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March 3, 2015

Interview with Hadley Hill

1. A common problem that we hear often from our subscribers is a feeling of being inadequate and unworthy especially as they age. Women feel anxious and stressed as they compare their bodies and looks to the younger women and unfortunately believe they aren’t able to attract men into their lives because they aren’t physically attractive. Some of our subscribers confess that they hate their bodies and feel undesirable and unattractive whenever they look in the mirror.

Can you share your advice on what women can do to shift their negative self-talk and how they can be more self-accepting and start loving their bodies?

That “shift” from negative to positive thinking and self-talk is certainly easier said than done, as pretty much any human being can attest to. What I often hear from clients (and it definitely resonates with my own personal experience) is that there is a disconnect between their cognitive and emotional experience – they understand on a cognitive level that these negative thoughts are irrational and untrue, but they feel them so strongly on an emotional level. What I’ve found through my own work, and my experience with clients, is that we could sit around forever waiting for our thoughts to shift positively, or trying to force that shift, so that we can then act in accordance with that. But what seems to be most effective is actually working backwards – start with changing our behavior to act as if we feel positive about ourselves, even if our beliefs aren’t quite there yet. It will feel uncomfortable at first for sure, but when we begin to act as if we love ourselves, we begin to emit and attract different energy, and experience the benefits in such a powerful way that our negative beliefs about ourselves have no choice but to shift. I have found this concept of “acting as if” to be a powerful therapeutic tool, and I would recommend it to anyone.

With regard to the part of your question about women’s concern about being attractive to potential partners, I have several thoughts. I think in our appearance – and weight-obsessed culture, things like exercise and healthy nutrition choices end up taking on a negative, punitive connotation and people (both men and women alike) easily become entrenched in a vicious cycle. What could be such a positive part of one’s life ends up being about unsustainable deprivation and obsessing, leading to inevitable “failure”, leading to frustration and self-loathing, and then using dieting and exercise as almost a form of punishment… and the cycle starts again.

The real common denominator I notice in the women who harbor a negative body image and experience their health and fitness journey as overwhelmingly negative and painful is that they are focused on extrinsic motivators and rewards, as opposed to intrinsic. Making it about weight loss, calorie restriction, how they look in the mirror, how they look to the opposite sex… as opposed to being about loving themselves, honoring their bodies and treating them with the utmost respect, and finding balance in their lives by carving out time and space for activities they enjoy. They believe being physically “attractive” – in the rigid way our culture defines it – is the key to finding partner, and that finding a partner is what will make them whole.

I urge these women to shift from seeing a longterm relationship as being what completes them, to seeing it as a potential added bonus to an already amazing, full life. This shift can only come from the inside out.To understand that they are already perfect and whole, regardless of their weight, dress size, age, or relationship status! Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

2. One of the unfortunate consequences of this negative chatter is the perception that some women attribute to their singlehood to their physical appearance. So the chatter “I hate my body, I hate the way I look’ translates into ‘Well, no wonder I am single because of the way I look’, ‘Men will never be attracted to me’ etc.

One subscriber once wrote to me, “Whenever I go out with friends, I never get approached by men or asked out for a date. That’s not the case with my attractive looking friends. I am not the jealous type but when it happens over and over again, it’s hard not to think men only value physical beauty.’

How can women overcome this mental block and change their thinking to be more open to receiving love?

I think, again, the answer to this starts with consciously shifting one’s motivators from external approval and validation, to within oneself. What many don’t realize is that it’s generally not a lack of physical attractiveness that deters potential suitors, but rather, the negative energy one puts out when experiencing self-loathing and self-disapproval. It becomes one of those self-fulfilling prophecies – a woman who believes men will never be attracted to her and that she is doomed to eternal singlehood while her “more attractive” friends get all the guys will already be approaching the dating world with an attitude of resignation and pessimism. So she may be going through the motions of going out and “trying” to meet new people, but unknowingly sabotaging her own efforts by assuming from the get-go that she will fail to attract anyone. This attitude is what sends up warning flares to others that her heart is not actually open for business, and that is why romance fails her before it can even begin. As many of us can attest to, it is an awful lot of damn work to love someone who refuses to value themselves, and smart people will back away at the first sign of that.

