Thoughtful Thursday: Is Mindfulness Really That Important?

From time to time it is important for you to know why I use the strategies I use while supporting you on your healing journey at Today I would like to give you the back story as it relates to my work here and why I consider mindfulness a key to self-healing.

At the age of 23, I married a man who terrified me. Up until that point in my life, I had always said I wanted to serve a mission for my church when I turned 21. Since I was a young child, I had talked about and looked forward to that mission. It was to be a 18-month journey to an unknown part of the world where I would teach the brand of the gospel espoused by the Mormon Church.

Sitting alone in my bedroom around the time I was 20, I realized that the reason I wanted to go on a mission was that I was fearful of men. To my logic, I had decided that I could avoid getting married by choosing a mission instead. The thought that I could just – do neither one – didn’t even occur to me. (This thinking was a product of being raised in a religious culture where marrying young and having children is the preferred path for women. The second acceptable alternative was going on a mission.)

My young marriage was absent a mindfulness practice

I married young without being mindful of what I was doing

If I was going on a mission simply because I was afraid of men, did it make sense for me to continue with the plan for the mission? As a Mormon young adult, my logic said no. Looking back, I shake my head at my black-and-white thinking, though because the next “logical” conclusion I drew was: “If I am afraid of men, I had better confront that fear by getting married instead of going on a mission.”

The time that passed between the day I made the decision to get married until the day I married the man who terrified me, was almost exactly two years. During that time, I remained oblivious to the point behind my friends’ jabs at my drive to get married for the sake of getting married. I remained unconscious of the depth of my fears and I remained disconnected from myself. I remained fully absorbed in the impersonal edicts imposed by my church without reference to the potential negative impact that my actions would have on my well being or on my future.

Over the next two decades, I slowly woke up. That waking up process could not have happened without developing a mindful practice. My decision to practice mindfulness which, ultimately led to my deepest healing, began one morning when I was home alone after I had been married a year or two.

I noticed something about my behavior that really bothered me. I observed that I could not tolerate silence. Each time I found myself alone I would turn on the television or the radio. We had two televisions in our home and I was so driven by an unconscious desire to avoid my inner noise that I had to keep both televisions on. All. The. Time. That way, whether I was upstairs or downstairs, I could avoid silence wherever I was in the house. Getting ready for my day was always prolonged by the need to hear what was coming “next” after commercial breaks. It was “junk” T.V., but I paid attention to it like my life depended on it! I even arrived late at work because I couldn’t silence the television. In my car, I used the radio. I listened to talk radio and things that didn’t really interest me, just to keep the noise on the outside of me louder than the noise within me.

As soon as I noticed this pattern, my behavior troubled me. I was also curious. Why did I need the television and radio noise to be okay?

So, I turned them off.

Thus began my healing journey using mindfulness as my primary tool. No one had taught me about mindfulness. I just wanted to understand myself and my behaviors. So I started watching . . . .

What I noticed was that I had a tremendous amount of pain. My thoughts were negative. I was constantly fearful. New situations felt so much like painful past situations that I was flooded with a constant barrage of discomfort from inside my body.

As I continued to watch what was going on inside of me, I started paying attention to what bothered me in my marriage and in my relationships outside of my marriage. I started paying attention to how I behaved toward myself. I watched myself with compassion and curiosity, as much as I knew how. I understood that if I wanted to do better, I had to understand my own inner world.

Yes, it was scary. But the alternative was scarier. I was in an unhappy marriage that I regretted as soon as I came home from the honeymoon. I was making myself bleed on a regular basis. I was overeating. I battled anxiety and depression.

I did not understand how much my life would change when I started the journey by turning the television off, but I did know that I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be happy.

Self-healing requires mindfulness

Self-healing requires mindfulness

And so the work of reclaiming my life and healing myself began. Bit by bit, I observed my inner workings. I developed self-healing solutions that seemed to help with the problems I uncovered. I started to inspect the connections between my current behaviors and hurts from my past. I started to ask myself about the logic of those behaviors in real time. I started shifting my attention toward what I believed was an organic potential for healing.

I continued this way until I got stuck. My marriage was emotionally abusive and my process of self-healing could only go so far within that relationship. After about 11 years of doing my work by myself, I finally sought out a therapist. My complaint: “I hate the way I treat myself.” I could not seem to get under my baseline terrible self-esteem. The real work of extracting myself from my marriage and from ideas and philosophies imposed on me by others began but didn’t end in that therapist’s office. This therapist helped me unlock ideas that I didn’t even know were troublesome. It was if I was fighting inside a paper bag without realizing that I needed to punch my way out of it!

I worked with that therapist for about a year. At the end of my work, I felt better. I had left my abusive marriage. I was ready for the next steps. I never got stuck with not knowing how to proceed in my growth again. My growth process continued.

I continued the practice of noticing when I felt unhappy or when my life wasn’t moving in the right direction. I continued to mindfully watch what was happening inside of me. I continued to listen to the answers that came from inside. I continued to trust my body’s natural ability to heal my mind based on my process of focusing and taking nurturing steps.

