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.

.

Posted on June 7, 2015 .

"Get Out of the Flowers!"

I was at a stoplight yesterday,  staring vacantly at the stationary line up of cars ahead of me, when I heard a woman yell "Get out of the flowers!" and then again louder and angrier "Get out of the flowers!"  I looked out my side window and saw a mom gesturing vigorously at her little girl who was hopping wildly to get out of one of those corner gardens of lilies that the city of Guelph has planted around town.  I watched her for a couple of minutes (it was a really long light) and suddenly it occurred to me... there were no flowers.  The lilies were not out yet.  There weren't even any little buds.  There were just long, thin green leaves that looked very much like long grass.

 The little girl was hopping around trying to get out of the 'flowers' but her mom's angry commands must have been confusing.  She didn't know where to hop to get "out" since she didn't see a single flower.    From the mom's perspective... she was disobediently trampling a garden of lilies but... well... the mom knew they were flowers because she's seen yellow lilies every July for many years.  The little girl only had  about three Julys under her belt... and for two of them she was probably in a stroller.

 This sort of confusion happens all the time.  From our perspective it all seems SO clear.  We have told the other person with unmistakable directness not to 'step on flowers'.  It is bewildering and exasperating that they then go ahead and do it.  It feels personal and disrespectful  because it does not seem possible that they do not see exactly how they are blatantly ignoring us.  We get loud and angry.  The other person hops around wildly wondering where to land that will be safe.

 We often miss each other this way in our marriages and it is very sad.  It is very sad to feel ignored and disregarded ...and it is very sad to experience making our partner so angry without fully understanding what we did 'wrong'.  When this happens, we distance from each other in fear and distrust, and end up feeling lonely and disconnected.   Feeling lonely and disconnected is precisely what we were trying to get away from when we got married in the first place.  And so it is very sad.

 If you find yourself in this sad, confusing place of either yelling angrily at your partner who ignores you... or ...hopping around trying to avoid stepping on invisible flowers... I would highly recommend marriage counselling.  There are things you can do to understand one another more effectively.  

E-mail me.  I can help.

Posted on May 31, 2015 .

How Do Your Friends Experience You as a 'Couple?'

          “Jim! Jim!”  Marg’s shrill voice cut through the buzz of conversation that had escalated as our dinner party guests made their way to the door.  Jim stopped mid-sentence and hopped up to attend his to wife.

          “It’s time to go.  I told you I wanted to go by ten o’clock. I don’t know why I have to always remind you it’s time to go.” She turned to the other couples and laughed thinly.  “The Smyth’s never seemed to know when it was time to go.”

          Jim did not react to the slur on his family. He busied himself getting Marg her coat.

          “Oh heaven’s, I don’t need my coat on a night like tonight.”

          He reached out to take her arm.

          “I can still walk by myself!” she snapped.

          “Why can’t you be nice to him?” I felt like screaming at Marg. Didn’t she realize how horrible she sounded?  She had not missed a single opportunity to put Jim down all evening. Regardless of what the topic of discussion was, it became a platform for Jim’s faults.

          “I guess we’re going then” Jim said affably to his friends.

          “We’re going! There’s no ‘guessing’ about it. I don’t like people who sound wishy washy about things they should be certain about.” Marg’s disgust was unconcealed as she turned to explain in more detail to the woman next to her how “Jim never states anything clearly.”

          There was an uncomfortable silence. What do you say in the face of such distorted derision between a married couple?

          Later that evening I couldn’t get 'Jim' and 'Marg' out of my thoughts. I’m a marriage therapist. I know, theoretically, that behavior in marriage relationships is interdependent and that there is rarely one good person and one bad person. I understand that sometimes one partner might be set up by the other to look bad but a simple good/bad split is unlikely. I recognize that there are layers and layers of history beneath the words that are spoken in long term relationships. I know all this. But my goodness, it was brutal to spend time with a couple like Jim and Marg. Marg’s unyielding critique of Jim was almost unbearable.

