Habotage

In my office building, there is a poster of four cyclists in the 1920 Tour de France.  Two of them are smoking and one is leaning over to give a fellow cyclist a few puffs of his cigarette.  None are wearing helmets.  

They are fit, lean and in it to win it.  They have trained long and hard for this arduous competition.  They have no idea that they are putting themselves in danger of invisible concussion brain injury or lung cancer.  They have no idea that smoking is putting a deathly black coat on the lungs that they need to function at maximum capacity.  They have no clue that they are unintentionally obstructing the very thing they want most.

This is one example, but there are many.  People who have been going to the gym all their life only to discover now that the old way of working out is actually injuring and weakening certain muscles.  People who sprawled on the beach soaked in baby oil to get that 'healthy' sun-tanned glow only to find out it was a death sentence.  At one time Heroin was put in cough syrup and touted to cure coughs, colds and general irritation, which I'm sure it did!   Until the discovery that it also messed with brain chemistry in a life-threatening sort of way.

My point is that there are many examples of times when we believe we are doing something good for ourselves but in actuality we are doing something destructive.  I, as well as others, have called this sabotage.   However, as a client accurately pointed out recently, sabotage is a military term referring to the deliberate destruction or obstruction of a designed outcome.  The way I use it in relationships it is definitely destructive and obstructing what we really want, but it is not deliberate.  It is unconscious, unintentional and reflexive.  It is a blind habit rather than a calculated plan.  So I am dubbing this "habotage."

Habotage is rampant in relationships.  I see it everywhere.  There are so many of us (all of us actually) who think we are doing what's good for ourselves and our family but instead we end up exactly where we did not want to be.  We throw up our hands in frustration, despair and bewilderment without any clue about how we ourselves have participated in obstructing the very thing that we claim to want most.

It's hard to figure this out on our own sometimes.  If you notice yourself thinking "what just happened?  How did I end up here again?  Why is she so mad at me when I was only trying to help?   Why does he say or do that for no reason?  Why do I always find myself feeling hurt, lost, misunderstood, inadequate, awkward, wrong, sad or angry in relationships?" then you may be habotaging.  And if you can't quite put the pieces together by yourself, call me. 

I can help.

 

 

Posted on May 29, 2017 .

Mom Was Right About Bed-making

In my childhood home, I had what my mom called the 'front bedroom' in our ranch style house.  It meant, if my bedroom door was open, you could see into it from the front door entrance foyer.  It meant everyone who came to the front door could see whether my room was tidy.  

My solution was to close the door.  My mom's solution was to ensure that I made my bed nicely every morning.  Not surprisingly, her vote trumped mine.  She said it was nice to start your day by doing something to create order.  She said it felt good to never have to apologize or make excuses for a mess.  She said to do it as soon you got out of bed and then it was done.

I moved out of the house when I was 17 and for the next 35 years I did not make my bed.  It was a waste of effort in my mind.  I left my bedroom in the morning and did not return until it was time to crawl under the covers.  Why (I wondered with just a touch of superiority) would I spend even 5 minutes making a bed that no one saw, when there was so much to do in a day?

We moved into a new house this past summer - a bungalow - and I now sleep in a ‘front bedroom’ again.   I started making my bed and even arranging the new decorative pillows I’d purchased.  I could just close the door since my vote carries weight now.   I could make the bed or not make it for any number of reasons.  But there was something more.  In some bizarre way I feel like I'm honouring and connecting with my mom who is now gone.  I take 5 minutes every morning (probably closer to 1 minute since modern duvets make it pretty easy) to create an attractive, ordered bedroom.  I actually get aesthetic pleasure from looking at it.  Mom was right.

In fact, studies indicate that 71% of bed-makers describe themselves as happy.  62% of non-bed-makers describe themselves as unhappy.  Bed-makers are more likely to enjoy their work, own a home, exercise and generally feel good.  Non- bed makers are more likely to hate their job, rent apartments, avoid the gym and generally feel tired.  Of course, there is no direct cause and effect, but some speculate that making your bed as soon as you get up makes you feel like you've accomplished something right out of the gate, which gives you a 'win' mindset for the day.

Mom was right about a lot of things.  For a few decades, I often believed I was doing things better than my mom.  To be really honest, I thought I was a bit smarter.  In retrospect, I'm sure my mom knew I thought that way, but she never said a word.  It's funny, in a sorrowful sort of way, how when a relationship with someone is no longer possible, you see with rather horrifying clarity how wrong you were about certain things.

If I could do it again, I would listen more carefully to my mom's words.  I would care more about her perspective.  I would pay closer attention to what she had learned about relationships with friends, a spouse, in-laws, money, food, morality and God as well as bed-making.  I would not let my own youthful arrogance blind me to the wisdom that, truly, you can only get by doing time on planet earth (another thing my mom used to say).

I take one minute every morning as soon as I get out of bed to remind myself of this. 

If there is something you would like to give more attention to, someone you wish you had listened to (or not listened to), if your inner arrogance/fear has blinded you and if you long to create balance/order/integrity in your world but just can't seem to make it happen, call me.  I can help

Posted on March 31, 2017 .

Roxy

There are some really important things I have learned from my husband's dog.  I was never a dog owner growing up.  So I never really knew or loved a dog until I met Roxy.  She has taught me some valuable life lessons for personal health, businesss success and relationship well being.  Here are four of them.

1.  Always do the 'downward dog' stretch before going out for the day.   We hold significant messages from our emotional brain, in our body.  We hold onto much more tension than we are aware of, and this stretch really helps with that.   It's probably the foundational stretch of any yoga practice.  I have been going to yoga classes for years but I recently noticed that Roxy does it better.  She sticks her butt higher and reaches her front paws out further and when I try it the way she does it, it's a much deeper stretch.  I'm sure my yoga instructors also do it that way.  I'm just saying I understood it so much better when I imitated Roxy.

2. When you sense an opportunity, give it your focus and be there when the door opens.   When Roxy wants to go out, she'll lie on the mat by the front door.  If one of us comes nearby, she'll watch carefully.  If we go to the closet, she'll leap up.  If we reach for our coat, she'll quickly stretch (downward dog of course) and hurry to the door.  She puts her nose an inch from the door knob and does not move, does not lessen her focus, regardless of how long it takes for us to get ready.   I sometimes smile.  There is no way that she is going to miss the opening of that door.  The second the door cracks open her nose is through it.    She never misses an open door if her goal is to get outside.  And her goal IS often to 'get outside' where there are so many more opportunities.

3.  If you want affection and attention be clear about what you want, and also be understanding, available and mostly content while waiting.  Roxy loves affection and attention.  Maybe even more than food, and that's saying a LOT.  Sometimes she will come over and wiggle her head under my hand to make  extra clear what she would like.  She will put her paw on my lap.  She has no trouble communicating her desires for attention.  When I pat her, she makes little happy noises that my son compares with our cat 'purring'.  If it's not a good time for me to attend to her, she doesn't pout, criticize, stonewall or shut me out in any way.  She flops down nearby, or engages in something else, and stays alert for a mutually good time to connect with the people she loves.

4.  When you are happy, show it.  Happiness is contagious and why not spread that around, given how many other things we spread around.  When Roxy is happy her tail wags so vigourously that it takes her entire hind end back and forth with it.  Her feet prance around.  Her eyes sparkle.  Her whole body exudes happiness and excited anticipation.  It makes me want to do whatever she is excited about, which is usually a walk or food or affection.  It's pretty uncomplicated with her.  But lots of times that's what we want too.  Connection, something physical, nourishment, affection.  I'm pretty sure that if we received those things with such visible and tangible and pure happiness, we would attract a lot more of it.

