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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mistakes, Motives, and "I've had three different marriages - to the same man."

“In case you haven't noticed, people get hard-hearted against the people they hurt. Because they can't stand it. Literally. To think we did that to someone. I did that. So we think of all the reasons why it's okay we did whatever we did.”
Elizabeth Strout, The Burgess Boys

When we have hurt someone, or have done something that does not seem right, it can be so hard to study it, to take a look at what all the moving parts were and are, and to take a deeper look at our motives.  And most of time humans have mixed motives.  And most of the time we are just trying to protect ourselves, get our needs met, cope with emotional pain, communicate something that we cannot exactly articulate.  Sometimes we are trying to get someone to understand something, or find a way to make sense of something, or get what we think we have to have in order to survive, in order to deal with something we think is unforgivable, or unacceptable to ourselves or to others. 

And often there is fear.  Fear and shame.  Fear and anger.  Fear and frustration. 

The irony is, when it comes to emotional pain and mistakes or hurt, that taking a look at our motives when it comes to our mistakes, and having them be understood, usually goes a long way toward healing.  Not just for the person we may have hurt, but for ourselves. 

It's like losing weight in our minds and in our hearts.

Understanding our motives does not necessarily mean that we are off the hook.  Sometimes amends need to be made, whenever possible. 

But it's a start. 

And sometimes we might be surprised that healing really can  happen.  And that new ideas, new hope, new chapters can begin.   I once heard a colleague of mine say that she has had three different marriages -  to the same man.  

It may sound cliche, corny even, but we grow from things, and we can learn from our mistakes.  Even, maybe, especially, the ones with unconscious motives.  And relief can come from taking a look, more, I think, than it comes from either ignoring, denying, or defending ourselves without a true knowledge of our motives, needs and shortcomings.  We all have them after all.   And I think it's easier to move forward and get relief, and have better all around when we take out the self attack and take in curiosity, responsibility and repair. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Last Time Was The Last Time

You've heard the sayings that go along with this one.  If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got." And "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and again and expecting a different result."

So I recently heard this: We know that our thinking is going in the right direction when we are met again with temptation - to ruminate again, to use our drug of choice again, to act inappropriately, to lose it, to give in, to yes when we should say no, or no when we should say yes - and  instead of doing whatever it is that we do that keeps us going in circles we do something different.  Instead of saying to ourselves "Okay, this time will be the last time," we say "No, the last time was the last time."

It's not always so easy.  We can't always pull it off. We can't always say this to ourselves, even when we know it's probably for the best, for our best, for everyone's best.  Especially when we are hurting, or feeling low about ourselves, or are angry with someone we love and want to trust. Or when we are afraid of feeling too much, too intensely.

But sometimes we can.   We can know that whatever the urge is to do whatever it is that keeps us going in circles will pass.  That we can change directions, even it seems like it's only a small, incremental, tiny pivot point, it still counts.  We can do one thing differently.  We can say something different to ourselves. One thing at a time counts. Next right small thing.  Because the small things add up.  And even if they didn't, they make a tiny mark in the right direction. 

And even if we are hurting, or frustrated or feeling hopeless, it's amazing how one small thought can make such a big impact toward getting us over the mountain to a better feeling and a better life.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Door to Things Unknown

There are things known, and things unknown, and in between are the doors ~ Jim Morrison ( of course, but with a few other earlier influences)

It is sometimes difficult to decide to open the door and walk around in your mind and your past and to get curious about your character, and to take a look at what motivates you, lights you up or holds you back.

And really, its not always necessary.  Sometimes we are functioning and feeling well, or just fine, or even just well enough to do our day and to take care of our responsibilities.  Not everyone is, or has to be, interested in opening the door to things unknown.

Emotional pain, trauma, relationship difficulties, life changes, job issues, these tend to push people to open the door, even reluctantly.  But otherwise, looking around in the undercurrents of the psyche does not seem so imperative.

But opening the door can make us better partners, people, parents and citizens.  And there are lots of ways to open the door, not just therapy, but a good book, film, prayer, meditation, book clubs, charitable work, anything that facilitates thought and reflection, ideas and dialogue.  Any kind of time out from the electronics and busyness of everyday life.

Sometimes we are afraid to open the door.  We think if we know more then we will have to make changes, or be accountable, or we will find something that will shame us, or hurt us, or incite us to self criticism or self attack.  Or that we will be disloyal to someone we love.  So we don't want to look. 

But we don't have too move fast, or look furiously.  And we can be brave.  Looking gently most likely brings gentle but useable information. Our fears are usually manageable, and what comes to us is usually relieving.

