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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain

Monday, January 14, 2019

Decision Formula (I just don't know what to do!)

I'm not going to tell you its foolproof - but I do think that there are few ideas that can help us along when we don't know what to.  And when we are frustrated, confused, worried about how to proceed.  Two of my favorite quick go-tos, are remembering that when we don't know what to "yes" do, we can often access what to not do.  And when we don't know what we "yes" want, we can start by understanding what we do not want.  Its a start, a direction.
And then of course, there is always my old favorite:  Do the next right small thing.

I think sometimes what gets in the way for us, too, when it comes to decisions, is that we are afraid of making a mistake, or having to shoulder the responsibility for something we cannot possibly predict.

So I've come up with a few guidelines to help move us along.  We can't always do all of them in any give instant.  But we can look toward them as a general outline for knowing that if we have utilized them in some fashion, we are on the right track and can maybe feel some sense of peace about things.  That in some way, then, what ever happens may very well have been meant to be, or was truly out of our control.

So here they are: (in no particular order):

1) Check our motives and our moral compass  (don't judge them, just check them)
2) Consult with a trusted objective person(s) (talk it over)
3) Meditate
4) Pray (however you define prayer)
5) Are doing/did the best we could at the time with the knowledge we have
6) Are acting within the boundaries/guidelines of law, human kindness, respect and decency

Of course, we could debate each of them. And we could define them with much more depth, breadth and meaning.

And we sometimes need to just give ourselves some space, not think, and let thoughts and feelings run through us, until we hear our wisdom come through.  But I think they give us a check list of sorts.  So that we can live life more consciously and peacefully.  Maybe more compassionately and with more grace towards ourselves and others.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Affair? (Self Worth, Desire, Feelings).

"Responsibility is Freedom"  Esther Perel 

"Behind every criticism is a wish"  John Gottman

Thinking of having an affair? Having one?  Had one?  Have a partner who had one? Lots of folks come in to my office to talk about it.  Sometimes with their partner, sometimes without.  So many questions come up.

Some folks have tried working on things and some have not.  Some feel guilty; some feel justified; some feel elated from a new experience; or utterly destroyed.  Some feel scared; some ashamed,  some confused, some self-righteous, and some, all of the above and more.  Including all kinds of enraged, sad, frightened, frustrated and trapped, justified and happy. Depending on which partner you are... the one who has gone out, or the one who has not, and depending on what you believe, need and feel, both about yourself, marriage, life and love.

So many reasons why people have affairs.  So many pieces of the puzzle. So much struggle to have or create a partnership which  meets our needs for love, desire, good sex, intimacy, support and connection.  For good feelings in life.  So many things to consider.

Its hard sometimes to pull it all apart.  And perhaps, the first step, even harder, is to want to.  To believe somehow, somewhere, that being in a discussion with yourself, with a therapist, that having some conversations about what you need, fear and desire, what you feel and what the different parts of yourself are trying to accomplish as they vie for your attention, is worth the trouble.  Its not always easy to discuss what you are doing, and feeling and how to navigate it all.

Lots of folks worry about the kids.  They wonder how it will affect them.  What if this, what if that...  How is it that our own needs as adults compete with the needs of our children?  And maybe moreover, how is it that our own needs to be good parents, to look ourselves in the eye as parents, compete with our needs for an emotionally, sexually, intimately satisfying partnership?

What do we do with our moral compass, our values, our desires and our very real frustrations and emotional pain?

When do we operate on values, not just feelings?  And what are those values anyway?  Who decides?  Are we better off not really being awake to any of it?  And slipping into it?  And then dealing with whatever comes up?  For us?  For our families?  What do we do when we really believe we cannot tolerate things as they are, and we see no way out, no way to get relief, to manage, to live in the world, in our own lives and our own skin?

And  since our desires and how we work with them are woven into our self worth, and our choices  shape us, what do we do with all this?

Is it better to just operate on rote and let whatever happens happen? Or could we be open to having a new experience with ourselves?  To suspend the blame, the judgments, the fear, and be more conscious?  Can we want to help ourselves to take a closer, more curious look? And if we do, will be have a new experience with those around us?  A better one?  A better life?

It seems to me, to be very much possible.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Marital Matrix - Four Truths and a Lie

I just wanted to share a few observations about marriage that I've come to believe.  There is so much information about how to make marriage work these days, so many ideas, therapies, predictions, so much advice.  It's hard to know how to sort it all.  And most of its pretty good, actually.  Tons of books, blogs, vlogs, podcasts... sometimes we just need to keep listening and reading and unpacking and trying to find our truth.  But from where I sit, having been working with couples for over 20 years, I offer you four truths and a lie.  (A bit oversimplified, but relevant nonetheless):

Truth One:    Too much entitlement felt by either spouse can take down a marriage
Truth Two:    Too little self esteem  in either spouse can take down a marriage
Truth Three:  Difficult in-laws can take down a marriage
Truth Four :   Too little or unsatisfying sex can take down a marriage
One Lie:         Its not worth trying to fix it

Abuse aside (and I am not defining it here), it is worth it.  When we thrive as individuals, the marriage does better.  When the marriage thrives, the individuals do better.  Yes, its painful.  Yes, there are lots of feelings, and undercurrents and thoughts and perspectives and beliefs and perceptions and things to sort through.  Sometimes, we'd rather be right than married.  Sometimes we'd rather suffer silently.  Sometimes we just want the other person to suffer, or to understand or change. 