Once again, I strongly suggest starting with behavioral change before all else. So what does this look like? I think often women get stuck in a rut of doing the same things and going out with the same people all the time, and wondering why they’re not meeting anyone new. I’ve observed time and time again, in myself and others, that very small changes in routine and slight stretches of one’s comfort zone can have profound results in terms of renewing energy, attracting different kinds of people, and opening new doors.

My own therapist (yes, I have a therapist myself… and frankly I worry about therapists who don’t have their own!) refers to this phenomenon as “swerving into the other lane”, and claims that she can even detect a shift in my expression and demeanor when I’ve been making a conscious effort to try new things, take more risks, branch out of my comfort zone, and swerve over.

Women need to give themselves permission to extract themselves from their routine. If hanging out with the same group of friends is feeling stale, not exposing you to new people, or even making you feel insecure or invisible around certain female friends, then allow yourself a little time away! Try some Meetup activities, or singles happy hours, or silly speed dating events – if nothing else, then for the funny stories you’ll get out of it! Surround yourself with new faces and new energy. Take mental notes on how this change of environment and routine impacts your self confidence, or the way others respond to you. I’m going to mention again the practice of “acting as if”. There’s a great quote from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” – “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I think this rings true for all of us. So how do we alter what we think we deserve? By starting to act as if we deserve the absolute best.

3. Some of our subscribers feel stuck in their love lives because of their past emotional baggage. This affects them in a number of ways- they either tend to compare the next man they are dating with their ex or they have trust issues because they have been cheated on before or they just cannot seem to forget their ex and move on in life. What are some practical ways that can help women release their past emotional baggage so that they can start attracting healthy love into their lives?

I think a good place to start is by replacing the term “baggage” with a more empowering one, like “strengthening experiences”, or “transforming experiences”, or something like that. It helps to start looking at our past difficult relationships as something we not only survived, but as experiences that have only enhanced our strength, judgment, and self-understanding. So much of the work of healing is achieved by re-framing our experiences in ways that empower us rather than hold us back. Seeing the past as “baggage” practically sets us up to fail, because it means we are approaching the dating world believing that our painful experiences define us, and already feeling like we are damaged goods. Our past experiences, both positive and negative, are what make us whole people with all kinds of beautiful depths and dimensions to offer.

As cliche as it is, we can always learn something from our painful experiences. Relationships that end are perfect opportunities for women to confront unhealthy tendencies and beliefs keeping them stuck, especially when the experience is part of a larger pattern or trend. Yes, these patterns are very difficult to unlearn, as they are usually deeply ingrained strategies that have evolved in order to help us get our needs met when others (usually our primary caretakers) failed to be there for us. It will take time and intention. But I can’t stress enough the profound impact that increased self-awareness can have. The more we become aware of our unhealthy habits, tendencies, choices and patterns when it comes to relationships, the more we will question them, and the more uncomfortable it will feel to continue to go along with them. Once you begin to gain new insight into yourself, it’s pretty impossible to un-see it. Working on self-awareness from a place of non-judgment and self love will only lead to healthier behavior, which attracts healthier partners.

4. Another common problem we hear from our subscribers is the fear of being alone and never finding the right man. This is especially common as women enter into their thirties. They see their friends getting married and even having kids, they are asked by friends and family when they are going to get married and they feel the pressure of a ticking biological clock. In the process, they approach their relationships from a place of fear, worry and anxiety.

Instead of enjoying their dates and conversing with men, they tend to interrogate them so that they can stop wasting their time and weed off the wrong men. They tend to fall too hard and too fast in love when they find a man they like but often that scares men away.

What advice do you have for women who approach relationships from a place of worry and how can they shift from a clingy, desperate vibe to an empowered, joyful zone?

