The practice of gratitude has created the biggest shift in my life. I feel fulfilled and a sense of love for my life that wasn’t fully present in the past. I write down something I am thankful for each night before bed and place it into a clear jar so that I also have a visual of my blessings. I stay connected to my life and myself through this practice because I am reminded of all that I am and all that I have.
As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Shirin Peykar: Individual & Couples Psychotherapist & Founder of “Let’s Talk Divorce”. A graduate of University of Southern California, Shirin has been practicing psychotherapy since 2009. She is trained in RIE® Educaring for parents and caregivers of babies, toddlers, and beyond. Shirin has completed Level 1 Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. She currently works in private practice specializing in Young Adults (Ages 18–40), Couples Therapy, Divorce, and Mindful Parenting in Los Angeles, California.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s Get Intimate! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with the goal of pursuing family law. After completing all prerequisites and exams, I realized my interest was not in helping families separate, but rather in helping them stay together. I often found myself in the self-help section of the bookstore, looking for answers to questions like, “What makes people stay together?” “What makes marriage fall apart?” and “What is required of partners to have a lasting, healthy relationship?” My passion for love and relationships led me to the Marriage & Family Therapy Master’s Program at USC. Helping people improve their relationships gives me so much joy because love is such an integral part of our lives. It is a true privilege each time a client allows me the opportunity to be a part of their process.
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 launched, “Let’s Talk Divorce.” The theme of this support group is divorce: helping people avoid it, supporting them through it, and empowering them after it. The end of a significant relationship or marriage typically comes with immense grief and loss. I created this group after my personal experience with a drawn-out divorce while taking full-time care of our 8-month old baby. I felt alone in my experience because most of my friends and family were getting married or starting families. Few were divorced, and no one I knew had experienced a high-conflict divorce, which usually involves people with characterological issues. The purpose of this group is to provide a judgment-free place of support, the opportunity to feel validated, heard, and a sense of community so that no one feels alone in their experience. I believe that having a safe space to work through the journey of separation is key to rebuilding a new, meaningful life. The main goal of this group is to help clients rethink their past, present, and future. Bringing awareness to what we contribute in our relationships is an important step in breaking patterns that aren’t serving us.
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?
My marriage was unfortunately based on poor reasoning and a lack of self-love. In my culture, love is often given with strings attached, even in the parent-child relationship. Growing up, I received the message that I had to do things that were more about others’ gratification than mine, like playing an instrument my parents were interested in, pursuing a career they approved of, and marrying someone “good on paper” to receive love and praise. If I was given external confirmation that I was lovable, only then did I believe I was worthy of self-love. This reappeared in my marriage as time went on and I continued to compromise my boundaries and needs.
My journey of self-understanding came through experiences both during my marriage and the time I spent reflecting on my own following it. The relationship brought to light my triggers and hot buttons, while time alone gave me the opportunity to see how my thoughts relayed over to my actions and patterns of behavior. Eventually, I gained the ability to observe myself without judgment and self-criticism and tune into my intuition. I’ve learned that this is the built-in gauge of my boundaries, likes/dislikes, desires, and needs. While I was married, it was routine for me to completely ignore my gut feelings, even as the dysfunction become more apparent. Ultimately, it took having our son to create a radical change in how I practice self-love and self-acceptance. My parenting style today allows me to love and accept our son based on his being and not as a condition of his doing.
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?
The idea that we need to be more and better than we already are is the cause of our lack of satisfaction with our appearances and ultimately, ourselves. We live in a culture that tells us that external indicators like appearance are determining factors in whether or not we are worthy of love. It creates an obsession with comparisons and a general feeling of lack.
Rather than living in the here and now, we are waiting for something to happen, i.e. losing those 5 pounds, to bring us happiness. The problem with always craving more is that nothing external will ever be enough to fill us up, leaving us in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. Being okay with ourselves doesn’t happen until we shift to the belief that we are in fact enough, and self-love isn’t based on anything outside of ourselves. It’s an inside job.
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?
Loving yourself is the foundation to a happy life. It is required for healthy intimate relationships and for positive relationships with friends and family. Our presence when we come from a place of self-love looks and feels different. We believe in our worthiness of love, respect, commitment and won’t accept less. People who practice self-love have relationships that match their level of existence. We won’t spend time trying to change others. We won’t wait for others to reach their “potential” of what we think they can become or want them to be. We live in the present moment rather than spending time fantasizing, because self-love can only be achieved in the present moment and from a place of authenticity. We won’t jump through hoops to gain someone’s approval because we’ve already given ourselves our approval. If others are unable to see our worth, we move on rather than attempt to prove ourselves. The flip side is true, too. When we love and accept ourselves as we are, we can do the same for others.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
I believe that people stay in mediocre relationships because they exist on that level of worthiness. They don’t believe they are worth more. Our ideals of relationships form early on during our childhood. If we witnessed conflicted relationships growing up, there will be a sense of comfort in the chaos. If we experienced unhealthy relationships with a primary caregiver, mom and/or dad there will probably be patterns of dysfunction in our intimate relationships. We might find themes of abandonment, unworthiness, subjugation, mistrust, dependence, emotional deprivation, defectiveness, and unrelenting standards — all of which play a part in accepting mediocre relationships. As adults, we unconsciously attempt to resolve our childhood issues through our intimate partners.
