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All the Pretty Things

By Aurora Starr

Let’s be clear. I am well aware of my name. It’s Aurora Starr and, yes, I live in California. My parents were and still are crystal-loving, chakra-checking, tribal-drumming, planet-charting, sage-burning, New Agers who own just about every Windham Hill collection ever produced. The irony of it all is not lost on me.

Yet, call it what you will, a striving to rebel against my parents or other authority figures, but more accurately perhaps a blatant indifference for those who claim there is more to a sunset than the beauty of a sunset. I believe in good science, philosophy, love, kittens, The Beatles, great sex and experiential learning. It’s complicated (but not really), as it should be. So to say I have a hard time relating with the New Age set is not far off the mark. Not that they are bad people. Quite the opposite, they mean well. They are productive and, for the most part, trustworthy. Just like some of my Christian and Buddhist friends and acquaintances, they want good things to come to those who believe, meditate, pray and do unto others, etc. These are also things that I can adhere to or even incorporate into my daily routine. So what’s the problem?

Sorry, not sorry.

My friend’s New Age Train pulled out of the station a few years ago following her spiritual awakening. Since then, I have been exposed to lots of patchouli oil and other exotic scents from afar… lots. I quickly learned that my enchanted friend and her belongings will now and forever smell like some ancient temple in Upper Mesopotamia. Her very presence would probably remind you of Stevie Nicks’ public persona circa 1979, minus the Wild Turkey and cocaine.

I learned my first lesson in crystal ethics from her. NEVER, EVER, touch someone else’s crystal pendant (pendulum). You will strip the mineral of its magical cleansing powers. My friend recoiled in disbelief as I reached for her pendulum, “Oh, that’s so pretty.” Sounds benign, right?  I thought so, too, until I was quickly schooled in crystal etiquette.

It is imperative for you to believe that crystals are indeed magical and that they hold healing properties. She has crystals all throughout her apartment, so many, many pretty crystals.  Her ever expanding collection has made her life similar to Doris “the cat lady” who used to live above me. Oh Doris, good times. My friend makes me hold selected crystals (NEVER, EVER the pendulum) and asks me if I can feel their “life energy.” She insists that if I would “just relax, I would feel it.” I still don’t feel it, but I smile politely and repeat my original thought that they are certainly “pretty.” They can still be pretty, right?

Then it is time for us to go out for the evening. We had plans, but never mind this; the universe had plans for us, also. Our night out had become contingent on astrological charts. Somehow our friendship hinges on whether the tarot produces a death card or three swords or some other mystical combination. Consulting cards is not a way of planning a night of fun. It sounds like playing it safe and running away from personal responsibility. It is also akin to What Would Jesus Do? “He would have tacos, he would definitely have tacos. Now can we leave, please?

So we finally arrive at a lovely, local eatery. A waifish and shy young girl takes our drink order and probably wishes she had been assigned to another section for that evening. She is immediately questioned by my friend about which menu items are vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose-free, and caffeine-free. I can’t say I blame my friend. Hey, being spiritually-aware often means you are body-aware. Healthy body, health mind, healthy spirit, I get it. Unfortunately, so does the timid waitress counting the minutes until her shift ends.

And another thing…

So to all my enlightened friends, and I have many of them (Remember the whole I live in California thing?), I wish you lots of peace and love, but you are not Native Americans, Aztecs, Mayans, Druids, or some Eastern Mystics. Different time, different history, different culture and different race. You live in Emory. You are white. Appropriating or picking rituals without having first-hand experience of the culture or the intended meaning behind those symbols is just wrong at best, disrespectful at worst.

You don’t own it. You never could. We can all agree that Eric Clapton is a kick-ass guitar player and a remarkable artist and performer, but is he a Blues Guitar God as many have suggested (including my Dad)? No, because he didn’t live it. He grew up in England for Christ Sake. Mr. Clapton did indeed experience his share of hardships – alcoholism, drug addiction and personal tragedy. However, he was never a Black musician in an oppressive and often brutal society ruled by an equally oppressive set of laws and government. See the difference?

There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. Mr. Clapton likely knows this, but I doubt many of his fans do. Now, this blog isn’t about a Black and White thing. That’s for another day, but do you get the point or is it just me, and how the hell did Eric Clapton get pulled into this?

It’s me, not you. No, really, it’s you and that’s okay.