I used that process to continue until I accomplished these things:

  • Yes, I married again – and the marriage was abusive – spiritually, mentally and physically. But my process helped me end that marriage within 6 years instead of taking 14 years (like my first marriage). The ending of that marriage also led to my awareness that I needed to take the next step and
  • I left the Mormon church – which had been the cause of so many self-limiting beliefs for me.
  • I replaced self-harm with self-nurturing behaviors.
  • I have learned to replace caustic internal noise with healing, self-soothing, self-empowering internal dialogue.
  • I reduced my weight by about 50 pounds and have disconnected myself from emotional eating patterns.
  • I married a man who is safe and nurturing. I participate in a relationship where interdependence replaces coercion, control and self-denial. I maintain my independence within the boundaries of this healthy relationship. We support each others’ dreams and personal growth. We provide each other freedom and connection.
  • I have moved to a new community, developed new friends and surrounded myself with people who support positive living.
  • I have advanced in my (day job) career into a management position beyond what I would have believed I could have. I support my staff with compassion and kindness. They are thriving and doing amazing work.
  • I have worked through self-limiting beliefs that would stop me from living up to my full potential.

All of this began with the decision to turn off the television and be mindful in my focus on my internal world. This is a process that has taken me almost 3 decades for me to master. During the last 2 decades, my personal growth process has been enhanced by my training and experience as a mental health therapist. It has taken me a lot of time to develop and perfect the strategies I teach.

I share the process with you because I know it works and I want to save you time. ūüôā Begin with mindful practices I share with you on this blog. Take in the information I give you. Trust your body to help you heal your mind and soul. You got this!

For more of Tamara’s work, please visit Tamara’s podcast can also be found on¬† iTunes.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.


Black Lives Matter – One White Woman’s Response

Last week I woke up early in the morning to work on this project and as I did a quick scroll through my Face Book feeds, I discovered posts about

Philando Castile

Philando Castile

Alton Sterling

Alton Sterling

Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Video documentation showing the killings of these two black men caused a response in me at once familiar and horrifyingly eye-opening. I am a white woman who has studied African American Studies in college. I learned about racism in school and have attempted to root any racist attitudes from my own soul. But I was not prepared for what I saw. It brought up old emotions for me. If I might indulge, please allow me to explain . . .

On September 11, 2001, I was minding my own business at home, making my bed when I got a phone call. The person on the other side told me to turn the television on. I turned it on and in disbelief, watched the live feed of the second tower falling. Soon, coverage began of other flights crashing.

This one is the most significant for me.

Racism attacks the Pentagon

The attack that took my aunt from me. This image is forever in my head.

Racism attacks the pentagon

My aunt’s office the next day.

The¬† attacks on America on 9/11 were personal to me because I lost my favorite aunt that day. I had lived with her and her husband, Floyd, in Germany for 5 months while they worked and I looked after their four children. My aunt Rhonda was directly hit by the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. She was completely evaporated. Fragments of her office mates were found. She vanished. (I just discovered this post and I’m grateful to have stories that I find from time to time that keep Rhonda’s memory alive.)

When I saw those images blazed across the television screen of the wreckage at the Pentagon, I intuitively knew she was gone. My grief began just minutes later when a family member confirmed that no one had seen her. They were still looking.

For days, weeks and years after the attack my grief and trauma lingered. I was angry. I felt fear. For a while I believed that since the terrorists found my aunt, they could be flying any random plane from the sky and directly hit me. I felt anxiety about doing business with anyone who appeared to be from the Middle East. I thought everyone wanted to hurt me because they had killed her.

Over time, I was able to identify patterns of thinking that helped me to heal. I realized that the attack on my aunt became personal to me, even though it was not. Over time, I concluded that it wasn’t personal. The terrorists might have wanted to instill fear in me, but they don’t know me personally. They weren’t attacking me. It was an accident that my aunt was at work that day. It was dumb luck that the attackers just happened to annihilate her with the nose of a jet plane. With time, I was able to settle into the reality that it is unlikely that I will be personally attacked or have the loss of someone I love based on another terrorist attack.

But there were more “complications” of my healing process. Within less than a year, people here on the West Coast (none of whom had suffered a loss on 9/11) thought it wasn’t “too soon” to begin telling 9/11 jokes. These jokes fueled my anger and prolonged my grief. Never is too soon to make jokes about public tragedies.

The terrorist attacks shook me out of my naive “bliss”: believing the world is basically a safe, happy place.

Recent events continue to change my views of the world.

The killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling brought all of the feelings related to my aunt’s death back for me. And more.

Unlike my experience with the loss of my aunt, black people are not able to soothe themselves with knowledge that they can separate from the trauma. I will not likely interact with another terrorist again. They cannot hope for the same in our current circumstance.

I wonder what it would feel like to know there were terrorists living next door to me? I try to imagine what it would be like to know that terrorists were given legal authority to stop me, question me, attack me. I wonder what it would have been like to hear, after investigation, that the annihilation of my aunt with the nose of a plane was “justifiable force”?

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to know that my loved ones face the world daily with the reality that this could happen to them. It fills my soul with grief and pain for my sisters who have husbands and children with dark skin. That their skin color is enough to make them a target. It’s terrifying.

