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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Better is Not So Far Away is Here (small steps do actually move you forward)

At long last and with much gratitude to all who helped with this project - Better is Not So Far Away is finally not so far away!  It was released by McGraw-Hill Education a few weeks ago.

For me, one of the best things about the experience of writing this book and seeing it through to publication is the experience of seeing a process made up of many small "next right steps" and "keeping on keeping on" come to life.

Sometimes process is difficult to wait through, especially when there is emotional pain, confusion, or a feeling of time passing.  There are so many things that are worth shining the light on to see what lies below the surface of our wantings, our longings, our pull or push to move things along.

And sometimes here in the office, we see the opposite - the hesitancy to change, to move forward, a pull toward staying with or in the status quo, to keeping things as they are.  Sometimes this is fear of change, a clinging to what is known and familiar. Even in emotional pain, changing or saying, thinking, feeling, doing something new, can seem too risky, too strange, too different and unpredictable.

And the culture backlash these days to the competitive, achievement focused world is to encourage mindfulness, personal vulnerability from a position of self reflection and grace and gratitude.  And to be in the moment.  In the small moments of the moments of the day.  But even this, sometimes, can seem too far away or like a pressure of a different sort.

What I came to believe through the process of writing this book is that you can have both.  Back and forth and with ease at times, and at other times, a bit of difficulty.  But the difficulty is so valuable because when you get through each bump, there is a renewed sense of purpose, of accomplishment, of both quiet mindfulness and personal movement and meaning.

It means that just doing one more next right small thing is small enough that you don't have to jump farther or go faster than you can, but that you can go somewhat forward toward progress and still not miss the meaningful private moments in life.  That you can compare yourself to yourself, and that it does add up to something as well, but the process is in its own right is something of value, and the destination comes along as a soft reminder that we don't really have to move fast or big.

Things don't always have to be exciting to count.  They can count just because they are part of our process.  When we look at how we spend our time, what is valuable to us to devote our attention to, we can  - yes - have meaning and movement both getting there and being there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Crash - Could Have Been Worse Though (and the power of words)

My friend K (yes it was my friend and not me!) was in car accident coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel last week.  For those of you not familiar with the traffic spillage out of Manhattan into New Jersey, I'll say this: at certain hours its not so merge out of the tunnels, up the hill, around the bend and more merging for a mile or so until you have to decide which direction in New Jersey you want to go - Turnpike, or west, local or north - there are lots of signs, lots of lanes, and not a real heads up as to which sign matches which lane.    As often happens in New Jersey, by the time you see the sign - it's often too late to get into the correct lane.

So coming out of the tunnel K was driving beside but behind an eighteen wheeler with an out of state (out of area) license plate.  And somehow she was in his blind spot and he saw the sign he needed and the exit sneaking right up and he slid over into her lane and into her van  - and crash.

And it wasn't so bad - given the fast flow of traffic, the confusion, the hills and the bends and the rush - it's a miracle no one was hurt.  So here's the heart of the story:

K stayed in her car, but the truck driver got out and boy was he mad.  He was red; he was yelling, cursing and coming at her.  She had kids in her car.  Everyone was okay, but she was shaken from the bump - even though it wasn't huge - still.

So she rolled her window down and while he was yelling about where she came from and where she should go - she said "Are you okay?" and then "Are you hurt?"  And he sort of stopped his tirade for a second.  And then she smiled at him and said "Really, are you alright?"  And then he paused again and said, "Yeah, yeah, I think so."  And then, "Are you?"  And then he looked in the van.  And he said, "The kids okay?"  And she said, "Yes, a little shaky, but okay."

"I didn't see you," He said.  "I'm not from around here.  It's so confusing."
"I know," She said. "It's difficult, even for locals."

By the time the cops came, they were friends.

And you know, it happens, that some of us are quick to anger -especially given the circumstances, the frustration, we all have our moments.  (And yes, when those moments are the norm, and they effect those around us, we should probably tend to it).

It's a tall order to respond the way K did, especially in the moment.  But that's K.  She has slowed herself down over the years, and somehow sensed that there was a frustrated person inside, who could use a little help, even though he was not sounding so good.  She saw he needed help calming down, and she had the presence of mind and the words to do it.

I also know that when we are dealing with our own built up resentment or frustration or hurt, its hard to pause, to be curious, to help someone calm down and to find the person inside, behind the yelling, or the ignoring or the withdrawing.   But it is amazing what the right words can do.  That's all.  Just saying.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Changing the Direction of Your Inner World - Thank You

It's not that we don't want to change things in our outer world - or in the world in general.  There are usually always things that could be better, sweeter, easier in our relationships and our lives.  And certainly in the world around us.  There is always a need for growth and most often, a struggle to get there.