Sometimes we can learn a lot from our pets if we are willing and observant.  In these four observations, there is a foundational assumption of non-abusiveness.  Naturally it changes (for both a pet and a human) if the relationship is abusive. 

If you can't seem to 'get' this in a way that feels real or meaningful...if you resonate more with stiffness and bodily tension, inability to focus and missed opportunities, lack of affection and confusing communication,  sadness/anger or at best 'guarded' happiness...  or... if you are in an abusive relationship and want to change that, call me.  I can help.

Posted on February 9, 2017 .

I Wish It Was His Fault

I remember once when my son was about three, he was playing alongside his little brother Jesse and he hurt his foot on a toy truck that he'd left in the middle of the floor.  I went over to comfort him and after a few minutes he said "I feel like hitting Jesse." 

"Why?"  I asked him.  "It wasn't Jesse's fault."

"I know" he said, "But I wish it was."

 Touché.  Honest and transparent and what we often feel but don't admit.   He had been agitated for awhile with his 1 year old brother for a variety of reasons (that only a 3 year old oldest child with a 1 year old new sibling fully understands). How awesome would it be if somehow he could blame (and hit) the person who seemed to be currently upsetting his life, rather than take responsibility for his hurt foot.

 We do this all the time as adults and sadly, we often don't get to the "I know it's not their fault but I wish it was"  level of awareness and integrity.  Whether it's an annoying person at work, a spouse, an ex or a sibling, we can find a way to blame them for our troubles.    It feels so much better to have it be the fault of someone we dislike, rather than our own fault.    If my little son had been a few decades older, I'm sure he could have discovered some way to trace the trucks positioning back to his brother.  Perhaps if Jesse hadn't been sitting on the floor,  the truck might be in that spot and not where it was and he wouldn't have stepped on it.   If Jesse hadn't been playing with the blocks then perhaps he would be playing with them and not the truck.   Our creativity and resourcefulness in finding a way to blame someone else is truly remarkable.

 It does make sense that we do this though.    The feeling of "this hurts and it's my fault" is crappy.   It feels much better to legitimate our aggravation towards another person by blaming them.   It gets us off the hot seat and substantiates our dislike of the 'other'.  

 The only catch is that it doesn't actually work.  It is short term relief and often with unhappy consequences.   And, over time, if we become accustomed to finding someone to blame when we get hurt, we never learn the very important skill of owning our choices.   We get to a point where we immediately reflex to "it's her fault"' response, rather than "How did I participate in this outcome?" query.  

I am not suggesting that we just shift the blame from 'other' to 'self'.  This is not about letting other people off the hook and blaming yourself or beating yourself up.  Most of us have that skill down pat too.     What I'm suggesting is something much bigger and ultimately, wonderfully liberating.  There are some small but absolutely crucial differences between 'beating yourself up' and 'owning your stuff'.  And the difference in the emotional experience and relationship outcome is huge.

 If you believe you are 'blamed' for everything by someone in your life and don't know what to do, or if you have the self-awareness to recognize it in yourself but don't know what to do about it, then call me.  I can help.

Posted on July 24, 2016 .

Mike Ross in Relationship

There are not a lot of great relationships to root for on television these days.  But one relationship I find myself cheering for is the relationship between Rachel and Mike Ross on the Suits series.  And that's why it was so disconcerting when, in the middle of sky-high tensions and last minute decisions with so much at stake... at the end of season five... Mike Ross chose to make an arbitrary decision directly against his promise to Rachel.

 I know it's a TV show.  I know he says he had only 3 minutes to make the decision that changed everything.  I know there was a great deal to lose if he miscalculated.  I know that he felt the weight of it unbearably.  I know he loves Rachel deeply and would sacrifice himself for her.   I know it was an incredibly difficult decision.  And even though it is a TV show, there are real life choices that are also very difficult. Those 'rock' or a 'hard place' choices that are agonizing.

 However, my point in this blog, is that he broke his promise to Rachel without a conversation with her, and made his 'higher calling' choice without appreciating the impact on her.   Several times Rachel tries to keep them together, united, working as a team, intimately connected, and although it is abundantly clear to the viewer that Mike's love for her is immense, he makes his big decision on his own.  In the end, he is a lone wolf.   He somehow misses the fact that to sacrifice himself has a huge impact on Rachel. 

 This is a significant thing.  When you are in a relationship it is truly challenging to live in the place between individual freedom and commitment to 'team'.  Some  people naturally go for autonomy and independence and can experience 'team' as a confining 'trap'.    Others naturally go for alliance and dependence and can experience freedom as a type of abandonment.  So it's tricky.

 However, the one thing that is crucial either way is communication and vulnerability.    It is not compromise, or 'taking one for the team', or silencing your natural yearnings that makes the relationship work.  And it most certainly is not your old ways of getting your needs met.. like subtle manipulation, overt demands and various ways of 'self' and 'other' deception.    It is being honest and open.   It is through 'real' conversation.  It is knowing yourself and knowing the other - and that can only happen  with honesty and vulnerability.    And honesty and vulnerability can only happen when you feel safe.

If you are struggling in a relationship where you feel misled, misinterpreted, misrepresented, misinformed... and generally 'missed'...  then you do not have  open, vulnerable communication.  If you cannot seem to have a 'real' conversation,  then connection in your relationship is not really working.  If your influence in the relationship seems to veer between tight and controlling to ineffective  and unmanageable...or if you experience your partner as either withdrawing to a place you can't access, or acting out in a way you can't handle... then neither of you feels safe.  And that's a problem.

 Unfortunately, there is no 'magic' technique here.  It is a (probably lifelong) journey towards  enjoying a liberating connection and secure interdependence.   Freedom AND safety.   It is work, but it is definitely worth it. 

  If you want to do this but don't know how, call me.  I can help.

Posted on April 20, 2016 .

Getting Better

I was working with my trainer this morning at the gym and she was pointing out how some of my muscles simply do not respond even when I'm 'trying' to make them work.   Some of the smaller muscles have become so weak from underuse to the point where I can't even access them, while some other muscles have become so tight from overuse that I can't even relax them.   Perhaps it started during a gymnastics accident when I was a kid.  Probably exacerbated by the three occasions when a moving car hit my stopped car from behind.  Further exacerbated by computer work, writing a lot, being right handed etc etc.   In any case, little by little, over the decades, there developed a complicated, interconnected system of "gnarly" (that's my trainer's word) knots and scar tissue, jamming the muscles and making the problem worse each year.   It now affects my neck, shoulder, back and hips.   She has to literally pry my muscles apart and knead the knots out. 

 This is painful.  She is not particularly gentle because 'gentle' would not get me results.   In the moment when she is inflicting pain, I want her to stop.  I would prefer to let my muscles reflex back into their dysfunctional place.   It is tempting to choose the familiar discomfort of my tight muscles and gnarly tissue over the pain she's forcing me to deal with. I try to remember why I'm paying her.   However, I know that it's a good pain.  Most of us can tell the difference between good pain and bad pain.   With good pain we grow and become freer, even though the process might hurt.

 And so my relationship with my trainer is bitter sweet.  I go because I know it's good for me.  What she says makes sense.  The process is not pleasant, but choosing to ignore it seems foolish.   Also, apparently I need her help.  I can do some of the exercises on my own, but there is some work that requires her intervention.  (She's also good at what she does and a very nice person, and that helps too).