          I recall another couple, where the husband used to suffix every sentence with “dear” but it was clear that she was not dear. It was very clear that he could have just as easily substituted “you idiot.” “You didn’t leave the iron plugged in again did you dear?” “Yes, dear, I’m ready. I’m just waiting for you dear.” The classically affectionate term ‘dear’ had become a word to cringe at, to be crushed under.

          Couples who do this are unattractive. It was unpleasant to spend an evening with the “Yes, dear” friends and so we often didn’t.  It was brutal to spend any time with Marg and Jim (even though we all liked Jim) so we didn't.  We experienced their barbed interaction as awkward and embarrassing.

          And so here are my questions for everyone who is in a relationship.  How do others experience you as a couple?  Are you inspiring, positive and fun?  Do other people note the respect, sparkle and great connection between you and your partner?  Or are social settings simply a subtle platform to attack each other?

          Be honest.  It is not easy to keep respect and sparkle fresh.  But it is possible.  And if 'spark' is so far in the past that it seems like only a foggy, pre-marital memory ... then perhaps it's time for a marriage tune up.  Couples counselling is not only for couples in crisis.  It is very helpful and most effective when used prior to crisis, to keep the marriage in good shape.  Sort of like a gym membership.  Or our annual medical check ups.  We really ought to be intentional about keeping our relationships healthy as well.

         If you agree, contact me.  I can help.

 

 

Posted on May 24, 2015 .

Living Life Better from the Inside Out

For a Valentine's Day gift, my husband gave me a few sessions with a personal trainer.  It was not something I would have purchased for myself.  I suppose I thought of a personal trainer as a 'luxury'.   Maybe more necessary for people who preferred someone 'cracking the whip' or 'cheering them on' to make things happen.  Or perhaps for those who were training to compete in a fitness competition.  But not for me.  I attended classes at my gym 3 times a week and I believed that was 'good'. 

 After one session I was sold.  Mind you, my husband did his research and he chose a skilled trainer... so... she's very good at what she does.   But here's the thing.  I actually needed a trainer and didn't know it.  All those neck, shoulder, elbow, knee aches from old injuries .... I had become 'used to' and my body was resourcefully compensating for their weakness with other muscles.    You can get away with that sort of muscle compensation for years without any noticeable debilitating impact.  And then as you approach mid-fifties... you glumly write it off as 'getting old'. 

 The totally tragic part is that I consider myself well informed.  I studied physiology in university and find the human body both miraculous and fascinating.   Even so, I was allowing my discomfort to persist without fully understanding what was happening in my body.  Without realizing that I was unwittingly but consistently hurting my future physical health by not dealing with 'core' stuff.  Without recognizing that there were things I could do differently.

 It is precisely the same with our emotional health.  We have learned to compensate in our relationships.  In response to the childhood wounds that we all have, we figure out (creative and resourceful) ways to cope and survive.   We compensate for feeling scared by presenting ourselves as strong and invincible.  We compensate for feeling unsafe by becoming indiscernible and staying under the radar.  We compensate for feeling anxious by presenting as cool and in control.  We compensate for feeling sad by presenting as tough and blocking off our 'feelings'.  We compensate for feeling sensitive by presenting as super-rational.   Or something.  We find some way to hide,  camouflage and compensate for our true feelings in our intimate adult relationships and it works great until a crisis, or until our inner conflict about being a fraud catches up with us.  

 This is equally tragic.  Even people who study psychology in university emerge as unable to understand their own psyche and persist in sabotaging their emotional and relational health and happiness.  We respond unconsciously without recognizing our choices.  Without recognizing that there are things we can do differently.

Becoming self aware... of your body, of core 'wounds' and of your emotional responses... is actually not a luxury.  It may feel like an unnecessary extravagance when you are confronted with choosing between a car payment or a therapy session.  I understand that.    But the truth is... we can usually find a way to purchase what we believe is important. 

