Archive for the ‘Personal Growth’ Category

Subtext: What are People Really Saying?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Arguing

Subtext (noun): in literature, the unspoken thoughts and motives of characters.

Your mother-in-law calls and then sends you six text messages, insisting you drop everything and call Verizon on her behalf because of an additional $20 charge on her cell phone bill. This occurs, of course, while you are on a hiking trip in Sedona. (I won’t lie…this actually happened to me, and I’m still angry about it.) Or she calls and texts five times over the course of two days in December, “worried about [her] taxes,” and she needs you to call back right away. December?!

The subtext as it applies here to my mother-in-law would go something like this: I am not feeling important or loved, or getting enough attention right now, so I have found a legitimate reason why you need to come and fix those uncomfortable feelings I’m having.

Literary scholars (and possibly my editor) might argue that this is not a perfectly correct example of subtext, but I’m using this term to make a point about motives that underlie someone’s words or actions which are implied, but not stated; or in the case of my mother-in-law, not even consciously known by the person herself!

How do you tell the difference between a real cry for help and a disguised motive? One way is to offer a solution, which they promptly reject, e.g. “Mom, I will give you $20 when I get home—this problem is not worth the price of anyone’s time.” (This was met with a very irate response about the value of money, and not “giving it away” to a thief.)

Subtexts show up all the time in life, like when your boss gets unhinged and screams at you about something really trivial. It could be he or she feels you don’t respect them enough. On the other hand, it could be that something troubling is happening in their home life…that, or basically any of a million other things that have nothing to do with your borrowing their favorite red Swingline® stapler. Another example might be when your boyfriend/girlfriend loses it because you didn’t take out the trash. In this instance, it’s almost never about the trash.

So what do you do?

Attending to the surface issue the other person is complaining about can help, but usually just delays their next dramatic episode. Sometimes, if you can figure out what that person really wants or needs, you can address that and help them resolve the issue. Unfortunately, it’s frequently difficult—if not impossible—to talk openly about someone else’s “stuff,” as they themselves have buried it and are unfortunately acting it out, which is a common way people avoid dealing with issues. If you can calmly discuss “what’s really going on” with the individual, you’re very lucky. In my experience, however, it’s silly of me to expect another to be rational about their irrationality!

I have found that compassion—both with them and with myself—is vital in this type of situation. Trying to cooperate and throwing in some encouragement, e.g. taking out the trash and telling your partner how much you appreciate their contribution to the household chores, is helpful and can sometimes bridge a stressful moment. In the case of my mother-in-law, I remind myself that women of her generation were socialized to believe that their needs weren’t as important as the male members of their households. They won approval by taking care of others, but as far as their own needs, they were generally forced to rely on subtext. Nevertheless, acting “helpless” when this is not the case, is a very common strategy among aging mothers and grandmothers.

All of this said, allowing others to control our emotions and behavior only brings negative consequences, one of which is preventing that person from learning to meet their needs in healthier, more direct ways. For us, it becomes a question of boundaries and realizing that we are not responsible for “fixing” others’ issues and challenges. Remember that no one of us has to accept hurtful or abusive behavior from someone else. Responding to others to the extent that we’re willing and able, and then stepping back (which may mean ignoring excessive text messages or phone calls, walking away from someone who is screaming at you, etc.) may be necessary to protect and care for ourselves.

Depending on who you are dealing with, it may feel like we are being “selfish” or irresponsible if we choose to put our sanity before another’s demands for attention or whatever it is they want. However, if we continuously place others’ problems before our own, we risk losing who WE are and being distracted from managing our own goals and dreams, issues, and well-being.

The bottom line is that we only have power over ourselves, and by keeping our focus where it should be—on ourselves and our own lives—we will be better able to determine when and how to help others. Inner peace is our birthright, remember! If you are willing, the Universe will help you day by day, sometimes moment by moment, to find a positive balance between loving yourself and loving others.

The Love Budget – Do Your Deposits Cover Your Withdrawals?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Joe's Dollar

Ah, love. How do you define it, much less measure it? When I think about it, I flash on Valentine hearts, tiny purple wildflowers, skin-on-skin hugs and holding hands, a calm inner conviction that life is good after all… (Have you ever noticed that when you try to describe love, your words always come out sounding like a poem?) But as ethereal and intangible as it may seem, love is very real and actually far more precious than things touched, held, or counted…like money, houses, and cars, for instance. And lucky us—as human beings, we have the capacity to give and receive this extraordinary commodity. Many even spend their whole lives searching for it!

Although love isn’t quantified on any type of universal scale or psychic adding machine, it’s pretty obvious that some people have more of it in their lives than others. The whole discussion gets even more complicated when you consider all the different types of love, the relative qualities of each kind, what attracts it, what blocks it, why some people seem to need more than others, and on and on…

In my own experience, the only crystal clear thing about love is that the more of it I have in my life, the happier I am. Being practical – I’m a single mom, after all – the issues of love and relative happiness seem clearer when I envision them ledger-style in an overall “Love Budget.” According to this system, love that goes out to others and/or the world makes up what I loosely call “withdrawals,” which are balanced by “deposits,” when people or other sources shine love on me. Confused? Okay, here’s a breakdown of the accounts in my own Budget:

1.   The Self-Love Account – For me, this column in my love ledger is hands-down the most important! Self-Love must be kept consistently funded, because other accounts in my Budget (see below) often need transfers from this one to keep them operational. The great thing about the Self-Love account is that I can add to it in so many wonderful ways: taking care of myself by exercising, getting enough sleep and healthy food, and giving myself little pleasures such as a good book, a good movie, a good burrito, or a good massage! Also, ironically, when I help someone else without expectation of reward or reciprocation, I find a surprise deposit has been made to my Self-Love account. Basically, when I treat myself and others with respect and compassion, this column is in the black, where I need it to be.