My charmed friend also believes everything is a sign, and she’ll live her life following these psychic inklings, often against better judgment. She is indeed a handful, but I regularly cross the threshold into her world of magic and healing and genuinely enjoy our time together. There’s a place at the table for all, at least there should be. If her beliefs bother me so much, why don’t I just walk away? Well, that’s just rude and maybe, just maybe, the door to my mind needs to have its hinges oiled from time to time.

Shine bright,

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you. 

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Becoming a Therapist

by Christina Pettinato, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

When I walked into my first professional counseling course, I held my head up high, pulled my shoulders back, and thought, “Yes, I belong here.”  For the first time in my mental health career I felt as if I was headed in the right direction, and I was eager to begin my journey.

My mind was prepared to soak in all the knowledge that was going to be bestowed upon me, and it was then that I realized becoming a therapist was going to be a intimidating endeavor. As the professor began his lecture, I quickly learned that I needed to conquer some inner-demons in addition to fostering a connection to the core concepts of psychotherapy and counseling.

Who me? This is about me? I didn’t think I would be the one sitting in the client’s chair.  At first, I didn’t grasp the significance or meaning behind this moment.  I thought to myself, “Where do I even begin?” No map. No compass. No clue. I’m screwed, and I hadn’t even written my first note yet! Navigating the dark crevices of my mind was going to be a lot more vexing than venturing into someone else’s. My anxiety was through the roof, and my fear was real. Could I ever truly find a sense of peace and beauty within this chaos?

What I began to learn is that life, my life, is based on the perception of my own processes – both the mental and physical perception of experience and how much it influences my daily understanding of the world around me.  Understanding how I perceive the world, which would ultimately impact my future therapeutic relationships, evolved into a consuming endeavor within my therapeutic journey and career.

Exploring my psyche and how it works only reinforces this notion of perception and how each of us can discover a unique pathway to the mind. What was interesting to me was, not only did I develop a heightened sense of awareness of self, but for others, too.  I became highly interested in perception and being-in the-world (to borrow a term from philosopher Martin Heidegger).  Everyone is uniquely human, no two realities are perceived the exactly in the same context. I began to see an uneasy marriage between that which is measurable by science (cognitive processes) and all the mystery of philosophy and art. Things began to gel, take form, make sense, and a fog was lifting.  For me, this exploration was, and still remains, the doorway to understanding another person’s perspective.

With all of my new found inspiration, I knew I needed some guidance. It wasn’t long until my seedlings of thought found purchase in existential psychotherapy.  It is an approach that emphasizes an understanding of your client’s worldview because you are not separated from it. You are human, so is the client. You are forever grounded in a common bond that cannot be quantified or measured. As the French philosopher Jean Paul Sarte said, existence precedes essence. This idea is at the root of our search for meaning. As therapists, counselors and clinicians, we cannot separate ourselves from the living world or our humanness. Understanding, compassion and connection, these are the best tools we have to offer our clients.

My journey then and now can be compared to staring at a painting. At first, I tilt my head in curiosity and uncertainty as the canvas appears unconnected, unruly and unclear. Yet, as I take my time to gaze a little deeper, it becomes easier to see the painting’s intricacies, its inner-struggle, and its beauty. The world opens and things appear as they are – flowing in richness, emotion and connectivity. Meaning is found.  Like the artwork, I began to connect the pieces of my life into theory and produced a strong approach to the helping relationship.

My journey is far from over and there is still so much for me to explore, but for those of you taking that first step, keep looking at the canvas. Don’t give up just yet.


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What Do You Mean?

I have to go potty!” My daughter called from the other room.  I put down the dish I was washing, slipped off my rubber gloves, and hustled out of the kitchen.

Great!” I told her.  “Let’s go!” I’d been hoping she’d finally gotten far enough in her potty-training journey that she’d be able to recognize when she needs to go on her own, rather than having to rely on my near-incessant reminders throughout the day.

We rushed to the door of the bathroom, and she stopped short.  “I don’t have to go.

Let’s go!” I told her, anxious to get things moving, and not at all excited about the prospect of having to clean up yet another accident.

I don’t have to go.

I looked at her, trying to keep my exasperation level down.  (I was only mildly succeeding.) “You just said you had to go, honey.  Let’s give it a try.

I. Don’t. Have. To. GO!” She screamed, stamping her foot.

I threw up my hands.  “Fine.” I headed back to the kitchen, and was only about a foot away from her when she called out.

Mama, I DO have to go!


