Celebrate your accomplishments often! I see this happen a lot in my practice: people come in and share that they are not where they want to be in the beginning of 2020. I help them reflect and reframe this type of thinking. We are not in a race and chances are we have accomplished something positive in 2019, even if it was just struggling through a really hard year. Often that comes with great insight and learning. If you did some things in 2019 that seem small to you, they probably are small in the greater context of your evolution, so start being proud of whatever you walked through, have overcome, or have been through. Focusing on what you have done, rather than what you haven’t, builds self-esteem and motivates you to continue to move forward.
As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Jessica Baum, LMHC.
Jessica is the founder of Relationship Institute of Palm Beach and creator of the Self-Full™ method — a therapeutic path to personal wellness and freedom from codependence. Learn more at www.RelationshipsPB.com and www.JessicaBaumLMHC.com.
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.
The back story on how I became a psychotherapist was through my own personal struggles with anxiety and depression in my 20s. I wanted to learn everything about psychopathology because I felt so strongly that having severe depression was like having a broken leg that no one could see! Learning about these topics would allow me to help all the mental health issues that are unseen, yet so important. When I started working in the field, I focused primarily on addiction and codependency. I love working with codependency, and would often find myself telling my clients “You need to learn how to be more selfish in a healthy way.” I would repeat this and explain, yet I still got pushback from my clients, all centered around the word “selfish.” So I started to use the word Self-Full™ — and when I used that word, my clients’ responses became so positive. I started to apply that concept to my couples, and I noticed that the combo of selfless and selfish couples was often attracted to each other, which was the codependent and narcissistic attraction that everyone was so fascinated about. When I could help my selfless codependent clients learn how to be Self-Full, I noticed a big shift in them, and the type of relationships they started to have after they did some work improved. I applied these concepts to energy and really work hard on helping people understand how important it is to be Self-Full in all their relationships.
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 well-being in their relationships?
Yes, I am so excited because about two years ago, I was sitting in my office seeing a ton of clients, yet feeling like I was not reaching enough people and also people who could not afford traditional self-pay psychotherapy because it is expensive. I needed to reach and help more people online. I started a manuscript (and am currently going to publishers this spring with my proposal), as well as launched two online courses. The book and the courses are geared around people with anxious tendencies in their relationships. They each offer something a little different, but both focus on helping someone who loses themselves in love to become more Self-Full™. I have been using this method to help people shift in their relationships to a healthier place of self-care and internal awareness around their own needs in relation to others. It has worked so well in my private practice that I am hoping to help more people online in 2020. I think this new approach explains energy problems in relationships and helps create more balance and fulfilling relationships in a way that is easy to understand. The target client is someone who loses themselves in love, struggles with boundaries and personal self-care, and is empathic and anxious. That person tends to attract a partner usually more avoidant in nature. I work with these dynamics closely and come up with ways to shift the anxious person to healthier place so he/she can have sustainable relationships.
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?
I think I have many personal stories around self-love. My former marriage taught me a big lesson about romantic love versus self-love. I have been in many relationships where I ended up giving too much and feeling resentful, and when I did some of my own work, I really changed the outcome of my relationships with everyone. In the horrible feeling of being divorced I actually became obsessed with attachment theory and studied to be an Imago therapist, which is a specialized skilled couples therapist. I finally begin to understand myself better when I went through this hardship, and it caused me to want to learn more and then help more people through the insight I had personally gained. Sometimes the relationships that don’t work out are hard lessons that teach you about yourself and become catalysts for personal change and growth, and for that I am grateful.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28% of men and 26% of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
I think society places a lot of pressure on us to appear a particular way. I can personally share that my mother is a famous model, so growing up I placed a lot of importance on appearances. If our parents aren’t doing it, then the message is coming from someplace — usually the media. It’s easy to fall into the cycle of always trying to be perfect or better than. It becomes a way to preoccupy yourself and quite an unhappy endless cycle to be trapped into. This causes people to never fully embrace themselves and cultivate positive self-esteem. You can work on yourself and still love yourself all at the same time, but the problem is people tie their self-love and internal worth to an external factor like their appearance. They have it backwards; you have to love yourself and fully accept yourself and then you tend to find your inner beauty in self-confidence. The irony is that if you can accept yourself and love yourself the way you are, you then become more attractive because you radiate confidence (which is sexy) and are more likely to take care of yourself in a balanced way.
