Category Archives: therapy

If The Shoe Fits

A number of years ago a woman came into see me because she was incredibly frustrated with her husband.  She sat down and began telling me that her husband recently told her she was crazy!  She obviously found this very hurtful.  I agreed and asked her to provide some context.

She went on to explain that they had been eating dinner at home.  When he finished his meal he pushed his plate forward a bit, stood up from his chair and began to leave the table.  She quickly told him that he needed to put his plate in the sink and that is when he told her she was crazy.

I asked her if this was an unusual act for him and if he normally put his own plate in the sink.  She quickly responded saying “NO! That’s the problem.  For twenty years he has been leaving his plate on the table for me to put it away.  But on that night I had had enough and told him he needed to do it himself.  And that is when he told me I was crazy!”

I looked at her and told her she was crazy!

I’m not usually so blunt, but this was so blatant, and yet she was unable to see what was happening.  For 20 years she had been teaching her husband that she would take care of his plate.  She may not have liked doing it; she may have thought it unfair, but she was actively maintaining an expectation for 20 years.  And then one day she changed the rules and became angry with HIM for not jumping on board when she changed her expectations and his.  She never considered the possibility that he may have some surprise, much less aversion to the new rule.

Everybody knows that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.  But another definition is abruptly changing the rule that you have personally contributed to designing and maintaining.  So is expecting everyone else to acquire the same level of motivation and commitment for that change by osmosis.

I am seeing a number of women in particular right now who seem to be struggling with getting their husbands to accept new rules because dynamics have changed for these women.  Some have gone back to work, others have started a family.  In some cases these women have simply matured in their needs. As they get more pressured for time, or simply grown tired of continuing to do for their husbands what they may have eagerly signed up for in the past, they want their husband to “want to change” in the way their wives want them to change.  What many women (and some men as well) fail to consider is that their partner was in part attracted to them because of the very behaviors they now want to abolish.  Imagine that you go to a store that gives you free stuff for years.  You love the store until one day they say no more free stuff, and let you know that you are greedy because you keep coming in and expecting them to continue the practice.  Maybe the store has a very good reason, like it can’t make a profit by giving away free stuff anymore.  Regardless of the rationale, you’re likely to feel a bit cheated or at very least surprised by the change in policy.  (If you want proof, talk to someone who is this week absorbing the new Starbucks rewards policy!)

At the start of this type of discussion with me, a woman usually wants me to help her figure out how to get her husband to change.  It doesn’t take long for me to help her understand that the only one who she is capable of changing is herself.

I’ve made this discussion gender biased for the sake of expedience, but the reality is that the dilemma is gender neutral.  We all begin teaching others what our rules for engagement are from our very first meeting.  If a pattern is embedded in our relationship that no longer works for us, it is up to us to take responsibility for how it began.  Our partners (romantic or otherwise) can always introduce a behavior to us, but we are the ones who give it permission to stay in place by what we do in response to the introduction.  When we make room for it to stay, stay it will.  And when we are the initiators of a behavior because we want the other person to think about us in a particular way, then we alone are the ones responsible for maintaining that behavior.  We are responsible for coming come clean about our motives and make recommendations openly and honestly about having changed our willingness to continue the practice.  We also have to be willing to accept the consequences of changing expectations for both us and our partner.  If I have always been willing to work overtime off the clock because I wanted my boss to think I’m a great employee and I elect to stop that one day, my boss may change his opinion of me, or even worse.  I have to be willing to accept that possibility.

How about taking a look at some of the patterns that, you may be less than thrilled with in your relationships?  Can you identify how you either initiated them or made them possible to stick by your behavior?

Enough is Enough

Someone asked me yesterday how a person ever knows when they are enough.  I thought I would use this post to try and tease out a more thorough answer.

This much I think I know.  I know that for a long period of my earlier life I did not think I was enough.  I thought I wasn’t smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough, thin enough, and probably a whole host of other things, had I thought about them for very long.  How did I know this?  Because there was always someone around me who appeared to be enough and I was different than them.

Today I’m still different than people around me in a variety of ways.  That much hasn’t changed.  But what has changed, is both how I interpret and measure others and myself.  In fact, the gap itself is no longer the measure of anything except difference.

When a person is pretty, they simply are pretty.  It doesn’t make them better or more, it just means they are pretty.  Being more pretty is not a measure of their enoughness, or mine.  Even if they are extremely pretty.

But to disassemble a system of measurement, something else has to take its place.  I think the new system is based on truth, acceptance and having a much wider lens than I previously used.  Let me try and take these one at a time.

Truth:  So often I deluded myself into thinking that acquiring something, be it a physical item like clothing, or less tangible like an achievement would afford me a sense of completion and grant me permission to whatever status group I wanted membership.  Of course every acquisition only left me more depleted and feeling still more illegitimate.  So truth means to see symbols for what they are and to not chase them at the cost of authentic self- development.  Truth also means to search inward to determine whether or not I have truly put forth an honest effort with pure motives.  If I have, it is enough.

A wider lens:  Maturity is largely responsible for adding this tool into my toolbox.  Like many people I too was prone to what I call snap shot thinking.  I only saw life in small snippets, a moment in time.  When I see a beautiful person and think their life is beautiful based on that moment in time, I am severely limiting my view point.  I don’t know if that same individual has financial, emotional, spiritual, physical or relationship challenges.  I don’t know how much effort went in to achieving that beauty and at what cost.  In fact I know nothing about the person.  But if I give them a winning score and compare myself to that winning score, I am not enough.