We had a saying growing up that I plan on making sure I pass down to my kids: Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. It comes from the Bible, and it’s always made sense to me. But as someone who has spent most of her life thus far wanting to be The Favorite, The Most Well-Liked, and The Best Friend Ever, those words gave me a lot of anxiety. There are so many things I want to say, but I’m always so worried – what will the person I’m talking to think? Will they still like me after they hear my thoughts? What happens if they don’t?

I know, I know – my insecurity level? Expert!

I spent so much time in my life tamping down what I think in order to always say the “right” thing – or, rather, what I think others wanted to hear. If I did that, I reasoned, then I could be everyone’s friend. No one would dislike me. It made sense!

Until it didn’t. Because I’ve found that generally, people do two things when confronted with behavior like that: 1) they know exactly what I’m doing; and 2) they don’t like it, because they know it’s not authentic. And I’d get called out on it. And when I did, I’d move through this really interesting cycle of behavior: someone would say, “Is that what you really think?” I’d say yes, then feel awful and terrible about myself afterward, because I knew I was lying – not only to them, but to myself.  It feels awful to deny yourself the truth, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. I didn’t know how to be my authentic self.

Not such a long time ago, I happened to be at the library in my neighborhood when I struck up a conversation with another mother with young children. She was starting the process of homeschooling her oldest, and asked me if I home-schooled or, if I didn’t, if I knew of anyone in town who did.

I don’t,” I said. “But I have many friends who do, they live in another state, but if you want, I can give you some bloggers I read that home school, for ideas.

She shook her head. “Thank you, but no,” she said. “I really just wanted to know if there was anyone local, so I could meet up in person. Thank you anyway.

We got on talking about something else, but that short little bit of conversation was so striking to me, precisely because it was the opposite of something I would do. If our roles were reversed, I’d probably throw a bunch of clarifiers in there, floundering around in conversation, but she didn’t do that. I loved so, so much that she knew exactly what she was looking for, and when she didn’t find it, she thanked me, but also made her point perfectly clear with no animosity, no worries that I was insignificant, and without belittling me. She knew what she was about and communicated it clearly, and didn’t seem to care about my opinion one way or another.

All of this is something I have such a hard time doing! But I was able to use it as a wonderful example in my own life, for clearly communicating my own thoughts and needs. As I’ve been able to learn about how to be assertive, and how to speak up for myself, I’ve been doing my best to listen to others and realize that just because I think one thing does not mean they are any less of a person because they don’t agree with me.  It seems so silly to say that, but it’s what I had been doing, in reverse. Before, if I had spoken my mind, and someone would have disagreed, I would have felt ashamed, or stupid, or less than, even if the person I was talking to didn’t intend those things. But I’m learning now that all of that thinking had to do with my anxiety, not with them.

And so I’m trying to learn, and to practice the skill of clear communication: of my yes meaning yes and my no meaning no. It’s a hard one to master, but it truly feels worth it. It feels authentic! And it feels really good. If insecurity in conversation with others is something you struggle with too, you are not alone! Let’s go through it together.

Until next time, be well!

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Gaslighting and the Single Girl

by Aurora Starr

I spend way too much time observing others. It’s both a curse and a gift. I’m certain this activity could be pathologized in some way, given the right psychiatrist on the wrong day. “A maladaptive attempt to give her boredom an outlet…Does not play well with others or reality.” Not that I could actually do anything productive with my annotations other than voice them on occasion with the readers of this blog. However, I do think there is value in being able to read others well, even for the sake of feeding my maladaptive daydreaming disorder (I’m not certain that’s even a thing, but I’m sure it will be).

Gaslighting 101

So color me mystified that in spite of my best observations and guardedness a full-time gaslighter recently managed to seep into my personal life. I’m certain you know at least one of these toxic jackasses, who is probably within throwing distance now as you read this (not that I’m advocating violence), but just in case here are a few general things to be aware of when dealing with someone who gaslights for a living:

  • The only time they are not lying is when their mouths are shut or they are not typing a text.
  • They lie to others on your behalf. Then they make you think that the lie originated with you.
  • Their mistakes, poor choices or problems are now yours.
  • They manipulate your feelings and thoughts.
  • They shut you out, cast doubt on you, and minimize your feelings when they are approached.
  • Their recall of events is dramatically different than yours and your recall is then questioned.
  • You grow increasingly anxious and depressed when thinking about this person.
  • They will not own any of these traits, characteristics or behaviors. It’s someone else’s fault.

To anyone who has experienced this type of person or persons, I’m sorry.

