dr. jennifer ballerini

DR. JEN'S BLOG

21-Day Anti-Racist Challenge

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Over my 42 years of life in this country, I have breathed in racism every day. Like a noxious cloud around me, racism has been slowly poisoning me and my fellow countrymen every day of my life, every day of this country's existence. As I sit with that painful truth, as I sit with America's 400+ year, slow-motion holocaust of Black and Indigenous people, it feels clear that changing the system, changing the environment has to begin with each of us.

As a patriot who loves my broken, complicated country, and longs to have real "liberty and justice for all," I can think of no better way to celebrate the month of America's birth by committing to Eddie Moore's 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. As we light fireworks, put out flags, and celebrate with barbecue, let's also keep working toward a "more perfect union." Please join me in spending this July becoming a little more mindful, a little more humble, a little more compassionate, and a little more filled with the revolutionary spirit that fueled America's birth.

How to Be a Better Ally

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This is a really powerful article on being a better white ally to people of color. I appreciate it because it matches my experience as a relationship expert. As a general rule, people do not respond well to being shamed. While we want to avoid "tone policing" marginalized groups, we who are privileged need to work on winning hearts and minds through old-fashioned kindness and understanding. As satisfying as it might be to lash out at your racist aunt or co-worker, you're not doing the work of opening minds and changing behaviors. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "You have little persuasive power over people who can feel your contempt." Staying regulated, curious, empathic, and humble in the face of racist speech is a much more effective approach—not unlike "deep canvassing." This article clearly and eloquently outlines the work white people have in communicating with fellow white people about racism…and I see no reason it couldn't apply to allies in tackling sexism, homophobia, or any other civil rights issue.

Standing Together

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Like most Americans, I've felt saddened and appalled by the senseless death of George Floyd — and the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, and… I've appreciated the courage of the peaceful protestors who are speaking up against systemic racism and violence perpetrated by bad cops. I felt so touched yesterday to see caring police in Queens and Oakland kneeling with peaceful protestors, cops standing in solidarity with protestors in New Jersey, Flint's sheriff walking with Michigan protestors, the police chief in Atlanta validating the outrage and horror of her community.

This has been an especially hard time for the Black community, being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, job losses, and several horrifying acts of racism that have been captured on video and shared with the world. As Will Smith said, "Racism is not getting worse. It's getting filmed." If you're Black and struggling with feelings of anger, sadness, and overwhelm, please check out this article on self-care in the midst of tragedy. (For a general refresher on self-care, please visit this link from earlier this year.)

If you're white and struggling with your own feelings of distress, please take the opportunity to check out some of the antiracist resources below. We are all stressed and tired and longing to get back to normal. But this part of "normal" has to change, and it's up to us to change it. The time has come for white people to step up and actively work to undo the systemic racism that has been with our cherished country from the beginning. As Brene Brown just wrote, "The system is not broken. It was built this way."

- Choose from the 75 things white people can do for racial equality

- Explore resources for talking to your kids about race and racism

- Donate to Campaign Zero (providing policy solutions to end police brutality) or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

- Help make therapy accessible for Black women and girls by donating to The Loveland Foundation Therapy Fund or support women in STEM through Black Girls Code

- Read White Fragility or So You Want to Talk About Race to educate yourself

Taking action will not only help your community, it will help you. In stressful times, research shows that the people who find ways to help and be empowered are those who demonstrate the most emotional resilience and resistance to depression or PTSD.

May you stay safe, be well, and act in integrity with a loving heart. We are in this together.

The Nature Pill

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In the latest "stuff we already knew but science has confirmed" news, apparently nature is good for you! This awesome study found that just 20 minutes of walking or sitting outside someplace that makes you feel connected to nature significantly lowered cortisol levels. So, especially in the midst of this stress-hurricane we're all riding out, please make sure to take your nature pill every day!

From Trauma to Transformation



I wanted to share the story of this dog's journey with you guys. It moved me to tears this morning to watch this dog's amazing transformation from knowing only abuse and violence to finally experiencing love and safety. This is such a perfect encapsulation of the growth work we so often do in therapy—we come in, protecting ourselves in ways that made sense given all we've ever known, like Phoenix's barking and snapping. It understandably takes time, courage, and consistency for those defenses to feel safe relaxing into a new experience. But then, once those defenses can relax into a safe experience, there's the pleasure of (and confusion about or fear of) something new. The relief of setting aside the burden of those defenses and the aloneness that comes with that. We move in and out of the new experience, and then, with support, we settle into peaceful transformation. Just wow.