To widen the lens does not mean to find fault with the other person.  It means to find humanness within both that, other individual (or circumstance) and my own.  Otherwise, it’s like measuring two things, one with English and the other with metric.  They won’t match.  Widening the lens also means for me, to include faith in something much greater than the constraints of this world and my own humanness.  The dilemma with relying only on this world is that it is all so fragile and fleeting.  It’s truly like building a castle in the sand knowing the tide’s arrival is but a few short hours away. It is easier to see one as enough when you strip away the layers of triviality and build on something wider.

Finally there is acceptance.   To accept that I am enough is an active act of willingness.  It is a willingness to ACT.  It means to live with that knowledge and to make choices accordingly.  If I am enough, then it means to live as if that is true.  It means to no longer invest all of my energy into the pursuit of what I think will make me more.  It means to speak more kindly of myself and to not withhold rewards until I reach some higher earned level of wholeness.  And it means to not hold back my efforts with the excuse that they are not important or won’t matter.  They matter. 

This is personal and based on my path.  And please let me be clear that I have no illusion that this is a static and fixed level, but is rather, a work in progress that I need to frequently remind myself about.  I hope there is something useful for you to take while developing your own sense of enoughness. 

 

Even the Experts Fall Down

Last night was the final showdown on America’s Got Talent. The little guy who scales the tall ladders is clearly not going to win. Last week he took a nasty tumble off of the high ladder. He was saved on the show,  I suspect somewhat out of curiosity and mostly out of sympathy. Even though he was given another a chance to perform last night, he had a very mediocre showing that can’t possibly win him the grand prize. He did his best, but it turns out he was taken to the hospital last week by ambulance after the show. He obviously sustained some injuries that made it far more difficult for him to perform anything strenuous or risky in his final performance. Unfortunately, that pretty much sealed his fate on the show. He may be a professional, but even professionals fall sometimes. And they fall not just in practice, but during peak performances as well.

I describe myself throughout my life as someone who had a few hard knocks along the way, bummed or sad from time to time, but never as one who was “officially depressed”. Until my second pregnancy that is. I pretty much spent 8 months throwing up daily and in general not having a good time despite the fact that, it took me nearly a year of trying to get pregnant with Andrew. I very much wanted a second child and was elated when it finally happened. It also occurred at a wonderful time in our marriage and while I was enjoying toddler years of my eldest child Alex. However, the pregnancy itself was pretty miserable. And over a few months I became clinically depressed. I found it difficult to do anything except get to work and get home. I had to force myself to find joy in Alex at the time, and often would sit and cry for no apparent reason just to get it out of my system. I remember once watching a movie, putting it on pause, taking a bath and crying in the bathtub and then returning to the movie as if I could finally concentrate.

I spoke with my doctor about it at the time and he suggested I try an anti-depressant. He gave me samples that I brought home but elected not to take. I had hoped to nurse Andrew and the antidepressants would have been a no no. I decided to try and get through the remainder of the pregnancy and then decide but I was certain if I continued to feel the way I did after delivery, I was going to take medication. Lucky for me my mood lifted almost immediately after his birth. I remember having a similar reaction but to a lesser contrast, after my first delivery so I was more relieved than surprised.

But this experience taught me first-hand the difference between I’m unhappy and clinical depression. Since that time, in fact I have gone on medication. It seems that my hormones have a mind of their own and don’t always play nicely in my body. Heading into menopause I again talked with my doctor about my less than optimal mood. I didn’t feel blue that time, but I sure was cranky. Very very cranky even though again, my life on the outside looked pretty good to me. And while I’ve tried a couple of times to wean off medication, I think I’ve finally accepted that my body no longer makes on its one whatever it is supposed to, in order for me to not bite the head off of an inefficient bank teller without the help of a little jolt of Celexa.

So I would say for the most part I’m a pro at this mood thing at least certainly in comparison to my non-medicated (or untrained as the metaphor goes) self. But that said I still have my moments. This past week I had my days. I found myself feeling uncharacteristically blue for a few days. I didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of work. I had little motivation to do anything and subsequently got little done. I didn’t want to hear the radio or a book on tape. Ironically, I had been listening to Dan Harris’s 10 percent happier when it hit. And I slept a lot which is very unusual for me. I scanned my life and feelings to see if there was anything unchecked that might be dragging me down. I considered several possibilities and tried to assess if there was something that I needed to attend to. While my life isn’t perfect, I just couldn’t settle on anything specific that felt particularly out of whack.

So I went with it. I let my husband know that I didn’t think anything was wrong but that I was on a mental time out. I slept more, cleared tasks from my calendar and just tried to be as gentle with myself as I could be. Last night I stayed up ridiculously late and predicted I would pay for it with an even lower mood today. But to my surprise, while I did wake up deprived of enough sleep, my mood has clearly lifted. I am myself today ready to tackle projects and be with people. Apparently somewhere along the way I fell down, but I took time to heal and I’m ready to perform at my best again.

I will fall again. It might not be next week or next month. Perhaps I will fall because of something besides my hormones not working well and I will have to heal by taking action other than just time. What I have learned along the way however is that, when depression grips people, no amount of picking oneself up by the bootstraps can wriggle it loose. It’s kind of like Thor’s hammer. It takes the right arm, not the strongest arm to break it free. (Sorry non Avenger’s fans).

For me, the right arm is self-nurturing and self-care. It means to not beat myself up or push myself to do more than I can during those times. It also means to work harder at finding joy wherever I can and having a well- stocked tool box to choose from. Tools like classical music when I can’t tolerate voices talking at me. It means beading small jewelry projects to have a place I can focus and get a quick sense of the ability to complete something. These are just two examples.