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 think it is not cheesy; in fact, I think it is so important, but the concept has been thrown around with not enough emphasis on what healthy self-love is. Self-love is actually ugly at times. What I mean by that is that you have to be able to show up to the parts of yourself that you think are not desirable and embrace them. You have to be willing to sit with yourself, ride out your pain, and know that is part of self-love. It’s not an internal place of bliss, but a commitment to show up and honor every cell in your being. You have to learn to change your thinking and be okay with where you are in life. Often I think we think of all the positive things that might be connected to self-love, like a spa retreat. But really, true self-love is showing up for yourself unconditionally, being honest by taking responsibility, and allowing yourself to be fully human — flaws and all.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
There are so many reasons why people stay in mediocre relationships. I would say that the biggest reason is fear — most likely, the fear of the unknown or being alone again. People are scared of change and (let’s face it) leaving is hard. You have to face old parts of yourself again and you have to step into the unknown. If you never had a positive experience of being alone and single, that makes it even harder to leave because you don’t have an experience to lean on for reassurance that you can thrive as a single person. There can be other elements around fear: for example, financial insecurity or guilt about how it might impact the family system (especially if there are children involved). Also, people can be attached for unhealthy reasons because it feels familiar to them. Sometimes we attract people who replay childhood feelings and unconsciously we are drawn to these relationships because of their familiarity, not knowing we desire better and not feeling worthy of something different.
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?
For me it’s when I was making choices from fear of being alone and needing to prove that I am lovable. I would over-extend myself. Other times it’s becoming what you think the other person might want, rather than being yourself. In my twenties that happened a lot, and I was really good at it. It reminds me of the movie “The Runaway Bride,” where Julia Roberts likes her eggs the way her boyfriend does — and with each boyfriend she changed the way the eggs are made to match them. That was me in my 20s; I just wanted to fit in and it to feel easy so I would not speak my truth.
I also think being honest with your fears and why you engage in some of your behaviors is so important. I created a chart of my past relationships once and mapped the patterns I was able to see to the cycles of similar feelings that would come up in each relationship; instead of blaming the relationship, I started working on those feelings, tracing them back to the very first time I felt them — which was often in childhood.
Also important: being okay with conflict and letting your freak flag fly. Being your needy (or sassy or authentic) self, no matter how badly you might feel judged. Asking yourself if you’re holding back your truth or your emotions in a relationship and why. Also, asking yourself if you have the space to grow and if you’re growing in your relationship.
Another great way to gain insight is to ask the people around (lover, family, and friends) how they experience you: the positive, but also the parts they struggle with. Develop the ability to not get defensive, but look honestly at what you can improve on and where there might be work to do.
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)?
This is probably the hardest thing I personally had to face. If you don’t confront the fear it will always be driving some of your choices. But in confronting it, you can find a new sense of freedom and make healthier choices because the fear is not lingering back there in your psyche. Let’s face it — it’s a scary concept. It’s not fun to face those feelings. But I think personally what happened when I did is this: I found out that I am not alone. In fact, I tapped into some spirituality and feel less alone because of that. Another really important aspect is that we need community; it is so important to having a healthy life. When you can be alone in your romantic life but develop a sense of community with friends, family, and hobbies, you become less dependent on your partner and you still get your needs met. I don’t ever push people to face this fear; I support people when they are ready. It’s something that requires a lot of courage, but it’s so worth it and your relationships moving forward are so much more likely to be healthy if you address this underlying fear.
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?
