Humility & Flexibility

Humility is defined as a modest view of one’s own importance. In practice it involves the acceptance that we are not always right and don’t always know, without either concern impacting our sense of self-worth. 

Flexibility is defined as the quality of bending easily without breaking. In practice it is the ability to accept new points of view or adjust to new facts with a sense of interest or curiosity, rather than viewing new facts as threats.    

Attempting to cope by predicting the next obstacle or challenge is a tenuous way of adapting to the infinite number possibilities the future may hold. Humility and flexibility work together to allow for us to return to our center when we experience the unexpected gusts of life. They allow for us to maintain stability or the ability to return to equilibrium after we are disrupted.  

Tips for Practicing Humility 

Spend more time listening than you do talking.

Accept that you are not the best at everything.

Ask for help and advice. 

Learn to give credit where it is due and give praise for a job well done.

Welcome different opinions. 

Recognize your flaws and be aware that you are not perfect. 

Avoid bragging or showing off.

Tips for Practicing Flexibility

Look for opportunities to give up control.

Challenge yourself to try new behaviors and break out of habitual patterns.

Aim for flexibility, not perfection.

Look for opportunities to compromise.  

Remain teachable and learn from your mistakes.

Practice slowing down and being intentional about your decisions.  

Practice mindfulness meditation and everyday mindfulness.  

At any given point we all face challenges to our sense of stability and equilibrium. On very hard days we may be thrown off balance repeatedly and experience a complete loss of stability. Such days are a fact of life. Humility and flexibility fuel our resilience and allow for us to return more readily to a state of equilibrium.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Self-esteem

Experiences of low self-esteem and low self-worth are not uncommon. We all struggle with how we feel about ourselves from time-to-time. Some of us may even struggle with our self-worth on a regular basis.

Issues of self-esteem are central to overall mental health. When we experience a stable sense of self-esteem we are less likely to struggle with problems related to personality, addiction, or other unhealthy behaviors. A realistic and reliable sense of self-esteem is also an overarching treatment goal for most psychotherapy approaches, even if it is not explicitly identified as such.

Developing realistic self-esteem or self-esteem that is neither perfectionistic nor falsely inflated is important when considering personal growth and efforts to support the development of greater self-confidence. 

How do you experience your self-esteem? Are you overly concerned or need to achieve perfection to experience a sense of worth? How realistic are your goals and self-evaluations?

Developing reliable self-esteem is likewise an important part of psychological wellness. Self-esteem is reliable when it protects us from feeling devastated by criticism or manipulated by excessive praise. It provides us with a basis for evaluating negative feedback without feeling a sense of shame or excessive self-doubt.   

How do you feel when faced with criticism? How do you react or behave? How do you feel when faced with praise? How do you react or behave? How stable or consistent is your sense of self-worth and what causes you to doubt yourself?

Tips for Building Self-esteem

Identify your strengths.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Follow through on commitments you make to yourself.

Remain open to change and remind yourself that meaningful change can take time. 

Look for opportunities to practice taking initiative and experience a sense of agency.

Connect with positive and supportive people. 

Learn to accept compliments.

Allow yourself to feel proud.

Take small steps to face your fears.

Observe your self-talk; if you are overly critical, shift to more positive self-talk.

Practice self-compassion and affirm your inherent worth.

Overall, individuals with healthy self-esteem are able to remain levelheaded about personal limitations, while also acknowledging and trusting in their strengths. As we grow our self-esteem we will be more able to embrace our inevitable faults and needs, while also apologizing for any hurt we cause and expressing gratitude when others reach out to help us. Realistic and reliable self-esteem allows us to make our needs known, accept responsibility for our actions, and ultimately experience more genuine emotional intimacy in our relationships.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Gaslighting

Gaslighting involves intentionally changing or otherwise distorting reality to manipulate how others think or feel to get what we want. Individuals who engage in gaslighting attempt to make others doubt the truth of their own experiences. They often do everything they can to get their needs met. 

Gaslighting is a common narcissistic behavior, often seen amongst people with narcissistic personality traits such as a lack of empathy or understanding of others, self-centeredness, superiority, exaggerating one’s achievements, or impatience and being quick to anger when criticized. 

It can be very hard to deal with gaslighting as it often leaves one feeling doubtful and uncertain. Moreover, stepping outside of an intense relationship in order to observe the dynamics involved in gaslighting is challenging, not to mention how one might act to counter these dynamics. Reviewing some common types of gaslighting can be helpful for better understanding these dynamics and useful ways of responding.  