 It is so awesome to feel good from the inside out.  It is so awesome to be free of the physical and emotional pain that you have carried for so long that you no longer appreciate its weight or impact.  In my opinion... it is much better, and lasts much longer than the 'compensating' ways we spend our money to buy temporary relief... like a caramel latte, a new outfit, a bottle of wine, a trip away or ...however you buy relief.  (Not that there's anything wrong with those things as a treat... but... if you have to choose... well... you make a choice....)  As a client recently said to me... "This is the best money I have ever spent.  It is so worth it to actually BE the person I always wanted to be!"

 If you have a difficult time making long term, personal well-being decisions or if you have no idea how you sabotage actual emotional strength by inappropriately compensating... then you would be wise to see a therapist. 

Call me.  I can help.

 

Posted on May 13, 2015 .

The Seven Worst (and Best) Ways to Respond to Critical People

Critical people are difficult people to be with.  And unfortunately you are bound to run into them one way or another.  Here are some tips on the 7 worst things you can do when dealing with critical people.  And of course the 7 best things you can do instead.

 

1. Take It Personally

The worst thing you can do is to take criticism from critical people personally.  Most of the time critical people reflect more about themselves than you.  Most of the time you will notice that they are also critical of many more people and situations than just you.  So don't take it personally.  It's not about you.

The best thing you can do is to realize that critical people are usually stuck in the belief that they have to criticize others in order to feel good about themselves.  Or that they have to attack first in order to feel safe.  Feel sorry for them or get out of their way.  If you can't feel compassion or move aside, seek counseling.

2.  Take It Literally

The worst thing to do is to take criticism from critical people literally.  Some people are just really lousy communicators.  Sometimes they are not trying to be fault-finding jerks - they just don't realize how they're coming across.

The best thing to do is to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Just assume that they were not trying to be hurtful or negative.  Take responsibility for perceiving it in a more positive frame.  If you can't take that kind of responsibility, find a therapist to help you.

3.  Criticize Them Back

The worst thing you can do is to get caught in attack/defend mode.  Once you start to defend yourself and launch counter-criticisms, your body and emotions are aroused and you begin to self-destruct.  Nothing good comes from that.  Plus, you never know what their story is or what pain they are carrying.

The best thing you can do is to consider the possibility of a nugget of truth in the criticism.  Honest feedback is hard to come by, and sometimes embedded in unfair critical remarks are little bits of truth that we would do well to heed.  Think of it as an opportunity.  At the very least, cut them some slack since you don't know what inner battles they are fighting.  If you can't stop yourself from defend/counter-attack, get counseling.

4.  Assume The Problem is Entirely Theirs

The worst thing you can do is to ignore your own inner response.  Just as the criticisms of critical people reveal their core beliefs, our discomfort with their criticisms reveal something about our core beliefs.  If you find yourself too bothered by critical remarks, ask yourself why it causes such discomfort.  Try to increase your awareness about your 'self'.

The best thing you can do is to ask yourself what you can do to change how you respond to criticism.  You can't change other people, so you have to change your response to them.  If you can't do this by yourself, call a therapist.

5.  Ask Them For Feedback

The worst thing you can do is to ask a critical person for their input.  If you can't take it, don't ask.  For some reason, some people keep setting themselves up for criticism by asking critical people for their opinion.

The best thing you can do is to realize that critical people are unlikely to offer praise or encouragement.  Just know that and don't ask them for input unless you are prepared for negative feedback. 

6.  Engage Their Criticism

The worst thing you can do is to receive the criticism, let it into your body, mind and heart and then to get angry about it.  You can't necessarily stop someone from trying to give you their critical opinions, but you do have a choice about whether or not you will receive it.

The best thing you can do is to simply choose not to take it.  Think consciously to yourself, "Nope, I am not going to receive this" and just disengage.  It is a very powerful posture.  If you just cannot adopt this posture, seek counselling.

 7.  Plan to Spend Time With Them

The worst thing you can do is spend a lot of time with a critical person.  That's just sadistic.  Being around negative, critical people makes it much harder to be positive, optimistic and hopeful yourself.  It can be very draining and sometimes overwhelmingly so. 

