Do people ever say to you, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” and your inner voice replies with something like, “But I don’t know how not to,” or “If I’m not, who will? I won’t get very far in life”?

One of my yoga teachers talks about the “Little Man” in our head who tells us how we’re not going to succeed. “You can’t balance on one leg for five seconds – you will fall! You’re not good enough for them – they’re out of your league! You have to do everything yourself – you’re a loser and no one is going to help you! You’re gonna miss that bus, then you’ll be late to work, and then you’ll lose your job!”

All of these messages come from that voice in your head & can really beat you down, causing stress, anxiety, depression, and self-hatred. The majority of the time we are our own worst critic.

But here is the secret: That voice is not really you! You may think it is you because it’s coming from inside of you and and it sounds like you; but it’s not a part of you. That voice and those messages are a part of someone or something else. They grew from a little seed (or 2 or 20 seeds) that you unknowingly swallowed along time ago.

From a psychological perspective this is called an introjection. An introjection is “the unconscious adoption of the ideas or attitudes of others.” These voices or messages in your head are just ideas from someone else you started to believe without question.

Not all introjections are negative or make us feel bad about ourselves, but it’s wise to be curious about all of our unconscious beliefs. Introjections can be ideas we picked up from our family or community about religion and spirituality, politics and money, sex and identity, race and culture. They can also be ideas about who we are – things that people told us about ourselves as we grew up.

So, if you grew up in a home where you received messages about being smart, attractive and successful, after a while you probably started to believe that was true because it’s what the authorities in your life told you. And if your school environment was supportive of your growth, encouraging you to think critically and told you you were smart, then you probably believed that too. But imagine if you had parents and teachers who were unhappy, stressed, angry or sick, and blamed your for their suffering. If this went on for a few years, then after a while you started to believe that it’s true. We internalize these messages about ourself and the Little Man is not so nice – he is our own worst critic, judge and tormentor.

Now the question becomes, How do I get rid of the Little Man? I believe that the Little Man is not something we want to get rid of, but something to change. That voice is something which can be helpful when it says things which help us feel good about ourselves. It takes time to change that voice and the messages. It’s takes consciousness, awareness and effort. Think of it as retraining your brain to think differently about yourself.

This is where self-compassion comes in to help soften the voice and soothe the Little Man, so he doesn’t get defensive when you tell him he’s wrong. That would be like arguing and yelling “Shut Up! You’re wrong!” That’s not going to help someone change their thinking. Self-compassion brings in a level of understanding your own suffering allows the mind to open to other possibilities. This takes time and discipline, just as with any new skill we learn.

One of the best tools for working on this is practicing a Loving-Kindness meditation (or Metta from the Buddhist tradition). This practice has two parts: sending loving-kindness to yourself and to others. For the practice of self compassion I suggest focusing just on yourself. The basic practice is to get into a mindful state and focus on this mantra:

May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.

I suggest starting with just five minutes a day, every day. Over time these messages will start to become more natural and automatic, and eventually the Little Man may adopt them into his arsenal.

There are many other ways to work with introjections and cultivating self-worth and self-esteem, such as working with a therapist. This is just one way to begin the work on your own.

~ May you be free from suffering ~

– Nick Venegoni, MFT


Most days I walk to work through a small park with a patch of grass and a children’s playground. There are a few  large pine trees there, shedding their needles and cones on the grass. One particular day on my walk I spotted a small immature, “closed” pine cone. I picked it up, enjoying how it looked and felt in my hand. I stuck it in my pocket and brought it to my office, where I put it on my altar with other objects which remind me of the natural world outside my window.

I returned to my office a couple days later to find the pine cone had begun to open, flaying out about half of its bottom scales, while the top half stayed closed. I was completely surprised to see this had happened off the tree, let alone in my office. I wondered if the rest would open on its own in the next few days. I waited, yet nothing occurred — it had stopped opening the rest of the way. So this left me wondering, how did this transformation occur and why did it stop?

This feels like one of life’s many mysteries: What is the process of initiating and completing transformation in ourselves and in our lives?

pineconeThe reason most people seek therapy is because you want something to change. You want to change the way they feel about yourself, your relationships, your lives, etc. Those who are new to therapy often think that I have a secret formula to give them, and if they follow it they will transform their experience. The truth is, I don’t have any formula to give you. BUT I can support and guide you on your inner journey to find that formula. The truth is the secret formula lies within, and you have to find it.

That pine cone didn’t open on its own, but the potential for it to open and transform is part of its natural essence. Through the contributions of heat from the sun and water from the clouds above, it was supported to open. The cone didn’t last long enough on the tree to fully open and mature. I don’t know if it ever will fully open, but I accept that it has done what it could with the resources it had. When I look at the pine cone it helps me have patience for myself and those I support, that we will transform to the best of our ability when we are ready.

