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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nothing to Say (Everything to Say, actually)

There are times when things seem so bleak that we think we have nothing to say. Often, when we think or feel or believe that we have nothing to say, it's because, in fact, we have everything to say. Perhaps we just don't have the right ears to hear it, or we are fearful of not being understood, or of being misunderstood. Maybe we are afraid that we won't get the right words out, or in the right tone, or with the right message. Maybe its because we have experienced being told we are wrong, or we have experienced being dismissed or diminished or disrespected. Perhaps we feel hopeless that our words will not matter or make the desired impact. Maybe we are not at all sure what impact we would like them to make.

Fear, frustration and fury often lurk beneath the surface of "nothing to say." Sometimes, we have the idea that we if say what we want to say it will cause harm, or more harm, or will create a distance rather than a closeness. Of course, this is true at times. Hence the old adage "Does it have to be said? Does it have to be said now? And does it have to be said by me?"

And another sage saying "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Don't say it mean." These are handy ideas, but sometimes we don't know what we mean. We need to talk things out a bit first in order to figure out what we mean. And sometimes we do sound mean, when we are angry, impulsive or emotionally seeking to lash out at someone who has hurt or frustrated us.

So how do we choose the right words, the right ears, the right time or place? When do we say what we need to say? When do we wait?

A few things, perhaps, can help. First, it helps to know what the goal is. What is it we are seeking? Second, it helps to know what kind of response we might like. Third, it helps to know what kind of effect we might want to have.

When we need to just talk, freely, openly, without reserve, without worry of our effect or our affect, to just be heard, and perhaps understood and supported, then we need more neutral ears.

If we want to inflict pain (if we've been hurt), it helps to know that. If we want to get a message across, get information, get insight, it helps to know that as well. Our choices can be be guided by our goals when we pause to consider what they are. It helps to slow down a bit and give ourselves the gift of relief in ways that help heal us.

It also helps to know that when we feel blocked into silence we can respect that, but we can also know that it does not mean that we have no outlet. We can look under the block and find the right path out.

Monday, April 11, 2011


"...I started to write about my envy. I got to look in some cold dark corners, see what was there, shine a little light on what we all have in common. Sometimes this human stuff is slimy and pathetic - jealousy especially so - but better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned." ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

First of all, let me say that if you are looking for a bit of comfort and company in a moment of quiet sadness, any of Anne Lamott's non-fiction books will do the trick. I am unabashedly a big fan.

Next, I wanted to write a bit about jealousy, since it comes up often in the work of psychotherapy. Jealousy implies that someone else has something (or someone) that we believe we want, need and cannot ourselves have. In its most painful form, it can leave us feeling bitter, undeserving, deprived and altogether twisted.

In my office folks come in to sort through jealousy of many varieties. I often hear about how the parents, marriages, accomplishments, finances or talents of others are more desireable, better than, or just better.

Some folks are jealous of what seems to be other people's peace of mind, mental stability, spirituality or inner calm. What I find to be so real and so human is that as painful as jealousy can be, most of the time, the things we want are things we can have, and the things we cannot have are things that may very well not be good for us, for our exact nature, character or personal growth.

Jealousy implies that what we do have, what we "yes" have, is unacceptable, not enough, or insignificant. It implies that we are less than.

Jealousy's greateness however, is that though it can be painful, it can also be our teacher. If we hang out with it for a bit, and see what else comes up, we may find out a great deal about what our deepest wounds are, as well as how to heal them. We can also discover what our deepest wishes are, what our priorities are, what we value, and what we might strive for.

Sometimes jealousy is a familiar part of our past emotional lives, a feeling we grew up experiencing, perhaps about or around a sibling or parent or friend. Maybe feeling it is familiar, and sets us up to act in old familiar ways or feel other old familiar feelings. Like being unloved, or left out, or deprived. For some, jealousy was, or is, a great motivator, helping to spur us on to achieve and accomplish.

We can employ jealousy by studying it, and not bracing for it. We can let it take us to that part of us that is so human, where we can forgive ourselves and accept all of our feelings. Jealousy can reteach us that we can be willing to believe that no matter what color the grass seems to be on the other side of the fence, we can plant our own grass and help it to grow.

From there, we can begin to heal, to feel better, to grace ourselves and to find out how to get more of what is available to us, and to reach real satsifaction within ourselves and our lives.