What is in your toolbox? How do you behave with yourself when you fall down? Are you too embarrassed to let yourself acknowledge the injury and get it the treatment it deserves?

Houston, we have an opportunity!

Recently, a couple of sessions have reminded me of the old Apollo 13 movie with Tom Hanks.

The first involves a woman who was feeling the pressure to stay at work later in the evenings in order to get everything she felt needed to be done. She is a consciences worker, and wants to do the tasks necessary to get ahead in her career. She also has small children at home and would like to spend time with them in the evenings.

Another session involves a woman taking care of an elderly relative. When she signed up for this ominous task, the conditions were understood and seemingly manageable. However, unlike the marriage vows of “for better or worse”, her initial agreement did not include a set of variables that have since come in to play. Thus, she now finds herself trying to maintain her original agreement, but under a whole different criteria with far more rigorous constraints.

One of things that always intrigued me when I worked in residential treatment was this: people who had been starving, feeling unable to eat another bite would come into treatment and immediately comply with the nutrition set before them. People who said they couldn’t get through the day without binging came into treatment and the binging ceased. These examples also made me think about Apollo 13.

When Hanks uttered the infamous “Houston we have a problem!”, the ground team began their mission of finding a way to help repair the capsule and bring the crew down to safety. All of the engineers pulled out their slide rules to find a solution. and I remember asking my husband why they didn’t use calculators. He reminded me that the calculator had not yet been invented. While there were some solutions that were readily apparent to the ground team, these were quickly eliminated when they realized the needed supplies were not on board the spacecraft.

Finally, the team replicated all of the supplies that WERE available to the Apollo crew and began to find a solution that could implemented. Ultimately that is what happened and the rest is, of course, history.

So often, we get stuck on a problem because we insist on finding a solution that is dependent upon something that either hasn’t occurred or might never occur. In doing so, we prevent ourselves from moving forward until that variable occurs—meaning we don’t move forward.

Sometimes what we see as a problem is really an opportunity to see the capability we have to creatively look beyond our self-imposed limits and for us to do something differently from where we currently are. Again, this involves a spirit of willingness.

In the example above with eating disorder treatment, the patients who immediately changed their behavior became willing to do something different. Food didn’t instantly become tastier, the sense of fullness did not immediately dissipate. What changed is the elimination of an paradigm in which they felt they couldn’t do those things. The support around these individuals allowed them to sit with the same set of discomfort without feeling overwhelmed while they tried on new behaviors.

I suggested the woman who is missing her children consider looking at her job as having a mandatory, non-negotiable quitting time. Act as if the building will blow up at a certain time and you have to get out. That paradigm shift would encourage her to prioritize the most important tasks that have to get done and to let lesser ones go until the next day.

And the woman taking care of her relative will ultimately have to take stock of what “supplies” she currently has on board, rather than those she wishes she had to insure proper care for her elderly charge. It will mean acknowledging that the original mission has changed and she may no longer be adequately prepared for the new one with which, she has been presented.

None of these are easy solutions. Nor is continuing to beat one’s head against the wall stuck in the rut of the non-productive status quo. The difference however, is that the latter never changes. And in that sense true identification of the problem presents an opportunity for growth and change.

 

Commas save lives

As a Craftaholique, I’m always looking for funny T shirt sayings. One of my favorite finds is

Let’s eat Grandpa.

Let’s eat, Grandpa.

Commas save lives.

 

 

Such a small thing can change the meaning of an intention so drastically.

 

Communication can be a tricky thing. It is so often the presenting item for which, people come into my office asking for help. And, like the comma shift above, very often the solution they are looking for isn’t a major change, but rather a tweaking of smaller behaviors.

 

Two of these we can easily focus on are intent and tone.

 

Can you recall a time when you intended to ask someone a question, but it came out like a declaration? Often, you know that is what has transpired because, rather than answering your “request”, the other person goes into a defensive mode. You might reply with, “I was only asking”, which falls on deaf ears as the other person is walking away frustrated and mumbling “It sure didn’t sound like a question!”

 

I am so familiar with that one personally, that I often hear myself prefacing my speech with “This is meant to be a question, regardless of how it may come out!” I have found that doing so clarifies my intent and prepares my listener if I feel a little confused about how to get the question out. More often than not, my listener is more receptive and forgiving of my fumbling because my intent is deemed genuine.

 

There are many other examples where clarifying your intention upfront can be very useful, but your intent has to be sincere. In other words, saying , “I don’t want to hurt your feelings but….”, does not let you off the hook. Most likely, you know you are about to say something hurtful but you’re trying to get a pass.   Sometimes we feel we have to say things that will be uncomfortable for the other person to hear. If we choose to do so, then we have to acknowledge that there will be a reaction.

 

Another communication game changer is tone. Some people are lucky to have a more steady tone throughout most of their dialogue. I am of Italian heritage. We don’t have that genetic make-up. My tone goes up and down like a two year old playing on a xylophone. And, I’m lucky enough to have the facial and body movements to support the rise and fall so there is no denying what state I’m in when expressing myself. Helen Keller can read me loud and clear.

 

As a result, I have to work a little harder to make sure that my tone is expressing what I hope for it to. In other words, if I’m in a frustrated mood about situation “A”, and I try to express something to someone in situation B without making an internal shift, I’m likely to use a tone (with supporting features) that conveys an unrelated frustration. An easier way to say this is, man gets mad at boss and comes home to kick the dog!