The best thing you can do, if all else fails, is simply to avoid them whenever possible.  Sometimes it's just unhelpful chemistry and you are both better off staying away from each other.  If you cannot create the boundaries you need, on your own, then get counselling.  Call a therapist.   It's appropriate self care.

Email me.  I can help.

Posted on April 26, 2015 .

Contagious Kindness

A friend of mine told me a story the other day.  He was walking from his office to the Go-Train in downtown Toronto.  Being a bit preoccupied with the events in his day he was surprised to suddenly notice a man lying on the street (which had been blocked off for construction).  The man had what looked like a pool of blood by his head and was lying motionless.

 He set down his briefcase and knelt beside him.  "Are you okay?" he asked, concerned.  "Can I help you?"

 The man opened his eyes, a big smile spread over his face as he sat up and grabbed the 'fake' pool of blood.  "Thank you!" he said.  "I've been lying here for an hour and a half and you are the first person to stop."

 I suppose it was a psychology experiment about the diffusion of responsibility.  The more people there are around, the less likely any single individual will take responsibility.  It's the reason why restaurants automatically include a tip for groups of 10 or more.  Studies have shown that people generally default to the belief that 'someone else will do it."

 My friend has a busy schedule and had the man needed his help, he would have missed his train and messed up his evening plans.  He was not equipped to rescue people, nor was he looking for heroic opportunities.  Even so, he did not assume that one of the many passers-by had already called 911.   He did not wonder about his personal safety.  He didn't think "oh well, I'm sure someone not dressed in a good suit will give him a hand."  He simply noticed another human being in need, felt compassion, and reached out.

 Two things stand out to me in this story.  One is that it is very sad to live in a culture where we feel afraid or indifferent to the extent that a man can lie in a pool of 'blood' for 90 minutes while hundreds of people walk by.  The second thing is that someone DID stop.  There are good people who truly care and the beautiful thing is that it's contagious.  That man was no doubt a tad disheartened as he lay there on the cold pavement, aware of the passing of time and people.  But what a relief when someone finally stopped and asked "Can I help you?"  His hope in humanity was restored.   His own capacity for kindness renewed.

 When we show kindness to someone, it is win/win/win.  Have you noticed that?  We feel good.  The recipient feels good.  And the person to whom the recipient 'pays it forward' will feel good. 

 So my challenge for you is this.  Look for someone to whom you can show kindness.  You may not stumble across a man lying in a pool of blood, but you might come across a grumpy sales clerk.  Or a rude delivery boy.  Or an irritating co-worker.  And wouldn't it be cool to be the one to soften their day with a bit of kindness?  Smile genuinely at the sales clerk and look for a way to authentically compliment her.  Look the delivery boy in the eye, tell him you appreciate his work and tip him extra.  Buy your co-worker a coffee and tell them you hope they have a great day.

 If you can't do that?  If you just don't have it in you because you are too tired, too miserable, too anxious, too fearful, too self-conscious, too useless, too preoccupied / annoyed with your own 'stuff'... then I would recommend  that you talk to someone about it.  Showing kindness is a truly wonderful experience that you deserve to participate in.  Talk to a friend.  See a counselor. Make an appointment with a therapist.  Call me. 

 I can help.

Posted on April 19, 2015 .

Emotional Intimacy

          When we think 'affair'... we often think of the scenario where a young, bright, childless co-worker presents an inexorable snare for someone trapped in a negative, passionless marriage.  Most likely we think of intense sexual attraction.   But this is rarely the case.  Research indicates that the problem is usually a lack of emotional intimacy in the marriage.  

