a positive direction. You didn’t get to this unhealthy place overnight, so getting yourself out will take time. Do one thing for yourself each day. If you aren’t satisfied with your relationship, write down what your ideal life would look like. Talk to your partner. Can they make the changes necessary? If so, start working on it together with a couple’s counselor. If not, figure out what you need in order to move on. For some couples, it could be as simple as breaking up and coping with loneliness for a while. For others, it may look like actually moving out of a shared home, divorce, etc, but regardless of the unique circumstances, it can be better — the relationship could improve with some work, or you can be happier on your own.
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 for 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?
Can you imagine a more satisfying life? What does an ideal day look like? How will you know that you love and accept yourself?
I was in a very unhealthy, dead-end relationship with a narcissistic man who clearly did not want what I wanted (a monogamous commitment), but I kept telling myself if I loved him enough, was less needy, was more supportive, and so on, then he would love me the way I wanted him to love me. After nearly three years of this push and pull, breaking up and getting back together, I found a therapy group for women in toxic relationships. The support and commonality I found there helped me realize that I was in control, not this guy. I could find a better match for me. There were single available men out there who could love me the way I needed to be loved. And more importantly, I didn’t need a man to complete who I was. I needed to accept myself, set goals with my needs in mind, and focus on ME.
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)?
I think being ok with being alone is part of self-acceptance. When you are alone, you have to face your thoughts (even the dark, scary ones) and learn to cope with the things you can not control and change the things you can. There’s a balance of identifying the benefits of being alone and finding reasons to continue to put yourself out there. We are social creatures who need each other, but we also need to be able to be comfortable by ourselves, knowing that we don’t have to fear to be alone even though we may prefer to have people around.
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?
I’d say the only way we can really be there selflessly for others is to have confidence in who we are. Otherwise, our relationships will be plagued with insecurity and fear of never being good enough.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
A) I’m obviously a proponent of therapy. It can be incredibly validating and helpful to sit in a safe space with a professional counselor whose job it is to listen and give us insight to what might be in our way. I also think traveling is a phenomenal way to learn more about ourselves and offers perspectives you can only gain from being outside your comfort zone. Reading, writing, and experiencing the world are excellent ways to get out of our heads and truly get to know ourselves and what lights us up.
B) As for society as a whole, we have to be willing to think collectively and how we go further together. Identify our values and how we want to show up in the world, and then support organizations who share those values, as well as elect officials who can affect the kind of change we believe in.
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. Mindfulness — Reminding myself to use my senses as much as possible is helpful for me. For example, the mundane task of folding laundry can be a mindful experience when I slow my breathing and take in the smells, sounds, and textures around me. It might seem unrelated to self-exploration, but for me, mindfulness is the simplest and most effective way to highlight the fact that we are who we are and we have very little control. The best we can do is appreciate every moment for what it is.
2. Writing — Talking to someone in your support network is one way to process our feelings, but the act of writing (pen to paper or on a device) uses a different part of our brain. It allows us to select our language more carefully, and when you write for you, you don’t have to censor your words or use correct grammar. You get you, so freestyle stream-of-consciousness expression can be very liberating. You may just surprise yourself with how creative you can be!
3. Meditation — Yes, another mindful exercise. I love Sam Harris’s app called Waking Up (and his book with that same title). Meditation has gained a lot of buzz over recent years, but it can be intimidating for perfectionists. You can take it slow, starting with just five minutes of closing your eyes and breathing in as slowly and deeply as possible, making note of any sensory experiences and thoughts that occur but not doing anything with them. Just let them arise and go. This helps with self-acceptance by showing us the illusory nature of the self. What else can you do but let go of it?
4. Exercise — Cardio is beneficial for countless reasons, one of which is the release of anxious energy. Getting your heart rate up makes your body stronger, is great for your health, and is great for your brain. And where do all those unhealthy thoughts begin? IN YOUR BRAIN.
5. Connect with strangers — Whether it’s through volunteering or making new friends (or both), think of something you’ve always wanted to try (yoga, skydiving, a kind of cuisine, etc.) and figure out what you need to do to get that in your life. You will probably have to encounter another human being to accomplish this task. As you can see, I strongly believe in a balance of self-reflection and self-forgetting (not a word, I know). We have to keep in mind that it isn’t all about us, and we have very little control, so listening to another person’s story, asking questions about what they know, finding out more about the experiences of others go a long way in understanding ourselves. And ultimately, we find that we are not alone in our struggles, and that is comforting.
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?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of Sam Harris. He’s said some controversial things, but don’t take other people’s words for it. Listen to his podcast, and read his books before passing judgment. His passion for reason, science, and mindfulness have inspired me to leave a lot of unhealthy behaviors and preconceived notions behind.
For relationship building, I recommend the books by the Gottmans. They’ve done years and years of research on love and components of healthy couples. There are also therapists who are trained in their methods, and if you are considering couples counseling, you can find a directory on the Gottman web site (gottman.com).
The most incredible reader-friendly book I’ve encountered recently is called Rewire Your Anxious Brain by Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle. It includes practical strategies for managing anxiety and backs up its message with neuroscience. It’s fascinating to me to learn about how our brains contribute to emotional pain and how to use these exact mechanisms to reverse engineer it!
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…
Try to be more rational. We are insignificant alone, but together, we can move mountains. Being strong and kind doesn’t require religion (in fact, religion and greed have done more damage than anything else), a college degree, money, or material possessions. It only requires that we think about the outcomes of our actions. There’s a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) exercise called Wise Mind that involves using some emotion and some reason when making decisions. That’s what it really comes down to. A healthy mind isn’t one that gets caught up in either emotional motivation or being totally rational. Healthy people use both.
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?
Amy Poehler sums it up for me in her book, Yes, Please: “Good for her! not for me.” When someone else is showing up in the world differently from how you show up, it’s not for you to judge. Another person’s choices don’t have to be yours, and they don’t stop you from doing your thing. I realized how judgmental people can be when I became a mom. There’s always someone waiting to tell you how to mother from the moment you share that you are pregnant. There’s no one right way, and we all need to remember that. Your strengths are yours, and believe it or not, you have a lot of them!