 It's exactly the same with emotional injury that occurs during childhood.   We shut down certain emotions and overuse others.  Some ways of coping become strong and reflexive from overuse, while others become so weak we cannot even access them.  It happens unconsciously, little by little, so that by the time it causes problems in our external world, there is a major network of gnarly, scarred emotions and tissue damage on the inside.

 Some people come to therapy understanding this and are determined to push through, even though they don't actually 'enjoy' coming to see me.  They continue to show up because they recognize it is 'good' pain.   There are also some people who stop as soon as it becomes uncomfortable.  As soon as they 'feel' emotions that they chose to shut down years ago, they decide they were better off living with the distress of their presenting problem, than the discomfort of healing work.  

 It's an unfortunate twist that what started out as good coping becomes a harmful habit.  Just like it 'made sense' for certain muscles to 'retreat' in order to heal, (while others took over) after my gymnastics accident, it 'makes sense' for certain emotions to shut down when they have been hurt.   But over time, the original balance needs to be restored, and it often isn't.   And so it ends up creating a state of ongoing suffering.  In our bodies.  In our minds.  And in our emotions.

 If you need help restoring that balance, call me.  I can help.

Posted on March 22, 2016 .

Seven Ways of Dealing with Life's Ups and Downs

I remember a line in a book I read once that seemed to capture one of life's little mysteries.  It went something like, 'One day you wake up and feel like you could conquer the world and the next day you wake up and are flattened by a spilled cup of coffee.'   It's true.  Something in us seems to shift, sometimes during the night, and we just 'wake up' feeling strong and unshakable or weak and fragile.  We can't always control whatever that is.  However we can still choose our response to it.  You can:

1.  Cut yourself some slack.  Maybe you slayed dragons during the night and need a break.  Maybe your body and psyche are telling you to rest.  Maybe its hormonal.  Maybe it's the position of the moon.  Who knows all the threads in the tapestry of our 'wake up' mood?  We just 'know' that we as human beings have different moods and feelings and some days are better than others.  Be nice to yourself on a 'spilled cup of coffee' day.

2.  Blame no one.  Honestly?  It never helps.  First of all it gets your brain and then your heart all swirling and agitated and angry.  Secondly, if you blame someone/something else, then you are filled with indignation, outrage and offense, but since you are a victim, you feel powerless.  If you blame yourself you are filled with guilt, shame and regret, but since it is 'in' you, you feel powerless.  Remember #1, cut yourself and others some slack, and focus on what would truly help most in the moment.

3.  Allow yourself to Feel.  Maybe the most helpful thing in the moment is to face your feelings.  Maybe you are genuinely disappointed, sad, hurt, angry, remorseful....  Allow it to be real.  Say it out loud.  Hold it carefully for awhile, and then ask yourself, what is the most helpful thing for me to do with these feelings now that I have truly felt them.  Do I need to write it out?  Talk to someone?  Let it go?

4.  Own what you need to own.  If you have participated in creating your 'down', then own it.  This is very different than blaming yourself or beating yourself up.  If you drank too much, ate too much, watched the wrong movie, spent time with the wrong people, worked too late or... indulged the wrong thing... yet again, make it real by saying it out loud to yourself in the mirror.   Pledge to your reflection in the mirror that you will set a new healthier course for yourself.   Remember #1, #2, and #3 as you are doing this.

5.  Seek Growth.  Sometimes it's on the down days that you make new resolutions that end up being life-changing.  Maybe the 'new healthier course' leads to a pivotal decision that takes you someplace awesome.  When things are going smoothly, we sometimes become morally, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically a bit lazy.  It's partly why kingdoms won are then later lost.

6.  Don't Believe Everything You Think.  It is true that when you are 'down', you truly cannot remember all the good things in your life.  It's called 'mood-dependent memory'.  However if you know that, you can press over-ride in your brain and remind yourself that your current thoughts are not accurate.  If you have trouble recalling even that, then write a note to remind you and stick it to your bathroom mirror or your dashboard.

7.  This too Shall Pass.  It's a fact. Whatever you are feeling and experiencing today will pass.  It's true about your awesome days as well.   Don't let your identity become so enmeshed in your daily mood that you cannot remind yourself of this time-tested truth.  It will help keep you both humble and empowered.

And... as always...If you are struggling to find the strength or wisdom to respond in this way, call me.  I will help.

Posted on March 2, 2016 .

Everybody Has a Hungry Heart

 

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don't know where it's flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

Everybody's got a hungry heart...

Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don't make no difference what nobody says
Ain't  nobody like to be alone

Everybody's got a hungry heart..

         https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxptQ_75mQw

I saw Bruce Springsteen the other night in Toronto.  In addition to his phenomenal demonstration of physical endurance (at age 66 he played for 3.5 hours with no breaks... not even a breather between songs)... the concert was awesome.   Songs and bands that go the distance do so at least partly because of the powerful words of truth and tragedy woven into the lyrics and music.

 Everybody has a hungry heart.

 Yes.  We do.  But that's not the tragic part.  The part that fuels the song industry is the fact that we can't seem to find the right food for it much of the time and so our hearts stay in a state of chronic yearning.   Unsure, unfulfilled, unhappy, unsatisfied and...well... hungry.

 And to further complicate the tragedy, we do things that actually sabotage being fulfilled.  We make choices that make the hunger worse.   We dread being alone and without a 'home'... but we "go for a ride and don't go back".  We long for "a place to rest' but we make 'wrong turns and just keep going'.   We flow as helplessly and unknowingly as the river without any realization of the power that could be harnessed.   We blindly drift, run, or 'carry on'... rather than stopping to orient ourselves and correct our wrong turns.... and our hearts become more and more mal-nourished and emaciated.

 It doesn't have to be like that.  The way to nurture and nourish your hungry heart is to stop, become intentional about identifying and facing wrong turns,  and then begin the process of re-orienting, rectifying, repairing and rebuilding,  Learning how to truly nourish your heart is a life skill.  Don't settle for a fast food drive through.

 If you don't know how to begin this process... call me.  I will help.

 

Posted on February 9, 2016 .

Breaking Habits

I don't know what's worth fighting for
Or why I have to scream
I don't know why I instigate
And say what I don't mean
I don't know how I got this way
I know it's not alright
So I'm breaking the habit
I'm breaking the habit tonight

Linkin Park - Breaking The Habit Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

 Wow.   Those are some pretty serious 'I don't knows'!  Not knowing what to fight for.  Not knowing where to invest your time and energy.  Not knowing why a scream rises up inside you and must come out.  Not knowing why anger, fear, rage, hurt or paralysis swirls around in your head and body.  Not knowing why you lash out at other people.  Not knowing why you say things you regret.  Only knowing that it is not alright.

 Sadly many of us can relate.  And there's only one tiny problem with Linkin Park's lyrics.  If we don't know the 'what', the 'why' or the 'how'.... it is really really hard to break the habit.  It is hard enough to change behaviour when we know what we want and why.  But it is super hard when it comes from that confused, lost, free-floating troubled place.  If only it were as simple as concluding "Hey... this isn't alright!  I'm gonna break this habit tonight!"

 January 2016 is the beginning of another new year.  Traditionally it's a time of fresh resolve to live life better.   The gyms are full, the diet industry thrives, self-help books fly off the shelf.  And within a few weeks, sadly, many of us will have failed.  The habit we wanted to break or the resolution we wanted to keep has been tossed in the giant 'failure' bin, and we carry on as usual... a bit more jaded and cynical perhaps, but otherwise unchanged.

