Presentation -- Developmental Intelligence in the Second Half of Life

Do we continue to grow and change throughout life? Yes! Brain science has fascinating things to say about the older adult brain. Come and immerse in the four developmental stages of the second half of life, developed by Gene D. Cohen MD PhD, and be surprised – and inspired!


The Carillon, 2525 Taft Drive, Boulder

Thursday, May 25, 11:00am

Carly Fox MSW LCSW psychotherapist/musician



The Harsh Inner Critic: 6 Things You Can Do

When sitting down to write a song or a blog post, play an instrument, or do any other creative work, the inner narration begins. Should I be wasting my time like this, and don’t I have some “real” work to do? In moments of heightened expectation, such as performing on stage, the messaging can become harsh and assaultive, my worthiness suddenly on the table. “Who do you think you are?” this voice says with a sneer. It knows my buttons and pushes them. Fight/flight/freeze may kick in, causing my throat to tighten, breathing to go high and shallow. I may find myself foraging for carbohydrates.

This is the inner critic: the often relentlessly negative interior voice that can drain the joy and the life force from your creative work. The discomfort it engenders can be severe, causing some to give up their art in despair.

Because it sounds like the truth.

Sigmund Freud identified this part of us that believes in standards and rules, naming it the superego. It resides in a primitive and fear-based part of the brain which scans the environment for threat, such as, for our highly social species, situations that resulted in hurt or rejection in the past. An arched eyebrow from a revered teacher. Not getting the part. Rebuff when you reached out for care and support.

The self-critical messages are an alarm system from the threat-response part of the brain. They speak directly to our vulnerabilities, which is why they seem so plausible and why we may feel an urgency to take this “feedback” into account.

Highly self-critical individuals are often achievement-oriented and perfectionistic: qualities which helped us develop self-discipline to practice and hone our skills. And, we have been awash in critical feedback from teachers and experts: some kind, some not so kind. It can seem like this commentary on our creative output also applies to our intrinsic qualities as people. This can lead to the sense that our value is determined externally by others, and depends on how well we do.

In its way, the inner critic is wanting to protect us. To notify us that rejection is immanent. To keep us from putting our work and ourselves out there.

What to do? Here are 6 ways to respond to the harsh inner critic:

1.     Mindfulness, or nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts and feelings. Notice the autopilot response to perceived threat, including the activation of the inner critic. Choose whether to identify with the critic’s assessment. We can cultivate a habit of noticing ourselves thinking, which gives a little space between us and the message, which is also coming from ourselves. We can get to know this risk-averse part of us and come into deeper relationship with ourselves. Maybe thank the critic for trying so hard to protect you, let it know that you hear it, and that you are handling things this time.

2.     Self-compassion. Bring yourself into your own support system. Imagine how you would respond to a friend who was suffering, and give yourself the gift of that same compassionate response. Separating yourself from your work, and offering yourself kindness without regard for achievement or whether you “deserve” it. You do. This will help you locate your value within yourself rather than ceding to others the right to determine it.

3.     Show up. Focus on the work at hand and not on assessment of the work. Imagine you’re a worker bee gathering pollen and work work work. The inner critic will be there with an opinion but you do not have to heed it. Use persistence to keep going even if self-criticism is also happening. This will give the inner critic much competition for your time and attention.

4.     Accept imperfection. Contrary to the critic’s message, a perfect performance or piece of art probably does not exist. And, paradoxically, it is often the imperfections that unite us with others and allows others to see themselves in our work. In traditional Native American beadwork, a perfect design was believed to entrap the soul, and a flaw was always included to allow the spirit to flow and the art to live. Imperfection requires vulnerability, which allows for connection, which counteracts the shame of harsh self-criticism.

5.     Create work that you like. Attune to your sensory experience of color, texture, air, sound. Get curious about what would happen if you ignored the critic and privileged your own experience of creating. Rather than despair that you can’t play like Coltrane or write like Ann Patchett, offer what could only ever come from you. What might that be? Consciously choose to respond with awe and wonder even if your self-critic also has something to say.