Philando and Alton were killed by police. Their families will have to deal with police throughout the rest of their lives. Police live and work in their communities. How can families and communities heal with the living reality that their lives could change with the twitch of a finger? How can they heal when the only difference between a respectful, appropriate police officer who serves and protects and a terrorist is the unseen attitudes in a stranger’s heart?

What about those inevitable jokes that will come because the always do? People who tell racist jokes don’t think they are hurting anyone. Believe me, those cause deep injury and widen the divide that should be narrowed with love and understanding. If you are not a person of color, please understand that hurtful, ignorant words have the power to hurt beyond what you can comprehend based on the color of your skin.

I must confess that I’m fairly naive about life, in general. I’m even more aware of my naivete about racism in America today.

I am safe from terrorism, but black families live with the daily reality that they could walk into a terrifying experience based on their skin color. Every. single. day.

I cannot fathom the pain. Living daily with the dangers related to this kind of potential loss requires a strength and courage that I’m not sure I could gather. I hate that black families have to.

I stay curled in fear for the people I care for. I have been relatively silent. For me, the gravity of the situation and the weight of awareness that there is such real hatred being acted out in violence against people because of the color of their skin still has me shocked. I feel the weight of history and am overwhelmed that there has been far, far too little change. It sits with me like a weight on my chest. I am overwhelmed and, yes, fearful. I can’t imagine the fear I would feel about going outside or allowing my men and children to do so.

The shootings are causing a reality shift. Some will ignore and move on as if nothing happened. Some will immediately activate. Some, like me, need time to absorb the shock and process a new reality. To my black friends, sisters and brothers: I know the reality has existed your whole life. I’ve known that on an intellectual level for a long time.

This is different.

It is settling into my body in new sensations of grief, disbelief and pain. New sensations that require me to sit with them. Yes, in silence. But not inactive. It’s an internal shift required before activation can take place. In my silence, my question in my head has been: “What can I do?” This unveiling of your reality via the killings of Philando and Alton is unsettling and disturbing. And shocking.

My prayer is for change. I hope to join hands in love to do what I can to be part of the solution although, I don’t know how to do that yet.

Yesterday I spoke with someone I care for at work about her participation in a meeting of Black Lives Matter over the weekend. I shared my concern. I expressed my interest in hearing the strategic planning and potential solutions. She shared her disappointment with me that it was “only a march.” No strategic plan. Simply a gathering. She was hoping for more than that. So, in fact, was I.

I know that we have to start somewhere. I think moving to Black Owned Banks is a fantastic beginning. I think we need so much more. Conversations make change. I am just one white woman. But I am willing to keep talking. Racist systems of belief infused within a social structure that keeps harming people over and over again is not okay. We must make change.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 Р

Thoughtful Thursday – Exercise to Help You Stay in the Moment

On this blog I often speak of being able to sit with your feelings. For some this is too difficult to do because you still have many difficult, uncomfortable, anxious feelings that fight for your attention. That is okay. You can learn the skill of focusing your mind through mindfulness exercises using “neutral” or “safe” activities until you feel strong enough to focus intentionally and without judgement on your inner world.

When you have experienced trauma, your mind can wander from one topic or event to another in a way that can leave you feeling lost, distracted, re-traumatized and frustrated. To heal you need to take control of your ability to stay focused with your mind so that the feelings I describe here don’t overwhelm you and control your mood and your day.

I would strongly recommend a daily, focused mindful practice like the one I will introduce to you here. Once you are good at practicing mindful focus on your external world, you will have the skills and confidence to start to focus on and heal your internal world. This practice will help you train yourself to focus on a single object. It will strengthen you ability to avoid the feelings of being lost, distracted and frustrated when your mind wanders.

Thoughtful Thursday exercises may seem simple, but they are powerful. With regular practice they will help you reduce stress, improve your ability to think positively, improve your memory and focus, help you reduce strong/sudden emotional reactions and improve your relationships with others. Trust the process. Practice daily.

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment, without judgement, in an attentive, compassionate way. When you are being mindful, you are an observer. You are noticing and taking information and sensations in. You pay attention and increase your awareness without allowing yourself to be compelled to respond to the information in one way or another.

Observe an object with mindful focus

Observe an object with mindful focus

Before I describe the exercise, I want to encourage you to remember a few things about this process.

  • Stay in the present moment. During the exercise, commit to staying in the present. When thoughts about the future or the past push their way into your awareness, simply refocus your attention on the present moment.
  • Pay attention. During the exercise you want to become aware of details you may not have noticed before. Be as aware of each detail. Watch and learn. Observe.
  • Suspend judgment. During the exercise you may find yourself thinking about how something should be. Remember that in this moment, you are just focusing on what is. Just take information in without responding to any pressure to change it.
  • Be compassionate. Remember that things are as they are because of a story that makes sense. Hold your observations with this in mind so that you can observe without being critical. Also, remember to show compassion toward yourself as you learn a new skill. It’s a new skill that no one is able to master during the first, second or even their ten-thousandth try. Mindful focus is a process that shifts each time you engage it. Allow the process to be whatever it is. Do your best to not criticize yourself or quit the exercise if your mind wanders. Just notice where you mind goes and return your focus to the object you selected for the exercise.
  • Be non-reactive. Remember that nothing you observe today needs to be changed immediately. Allow things to be as they are. Allow your observations to settle in you. You never know what your decision will be if you first trust yourself and a let any decision take the back seat to compassionate, attentive, non-judgemental focus. Release yourself from making any decisions based on this exercise. It’s practice. That’s all.