As women approach their 30s, the pressure to find a partner and start a family hits hard and taps into such primal biological urges – namely, the desire to reproduce, and the desire for companionship. I don’t want to say that this stress is all due to societal pressures, because while that does play a huge role, I think a lot of that desire to find love comes very much from within the woman herself. Human beings are chemically wired for love and companionship! Of course we want to seek it out. Add to that natural desire the pressures of society, the sense of urgency that parents display about it, the blunt and insensitive comments from relatives, the parade of weddings and showers many young women are forced to endure as a spectator on the sidelines, and the absolute bombardment of “perfect family” images on social media, and yeah – you end up with some pretty heavy anxiety! A very common thing I’ve noticed in my clients (and I catch myself doing it too from time to time) is what I’ve come to refer to as “timeline thinking.” This is something all people do, but I think women are especially vulnerable to timeline thinking since their natural reproductive capabilities have a literal expiration date. What I mean by timeline thinking is the belief people have that they are supposed to live their lives and achieve the expected milestones within the confines of a prescribed plan. Hand in hand with this belief goes the belief that if one does NOT meet the deadlines and demands of this timeline, they have somehow failed. One very concrete, practical suggestion I’d offer to women struggling with this very real pain is to minimize exposure to social media as much as they are willing to. Just seeing all these daily picture-perfect excerpts of other people’s lives really feeds into this belief that everyone else has it together, while we are not where we should be. Minimizing one’s time on social media is one relatively easily controlled way to cut down on a lot of the anxiety around this issue.

When it comes to dating, I suggest that women try as much as possible to shift their focus from the future to the present. Rather than creating this one major long term goal of finding “the one”, make one very short-term goal at a time that directs your energy to the present, rather than to sticking to your urgent agenda for the future. A good example of a goal like this would be “I’m going to go on this first date tonight, and just notice how I feel in his presence.” Was there strong physical attraction? Mental chemistry? Balanced, reciprocal, two-sided conversation? Did you feel safe and at ease around him? Was your gut trying to tell you something at any point? I think a generally good rule to live by when it comes to being more relaxed and present with dating is simply “take smaller bites.” One date at a time. One conversation at a time. And keep checking in with yourself after each small bite. This will not only keep you more grounded, aware, and likely to proceed wisely, but it will also allow your true self to be seen by the other person without being clouded by this tense, urgent future agenda which, understandably, scares people away.

I honestly wish I had more helpful advice for women on how not to let all these pressures get to them. The truth is, I am one of the countless women currently experiencing this struggle for myself. What has helped me is to recognize that so much is possible outside the confines of the original plan I’d had for my life. I remember one of my professors in grad school said the majority of therapy involves “letting go of the pictures” we had created of what our life was supposed to look like, and even allowing ourselves to mourn those pictures. This has always stuck with me, and I would actually add to it that letting go of the path we thought our lives would take can liberate us to an infinite set of new paths! As cheesy as positive affirmations might seem to some, a simple one worth trying when self-doubt, judgment, and timeline thinking creep in is “I am exactly where I should be, all the time.” Because you are.

5. From our subscribers, we often hear “lack of chemistry” as a leading reason why they aren’t willing to persist with a man even though he seemed to be a decent guy, treated them with respect and made them feel comfortable. Can you share your thoughts on chemistry and can attraction grow over time? Is it worth persisting with a man with whom a woman feels comfortable but doesn’t quite share the chemistry?

Chemistry is a tricky thing. It can be wonderful and genuine and enduring. It can also be fleeting, deceptive and dangerous. When we are in the presence of someone towards whom we feel a mighty attraction, there literally are chemicals at work, and our pleasure center is firing away. Our sensual, emotion-driven right brain takes the wheel, and we become, in a way, intoxicated. Our judgment is impaired. We are blind to red flags, or if we see them we choose to look the other way. We are love drunk, and it feels fantastic. This “honeymoon” period isn’t sustainable, however, and when that initial high wears off, you becomes clear pretty quickly whether that chemistry is real or an illusion. Unlike with real chemistry, I don’t think there is a hard and fast formula for love chemistry.

I know couples whose relationships began with a real spark and have endured ever since. I also know couples who started with not a spark but a very slow simmer, which gradually grew bigger. I know many people whose relationships began with an exciting spark, which turned into a hellish four-alarm fire. And I know some who have broken up and said “we were always missing that spark.” So what do we look for – a spark or a simmer? I think either of those things can turn out either way.

I believe it takes seeing a person in many different contexts in order to understand the full extent of your attraction and their potential as a partner. Have you ever met someone for whom you felt little to no attraction, but then observed him at his job, or elsewhere in his element, just doing his thing, feeling confident and in control, and felt suddenly woozy with lust for him? Or been on several dates with someone who seems perfect in every sense, but then you see him in a crisis and he’s completely useless? My point is, I think it is very rare to truly “know” right off the bat if there is a potential future with someone. I absolutely believe attraction can grow over time, just as it can fade over time. It’s hard to predict how a relationship will evolve (or devolve) with time. This is why it remains ever important to continue taking small bites, and checking in with yourself at every turn, asking yourself “At the end of the day, does this make me feel good, or does it feel like work?”