 However it is possible to change.  It really is.  It is not easy but it is possible and that's huge.  Habits actually can be broken and healthy choices are doable.  First though, it is so very helpful if you can put some of the puzzle pieces in place and understand the lure and the drive towards unhealthy choices, bad habits and self sabotage.  It is very helpful to understand what part of you wants to run, scream, hide or fight. 

 If you want to stop spinning, flailing and falling and figure out what you really need and want and how to get it, call me.  I can help.

Posted on January 7, 2016 .

Limiting Fears and Being Healthy

A few weeks ago I had lunch with my university room mates.    They were always attractive women and they still are... but Max actually looked better than she had at the last reunion, a couple of years ago.  She attributed it to her successful completion of the Whole 30 diet... a diet that eliminates the most allergenic foods to 'reset' your health.

 I have long been interested in good health.  I was the one who served 'spinach loaf' to my room mates when I was nineteen.  Back in the days of white wonder bread and iceberg lettuce salads.  "What is this?" they asked at the time.  "Spinach loaf!" I replied brightly.  Silence.  "It's green" someone observed.  "Yep" I said "spinach is green" my tone defying anyone to further comment.

 Max explained, over our lunch that day, that she has never felt better physically or emotionally.  Never slept better.    She looked great at age 19 so we couldn't really say she never looked better.  But still.  People in their 50's are not usually talking about how good they feel or sleep.

 The Whole 30 diet, she said, was very restrictive.  No sugar.  None.  Not even the bit that comes in your ketchup.  No grains.   Not even the trendy healthy quinoa.   No dairy.  No alcohol. No legumes.

 I've always secretly believed that if I could just completely eliminate sugar, all my ailments would disappear.  I've believed that since I read "Sugar Blues" when I was seventeen.  However, I have sweet 'teeth', not merely a sweet tooth.    So... completely eliminating sugar was akin to eliminating sunshine.  Impossible and by mid morning... why would you want to?  I regularly 'curb' my sugar intake to accommodate my health beliefs, but completely eliminate?  Never happened.

  I was, however,  impressed enough to google the Whole 30.   It sounded daunting.  The authors do a tough love approach and do not care that their diet is hard.  Apparently I do because I found myself balking.  I have never gone even a week on a diet that restrictive, although I have attempted lesser versions.  What makes me think I could do it this time?  Better not to commit.  Then if I can't do it, it's not such a glaring failure.

 I caught myself thinking that way.  Wow.  Seriously?  Better not to try in case I can't do it???   I'm a psychotherapist... I preach against those self-limiting thoughts.   So I decided to practice what I preach and unpack the mental blocks and do whatever I needed to do to make it happen.  The premise of the whole 30 is that you have to do it for 30 days without even a tiny exception in the 'rules'.  If you do, no problem though... you simply start again at day 1.

 I took some comfort in the fact that Max did it.  Not in a 'well-if-SHE-can-do-it-I-can-do-it' sort of way.  Just that she is the kind of person who does not mind being 'real'.  She does not try to present herself as someone who effortlessly breezes through hard things while also making home- made bread and inventing a better wheel.  So I was inspired by her achievement, and by her comment that she's going to do it again because it was such a good thing. 

 The authors basically say "quit your whining about it being hard.  Battling cancer is hard.  Losing a loved one is hard.  Drinking your coffee without cream and sugar Is Not Hard."  Point taken.  Perspective is important.

 Re-working your perspective is a big part of it and it does help to remember all the really hard things people can do.  But basically we are motivated to the extent that there is a payoff for us personally.  Max wanted to look and feel great for her daughter's wedding....it was her motivating pay-off.   If we are continually failing at things, it's largely because we are not more emotionally invested in succeeding than we are in failing.  This can be complicated because sometimes we have unconscious reasons to resist success.  Perhaps we're afraid of what success means, or entails, or creates.  Perhaps we are reluctant to give up our victim helplessness and self pity (which one part of us despises and another part of us depends upon).  Perhaps we are afraid to discover what our 'ceiling' is, or what our 'limits' are and prefer the fantasy that we 'could have' if we'd wanted to.  Fear of failure and fear of success are really powerfully limiting fears.

 When people come into my office, it is most often because they are motivated by crisis.  Crisis is hugely motivating.  Suddenly what might be lost (your marriage, a relationship, an opportunity, your health) is worth doing whatever is required to keep it in your possession.   Sadly, sometimes it is too late then. 

 If you would like to make some significant changes in your life but find yourself balking, procrastinating, wishing, blaming, envying, regretting or stagnating...then perhaps you would like to make an appointment to discover what your limiting (perhaps unconscious) fears are. 

Call me.  I can help.

 p.s.  I did complete the Whole 30 :)

Posted on November 9, 2015 .

Was I Good Mommy?

My son pushed his little face up to mine as soon as the guests had left.  "Was I good mommy?" he asked, his eyes searching mine.

 I confess he sort of caught me off guard.  I had reprimanded him a day or so ago for behaving badly at the dinner table when we had guests.  Now the previous hour or two flashed through my mind.  He had been a squirmy, energetic 9 year old boy and if 'good' was defined as a prim postured child with only politely appropriate words and flawless table manners, then no, he would not qualify.  "Well", I said, "you weren't perfect, but I wasn't asking you to be perfect."

 As I mused on his query later that day (and again now, years later) I thought ...that's really the fundamental question isn't it.  That's the question underneath layers and layers of life and experience.  Underneath years of striving, anxiety and bad choices in the adults I see in my office, is a little child wondering "Was I good mommy?"  "Did I get it right this time mommy?" "Were you proud of me?

 Sadly, as parents we often miss these opportunities to validate our child and help them to build a solid 'self'.  We miss the many many times the child does not ask directly, but the question is there all the same, waiting for a response. 

 I remember once when one son gave the dishwasher door too big a push and it slammed shut.  HIs dad hollered at him "Don't slam it shut like that!!!"  Then another son got up from the table and went over and did pretty much the same thing.  This time their father was furious.  "I JUST told your brother NOT to do that!!  Up to your room!!!!"

 I found the behaviour a bit curious and atypical, so after a few minutes I went up to his room.  He was sobbing.  I asked him gently "Why would you do what daddy had just told your brother not to do?"  Eventually, between  sobs and gasps, his perspective emerged.  "Daddy said, 'Don't slam it like that" (sob) so I thought I would slam it the proper way.  (sob).  I thought daddy would be happy with me slamming it the right way."

 He was just a little child with a simple desire to do good.  To make daddy proud of him.  (Along with the bonus experience of 'showing up' his brother).  It is so easy for us to miss this as a parent, and life goes on, and we never know.  Because the child doesn't have it in him to come to the parent and say "I'm feeling a bit misrepresented dad.  I'm not sure if you interpreted my intentions properly and I think perhaps you reacted too strongly without enough information."  Instead the child goes away, a little part of him broken that he no longer is motivated to put back together.  He feels wrong, confused, shamed and he will continue to feel that way a little more, every time, until he decides feeling that way is too crappy... and then he will block out feelings, lash out...or some other coping.

 And that's how our innermost core beliefs about ourselves (and corresponding coping) can solidify deep inside of us.  And we are haunted with beliefs about being wrong, inadequate and unworthy (regardless of how many degrees we acquire or companies we own) and still not having it in us to say "I'm feeling a bit misrepresented here..."  (in intimate relationships) because we were never taught to validate those feelings.