Now, for your exercise. Pick a quiet part of the day when you are awake and not overly tired.

Select an object to use for the focus of this activity. Choose something that can rest on a table, is safe to touch and is emotionally neutral. It can be anything: a pencil, a plant, a piece of jewelry, a cup or something like that.

Pick a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be interrupted for a few minutes. Put the object on a table in front of you. Turn off any distracting noises. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Do this exercise once or twice a day for two weeks – choosing a different object each time.


To begin, take a few slow, deep breaths. Then, without touching the object, allow your gaze to rest on the object. Really observe it. Take your time exploring what it looks like. Try to imagine the different qualities that the object possesses.

  • What does the surface of the object look like?
  • Is it shiny or dull?
  • Does it look smooth or rough?
  • Does it look soft or hard?
  • Does it have multiple colors or just one color?
  • What else is unique about the way the object looks?

Take your time observing the object. Now hold the object in your hand or reach out and touch it. Begin noticing the different way it feels.

  • Is it smooth or is it rough?
  • Does it have ridges or is it flat?
  • Is it soft or is it hard?
  • Does the object have areas that feel different from each other?
  • What does the temperature of the object feel like?
  • If you can hold it in your hand, notice how much it weighs.
  • What else do you notice about the way it feels?

Look at every part of it. Examine it from every angle.  Continue to focus your mind on this object. Bring your mind back to the observation of the object when distracting thoughts cross your mind.

After 5 minutes, congratulate yourself on being able to focus your mind on a single object. Practice this exercise daily to improve your ability to focus mindfully. If you would like to, journal about your experience or drop me an e-mail about it at

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

Exercise adapted from: Copyright © 2007 by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C Wood and Jeffrey Brantley. The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook.

For more of Tamara’s work, please visit Tamara’s podcast can also be found on¬† iTunes.


Assertiveness Training: The Next Step for Survivors

Abuse survivors’ most frequently asked questions include this: How can I make sure my next relationship isn’t abusive? The question comes from the awareness that you are prone to being hurt and you want to avoid being hurt again. The question reflects the developing awareness that things you found “acceptable” in an abusive relationship aren’t acceptable at all. It also reflects your desire for something better.

Still, this way of thinking reflects a victim mentality rather than an empowered way of thinking.

Imagine getting back into the dating game and just waiting for something to hurt – so you will know the relationship is a no go. When a date says or does something potentially hurtful, you reject them. Are you deciding whether or not a potential partner is acceptable based on whether or not they hurt you? Just because someone doesn’t hurt you, does that mean they have what you actually want and need in relationship?

Assertiveness training will help you develop relationship skills

It isn’t good enough to not be harmed in relationship.

From my experience, abuse survivors are poor relationship negotiators. They accept what is unacceptable, they tend to avoid looking at their own needs and they “get along” much more often and much longer than they need to.

Healthy relationships require assertiveness skills. Healthy relationships involve the constant negotiation of win-win situations based on both partners getting their needs met.

Think about how this applies to your work relationships or to your friendships. Do you just “go along” with what other people say? Do you decide if something works for you based on whether or not it is harmful? Or, do you decide what you need and go into situations with friends and at work ready to talk about how you can get your needs met?

I often recommend that after an abusive relationship you should wait at least two years before engaging in an exclusive romantic relationship. Why? Because it takes that long to discover your subtle patterns that could lead you into another unhappy situation.

The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for you to work on your relationship assertiveness skills even if you aren’t dating or in a relationship! You have friends, family members and co-workers you interact with daily. Assertiveness training can assist you in developing an awareness of what it is you need to strengthen about yourself. It can give you the power to understand where you hold back when you would be better off asking for what you need.

Most abuse survivors are passive communicators. Passive communicators have developed a pattern of avoiding expressing their opinions or feelings, protecting their rights, and identifying and meeting their needs. A passive communicator is exactly what an abusive partner looks for because passive communicators are so easy to control.

If you have recently left an abusive relationship, I invite you to take this challenge. Commit to yourself not to engage in any serious romantic dating for the next two years. During that time, focus on improving your ability to identify and communicate your needs in every interaction you have with another person.

Come back to this blog often for tips and support as you build your assertiveness skills.

Sign up to get your Free Assertiveness Self Assessment. The PDF download is a 30 question research-based assessment that will help you understand your assertiveness level. Respond to the e-mail by sharing your score with me and I’ll respond by personally interpreting your results for you. Simply click the link and scroll down to the bottom of the post.

For more of Tamara’s work, please visit Tamara’s podcast can also be found on¬† iTunes.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.