Types of Gaslighting

Several examples of gaslighting include withholding, countering or denial, trivializing or minimizing, distracting or diverting, and stereotyping.

Withholding

Withholding occurs when another person refuses to engage in conversation or listen to your concerns. Although this can involve concrete avoidance, it more commonly involves pretending not to understand what you are talking about. This is often seen in defensive reactions when confronted about gaslighting, which sometimes results in playing a victim. A partner may say, “That makes no sense at all.. You are confusing.. or I guess you have your version of what happened.”

Distracting or diverting 

Distracting or diverting is when another person denies your emotions or what you’re trying to say, causing you to doubt your thoughts and feelings. Gaslighting partners may use platitudes as a way to distract their partners from their feelings, causing the partners to feel as if they are overacting. For example, a partner might say, “I love you so much, and you know I’d never intentionally hurt your feelings.” 

Countering or Denial 

Countering occurring when another person denies your memory of events or acts as if a past event did not occur. They may question your entire memory or parts of a memory, asserting that their version is correct. In more extreme cases, they may even attack your memory abilities or intelligence. For example, a partner might say, “I never said that.. We never talked about it.. or You are thinking of something else.”  

Minimizing or Trivializing

Minimizing or trivializing is one of the most pervasive and impactful forms of gaslighting. It occurs when a person disregards and invalidates your feelings, causing you to think that your emotions aren’t valid in any way. They make use hurtful statements and harsh criticism to blame everything on you or suggest that your emotions don’t matter, and your concerns are not a big deal. When faced with minimizing or trivializing, it may feel as if you cannot share your feelings or you may start believing that everything is entirely your fault. A partner may say “You are overly sensitive, critical, or dramatic and get it together”

Stereotyping

Stereotyping occurring when another person judges you according to your identity, traits, or beliefs, such as gender, race, sexuality, or cultural background to invalidate your feelings and experiences. A classic example is when a partner says, “You tend to be more emotional because you’re a woman.”

Tips for Dealing with Gaslighting

Set boundaries by knowing exactly what you will tolerate and what you will not tolerate.  

Collect evidence to support your views when faced with countering and denial.

Confront the person gaslighting you with confidence despite your feelings of insecurity and doubt.

Trust your instincts and confront by focusing on how their behavior and actions are affecting you negatively. 

Be careful not to minimize your version of the truth if the other person begins to act as a victim or engage in further gaslighting by minimizing your concerns or your memory of events.  

Don’t try to comfort them when they play the victim, and don’t try to lessen your version of the truth for their sake. 

Seek space from the other person or take a break when faced with an argument so that you can reflect and analyze the reality of the situation and decide how you might like to proceed. This is particularly helpful as gaslighting can be emotionally and psychologically draining, making it more difficult to trust yourself and feel confident when the best path is to reinforce a boundary.

One of the hardest decisions to make is the decision to walk away from the relationship if you feel that there is little hope of your partner or friend changing their behavior. It is useful to seek professional support for yourself. Likewise, working with a marriage and family therapist can be useful when navigating these dynamics and asserting appropriate boundaries. A therapist can also help hold the relationship as a central focus and address concerns from an outside perspective, while drawing on their expertise with relationships. If you feel that you might be dealing with gaslighting, remember that you are not alone. This is a common dynamic in problematic friendships, romantic partnerships, and families. Psychotherapy can also be incredibly helpful in navigating these relationships and planning for the best path forward.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Skillful Ways of Being

We all face challenges and must find ways of dealing with difficult emotional states such as envy, dislike, anxiety, fear, and general distress. Coping effectively allows for us to move through distress with greater ease. Below are several useful contemplations and practices that can be helpful in expanding our capacity to cope with greater ease.  

When faced with a feeling of envy or a greed, particularly towards others, it is useful to contemplate impermanence and letting go.

Change is a central feature of life. Buddhism points us toward equanimity during times of change. The Buddha taught that suffering is not inherent in the world of impermanence; suffering arises when we cling and grasp. When clinging disappears, impermanence no longer gives rise to suffering. The solution is to end clinging or grasping to our version of how the world should be and turn toward acceptance of change.

Recognize that all conditioned things are impermanent. All that we have and everyone we know is subject to change. 

When we experience aversion or a strong feeling of dislike and distress it is useful to contemplate kindness, gentleness, patience and spaciousness. 

Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Think of times when you have experienced kindness and contemplate how this felt. Bring an intention to act with kindness throughout your day.  

Gentleness is the quality of being kind, courteous, and tender with softness of action. Think of a time when you experienced gentleness and contemplate how this felt. Bring an intention to act or react with gentleness throughout your day.  

Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Think of a time when others were patient with you and contemplate how this felt. Bring an intention to act with patience throughout your day.  

Spaciousness as an attitude is the willingness to suspend the process of meaning-making and judgement. It is the willingness allow for uncertainty and ambiguity by creating mental and emotional space. It is an experience of expansiveness. Spaciousness feels like widening the space between stimulus and response, such that you can stop living in reaction and begin responding skillfully to reality. Think of a time when you connected with a sense of spaciousness and contemplate how it felt. Develop an intention to connect with a sense of spaciousness throughout your day.  

When faced with anxiety, fear, and doubt, it is useful to contemplate a sense of being grounded in our values and connecting with a sense of meaning. 

Grounded-ness is the quality of being well balanced and calm. It is a parallel to the experience and practice of equanimity. Practice being grounded through your body by walking barefoot, lying on the ground, submersing yourself in water, and connecting with your five senses. Reflect on what things help you feel calm and give yourself permission to practice these more regularly.  

Values are guiding principles and involve our judgement for what is important. Personal values are those beliefs we hold most dear. They can be goals that motivate us and touchpoints for how we define ourselves and make meaning out of our experiences. Think of a time when you experienced yourself as acting in accordance with your values and contemplate how this felt. Bring an intention to live into your values or act according to your values throughout your day.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Gardening and Mental Health

“Nature itself is the best physician.”

– Hippocrates

Gardening is one of the most popular ways in which people interact with nature with an estimated 1 in 3 U.S. adults engaging in gardening on a regular basis.

Is gardening or spending time in nature a part of your life?  

Research suggests that gardening and other activities involving nature can be beneficial to our mental health and well-being. A 2016 meta-analysis or summary of recent research on the health benefits of gardening found that participation in gardening activities reduced the severity of depressed mood and anxiety, reduced stress, and enhanced overall quality of life. Likewise, a more recent 2020 meta-analysis of 77 studies, including both the act of gardening as well as viewing gardens, again demonstrated links between gardening and improved mental health. 

Finding time and space for gardening is not always easy. However, another significant research finding was the cumulative positive effect on mental health even from repeated short-term engagement in gardening activities. Therefore, having even a small space and a brief period for regular gardening or growing plants can be beneficial.  

If gardening is difficult or limited by time and space, simply taking a walk or finding other ways of spending time in nature is beneficial. For example, a 2012 study examined how walking in nature may be beneficial for individuals with major depressive disorder. In this study participants exhibited significant increases in memory span and mood after a nature walk, extending earlier work demonstrating the cognitive and affective benefits of interacting with nature.  

Lastly, research continues to explore the impact of simply having more green spaces in our environment. For example, a 2014 study found that higher levels of neighborhood green space are associated with significantly lower levels of symptomology for depression, anxiety, and stress, after controlling for a wide range of confounding factors.

Whether through gardening, nature walks, or even just spending time in green spaces, connecting with nature is an effective way to promote your mental health and well-being. How might you bring more nature into your life?

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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References

Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I. H., & Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of affective disorders, 140(3), 300–305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.01

Beyer, K. M., Kaltenbach, A., Szabo, A., Bogar, S., Nieto, F. J., & Malecki, K. M. (2014). Exposure to neighborhood green space and mental health: evidence from the survey of the health of Wisconsin. International journal of environmental research and public health, 11(3), 3453–3472. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph110303453

Howarth, M., Brettle, A., Hardman, M., & Maden, M. (2020). What is the evidence for the impact of gardens and gardening on health and well-being: a scoping review and evidence-based logic model to guide healthcare strategy decision making on the use of gardening approaches as a social prescription. BMJ open, 10(7), e036923. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-036923

Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2016). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive medicine reports, 5, 92–99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007

Food for the Heart

“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”

-St. Francis of Assisi

A retreat is typically defined as withdrawing away from enemy forces that are overpowering or more generally as an act of moving away from something difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable. From a spiritual perspective, a retreat is further defined as a time away for reflection, prayer, and meditation. In all forms, taking a retreat involves an intentional act of moving back or withdrawing to reflect, reconnect, and sometimes heal.

Have you ever been on a retreat or taken time away from others? What do you recall about this experience? What comes to mind when you think of taking a retreat now? What would you imagine an ideal retreat might look like? How would you imagine feeling afterwards?

Stepping outside of our busy daily routine and our ordinary identities to rest can help us to restore a deeper connection to ourselves and the present moment. Taking a retreat is a useful way to think about stepping outside of our experience. The Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Chah, called such moments, “food for the heart.”