I encourage readers to bring awareness to themselves through their bodily sensations. Our bodies are constantly providing us with messages that our minds have learned to avoid or repress. Begin by practicing being in the moment. Become mindful of how you feel around people when you are with them (i.e. dismissed, invalidated, unworthy). Then ask yourself if you’ve felt these feelings in the past, going as far back as you can, even into childhood. Many people have the awareness of where the issue comes from, but have learned to block it from their consciousness as a way to protect themselves from the discomfort or pain.
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?
Readers may want to ask themselves, “How am I contributing to the issues in my life/relationship? What is my part in this?” We tend to have a really hard time taking responsibility for areas of our lives that have gone wrong or the perpetual issues in our relationships. We want to protect ourselves by blaming something or someone outside of ourselves, especially when we feel victimized or attacked. Taking responsibility can be incredibly empowering. We can make changes from this perspective and bring compassion, understanding, teamwork and intimacy back into our lives, all aspects that are needed for a relationship to thrive even through the inevitable tough times.
It is common for people to equate taking responsibility with accepting fault, but it isn’t so much a personal attack on your character as it is seeing an opportunity to make a positive change in your behavior. The ability to take personal responsibility is an important step in minimizing the effect of our egos. Intimate relationships have a knack for triggering our need to defend ourselves in an argument or to wrong our partner, which are some of the ways our ego manifests itself. When we feel the need to defend ourselves, we often counterattack our partner in an effort to “win,” which then escalates the argument and makes it a perpetual problem. With responsibility, our relationships become intentional interactions and not impulsive reactions.
Another important question for readers is, “Where in my life am I dismissing my feelings and experience?” or “What feelings am I avoiding?” This is a big one because so many of us are inclined to dismiss feelings that are uncomfortable like shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and anxiety. We ignore them, hoping they will go away. We often rationalize, deny, cut off our feelings, project or use something external (i.e. shopping, work, drugs/alcohol, sex, affairs, gambling, distract with social media) to numb feelings of discomfort. Through my work with clients, I’ve found that fear of negative feelings lasting forever or being too overwhelming causes people to avoid their feelings.
It wasn’t until my marriage had ended that I was able to see from a neutral perspective my role in the issues of the relationship. I realized I needed to make a change in the words that I used to express my hurt because my communication skills were not conducive to intimacy and closeness. I became aware that my ego was in control a lot of the times, creating patterns of reactivity in my relationships. The incredibly difficult situation I was in would only have a positive outcome if I took responsibility for my part and moved out of blame and victimization.
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)?
The capacity to be alone while also being present is one of the greatest ways to establish a strong sense of self. It requires developing a tolerance for the emotions, senses, and thoughts that arise in each moment. The practice of being present lets us access the deepest core of our being, including the parts that we feel afraid to visit and may even feel ashamed of. Presence teaches us self-acceptance, which extends to a respect of others as they are, without judgment or evaluation. With the conscious cultivation of inner presence with ourselves, we are actually available for a true connection with someone else.
Comfort with solitude lays the groundwork for true and meaningful intimate relationships. When we are self-content we don’t need to “possess” someone out of fear they may leave us and take away our happiness. We won’t depend on other people to give us what we need because we trust in our ability to give it to ourselves. Relationships built on desire are healthier than those built on need because the latter automatically places us in a tractable position. In this stance, we will settle on any relationship as a way to avoid being alone.
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?
Self-understanding and self-love require authenticity, openness, and acceptance of self. In trying to understand ourselves, we have no choice but to check our defenses and leave them at the door. When we value awareness, our desire for authentic connection precedes righteousness and superficiality. With self-love, we can go to the darkest place within ourselves without feeling attacked because any recognition of our deficiencies is no longer personal. These traits allow us to meet people from that level of consciousness, bringing intimacy and connection into our relationships. In accepting the good, bad, and everything in between within ourselves, our relationships can reach new depths.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
As individuals, we can better understand and accept ourselves when we are mindful and unattached to our feelings and thoughts. When we believe our thoughts or feel tethered to our emotions, we develop an inner struggle and change becomes difficult. Simply acknowledge how you feel without judgment or the need to make it go away. Do not cling to any thought or belief of yourself that is painful or negative as that is not conducive to self-acceptance. Allow thoughts to just pass with you as the observer of them.
Society can help people in their process of self-acceptance by not perpetuating the belief that we, as we are right now, are not enough. Rather than idealizing a “look” or status of wealth to capitalize on people who are unsatisfied, create a culture of “less is more” that chooses to celebrate openness, optimism, and people as they are.
