Today we’d like to introduce you to Erika Bennett Gaskill.
Erika, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Ah, yes, THE STORY. The story we tell is so important, isn’t it? It sets the stage and trajectory of our lives. What’s great about stories is we get to choose the perspective we take and the story we tell as it IS what we create in our lives.
As a psychotherapist, I get the privilege of hearing a lot of people’s stories. Some stories are beneficial for the person telling the story and some are not. I love being able to work with people and their perspectives on their story, to see how it is working for them OR NOT, and then being able to help them create new perspectives on their story so it works better for how they want to live their lives.
So…this is my story.
I am a woman who was born and raised in the Great Valley of California. Modesto to be exact. Prime and fertile farmland for some of the most delicious and rich agriculture in this country – and the world. Lots of folks view this region as the “country”, some view it as a cultural wasteland, and yet some view it as the best place on Earth.
For me, it is the place where I am from, the place where my loved ones live, and it will always have a place in my heart with memories of my childhood.
My parents provided a stable and abundant life for me in all the ways you are supposed to as parents and yet, I always felt a little like a fish out of water. I grew up “in town”, went to public schools, played sports, performed in dance recitals, spent time outdoors, savored time with my best friend – mostly smoking cigarettes in the park and singing “Hotel California” while riding in her little Volkswagon Rabbit convertible. I led an otherwise pretty conventional life.
The thing is, I am not all that conventional. I didn’t have dreams of settling down, getting married, and having babies. I had dreams of going on adventures and exploring unknown territory, of having exhilarating experiences, and getting to know people from other walks of life. I wanted to know something different. Something foreign, I wanted to see and interact with people and things that were different from me and what I knew growing up.
And so, I did. I didn’t have to move to the other side of the world to do this, I just moved. Took up school in San Francisco, and then Chicago, lived in Ireland for a spell, traveled a little, worked a lot, met people from all over the world, listened to different languages being spoken, felt my way through different experiences. I even married a man from Mexico and communicated with his family through speaking part English, part Spanish, part gesture, part sound effects, part sixth sense. While that relationship eventually passed its shelf life, the exploring hasn’t.
Throughout the years I have learned by doing. Asking questions is a key component to learning. Knowing which questions to ask is a practice. So, I ask myself, “what is sharing this story showing me? ”
It’s showing me a clarity in that I am who I am today because of a deep and unwavering desire to explore, learn, and grow.
To experience the newness, discomfort, adventure, exhilaration, and joy of constantly transforming and evolving. To feel the joy and aliveness in this thing we call life as much and as often as I can. This desire to grow eventually led me to explore not only my outer world but my inner world as well.
Now, I am an explorer of my inner world and because it has elicited such positive change in how I live my life, I help others learn how to explore their inner worlds as well.
This has lead me to where I am today. After the arduous and rewarding road of becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I currently have a private practice in Los Feliz working with people who are interested in expanding how they know themselves through exploring their inner worlds.
Some people find their inner worlds are full of anxiety, depression, addiction, unsatisfying relationships, and they come to work with me because they are wanting to understand themselves more, to expand how they know themselves, and to generate more influence in their life and career.
As for me, I am in a deep exploration of what its like to be happily re-married, this time to a native Los Angeleno who is exactly who I asked for and then some! We recently moved to Los Angeles from the Bay Area because I was looking for a change of scenery, a change of climate, and most importantly, an opportunity to expand in all areas of my life. Los Angeles called and I came running with bells on!
Has it been a smooth road?
Oh, goodness, no!
And in retrospect, I am thankful it hasn’t been smooth. I would not be the person I am today had it been a “smooth” road.
The road I have taken has definitely had its ups and downs and sometimes it can feel like it has had more downs than ups but honestly had it all been easy I would have been really unsatisfied.
I mean, it’s not every day you lose your job, have your identity and $40k stolen from you (all in the same week!) while writing your final thesis in grad school. Or had your long term partner of half a dozen years leave you shortly after your 35th birthday for a 22year old he met weeks before. Or to have a nervous tic that spikes when you feel anxious only to have your childhood friends (and mom!) make fun of you.
If I hadn’t experienced these things, and more, I wouldn’t have learned how to ask myself:
“What is happening here and how am I helping to co-create it?”
By doing so, I learned more about myself and how I was showing up in my life. I learned that trying to be superwoman was self-defeating, that I needed to develop stronger boundaries and a more loving relationship with myself, to not take myself so seriously and to laugh at the quirkiness that is me.
I can appreciate all of these experiences and have immense gratitude for the things I’ve experienced and come out on the other side of. I’ve learned a ton, built incredible confidence in being me, and have even more “struggle” experience to relate to all types of folks and guide them through the struggles in their lives.
What I want other women to know this: if you are human, you will have struggles, and you will make stories about your struggles. Know these stories, learn from them, then learn to accept them and let them go. To talk about them over and over is almost always an act of reinforcement ensuring they will happen again. And again. And again.
To take away your struggle is to take away your growth. To learn how to be IN your struggle and not let it deter you from being who you are meant to be – this, is empowerment.
Empower yourself with your struggle. Do not complain about it for too long. Do not fight it. See it for what it is – the area in yourself that you need to clean up and clean out.