Regular retreats lasting several days can be incredibly helpful, but not always practical. Nevertheless, we can incorporate the concept of a retreat into our daily lives in small ways. Taking five minutes to do nothing but sit or reflect, pray, or meditate during our day is a small retreat that can allow space for our heart to be fed.

Consider designing your own five-minute daily retreat. What would you like to experience? Would you prefer to sit quietly and notice the sights and sounds around you or reflect using practices such as gratitude or loving kindness? Perhaps you might use a five-minute retreat to pray or read and reflect on a meaningful scripture or text? Perhaps you might benefit most from the structure of a guided meditation or in recalling a pleasant memory or place. If sitting quietly is difficult, you could try a more active retreat such as a brief walk under the trees outside of work or around your neighborhood.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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A Life of Miracles

Thich Knat Hanh, a much beloved Buddhism monk, teacher, author, and social justice advocate recently died at age 95. Ordained as a monk aged 16 in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh is widely credited with promoting a kind of engaged Buddhism that could respond directly to the needs of society. He was a prominent teacher and social activist in his home country before finding himself exiled for calling for peace. In the West he played a key role in introducing mindfulness and created mindful communities (sanghas) around the world. He is also notable in his role promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding. His teachings have impacted politicians, business leaders, activists, teachers, and countless others.

In recent years, Thich Nhat Hanh led events for members of US Congress and for parliamentarians in the UK, Ireland, India, and Thailand. He also addressed the World Parliament of Religions in Melbourne, calling for specific steps to reverse the cycle of violence, war and global warming. In 2018, Thich Nhat Hanh moved back to Từ Hiếu Temple in Vietnam where he was first ordained when he was sixteen years old. 

I was captivated by Thich Nhat Hanh at a talk he gave at Loyola University Chicago, where my mother and I were attending my freshman orientation. I vividly recall his presence walking around campus with in large crowd of fellow monks. I have since read many of his books and interview transcripts. This week I have selected a short section from, “A Life of Miracles,” which I believe illustrates both the simplicity and nuance of his teaching:

As we sit down next to a steam, we can listen to its laughter and watch its sparking waters, noticing the pebbles glistening and the fresh plants nearby, and we may be overcome with happiness. We are with the steam’s freshness, purity, and clarity. But in just an instant we may find we’ve had enough. Our heart is troubles, and we think of other things. We are no longer at one with the steam.

It is of no use to sit in a peaceful forest if our mind is lost in the city. When we live with a child or a friend, their freshness and warmth can relax us. But if our heart is not with them, their precious presence is neglected, and they no longer exist. We must be aware of them to appreciate their value, to allow them to be our happiness. If through carelessness and forgetfulness we become dissatisfied with them, we begin asking too much of them or reprimanding them, we will lose them. Only after they are gone, all our regrets are in vain.  

Around us, life bursts fourth with miracles, a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles, eyes that see thoughts of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Revisiting Simplicity in 2022

What comes to mind when you think of simplicity? Do you have a positive or negative reaction? Do you wish you had more simplicity in your life? What would that look like? In what ways can you experience more simplicity in your life today? 

It is easy to get distracted by the many things in our lives. Foremost, our society tells us that we must be active and striving to make progress at all times. Even our vacations can become a list of achievements. Beyond these pressures, we are increasingly surrounded by distractions such as cell phones, email, and social media accounts.  

Simplicity is a great way to unburden ourselves and allow for more open space in our lives. As a result, we might experience a greater sense of purpose and intention as well as a stronger connection to what we most want or desire.  

Here are a few practical ways of inviting more simplicity into your life:  

Shift your diet to include more foods that are simple and natural. 

Eat mindfully and in moderation.  

Consider what you already have in your life. Develop an awareness and compassionate concern for the many people around the world struggling with little or no resources.

Lower your overall level of personal consumption and buy fewer items to make yourself feel good. Focus on buying only what you truly need.  

Develop a meditation practice by devoting as little as five minutes a day to meditation. 

Spend time in nature (without headphones).  

Invest in yourself by further developing your professional skills or engage in more creative projects.

Engage in gratitude practices such as a daily gratitude journal.  

Declutter your environment and consider donating items you no longer use.

Unplug from your phone, social media, and perhaps even television.

Notice and embrace moments of silence.  

Simplicity can help you feel more connected and intentional in your life while also decreasing the burden of having too much on your plate. Choose one or more of these strategies to invite more simplicity into your life today.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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“How Does This Work?” Post-Pandemic Social Readjustment

As the total number of Americans with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine closes in on 50% and the CDC loosens restrictions, we are faced with unique challenges around social reengagement.