6.     Lovingkindness meditation. Attune to yourself and tenderly ask what you need. If there is a word of encouragement that you long to hear, offer it to yourself. Be the teacher you needed when you were little or that you need now. Recognize your own strengths and value where you are right now. Validate your own bravery and hard work and persistence. Self-criticism is isolating; offering lovingkindness meditation is an evidence-based practice to increase your sense of safety and belonging.

References :: :: :: :: Shut your Monkey by Danny Gregory (2016) :: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown (2010) :: The Ego and the Id by Sigmund Freud (1923)

Getting Through the Holidays -- a Grief Support Workshop

Sometimes the “most wonderful time of the year” – isn’t. So much stirring up of grief happens at the holidays. We long for continuity reaching backwards and forwards over generations. Traditions tug at us. We feel we must make Mom’s cornbread, bring out Grandmother’s dishes, play the course we played each year with Dad. But what if things have changed? We may dream of presiding over a joyful family gathering, but what if there is distance or discord? What if we are alone? Rituals once enjoyed can feel poignant or unbearable in the face of loss. What to do?

This workshop will be an experiential and skills building gathering facilitated by Carly Fox LCSW, a therapist serving older adults in Boulder county. There will be support for making space for feelings of grief and loss arising at the holidays, ways to gather and draw upon resources, as well as honoring and soothing of the very human grief response through anchoring, breath, movement, and art.

Thursday December 8th, 1:15-2pm :: Lafayette Senior Center :: 103 Iowa Ave, Lafayette, 80026

Reach Carly :: :: 720-340-3044

Seen & Heard

"Bob" was flailing. Pushed into retirement, 2 best friends recently passed, severely hearing impaired and suffering from ill health and insomnia, at 80 he received an eviction notice due to clutter in his apartment. A scrappy survivor, he informed me that PhD stood for "post hole digger" and referred to the parade of young upstarts who took credit for his work. I met with him at home: a challenge, as he couldn't hear a knock at the door. I listened to his concerns, and we chipped away at his sense that the world was against him. Feeling seen and heard, he could take my recommendations to see a doctor and allow his home to be cleaned, which meant letting go of control and many valued possessions, in order to meet his landlord's conditions. One person's treasure is another's trash. He made it through that difficult day with support. Then we went to the library so he could teach me genealogical research methods: so he could give to me from his expertise, thus giving to him his identity and his power back. He stood a little taller then. People can grow and change and release burdensome habits when held within the therapeutic relationship. If you are worried about an older parent or facing challenges of aging or disability, please call me. We will find the way through.

Therapy and consulting practice serving the elderly

Autumn Tree Therapy LLC is a new practice serving older and disabled adults and their families in Boulder county.

In my decade-plus in the field, I’ve experienced elders to be full of potential for moving into the integrity of their story, and hungry for ways to sum up and pass on life learnings. Brain studies show that older people are better able to unite their hemispheres to draw on their resources and make something new of this phase of life. My mentor called this “shifting into all-wheel drive.”

And yet, the circumstances people find themselves in can feel narrow and grim. Losses accumulate and body integrity cannot be counted on. Philip Roth, acclaimed author, said at 73 that “old age is not a battle – old age is a massacre.” Transitions such as retirement or moving house can precipitate depression. Loss and illness can shake a person to the core, necessitating professional support to reconnect to resources and self and create a livable new normal.

To reduce suffering and enhance quality of life, some people may need proactive planning to enable an impaired loved one to remain safely at home for as long as possible. Others may need compassionate space held for their longings and support to envision their next chapter.

If you are worried about an older family member or are experiencing the challenges of aging or disability, please call me. Professionals welcome. Home visits and office appointments.

Carly Fox MSW LCSW CMC :: :: :: 720-340-3044