Sometimes we'd rather believe that nothing is going to help.  Sometimes we have an overblown or underblown sense of how things should be, whose fault it is, what our capacity (or our spouse's) for change is, and whether we really need or want help.  Sometimes, we proceed in ways that we ourselves don't even realize.  And maybe we don't care.  Sometimes we are too angry to really listen, or to try or see if maybe we could have an entirely different experience.  Sometimes we are afraid to rock the boat, even if the boat is adrift.

In my office, sometimes I help people separate and resettle well.  Sometimes I help them stay married and make things better.  Sometimes I help them figure out which one of the above they really want to do and why.  And sometimes we just talk through the pain of it all until the next right thing becomes clear and  we know what to do and how to feel better. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Parts and Parts and Rules of Three....

"I want to feel better more than I want to get angry"
"I am living with the pain, but not so much in it anymore"

Two things I heard this past week that I thought were worth noting.  And of course, easier said than done, and sometimes getting there takes some time and some emotional storytelling and some unpacking of pain, ideas and desires.  But perhaps we do have a choice.  Even if we can't flip the switch right away.

Just honoring the different parts of ourselves, just knowing they exist, and not judging them, can go a long way.  There are always different parts, different ideas, different feelings inside of us that are competing for our attention.  Our need to be heard, to be understood, to be loved, to be taken care of, to be a good partner, to be generous, to feel good about our choices, to feel safe, to please others, to do the right thing, to get satisfaction, pleasure, sex, care, respect, love. 

Sometimes they shift back and forth in seconds.  And when we talk or act or decide while there is a lot of shifting going on inside of us, we can do some damage.  When we can wait it out and let all of our parts have their say, and then see, see what really we need, what we are really voting for, what effect we really want to have, if we can, then we can prioritize and honor ourselves and move forward  better.

The more we know when our parts are popping around trying to be heard and trying to protect us, the more we can slow down.  Just knowing it helps.  Then the insights will come.  And we will better be able to decide.  When we keep in mind that when we are feeling too much or not enough... that's when we should try not to talk, act or decide.  (My Rule of Three).   We can discuss things with someone we trust, but we hold back from saying things on the fly to whomever we are in distress with or about.  And we don't take any action of any kind or make any decisions.  We just keep drawing back to the other rule of three.  When we feel revved up - we wait three:  three minutes, three hours, three days... whatever we need to do to not act on our feelings in the heat of a moment.  And to honor them and ourselves by allowing ourselves to have all of our feelings and letting them run through us without judging them. 

Just knowing, just drawing back to these ideas can change our choices, and our choices can change us and change our realities.  We are not as alone as we sometimes think we are.

Monday, May 29, 2017

I Just Don't Know What to Do....

Across the wide range of topics that come in up my office from relationships, to career, to sex, to parenting, folks often say, in many different ways "I just don't know what to do....."

It's very delicious indeed (better than Rocky Road Ice Cream) when we have clarity.  Not the clarity that comes from anger, or revenge or fear or low self esteem or crazy brain on revved-up thinking.  But the clarity that comes from a calm, cool, sweet, quiet, peaceful place in your psyche or soul or heart and settles in like a soft feather or a cool pool of water.... and stays with you a bit.  And you just know.

But that's more and more rare these days.  We are so very distracted.  Our quiet time in minimal.  Our interruptions are maxed.  Phones buzzing, etc.  So I think we are a bit more blocked than we'd like to be from our own innate health and wisdom.  But there is a go to, I believe.

When we don't know what to do, even when we have a list of good options and we still don't know, we can start with a different list:  The What Not To Do List.  That list, we usually have a bit more clarity on, especially the basics.  

Lets take Parenting for example.  You may not know what particular parenting approach is the best at the moment, or what the right words are exactly, or whether to say yes or no or maybe or I'm not sure ask me later.... Or to validate, or just listen or to suggest or to wait or to reassure or guide, or encourage or give in or hold out or lay low or come close or/and... add your own...But we always can fall back on our list of What Not To Do.  What we know does not work, or is against our parenting creed, or goal or the effect we would like to have, or what goes against common wisdom.  (Hitting, name calling, yelling, condemning,  threatening, bullying, judging, ridiculing, attacking, accusing, ignoring, shaming, demanding, berating...  add your own...).  