…and also, because I'm a dog mom and can't help myself, "Who's a good boy?!?"

Hamilton Nerdery



YOU GUYS, THE ORIGINAL CAST OF HAMILTON REUNITED VIA ZOOM TO HELP A LITTLE GIRL FROM JACKSONVILLE [extremely Jason from The Good Place voice: "Duuuuuval!!!"] WHO MISSED HER CHANCE TO SEE THE SHOW!!!! AM I STILL SHOUTING?!? Oh, sorry. So, this is in no way related to clinical psychology, but it is cool. Enjoy!

On Resilience

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Just a quick share before the weekend, a lovely article by a fellow AEDP therapist: Human Beings Are Resilient. Let Us Trust Ourselves and Each Other. Wishing you all a healthy, fun, and restorative weekend. ❤️

How to Not Ruin Your Relationship in Quarantine

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I remember reading a headline a few weeks (years??) ago that the divorce rate was increasing for Chinese couples post-coronavirus quarantine. And boy, do I get it. While some of us are cooped up alone and dealing with incredible loneliness (which is traumatic in itself), many of us are sequestered with our partners…all the time, every day, in a small space, during a time of incredible change, uncertainty, and anxiety. Gee, whatever could go wrong?

As I sit with my clients this week, I find myself often reviewing basic relationship skills, like how to communicate hurt, how to respond to a loved one's pain, and how to receive comfort. I'd like to share those tips with you now, in the hopes they will help your relationship be a source of strength and security in these troubled times. (And BTW, these tips apply to just about any important relationship — parent-child, close friend, or even your relationship with yourself!) An effective repair conversation with your partner is as easy* as 1-2-3:

Step 1. Notice what you're feeling and communicate it — vulnerably — to your partner. When something happens that makes you want to react — get critical, get defensive, pull away, shut down, nag, etc. — take a moment to slow down, check in, and ask yourself, "What am I feeling?" Anger can often be a cover for more vulnerable emotions. Honor that the anger is real and valid, but also ask yourself if you might be feeling a more tender emotion — are you feeling sad? Scared? Lonely? Inadequate? When you know what you're feeling and you can say it softly and vulnerably, it's time to share that with your person.

Step 2. When you receive your partner's feelings, your presence and care are the solution. So many of us respond to pain in our loved ones by inadvertently dismissing, minimizing, or intellectualizing. While we may have truly excellent advice to offer, it's important to remember that an activated brain can't take in any such guidance. We must first come alongside our loved ones and meet them at the emotional level vs. offering suggestions for change. In short, we must connect before we correct. We do this in 3 key ways:

a) Validation. I can totally see why that made you scared. I get it. I would feel that way, too, in your shoes.
b) Empathy. I'm so sad to know you're going through this. I feel such a pain in my heart hearing how alone you're feeling.
c) Undoing Aloneness. I'm here with you. We'll get through this together.

So, let's say your husband has just told you he felt really lonely this week when you were working a lot to keep your small business afloat. Instead of getting defensive or making suggestions for what he could do to manage the lonely feelings, try validating, empathizing, and undoing his aloneness. "Oh, sweetie, I can totally see why you've been feeling alone. I have been so busy and overwhelmed. I feel so sad knowing you're feeling like that. I'm so glad you're telling me. I'm here and I love you."

Step 3. Receive your partner's care. It's an often overlooked step, but a really important one. You're hurt, your partner is trying to repair with you — allow the repair! Notice any parts of you that want you to keep your guard up. Honor their fear that you'll be hurt again, but try to be open to a genuine effort at reconnecting. All relationships have bumps, especially when partners are stressed out (like, say, during a global pandemic). Offer as much grace as you possibly can to each other. As Maya Angelou once said, “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”

* Please-Don't-Sue-Me-Disclaimer: This is, in fact, not at all easy! It takes a lot of practice. Be sweet to yourself as you try to get better at this. I also highly recommend Ron Frederick's book, "Loving Like You Mean It." And of course, if you're continually struggling with any of these steps, please reach out to a therapist for help.

Support Dog Fail

So, maybe call a therapist instead?

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Thriving Through Trauma

Great video from a colleague that explains how "strain trauma," caused by constant exposure to distressing events, works and how finding meaning and ways to be helpful and empowered are the key to not getting PTSD through stressful/life-threatening situations.