Our power as humans is in realizing we have a choice in which story we want to live. The fact is, EVERYONE experiences struggle. It is part and parcel of the human condition. Embrace your humanness and empower yourself!
Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I work as a Somatic Psychotherapist. What is a Somatic Psychotherapist, you ask? It’s a body-oriented therapist who is interested in how you are living yourself in your body more than how you are talking about it in your words.
I help people expand how they know themselves by guiding them in how to use their bodies as wellsprings of information to connect, to heal, and to generate a better-lived experience in their lives.
Our minds and bodies are already having a conversation! Can you imagine what it’s like to learn the language of YOUR specific conversation and how you can purposefully influence it? It is a profound experience that leaves most people in awe of how powerful they are!
By expanding your awareness toward that conversation, you learn how to work with what is happening so can have sway over it. You learn to empower yourself with a conversation that is always with you and can never be taken from you.
I am known for calling bullsh*t on people – with kindness – who are not connected to what they are saying. We like to think a lot of things about ourselves (for better or for worse) or to distract ourselves from the truth and until we clear out all the BS, we will just spin in the same place, wondering why we keep running into the same issues.
Part of my job is to help people see how they are spinning and to teach them how to connect to what they are saying by using what is happening in their physical body. Inevitably, once clients get the hang of this, they feel more empowered and more capable in their lives, careers, and relationships. It is really a significant process in maturation.
Some of my proudest moments are when I have worked myself out of a job! It sounds nuts but I’m serious. As a therapist, when my clients no longer need to come to therapy because they have more knowledge about themselves and how to use that knowledge to live their lives with more joy and ease, they no longer need my ongoing support. Of course, at times they may choose to come back in for a few sessions when they find themselves in new territory and want the support I offer but to know that our work together has created a solid foundation they can trust and depend upon without decades of therapy is an incredibly satisfying feeling!
What sets me apart from other therapists, aside from being body-oriented, is that my job IS NOT TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL GOOD, MY JOB IS TO TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO MAKE THEMSELVES FEEL GOOD in a solid and sustainable way. When you learn how to do that, you’re gold!
I do this by working with what is happening in the here and now. How you are living yourself at the moment and working with what IS rather than going into your past and analyzing it. We may touch upon the past events or relationships in your life to have reference points for how they have shaped you into the person you are today, as that can be insightful and lead to healing, but we don’t hang out there for too long. If we did, ultimately it would not be helpful to who you are becoming.
What is your advice for women just starting out in their careers?
And what I mean by that is, be unapologetically yourself.
When you are unapologetically yourself, you are not pretending to be someone you are not (all acting gigs aside). You are honest with yourself and others, you are living with aliveness and authenticity and believe or not, people can FEEL this. They may not realize it but they do. Some may like it and some may not. For those who do, they will support you, befriend you, fight for you, hire you, promote you, offer you opportunities beyond your imagination… you get my drift.
Yes, there are the haters, those that really just envy your capacity of ‘daring greatly’ in being yourself as they have not yet learned how to be humble themselves. Regardless, of what they say or how they treat you, being unapologetically yourself is the very thing that people are drawn to, the quality people respect and most of all, trust. No one can take it from you. You own it, it’s yours, it’s you!
No pretense means no arrogance, and no arrogance means living in humility, and when you live in humility, good things come to you. So, when called, shake yo’ tailfeather, do that thing you are afraid to do because of what others might say, or just bring out that inner cheeseball you always have known you are!
*By learning to listen to and have a strong relationship with your deeper inner wisdom and following this at every turn – even if it doesn’t make “sense” – you will find yourself on a path more satisfying than you could ever imagine.
*Learn to TRULY not care what other people think. We, as humans, are relational people and we are hardwired to care about others. The rub is that we can get caught up in what our bosses, parents, partners, friends, and even strangers think of us and it can poison us in not only NOT fulfilling our dreams but can also keep us from living our lives in integrity and joy. The sooner you can learn how to do this, the more satisfying and successful your life and career will be.
*Risk being vulnerable despite your ego kicking, screaming and trying to talk you out of it. Be silly, even cheesy, stand up and say you believe you are the best at something without laughing, ask the question you want to ask even if you feel scared of embarrassment. Even if your risk results in unfavorable terms, you will have gleaned information and experience that will set you apart from others, move you along your path of evolution and growth, and strengthen your inner compass of knowing.
*Accept your inadequacies and focus on what you are good at.
If you are not good at something, admit it and then say what you ARE good at. If you are wrong about something, own up to it – don’t apologize for it. It was a choice you made, and it didn’t work out, end of story. If someone else has an issue with you not apologizing, it’s their issue to work on not yours. (Yeah, this might be uncomfortable at first but it is way more comfortable when people start respecting you than when they see you apologizing for being a non-perfect human. We are all in the wrong at some point.)
- One (1) 50min Somatic Psychotherapy session ($175)
- Address: (Los Feliz Village)
Los Angeles, CA 90027
- Website: www.theunpopulartherapist.com
- Phone: 323-642-5102
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @theunpopulartherapist
- Twitter: @UnpopTherapist
- Other: www.spiraltoyourcenter.com
Lauren Shigeko Gaskill, Alan Gaskill