For me, another critical source for replenishing Self-Love is connection with – actually, complete reliance upon – God. When I put effort into improving my Spiritual relationship, there is an amazing surge of love that can raise the balance to near-overflow!

2.   The Family Account – This account reflects love activity with family members such as aunts, grandparents, nieces, siblings, and cousins, i.e. extended family members whom I don’t live with, but who are important to me and with whom I share many events in my life.

Deposits and withdrawals in this column are pretty consistent, owing to the fact that this account has been around a long time, and I’m really familiar with its typical dynamic. I know which family members to expect deposits from – thanks, sissy – and which ones usually require a disproportionate emotional payout. Actually, it all balances out pretty well, because if funds get low in this account, I start spending more time with the payers than with those who like to take oversize withdrawals.

3.  The Children Account – The balance in this account has to be continually funded by transfers from Self-Love, because it could be decades and maybe never before you see some real love deposits from your children. As disappointing as that sounds, keep in mind: it is a parent’s job to love their children, not the other way around. However, I will add that there is some positive funding here from the satisfaction you get watching your children grow into healthy, responsible, independent adults who manage their own budgets successfully.

4.  The Friends Account – My basic goal in this particular account is to have it include friends who deposit and withdraw in roughly equal proportions. Of course, this follows along with the concept of the best friendships being those that include a healthy balance of give and take.

When there are people in this account making consistent major withdrawals with little to no deposits, I sometimes have to cut off future transactions with them. They can easily start eating their way into my Self-Love account, and the resulting resentment has Budget-blowing potential.

5.  The Significant Other Account – Unfortunately, the balance in this account – for me, anyway – has been pretty volatile. This is probably owing to the fact that falling in love makes me stupid, and I wind up making vast payouts with little coming back from the payee. If this sounds like you, watch out! Love blindness can be similar to an out-of-control spending binge, and even your Self-Love repository can go bust in the fall-out. For some of us, shutting this account down for a while is the only solution.

So there you have it – my Love Budget. How does yours look? Be aware that a Love Budget is also subject to the influence of outside economic conditions such as mental or physical illness, addiction, codependency issues, and unresolved emotional baggage. Nonetheless, everyone can benefit from working on those Self-Love deposits, and the best part is, we can always add to this balance without having to depend on anyone other than little ‘ol us.

(image courtesy of http://thomashawk.com/2008/01/eat-at-joes.html)

Guest Blog from Jill Thomas, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist (CCHT)

Monday, April 25th, 2016
ajill159

Jill Thomas, CCHT

The Heartbreakingly Easy Problem to Solve

by Jill Thomas, CCHT

One of the most difficult parts of being a practitioner is seeing a client fail. When I say “fail,” I’m not talking about the client not reaching their goal, as in losing the amount of weight they wanted to lose, or achieve the result they wanted. I don’t consider these situations as failures, but rather as part of learning and sometimes adjusting the approach used.

Failure to me is when a client cannot or will not see the value of investing the time, expense, and work it takes to create lasting healing for themselves. They apparently don’t understand that they are worth the effort it takes to heal, whether to change their weight/body size or shed destructive habits and attitudes. Sadly, this happens all the time.

One example was when Trish, a prospective client, contacted me because of a challenging yet totally solvable problem. She was having trouble staying connected in a long-distance relationship, and also suffered extreme separation anxiety. Whenever her boyfriend would leave, an intense sadness would come over her, along with the fear that she would never see him again. This made her very clingy with him when he had to go somewhere, and she would insist they schedule their next date right then and there to allay her anxiety. Basically, Trish said she was a “wreck” whenever her boyfriend went away.

Knowing how difficult this issue can be, and how destructively those feelings can affect anyone’s quality of life, I was happy that Trish contacted me, because I knew I could help her. Her problem is actually one of the easier issues to resolve using the tool of hypnosis, and I knew Trish would feel a lot better even after just one session.

After scheduling an appointment with Trish, my mind was already busy planning out her protocol, anticipating some of the conversation, and feeling happy knowing she would see improvement very quickly. I could see the light at the end of her tunnel of pain, and it wasn’t an idiot holding a match!

Unfortunately, Trish never made it in for help. At her appointment time, she called me complaining that I didn’t “warn her” about San Diego traffic (doesn’t everyone who drives know there may be traffic?), that she would arrive too late at this point, and that all of this was my fault. She then added that she thought I charged too much, my intake forms were too long, and a couple of other silly, untrue “reasons” why she wouldn’t/couldn’t come. In spite of all her angry justification, I knew that probably because of the same issues that caused her trouble in the first place, Trish was backing away from her own healing. I was sure she did this in many areas of her life—blaming others for her problems, complaining about the cost of things, and probably not taking any help or advice offered that could really help her. Maybe she and I weren’t a match for treatment, but our conversation told me that on some level, she wasn’t ready. Trish cancelled her appointment and never called again.