 I woke up the next morning after the evening with dinner guests and went to my son.  "Remember last night when you asked if you were good?"  "Yes" he said.  "Sweetheart, you are a very good little boy and I really appreciate you trying hard to be well behaved in the restaurant."  His face lit up into the sunny, untroubled smile that only children seem capable of, and he bounced out the door.

 The wonderful part of all this, is that we can learn how to validate our feelings, build a new sense of self, change our core beliefs and become freer from the wounds that were never properly dressed in our childhood.  If you are interested in doing this, email me (marycmanson@gmail.com). 

 I can help.

Posted on October 28, 2015 .

Thanksgiving

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! 

Feasts to celebrate thankfulness have been around for a very long time and it seems that gratitude is a deeply human response to 'good'.  Throughout history, a bountiful harvest was such a nice feeling.... so safe and comforting and heart-warming.  All the anxiety and worry about the unpredictable weather and the many many possible obstructions between planting a seed and reaping the harvest... were over.  There was safety.  And rest.  And gratitude.  And celebration.

It is almost trendy, these days, to be 'grateful'.  With all the emphasis on 'how to be happy', and the extensive studies showing that grateful people are happy people... many of us now try to make a habit of being thankful on a daily basis.

Although I've never been a big fan of doing what's 'trendy'...   gratitude really does change you for better.    It actually IS is difficult to be both depressed and grateful.  Not as a little checklist ritual (I'm thankful for A and B... hmmm I need one more thing to be thankful for...umm....... oh ya... I'm thankful for C too)... but as a deep resurgence of clarity and a exercised capacity for appreciation.

 "Clarity" because we can readily lose focus and see only the overwhelming landslide of whatever negative things are in our life.  It seems so much easier to magnify the disappointments than to magnify the things we are grateful for.

 "Exercised capacity for appreciation" because our appreciation muscles need to be 'exercised'... stretched and worked like everything else in our body and then they become stronger, more flexible and we feel so much better.  Our brains are wired so that when we feel gratitude, other emotions click in as well... safety, comfort, warmth, celebration....

 But we actually have to do it.  Focus.  Work our brain to lift up the good things for us to see.  Look at them and say out loud "I'm so thankful for...". 

 It's a beautiful autumn day in Guelph today and I have been out for a bike ride (what I call cycle-therapy) and I thought of a couple of exercises to try in the gratitude gym.

 You know how you can't really give a neck massage and receive one at the same time?  Because in order to receive a neck massage you need to relax the very muscles you need to tighten in order to give one?  Well... when you are giving thanks, if you are sincere, you will be focused on truly thanking someone else and when you are truly thanking someone else, you really can't be feeling unappreciated yourself.   So many times we get on that downward spiral of feeling unrecognized and unappreciated and one of the best ways to reverse that spiral is to find someone to authentically recognize and thank.  It actually does feel much better....

 The key words, however, are "truly" and "sincere" and "authentically".  Just 'imitating' gratitude but not really feeling it does not get results.  And here's an exercise to help you with that.  Let your brain visualize for a few moments what it would be like to be... a quadriplegic... for example.   I'm pretty sure most of us will promptly have a fresh surge of gratitude. 

I remember many years ago reading a story of a young woman breaking her neck in reckless moment diving off a rock... and being paralyzed from the neck down.   One of the many things she missed was a cold toilet seat.  A cold toilet seat!  That might not normally be near the top of my gratitude list... but... ya.  Wow.   Gets me thinking.  In the winter when I crawl out from under my cozy down comforter and head to the washroom... I remember that.  And there is so much to suddenly and sincerely feel grateful for.

  If you wish you could feel grateful but you just can't because the moment you manage to work up a little gratitude, another bad thing happens and you are flattened all over again... then perhaps you need some help.  Perhaps you need a hand up.  

 Call me.  I will help.

Posted on October 10, 2015 .

Love Tearing Us Apart

There's a rather grim sounding but poignant song by Joy Division called "Love Will Tear Us Apart".   One of the verses goes like this:

When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won't grow,
And we're changing our ways,
Taking different roads....

Love will tear us apart....

 It's sadly poignant because there is so much truth in it.  Love seems to very frequently "tear us apart" and most of us who have a few years under our belt, understand the lyrics.  Routine does bite really hard into relationships and leaves visible teeth marks.   The ambition to keep alive 'desire' (that once seemed effortless) dwindles.  Resentments accumulate.  The emotional connection gets lost... sometimes irretrievably.   Our goals and values shift and change and we suddenly realize one day that we are traveling on a different road than (the person we thought was) our life partner.  

 Why is that and what can we do about it?

 There are many threads in the torn tapestry of a love relationship.  Things like having kids while trying to build a career in a culture that is more 'self-focused' and 'child-focused' and 'success-focused'  than it is 'marriage-focused.'   We have to be so intentional about maintaining a love partnership... but... well... in the beginning it doesn't feel as 'urgent' as some of the other things.  In fact, it's kind of scary just how gradual and innocently the fabric gets little rips in it.

We might 'suddenly realize' that we have taken a different road than the person we 'loved', but it didn't happen suddenly.  It happens, like most things, in tiny little increments.   It is much like the story about the frog who gets boiled to death when the water heats up very slowly.  If it was hot when he jumped in... he'd jump out instantly.   Probably he'd sense it was hot and not jump in at all.  But when it happens over time...  when it feels 'just right' at first... then the changes in temperature are barely perceptible until it's too late.

 So it's the little things.   The times you get annoyed or hurt about something you believe your partner has said or done, but you "let it go" because "it's just a little thing."     In fact, it would be great if you could "let it go" because it probably IS a little thing, but the truth is, we don't let it go.  It gets registered in our brain and we come to some conclusions about the other person and we raise our inner guard.  Sometimes this is unconscious.  But we are always, always, looking out for our safety ...and feeling hurt or annoyed doesn't feel safe.  And 'assumed conclusions' about the 'other' combined with our 'raised guard' just does not breed intimacy.  It creates a small weak spot, a small tear in the fabric of your love.  And soon resentments grow, desire dwindles and the emotional connection is gone. 

 Truly 'letting it go' is a wonderful relationship skill.... if we can do it.    But it seems to take a great deal of practice, purpose and maturity in a relationship built on trust , forgiveness and openness.   In the meantime, working towards small conversations to clear up small mis-understandings based on small assumptions to prevent the raising of small little shields... is a good thing.  If we practice on the small things, it won't be like a landslide of pent up 'hostile hurt' when we do have the conversation.    Done properly, it won't lead to a BIG THING if you want to have a small conversation about something that's bugging you.

 If you can't do this, call me.  I can help.

 

Posted on September 12, 2015 .

Thirty One Questions

“The key to wisdom is knowing all the right questions.” – John Simone

What questions are in your head?

Because it's actually true that the kind of questions you ask determines the kind of life you lead.  Your questions determine the answers that establish your beliefs.  And the things you come to believe determine your emotional response.  And your emotional response and your beliefs determine your choices and behaviour.  So... asking the right questions is pretty important. If you ask yourself limiting questions, you’ll get limited results. If you ask yourself mind-opening questions, you’ll have an expansive rich life.

Some people like to ask questions like “Why did this happen to me?”, “Why didn't I do 'x' instead of 'y'?” and “Why am I always in such a mess?”.   And with questions like that, the answers are predictably dis-empowering.  On the other hand, questions like “What can I learn about myself from this experience?”, “What can I do differently moving forward?” and “What am I grateful for?” are empowering. They get you thinking about how to live life better.