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. POSITIVE SELF-TALK: Every day, I offer myself words of praise. I reflect and validate my experience. I compliment myself. I make a conscious effort to refrain from speaking to myself in a way that is mean or critical, even if I made a mistake. Affirmations of positivity are great ways to adopt a more positive language. Some of the ones I use to replace negative statements are:
· “I have everything I need within myself.”
· “I love & accept myself.”
· “I am improving my life every day.”
· “I am making healthy decisions for my personal evolvement.”
2. TAP INTO MY BODY: Our body is super informative. For this reason, it is important to maintain the connection between the mind and the body. I make it a practice to be aware of my bodily sensations throughout the day as situations come up. For example, when we get angry we often clench our jaw, have shallow breathing, and rapid heartbeat. I am better able to handle a situation when I am aware that I am being triggered, preventing me from making poor choices. When I make positive choices, I am more inclined to stay connected and love myself.
3. FEEL THROUGH MY FEELINGS: The practice of allowing any and all emotions maintains my connection with myself. I sit with my feelings and just allow them to be. Sometimes, I find that I am attempting to resist them through a distraction, but being aware of that reminds me to do nothing but allow my discomfort to exist. When we resist something or want it to be different, it causes stress. The resistance implies shame and judgement for that emotion, creating even more discomfort.
4. GRATITUDE: The practice of gratitude has created the biggest shift in my life. I feel fulfilled and a sense of love for my life that wasn’t fully present in the past. I write down something I am thankful for each night before bed and place it into a clear jar so that I also have a visual of my blessings. I stay connected to my life and myself through this practice because I am reminded of all that I am and all that I have.
5. STAY IN PRESENT MOMENT/ BECOME MINDFUL OF WHEN I AM NOT PRESENT: When my attention is on the present moment, I can fully feel connected to my life because life is only happening now. The past and the future aren’t happening now. The road to connect with myself began when I became mindful of myself in the moment because there was peace, contentment and bliss there. Self-love also lives in the moment. If we are consumed with the past, we are often depressed. If we are anticipating the future, we are usually anxious. It’s hard to love ourselves when we are in those states.
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?
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle is a self-help book about spiritual learning. It resonated with me as I was trying to understand myself, especially the role of my ego in my life. Mr. Tolle speaks of our childhood wounds and the ways they play out in our lives as an adult, which is the lens I use to conceptualize client issues. I highly recommend this as a handbook on how to live mindfully and in the present in order to feel happiness.
The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship — A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz is a holistic model that integrates the mind, soul, body and emotions through the thread of love, self-love and love of others. Through the themes of awareness, transformation, and love, Mr. Ruiz gives us insight into romantic relationships in terms of how we behave in them and what we want from them. His self-help offerings provide readers with a guide on creating healthy romantic relationships from the ground up in order to ensure solid romance and not flimsy love that is breakable with the slightest blow. This book will enable readers to heal their emotional wounds and move on to unconditional love of self and others. This book resonated with me after my divorce as I wanted to redefine healthy love after existing unconsciously in intimate relationships.
Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations Podcast is a great resource for self-psychology from authors of books on various genres. I have found that her guests offer excellent insights about dealing with life’s difficulties. As a psychotherapist, I am drawn to conversations that explore relationships, love, conscious living, and how to get through painful situations.
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…
The movement would be to just feel your feelings. It is with great confidence that I state that the ability to lean into our feelings without fear of them being threatening or lasting forever will save so many people from creating further pain for themselves. When you can feel the full spectrum of your emotions, you can love yourself despite them. There will undoubtedly be freedom, relief, and acceptance on the other side.
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?
“Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be; embrace who you are.” — Brene Brown
It has felt so freeing to allow myself to be me without external voices dictating right and wrong moves. There was always so many “shoulds” attached to my life decisions. Relationships were a large part of those life decisions. Beginning with the relationship with myself, I let go of all of what I thought I was supposed to be, do, and say. Living fully in the now, I am connected with me, which is the primary relationship in my life. Embracing who I am has been a daily practice, with some days coming easily and other days not as much.
Readers can use this quote to live fully as who they are. Question where the “shoulds” in your life came from, and if they are outdated and belong to others, throw them out.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!
About the Author:
Sasza Lohrey is the Founder & CEO of BBXX, a digital platform for intimacy and wellbeing. She is also the host of the BBXX podcast, “Let’s Get Intimate!” which hosts provocative and entertaining conversations with experts in order to challenge the way our culture conditions us to talk about sex, intimacy, and healthy relationships. BBXX was created in order to help people better understand themselves, so that they then can form deeper and more fulfilling relationships with others. Sasza is a former D1 athlete with a background in psychology and digital media. She is a member of the Women of Sex Tech collective, the co-mentorship community Dreamers and Doers, and a regular columnist for several online publications. Originally from the Bay Area, Sasza founded BBXX during a Stanford entrepreneurship program in Santiago, Chile. Learn more on our website and listen to more interviews with experts on our top-rated podcast!