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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: December 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Compassion Never Grows Old

A few weeks ago I came across an article about Hedda Bolgar, a 102 year old psychotherapist who is still seeing clients, lecturing and studying the unconscious mind. Bolgar says that she is

"eternally fascinated by the unconscious, where she says pesky problems hide." She says that she loves to listen, to understand, even when people are not saying, or, I infer, don't exactly know, what it is that is bothering them, shaping them, effecting them. I am moved by this, by how it is that after decades of listening to emotional pain, to trauma, to confusing character issues, Hedda Bolgar is, in fact, glowing.

Instead of presenting to the world a cynical view of human nature, of the stubbornness of many psychological issues, Bolgar seems to exude a generosity of spirit and hope. That we do have an unconscious mind, that it is worthy of study, that much of what pains or troubles us, or gets in the way of our growth and progress can be discovered and healed through talking. I continue to like the message that we can take a look at ourselves without doing it harshly. That being understood and allowing all our feelings can open doors to better ways of feeling, coping and living.

The ability to talk, to consider new ideas, points of view, to study ourselves without lashing out at ourselves or others, to release our aggression in productive and not impulsively hurtful ways are not only hallmarks of resiliency and maturity, but outcomes of good therapy. In our quest to live and be better, I think Hedda Bolgar's message of consistency, dedication to the craft and compassion is a strong one.

In the age of the Internet and texting where people can anonymously discharge feelings, make connections without having to show up, can weigh in and click off, Bolgar reminds me of the staying power that is possible. And that being with ourselves, and with others in real time has endless value. And that compassion never grows old. We can study our actions, our motives, our histories, our psyches with a curious and gentle eye. And we can study those of others with the same compassion, even if we are hurt, or lost or frustrated or don't agree.

Our stories are worth telling, worth hearing and we need not know exactly where we are headed in order to start.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Forget It - I've Got Nothing (Getting Underneath Uninspired)

Here's how it goes sometimes in marriages, in our relationship with ourselves, with others, at work: Something just feels flat. We cannot (only) chalk it up to depression, or anger or even massive disappointment. So what then? What is going on with us - inside of us - when we feel utterly uninspired? Forget "lack of motivation," since that doesn't explain it exactly either. When asked we could say, sure, yes, I love my spouse - or the arrangement works for me somehow, therefor I am motivated to stay married. Or I am motivated to go to work because I need the money, or I care about the project in general. Or I care about my own well being, so I keep on keeping on.

Motivation can fall into the background, though it does keep us going through the motions of our lives and our relationships. What comes up in therapy a lot, though, is something deeper, something a bit more spiritual: Inspiration (or lack of it). A feeling of yearning combined with vision, passion. Being awake to deeper desires, callings, a sense of mission and meaning, some urgency even. It is this feeling that seems to get sucked out in the undertow of routine life. And many people give up trying to find it. "I've got nothing," is what they tell me, or "Forget it," which is almost always a catch all meaning "I feel way too frustrated, or I'll never be understood," or "It will take too much effort," "It won't be fast enough," or "Sometimes I really think I hate myself."

Does venting help? Sure I think it does. It feels good to get it out, to calm the anxiety, to get empathy, to have your feelings, even hopelessness and self hate resonate with someone. It helps unblock the road to inspiration, when you think you've got none.

We get caught up in what seems to be the drudgery of the same old same old. And we think that in order to become inspired, or re inspired, that things will have to be new. A new job, a new relationship, a new place. (And that can help, sure, for a time). We can't always keep changing up what we have or make things that are not new become new, but we can be open to making what we have good, or at least better. And to finding inspiration. We can be open to the idea that just because we can't make something new, does not mean that we cannot make it good - really good. Just because we think we are stuck in the same old same old does not mean we actually are. We can refuse to try, to talk, to open the door, or we can be willing. Yes, it may take a little while to get there, to find the inspiration. We may have to dig through some anger, some old stuff, find out why we are asleep in certain ways. We may need to be willing to not chalk it all up to hormones or depression or circumstance and take a different look. Is it worth it? I think so.