In achieving some awareness, especially around your traumas and wounds, you’re able to understand what is old that is showing up in your relationship and what is new. It’s important to know how your past affects your present, and gaining this insight is how you can make healthy changes. Some of what is in your past is your work to heal, but often relationships triggered the same old wounds and we think that the relationship is causing all the pain when the pain was there all along. So self-understanding is so paramount for a conscious relationship. Self-love is also important. I refer to this concept as being Self-Full™: learning how to take care or your own needs in a healthy way, honor yourself first ,and speak your truth prevents you from falling victim to love addiction and codependency. If you have a balanced, stable sense of self, you’re less likely to lose yourself in your relationships, your jobs, or other roles like parenting. If you have healthy support hobbies and a productive life you will remain balanced when you meet someone. Doing the work on figuring yourself out and how to take care of yourself, I believe, is vital in having a healthy attachment.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
- Individuals should start to explore themselves honestly, look at this journey as a fun one, and remain curious about themselves. Never judge what might come up when you give yourself permission to explore your desires. As someone learns about themselves, they should try to understand the “why” about how they are and how they show up in the world. Through self-compassion they can nurture themselves as they continue to grow, learning how to be their own best friend. We all need that voice within, and let’s face it: if you don’t learn how to be your own best friend, who will? Have fun with yourself and do things that bring you joy. Also, don’t be scared to do something that feels silly. There are no mistakes in trying things out. If your inner voice wants to join a bowling club or dance till early hours of the morning, try it out! For me, I have a magical side and I love movies that are mystical, as well as retreats that are a little out there. They fill up this need I have to do yoga with other women and sit around fires and sing. Figure out what that is and be okay to start where you are, which might be a place of not knowing.
- Society is making some movement towards this. I see it in the fashion world, where people are trying to help people accept their bodies more by having all sizes be seen as beautiful. But continued work is needed around “feelings” — more acceptance and awareness around being okay to feel and express your feelings, especially if you are male. Society projects norms on to people and it’s up to us to decide if it actually fits us. If our society could just be more accepting of all different paths and less traditional in roles and appearance, it would only continue to help people. If people shared more of their stories rather than their fancy Instragram jet-setter life, I think we would all feel more relief. It’s still glorified to be a certain way and people (myself included) are attracted to what we think is glamorous, often forgetting that this is so far from the truth. I feel lucky in some ways because I see the truth in my clients and I’m able to see that what we see on the outside is not what is going on inside, no matter how great the package looks.
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?
- Celebrate your accomplishments often! I see this happen a lot in my practice: people come in and share that they are not where they want to be in the beginning of 2020. I help them reflect and reframe this type of thinking. We are not in a race and chances are we have accomplished something positive in 2019, even if it was just struggling through a really hard year. Often that comes with great insight and learning. If you did some things in 2019 that seem small to you, they probably are small in the greater context of your evolution, so start being proud of whatever you walked through, have overcome, or have been through. Focusing on what you have done, rather than what you haven’t, builds self-esteem and motivates you to continue to move forward.
- Sit in a meditative space and focus on your breath, deepening each inhales and exhales. Consider the image love or positive energy pouring into your body, down and around your heart. Focus on opening your breath to receive positive energy. If you really struggle internally, repeat “inhale — exhale” to stay focused. I like to imagine love pouring over my heart. We are portals and energy does flow through us, so channeling positive loving energy through your body is an easy way to connect to yourself with love.
- Sit down with yourself and connect to your feelings. Start to identify the feeling and the why behind the feeling. Often what we miss is the validation around the feeling. This means knowing that no feeling is wrong. Tell yourself it makes sense, and don’t react to the feeling; instead, honor it as valid for you, and let that be enough. Being okay with your own emotions and giving yourself the space to feel and validate them is so loving.
- Time doing relaxing things is my number-one way to restore and take care of myself. Committing to something that is self-soothing helps so much. For me, it is a bubble bath, and I make it a point to take one almost every night. For others it might be a yoga class, a walk, or a jog. It can be as simple as a lunch break where you take your shoes off and put your feet in the grass for 10 minutes, or taking ten minutes to let go, close your eyes, and just breathe. These very simple things restore your connection to yourself pretty fast.
- Give yourself permission to do less and live more. Taking some pressure off yourself and trusting the universe is so important. Acknowledge when you’re overwhelmed and cut back. This can be done by taking something that’s causing you stress off your plate, or asking for help with it so that you don’t take on so much. Know your limits and commit less to things that don’t bring you joy. Look at your schedule and let go of something that feels draining to you.