 

Tone, however can creep in and wreck a discussion in far more subtle ways.

-asking a question with a tone of suspicion or disbelief?

-offering a compliment with a trace of sarcasm or feigned enthusiasm

-providing support while distracted with something else.

 

In any of the examples, the way to improve our skill set begins with mindfulness and expands with practice. An exercise in mindfulness includes noticing the reactions others have to our declarations, and even asking for feedback when we aren’t sure. Obviously, those around us don’t want to be our constant communication coaches, but when asked with sincerity, our request for feedback may also be viewed as a genuine interest in knowing the other person’s experience communicating with us. They may even appreciate our desire to improve our skills in interacting with them. However, even when we don’t ask for feedback, we can step back and notice whether their responses to us indicate clarity of understanding what we thought we were attempting to communicate.

 

Practice means to start with clear intentions and be thoughtful about our speech rather than to give license to whatever we want to say when we want to say it.   The following quote* sums it up:

“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”

 

So, while commas may save lives, a little extra care in communication may save relationships!

 

*There is a debate as to the origin of this quote. It may be Rumi, Buddha or someone’s Aunt Ruth who stitched it on a pillow, but it is clearly not mine.

 

 

 

 

Salt, Ebola and American Idol

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Ebola, Salt and American Idol

 

I remember when American Idol first premiered. It came down to Kelly Clarkson and Justin somebody. I’ve since forgotten his name because he didn’t win. I didn’t actually watch the show, but I had a couple of clients who were very invested in the outcome so I heard about it through them. Kelly Clarkson went on to continue making a name for herself. But since then, it seems like there have been about 112 American Idol winners, and a nearly equal amount from shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent, Rising Star and many more that I am not even aware of. And that is only the music category.

This post isn’t long enough to list the rest of areas where contestants duke it out to be the star. The implication is that, If we aren’t the star we just aren’t. We are nobody, insignificant. So if we don’t have musical talent, or can’t juggle live grenades while walking over a tightrope crossing a sea of alligators, then we try to work the best, be the best parent, daughter, husband, runner, and this list too, goes on and on.

Recently I was having a discussion with someone. She wanted to have a more personal relationship with God, but felt that she couldn’t because she wasn’t “Christian enough”. Translated, she couldn’t allow herself to communicate with God because she wasn’t willing to end up becoming an Ebola infected missionary in some forsaken land. And if she wasn’t going to be a star then she shouldn’t join the contest.

There is a little visual I like to create for people and have done so in my office several times. In lieu of that opportunity, please try to follow along and create this scene in your head.

Take a packet of salt or a pour of a shaker, and make a pile on the table in whatever pattern it falls. Now look at the pile from the front and then from the top, each side and the back. Now look at the front again. In my experience of this exercise, I’ve learned a couple of things I’d like to illuminate for you now.

Every grain of salt is pretty much identical. So are we as people.

Some grains are more visible because they are on the outside perimeters. But every single one of the middle grains serves to push every one of the front grains into their visible spot. In other words, every one of them serves a purpose to create the entire picture. The front’s are only front because there is something behind them. The middles are only middles because something is in front and in back.

 

So what does salt have to do with Ebola?

Simply stated, you are as much the winner in the contest of life as anyone else is. Where you find yourself placed is only visible if the person looking happens to be standing at the right angle. But even when one person can’t see you, those around you do. You are never insignificant, even when you feel like you have the choice to pretend you are. And while some grains may be slightly smaller, larger, lighter or darker, those differences are too tiny to rule out the value of your contribution.

Take a good look at yourself. Is everyone else really smarter, prettier, taller, richer and whatever “er” you are judging? Or are they better at self- promotion or creating the illusion that they got to the front of the pile without the help of so many other people standing behind them? If you are going to consider all of your flaws, please take use an equal measuring stick for others as well. And at the same time, when you see their greatness, make sure that the lens used to capture your own strengths is not scratched as well.

 

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Justin Bieber gets religion?

 

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I heard recently that, Justin has reportedly found God, is doing bible study and trying to use that avenue to turn his life around. The skeptic in me thinks Justin is trying to turn his plummeting stardom and likability ratings around- but who am I to judge. And frankly, I hope the skeptic is wrong. Not because of a religious conviction, but because at the end of the day I do firmly believe that the path to change always begins with the decision to do so followed by a single step in a different direction.

This morning I received a text from an old client I haven’t seen in a while. He told me he had been thinking of coming in for a while. I said I was looking forward to seeing him and we set up an appointment. He said I shouldn’t be too excited, because he wasn’t feeling very proud of himself. I don’t know what we have ahead to work on. Frankly, it doesn’t change how I’m feeling. I’m fairly confident that regardless of what he has to present, the fact that he already has an internal feeling that he knows he is behaving in ways he doesn’t feel good about, and is willing to talk about this, is justification for my optimism.

I am often asked if I think people change. My answer is yes. And it’s based on more than the PolyAnna optimism I’ve been charged with at times. While many people don’t change, I believe more often than not, people are capable of change. However, it is unlikely to happen unless there is something more compelling to go towards, or something compelling enough to motivate them to move away from. What qualifies as compelling varies from person to person.

 

From the outside looking in, we tend to view the need for someone else to change as pretty straight forward. Woman beaten by husband- leave him. Husband using alcohol with poor health- Don’t drink. Wife disappearing in emaciation- just eat. Employee losing wife due to overworking- just set boundaries.