6. Some of our subscribers have the tendency to ignore and overlook the red flags especially when they really like a man. In the process, they create an idealized version of the man and overestimate the feelings he has for them. For women who have a history of fantasizing and idealizing a partner, what can they do to evaluate the man and their relationship for what it is truly worth rather than what they ideally like it to be?

I would say once again, bring it back to the concept of “taking smaller bites” – focusing on each present interaction with him and checking in with yourself each step of the way, rather than making the dating process merely a means to an ultimate end of having the “perfect” relationship.

Something I hear a lot of people focus on, particularly women, is the “potential” of a relationship or partner. This may sound somewhat shocking, but this is pointless. Focusing on a partner’s “potential” is at best a huge waste of time, and at worst puts you at risk for ignoring red flags in his behavior right now that may later become huge problems.

A person’s “potential” basically means how they might act under the most perfect circumstances imaginable. How does he behave right now? I also want to mention again the idea of observing a person in as many contexts as possible before deciding that he fits your definition of ideal.

Predicting the success of a relationship simply can’t be done within the sole context of the honeymoon phase of dating. If you really want to see if this can last, dig deeper. By all means, enjoy the wonderful love drunkenness of the honeymoon period, but allow the end of that phase to be an opportunity for growth. Observe the way he argues, or handles sadness or anger. Does he handle anger in a healthy way and argue from a place of love, or does he confuse anger with being mean or hateful?

Observe how he responds to a crisis, or when under stress. Look out for any signs of shutting down or stonewalling, no matter how minor or premature they may seem. These are just some examples, and they are usually behaviors that don’t make their debut until the honeymoon phase has begun to fade. My main point here is, as always, focus on how he is right now rather than on how he could be in the future.

7. Some of our subscribers hesitate to share their honest feelings especially as they are getting to know a man and want to grow the relationship. This hesitation comes from the fear that they may come across as someone too emotional and needy and feel that it may push the man away. So they don’t raise the issues and avoid tough conversations because they want to be the “cool” girl. Here are some examples: she goes out on a date and he says he will call her but he doesn’t. She is disappointed when he doesn’t and doesn’t discuss this when she hears back from him. Other examples are not calling ahead of time when he is running late or not making plans for a date etc.

What advice do you have for women who have issues that they want to discuss with their man but have troubles expressing them because of the fear of coming across as a nag or needy or demanding?

Oh I am so familiar with this feeling… I spent years suppressing my needs in an effort to be the “cool girl”, and thought the highest form of praise from a guy was “I love how chill you are about everything!” But as an adult attempting to have more adult relationships, I realized that years of this suppression had cost me my ability to even find my voice in relationships. It’s taken a lot of unlearning and uncomfortable practice to become better at asserting myself with men, but the payoff has been so totally worth it.

What many women don’t realize is that communicating their needs and expectations clearly from the beginning actually saves them from having to act like the nagging girlfriend they are so afraid of being. Sure, at the very beginning of a brand new relationship, before it’s even been defined as a relationship, you are both still feeling each other out and deciding whether it’s a good fit, and it may be a bit premature to initiate an in depth conversation about your needs and expectations. But once you’ve both established a mutual interest in pursuing a relationship, it is completely appropriate to voice these things clearly.

It’s not only appropriate, it’s actually fair and considerate of your partner. A common complaint of men, in my experience, is that their partners seem to get angry that they haven’t met a certain need, but that that need had never been communicated to them before, and their partners seem to have expected them to be mind readers. It may be a romantic notion to daydream about, that men will always anticipate our every need and feeling and attend to them accordingly, but the reality is that they need to be informed, because everyone is different! His last girlfriend might have enjoyed more space and independence, so it may be his habit to assume you want the same and to not call and check in with you as frequently as you would like. This is just an example.

The point is, we are all coming from different places, and have different needs. Once you’ve both decided to commit to the relationship, it is important that you both put out on the table what those needs are so that you not only know what you both expect from each other, but you also are both given the opportunity to be honest if one of you does not feel you can give the other what they want from a partner. It can be a scary conversation to have, but it can save you a lot of angst and wasted time, whether the relationship continues or not.