And so here's the challenge.  For every day in the next month, ask yourself a different clarifying, inspiring, motivating question to move you closer to where you want to be.  Focus. Discover. Reflect. Ponder. Grow.

1.              Who do you want to be?

2.              What are you passionate about?

3.              What are your values?

4.              What have you achieved in your life that most closely reflects your passion and values?

5.              What 20 things are you most grateful for?

6.              What do you yearn for?

7.              Do you like yourself?  Why/why not? Where should you grow?

8.              If you had one month to live, what would you do?

9.              What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?

10.             What things that you do today will matter in 3 years?

11.              What's in it for you to keep hating "_____"?

12.             What is your biggest goal?

13.             What's keeping you from achieving your biggest goal?

14.              Are you putting a part of your life on 'hold'?  Why?

15.              What do you regret? How can you correct it?

16.              What's the most important thing you learned last year?

17.              What is your ideal lifestyle, diet, job, day, physical look?

18.              What is your greatest fear?  How can you confront it?

19.              What thoughts spin in your head the most?  Does this spin cycle help?

20.             Where are you living right now?  Past? Present? Future?

21.              What habit would you most like to break?

22.             What habit would you most like to cultivate?

23.             What is your mission?

24.             What drives you?  Is that helpful or unhelpful?

25.             With whom do you spend the most time?  Do those people help you become who you want to be?

26.             What/who inspires you the most?

27.              What qualities do you most admire?  Most despise?

28.             What would make your life more meaningful?

29.             How do you practice self care?

30.             Is there anything you are running away from?

31.              What are you going to do differently tomorrow?

In the movie 'How Do You Know?' there is a point when Lisa goes to a therapist.  She doesn't quite know what to say, so she blurts out :  "I was just wondering if there was one general thing that you've found over the years to be generally true in a general way that would help anyone in any situation?"   The therapist answers:  "That's a great question.  Yes, I would say... figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it.

Lisa was quiet for a moment then said "Those are both really hard."  And it's true.  Self awareness and agency are both really hard.  If that is your experience too, try posing these 31 questions to yourself over the next month and then see if you have come closer to figuring out what you want and how to get it.  If you are still struggling or want to go deeper, then call me.  I can help

Posted on August 21, 2015 .

Eight Tips for Making Stuff Happen

1.    Break goals into bite size tasks. Putting “get a new job" at the top of your to-do list is a good way to make sure you never get it done. Break down the work into smaller and smaller chunks until you have specific tasks that can be accomplished in a few hours or less.  Search employment possibilities on line, write a resume, make a phone call, etc.  Then you can actually succeed in crossing them off your list.

2.    Stop multi-tasking. No, seriously—stop. Switching from task to task quickly does not work.  In fact, changing tasks more than 10 times in a day apparently makes your IQ drop by an average of 10 points.

3.    Be radical about eliminating distractions. Lock your door, put a sign up, turn off your phone.  Go to a quiet area and focus on completing one task.

4.    Control your email. Pick two or three times during the day when you’re going to use your email. Checking your email constantly throughout the day falls in the multi-tasking category and wastes time, reduces IQ and kills productivity.

5.    Use the phone.  Try not to reply more than twice to an email. Pick up the phone instead and get the dates/details/issues settled in that call.  

6.    Work your own agenda. Don’t let something else set your day. For example, many people go right to their emails and get sucked into time/energy consuming responses.  They end up at inbox-zero, but with little accomplished. After you wake up, drink water so you rehydrate, eat a good breakfast to replenish your energy, then set prioritized goals for the rest of your day.  Make certain that it is you taking charge of your time.

7.    Take Breaks.  Research indicates that our brain uses up twice as much glucose as other cells in our body.  If your day involves a lot of 'thinking,' then get up, go for a walk, stretch, do push ups, have a snack, do something completely different to recharge.  (Research also indicates that those who exercised for 30 minutes prior to an exam did better than those who read quietly for 30 minutes.)

8.  Six Things.  Pick 6 things that need to be done each day.  Choose them carefully to ensure that all six are doable and necessary.  Then start at number one and work your way through the list and make certain you do them all each day.  You will feel a huge sense of accomplishment.  "Six Things" was the answer to the question "what made you successful?" when asked of a CEO in a multi-million dollar business

And... as always.... if you try and try and you just can't seem to do this on your own... then call me.  There may be some meaningful barriers and blocks that are sabotaging your goals.  I can help.

Posted on August 2, 2015 .

I Did Say That

Back in the days when I had pre-schoolers, I was outside chatting with some moms, all of us happy to be free from our winter weary homes on a beautiful spring day.  My eyes did a routine scan for the two boys who belonged to me on the kid crowded field.  I couldn’t believe what I saw.

A group had gathered around my two year old, and were taking turns kicking him.  He would fall over and then get up, only to find himself sprawled on the grass again.  And what was most horrifying to me was that his brother, (who was four), was in the circle of older boys.  I raced to the aid of my little son and grabbed his brother's hand and hurried inside.  My two year old seemed okay.  I think I stopped the activity before he realized he was a victim.  His brother needed a time out and so did I, so I sent him to the stairs and then collapsed on a chair.  I had worked very hard to nurture sibling alliance over the past year and had so hoped that my two sons would love and care for each other.  I felt angry, hurt and betrayed.  But I had seen, in the past, how important it was to access the child’s perspective and so I summoned my self-control and went to the stairs.  I asked calmly, looking into his anxious eyes, “what were you doing out there?”

          “We were playing a game where we took turns kicking my little brother.”

          “Did you think that was a good game?” I asked, carefully postponing my fury until I’d finished my inquiry.

          “No” he said, “I didn’t want to play that game at all.  I wanted to dig tunnels in the sandbox.  But you said that if I wanted to have friends I had to do what they wanted sometimes, and not always what I wanted, and that’s what they wanted to do.”  He burst into tears.

          Ah, it was true.  I did say that.  We were new in the neighborhood and I was giving my son advice on how to make friends.  But I’d forgotten that he did not know all the caveats and contexts that are assumed with such counsel.  In his little four year old mind, he was just doing what mommy said.  He was sad and confused.  I wrapped him in my arms and began to explain.

          It all worked out happily that day but it easily could have gone awry.  I could easily have not noticed the 'game' in time and my little son could have been hurt physically and probably more importantly, hurt emotionally.  It would have been very easy to assume that there was no possible explanation valid enough for what I had just witnessed with my own eyes.  It would have been easy to punish my oldest son with no questions asked.  I mean... really!  What's there to ask when you see your oldest son and his friends kicking your 2 year old son?

          But there was an explanation.  A good one.  An explanation where something I had said was part of the problem.  When we unravel problems, we often find, quite unexpectedly, that some of the threads have their origin in our hands.  When we are calm and open to this, the problem can usually be corrected.  That day I was reminded again how important it is to listen carefully in order to untangle the ancient what-you-heard-is-not-what-I-meant communication knot

          We had a long conversation about brothers and kindness and loyalty.  We talked about how confusing it can be to feel one thing and be told another.  My oldest son told me about other times when he had felt like that and we all hugged.  “Friends will come and friends will go but brothers are forever” we marched around the room and chanted loudly.