Same with relationships.  We are not perfect.  We slip up.  But we generally know what points us towards closeness and what creates distance.  We usually know what not to do and that when we do something from the Not List, we are most likely feeling very angry or hurt or insecure or afraid.  And we are not looking past it (hard to do in the moment, of course, but possible with practice and perspective).

Expanding the What Yes (or Maybe) To Do List can often take some time, some unpacking, some poking around in our hearts and minds and psyches and thoughts, and some talking, of course.  And there is always, my favorite:  Do the Next Right Small Thing.  That is, when we know what that is...

But in a pinch, and there are usually a bunch pretty regularly, we can take heart in Not Doing anything from the obvious Not list.  I am not saying that on some irregular occasions there might be something on the Not list that should float over to the Maybe List. (and I do mean float, as in, calm, and planned and coming from wisdom). But we can take heart and go easier on ourselves and others when we  don't know what to yes do, that at least we stayed away from the What Not to Do List and that whatever else we choose, perhaps with some faith, with turn out to be for the good.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Foggy Drive

I've suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened. - Mark Twain 

A friend of mine recently told me that last week she was driving to work up the New York State Thruway and there was a ton of fog.  There were times that she absolutely just could not see.  She was moving slowing and carefully and the fog was in and out.  There were times that the road appeared again, clear as day, and then the she'd drive into a patch of fog.  It was only for a moment or so, even at its darkest.  But those moments seemed so long, especially when she could not see the road.  She said she began thinking about just pulling over to the side and waiting.  But she also realized that although she could not see it at times, she knew the road was there.  She knew the road well, and she knew she was headed in the right direction.  She knew she would get there.  Sometimes she had to slow way down.  Sometimes she could travel a little faster, but she trusted that she was still on the road.  She could feel it.

So (driving safety aside), I'm thinking we can use this.  It's sort of like gravity, we don't question gravity.  We just know that it operates all the time, at all times on earth, without exception, unless we create very special circumstances.  We don't  let go of our coffee mug in mid air, because we know instinctively that it will fall.    My friend just trusted that the road was there.  

It's the same way with our innate wellness and wisedom.  Many people walk into my office and want to be fixed.  They believe they are broken.  They feel broken.  Often they believe someone else broke them, or they were never well or wise to begin with.  But just like the road, just like gravity, our wellness and our wisdom is there.   Sometimes the fog rolls in.  Sometimes our innocent human thinking and our emotions run through us and cloud our wisdom and our wellness and our vision.  Sometimes we even want to believe we are broken.  We want someone to fix us.  We want to be rescued or saved or taken care of.  We believe that if we have to do it ourselves, or take care of ourselves that means we are not valued or worthy or that we matter.  We hook all of our self worth to how others treat us or take care of us.  We need to feel broken in order to get fixed in order to believe that we matter.

Of course we need human care and love and nurture from others.  We need to know we matter. And these things help us clear the fog.  But really, the road is always there.  There is always gravity.  We are well and whole and wise and we can get glimpses of it, insights, relief, when we trust that we may be in a foggy patch, but that it will clear,  and we will move through it.  It will move through us, if we let it.  Sometimes, we do have to wait it out, sometimes we keep moving, but the fog will lift.  And the road is still there.

I'm not suggesting anyone drive unsafely, literally, in bad weather.  But I think we can use the idea to help point us to how we can move forward with faith, even when we can't see so clearly at times, as long as we know we are generally on the right road.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Power Lines: It's Not Our First Thought That Matters

Many of us have the idea that we cannot control our thoughts.  Sometimes we are ashamed of our thinking, or we feel ruled by it.  Sometimes we question it, and other times we just take our thoughts as givens.  We don't even know we are thinking sometimes, let alone feeling what we are thinking and reacting to it.

Especially in the world of addiction work, we often hear the idea that we are powerless.  And we are, I think, to some degree.  We are powerless over certain things and certain situations and certainly when it comes to other people.  But to what extent?  To what extent are we not powerless? To what extent do we effect other people?  To what extent are we effected by others? To what extent can we tune in to and work with our thoughts? Where are our power lines?

We all have a natural human flow of thought that moves through us.  And we are powerless over those thoughts as they initially run through us.  But we are not powerless over how we respond to them.  We are not powerless  to increase our awareness of them. We are not powerless to question them, slow them down, examine them and decide if they are true or false, or if we are assigning good and bad to them based on how we think of them.  And we are certainly not powerless over putting or not putting ourselves in places, or with people or in circumstances that we know will trigger thoughts that we may not want to have running through us.  We are not nearly as powerless as we think we are, or even as we might like to be sometimes.  I'm not saying that its easy necessarily, but I am saying that life can look pretty different and so many things can get so much better when we open up to the idea of opening up our minds to how we see things and what we believe.

Many times while we are unpacking the pain and examining the thoughts and the stories and our assignment of good and bad to things, we bump into our own inner competing priorities, needs, parts, morals and desires.  It's not always easy to sort it all out, but we stand a much better chance when we at least have some idea of where our power lines are.