8. Our subscribers also run into a situation where things are going great and just when they think the relationship has great potential or feel he is the one, the man starts developing cold feet. He pulls away, doesn’t respond to phone calls or text messages and in some cases disappears for a while. What advice do you have for women who deal with men that suddenly pull away and act inconsistent?

My advice is to walk away. It’s one thing when we’re 18, 19 years old. But when you have a 35 year old man pulling away, getting cold feet, shutting down, etc., this is not a good sign. People don’t pull away because they are bad at heart and intend to hurt others. They do this because they have been hurt and are afraid of it happening again. Sometimes that hurt came from a past relationship, sometimes it came in childhood, often both. Regardless of the source, if they have not worked through it, they are not likely to be capable of a healthy, reciprocal, loving relationship. A pretty simplistic but succinct way to put it is that damaged people damage people.

Many of us being nurturers by nature, we women have a strong tendency to see that damage in someone else, and want to jump right into that caretaker role that is just begging to be filled. We tell ourselves that we can be the one who can get through to him, thaw his heart, soothe his soul, make him capable of loving again. Essentially we try to take on the other person’s problems in an attempt to free up space for ourselves in their lives. My advice to women who find themselves tempted to do this is to ask themselves “is this my work to do, or his?” You can’t do someone else’s work for them.

Acting out of fear is a sign that someone has not done their work around something painful, and if his pain and fear are in the driver’s seat, you are bound to get hurt. As a kid I used to be obsessed with this movie “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”, which if you haven’t seen it, was about this young girl who learned to dive horses off of high platforms which they apparently really used to do in Atlantic City back in the early and mid 1900s. Anyway, I rewatched the movie as an adult a couple years ago and there’s this part where the girl asks the trainer “Don’t the horses get scared?” and the trainer replies “If they show any sign of fear at all, we don’t even let them near the tower.” And for some reason this really jumped out at me as a good thing to keep in mind in the dating wilderness too.

9. Some experts recommend women wait till they get to know the man they are dating and not have sex until you both are committed to exclusivity. Some experts believe you should go with the flow and be spontaneous and not have any rules regarding when you want to sleep with a man. Can you share your thoughts on the right time to have sex?

It’s truly sad how much this decision for women is riddled with the judgment and expectations of others, whether they decide to go for it, or hold off.

In many ways I wish there were some kind of hard fast formula or answer to take some of the difficulty out of navigating this issue for women. But the question of when to have sex is really a matter of individual comfort level, beliefs and preference.

In my opinion the only “rule” people should stick to in making this decision is being true to themselves and what they want. Obviously there are health and safety issues to keep in mind around sex with someone new. I don’t think you need to be sure this is your future husband before having sex, but I would strongly urge women to at least feel they have established a certain level of trust and honesty with someone. If he says to you that he is not ready to commit to only one sexual partner, or that he has some kind of sexual health issue, or whatever the concern may be, then you have to decide if you are comfortable with that and how to best protect yourself (physically and emotionally) if you choose to proceed. The main point here is that I urge women to do everything in their power to ensure they are making informed decisions about sex.

I understand some people might feel this gets in the way of the ability to be spontaneous and exciting when it comes to sex, but I would argue that the more planning ahead and getting in tune with yourself you do, the more comfortably and safely you can be spontaneous when the moment is right.

10. What are your top 3 relationship tips that you would offer women who are single and looking for a long term committed relationship?

1. Find what makes you feel happy and whole WHILE YOU’RE SINGLE. This not only attracts healthier mates and leads to healthier, more enduring relationships, but it means your identity, self worth, and sense of inner peace and happiness are a stable constant in your life, rather than being completely defined by and dependent on your relationship status.

2. Take healthy risks – branch out socially, try some new activities, expose yourself to a totally different crowd, initiate a conversation with someone cute, pass a freakin note to him on a napkin! If nothing else, you’ll get a good story out of it.

3. Listen to your instincts when you are out there in the dating wild. You will find that they are almost never wrong.

About Hadley Hill

Hadley Hill

Hadley Hill is a licensed professional who helps women successfully navigate the challenges and uncertainties that make up life. She sees her therapeutic role as offering reflection, unconditional support, guidance, fresh perspective, sense of humor, and gentle challenges to beliefs that may keep her clients stuck.

To know more about Hadley, visit her website www.hadleyhilltherapy.com.




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