In many ways, vaccinations and reopening is a cause for excitement and new hope for life returning to normal. However, you are not alone if you are feeling anxious about returning to a world with normal levels of in-person social interactions. According to a recent poll conducted in March by the American Psychological Association, at least half of all respondents indicated they feel uneasy about readjusting to in-person interaction.    

Returning to life as we knew it before the pandemic presents many challenges. For over a year we have worked to adjust to an entirely new lifestyle. Readjusting back from such a dramatic change is no easy task. 

We have also moved into a digital world and away from the long-standing social and cultural norms that have guided our interactions for decades. When we have been around other people, we have faced the challenge of engaging with covered faces and social distance. Indeed, wearing a mask and social distancing emerged as a necessary means of remaining safe from a potentially deadly threat. The threat was a virus, but the virus was spread through contact with other people. Others became an existential threat to our existence. 

Tips for social readjustment

There are several helpful things to keep in mind as we move forward. Foremost, increased anxiety about in-person social interaction is a normal and reasonable response to a remarkably scary and uncertain circumstance. This kind of reminder can be helpful as it allows us to normalize our reactions and respond with compassion towards ourselves and others, rather than judging ourselves or denying our feelings.  

Give voice to your experiences and speak openly when you are uncertain. We have never been here before. Therefore, it can be helpful to normalize uncertainty or awkwardness when interacting with others. Ask, “How are we going to approach this?” or “I’m not sure what we do here, what would make sense to you?” Not only does this help normalize the experience, but it also allows for collaboration and creates a shared experience by sending the message – we are in this together.  

Face your fears around social interaction when you feel reasonably safe. Given the role of avoidance in perpetuating anxiety, be mindful of unnecessary avoidance. Ask yourself if your discomfort is grounded in a real concern for your safety or if it is related more to the discomfort of adjusting back to social interactions.  

If you are concerned about being awkward, remember that social confidence is something you can develop and improve as you get more practice. Your first few social interactions are likely to be more awkward than your later interactions. Make a list of social interactions you anticipate over the next few months and start by practicing the easier or least intimidating scenarios. 

Over the past year we have been forced to attend to our social interactions in new ways, often with an overarching hypervigilance grounded in genuine fear. Despite the challenges ahead, there is good reason to believe that things will get easier with patience and compassion for yourself and your neighbors.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Self-forgiveness

We all make mistakes. Yet, it is important to learn ways of accepting and moving on from our mistakes so that we don’t become overwhelmed by feelings of frustration, anger, and guilt, or stuck in a repetitive loop of rumination and self-hatred.  

Although we typically think of forgiveness as something we grant to others, it is important to consider the positive impact of forgiving ourselves. Self-forgiveness is a helpful process that involves recognizing and acknowledging mistakes, validating our feelings, taking responsibility or corrective action when possible and reasonable, and finally shifting our focus to learning, growth, and acceptance. Self-forgiveness is not intended to be an excuse and should not lead away from taking responsibility or empathizing with anyone harmed as the result of a mistake.  

Research suggests that the practice of self-forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety as well as improved physical health, such as lower blood pressure. Practicing self-forgiveness can also allow for us to cultivate an attitude of forgiveness in our relationships with others and motivation to acknowledge, repair, and rebuild relationships when mistakes happen.

Self-forgiveness is often a significant challenge. For many reasons, a lot of people find it difficult to forgive themselves and may hold beliefs about needing to punish themselves or suffer consequences. Self-criticism and perfectionism can also make it difficult to practice self-forgiveness and we tend to have a lot of practice reinforcing these beliefs and behaviors.  

Indeed, taking responsibility and corrective action is an important part of moving on from a mistake. However, perpetuating our distress in the form of guilt, self-criticism, and self-hate is rarely productive as it most often harms our ability to learn and grow, while also serving to reinforce a negative self-image. 

Connecting with our inherent worth and value is a helpful place to focus when we are shifting to growth and self-acceptance. It is helpful to recognize and separate your mistake from yourself – you are not your mistake. It is important to remind yourself that you are far more than one mistake or even one decision. In this manner we can begin to see how it is possible to separate out a mistake and move away from identifying with the mistake as part of our identity or self-worth. To be sure, people of great integrity and intelligence make mistakes just like everyone else.  

Before moving to self-forgiveness, it can be important to reassess your assignment of blame. If you tend to unfairly blame yourself or take on responsibility for things that are completely out of your control, it might be important to work on understanding why this is the case. Nevertheless, in most cases, self-forgiveness can be a meaningful way to improve your relationship with yourself and others.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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