~ Nick Venegoni, MFT

Often when we feel like something isn’t right in our life, we look for problems outside of ourselves. How many times have you asked yourself, Am I in the right relationship? Am I with the right person? Is this the right job/school/neighborhood for me? Full of doubt, confusion or frustration, you consider these thoughts over and over and over, trying to find the right answer. Asking, What if I stay? What if I go? It can be tiring and anxiety provoking. We become frozen in our lives, afraid to make a decision one way or another, uncertain about the right choice.

But sometimes that thing that doesn’t feel good or right within us, is ourselves. Is there something inside which you are avoiding by trying to change something outside of you? Perhaps the question you might as is:  Am I in right relationship with myself?

To be in right relationship with yourself means to honor and respect yourself. If you are constantly judging and belittling yourself in thought or word, that is not self-respect. You may have been told so many times by others that you are not good, smart, attractive or talented enough, to the point that you believe if yourself. It can be difficult to stop our mind from eating away at our self-esteem if we’ve trained it to do so for twenty-plus years, but it is possible to change our patterns of though. The first step is learning to observe our thinking mind and begin to challenge those self-defeating beliefs.

To be in right relationship with yourself also means to take care of yourself first and foremost, before others. This may sound selfish but I firmly believe that it is most ethical to fill your cup first before you can fill another’s. Think about what you are instructed to do on an airplane in case of an emergency: secure your oxygen mask first before helping others around you. If you are not at your best, you cannot help others with all the care and attention you may want to. Similarly, if you not are in the best relationship with yourself, you cannot be in the best relationship with others.

These are simple ideas, yet they may seem like daunting tasks. Take your time and be gentle with yourself. A dear friend of mine teaches that we will not succeed unless we are gentle with ourselves (remember honor and respect?). Being in right relationship with ourselves is a life long task, as we are ever changing and ever evolving. Be patient with all the new parts of yourself that you discover as you open up to yourself, and then be courageous to share those parts with others in your life.

Many people are getting ready right now to settle into their couch or favorite recliner for a long evening of red carpet interviews, flashy fashion viewing and celebrities – tonight are the Academy Awards! But you may want to take some time to go for a walk with the dog or hit the gym for a quick work out before you veg out in front of the boob-tube. Moving your body is not just good for your body, but good for your mind!

One of this years hot nominees is Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro. At the core the plot is your typical boy meets girl romance, with a twist – the two main characters are believed to be bipolar, which makes for some unusual and entertaining chemistry. However, one of the ways these two people primarily connect is through dance. Lawrence’s character has entered a dance contest and needs a partner, and gets Cooper to assist her in this endeavor. It’s interesting to see both their verbal and non-verbal communication during their rehearsals, which at times seems to be contradictory. But what I noticed was how through their daily rehearsals they were able to forget about their worldly troubles by getting into their bodies and have fun dancing and creating choreography together.

The lesson here is twofold. The first is that by getting into our bodies and moving we are able to be present in the moment, releasing worry, depression and anxiety. Despite what people think about multitasking, the brain can only focus on one thing at once. Forms of artistic expression such as creating choreography force us to be present with that one thing and letting in our thoughts of suffering (not mention the exercise and increase in oxygenation of the body). The second lesson is that creating and communicating with another person is extremely rewarding and builds a strong foundation of trust and collaboration in relationships.

So if you struggle with emotions such as anxiety or depression, or you want to build connection in your relationships, step away from your screen and move your body. Have a spontaneous dance-break with your partner or family, and dance those blues away!

I was interviewed on September 9th, 2012, by HiC Luttmers of Firefly Willows LIVE on Blog Talk Radio. I discussed my therapy practice and how I use Hakomi, expressive arts and hypnotherapy with my clients. We also talked about the role of doubt and uncertainty in our lives. Enjoy!

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When we are young we will do anything we can to fit in: we want to be liked and accepted, so we’ll dress like our friends, talk like them, agree with them (even if we don’t), etc. Then as we age, we have the desire to be different and unique, unlike any other that has come before us. We want to stand out. Or do we?


Some people have no desire to stand out, and that’s okay too. There is power in diversity. But the pressure to be one way or another is so strong, it can cause intense inner turmoil. In the last few years there has been a lot of focus in the news and media on bullying among kids for being different. A person can get stuck in their head, creating layers of fears and complexes on top of their true self. Over time this can result in an unintentional hiding of the core being, making it difficult to relate and connect with others in true intimacy. This hiding may not be apparent and we may feel alone or isolated, not understanding why we aren’t being seen or heard by those around us.

These layers, masks or complexes need understanding and compassion, because they were acquired to help us, to protect us when we felt in danger. But as we mature and cultivate healthy adult relationships, we can start to let these layers go or put them up on a shelf (along with that high school yearbook). Taking each one, listening to it and saying “thank you,” we can begin to loosen and remove each layer; slowly and safely allowing our true, authentic self to be seen and loved by those closest to us.