I think the important thing to remember is that people don’t develop problematic behaviors in a vacuum because they are attractive or fun. Behavior is meaningful. It serves a purpose. The woman may tolerate the beatings because she is financially or emotionally dependent. The husband may be using alcohol to self-medicate other issues. The emaciated woman may use her body as a way to set boundaries between herself and others that she has been unsuccessful doing any other way and so on. I do not offer these as excuses, but as explanations or as a small glimpse of what might lie under the surface that we do not see in others when we judge.

That said, dysfunctional or maladaptive behavior needs to be addressed. But change in my opinion is a process that occurs over time, not an event from a short term burst of enlightenment. People can have an “aha” moment, feel the heal, and seal it by singing a little Kumbaya during a group hug. But chances are when they return to the mundane routine of their everyday world, the very factors that led to their choice of behavior will still be waiting for them. Real change involves learning how to be different internally even though the environment hasn’t changed.

Change takes work. It requires introspection, objectivity and honesty. It also requires a willingness to tolerate the uneasiness of stepping out of your comfort zone while you wait for something better to grow in its place. It also requires a willingness to fail and start again, sometimes over and over again.

I think I’ll wrap this one up with a little humor with a joke that although corny, does make the point.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one- but the light bulb has to really really want to change.

 

I hope you’ll leave a comment and pass my blog on to someone else suggesting they subscribe!  Thanks for stopping by and Take care.

 

 

Something worth laughing about

 

 

 

 

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A bear walks into a bar and says to the bartender, “I’ll have a whisky and …… soda”. The bartender says, “Why the big pause?”. “Dunno,” says the bear. “I’ve always had them.”

I wanted to help you burn a few calories.

Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.

Did you know that laughter triggers the release of endorphins which are our bodies “feel good” chemicals? Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood and increases good cholesterol. Laughter protects the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

The act of laughing Stimulates many organs. It enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles.

 

Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells, as well.

One study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture

 

Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a recent study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.

 

One of the most powerful “fat-burning” hormones is HGH (Human Growth Hormone).  There is also evidence that HGH aids muscle growth somewhat as well. Laughter, according to one older study, strongly increases (by 80%) HGH levels. That means that “laughing your ass off” may be quite literally true.

So this is actually a serious laughing matter. But please don’t rely on my jokes.

Instead you might

Read a funny book by authors like David Sedaris,

Watch funny TV- Big Bang Theory

Watch Funny movies: I love stupid humor like Christmas Vacation, Airplane, Police Academy. The other night I re-watched the Pink Panther movies with Steve Martin.

Hang out with funny people

Look at pictures of yourself as a kid with big teeth and even bigger hair

Play silly games- the kind that take you outside your comfort zone

Try Laughter Yoga- I am not making this one up- it really does exist.

And if you just can’t find anything funny to laugh at…. Then just laugh for no reason.

Instead of finishing this off with another corny joke, I’ll offer you one of my favorite quotes instead by Marjorie Pay Hinckley:

The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it

You either have to laugh or cry

I prefer to laugh -Crying gives me a headache

 

Love me tender

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If you have been in a relationship for a while, this one is for you. If you are newly in a relationship, this one’s for you. And if you are not in a relationship but hope to be at some point, this one’s for you.

Boy meets girl. Boy is excited about girl. He thinks about calling her and imagines her on the other end of the line happy to hear from him. He feels good. They go out, have some fun. He goes home, thinks about her and feels good a while longer. Repeat, repeat, repeat.   He picks a daisy for her and brings it to her. She smiles. He feels good.   He leaves a little origami bird on her windshield. He tells her things he hasn’t told other people. He is a happy camper.

Girl meets boy. Girl is excited about boy. She waits hoping he will call, thinking about everything they talked about. He calls and she is happy. They go out, have some fun. Repeat Repeat repeat. She gets to know his preferences. She cooks a meal for him. He likes it. She is happy. She knits him a sweater, thinking with every stitch how happy she is to have found him.

Boy and girl get married. Its good. They have kids. Its better. And then… its not. He has more demands at work. Boy comes to girl looking for relief from the outside world. Girl has been taking care of kids all day. Taking care of boy is not the next thing on her agenda. She wishes he would notice her workload and help out. Frustrated, she zones out, maybe a glass of wine, and a couple of hours of bad TV. After a bit, he stops looking towards her and instead gets lost in hours of internet surfacing to relieve his stress. She wakes up from her numb and sees only that he ignores her every evening.

Inevitable? I don’t think so. Maybe they didn’t have a good foundation. Maybe they weren’t ready to get married. Maybe a bunch of things.

Or maybe something much more simple. When I work with couples, I frequently use an exercise that I borrow from Harville Hendrix who wrote “getting the love you want”. It goes simply like this:

This week do something nice for your partner. Even if you don’t like your partner very much. Do something that you know would make them happy.

Often people will initially resist because they don’t feel warm and fuzzy about the other guy (or gal). But the real target of the exercise is the doer-not the receiver. Because it works like this: when we think on our own about doing something for someone that we know is going to make him or her happy, we have a good feeling about OURSELVES during the anticipating. We like ourselves because we feel powerful and/or effective in knowing that we have the ability or creativity to impact another person in a meaningful way. We fast forward our mind to anticipate the other person enjoying our efforts. We make our selves feel good.