What comes up here in the office a lot is how changing the direction of our inner world can not only bring us more ease, more clarity, more satisfaction, but it is also a way of being of service to the world around us.  It's a win win.

So it seems that one good way to change the wind and sail in a different direction both internally and externally is by upping the use of gratitude.  Yes, we know that focusing on what we "yes" have can offset our pain a bit and help us not feel so deprived and stuck.  We know that it does not erase our hurts, but it can pave the way to new thoughts and better feelings. But...

Several new studies out are now confirming that actually saying "Thank You" to others - even - and maybe especially for the "little" things - like taking out the garbage, holding the door open, making dinner, remembering to call can make a big impact.  Seems like the words themselves make a difference.  In the worthy discussion of whether we should act ourselves into thinking or think ourselves into action in order to feel better and have better, saying thank you is on the simple side.

Apparently, saying thank you brings in more money, improves work performance, improves cooperation, brings reciprocity, and creates good feelings in both the speaker and the receiver.  We know this, but now more science is backing us up and common sense is not so common so we have to keep saying it.

It's not always easy of course.  If there is a brick wall of resentment or old hurts or disappointments between you and the world or you and a particular person, it's harder to do.  We may not feel like it. We may not want to, think we should or should have to.  But it's a small action.  Nothing grand, but words do make a difference and not just to the person we say them to.  Our words shape us, they shape our inner and outer worlds.  Instead of waiting for the wind to change, we can put  good vibes out  - they will come back to us.  I'm not saying that things will magically change, nor should we ignore our feelings, of course, but when we don't know where to start, two small words can be one small step. They will help take down the bricks.

Thank you for reading.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Give it Up (And Small is the New Big)

I recently read an article about a couple who's marriage was on the rocks, so they started feeding the homeless in their city.  The couple was full of resentment and rage, and believed deeply that it was mostly - if not all - the other person's fault.  They were each convinced that other was beyond hope.  They would make statements, like lots of folks who come to see me for marital therapy do, like "I know I've got my faults but really this is all his/her doing..."  Or  "If s/he would just..."   And sometimes its true.  Sometimes a partner has a real personality disorder.  Sometimes there is just too much resentment, hurt, betrayal to move forward.  The pain and anger are just a brick wall.  But even when this is true, I think there are ways to get relief.

So this couple that I read about, who had not been speaking to each other for a year or so, and had not had sex in as long or longer, started to get active in helping others.  First the wife, in her emotional pain and deep loneliness, decided one day that if she could not fix her own life, and since she was suffering so much, she could at least bring some comfort to someone else.  It would give her a purpose somehow.  So she made some sandwiches and got some bottled water and set out to downtown in her city and handed them out to some folks who looked like they could use them.

She was well received by most, and so decided she'd do it again.  And then again.  And soon she was doing it more and more.  And her husband saw and he was quiet.  But then one day he offered to help her carry some things.  And she somehow decided to let him.  And then somehow, slowly he started to help more and then more.  And somehow, they started to get back far more than they were giving.  They were feeding others, but really, they were being nourished.

I am not going to tell you that all was peachy and the resentment of the past just floated away into nothingness.  Or that they fell in love all over again.  Or that you should give in order to get back, or with the intention that it will pay off.  

Except that it does.  Somehow, the giving shapes you.  It softens the hard edges and smooths over some of the bumps, just enough to ease things somewhat and open new doors.  And I think, too, that small is the new big.  We don't have to go big or go home anymore.  We just have to go.  Just a little.  A smile, a sandwich, holding open a door, yielding someone the right of way with a wave.  Lots of things count.  A little at a time.

I'm not saying its the cure-all.  But it sure does get us out of ourselves for a bit.  And when we are hurt or hurting, giving, being of service can make all the difference.  Quiet.  Powerful.
and worth trying.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In the Now

"The time we have here is so short..." ~ an 80 year old colleague of mine who is still practicing

I recently had the good fortune to spend some time with a colleague of mine who is in well into her senior years.  She was talking about her experience over the course of her lifetime in both her private practice and in her personal life.  She is healthy, mentally and emotionally and physically, and grateful for all.  And she has, too, some regrets.  But she carries them with her in a nostalgic tone - and she tells me that even with so much emotional pain during different stages in her life that have come and gone over the years both with her clients and in her own life - that one thing that has always helped her has been to be open to being "in the now" of the good and quiet nature and  the universal pace of life.