This time of year people usually start to make plans for what they want to make of their time in the coming months and begin to muse on how to go about making that manifest. But for some reason the concept of endings has consistently been pushing its way into my awareness recently, so I feel the call to reflect upon it.

It has come to my attention more significantly, how our culture has a difficult time with endings. We seem to rush through them, if not bypassing them altogether, as if we are in a hurry to begin the next “item on our list.” However I believe that it is the thoughts and feelings, which accompany endings that we might be avoiding. With the ending of relationships we frequently experience grief, disappointment, heartache, and perhaps judgment that we failed. Yes, these thoughts and feelings can be unpleasant, but they are a part of the human experience. They make us who we are, as beings with minds, bodies and hearts.

All of these experiences are important to look at, for they show us more about who we are, where we are now and the direction we are heading. By consciously moving through an ending without avoiding any aspect of it, we can bring more resolution to the experience and our life as a whole.

In my practice I work with couples and individuals who struggle in their relationships, and come looking for help and support. It is important for me to let them know that I am not here to save their relationship, but to help them find their own way to resolution; and sometimes that resolution means ending the relationship. When that is the case, bringing more consciousness to the couple through the dissolution of their relationship can allow more healing for each of them. Many people end relationships in anger and pain, and dwell on that suffering for quite a while, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

It takes courage to truly look at oneself through the process of any kind of ending. Moving through these processes consciously can bring a greater understanding of yourself and help you bring clarity to what is on your horizon.

– Nick Venegoni, MFT

Just weeks ago our shadows were beneath our feet, hiding from the sun. Now the sun is slowly starting to fall lower on the horizon and our shadows are beginning to lengthen again. I’ve been considering this as I contemplate how I dance with my shadow.

When I refer to the “shadow,” I mean that part of us that we keep hidden from others and perhaps even our conscious selves. It could be a secret, a fear, pain or trauma, or just something we aren’t comfortable with. Maybe something we’re afraid others might judge if they see it. But in hiding or ignoring our shadow, we cut off a piece of who we truly are. And we cannot heal when we are not whole.

It was scary for me to consider dancing with my shadow, let alone inviting it to confront me. But as with most partner choreography, we are equals learning how not to step on the toes of one another, and hoping to create a beautiful and joyful experience of movement. So I invited it in, slowly and surely, going at my own pace – a prelude to the dance.

Now, how can I dance with my shadow of fear or anger? The only way how: Practice! I practice holding my shadow at arms length, a formal waltz, feeling it’s form. We trip and my anxiety gets to me. We start again, with curiosity about what my shadow has to teach me. These shadows are present to show us that which we may not see as we try to face the sun. But turning slowly around, we see that which is also us, moving exactly in sync.

Every time my shadow appears I try to practice my dance. We’re still on the waltz but I hope we graduate to the tango, grasping each other closer, tighter. Maybe someday we’ll slow dance, heads on shoulders.

by Nick Venegoni, MA

As I have recently started teaching classes on a variety of mindfulness aspects, I realize that I continue to refine my definition of mindfulness. But what is it? I begin to explain it to others, and after ten minutes of discussion I say, “Why don’t we just practice, instead of talk?” Then I lead the group in a body scan. But what is it? I can only tell you of my experience.

The origins of mindfulness come out of Buddhist ideas and practices of awareness and meditation. Through the practice of attentive awareness the individual learns to have a clearer comprehension of their experience and their reality, by slowly clearing the lenses through which they view the world. The goal is to attain a liberating wisdom, which allows the “illusions” of the world to be identified and lifted. As this occurs, life experiences begin to change because of the way they are perceived and interpreted.

Mindfulness became more popular in the realm of psychology in 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts, to treat the chronically ill. It soon grew to be used by many people for a variety of reasons.

Over the last century, various forms of mindfulness have evolved in many other psychotherapeutic practices. “Awareness” (though slightly different) has been a keystone of Gestalt therapy since 1940; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) uses mindfulness as one of the four core skills taught to students and clients; and Hakomi also uses mindfulness as a foundation for increasing awareness through experiential practices. I use mindfulness tools in my practice in all of these ways, and also to teach clients to relax their mind and body to more easily access deeper parts of themselves in hypnotherapy.

And still you might ask, but what is it? My definition of mindfulness is, the practice of quieting the mind, slowing the breath, and focusing your awareness on your internal experience of yourself. The experiences you perceive through interacting with the outside world and your inner world are both equally important. The goal is neither attachment nor detachment to your thoughts or feelings, but to notice. Notice how your mind, body, heart and spirit react. In the noticing and the slowing down, we can choose to respond instead of react, and make a new decision about how we interpret and proceed from that moment.

Many say that mindfulness is about being present in the moment – “be here now.” Choosing to respond to the moment based on what’s happening now, and not based on what happened last week or what may happen tomorrow, can liberate us from pain and suffering. It may sound easier said than done, but that’s why it’s called a practice. We succeed in our practice every time we remember to be aware and notice, what is happening now.

by Nick Venegoni, MA