 So my counsel to parents (or anyone in any kind of relationship) is this.  Even when things look incontestably, irrefutably, undeniably crystal clear from where you're standing, if the other person is behaving in a way that hurts, confuses or angers you, give them a chance to explain.  Inquire in a way that does not put them on the defensive.  Take a time out before talking if necessary.  But give the relationship the gift of intentionally opening yourself to their perspective.  I have never ceased to be surprised at what is going on in other people's minds on occasions when I had simply assumed what I thought was perfectly obvious from the circumstances.

 If you can't do this, call me.  Seriously.  It's totally worth it.

Posted on July 25, 2015 .

Tips for Dealing with Flawlessly Logical People

        I watched the hair stylist cutting my hair in the mirror.  She was enviably slim, wearing an impeccably fitting clean white blouse with black pants.  Her own hair was perfect.  She moved effortlessly on her high heels.  Just then another stylist bounced up to her.

          “You know what I just realized?" the other stylist bubbled... "Megan’s wedding is the exact same day as my sisters!”

          My stylist didn’t look up.  “Are you in Megan’s wedding?”

          “No.”

          “Then what’s the problem?  Megan will understand.”

          The other stylist was at a loss and wandered back to her station without responding  It was true.  Megan would no doubt understand.  There really was no problem.  Except …. for how she felt…

           I thought about the interaction as I was going off to sleep that night.  I would have liked to say to my stylist: “Of course Megan will understand.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that it’s disappointing.  The point is Megan’s wedding would have been fun.  The point is she feels torn because she wants to go to both.  And further, now she feels deflated and a bit foolish because you have totally dismissed her feelings.  Why couldn’t you have just said ‘awwww…, that sucks.  I hate it when that happens….’ Why couldn’t you have just validated what she was feeling?”

           Validating someone else’s feelings is a bit tricky sometimes because it requires first that we validate our own and that’s not always easy or even possible.  It's particularly challenging if we have  cut ourselves off from feeling precisely because 'feeling' can hurt.  Feeling, for some of us, does not seem at all safe or wise.  So, to cope,  we shut down our feelings and truly cannot access an empathic or emotional response.  When this happens, we think and talk only in terms of  pure logic and common sense - which… well… kinda sucks the life out of intimacy and makes the other person feel irrational and ridiculous.  It’s not exactly a relationship builder.

           The truth is that emotion, gut feelings, intuition and raw responses are very very important.  They are what give warmth and vitality to relationships.  Sadly, very often, our childhood wounds get in the way of our capacity to validate and empathize.  We end up totally missing each other and feeling unheard, unappreciated, unseen, unimportant.  Not to mention all the 'D' words.  Dismissed, Discouraged, Deflated, Diminished, Deflected, Disrespected, Defenseless….  When we talk with someone who has replaced 'feeling' with 'rational thinking',  we often walk away from the conversation not entirely sure why we feel so crappy.  It’s very difficult to fight against sensible, rational logic.  You just feel bad.

           If you’re the person being dismissed by someone with impeccable and infuriating logic, here are some tips:

           1.  Rational people are usually incredibly articulate and make perfect sense.  But YOU can still pay attention to your feelings.  Give yourself a few minutes to attend to your inner voice.  Buy some time by saying “What you’re saying sounds very logical, but it doesn’t feel right and I’ve come to highly value my emotional intelligence.”  Or if you were the ‘other stylist’, you might quip lightly with a warm smile (like Penny on Big Bang Theory might…) “Oh  sweetie, you’re so rational.  Don’t you ever just let yourself feel disappointment?”

           2.  Know that rational people usually like the way that they are (think Sheldon…).  It’s all they know.  For deeply buried safety reasons, they don’t respect, have or want emotions.  This comes across as arrogance.  Maybe a little ‘broadening’ of their perspective from you might be helpful.   Maybe a comment like “It’s hard for us to talk because you’re very logical and I’m quite emotional.  I really enjoy the rich colours of my emotional life and you really enjoy the clarity of logic.  Maybe we can learn from each other…”

           3.  Get to know yourself.  It’s always the place to start in advancing your relationships.  Know when it feels right and say so.  Say “Hmmm, what I'm saying feels really right to me.”  Know when you are wrong and say so.  Say “I got carried away with my emotions and responded badly.  I’m sorry.”  Learn to validate your own emotions and learn to acknowledge the role of rationality.  Embrace and nourish them both.

           4.  Give them one of my business cards and suggest that they make an appointment  :)    The truth is that in spite of their confident, almost arrogant presentation, and in spite of the fact that they like their logic,  they are lonely, fearful and empty inside.  They long for intimacy and literally can't see how they are sabotaging themselves.

Posted on July 11, 2015 .

Moving Forward

        I arrived at the van one morning - when my kids were little - in time to see a hard object go whizzing by and crash into the windshield.  Two of my boys were in the trunk and one was in the front seat.  I flung open the door.

          “What is going on?” I asked politely ('politely' might not be exactly the right adverb).

          “He started it.”

          “He threw it 5 times.”

          “He did it harder.”

          “I got hurt.”

          “I didn’t do anything.”

          Their accusations and defenses spilled out all over the place.

          My fury turned into a more complex mixture of empathy and frustration as I put the story together.  My oldest son had found a hair curler I’d left in the glove compartment (I hadn’t realized it was a dangerous weapon) and attached it to an elastic band, then sling-shotted it into the back seat.  It was done light-heartedly - an amusing spontaneous gesture completely typical of a ten year old boy.  Unfortunately the curler had a metal lining.  The metal made it hard and it struck my other son high on his cheek near his eye.  He howled.  To the first son, that was part of the fun and he snatched the curler back and did it again, not thinking it could have really caused injury.  The back seat 8 year old boy was furious, grabbed a large flashlight and started hurling the batteries at his assailant.  My littlest son took the curler and tried to shoot it but, not quite grasping the slingshot method, it backfired and hit him in the face, (which surely was the fault of his older brother who came up with the idea).  He started throwing things into the front seat too. 

I think I arrived about then.

          It always amazes me how quickly and powerfully misunderstandings escalate into full fledged war.  Not just with our kids.  It happens in our marriage.  In our extended family.  In our neighborhood, our church, our country.  It seems so obvious when we witness it in our children’s squabbles.  We tell them not to make such a big deal about it.  We point out that it wasn’t done on purpose.  We suggest that they work it out with words and then let it go.  Sometimes we tell them to ‘grow up’  But many ‘grown ups’ have fought long bloody battles over escalated misunderstandings.  Adult family members have refused contact and communication for years, sometimes lifetimes, because of a misunderstood motivation. 

          Getting along with people is hard.  And it is really really easy to let things escalate to a point of tough return.  How do we siphon out justice from the competing perspectives and how do we get to mercy while maintaining emotional integrity?

          Justice requires that we hear and be heard.  In the court of law, it is essential that there be a 'hearing'.  A time of listening.  An opportunity for outpouring.  A place for sorting through perspectives.  If we move too quickly to mercy, we are forced to stuff our feelings and that can only lead to a slow brewing source of eventual disaster.  

          So I listened.  The first son really had intended no malice with his curler sling shot, but by the time he’d been battered with batteries, he did intend malice.  The second son had intended no malice when he climbed into the van but after getting hit twice with a vicious curler, he did intend malice.  The little one had just wanted to join in the ‘fun’ until his weapon backfired and then he also intended malice.  Very very carefully we rolled back the tape to pre-malice.  After awhile everyone was able to see how it happened.  They were still hurt and mad but after being heard, they could see.  I could see.  And once our vision had cleared we could all deal with our feelings much better and move forward.