It broke my heart, as it always does when this type of thing happens in my practice, that Trish was one more person in the world suffering needlessly and at her own hands. Her pain doubtlessly affected those around her, too…her friends, coworkers, the family watching her suffer, and maybe even a person she cut off on the freeway because her anger towards her boyfriend turned into road rage. Her boyfriend was likely the most affected, and whether or not they were a good match for each other, it was almost a guarantee that their relationship was already, or certainly would be, sorely tested by her issues.

I’ve talked with many practitioners about people flaking out on their own healing, and not surprisingly, it’s a very common drawback in the therapy field. Patients either stop showing up for the appointments they make for themselves, or stop treatment too early when there is still a lot more work to do. Sometimes they say they can’t afford treatment, which is always a ready excuse. My experience over the years, however, is that when people are ready to heal, they find a way to make it happen no matter what, even if that means sacrificing some material comfort for a short time, finding child care, or rearranging their schedule so they can keep their appointments. For those who are not ready, any excuse to cancel is used, and if none is available, the inner saboteur creates one.

Our egos hate change, and will fight like heck to keep the status quo, even if it’s a lousy one. Change – even beneficial change – can be hard because it requires us to grow, shift, and create different habits around the new way of being. Even if something isn’t good, such as being in a bad relationship, there is a certain degree of comfort in it because it’s familiar.

I have to face this with clients all the time and it stings, not so much because of loss of business – although I love what I do and being busy – but because I know that society at large is made better when someone gets healed. The reverse is also unfortunately true.

If you only get one thing from this book, I hope it is this: Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t let money, your or your kids’ schedules, “life,” or whatever obstacle you run across, keep you from the quality of living you deserve. Life goes on whether you are healthy and whole or not, so you may as well get healed! If you consider what you spend your money on, why wouldn’t you pay to get help for the most important person in you and your loved ones’ world—you?

There are few things in this world that can’t be made better through creative solutions. Your physical, emotional, and spiritual health are the most important things to attend to, for your own benefit and that of this world we all share. Remember that no matter how things may “seem” at any given moment, you are loved, special, and extremely important! There is something on this planet that you, and only you, can do. Value yourself enough to heal the wounds that block you from sharing your unique contribution.

Golden

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

005

 

Love was golden barrel cactuses, candles, a brilliant red-and-orange Paradise,
Bike rides, blue skies, blue eyes,
Days of meant-to-be, forevermore, here is where I’m supposed to be.

 

Outside was wind through trees, hawks swooping close, a coyote’s cry,
Car rides, rib-eyes, no lies,
Passion splashing everywhere, pleasures never felt before.

 

Inhaling deeply the richness of orange blossoms, egg scrambles, the smell of his skin,
Wheat-colored hair, cat on the chair,
Hope for always, a picture was painted foretelling eternity.

 

Joyously casting troubles aside, talking close for hours on end, laughing, understanding,
Sharing secrets, no regrets,
Completely safe in strong arms, tall stature, warm bed.

 

Things too beautiful are frail, I come to see, and sadly cannot carry on,
Knife flashes, pain slashes,
I am cut and bleeding, but my trust remains.

 

The moon shines while again I hear the song – our song, the stars sending me messages…
Can’t believe, unable to conceive,
I cling to the precious moments, and curse myself for them still.

 

Too much loss for all at one time, I took the road of up and down,
Many years, more and more tears,
Unholy monsters drag away what is good and true.

 

The heart dies inside a whole spirit and body, and must be shed to sustain,
Nothing left, sad and bereft,
Asking Angels to hold my hand down the rougher path of the living.

 

 

 

It’s Stronger to Forgive

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

032In stillness, when the silence seems almost magical and we sit by ourselves in a comforting, peaceful place…we can sometimes hear the whispers of Higher things. One of these is forgiveness. Make no mistake, however; though its voice is soft, forgiveness brings us power and strength beyond comprehension. Although many think forgiveness is a sign of weakness, of submission to or acceptance of injury from others, nothing could be further from the truth! Forgiveness comes from a highly evolved soul, one which knows that we can pardon others’ hurtful behavior while at the same time not remain a victim of it.

Forgiveness reflects love of self, so to find it we must turn our attention inward instead of outward. It is within every person’s reach, and yet impossible to achieve without at least some willingness on our part to feel it. In other words, to forgive is a choice, and some of us need to go through the pain of not forgiving before we’re ready for its healing effect.

The Pain of Anger

Why is it painful not to forgive? Because without forgiveness, hate is like a ball-and-chain, keeping us bound to the thing we loathe. In a very real sense, we give up our power to whatever we hate. Consider all the pleasures, happy thoughts, and creativity that could fill the hours we spend brooding over some person or situation we resent. Hate also breeds retaliation, causing more injury, destruction, and sadness…and of course, more hatred. Simply put, anger and animosity only lead to more of the same, and our entire lives can pass beneath this dark cloud of negativity.

Unlike the gentle tones of forgiveness, the voices of hatred, vengeance, and bitterness are loud, adamant, and raucous. They noisily grab our attention with promises of immediate gratification, causing us to say and do things we feel guilty about later on. Unfortunately, however, besides being the loudest voices, they sometimes yield short-term rewards. When we act out our resentment, we gain a false sense of power, righteousness, and superiority. In the anger equation, we are right and someone or something else is wrong! And let’s face it, who doesn’t love the satisfaction of being right? (Of course, we’re “right” according to our own view of what that is…) Also, if others cower to our bullying, we feel mighty and in control.