          Emotional intimacy refers to the capacity to be vulnerable with your partner.  Pretty straightforward and basic so far.  Just be vulnerable with each other and the marriage stays solid.  But in order to be vulnerable, the relationship needs to be a place of trust, security and safety.   And there it is... the brick wall where we crash.  After a few of life's inevitable challenges (like babies, debt, career absorption, in-law issues etc.,) marriages can too easily become a place of distrust, insecurity and emotional threat.  A place where there is competition, criticism, blame, judgment, ridicule and withdrawal. A place where you feel weak, inadequate, unheard, crazy, unforgiven, unappreciated or irrational.  Not very safe at all.  So.... that when someone shows up with a warm smile and a hot coffee for you, willing to accept, respect and listen to you ... well...  that's a pretty enticing lure. 

          Here are some questions to help you determine whether you are emotionally connected with your partner.

1.  If you hit another car in a minor car accident, who would call?

2  If you got fired from your job, to whom would you go for comfort?

3.  If you got a great promotion, with whom would you want to celebrate?

4.  If you just learned that your mom passed away, who would you call first?

5.  With whom do you share your dreams, fears, anger, sadness and beliefs?

6.  If you had an important decision to make, by whom would you feel most supported?

           If  your partner is not the person you would honestly want to be with, the emotional connection between you is in jeopardy.  Now is the time to repair that disconnect. If you don't feel like you can do it on your own, for heaven's sake, see a therapist.   Don't delay. Don't wait until one of you seeks an emotional connection elsewhere.  

          Emotional intimacy in a marriage is awesome.  Lack of emotional intimacy is lonely, sad and sometimes heartbreaking , not to mention expensive.  If you recognize that you should do something but don't know where to begin, email me (marycmanson@gmail.com). 

          I can help

Posted on April 12, 2015 .

Getting Up the Hills

"How do you go up the hills so fast mom?  I HATE hills!" my son complained  on our bike ride one morning when he finally caught up to where I was waiting for him at the top.  He had dismounted and was plodding up the hill pushing his bike.

 "So do I" I told him.

 That was all I said and he did not respond, but on the next hill, he passed me on the way up.  And the hill after that.

 Because here's the deal.  The roads around here have hills.  And I decided in advance that I was going to make each hill a personal challenge.  I get myself in the right gear, I stand up to give my legs more power, I tighten my core so that it becomes a full body effort, and I pace myself based on the size of the hill.  And the hill is no longer a gruelling, exhausting, irritation.  It is a new contest.  Another opportunity to get off my butt and strengthen my resources.

 I remember complaining about hills when I was in my early twenties.  I had just purchased a new fire-engine red Bianchi racing bike and I was chatting with a fellow cyclist about an upcoming race.  "Beat em on the hills Mary" he told me.  "Beat em on the hills."  For some reason, although I never went in any formal races, his words stuck in my head.   Anybody can cycle across flat land.  Anybody can look good when the road is smooth and there are no ups and downs.  Anybody can smile when peddling is easy. 

It's digging deep into your inner self to find the energy and determination to get up the hills, whether you like them or not, that establishes your success in a race.

 My son has never got off his bike since that day to plod tiredly up the hill while I waited at the top.  Often he passes me.  The rest of the time he stays close behind.   Just three words changed his perspective.  Perhaps he assumed prior to that that I enjoyed hills.  Perhaps he thought I had a better bike.  Perhaps he believed he was too young.  Somehow hearing that I also hated hills - but had apparently made different choices in response to that fact - inspired him to do the same.

 Everyone finds themselves at the bottom of a hill on occasion.  Sometimes it's a hot day, we're tired before we start, and the hill seems overwhelming.  Some people turn around and go back. Some people get off and plod.  Some people set themselves up for success and make it happen.  

 If you find that you consistently retreat or plod.... if you have no clue what it means to 'set yourself up for success'... then ask for support.  Make a choice to Live Life Better.  Email me (marycmanson@gmail.com).  I can help.

 

Posted on April 5, 2015 .

Ten Worst/Best Things to do after a Break-up

1.  BEGGING

It can be agonizing to be on the receiving end of a break-up, but crying, pleading, manipulating or threatening just isn't going to get you what you want.  At worst, you will come across as pathetic.  At best, you will achieve a temporary reconciliation.  You and I both know that it isn't going to work over time.

