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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Meeting Yourself Where You Are (Even if you are a hot mess)

Lately I've been talking with a lot of folks who don't want to feel how they feel. And then, more deeply, are trying not to feel how they feel. And of course this is so very human, to want relief, to want to distance ourselves from feelings and situations that are painful, uncomfortable and seemingly unbearable.
It's not that we can't tolerate a bit of sadness now and again, or that we expect to feel great all the time. Most of us understand that moods ebb and flow, so do hormones, brain chemistry, and connectedness in relationships.

But sometimes we get caught up not only in the difficulty of feeling bad feelings, but in the wish and struggle not to feel them. And while, as always, I think that talking things out goes a long way toward relief, progress and new insights and ideas, there are some basics that I think help while we are on the path:

Meet yourself where you are. If you are feeling awful, don't fight it. As bad as anger, frustration, grief can feel, trying not to feel what you feel only delays true relief.

But that doesn't mean that you can't take a breather. If you are a hot mess, cool off a bit by writing things out, talking things through, taking a walk, or a run. Use the rule of three: Wait three hours, three days or three weeks before making decisions based on your feelings. While you are waiting, consult with someone neutral and trustworthy. Making decisions when you are a hot mess can be risky.
And easy does it. When you are in acute emotional pain, go easy on yourself. Bad feelings do pass, and when things ease up a bit, you can take a broader look at what's going on, and put your attention toward making things better all around.
Consider studying your feelings a bit. Even when you feel revved up with a mess of difficult feelings, you can take a deep breath and few minutes of quiet. Anger can teach us what we stand for and believe in. Fear, what helps us to feel safe. Frustration, what we might long for. Are your feelings familiar? Do they remind you anything or anyone? What memories do they evoke? What are your usual coping strategies? Do they work? Where are you successful in finding good relief, and where could you do better?

Though intense bad feelings may be hard to bear, they are also guideposts to our past, our desires and to progress. Even hot messes can yield us better feelings when agree to be with ourselves a bit and go easy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"S/he Does Not Love Me for Who I Am...but Only for What I Do for him/her..." 5 Relationship Love Myths that Can Break You

Just in time for Valentine's Day! And of course, served up with my usual suggestion that talking helps. It's useful to take a deeper look at why we believe what we do about love and companionship and what it takes to create and enjoy good loving relationships.

Sometimes our beliefs are well grounded and supported by experience. And sometimes, it only seems that way. And they lead to decisions that may not always yield good results. Sometimes, beliefs seem to be supported by facts, but actually, they are myths so embedded in the psyche, that they lead folks down a rocky road. So here are a few of the more common ones....let me know what you think.

Myth #1: S/he does not love me for who I am, but only for what I do for him/her. Okay, I do hear this more from women than from men, but it still derails many a good relationship. The truth is, I think, that we do love our partners both for who they are and for what they do for us. But when we somehow feel used, or unappreciated or are living with unresolved anger or frustration, we feel unloved. And we start to gather evidence for this. And then we decide that it's true. S/he does not love us. Or we decide that our partner is not capable of real love, or that we are not lovable. This myth can be toxic to relationships, and this leads to the next myth (and vice verse):

Myth #2 I do not have to tell my partner with words that I love him/her or show him/her with gestures. They should know. Or they do know. Or s/he is so confident, independent, happy, etc., I really don't have to say or do much. Now, most folks say, when they hear this, "of course, I know I should say it more, or show it more, but its not really that important." The fact is, that most of us need to hear the words and see some evidence on a regular (daily) basis. Bring home his/her favorite dessert. Shovel the sidewalk when she asks. Call often. Order tickets to his favorite sporting event. Buy flowers. Clean up a room. Plan something fun. Whatever s/he says will make him/her feel loved, don't analyze it, just say it and do it. Regularly.

Myth #3 Its fine to tell my partner what is wrong with them and how their family of origin contributed to their personality and character, hang-ups and issues. This does not bother him/her Fact: You may have a lot of insight, and in fact, you may very well be right. And of course, when someone wants to, studying family of origin stuff can really help people to learn more about what has shaped them and if and how they might like to shift things. But telling your spouse what's wrong with him/her and how his/her family caused this is most likely to land wrong and be hurtful. I am definitely a believer in being gently curious about this in therapy, but it often pierces like little bullets when said outside the therapy room. Its one thing to understand your spouse's history, and that may even be helpful to your relationship, but telling him/her what's wrong with their family usually causes a rip, even when they know you are right.

Myth #4 If I have to tell or teach him/her what makes me feel loved, then they don't really love me.

Myth #5 If they don't catch on right away, remember, or if I have to repeat it a lot, then they really don't love me.

I know that if you are in emotional pain, especially from extreme frustration, or have been feeling neglected and disappointed for a long time, its hard to be willing to consider that your beliefs about love may really be myths. Of course, there are times when we don't get what we need and we believe we never will and we decide its time to make a change. But I really encourage taking a look at what keeps you attached to your beliefs. Its often worth considering, even when you think these myths are not operating in your relationship. It's so human to want to make sure we are loved, to feel and believe we are loved. Even in the best of relationships, doubt can nudge at us. Its so worthwhile to take a look at what scares us and what reassures us, and weed out the myths.