Unfortunately, many of us get settled into a relationship and we stop thinking about how we can make the other person feel good, and instead begin expecting them to meet our needs, usually leaving us disappointed, or even disillusioned. But the real tragedy is that we lose a vital part of ourselves in the process. It is the part of us that we ignited to make our own self feel good and effective. We blame the sense of loss on a shortfall of the other person. Some partners confuse “completing a checklist of tasks assigned by our partner to avoid getting in trouble” as trying to make the other happy. While that may avoid an argument, it does little to make us feel good about ourselves, because there is no “original thought from within to promote feeling good about our own nature—- except compliance which doesn’t have much gusto.

Let me make the argument another way. When we have a new baby (or a puppy), we love it immediately. It hasn’t yet done anything to deserve that love except show up. We don’t really know its personality or potential yet, but we bestow good feelings on to it. We voluntarily make a huge deposit into an emotional bank account that, has their name on the title, and see them as rich—- even though its with our emotional money.

So, if you are a boy, or a girl who isn’t feeling quite so yummy about your relationship, I want to challenge you. When is the last time that you made a deposit in the bank of your partner? Not for his or her benefit, but so that you can feel rich yourself? That’s what you did in the beginning. When our boy made the origami bird, he imagined himself as effective and it felt good. When our girl knitted the sweater she felt significant to another person, long before he knew the sweater existed, or she saw it worn. They weren’t waiting for the thank you certificate to arrive before the feeling good started. We have the capacity within us to feel good about ourselves and our connection to another, long before the receiver of our efforts acknowledges them. In fact, their acknowledgment is only icing on the cake. Don’t make it the cake or the reason to do something.

If you are still new in a relationship or aren’t yet in one, then consider this for future reference. There is a saying “a smart man knows that the things it took to get a woman, are the same ones needed to keep her”. I would suggest that smart partners know that the part of yourself you engaged and enjoyed when you begin a meaningful relationship needs to be nurtured by you throughout the relationship if you want to continue feeling satisfied. That responsibility remains with you, not your partner.

 

 

 

 

Falling Forward

if you prefer an audio version of this post click here:

 

 

Although I identify myself as very spiritual, I am not a religious person. Nor am I even remotely biblically literate. However, over the course of my life I have attended a variety of churches and there are about 5 at best, sermons I can recall. I’d like to share a message that came from one of those. It’s not a religious message, but since I can’t give credit to the minister (since I don’t remember who it was), I at least wanted to be clear that this is not my original work. However, its something I’ve thought of many times and find useful. I hope you will too.

The story he told went something like this:

When I was studying to be a minister, I went to my mentor I asked him for advice about how to be a great minister. My mentor told me, “Remember this. When you fall on your face”….

At which point, the story teller interrupted his own story and said he was disheartened because his mentor had not said “if you fall on your face, but rather WHEN you fall on your face.”

And then he continued:

When you fall on your face, remember to fall forward. That way when you get up, you will be further ahead than when you went down.

 

I remember this story because I think its brilliant. The reality is that we all will fall on our face sooner or later. Some of us will fall down repeatedly. I am particularly prone to clumsiness. So learning to fall forward comes in pretty handy. It saves time.

Falling down, isn’t so bad. Sure, you can get a little bruised up. But it also gives you a different view point of yourself and the world. It can teach us humility, patience and even gratitude both from our ability to get back up, and for those who lend us a hand to assist. Falling down isn’t nearly as bad as being afraid to fall. – I’m going to say more about that soon.

What does falling forward look like? It means not considering yourself a complete failure when you fall. It means not telling yourself you are a jerk because you made a mistake. Falling forward means realizing that a little stumble doesn’t mean you start back over at square one. Even if you literally start back at square one, you do so with the knowledge that you were further ahead before and you can get back there again from memory. You don’t have to create the path all over again.

How do you feel about falling? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Can you tell me how to get to sleep?

for an audio version of this post click on the link below- if you are listening on a smartphone, you may need to scroll to the bottom of the post and look for the sound icon.

 

When I was very young I shared a room and a bed with my sister, who is ten years older than I am. I would often end the night by asking her to tell me how she fell asleep. I don’t mean in general. I actually wanted her to fall asleep and then tell me how she did it each individual time. She never did, but it didn’t stop me from asking.

My thinking was that once she accomplished the task, it would be fresh in her mind and she would outline the steps for me to follow so I too could quickly get to sleep. If you read my recent blog,  you can rest assured that the phrase “dumb little kid” did not originate with my son Andrew.

How many times do you look towards experts for an answer that lies within you? How much time do you spend cultivating and protecting your own wisdom? What risks are you willing to take in order to grow your confidence in your own voice?

Nobody needs to be an expert in everything, or even many things. I certainly never want to do my own taxes or change the oil in my car. There are a number of tasks that make my life manageable which are better left to the hands and brains of someone else. But one responsibility that should always be mine- and yours for your life is what direction do you want to go in? What is best for you?

Are the bulk of your decisions made by someone else? Or For someone else? Do you decide by consensus? How present is your own voice when you are making a decision?

My sister was loving, and I believe she would have tried to answer the question as honestly as she could. But her answer would have been based on how SHE got to sleep—there were no guarantees that her method would have worked for me.

In therapy, my goal is to help people cultivate their own voice. So often people ask me for a decision when we both know, they know, the answer. The difficulty isn’t finding the answer, its finding the confidence to pursue it. Sometimes, it’s finding the strength to stick with it and/or its consequences. But when we do that, when we move forward on our own behalf, we feel truly as if we are living, rather than checking off the boxes of completing a life someone else decides for us. Decisions made from their viewpoint as the driving force, not ours.