In its extreme form, intense anger demonstrated by tantrums, yelling, and physical aggression can be a physiological stimulant that accelerates our heart rate, breathing, and muscular tension, among other bodily effects. These sensations can actually be a “high” to some, who unconsciously look for a “fix” again and again. In this way, anger is like a drug, and one to which many become addicted. Like any addiction, however, the behavior and feelings often must be escalated to achieve the desired release.

Even on a lesser level of intensity, dwelling on the people and situations that are unacceptable to us can take up so much of our time and emotions that it becomes a distraction from dealing with other less compelling but very real emotions and problems. Things we might unconsciously wish to avoid are non-glamorous aspects of being human, including fear of close relationships, anxiety in social situations, confusion, low self-esteem, boredom, lack of motivation, feelings of failure…the list goes on and on. Like any escape from reality, however, anger blocks pleasurable feelings as well, like satisfaction at reaching a goal, appreciation of beauty in the world and people around us, and gratitude for the gifts we have in our lives. The saddest consequence of clinging to antagonism is that we become “stuck” – unable to grow emotionally and spiritually.

Working on Forgiveness

To forgive, we sometimes need more than just willingness. We actually have to work on changing our attitudes. Depending on how gravely we feel someone has injured us, this process can take time. The good news is that if we persist, we will always – ALWAYS – succeed in forgiving. Furthermore, even if we can’t forgive someone fully yet, we’ll feel better immediately just by taking small steps to try. Think of forgiveness as opening a window just a crack in a stuffy room. The fresh air we let in revitalizes us so much, we will want to open the window even more.

It’s crucial to understand that we cannot forgive others until we have forgiven ourselves. You’re probably wondering what you must forgive yourself for… The answer will be different for each one of us. What are the things you need to look at about yourself and your behavior that are or have been harmful to others or to you? It’s time to come clean about these things – write and talk about them, take responsibility for them, and make amends if needed. Now, here’s a real challenge: if you’re in conflict with someone else, say, a person you simply can’t stand, apologize to him or her for your part in the dispute! Sound crazy? You won’t believe how you’ll feel if you give it a try. Amends can also take the form of simply making better choices in the future. In many cases, we ourselves are the ones to whom we owe the greatest amends.

The hardest job is to develop more love and compassion toward yourself, but when you do this, the ability to forgive others comes naturally. If you get mired in resentment toward a particular person, here are some tricks you might try. One is to silently wish the very best for them (even if you know you’re lying initially). Do this every time you get caught up in anger at the person, and you’ll find the feelings loosen up and disappear over time. Another strategy is to make a short list of the person’s positive qualities, and read it to yourself daily or whenever negative thinking threatens to take charge of your brain!

One other fully guaranteed bitterness-buster is to make a list of the things you’re grateful for in your own life, apart from your anger at anything or anyone else. This is basically a positive displacement exercise, because if your mind is full of gratitude, there’s no room left for destructive thoughts.

Spiritual Help is Limitless

Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” In just these few words, Pope expressed that the act of forgiving requires more than just our mortal ability. As human beings, we make mistakes, have misunderstandings, and hurt each other. That’s where all the anger and hate comes from in the first place. Without something more powerful than our own limited mental and emotional capacities, we frequently aren’t able to forget or let go of that which has caused us pain. This is where we must reach out for spiritual help, and once we do, we are ultimately granted the strength to forgive no matter how deep the hurt.

What is your “something more powerful?” Many call it God, but others prefer terms like Universal Order, Higher Power, or Spiritual Center. It really doesn’t matter what we name it, as long as we are aware of two critical things: that He, She, or It has infinite power over the world and every single one of its troubles, and is a loving force that cares about us deeply as individuals.

Forgiveness and love are something we’re all born with. It is “life,” people, and painful circumstances that then start chipping away at us, teaching us to fear and to build protective shells around our core. If we didn’t have to create these insulating layers between ourselves and the world, we would all be able to trust, and freely love and forgive each other. It’s food for thought, wouldn’t you say? Maybe the true challenge and goal of life is to find your way back through all that accumulated defensiveness and hatred to reconnect with your whole, forgiving self. Seen in this way, the return journey is worth every step.

Thoughts on Hope

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all…   — Emily Dickinson

Hope. Even hearing the word brings to mind comforting thoughts of relief, satisfaction, serenity. Hope is something encouraging and enduring, filling bleak spaces with strength beyond fear, triumph over crises, and light amid darkness. The presence of hope can be the difference between joy and depression, persistence and giving up, success and failure – even life and death.

Hoping for something is not the same as wishing for it, as the things we wish for are usually more illusive. When we wish for something, there’s often regret over or denial of an unfortunate reality, like wishing you could sing as well as your favorite rock star, or wishing you’d studied math instead of history in college. Hoping, on the other hand, generally refers to more realistic things in the present or future, so there’s no sadness over past things that cannot be changed.

The dictionary defines hope as “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” However, be careful about this, because if hope comes with strong expectation, it can actually be destructive. When we don’t acknowledge that hope for something is not a guarantee of its being realized, we set ourselves up for pain and disillusion. For example, we hope our children will be healthy…we hope our finances will be stable…we hope our love relationships will last forever. But what if our children become ill, or we are laid off at work, or our marriage fails? Our hopes instantly transform into disappointment, often leading to bitterness. Reeling from the impact of these crushing emotions, we’re prime targets for the opposite of hope – despair.