Somehow just being open to the idea that there are always ways to grow, there is more to know, can help bring relief when it's needed.  There are many paths to knowing things that are unknown, but just the feeling that you are looking, doing one next right thing toward expansion and knowledge, emotional knowledge, self knowledge, can move you into better feelings, hope and resiliency.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Emotional Concussions

"A concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury that may occur when the head hits an object, or a moving object strikes the head. It can affect how the brain works for a while. A concussion can lead to a bad headache, changes in alertness, or loss of consciousness." ~ Google

I've been thinking lately about how emotional pain can be like a concussion.  And there are so many moving parts in the world that bump into our heart, our ego, our sense of self.  Some of us are more easily injured than others, depending on our makeup, our history, the circumstances of our lives.  But when we get hurt emotionally it does effect our brain. It effects our functioning.  It can lead to physical pain, changes in our ability to act calmly or rationally.  We can even lose consciousness emotionally.  Sometimes that looks like depression, anger, overwhelm or feeling "out of it." 

There is wide range to what we call trauma.  There is of course, the big stuff, violence, abuse, natural disaster, tragedy.   And then there are all kinds of relational hurts that are not so obvious, but that still effect us and can effect our ability to function and certainly effect our moods and feelings.

So how do we take care of an emotional concussion?  Assess the injury - how severe is it?  (Does it need immediate professional help?)  And then: take a break, rest, know that your brain and your heart need time to heal.  Unpack what happened. Take a look at the events around the injury.  Study them a bit, over time, so that if possible the danger does not repeat itself.  Look for symptoms - see how you might have been effected.  Talk, of course, when you can, about the injury, the events that lead up to it, the aftermath.  Do soothing things that calm and relax the brain and rest the mind. 

Yes, with an emotional concussion we most likely do have to sit with the pain and feel it as part of treating it, but we don't have to do it quickly or harshly.  We can know that it's a process and that sometimes we are knocked off our normal functioning and we have to respect that and treat ourselves accordingly.  Otherwise just like with a physical concussion, if you don't heal well enough you may be more susceptible to further injury.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Oh Honey Baby (Empathy First....)

Sometimes in here in my office (and out there too) folks will say to me "I know I'm just venting" or "I know I'm going on and on."  And I am given to wondering why that seems not okay.  Because there is something so vital to it.  To the venting, to saying everything and anything and letting the words come out so that they don't stay in and travel around our heart, mind, psyche, body like little pebbles bumping around inside of us causing us hurt and harm and unnamable bad feelings. 

It's not that venting and talking and saying everything is all there has to be.  It's so good to put things into words - to help us slow down, to tame possibly damaging impulsivity, to give us relief.  Venting is often an end unto itself.  But it's also a means.  It often leads to new ideas, better feelings, clearing the way toward them like clearing overgrown vines from a path so that we can  see our way forward.

But one of the best parts of venting, I think, is being - feeling - understood by the listener.  A good friend of mine, who is a great empathic listener often says to me, when I call her and talk to her good ears, "oh honey baby!"  I don't hear it as condescending, or patronizing, or pathetic, rather I hear it as so very loving.  In fact, sometimes, I call her and say, "Hey, could I let go of something for a few minutes and could you do your 'oh honey baby' thing?"   And she does.  I no longer mind asking her to do it (it's nice when someone anticipates your needs, but sometimes we have to ask). 

And after she is done with her good loving empathy, she often will ask me if I'd like some feedback.  And usually I would.  And after a good dose of  'oh honey baby' I've either come to some new level of understanding myself of what I need to do, what my part is, and what the next small right step is, or I am  pretty open to hearing what her opinion is. 

It's not a new idea, but somehow it gets lost when we are hurt, hurting, angry, full of resentment, or feeling deprived.  Venting and empathic listening go such a long way.... with our selves, our partners, children, friends.  And by doing it, we teach it.  It usually comes back around for us too.  And we are dissolving the pebbles inside of us and clearing the overgrown vines out of the path to a better place for all of us.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lies We Live By (that hurt our selves and our relationships)

Okay, I know this might sound a bit harsh - but stay with me.  Because sometimes we have lies that we tell ourselves - usually because we are in pain - usually they are fear based lies.  And usually we tell ourselves these lies in an effort to protect ourselves and to survive and to cope with whatever pain or problem we are trying to deal with. 

And usually these lies have a small core of truth to them, just enough that its hard to tell that they are lies.  When it comes to relationships, these can really trip us up.  So picking up on my last post, here are a few to consider - along with some possible underlying fears and some truths that might help bring some relief:

Lie: S/he must understand deeply what they did that hurt me.  I need this understanding.  If s/he does not understand then I cannot move on.

Possible Underlying Fears that: I am worthless.  I'll be alone.  Being hurt means I'm bad.  If I make a mistake it will have irreparable consequences.  I won't be safe. I'm not okay unless they admit what they did

Truth:  It would really help a lot if s/he understood deeply what s/he did that hurt me.  It may be difficult to move on - but I can embrace my own healing process.  His/her understanding is not the sole key to my relief and pursuing it may further hurt the relationship.