You deserve better. If you have someone in your life who gaslights, lose this person as quickly as possible before you lose yourself. Now let’s talk about the term itself. I’m not a mental health professional because, well, I’m not. It’s not my calling. However, when you think about it, someone who “gaslights” would have been called a manipulative, lying asshole some years ago before everything needed a diagnostic code or reframed in a way that was appealing and lucrative to a mass of pharmaceutical companies and researchers. My point is this, gaslighting or any of the so-called Personality Disorders are pure hokum and just shitty science. I’ m not going to substantiate that claim here. I don’t have to. Go research it yourself.

Hold your letters and pitchforks, please.

I’m not suggesting that all mental health issues are hogwash, but I know enough to tell you that the American Psychiatric Association has created a self-perpetuating, self-serving category of “disorders” for personality types. A few of these include Nacassitic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Obsessive Personality Disorder. It would seem that these traits and characteristics are rolled together in a gray area where psychiatry and psychology lose all their credibility. Medications and most behavior modification for a personality disorder are useless and again continue the belief that everything must be explained away by science, even being a manipulative jerk. There are people out there hurting. They have real problems. Focusing on personality disorders or researching “gaslighters” takes time and funding away from the work that needs to be done in the areas of depression, schizophrenia, trauma and anxiety, just to name a few. You know, real stuff? Not a disorder to allow a selfish (insert your own colorful metaphor here) off the hook. Can we please all agree that not every person needs to be defined by some sort of pathology?

Regarding my recent encounter with someone who gaslights? She knows who she is, and I hope that someday she will want to change. I doubt it though. I cut her from my life completely. Insight comes through self-exploration and an ability to take responsibility for my actions. Awareness doesn’t grow on trees or come in pill form, but it does help if my life has meaning beyond hurting others as way to validate my existence. If my being is dependent on how well I spin my narrative then it’s time to rethink who I am.

Shine bright,

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you. 

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Meet Therapist Christina Pettinato

Photo by Mike McKenna

Join us in welcoming the newest member of our eTalkTherapy family, Christina Pettinato, who brings with her a wealth of clinical experience and a refreshing take on the importance and application of meaning in the therapeutic relationship. Get to know more about Christina in today’s blog post.

What does therapy mean to you?

It’s a complex question, but I believe it is the conscious act of two or more people engaging in purposeful and honest conversation with the intention of gaining insight, meaning and trust.

What makes therapy successful?

What I believe makes therapy successful is the devotion to the therapeutic relationship. There is nothing more important to therapy than the connection between two people. This unique connection lays a secure foundation that in turn creates a space for exploration, meaning, mindfulness and self-reflection.

How has existentialism shaped your role as a therapist?

Existentialism shaped my role as a therapist the day I walked into my first class called Existential Psychotherapy. Right then and there I knew I had been craving for something different; a new way of thinking and a desire to travel deep within myself so that I could help others. I now have a new perspective on life, meaning, and finding purpose. It has been a liberating journey and I’m looking forward to the road ahead.

What is your life philosophy?

What I would consider my life’s philosophy is the act of understanding how I choose to devote my life’s energy to maintaining a life in the here and now. I value the act of creating meaning, helping others and making choices with purposeful action and gaining great comfort in the acts of learning and helping.

Describe yourself in three words?

Passionate. Inspired. Intuitive.

What was the last book you read? Your thoughts on it? 

Therapy with Children An Existential Perspective,” by Chris Scalzo. I really enjoyed it because as you read his words, you can really gain a sense of the author’s feelings of care and understanding related to children. This book provided me with an existential view on how to work with children while breaking the barrier that existentialism is a practice solely meant for adults. His rich words, research and ideas on the subject intrigued me, as this work is written with simplicity and taught by connecting theory with real world application. That approach is sadly lacking in many books and articles written on the subject of existential psychotherapy and counseling.

If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be AND why?

If I could meet someone living or dead? I would love to meet my great, great, great, great, great (I believe it is that many “greats”) grandmother, the matriarch of my family and our name. I listened to her story being told many times by my older relatives as I grew up, and I have had the honor and privilege to visit and walk the streets she was known to have walked in our home country of Italy. Words could not describe how that moment would feel or what it would mean to me.

Share something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

I believe that others would be surprised to learn that I have been a co-host of a podcast (and soon a new podcast called Existential GPS). I say this because if you would have asked or known me before I dove head first into this adventure I probably would have said “No way, I can’t do that!

Complete this sentence “The quality I most value in a friend”

The quality I most value in a friend is trustworthiness. Period.

Complete this sentence “The quality I most value in myself”

The quality I most value in myself is my integrity. Period.

