How to Show Up for Yourself

A large part of my role as a counselor and a professor is helping people understand and make meaning of their experiences. At times, this includes supporting people as they bask in the joy of life’s highs and, at other times, helping them process the devastation of life’s lows.

Throughout my more than 15 years as a counselor, I have used a variety of techniques and drawn upon the philosophies of theorists to create meaningful client experiences in the sacred space of the counseling session. I have dedicated my career to decreasing stigma related to talking about therapy and mental health. I feel honored to be a trauma and crisis therapist, clinical supervisor, wellness counselor, association leader, and advocate for populations of all ages, from the chronically mentally ill to the fully functional.

My goal is to inspire as many people as possible to take care of themselves so they can care for others. With this in mind, you can only imagine how thrilled I was to be invited to facilitate discussion with more than 400 audience members at TEDxChicago Women and provide a private workshop for the event sponsors. My role was to help the audience digest and integrate what they heard from speakers into a meaningful and personalized message they could cherish and put into action the moment they walked out of the auditorium.

I listened carefully as speakers took the stage to share their passions. I drew engagement ideas that were easy to understand and apply. When it was my turn to appear from the shadows of stage right and greet the audience on that beautifully lit famous red circle, I was energized as I knew I had a special message to share. I am pleased to share this message with you, too, and hope to inspire you to define what showing up means to you as you identify your own dominoes to leave a positive impression on the world. What I noticed is that people are emotionally stronger than they think.

More than a billion people have watched TED Talks (Ludewig, 2017) for accessible and innovative information and inspiration. Some researchers have called the presentations “addictive” (Mercer, 2013), with a radically different format than traditional presentations and stagnant panels of the past. The sparse backdrop inspires a singular focus on the speaker and their message. Despite the singularity of the spotlight, the delivery of the speaker’s message is unique in its presentation. Some have characterized the time-limited, targeted exposition as “edutainment” (Ludewig, 2017), considering the engaging, often humorous use of storytelling to illustrate what is important to all of us. The universal, relevant, and casual quality of TED Talks garner audiences beyond science or technology (Romanelli, 2014; Tsou, 2014). Since studies found that TED Talks inspire more individual growth and less communal development (Denskus & Esser, 2014), it is critical for viewers to disseminate what the message means to them, how they are transformed by it, and how they want to share it with the people around them.

Showing Up

The theme of TEDxChicago Women was Showing Up. Each audience member made the decision to show up on that day – just like you decided to read this article – to learn something about how they can show up and shine brighter in their day-to-day lives.

The first step in understanding the concept is to determine what showing up means to us personally. Perhaps showing up looks like an internal process for some people, whereas, it could be externalized for others. Some people may envision showing up as being open to opportunities in the present moment. Much like the audience that attended the TEDx talk, you could learn something new or increase your understanding with our presence of mind. Others may conceive of showing up as being available or in service to the people around them. They could see their personal actions as a way to express their commitment to others in small and large ways. Whether we think of showing up from an individual or collective perspective, I suggest the act of showing up starts with the person and then expands beyond the individual through critical acts of kindness (Dossey, 2017).

Individually, we can ask ourselves what it takes for us to show up for ourselves first. How do we attend to our own needs before we reach out to others? We must ask ourselves if we have tended to our own needs before being the caretaker for others. This process involves critical insight, so how do we get there? Researchers contend we must love ourselves before we can begin the process of knowing ourselves (Bransen, 2015). Perhaps our distraction and investment in technology as a society moves us farther away from understanding our basic needs. Have we become so focused on what our life looks like from a viewer’s standpoint, that we have forgotten how it feels inside? It seems self-love could be overlooked in our fast-paced society; nevertheless, self-love is more than being compassionate with ourselves. Expressions of self-love such as meditation contribute toward our sense of safety, security, and agency, which in turn provide us with the strength to be present with our uncomfortable feelings as well as our comfortable feelings (Boellinghaus, Jones & Hutton, 2013). Researchers found that positive affirmations can offset negative perceptions of ourselves (Powell, Simpson, Overton, 2014). Other researchers demonstrated that self-care strategies such as being out in nature, prayer, and letting go also reduce stress, prevent burnout, and establish a stronger personal connection (Giovanni, 2017). Considering this, what is your game plan for increasing self-love today?

By examining our motives for showing up, we can recognize our personal catalysts for change. Maybe we value a sense of community and that is what brought us together today. Researchers discussed the benefits of “caritas,” a concept describing both love and charity, an internal and external form of love and service (Giovanni, 2017, p174). Perhaps our acts of service that produce a positive impact on the world are the impetus for our presence of mind. Kindness has been found to be linked to a person’s trustworthiness (Thielman & Hilbig, 2015); therefore, we can embody the same values of self-love out in the world as we show up for others. Alternatively, we may seek the human connection for a sense of fulfillment or reward. There is something special about the presence of being together and enhancing the humanity behind our actions.

Now that we have identified the positive effects of showing up, we can isolate the barriers that prevent us from utilizing this skill and infusing kindness in our everyday life. When we remove ourselves from the human connection by either social isolation or by withdrawing in technology, we disconnect from developing relationships. Ultimately, our attachment with others is the fuel to help increase the strength of the bonds that we have to make real change in the world. The synergy created by human kindness is a powerful catalyst for healing. Kindness can also negate social anxiety on a long-term basis (Trew & Alden, 2015). The ripple effect of simple communications can provide hope and transformation.

Once we understand how we show up, the next step is to identify our own dominoes. When we show up for ourselves and others, ripple effects of goodness are generated. What is one small thing we can do to impact someone else? That impact can domino into a positive effect. The domino can increase the positivity we see in the world when it sometimes feels like the world is flooded with negativity. What is one thing you can do today to inspire the domino effect for lasting, positive change?

During my TEDxWomen facilitation, the audience shared their dominoes, including paying attention to yourself so you can be a domino for others to inspire conversation. Although these seem like pebbles, they are ripple effects with reach beyond your knowledge. More than just feeling happy or grateful in the moment, kindness has a lasting and profound effect on people. Norman, Rosillo, and Skelton (2016) suggested that kindness is directly correlated with healing. Through their research in hospital settings, they discuss interpersonal connection infused with kindness as “sacred encounters” (Norman et al., 2016, p. 408).

Think about your own domino, and I ask you the same question I asked my TEDxChicago Women audience – “How can you show up for yourself so that you have the energy and presence to share that good space with other people to help create a positive impact on them and so they can do so for others.?”

When we show up, we have a positive impact on the world.


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Thielmann, I., & Hilbig, B. (2015). The traits one can trust: Dissecting reciprocity and kindness as determinants of trustworthy behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(11), 1523-1536.

Trew, J., & Alden, L. (2015). Kindness reduces avoidance goals in socially anxious individuals. Motivation and Emotion, 39(6), 892-907.

Citation for this content: Northwestern University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program.