Posts Tagged ‘personal growth’

The “No Umbrella”: Honoring your Needs & Getting Them Met

May 5th, 2013

By Carré Otis with Sarah Spinner, Psy.D.

Just Saying “Yes”
I was a girl who, like many of us, was not empowered to speak up. I wasn’t encouraged to express my opinions, my wants or my needs. I was never told I could say no, even when no was clearly the appropriate answer. Instead, I was encouraged to use words like yes and other pleasing responses like “I’m happy to,” “Of course I will,” and “Let me help.”

I’ve come to understand that language impacts thought, and vice versa. Without owning the word “no,” and all the other language under what I like to think of as the “No Umbrella,” I was denying myself the conviction and power that comes with it. I hadn’t been taught to tune in to the wise part of myself, the intuitive part that always had the answers. No external guide and no inner compass—a dangerous combination.

Learning “No”
I became so confused and pissed off about my predicament, feeling trapped by a set of life circumstances I had essentially constructed with too many yes’s, that I ended up ignoring my best interests and saying “no” to myself. At age 12 I began experimenting with alcohol, becoming sexually active and taking diet pills. My destructive behavior created a distance between me and others—not a healthy boundary, but the only kind of boundary I knew how to create at the time.

I wanted to feel loved and taken care of. But I associated my yearning for this basic emotional security with a feeling that seemed overwhelmingly scary—vulnerability. The fact that I couldn’t articulate my needs or even acknowledge them in the first place, meant that I was profoundly resigned, having decided somewhere along the way that I didn’t deserve to lead a happy, healthy life.

Changing My “Yes”-Habits
It’s not easy to change habits. But with awareness and discipline, it is possible. In my mid-20s, with the help of a therapist, I was able to leave an abusive marriage. I gradually began to see how my magnetic pull toward the infliction of harm by another had to do with a kind of self-destruction I’d internalized long before I’d met my husband. Since I was just a child I had a non-stop inner monologue, a voice telling me I was “bad, useless and stupid.” It was a constant effort to be mindful of that voice, to notice when it got louder and when it got softer, when it was on full blast and when it was lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce.

Over time I learned that I could respond to external triggers in a healthy way, rather than letting that critical inner voice run the show. I could integrate new words to replace the negative ones. These replacement words became my friends: word remedies, positive affirmations, compassionate journaling. I was beginning to destroy the old script and let go of that self-sabotaging voice within.

After doing enough work to develop my wise and empowering inner voice, after internalizing a more positive view of myself, I was able to start communicating my needs to others. My inner voice now speaks well of me, thus allowing me to treat myself well too. And I can request that other people do the same. When I notice the critical voice rear its ugly head, I thank it for sharing rather than believe its lies.

Listening to Me and Talking to Them
I’ve learned that other people’s reactions to my expressing a need has nothing to do with me. The point is, I’m not shutting myself up anymore because “bad-useless-stupid” once told me my needs aren’t valid. I’m saying “No” to that voice and, in essence, I’m protecting myself under the “No Umbrella.” I’m saying “Yes” to myself.

Your Needs Need You
Life can be so much more than surviving or just getting by. Practice paying attention to your needs. Identify them. Verbalize them. Honor them. And ask others to help you get them met. Start by bringing awareness to your needs as they arise. They may be basic—hunger, thirst, the need to go to the bathroom. And they may be subtle—the need for a hug, acknowledgment, or time alone. Your needs are unique and they will vary day to day.

I’ve learned that if you have a traumatic history, it’s particularly important to practice tuning into your needs on a regular basis. You triggers can be both specific and general, some instantly transporting you back to a terribly painful memory and others eliciting a vague sense of something just not feeling right. Again, awareness is key. Tell your friends or your partner about these triggers when you’re ready to. Your well-being is priority number one and if you’re dismissing your needs then you may be reinforcing an old belief that somehow you deserved or caused the traumatic experience.

Saying “no” and protecting yourself with the “No Umbrella” means more than just negating something with a one-syllable word. It means recognizing your boundaries and honoring your needs.

Practice Prompts

  • Looking back, did anyone teach you about your right to say “no”?
  • What lessons did you learn about boundaries, either explicitly or through watching the adults in your life?
  • How comfortable are you with saying “no”? Are there certain areas in life where saying “no” is easier than others?
  • How have you looked for validation, safety and love throughout your life? Can you identify healthy and unhealthy ways you’ve done this?
  • Do you have any specific triggers related to past trauma? If so, what are they? How comfortable do you feel in tuning into these triggers and communicating them to others if necessary?
  • If you’re in a relationship, how comfortable do you feel communicating your needs to your partner?
  • If you’re single and looking, what needs will you have from a future partner?
  • If you’re single and not looking, how can you honor your needs now, for yourself?
  • In terms of communicating your needs to other people in your life, who do you have trouble doing this with? What makes it hard? Who do you find it easy to do this with? What makes it easy?
  • Playful Practice Exercise: Sometimes our dreams help us tune in to unacknowledged needs as well as our wise intuition. Before bed, take a moment to jot down some questions or concerns you’d like your dream life to give answers to. As you fall asleep, tune into your deep intuition and see what your dreams reveal the next morning.