 

Response to a comment to an earlier post: The Places That Scare You:

for an audio version of this post,  click on the link below- if you are listening on a smartphone, you may have to scroll to the end of the post and look for the sound icon

 

Someone posted the following comment to the posting “the places that scare you”

ok, I read this three times now & understand where u r coming from in this process, but it still keeps coming back to me, how does one know where this place is or even how to get there.? This one seemed a bit confusing to me. I sense that maybe because it is a real issue with me where food is concerned, as I do believe its a control issue of mind over body equals sabotage. Are fear & sabotage one in the same? While this article is real in facts, it is confusing in where to start, at the beginning or the end.

Let me try and tackle this:

How does one know where this place is or even how to get there?

—- since the commenter wrote that their issue is food, I would say when you find yourself thinking about or eating food and you aren’t hungry, you are probably contemplating a visit to one of the “places that scare you”. You have a built in radar system that says “uh oh— danger ahead” and it’s called food thoughts.

For someone without food issues, it might be drinking, working, working out, shutting down or a whole host of other behaviors.

Are fear and sabotage one in the same? Not exactly. Sabotage is a behavior, fear is the emotion that drives the behavior. Sabotage is the inner self (or child self) attempting to reach safety by shutting down what it fears will become overwhelming. The adult uses the word sabotage because the behavior seems irrational or unwanted. But the child self is in protection mode- it will use anything that works. It’s not as articulate as our adult self- its methods are more primitive.

Attempting to control mind over body equals sabotage. I agree—actually I would extend that to say control period- often leads to failure. This isn’t a test of will. It’s a test of willingness. Lauren Slater writes an excellent piece in her book “LYING” about the difference between will and willingness. This is one of those areas where willingness to go into those places and sit through them is required. Not willingness to avoid something or someone. It’s a paradox like many things. The more you try and control, the less you have… and once you let go (not the same as give up), the fight against you also subsides.

With regards to the order of the process. Let me try and address that by coming full circle. You start with a commitment to yourself that, you are working on willingness to not let fear stop you. Then you wait for about 3.2 seconds for the universe to hand you a situation in which your fear will be summoned forward. You’ll notice it by your desire to immediately run to familiar behaviors (in this case food)… and you do

N O T H I N G

For as long as you can. You let it ebb and flow around you and you just notice- notice what happens if you DON’T eat. Does the situation you were afraid of beat you down? Does it make you cry? Does it kill you? Probably not. Whatever happens will happen…. Whether you eat in the face of it or you don’t. Because other than hunger, food doesn’t fix a lot of other things.

I hope that clarifies it a bit…. I so appreciate this and every comment. And most of all I appreciate that you take your time to read the posts.

 

 

The Places that Scare you

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I had a boss when I was about 18 years old who gave me the following advice: The best thing that can ever happen to you is to get fired.

I can’t say I’ve had that joyful experience, but I certainly understand what it meant. Simply, that once you’ve been fired, and you survive that, you quit working in such a way as to “avoid firing” as your primary motivation and guide. Instead, you begin to work focused on what is the job about, how can you be good at it, how can you enjoy what you do and so on.

Fear is an insidious and debilitating worm. It crawls into places that we may not even know about and sits waiting to call out the shots with a megaphone. While this is of course indicative of other maladies as well, I’m going to use eating disorders as the metaphor to illustrate a point.

Ive had the experience more than once (or a hundred) times, where I’m working with someone who is terrified at the prospect of gaining weight. Perhaps they are already at the upper end of their comfort zone, or potentially even emaciated when this discussion occurs. I’ve learned its universal, regardless of one’s size because its about the fear, not the size. And the fear is always extremely heavy.

So I say “you need to gain some weight to get beyond this”.

The other person looks at me like I could not possibly be any more stupid or insensitive.

See here is the deal “I am not trying to get the person to “gain weight”. I’m letting the person know that their constant fear of what will happen IF/WHEN they gain weight has a death grip on them and it is filling every waking moment.. and for some a bit of their nocturnal dream world as well. And because of that death grip, they are not able to use their energy in other places of their lives. So when I say gain weight, what I’m really saying is go to the place that scares you and learn that you will and can live in that place- you might not enjoy it – but it won’t kill you- and you might find it isn’t nearly as scary as you thought it was-or even as terrible- but if you don’t like it, you can still change it- but not not because you’re terrified of it-

This is usually when the other person says “I’ll just stop thinking about it”. Bzzzz- wrong answer- here’s why- try this little experiment. If I ask you to not think of any four letter words for one minute- I’m pretty sure you will come up with a list of at least 20 in no time. It’s how our brain works- Tell us we can’t do something and the brain kicks into high gear going to work to figure out exactly how to do what we told it not to.

So if you tell yourself to stop thinking about it…. You’ll only think of it more. The way out is through, not around.

How do we get a kid to learn that they aren’t going to die by sleeping alone at night with the light off? Remember, from the child’s perspective its terrifying. We know otherwise. So we tell them the words but it isn’t until they actually sleep through the night, and wake up on the other side there is any measure of convincing that takes place.

Gaining weight in this scenario is about losing fear. It’s about telling the fear that it cannot continue to have a death grip on you.

What form does your death grip have? Money? A job? A relationship? How would you enter into the place that scares you? What might be possible in your life if you didn’t have that fear?

 

 

 

Another excerpt part 2

As promised, this entry includes a diagram to help illustrate the practical application of the theoretical concepts I described in the previous blog entry.

 

This diagram is by no means intended to be complete or universal, although some of the items listed actually are fairly universal.