What she meant by that is this: that even in emotional pain, in anger, anxiety, in grief, in loneliness, there are still moments in the day that are quiet, that are calm, that are accessible.  And that perhaps especially in the midst of all the feelings and all the noise in our heads when we are in all the feelings, it is so important to allow all the feelings and then too, it can be so helpful, to just turn our attention to the blue sky, to the warm sun, to the gentle breeze.  To just be in the moment, even if for a moment.  

It helps us to step out - even if just in our mind - of the circumstance, of our thinking and step into the other part of the story, into the part of life that is just the movement of the day, the nature of life, the gratitude of having air to breathe, clean drinking water, eyes that can read.  And to tap into the knowledge that we can make our human efforts to continuously work on and know ourselves, to deepen our consciousness and work better with difficult people and difficult situations but too that being in the now is where we are supposed to be, even when things are confusing, or they hurt.  Things pass; they shift.  And when we have the idea that we do not always have to be in our thinking or in our feelings, we can get in touch with a quieter, instinctively healthy and calmer voice, a peaceful self and some much needed reprieve and relief.

When we are in pain emotionally time can seem to go so slow.  We wait and wait for it to pass, for something new to present itself, for the feelings to lift.  And they do, usually, if we let them come and go and if we have the idea that we can't hurry things or push them along, but we can be in the now, and in the "other" now, of the universal nature of living life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Sometimes doing no work at all is doing work.

In the middle of our busy lives, it can seem counter-productive to just stop and do nothing.  Many of us do not have the idea that doing nothing is actually doing something.  In fact, when I suggest just sitting around, sitting still, and really doing nothing most people tell me that they feel guilty.  That they should be doing something. The laundry, the cooking, the bills, the lawn, the closet that needs cleaned out.  Something. 

But here in the middle of a summer's week, especially, I think, its a good time to just practice doing nothing.  Just for a few minutes.  Take a quick time out and just be.  Don't meditate, or contemplate, or ruminate.  Walk away from the electronics and just sit quietly for a few minutes. 

It is actually something.  It is the practice of just being in the moment, in the day, in your self.  It is the work of slowing down, and stepping out, even if just for a moment or two from the daily rush, not just of the busy-ness of the day, but the busy-ness of your mind. 

Especially for those who are in some kind of emotional pain, have some kind of decision to make, are confused, feeling lots of feelings at once, or in rapid succession.  Just taking a breather can feel like work, it can feel like too much too do, to just sit.  But it is the work of taking good care of yourself, the work of leaving your mind alone for a minute or two and that counts.  It counts because when you pick back up again you might find that you are somewhat, slightly, subtly, just a bit more able to do what is the next on the never ending list of things to do. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Worry Train or Hang Gliding on Feelings (the stories we tell ourselves)

I have often written about how our thoughts are like lightening during the day.  I think this is especially true for anxious thoughts that cause worry feelings.  Many people feel some sort of unease in their life, and experience the unease in their bodies as well.  For some the experience is a  very big and obvious feeling of discomfort and for others it  feels more like a low, but  uncomfortable vibration just underneath the surface.

We all have so many thoughts all the time, many of which we are not consciously aware of - that is the nature of thought and of the human experience. But understanding how and why we attach ourselves to those thoughts and can go a long way towards influencing our experience of each other, of life, of ourselves. 

When a thought or thought pattern comes into our head and we latch on, or start hang gliding on it, we close ourselves off to deeper levels of consciousness, of awareness about what we are thinking, and we close off the possibility of the thoughts and feelings passing without any action having to take place; we shut off the possibility of new, more relaxing, life giving ideas and feelings coming to us.
Deciding to be less attached to each thought or to turn the volume down on our thoughts by looking out for negative thinking patterns and not latching on so fast does not mean dishonoring our emotional pain or checking our brains at the door.  It means paying deeper attention to what we are experiencing and being open to letting it breath so that it can pass through if it's meant to pass and to open us back up again to new ideas and new ways of experiencing our world. 

It seems too simple at times, to say, lighten up or cheer up or chin up, or to tell yourself a new story.  Our old stories have meaning to us, sometimes we don't even know how much meaning they have or how much we believe that they protect us or serve us.  We can be afraid to see things differently or to let things go.  We can feel very entitled to our feelings, and we may very well be, but it's worth considering that being open to understanding more about how and why we think the way we do, or to letting our feelings and thoughts come, but also go, and not deciding to hang glide on one or two, can be very liberating.   The worry train can pull into the station, but we don't always have to get on.  We can notice it.  We can let it pull out of the station and keep going, and see if a better train pulls in.