Thoughtful Thursday: Coping Skills for Improving Your Relationships, Emotions & Life

Let’s face it. You have found your way to 2btru2you because as a child or as an adult, the people around you who are supposed to love, care for and protect you confused you. To survive, you developed coping skills that helped you get through those situations. Your coping skills worked – you survived. But the same coping skills that helped you survive abusive situations are not the same coping skills that will help you thrive in a world of abuse-free relationships and situations. Thoughtful Thursdays will support you as you rebuild your coping skills in a way that leads you to a healthier life.

Before I introduce the first skill, let’s look at two examples of how you get invalidated in abusive situations.

  • “Keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about!” Did you hear that as a child? Many of us did! This phrase invalidates your feelings. You were hurt enough to cry. Someone told you that you should not be crying because you weren’t hurt enough. When they said this to you, you felt confused and learned to distrust of your own emotional process. Over time you began to feel that you couldn’t “hold back” your tears. If you allow yourself to cry, you believe you will never stop. That’s because you’ve held your tears in for too, too long. Tears that are out-of-control or constantly being pushed down do not belong in a healthy, happy life. Thoughtful Thursday exercises will help you learn to trust yourself again.

    Coping without Crying

    How to Cope When It’s Not Okay to Cry?

  • Someone who says they love you does something to hurt you and then says what they did is your fault. This happens in childhood as well as in adult relationships. It leaves you distrusting your own inner voice. You find yourself dancing because the puppet strings are being pulled – but you don’t feel at all like dancing or smiling. You empty out your insides to cope with the confusion and fear. Once you are safely out of a situation that forces you to shut yourself down, Thoughtful Thursday exercises will teach you to way up your internal righting response and help you permanently cut the puppet strings.
    Copyright: <a href=''>carlodapino / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

    Coping By Numbing

    Thoughtful Thursdays will feature a weekly exercise for helping you learn:

    To stay in the present moment rather than being overtaken by thoughts and feelings related to your past.

    To balance your thoughts and feelings to help you make better decisions.

    To improve your ability to tolerate uncomfortable feelings so that you can evaluate them and use them effectively to heal.

    To reduce incidents of being overtaken by your emotions in situations where becoming emotional works against you.

    Improve your ability to interact with others effectively.

    Visit every Thursday for a new tip and exercise for improving your mindfulness on Thoughtful Thursdays – beginning next week. Or subscribe to get the Thoughtful Thursday tips delivered directly to your e-mail inbox by clicking here.

    For more of Tamara’s work, please visit Tamara’s podcast can also be found on¬† iTunes.

    © Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

How To Develop Your Self-Empowerment Mindset


People who are self-empowered hold thoughts and attitudes that allow them to assume they have the ability to overcome obstacles. A self-empowered person develops goals for her or his life and sees anything that gets in the way of a particular goal as temporary. Instead of giving up when faced with difficulty, a self-empowered person falls back on an internal process that includes inspecting the difficulty, understanding it well, developing strategies for moving the difficulty out of their way and refusing to give in until they discover how to eradicate the difficulty and continue on the path to victory! Self-empowerment means you stay focused on your prize. Bumps in the road have no power to dissuade you from winning. Even if the winning takes more time than you thought it would.

Self-empowerment will drive you toward your best life

Self-empowerment will drive you toward your best life


The strategies involved in self-empowerment don’t change. Whether you are thinking of completing an advanced degree, losing weight or overcoming trauma, the process is the same. This means that once you understand the tools, you can apply them to success after success, over and over again.


The only thing self-empowerment does not apply to is changing other people or getting other people to do what you want them to do. (Focusing on getting another person to do what you want them to do in spite of any difficulties is manipulative and can be abusive. Although it may be a familiar pattern to some, feeling empowered by getting others to bend to your will is the opposite of healthy self-empowerment.)


Self-empowerment directly applies to the self-healing process. There are several differences between someone who can enact a self-healing process using self-empowerment strategies and some who does not. Let me outline just a few of them here to help you understand what you need to remember as you embark on your self-healing journey:


    • Self-empowerment thinking requires that you maintain a “can do” attitude rather than believing that what happens to you is entirely outside of your control. While it is true that sometimes awful things happen, a self-empowered person knows that there is always a way to respond to unexpected situations that will result in a positive outcome.


Self-empowerment learns

Self-empowerment: “I can. Even if I don’t know how yet.”


    • Self-empowerment thinking expects challenges and set-backs and allows for them. When I believe I can do something or I am undeterred from achieving a goal, challenges call for a re-assessment of my approach, not the forfeit of the race. Re-assessment for the self-empowered person makes no excuses and does not place blame on others. A truly self-empowered person asks the following question when confronted with a challenge: “What do I need to do to overcome this? How can I positively affect this situation and continue to move forward?”