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?
I am a total geek and I love self-help books and books around the metaphysical world. I love to either be learning or exploring my magical side. Shannon Kaiser’s new book “Joy Seeker” is powerful because she gives you tools to make change. Eckhart Tolle’s book “A New Earth” has been a game changer in learning how we carry our pain around, and it also helps you see when you’re acting from your ego. I also love books on anything related to energy, feminine energy, and some quantum physics. For example, Dean Radin’s book “Real Magic” is another favorite. He talks about my favorite concept, which is synchronicity, and merges the magical world with the scientific world. Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt’s books are great relationship tools, and an easy one I refer to clients is “Making Marriage Simple: Ten Truths for Changing the Relationships You have Into the One You Want.” It’s an easy read that explains common relationship dynamics that I find my couples can relate to. Another more in-depth relationship book by them that I love is “Getting the Love You Want.” ALL of Caroline Myss’s books speak to me, but I love “Anatomy of the Spirit” and “Sacred Contracts.” Both are spiritual, and “Sacred Contracts” changed how I view each and every relationship I am in.
Podcasts I love are Luke Story’s “The Lifestyle Podcast,” because he covers so much around mental health and well-being. He explores psychological solutions as well as medical solutions. Another great podcast is Tom Gentry’s podcast “The Path to Authenticity.” I like this podcast because it`s just real people talking about real topics. It feels very genuine to me.
DiveThru is a cool new app made by Sophie Gray. I find it to be a helpful therapeutic tool for journaling.
Insight Timer I use for meditation.
I love Jana Roemer’s downloads for Yoga Nidra, which is a relaxing state between wake and sleeping that she helps you access.
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…
My concept of being Self-Full™: I am particularly interested in empowering women in relationships and helping them learn how to stop giving and start receiving. It’s important that they embrace their fierce and strong feminine energy in a way that cultivates the love they need both internally and externally. I often find women give themselves away in partnership. The ideas attached to being a woman have been passed down, and many support the idea of us being the “givers.” Due to this ideal, and the need to give to receive love, I often see them sacrificing their own needs and being selfless. My goal is not to teach them to be selfish, because that lacks empathy and compromise. They often end up with more self-ish partners There’s no blame here, but looking at how we show up and what we allow actually is on us, not the other partner. When someone really does the work and shifts them to be Self-Full, it is really rewarding to see. This happens when they start to give to themselves first, listen internally to their own needs, and then give from that space. So if you end up always abandoning your own needs in a relationship, I hope you read this and take care of yourself more. If your partner truly loves you, they will not leave you. It’s very liberating to shift how you interact with others and create a new way of operating in your relationships.
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?
I am a deep thinker, always looking at what is underneath the surface, which is why I love quotes by Carl Jung. My all-time favorite is “One who looks outside dreams; one who looks inside awakes.”
I always believed that the answers are inside us and they come through us into our internal landscape.
“You always had the power, my dear; you had to learn it for yourself.” — “The Wizard of Oz” Sometimes the most profound quotes come from a movie like this. I do believe we all have our power and we have to learn how to access it.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends” — Albus Dumbledore, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”
Modern-day People I Love
Morgan Harper Nichols (Instagram @morganharpernichols)
“The same light you see in others is shining within you, too.” Again, expresses this idea that we all have power, light, and love; it’s just a matter of accessing it.
Minaa B., LMSWanother (Instagram @minaa_b) “You don’t have to explain your self-care process to anyone.” And that is just one of many. She puts it out there in an empowering way.
Maryam Hasbaa (Instagram @maryamhasnaa) ”The interesting thing is that the reason I need so much alone time is so I can be fully present for others.” I can totally relate to this because I need to balance my work and ability to deeply connect with time alone to restore my energy. All her quotes are profoundly powerful, and you can tell she is doing the work in that she is in touch with her soul.
“Learn to own your energy and know your truth. When you’re in alignment with your higher self, and move about the world like that, you will stay grounded and prevail.” (My own Instagram @jessicabaumlmhc)
I love sharing from a place of vulnerability on this platform and often share topics and quotes of my own and others that are directly related to what I am feeling on that day.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!