If you are looking to make positive changes in your life, we can help! Please contact us today about how to register and schedule your live video-chat counseling session with Christina.

Follow eTalkTherapy on Facebook and Twitter for updates and articles related to good mental health!

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The Accidental Existentialist Issue 2

Read the SPRING 2018 edition of The Accidental Existentialist now or download it to read later. In this issue you will find great articles, including new works by mental health professionals Christina Pettinato, Morgan Roberts and Don Laird. Leave a comment below to let us know what you think – Enjoy!


From the Publisher: Our goal is to promote the human condition by advocating for the basic essentials of existentialism as a blueprint for the development of the human arts and sciences through the further study of meaning, metaphor, myth, freedom, isolation, spirituality, creativity and death. Let’s move our existential concepts back to their foundations and away from the world of prohibitive academia where they have gone to die a slow and rather uninspired death. As the walls of an empire begin to crumble we stand on the threshold of a new era. It is one that could produce great opportunities for individual enlightenment as well as a cultural renaissance. In short, let’s not blow it.
– Don

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Taking It In

by Christy Gualtieri

I’ve always been captivated by the the things I “took in.”  When I was a kid, I’d watch a movie and get so caught up in the plot and the scenery, I’d spend a not insignificant amount of time afterward acting like my favorite characters. I devoured books to the point that if I got in trouble at home, those were the first things taken away, not dessert or television time. And when I did get older, and TV took the place of going to the movies (because when you have kids, time to go to the movies significantly decreases), there would be some episodes of shows I’d watch where I couldn’t do much but sit with my mouth wide open, trying to process what I’d just seen. (I mostly did this after every episode of Breaking Bad.)

When I was a kid, I was pretty impressionable. I’m thankful that I grew up around family and friends who were good and decent people and gave me a good example to follow. Most adults grow out of their impressionable-ness, but I don’t know that I have. I think I still have the type of personality where it would be relatively easy for me to change my own feelings and actions after being immersed in some type of popular culture.

And I don’t think I’m alone, either. I think most of us, as cemented as we are in our own thoughts and opinions about things, are still that way. We take in the world around us, and it’s hard not to become immersed in it. Think of how much we’re absolutely bombarded with each and every day. Think of how much we take in when we look at our phones almost as soon as we wake up. If the first thing you see in the morning is the front page of a news site that’s screaming in capital letters about how the whole world’s going downhill faster than anyone could reasonably predict, is it any wonder you start the day in a bad mood? And as the day continues, you’re checking out other people’s lives and what they’re up to, do you feel inexplicably sad, like your life doesn’t measure up somehow? And after getting through your day, what’s the last thing you see on your screen? Will it help you sleep well, or will it put you in an uneasy place that might lead to anxiety-filled dreams?

I don’t say all of these things to judge you if you use your phone all the time. I use my phone way more often than I’d like! But I do say this to remind myself and you, too, that I think these things do matter, even if it’s on a subconscious level. You might not think your actions and your thoughts are so dependent on what you’re taking in, but there is a real connection there. And that’s not to say it’s a bad thing! You just might want to focus on the positive in all of it, instead of just negative.

And do I mean you should throw away your phone, unplug your TV, and bury your head in the sand? No. But I do mean to say that your anxiety and your worry might decrease if you step away from the frenetic static of Internet World and you focus on the world that is directly in front of you, because it’s the world that you live in. It’s so much fun to imagine yourself, as I did when I was a kid, in The Matrix; or in the Civil-War-torn era that the March sisters lived in. But the reality is that you are here, now.  You live where you do for a reason, and you have such power to influence those around you, for the good.

So I’m challenging both you and myself a little bit this week! How can we move (even if it’s a slow, sloth-like pace) away from what we see on a screen, and focus our vision on what’s around us, now, in the present moment? And if there’s nothing of interest there, can we turn again, inward, to ourselves? Our own thoughts, our own feelings? I can assure you that there is a whole world of adventure to be found.

Until next time, be well!

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What is Co-Parenting?

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

As a therapist I am often asked questions about parenting and parenting styles. Amid the shifting core of contemporary family structures co-parenting has become an exceedingly topical subject. Co-parenting, sometimes referred to as shared parenting, is the practice of raising children as a single parent when divorce or separation occurs. This can be a difficult process for parents and children, but it is not an impossible task and, in fact, may have its own rewards. Below are some brief tips that will help when it comes to co-parenting. Although everyone will find his/her situation somewhat different, there are basic generalities when it comes to shared parenting.