Wearing us down and clouding our perspective, despair holds us back from moving toward the happier places of acceptance and gratitude. When we despair, it’s impossible for us to see the gifts that actually come from not getting what we hoped for!

If you’ve ever experienced your hopes “crumble,” chances are you have learned to be careful about allowing yourself to hope. Perhaps you’ve found that making outside, external things or situations the center of your hopes is not worth the anguish of being let down. But that doesn’t mean that you should give up on hope altogether. Doing that would make you hopeless!

Consider this: a new way to hope. Focus your hopes on yourself instead of on things, people, and situations around you. You were born with the light of hope inside you. The truth is…it has never left. Maybe it’s been buried under mounds of sorrow about things you hoped for that didn’t come true. No matter what or whom you’ve lost – no matter what fact, crisis, or circumstance you think has stolen your hope, you only think you’re out of hope. You aren’t. There is an abundant, infinite source of hope that you can see if you’re willing to look for it. This is the unfailing force giving you the power to keep walking forward when all the chips are down, the ability to enjoy a hug from a friend or the smell of a rose during troubled times, and the strength to see future possibilities ahead instead of looking backward at the things you wish had been different. What you focus on grows in strength. Focus on the hope within – the hope for your potential to grow through anything and everything “life” hands you. In the strangest of ironies, the most painful things in our life can actually help us practice the most profoundly healing application of hope. What an awesome opportunity!

Remember that hope looks forward, and regret looks behind. To look ahead or back is your choice. Yours, and yours alone.

Breaking Down my Break-Up

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

“Every boyfriend is ‘the One’…
          Until otherwise proven.” ~ Marina and the Diamonds

Well, here we go again – coupledom to singleton. After five years with my boyfriend, I truly believed for a while that he was “the one.” Now I’m left to wonder if the idea of a lifelong mate is just some gimmick created by Hallmark cards, which seems likely, especially after hearing about the Captain and Tennille splitting up after 39 years! What happened to “Love Will Keep Us Together”?

Nonetheless, as the wise ones say, “It is what it is.” Fortunately, I know from experience that as bleak as something might look and feel right now, it is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. In fact, if I can see this ending as more of a beginning, my whole outlook changes from gloom to gratitude.

If you’re facing a break-up, take heart. Connect with the part of you that feels relieved, because usually by the time a relationship has come to the point of separation, you’re getting so little from your partner or hurting so bad anyway, the end is sweet freedom. Remember that when you let go of something in your life that’s not satisfying you or serving your needs, you are opening yourself to the Universe, with its infinite possibilities.

As with any loss, there is an unavoidable grieving process to endure, but with heavy doses of self-love and positive inner dialogue, it can be less of a struggle. Some people stay in a bad relationship just to avoid having to go through the grieving, but this is only delaying the inevitable and usually just compounds the pain.

Don’t Believe Everything You Tell Yourself

Grieving a relationship is not always fun (okay, it’s the opposite of fun), but we make it far worse when we listen to the drama committee in our heads, authors of ball-busting one-liners like, “I put five years into this for nothing!” and “I should’ve ended it sooner.” Really! There’s a false assumption here that the time devoted to a relationship that eventually ends, is time wasted. For me, when I was with my ex-boyfriend, I was mostly happy and full of loving feelings. How can I regret that, however it worked out?

Or how about that other little mental zinger, “I’ll never find love again”? I’m over 50 years old, so my mind is like a bull’s-eye target for this one. The good news is that age also brings some wisdom, and I’m aware that when I start using words like “never,” “ever,” and “forever,” I’m writing a bleak future based only on my current sadness. It’s pointless, untrue, and a sure way to chase off the joy available to me here and now.

Last but not least is the ever-famous, “I should’ve seen the red flags.” Okay, let’s be realistic for a moment here. Doesn’t just about everyone have a red flag of some sort? Sure, crushing a guy working on his or her criminal record might not be the greatest idea, but knowing his lifestyle, would you even be attracted to him? Certainly there are all levels of red flags, but if you trust yourself and your instincts, you’ll know whether to proceed or not. If you don’t trust your judgment, you’re probably due for an important life lesson anyway. In my experience, even those who consider themselves “careful” about love get burnt, especially since people tend to conceal their less desirable traits at the start of a relationship. Maybe this is just me, but I’d rather hold onto my optimism about love and relationships rather than avoid even taking a chance. Let’s face it – intimacy with another is never without risk, but on the other hand, staying safely alone is not exactly a recipe for happiness.

Forgiving Them, Forgiving Ourselves

After a break-up, all those much-talked-about stages of grieving start popping up. One minute you feel compassion and longing for your ex (sadness), and the next you’re wishing them a slow, agonizing death (anger). There are times we suddenly become junior psychologists, certain we know what motivated their deal-breaking behavior, i.e. “He had a really rough childhood,” or “He just never learned to express love.” Surely, if we simply explain their core issues to them, they will have all the insight they need to change (bargaining). And of course, once they realize how dysfunctional they’ve been, they’ll come back to us (denial).

It’s all normal – every crappy bit of it. Hang in there, though. The acceptance stage is on its way!

For those of us who tend to be sensitive and overly responsible, it can be tempting to try and “fix” the other person’s issues with kindness and nurturing. My attitude about this has changed, thankfully. In reality, every adult has choices, and to accept others’ unacceptable behavior, whatever the reason for it, only enables them to continue it. It’s time for both people to grow up!