Self-Empowered People Live By This Motto


      • Self-empowered people seek information. They know that every predicament has many possible solutions. When a self-empowered person can only see one or two possibilities, they ask for help, read, research and get more information until one or more good solutions reveal themselves. This requires patience and trust in the process and in yourself.


willing to learn

Self-empowerment involves constant learning


      • Self-empowered people make good use of their physical abilities. You only get one body. How you treat it determines your ability to approach situations with a self-empowered attitude. When you are unhealthy, sleep deprived or otherwise compromised physically, your body cannot support a self-empowered approach. Some obstacles to your goals will require you to stop, take a break, maybe take a nap and re-evaluate. Make sure your body is well-nourished and well-rested so that your health can support your process. “I can’t” and “I give up” are statements easily made by an overly-tired or ill person who would otherwise have a strong self-empowered mindset. Mindset is greatly influenced by your physical state. Do everything you can to be well physically.


healthy body healthy mind

Self-Empowerment requires effort at maintaining your health


    • The final point I will make in this post also leads to an introduction to my free tool for improving your Self-empowerment mindset. Among the things I’ve been describing here is an attitude of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to stay in the present moment with calmness and acceptance of what you are feeling, thinking and experiencing in your body. It is the beginning of being able to perform a “self-diagnostic” when everything isn’t going the way you want it to. Look for my “Thoughtful Thursday” posts which will introduce you to a new exercise each week focused on helping you improve your mindfulness skills as you move closer to your own self-empowerment mindset.


For more of Tamara’s work, please visit where you can sign up for Tamara’s newsletter and get weekly support on your self-empowerment journey. Tamara’s podcast can also be found on¬† iTunes.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.


How to Empower Your Decision Making After Abuse

Coercion and mind control are two tools an abusive partner uses to maintain control over their victim. Decision making in these relationships relies on the abuser’s power to overwhelm your ability to think clearly or check the abuser’s perceptions against reality. As long as an abuser can keep you from thinking freely, they can keep you under their thumb. Getting out, staying out and building a life you love depends on tearing apart the “logic” that was tailor-made to keep you in the abuser’s “trance.”

Shhh. They Might Be Listening.

Shhh. They Might Be Listening.

Free yourself by improving the way you attend to your decision making process in every aspect of your life. This post addresses how to take control of your mind/emotions when it comes to making decisions that satisfy your needs.

Let me suggest 5 principles based on Universal Human Rights that you can use to reclaim your dignity and your decision making power.

  • When you are trying to make a decision and you feel guilt, recognize guilt as a tool someone else has used to unfairly influence you in the direction of making the decision they prefer. If your choice poses no harm to anyone else, move forward with that choice. Not choosing the way someone else would have you choose is not the same as doing something wrong. You have the right to decide based on what you need/want.
Especially When Guilt Is One of the Emotions

Especially When Guilt Is One of the Emotions

  • Feeling angry? Maybe someone has done or said something that is causing you to feel that way? Anger is a signal to you that something is wrong. Instead of ignoring it, pay attention. Try to pinpoint the exact button inside of you that the other person pushed and go from there to see how you can address your need. Be cautious though, decision making when angry usually leads to poor decisions. Give yourself time to calm down and think about it. It’s perfectly fine to express your anger in responsible ways – a skill that requires practice.

    Decision Making While Angry Can Lead to Poor Decisions

    Decision Making While Angry Can Lead to Poor Decisions

  • Remember that you don’t have to take responsibility for making decisions that others are also responsible for carrying out. What am I talking about? Your co-worker suggests a potluck. You take in on yourself to organize it but that responsibility isn’t yours. Don’t overextend. The potluck is a group activity. It’s okay to decide to bring chips.
Overdoing is NOT a Requirement

Overdoing is NOT a Requirement

  • When you are making a decision and you need more information, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for more information or clarification. There is noting wrong with saying “I do not understand” without feeling guilty or stupid. Be confident. Not everyone knows everything about everything – and you aren’t expected too, either. You have the right to ask for and get all the information you need before moving forward with your choice.
It's Good to Ask for Information

It’s Good to Ask for Information

  • It’s okay to not make up your mind right away. If someone presses you for a decision, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” Take the time you need to be confident about your choice. If you need more time, take it. When you feel rushed about a decision that is yours to make, be sure you are not responding to the pressure by allowing guilt to derail your process. When time pressure is involved in pressure to make a decision it is usually best to let the time pass, even if the opportunity is lost. Time usually brings wisdom and a sense of gratitude for not jumping too fast.


Did you find this post valuable? Learn to trust yourself and your Decision Making process with Tamara’s e-course. Click here to sign up for “How to Trust Yourself & Make Good Decisions”.

Before you go, click here to listen as Tamara helps you understand these points more deeply as they may apply to your situation.


© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

Turning A Corner & Walking a Fine Line

Although my last post published just a few days ago, it has been a year since that post was written. At the time of this writing, it has been a year since I left my blog and podcast in search of deeper healing for myself. By the time this publishes, it will have been a year and a half.

I have learned a lot in that time. It is in the act of re-building this blog and podcast that my former self held up a mirror for me today. Now I can see what happened. This vision comes into focus even clearer because a physical cause for many of my symptoms has been discovered and corrected.

I can see that in search of my own healing and in an effort to authenticate my victim experience through creative expression, my victim/helpless emotions amplified themselves to the point that I could no longer see how I could continue this work. I had gone so far down the rabbit hole that I couldn’t see light.