 

Remember, our infant in the crib experiences an overwhelming sense of panic (annihilation) and screams.  Our current self can experience a reactivation of those feelings, or “wake up” or engage that infant self, by events happening in the here and now.  For example, maybe a friend doesn’t call me and I was expecting, even counting on hearing from them today.  Perhaps it activates old feelings of abandonment or shame.

Even though I can feel the emotions of my young child self or even infant self, the adult in me won’t allow me to start screaming in the room, because I know there will be consequences of behaving inappropriately.

 

So I turn to act out the frustration by using something.  In the earlier blog I used food.  It could also be alcohol, drugs, sex, overwork etc.  The symptom language can change but the concept is consistent.  My sense of self has disintegrated or fragmented here by having my multiple “parts” competing with each other.

Recovery or healthier living is based largely on the concept of healing that split and having the parts work together more cohesively.  This requires that my adult part work on behalf of my child parts.  It also requires that my child parts feel safe enough to inform my adult parts accurately.

I have listed out some basic categories of self care.  These are colored orange.  What you choose to prioritize may be somewhat different and so I have created purple spots that are blank to show that more items could be added in to complete this picture.  Other suggestions might be family, pets,  spirituality or finances to name a few.

I worked through the diagram for some, but not all of the orange categories.  Had I worked through them all, I would have drawn a green and a yellow box for each as I did for the completed ones.

The green boxes indicate how the orange item is helpful to the adult part of me.  The yellow boxes signify how the same action is helpful to the child part.  They can sometimes overlap.  The key differences, however is that the adult part usually benefits from the literal result of the category, while the child self, benefits from the symbolic or relationship securing aspect of the act.  It’s more about security or safety and reassurance from our child self.

 

I hope this illustrates why someone might read a self help book- feel better for a bit and then abandon a healthy choice even though it rationally seems like a good practice.  Usually it’s because they are trying to appeal only to their adult self, while still ignoring the needs of the child part within.  So, it’s not simply the act of “doing” the types of things listed, but making a commitment to the child self about why you are committing and then applying the consistency of follow through.

“I’m choosing good relationships because I want you to see how terrific of a person you are reflected back to you.

“I’m going to try starting the day with an affirmation so that I’m in the right frame of mind to take good care of the value that is you today.

“I’m going to try and maintain this schedule of structure so you will know that I’m going to be available and not too scattered all day long to hear your needs.

 

These are only a couple of examples to illustrate this internal dialogue that needs to accompany the actions.

 

I hope this is clear and useful.. I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions for clarification.  Clicking on the picture should enlarge it for clarity.

blog entry jpg

 

another excerpt

Another excerpt:

Although this came from a session revolving around eating disorders, the reality is it is far more universal.  Therefore, I’m going to try and make this more generic, and a little more theory based.  Keep in mind, however, this is an excerpt, and is therefore, an abbreviated explanation.

 

The precipitating idea for this discussion was fear.  Specifically, it was the underlying fear that resulted in someone choosing a binge.  I pressed, as I often do with the questions, then what… then what… and so on.  Usually that takes us to the point where a person has no more words- just an awful feeling.  (nice of me isn’t it?)

But I’m not sadistic- that stage, most often, I believe is representative of a very primal fear.  It is the fear of what the literature calls “annihilation”.  Simply stated, the infant isn’t capable of thoughts like “gee, if mom doesn’t get back here soon with something to eat I’ll just die”.  Rather, it’s a cease to exist- which generates a terror that we all know from watching an infant as a “blood curdling scream”.    As we grow, we learn to suppress the urge for one of those screams, or to be more accurate, suppress the scream.  However, the urge can come out in a myriad of ways that look like an automatic or even compulsively driven urge towards an addictive or bad habit, even when our “adult mind” is unsuccessfully saying stop.

We choose the behavior as a way to soothe that primal tension even though it is present for us in our subconscious rather than conscious mind.

Conscious level:   I had a bad day at work-à I feel tense and uneasyà I reach for M &M’sà I feel calm.

Uncs. Level1:  I had a bad day at workà I feel anxious- what will happen to me, what if I lose my job or do something awful, what if I can’t provide for myself, how will I live, what will become of me,

Uncs. Level 2 (deeper still):  I am a tiny little being unable to provide for myself and dependent on a world/system/mother that is not here to soothe me-à  I will cease to exist.

But now that we are in fact, NOT an infant—we reach for something to soothe that feeling before it can reach our conscious level, and because it has become automatic for us.

When we later try and analyze what has happen it may sound something like this:

I had a bad day at work-à I felt tense and uneasyà I ate M &M’sà, but I don’t know why I keep doing that.  Sure, they tasted good at first, but then I wasn’t really tasting them, I was just shoveling them in until I felt sick and I wished I hadn’t done that.

This illustrates the circular nature of the unconscious addictive pattern:  I feel bad—I do something to feel better in the moment— that something makes me feel better for a moment, but then much worse for much longer— I feel bad—repeat-

 

How does therapy help?

Therapy helps primarily in three ways.   First, therapy is a place to identify the pattern, and illuminate the context in which, the terror (or fear of annihilation) originated.

Second, therapy is a place to strategize new coping skills, practice them and evaluate their effectiveness.

Third, and most importantly, the relationship that develops between the client and the therapist fosters confidence for the client which begins towards the therapist, and then is transferred to the client’s own internal voice.  Once secured, the client can rely on that internal voice to guide, and more importantly, soothe themselves.

Stay tuned- In my next post I will provide you with a diagram to help illustrate this content more clearly, as well as, provide you with a practical application of this theoretical concept.