  1. RESPECT each other like mature adults. Do not talk negatively, or allow other adults to talk negatively, about the other parent, their family and friends or their home in hearing range of the child.
  2. Your child is not a spy. DO NOT question the children about the other parent or the activities of the other parent regarding their personal lives.
  3. DO NOT make promises to the children to try and win them over at the cost of the other parent. Trips and elaborate gifts should not be used as weapons against the other parent.
  4. COMMUNICATION. Communication. Communication. Communicate with the other parent and make similar rules in reference to discipline, bedtime routines, sleeping arrangements, and other schedules.
  5. It’s not about you. At all times, the decision made by you and your Ex should be for the child’s psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being and safety.
  6. DO NOT ask the child where they want to live. Additionally, visitation arrangements should be made and confirmed beforehand between the parents without involving the child in order to avoid any false hopes, disappointments or resentments toward the other parent.
  7. ALWAYS notify the other parent in a timely fashion of the need to deviate from the order, including cancelling visits, rescheduling appointments, and promptness.
  8. Both parents should WORK TOGETHER to allow the child to be involved in extracurricular activities and both parents should make every attempt to attend these activities together.
  9. INFORM the other parent of any change to scholastic, medical, extracurricular activities or appointments for the child.
  10. Keep the other parent well informed of your address and telephone number and your whereabouts.

Co-parenting means doing the right thing for your children. Always be ready to compromise and communicate with respect and civility.

If you are experiencing difficulty with co-parenting or are having a conflict in your relationship due to divorce or separation, please feel free to contact us to schedule a confidential appointment.

In good health,

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Finding Your Meaning

by Christina Pettinato, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

Ask anyone on the street what his or her greatest wish is, and you’ll probably hear some variation about winning the lottery, going on a dream vacation or owning a new home.  A person on a diet might wish for a guilt-free sundae; a prisoner might wish to be home again; someone with a terminally illness might long for improved health and more time. All very real and very valid things (security, safety, freedom, comfort), and having any of these might make someone happy.  And everyone wants to be happy, right?

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and curator of all things steeped in “meaning” wrote: “Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain, but rather to see a meaning in his life.

Meaning drives us out of bed and into the world, and it looks different for everyone.  Each of us has meaning.  Everyone has purpose, and it is innately buried in a person’s psyche to fulfill that purpose. And therein lies the challenge, “Who am I?” and “What brings meaning to my life?”

These questions, because they are so entwined with the human psyche, are not easy to understand.  How do we find meaning in our lives? Will finding meaning always bring us happiness, and are meaning and happiness the same thing?

Well, no.

A (very loose) example from a friend of mine: “Christina, before my husband and I had children, we would spend entire weekends loafing around our apartment. We worked hard during the week, and we’d get things done on weekends, but for the most part, we just sat on our futon in the living room and even slept there. Sounds heavenly, right? It certainly did to me, but five years later I am the parent of two kids and absolutely no downtime in sight.  But the truth is, I found those days to be so unsatisfying. Instead of feeling wonderful, I felt tired. Relaxation led to a certain kind of laziness, headaches and a deep sense of ennui. Believe me; I’d love a day with no responsibilities. But I also wouldn’t want those huge stretches of time back where I did nothing. It was an illusion of comfort and happiness. Those days were filled with empty minutes, time which I sadly wasted. I was unfulfilled.

Happiness does not always equate meaning, and meaning doesn’t always equate happiness, but when we find our meaning and work toward its fulfillment, we open opportunities to find joy.


The first step is to ask what is it that I want? Meditation is wonderful for this: it clears our minds, enabling us to dig deep and foster a healthy inner-dialogue. An app that helps that meditation and relaxation is called Calm, which uses guided meditation as well as ambient noise to provide an environment conducive to meditation.

The second step is to reach out and locate your tribe. Like-minded people are relatively easy to find on the web. Using apps like Meetup to discover others who are engaged in activities that give their lives purpose is a great way to ensure that you will be able to do so, too.

The third step is to promote physical and emotional well-being. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (eating right, exercising, meditation, and good sex) can make it easier for your body, mind and soul to find balance. This includes good mental health; seeking help for issues that hold us back can help you find your way through the fog of uncertainty and lead you to a place of clarity and action.

Finding meaning and purpose in your life may feel overwhelming at times, but what journey doesn’t have an occasional shortcoming? Meaning is within us all. It is a call that only you can uniquely answer, and the world can be much a better place because of your contributions!


Christina’s blog features articles from the perspective of an existential therapist who writes about psychology and theories connected to the human experience.