 The best thing you can do is listen carefully, hear him/her out.  Then clearly remove yourself from the situation.  Leave.  Hang up.  Sign out.  Whatever.  But get the heck outa there and stay away.  Save face.  Get some space.  See a counsellor to make a new plan for your life.  But do not cling or beg.

 2.  CALLING/TEXTING

It is pretty much impossible to have a clean, effortless break up.  The word 'break up' is descriptive.  Something got broken and maybe it was you.  It is a time for healing and rebuilding, not constantly re-exposing yourself to hurt and confusion.

 The best thing you can do is to get clarity regarding your future.  See a counsellor.  Talk to friends.  But do not call or text.  Staying attached that way only keeps you stuck in a place of uncertainty and pain.  It may feel good for a few minutes when you connect but it will be disastrous in the long run.  Trust me.  You will regret it.

 3.  KEEPING HIS/HER FRIENDS IN YOUR LIFE

This one is a bit tricky.  Maybe you made some good friends as a couple.  However think long and hard about whether it is good for you to stay connected.  Does it 'break you open' again every time you hear his/her name?  Are you tempted to 'pump' people for information regarding him/her? Would it be better to develop some new relationships unburdened by memories and connections?

 The best thing you can do is be intentional about this.  Decide what works for you.  See a counsellor (yes, I will advise that every time :).  Join a new group.  Move on.

 4. KEEPING THEIR 'STUFF'

After a break up there are always lots of memories in your apartment or home.  Photos on the fridge.  Concert tickets on the bulletin board.  T-Shirts in your bedroom.  Favourite drinks in your fridge.  It is tempting and comforting to hold on to these.

 The best thing you can do is clean and purge.  Create a fresh new space for making new memories and moving forward.  If you find this difficult, see a counsellor.  Seriously.

 5. KEEPING TABS ON-LINE

Break ups these days are different.  We have the technology to keep tabs on people quite easily.  You can check out your ex on facebook, monitor their participation on dating sites, and follow their tweets.  It can be a full time job.

 The best thing you can do is unsubscribe to their tweets and remove them from your on-line social network.  You might think it is not a problem to stay connected this way ... but it pretty much is.  If you find yourself obsessing about his/her on-line connections, then see a counsellor and make a plan to stop that sort of emotional self-destruction

 6.  BADMOUTHING/ REVENGE

It's sometimes tempting to 'make them pay'.  But let me remind you that it does not actually bring any resolve or peace for you, and it may get you into a lot of trouble.  In any case, people will think better of you if you can take the high road and just 'lettigo'.

 The best thing you can do is to say nothing or speak only briefly of them in good terms.  If you find there is anger, bitterness and hostility boiling inside of you, then see a counsellor.  There are things you can do to deal with those feelings and you will be grateful you chose that route.

 7. SLEEPING WITH THEM

This is a big one.  So listen carefully.  Your ex boyfriend or girlfriend is not going to suddenly realize that leaving you was a terrible mistake because you sleep with them again.  If anything, they will think "this is cool - I can still have sex but with no strings attached!"  You might sincerely believe it is at best 'hopeful' and at worst 'harmless' but it is not.  It is at best pitiable and at worst stupid.  You are worth more than that.

 The best thing you can do is stay away.  Do not put yourself in situations where you might end up in bed together.  If you have trouble valuing yourself to that extent, please see a counsellor.

 8.  UNHELPFUL FORMS OF SELF SOOTHING

Let's face it.  You feel pretty fragile.  You deserve to pamper yourself a little.  But it is a critical time to make sure you truly pamper yourself and not just submit to vices.  Have a small treat but do not indulge in an entire cake and carton of ice cream.  Have a glass of wine, but do not go on a drinking binge.  You will be able to cope so much better if your body is operating with good fuel.  It's true.  You know it is.