I was wrong. I needed time and space to get correct perspective.

self reflection

With a new perspective (based on the relief of physical symptoms that have troubled me for a lifetime) I understand a few things differently.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned after a year’s hiatus and a heart procedure:

– The appropriate time for digging deeply into difficult feelings is when those feelings lead to behaviors that don’t serve you well in your life. Many therapists dig into old trauma with clients thinking that telling the story and getting the emotions out will lead to relief. While that can offer the temporary solution of “unloading a burden,” dwelling on those emotions can swallow a person whole. Why not just wait for the body to tell you when it is time to uncover the mystery of the feelings behind actions or words that aren’t what you wish they would be?

– Just because uncomfortable feelings reveal themselves, there is no injunction to do anything with or about them. Know they’re there. Don’t ignore. But a feeling isn’t a commandment. Not everything we feel has to be expressed. Again. Expression for the mere sake of expression can lead to overwhelm: like a sea of ocean waves that are exhausting and serve little purpose besides sucking life out of the person who chooses to swim in water that is too deep.

Saying this, I had written two “performance pieces” that I’ll post in written form here. They expressed deep, poignant emotions that moved the audience. And brought the observation that I was “still a victim.” I thought the woman who told me “when you stop being a victim” had missed the point. But, maybe not. Shortly after that observation I shut down my blog. And quit the work. I believed it was too Spiritually draining. Even though I felt a soul calling that has nagged at me – even over the past year – while I tried to make sense of things.

While allowing myself to “delve deeply” for the sake of connecting with my blog followers and other survivors of trauma I also created an emotional tidal wave that I believed I could only escape through quitting.

The problem wasn’t the work. The problem was that I lost sight of the delicate balance between experiencing feelings and moderating them so that they don’t take over my life. Honest mistake. Makes me ever more empathetic for anyone who sits with a therapist that believes that expression of feelings is a panacea.¬† Interestingly, the others I’m working with (at the 2bsisters blog) shared the same experience: burn-out from too much focus on describing the victim experience.

self reflection human

It has its place. But, after D.V. there is a time when it is appropriate to turn the corner. Once you are safe and know you are capable of staying safe and healthy, the focus on feelings should be more casual – a background process informing your decisions in the here-and-now. Staying in the feelings too long empowers the victim experience to direct your life as a silent puppeteer.

The healing process requires balance between paying attention to and dealing with the feelings and healthy distraction using activities that move your toward a stronger healthier you.

In this episode Tamara Bess LMFT discusses when delving into feelings is a useful practice and when it isn’t. She describes becoming overwhelmed by feelings leading up to the close of the podcast a year ago and the new direction toward self-empowerment for this and future episodes.

For more of Tamara’s work, please visit For a listing of podcast episodes, please visit Tamara’s podcast can also be found on¬† iTunes.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

Too Far Down The Rabbit Hole?

Alice in Wonderland said things were getting “curious-er and curious-er after she headed Down the Rabbit Hole. Why do I refer to that story and what does it mean here? Alice found herself grappling with the problems associated with¬†“an entry into the unknown, the disorientating or the mentally deranging.” (Thank you, Wikipedia!) You might agree that diving into feelings seems quite the same as Alice’s Rabbit Hole.

down the rabbit holeMany people who find themselves in a therapist’s office will discover that therapists often hold the belief that exploring emotions related to events that occurred in the past is the doorway to growth, healing and well-being. Unfortunately, some therapists don’t also understand the concept of balancing the exploration of feelings with education/support in the direction of knowing what to do about or with those feelings. As a supervisor of new therapists, I often have the opportunity to assist new clinicians in understanding this concept of balance.

A rookie therapist, for example, might ask a traumatized child: “When is the last time you felt [fill in the blank with the therapist’s “pet” feeling]. This approach isn’t necessarily helpful without the correct therapeutic context for that particular child. Does a child need to be able to identify when he or she last felt sad, angry, afraid in order to understand and get through trauma? Not necessarily. When a child is active, enjoys sports and is competitive, maybe it is enough for the child to pay attention to how they feel ¬†before kicking a soccer ball around with his or her therapist and notice if¬†after kicking the ball around they feel better. Is it easier to refrain from talking back afterward? Is it easier to sit still afterward? Maybe, it’s not the emotive, but the pragmatic that works for a particular child.

The same is true for grown-ups. Try asking someone you know who is a self-proclaimed “gym rat” what they do to alleviate stress and deal with difficult emotions.

Often, victims of trauma are guided to the edge of the rabbit hole with the promise of “healing” after the “release of feelings.” Sometimes, this works. Often, it doesn’t. Knowing when to release feelings for the sake of release and when to do something with the feelings is a learning process. It is individual and must be tailored to individual needs and differences.

When I’ve worked with people who are looking for relief from daily reminders of the trauma they have survived, I tell them that¬†I don’t care about the details of the trauma.¬†I don’t want to listen to them tell the trauma story again – just for the sake of the telling. For most people, knowing this brings a great deal of relief.