Ultimately, however, unless I can find a way to forgive the other person – and that doesn’t necessarily imply ongoing interaction with them – I’ll wind up bitter and disillusioned. That’s the last place I want to be, if I am to move forward in joy and serenity. For me, forgiving someone else starts with forgiving myself.

To prevent an attitude that I “failed” in a relationship, I have to take a close look at my behavior during it. Was I controlling, demanding, or manipulative? Was I honest? It can be humbling to evaluate my part in relationship problems, but if I only focus on what “he did to me,” there is absolutely no chance I will learn and grow from the experience. My introspection may even show me I have amends to make to my ex, which is even more humbling, but can be put off until I’m on more solid emotional ground. Again, though, taking responsibility for my part, no matter what he did or did not do, offers me priceless gifts like personal growth, freedom from myself, and the certainty that my future relationships will be stronger and healthier.

Icing on the Cake

During the pain of a break-up, it’s vital to remind yourself that you are complete and whole in yourself. You have your own light already inside you, so you don’t need someone else to shine on you.

I’m a dessert-lover, so I picture myself as a cake. It is my responsibility – no one else’s – to keep me fully baked and tasting sweet. Having a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or partner can be incredibly fulfilling, but it’s still basically just icing on the cake. No matter whether you’re with someone or not, keep tending to the things that make you the best person…the most mouth-watering confection…you can be.

It can be difficult to focus on ourselves without blaming others. Pride steps in and blocks us. For me, it’s impossible without the strength of my spiritual Source, which I call God. I can honestly say, I have never been disappointed when I truly rely on God’s guidance and comfort. The name we give our own such Source is unimportant, as long as we realize that it is not us! This power exists independent of us and our limited thinking.

Who would think talking about a break-up could get this deep? But like all heartbreaking events and circumstances, it’s a chance to heal some old hurts and become more resilient. In the meantime, there’s the love of family and friends, satisfaction from the work we do, and of course, massages, pedicures, white buttercream frosting…whatever. There are indeed pleasures in life that rival sex, which is damn good news for us after a break-up! Why sacrifice all the beautiful parts of today by inviting more misery than is necessary because of a break-up? After all, the world awaits you – this second – with open arms!

Overcoming the Obstacles to a Simpler Life

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

IMG_0241The multifaceted nature of existence itself, combined with our very human ways of trying to deal with all the variables, leads all of us, at one time or another, to wishing our lives were simpler. Tired and aggravated, we look around and point to what we think are the culprits – the out-of-control kids, unreasonable boss, lazy spouse, or too many spam emails and store coupons. Actually, though, the real cause usually has more to do with us than what’s happening in our world.

While it’s certainly true that technological advancements have led to an overabundance of information – affording us more possibilities, but also more choices and conflicts – it is doubtless that people from the beginning of time have wanted less stress and complexity in their lives. The reason is obvious…we humans are the ones who make our lives more problematical than they have to be! By our own attitudes and behavior, we create a lifestyle that frequently exceeds our ability to handle it. To make matters worse, when we inevitably lose control and fail in one or more areas, others blame us and we feel bad about ourselves.

The true keys to simplicity lie within us, regardless of the insane situations and people we feel forced to deal with. If we start focusing inward, on ourselves instead of “them,” we might spot certain attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a complicated life.

1.         Dishonesty – The admonitions against dishonesty are so universal, a phrase was coined describing the consequence…“getting caught in a web of lies.” If we are habitually dishonest, we absolutely invite complexity. This trait, however, may be the trickiest one to address, since if we’re dishonest with others, we’re usually not being honest with ourselves, either. This would apply to countless people who believe their own lies. Breaking free of our own illusions can be impossible unless we’re strongly motivated to do so. Frequently, however, the pain generated by an individual’s deceptiveness can push him or her to change.

It helps if we understand why we are duplicitous with certain people or in particular situations. The lies we tell are usually a form of protection, even though we may be unconscious of what we’re trying to protect. In many instances, we’re trying to spare ourselves embarrassment or shame at a perceived weakness. For some, the fear of exposing certain things is of the same intensity as fear of death or annihilation! Therefore, it’s best to be very patient and gentle as we strive to become more honest with ourselves about our feelings and motives. As we grow more accepting of the truth about ourselves, our need to lie and cover up lessens, along with the complexity of keeping up a false front. What a relief!

2.         Being Controlling – Trying to control or manipulate people and circumstances around us is another sure way to live in constant anxiety. The truth is, our ability to control things and people is an illusion, and when we base our life on an illusion, we’re certain to suffer. Sometimes it may seem as though we’re successfully managing all the players in our particular drama, and we feel satisfied. This lasts literally a few seconds, however, before something goes wrong.

To let other people handle their own problems, to let situations work themselves out instead of insisting on and forcing our own solutions, to keep our focus on our own life and responsibilities instead of becoming involved in others’…these are attitudes which lift the crippling burden of trying to manage things which are not ours to manage, and at the same time free others to feel good about solving their own problems.