Ed and Deb Shapiro of VividLife Radio Welcome Carré Otis

April 16th, 2012
Carré Live on VividLife Radio

Ed and Deb Shapiro welcome Super Model Carre Otis to discuss her new book Beauty Disrupted, a memoir.

Ed and Deb Shapiro welcome Super Model Carre Otis to discuss her new book Beauty Disrupted, a memoir. Tue, April 17, 2012 05:00PM
Listen to the entire Carre Otis interview on VividLife Radio.

A Sisterhood of Inner Beauty

April 3rd, 2012

When you become a parent, it’s not all about you anymore. Thankfully! A new level of awareness and responsibility springs forth, a powerful concern for another’s well-being. For me, having two young daughters has not only expanded my access to joy and deepened my sense of gratitude, but it has heightened my concern for the dangerously subversive messages they’ve already started to receive.

While I’ve been a devoted social activist and champion of women’s issues for some time, it wasn’t until this “Mama Bear” instinct kicked in that I truly understood the media’s influence and the grave implications it has on the way women feel about themselves. It’s not just the lone advertisement that screams, “Find Mr. Right Before it’s Too Late!” or the single magazine cover plastered defiantly with “Fight Aging!” that’s going to demolish one’s self-esteem. It’s the cumulative effect of this constant barrage that erodes and undermines our confidence.

The good news is that we have choices about how we react to such messaging and how we relate to other women. I’ve learned to surround myself with women who lift me up and leave me feeling nurtured rather than drained. I’ve learned to watch my words too, particularly around my daughters — two of my greatest teachers — doing my best not to gossip about other women or even myself. If they were to hear me put some of those seemingly automatic thoughts on loudspeaker, such as, “I look bad today… Look at those bags under my eyes…” I now understand that it would impact them in a profoundly unhealthy way. Just as young people absorb all kinds of messages from the media, young girls learn what it means to be a woman by watching the older women in their lives. As role models to young girls, we have some big challenges ahead of us.

I’m proud that today, at 43 years old, I’ve come to value the aging process and focus on inner rather than outer beauty. This has come with time, spiritual practice, motherhood and many mistakes along the way. I’ve learned to anticipate growing older with a sense of excitement. I want my daughters to see their mother fearlessly and gracefully claiming her body, her voice and her years.

Easier said than done, of course. For me, it’s required discipline: Just as I’m careful about what my daughters are exposed to, I’m just as careful with myself. I avoid magazines that critique what female celebrities are wearing, what they’re buying and what they look like. I skip right past channels that exploit “cat fights” or reality shows. And I’ve learned to walk away from any real-life judgmental conversations about women. They bring me down. They bring us all down.

In order to cultivate a healthier outlook, I’ve worked hard to shift some of my personal paradigms as well. In the modeling industry, while my own image sold dangerous messages to others, I too was receiving some pretty warped misinformation about standards of beauty. I internalized shame about aging — it was something to run from, lie about. I was encouraged to jump on every job I could before my 20-something expiration date. But even before modeling, I’d been trained by my own cultural influences to worry about my looks and fear those inevitable wrinkles and stretch marks. Long before I was a part of the media-machine, I’d decided that there was essentially only one good way to look — young.

How do we maintain a healthy concept of beauty? What does it mean to look and feel beautiful in a time when shielding ourselves from such messages is nearly impossible? In an era when revealing how old we are is taboo and asking a woman her age is impolite, a risky social move akin to bringing up religion or politics at the dinner table. If she dares to state her age, she’s given a “compliment,” whether sincere or not, such as, “Wow. You don’t look your age.” Why in the world has that become a hoped-for complement? Why would looking one’s age be something to dread?

Yes, media’s a culprit, but it’s hardly the only player contributing to this fear of aging and these warped ideas about beauty. I feel the media can and should help host the solution. I blog, I tweet, I sat for a round of television interviews to promote my memoir and I recently walked the runway in Milan for the only “plus size” designer to showcase at ANY Fashion Week.

Just as I screen what my daughters view, I’m also the “mama bear” in my professional career, and I select exactly how and where I want to insert myself into the media and what messages I want to convey. I believe that no “look,” no matter how seemingly flawless, equals happiness.

I often wonder how women, together, can transmit such positive messages on a larger scale. How extraordinary would it be to experience a supportive sense of community, one that collectively dismissed toxic media messages? How beautiful would it be to feel part of a unified whole, a member of a powerful sisterhood. What if we sought to actively create such a community and then committed to nurturing it on an ongoing basis? I think this begins at the individual level, first rethinking how we relate to ourselves, then to each other — at home, at work, and even online with like-minded strangers. I’d like to think this is possible. I’m committed to doing my part for my daughters, for our daughters; and I’d like to do this work with other women who think it’s possible, too.

Q & A with Carré Otis: On Body Image, Healing, Yoga, Meditation & Orgasms

March 5th, 2012

So happy I could share my thoughts with Jason Wachob from MindBodyGreen.  Check out my interview here.

MindBodyGreen