          If you feel stuck in the murky 'malice' part, unable to see clearly enough to move forward with a healthy, clean perspective… then call me.  I can help.

         

Posted on July 4, 2015 .

Redemption

Remember the  Lance Armstrong drama?  He was the American cyclist who won the Tour de France seven times, arguably the most grueling athletic endurance competition imaginable.  Remember how he eventually admitted to Oprah and the world that he was doping after all.

 In my opinion, Oprah interviews skillfully.  Her very first question was one to make certain he was agreeing to a "no holds barred" conversation.  Whoever was refereeing him until that point was extraneous. Whatever rules he was playing by previously were no longer relevant.  Whatever his game, it was over.  No ring, no rules, no ref.  No holds barred.

 And so he began the process of confessing lie after lie.  Countless, elaborate lies executed with magnificent authority, unequivocal boldness and elegant arrogance.  And here's what I have learned from lies-gone-awry.

 1.  I should do everything I can to set myself on a clear path with decided values.  At one point Lance said "I lost my way."  People lose their way because they don't have a guide, a compass, a map or a plan.  It happens easily.  We get too focused on a 'win' or too confident in our ability or too careless with our truth.  Take action to prevent that.  Have someone in your life that you trust and respect and ask them to hold you accountable.  Know your core values, find your true north, and hold to it. 

 2.  If the culture I am in is not good, change it or get out.  When Oprah asked Lance if it were possible to win without doping he said "Not in that generation."  He went on to say that he did not invent the culture, but neither did he try to stop what was going on.  Again, easy thing to do.  We make a few small compromises and the next thing we know we are sliding down that infamous slippery slope.  When we are at the top of the hill, before the sliding is fast and unstoppable, listen to the caution in your gut.  Review your core values and ask yourself "Am I sacrificing my lifelong integrity for a temporary 'win' and can I look myself straight in the eye and say it is worth it?" 

 3.  The Truth will triumph.   One way or another, truth finds a way.  For all of human history, this has been a problem for those who find themselves telling lies.  Usually truth surfaces, sometimes with the most inconvenient timing.   Even if we don't get caught, even if we get away with our lies for years and years, even if there seems to be no external consequence, one way or another we are haunted by our lies.  Whether the consequence is being painfully mistrusted for the rest of your life, or whether the consequence is the horrible weight of lies inside our head ... the price for deception is severe and worth considering in advance. 

 4.  It's not black and white.  As much as it would simplify things, we do not live in a black and while world.  Lance certainly appeared to be not only a scandalous liar and a cheat, but willing to stomp on the hands that helped him up.  Still, he was not all black.  Oprah read from a letter she received. 

I’ve heard that he is a real jerk.

But I will always root for Lance. He gave me hope in a very dire time. My first-born son had just been diagnosed with leukemia two weeks before his first birthday. And I’m in intensive care barely able to breathe, and my brother sends me Lance’s new book, ‘It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life‘.

I read it cover to cover, through the night. It showed me that there was hope for my son, to not only to live, but to thrive. I had a choice to make that night on how to respond to my son’s illness and teach him how to face the world.

But I will always root for Lance. He gave me hope in a very dire time. My first-born son had just been diagnosed with leukemia two weeks before his first birthday. And I’m in intensive care barely able to breathe, and my brother sends me Lance’s new book, ‘It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life‘.
I read it cover to cover, through the night. It showed me that there was hope for my son, to not only to live, but to thrive. I had a choice to make that night on how to respond to my son’s illness and teach him how to face the world.

Acknowledging the good in people does not mean negating the bad, or vice versa.  Somehow we have to live with the tension of good and evil - in our world, in our heroes, in our friends, in our spouses and in ourselves.  We have to hold justice in one hand and mercy in the other.  No small task.  But ever so vital.

 5.  It's never too late for redemption.  Many people suspected that his admission was simply due to a desperate absence of options.  Maybe so.  But everyone deserves a chance to make it right.

It's very difficult to correct a lie sometimes.  I mean the kind of lie that has gained momentum and has become MUCH bigger than we originally intended.  The kind of lie that we out of 'necessity' defend, justify and eventually believe.  The kind of lie that requires a huge dose of humility to confront.

Offering 'grace' and giving people a chance to 'make it right' is not to be confused with dropping the crime and giving them back your trust. Lance understood this when he said "I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologizing to people. The rest of my life!!”  Trust must be -re-earned, sometimes it takes a very long time, and often protective boundaries need to be in place during the process. 

But still.  Grace is a wonderful thing.  And it is a rare life not in need of it at some point.  If you need to allow or experience redemption and grace but can't seem to do it ... call me.  I can help.

Posted on June 14, 2015 .

How to Have Better Conversations

"Well... he's nice ... but I found that no matter what I started talking about, he would somehow make it about him."

"Ya... I enjoy her ... in small doses.  She can be pretty sarcastic."

"Sheesh, doesn't it ever occur to her that there are other people in this conversation???"

"There's just something about the way he talks to me that makes me feel sooooo stupid."

I hear comments like these all the time.  Apparently talking to each other - which seems like it should be pretty natural - can have a few snags.  The good news is that there are some timeless rules that work to ensure a great conversation.

1.  Show genuine interest in the person.  Seems like a no brainer but it is very easy to communicate disinterest by checking a text as soon as it comes in or letting your eyes wander around the room

2.  Focus on positive things.  Instead of complaining about your day and all the irritating people in your life, which pulls for them to do the same ... look for some positive things to say.  Talk about goals rather than past grievances.  Be grateful about something.  Of course there will be some negative emotions in an honest conversation, but don't get stuck there.

3.  Remember it's a conversation, not a debate.  Keep it light and fun or deep and meaningful, but do not pick at things to dispute.  Nor is it necessary to come to a conclusion on everything.  Allow for the possibility of disagreement in an open-ended and amiable manner.  If you have to 'win' or 'agree' on everything, it is not a connecting conversation, it is draining combat.

4.  Respect their perspective.  It's fine to have an opinion, but do everything you can to share it without criticizing or judging.  Try to understand what it's like from their perspective  Be open to the fact that they could see things quite differently from where they're standing.

5. Make them feel good.  Look for things to say that make a person look and feel good.  Give them credit where it is due.  Find something to compliment them honestly about.  Recognize their talents and accomplishments.  We all really enjoy the company of someone who makes us feel good.

6.  Ask them questions.  Show a genuine interest in who they really are.  Rather than asking "what are you doing later?" ask, "what inspired you to make that choice?"  Most people soak up the opportunity to share something about themselves with someone who is actually paying attention.

7.  Be authentic.  Be true to yourself.  Your best asset is the 'real' you and so let yourself shine.  It's pretty boring to converse with someone who is wearing a concealing mask, who simply agrees with everything, or who simply 'reacts' to whatever is said.  If you can't find the 'real' you, make a point of going to therapy.

8.  Cut people lots of slack.  If they say something distasteful, critical, offensive or inappropriate,... shrug it off.  They are having a bad day perhaps.  If it keeps on happening, you may choose to limit further conversations with them, but there is no need to 'set them straight' on the spot.

The main thing to remember is that conversations are supposed to be fun or meaningful but not emotionally exhausting.  Show genuine interest in the other person and give them the benefit of the doubt.  You will find it works for your well being.

If you can't do this... if you (or they) often end up feeling 'crappy'...then get counselling.  Find out why and what you need to do differently. 

Email me. (marycmanson@gmail.com).  I can help.

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Posted on June 7, 2015 .