You might be surprised at the outcome.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Fabric of Pain

“Pain is like fabric: The stronger it is, the more it’s worth.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
I'm not totally sure about this one, but it's good grist for the mill.  What do you think?
Perhaps in the deep end of emotional pain, it doesn't matter really what, if anything, the pain is worth.
On the other hand, if at least the hurt is worth something, it helps it to be more bearable.  If we can feel it, allow it, without acting on it in ways that hurt us or hurt others, if we can name it and say it and know it, and learn something from it, then perhaps it is worth something of value to us.
Not that you would sign up for it, but most people have some kind of pain at some point in life.  And if you can get curious about what the fabric of your pain is made of, you often find that there much more to it.  Most pain has mixed colors, mixed textures, old and new feelings, patterns, origins.  Pain teaches us about what we value, what we need, what we believe.  It teaches us to look  more deeply at life, and then, to not.  To give ourselves a break and a breather.
Sometimes there is not a clear way through.  There are lots of good therapies, techniques, principals, methods, theories to help us clear away the blocks to knowing more about ourselves, to changing our state of mind, our not-so-useful-anymore behaviors, our attitudes, our feelings.  But when it comes down to it, I think we have to trust our own process, our own innate sense of what we can take in and how we metabolize feelings and ideas. 
There is often an urgency associated with pain, understandably, and of course.  It can be very hard to tolerate.  Anger, frustration, hurt, loneliness, self pity, grief.  They can get overwhelming and the urge to "get rid of" or to distance ourselves from those feelings can seem full of charge.  But the process of being with ourselves and in our experience and getting through can and does have value if we look for it, and better can and does come, and we can turn around and use that to help ourselves further, and to help others, and that, I'm pretty sure, is worth something.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lightening During the Day

Sometimes people come in to therapy and they tell me "I shouldn't feel this way."  Or "I know I should know better by now."  Or "I wish I was not so angry, or hurt or dependent or obsessed." 
Whatever feeling it is that is hard to bear, or feels shameful, or frustrating or overwhelming.  And especially if that feeling has been around a while and has not been tended to, not been talked about, explored, understood, validated or worked through.  And especially if there has been no relief or resolution.  And then, even more so, if there is a person connected to that feeling - and that person does not see the effect they have had, or does not understand, self reflect or participate in the healing.  And one more especially - especially if that person then blames you, or believes that you are the (only or real) cause of the feeling and the problem.

If difficult feelings sit for too long without being tended to, they tend then, to live in us in ways that cause us more bad feelings, and can effect our emotional, physical and spiritual heath.   Sometimes they go underground and then pop up suddenly when we least expect it.  Or they lay low, and we know something is wrong, something hurts, or is weighing on us, but we don't quite know what it is.

We feel how we feel.  But it doesn't end there, and it shouldn't.  Even with the worst of feelings, and in the worst of hurts, there are resources available to us and for us.  There are ways to take good care of ourselves, to help our thinking shift and help us out of the bad feelings and into better ones.  Even without the participation of the other person, when there is one.   Even when we want our bad feelings somehow, even if they keep us connected to something or someone, or are functioning somehow to protect us, there are often ways to use what we feel to give us insight, meaning and progress and help us stop repeating the same internal stress.

Many of our thoughts and feelings are like lightening during the day.... they are there, active, operating, lighting us up, influencing our actions, reactions and choices, but we cannot really see them unless we make a conscious effort to, and  to change the way we tend to them.

There are lots of methods for how to do this.  There are many different therapies, spiritual paths, systems out there, each with their own approach and appeal.  But in one way or another, they all require consciousness of ourselves and willingness to tend to our thoughts, perspectives, beliefs and feelings.    It almost doesn't matter which path you walk, so long as you are walking.  Wishing not to feel how you feel or having feelings about your feelings is natural, but, but there is more. 
There is more to the story and it's good to find out what it is.

Monday, April 28, 2014

April: Memory and Desire

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land    

It's almost the end of April and in the Northeast we are slowly inching toward better weather.  It is, I think, finally, getting warm.

The sunshine and good weather are definitely good news especially for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, depression, and anxiety.  The ability to step outside and tilt one's face toward the sun, absorb some Vitamin D and take deep breaths of fresh air can go a long way toward lifting moods and calming fears.

When I read this poem from T.S. Elliot I am moved by how much it conveys some truths of emotional pain.  Especially grief and longing.  The blending of remembering what was, or what was lost, or even the fantasy of what was, or what was lost, and longing for those good feelings, or that person, or for emotional relief and contentment to trump the hurting.

We are resilient.  It may not always feel like it, but I believe it's true.  Sometimes we need a lot of soul searching, a lot of talking, a lot nurturing and some rigorous but gentle honesty about what we really need, how we are behaving, what we hope for, expect and desire.  And we can't always push the process, move the months, the way we might like to, but relief comes, progress happens, I believe.  Things open up when you keep looking.

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.