Lie: If I cannot trust him/her completely all the time and in all areas then this relationship is bad.

Possible Underlying Fears that: I won't be safe. I'll keep getting hurt.  I have no good choices.  I'll lose my security.  I'll be the stupid one and mistakes like that are not allowed.

Truth:  We all slip up.  Some lies are worse than others.  It is possible to be with someone that we cannot trust in every single way.  We can seek to understand what is underneath the lie.  (I'm not suggesting you stay in dangerous or damaging relationships, just that taking a step back and unpacking what the fear is and addressing it can really be useful).

Lie: If s/he does not love me all the time no matter what I say or do or how I behave then I must not be lovable.   I should able to act/be/say/behave however I want towards him/her/life and s/he should still adore me.  (this is usually a quiet but powerful one).

Possible Underlying Fears that: I really am not lovable.  I cannot make it on my own without his/her approval and agreement.  I'm not safe or important unless s/he is always in sync with me.  This relationship really is all bad.  I made a big mistake that's unforgivable.  I have no good choices.

Truth: In healthy relationships people don't always feel loving or agree with each other all the time.  I have infinite worth no matter what, but I am responsible for how I behave and what I say.  S/he can be his/her own person - that does not make me less than anyone else.  It is unreasonable to act poorly and expect others to still have good feelings about us - even, maybe especially, those we are closest to.  I can still express my feelings, but I can do it responsibly.

Lie: If I need something and s/he loves me - s/he should do it - or that means s/he does not really love me - or that means that I am not really lovable.   So then I feel alone and I really am alone.

Possible Underlying Fears:  I really am alone.  I will always feel this way.  I must deserve this.

Truth: Feelings are real, but they are not always facts.  We can tend to our lies and fears gently and honestly and we can be okay.  Sometimes we are alone, but so is everyone and it's not always so bad. I can learn how to cope without so much self criticism and fear.  People who love each other don't always do everything right for each other.

Some of us are pretty well aware of these subtle lies and some of us think we've got them licked but somehow they are still influencing our feelings and our behavior.  When take a good look at the quiet beliefs that are under our feelings and actions, we can move forward in new ways that  can bring us much better feelings and results.

There are many more.  What are yours?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Broken Up Does Not Mean Broken (or does it?)

I hesitate to start the year off with grief but a lot of folks have been telling me that they were glad to see 2013 go - there was too much heartbreak.  And when heartbreak comes up, and we shine the light on some of the thoughts and ideas that go with it one chain of thinking is this:

S/he broke up with me/broke my heart/disappointed me/hurt me/betrayed me: therefore not only is s/he awful but really because s/he did this/feels this way: that means that I am awful, worthless, unlovable, un-wantable.  It must be all my fault.  Whatever I did or however I am (which I can't even look at because that would be too terrible to deal with) must be so bad that I deserved this.  So: therefor it must be all his/her fault and s/he must see this or I will go crazy.  Maybe I am crazy. 

Sometimes this is a quiet whispering - sometimes very quiet  and - sometimes not so much.

And there is often this too:  If I do not have infinite value to this person, and s/he does not place my feelings and me above all else at all times, then I really must be worthless.  Or s/he must be way too flawed.  Or our love must not be the real thing.  Or it's broken.  Or I am broken. 

Of course everyone does this to different extremes at different times. 

But when we can we ask ourselves - without awful self attack - What is my part?  How reasonable are my expectations?  Are they emotionally reasonable? Am I making unreasonable demands? How do I come across?  How do I behave?  Am I putting the responsibility for my own self worth on someone else?  Is it possible that my reaction to this current situation packs the punch that it does because of a past trauma, feeling, hurt, experience, relationship?  Could I have a role in it,  but not be awful? Or worthless.  Could I bear the hurt without it being so attached to my sense of self?

For sure, these are not usually simple questions, they need some real and tender exploration and study.  And we are absolutely influenced by what other people think of us and how they behave toward us, especially people we respect, love and are attached to.  But.  We tend to suffer a lot more when we don't take a look into the deeper emotional messages and beliefs we have, and when we attach being hurt by someone to the deep - sometimes quiet belief that we are unlovable or pathetic. 

This prevents us from finding out what our part really is and then taking care of it so that it does not keep repeating in our lives.  But it does not mean that we are worthless, it just means we have to work to do - good, worthwhile work.

And of course, there is so much emotional pain when someone we love and depend on leaves us, or hurts us.  There are many layers to such grief.  But one piece of the puzzle that can bring us real relief is to consider that taking a look at our part will help us feel and be better.  And another good piece is to have the idea that just because we have been hurt does not mean that we are worthless and undeserving of love.