Here’s what we do instead of digging deep into feelings that are old, traumatic and capable of re-creating the trauma experience over and over again.

  • We focus on feelings that lead to unwanted behaviors in the here-and-now.
  • When those problematic behaviors keep coming up, we look deeper to see where they started. (E.g. Do you go to any cost to keep others from getting mad at you? Does that cause you to say “yes” when it would be better for you to say “no”? This is when a deeper exploration is warranted.)
  • When an unwanted behavior is¬†not the direct target of attention, we focus instead on creating a set of behaviors that brings joy, empowerment, pleasure, personal fulfillment and happiness.
  • Sometimes those behaviors “push” against unresolved feelings that can then be the focus of therapeutic attention. Once the underlying/motivating feelings are understood and addressed, the new behaviors are easier to maintain.

Where does that leave digging deep  just to do it? We leave it out. If you are an artist and use your emotions to create, creation from a place of trauma should be cathartic, healing and lead to growth. If digging deep only leads to more sensations of being traumatized, feelings of overwhelm, less insight, more anger and more exhaustion, you are likely spinning your wheels in an activity that spends too much energy without sufficient returns.

Let me share an example of how this works. About a week before I went into my cardiac ablation surgery, I intended to live as balanced, relaxed and calm as possible. I believed that this would support a successful outcome for my procedure. However, as I intentionally slowed myself down I experienced an intense internal pressure not to slow down. The pressure directed me toward what has been a life-long pattern for me: not allowing myself to rest until I had exhausted myself and run into the proverbial wall. Then, exhausted, permission to slow down would be granted. But the permission was granted only long enough to muster enough energy to run myself ragged again.

In intentionally slowing myself down,¬†my body clearly showed me that slowing down was¬†breaking the rules. What’s more . . . when I stopped and listened, my body reminded me of¬†exactly why it was important to keep running and¬†when that pattern began in my life.

This information freed me to make the choice that was best for me. I didn’t need to dig. I didn’t need to tell anyone about the trauma. All I needed to do was “bump into it” while I was making choices that were healthy for me, listen to the message my body was giving me and make a healthy choice based on my current situation rather than on past realities. That’s how it works when we allow our incredible bodies, minds and souls to lead our healing process.

So, are you obsessed with going down the rabbit hole? Is your therapist obsessed with taking you there? Are you on a search for the mysterious secret that will allow you to release your pain? I would say this: only go down the rabbit hole if it benefits you. Don’t dive deep. Give yourself permission to let go. To find things that feel good to you. To say “no” to going down the rabbit hole when the rabbit hole doesn’t offer you any obvious promise.

Finding the right balance is necessary for what I believe is essential for the body to be able to guide you toward health. Click here to listen to Tamara discuss how you can use your body and your feelings purposefully to heal your soul.


Even if the rabbit hole does bring you promise, it’s useful, beneficial and even¬†healthy to take a break when your body tells you that enough is enough.

What kind of therapist can effectively assist you with overcoming trauma in a meaningful way? That’s a great question. The short answer is that there are effective, research-based methods of doing therapy which are proven to be effective in healing trauma. For the longer answer, watch for my upcoming post on Effective Therapies for Treating PTSD.

¬©¬†Tamara Bess, LMFT¬†2016¬†All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara‚Äôs express written permission is prohibited. For more of Tamara’s work, please visit For a listing of podcast episodes, please visit Tamara’s podcast can also be found on¬† iTunes.

Does Happiness Come From Within?

Healing and becoming strong from the inside out can be an overwhelming task. Simply defining what that means and why it is important is daunting. Then comes acknowledging and processing the different aspects of being empowered from the inside out. One aspect is happiness. Steve Rose does an excellent job of identifying happiness and raising the possibility that it’s focus may not be what it should be. If we were to adjust our perspective on it, move the focus away from it being a destination and more of companion or by product of a journey, would we be happier with being happy?

This concept brings up an interesting consideration for those who look for someone or something to make them happy. When we are looking for someone to fill a void that we feel we can not personally fill, we become vulnerable to someone else’s agenda to fill that place. If happiness were a byproduct of enjoying the journey of a mission or purpose, would it be easier to recognize if one were off course? If we no longer feel happy, perhaps we need to rethink our destination or the path we are taking to get there? Would that make it easier to recognize if one were in an unhealthy relationship?

This is a well written piece on pondering if happiness is better served from the inside out.

Steve Rose PhD


With Eastern philosophy currently on trend in the Western personal-development genre, gurus have been popping up everywhere, preaching the idea that happiness comes from within. This perceptual change is usually achieved through detachment from ego and the material world of possessions through meditation or present-centered breathing practices. This ultimately leads to a state of non-striving whereby the practitioner finds happiness by no longer seeking happiness.

Personally, I’ve found many benefits in inner-based practices, particularly those of Eckhart Tolle. Although working on our inner-life can free us from the forms of striving that prevent happiness, we are still stuck with a problem: all forms of striving can’t disappear. If this were the case, our societies would immediately collapse and idleness would ensue. And who really wants to give up all forms of striving? I personally love striving to write better, think of better ideas, lift more at the gym, and become…

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