3.         Over-Committing – Wanting acceptance and approval from others is basic to human nature, but when this approval-seeking becomes more important than our own feelings and needs, we get ourselves into trouble. Oftentimes unconsciously, we put others first, discounting our own wants and responsibilities. We drive someone here or there, take off work to help a friend move, offer to chair the monthly board meeting again…whatever. The relief we see in others’ faces when we take on extra tasks gives us the comforting feeling that they are happy with us. But our efforts backfire later in exhaustion and resentment, two unpleasant consequences of people-pleasing. When we offer favors without considering the effect on us, we fail to protect and care for ourselves, and both our schedule and feelings spiral into overwhelm.

To be of service to others is obviously a great thing, as strong individuals grow even stronger when they give of themselves. But to give in a healthy way means we are whole and able to do so, and not just reflecting a neediness to have others like us.

4.         Addiction to Drama – Usually a characteristic that operates on an unconscious level, drama addiction greatly perpetuates complexity in our lives. In this addiction, we actually crave the intense emotional highs and lows brought about by conflict. Perhaps we’ve never known anything different, or maybe we fear what would be left without constant upset. After all, in those mundane moments or when things are going well, we feel a scary emptiness. We’re left with only ourselves, and if we’re not comfortable with who we are, we subconsciously seek out a new distraction, even if it’s the negative kind.

Drama addiction robs us of peace and simplicity as we find ways to sabotage relationships with others, make choices destined to bring chaos, and often feel sorry for ourselves and like a victim. All the “excitement” is a grand escape from reality, which usually is less thrilling but far more fulfilling if given the chance!

5.         Disorganization – On both the material and emotional levels, being disorganized can lead to all sorts of complications in our lives. We have so many pots on the stove, so to speak, that it’s impossible to adequately tend to them all. We’re surrounded by loose-ended projects, goals, and relationship issues. The disorder in our houses and minds keeps us stuck dealing with emergency after emergency, with little resolution to anything. By being disorganized, we maintain the adrenaline of negative excitement in a crises-based lifestyle. Like drama addiction, being disorganized pays off in that it’s an avoidance behavior, in this case a self-generated diversion from the work involved in confronting and resolving problems.

If we’re driven by ongoing overwhelm, we’ve lost sight of the fact that we need only attend to one issue, goal, or chore at a time. By slowly – and again, gently – trying to become more organized in all areas of our lives, we find we can get rid of the ideas and belongings no longer useful to us, clearing the way for simplicity and sanity.

6.         Perfectionism and Procrastination – Both these characteristics have the same end result: we don’t get to enjoy the simple satisfaction of completing a project, knowing we’ve given our best effort. Procrastination relates directly to disorganization, already discussed as a source of needless complexity. Perfectionism can actually contribute to procrastination, since our mind can be so overwhelmed by thinking we have to finish something according to our idyllic standards, that we unconsciously (or consciously) avoid even starting on it. The same applies to projects we have started, but never wind up finishing because the outcome might be less than flawless.

Perfectionism, although a positive quality on some level, can thus lead us to a house cluttered with projects not started or not completed, and a mind cluttered with self-recrimination at all the things we haven’t accomplished. A helpful slogan to use when we start feeling those pangs of dissatisfaction or anxiety arising from perfectionism goes like this: A mistake a day keeps perfectionism at bay.

It is up to us to decide if we’re ready for a less complicated life. Certainly, trying to live simply requires awareness of the ideas and behaviors that contribute to our living problems. In this respect, striving for simplicity certainly does not imply that there’s no work involved in avoiding the pitfalls that get us in too deep.

As we continue to be conscious of how we ourselves are basically responsible for our attitudes and ways of living, we may experience a sense of being humbled. This can be uncomfortable…after all, it’s far easier to blame other people, places, and things for the craziness of our lives! But if our goal is simplicity and serenity, it’s worth journeying inward to the place where peace can truly dwell and thrive, regardless of anything or anyone outside our skin.

Finding Peace, Not Popularity

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

To one degree or another, trying to be “popular” has been an issue my whole life. I’m sure many can relate to this struggle, which usually begins around the time the honeymoon of childhood morphs into the agonizing self-consciousness of adolescence. I’ll never forget how it felt to panic about who I’d sit with at lunch or on the bus, or if anyone would be my science lab partner. Then there was the humiliation of being a “leftover” after everyone else had paired off. Somehow I had missed the lessons on how to look, how to dress, and most important of all, how to be “cool.” Anyway, how could I be cool when I was too paralyzed with shyness to even speak most of the time? My mind talked plenty, though, constantly reminding me I was a loser and that everyone around me knew it.

I felt alone and trapped in a cruel and miserable pecking order system favoring those unselfconscious enough to talk and laugh with their peers, yet insensitive enough to put down those who couldn’t. Today, the situation has a name: bullying. As far as I’m concerned, even identifying the behavior and the harm it can cause are huge steps forward in social progress.

Does being a sensitive person make one more likely to be teased, or is it the teasing that causes one to become sensitive? However it works, this negative cycle results in those most vulnerable being attacked, which to them is a nightmare of low self-esteem coming true. The obsession to fit in, and the resulting humiliation of perceived failure, is enough to create a permanent shift in a person’s brain, enough to push many over the precipice into some very dark places: suicide, addiction, unhealthy choices in relationships, and a host of other self-defeating coping mechanisms.

And if one survives being unpopular past high school, it’s not as though the damage magically disappears, either. For some victims, the core belief that they are somehow inadequate or not as lovable as others remains deeply buried, but at the same time manifests in just about everything they say and do, including the circumstances and people they attract to their lives.

Beyond the teenage years, the battle to feel worthy wages on, just in different arenas. It can be seen in cutthroat office politics, where not only status, but the ability to support oneself, are at stake. It can be felt within communities, where being “better than” is measured in wealth, education, politics, and ethnicity. The assumption is that if you have more money, power, material possessions, etc., you are somehow superior to, smarter, and more “together” than those with less.

Here in the digital age, the quest for approval is obvious on Facebook and other social networking sites, where the winners are those with the greatest number of “friends,” “followers,” or level of response to their posts. In a computerized society, it’s easier to represent yourself as someone you’re not, and thus increase your perceived status. It’s also easier, however, to hurt another’s feelings when you don’t have to personally witness the pain you cause another human across cyberspace.

In my own case, the abusive and dysfunctional environment of grades four through twelve, coupled with denial and further criticism at home, almost caused me to end my life at a young age. But taking on an overeating addiction basically rescued me, saving me from having to feel those emotions I basically had no ability to face at that time. Addictions do serve a purpose as a survival mechanism…unfortunately, they themselves can kill the very life they seek to protect.

There is hope, however. Even people like me who’ve suffered permanent disability to their self-esteem – be it from bullying or anything else – have a real opportunity to come out of this experience not only intact, but even better, perhaps, than they might have been without the trauma. The journey starts with basic endurance – bearing the discomfort of our own thoughts and feelings just for this day – but with honesty and the willingness to get help and work on our issues, leads to a softer place of healing. In this peaceful place, we love ourselves, our emotions, and our lives exactly as they are, no matter what anyone else thinks about us.

Having lived through the stigma of unpopularity (and barely, I admit), I like to think that my ordeal might help others having similar troubles. Low self-esteem is not exactly rare among humankind, so in my view, anyone with understanding, experience, and hope can be of great use. Focusing on replacing negative attitudes with positive ones has become my life-long challenge…and honestly, it can sometimes be a minute-to-minute battle.

Recent circumstances in my family have forced me to take another up-close look at how approval or disapproval from others affects peoples’ feelings about themselves. Much as I had hoped that the ghosts of middle school were long gone, they have returned now that the same damn thing is acutely affecting people I love. Fortunately, the solid growth I’ve had as a result of confronting myself and my attitudes has made the issue far less intimidating to deal with as it comes up in family members, reminding me to be grateful for the progress I’ve made in replacing those old, sick beliefs.

Here are my new beliefs: we are all worthy, no matter our flaws, deficiencies, or defects, and we will see our intrinsic value if we are willing to look for answers inside, instead of outside us, and grow along a path guided by the forces of goodness and love. Give those forces whatever name you want.

It’s really just as simple as that.

I wish I could say the journey on this path was simple, but I’d be lying. Sometimes it’s agonizing, confusing, and in my own case, fraught with my mistakes and shortcomings. But persistence is powerful…picture a leaf floating on the surface of a stream that is tossed about by eddies, rocks, and powerful currents, but still winds up moving downriver. Never forget that those healing forces guiding us are much stronger than we are, and they will push us along and give us rest when we need it.

Encouragement, A Gift You Can Give For Free

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

IMG_0894Encouragement is something given for free, but nevertheless in short supply at times. Understanding the reasons for this may help us to share it more abundantly. Could it be that we are so caught up in our own problems and issues that we’re unaware of the needs of those around us? Or are we so focused on ourselves that we are afraid to approach someone suffering a crisis, because we might say or do the “wrong” thing. Perhaps we find ways to avoid feeling our own pain, and are thus unaware or incapable of understanding what others feel. Instead, we rush around, running from difficult emotions, but the effort leaves us with no resources to help our fellows.

Sometimes we may even want others to fail, as this puts us in a superior position. We can then congratulate ourselves on how well we’ve handled things and thereby avoided being in a similar dire state. Perhaps we have secretly envied certain other people, so when they’re suffering we actually feel a sense of satisfaction.

If someone close to us shares that they are having a problem, the inclination seems to be to figure it out for them, to solve the issue and thus rid them of their discomfort. What we fail to see is that by giving them solutions, we are detracting even further from their self-esteem by telling them, in effect, that we don’t believe they are able to solve their own problems. It is not our job to fix other people, but trying to understand and encourage them can go a long way toward restoring some of their positive feelings about themselves.

Encouragement can be as simple as giving a smile or a hug to someone you know who is going through a hard time. It can take the form of validating their feelings, but even better, suggesting a new and more productive way of looking at the problem. Focusing on that person’s qualities – such as inner strength, faith, intelligence, good judgment, sensitivity, practicality – sheds the light of positivity and demonstrates appreciation of people for who they are, in spite of their troubles. This is a surer recipe for healing their battered spirit than discussing what they did wrong that caused their difficulties, or how they could improve. Chances are, we all do the best we can – and make the wisest choices we can – at any given moment. If our best turned out to backfire or be insufficient, it is hard enough to face this without the sharp edge of criticism. Lessons learned from failure take time…patience and gentleness with ourselves and others are invaluable.

Judgment and having expectations are the opposites of encouragement. If we detect these two characteristics in ourselves, it is easy to understand why condescension or indifference might be our reaction to another in trouble. To the best of your ability, try to imagine yourself in the same situation and consider what reaction from others would comfort you the most. If we can do this, and practice at it, we will learn to give encouragement in a weary world, where truly, there can never be enough of this precious commodity.