 The best thing you can do is to start a new exercise program.  Choose your food with care.  Love yourself enough to set yourself up for success.  Pamper yourself yes, with a hot bath or a new outfit ... something that does not hurt your body, mind or soul.  And if your vices seem to be gaining control over you, then see a counsellor.  This is too important to neglect.

 9. REBOUNDING

Most people's standards are pretty low immediately after a break up.  You feel so desperate to be held, complimented, valued, esteemed.  This is not the time to jump into another relationship, in spite of the sometimes overwhelming temptation. 

 The best thing you can do is give yourself some time.  Spare yourself the regret and feelings of 'what was I thinking????'  If you feel compelled to seek comfort in another relationship too quickly, see a counsellor.

 10.  GOING THROUGH IT ALONE

This one is important.  Because the fact is that if you do not process your break up properly, you are doomed to repeat it.  A break up is a unique opportunity for self-growth.  That may not make you feel any better right now, but truly, it opens you up to learn about yourself and relationships in a way that you just can't contrive.  That's the silver lining.  Embrace it.

 The best thing you can do is to seek the assistance of a good counsellor.  I know ... what a surprise.  But the truth is that this can be a pivotal moment in your life. It will be a decision you do not regret.  You can change things for good.  You can.  Get a therapist.  Email me (marycmanson@gmail.com).  I can help. 

Posted on March 29, 2015 .

I Just Passed You the Butter

I love Pink's song "Just Give Me a Reason" from her 2012 album 'The Truth About Love'.

Aside from her amazing voice and brilliantly catchy tunes... the words and ideas behind this song are really meaningful.  "Just give me a reason, just a little one's enough, just a second we're not broken, just bent, and we can learn to love again."  

Pink told music streaming service Spotify: ''Sometimes [one partner] can be like, 'The way you passed me the butter this morning, I kinda feel like we're going to be over in a month and we need to talk' and he's like, 'I just passed you the 'flipping' butter, what are you talking about?'"   She added: '' ...this is a story, this is a conversation this song - it needs the other perspective..."

Wow.  Very insightful Pink!

Now let's look at what often happens.  You ask for the butter at breakfast.  Your partner gives you the butter but doesn't make eye contact.  Your mind flashes back to the beginning of the relationship - to a morning when he passed the butter with leisurely, loving warmth in his eyes as he reached across the table and playfully buttered your toast.  You feel suddenly sad.  Disconnected.  Lonely.  You wonder if it's over.  If this is the way it's always going to be.  If there's no hope for enduring love. You start to notice other things.  He comes home later.  He doesn't linger when he kisses you. The list is soon quite long. He obviously doesn't love you anymore.  You feel sadder and more lonely the more you think about it.  And you can't stop thinking about it. 

The truth is that the relationship might not last at that point and you will have no clue about how you participated in ending it.  You will have no clue that it was your 'thinking' about it that was a big problem.  That you at least partly created the 'end-of-love' narrative in your head.  That if you had asked him, he might have said "Whadiya mean I don't love you anymore?  Sheesh.  I just passed you the flippin butter!"

The challenge is to recognize and stop those thought narratives because by the time one gets spinning in your head, you truly believe all the evidence and proof you have collected to substantiate it.  You truly believe that your partner (or friend, or family member) doesn't love you.  And at that point... the other person picks up on your belief about them  - whether you say anything or not.  And soon they think... 'what's her problem?  I can't please her anymore..."  and he starts spinning his own narrative.  And the next thing you know it's actually true... the love/trust is broken... but... sadly... it was NOT broken when he passed you the butter.  Maybe a bit bent... but not broken.

If you find yourself feeling and reacting this way, for heaven's sake learn how to control your thoughts before they unnecessarily destroy your relationships. Learn how to incorporate perspective-taking into your thinking. Learn to recognize how you participate in setting up the very thing you want least.  Learn how to have an informative, restorative, healing conversation before you leap into the 'It's all over!' abyss.  Learn to recognize when the relationship is not broken,  just bent.  And absolutely... learn to love again.

If you don't know how to do that... email me.  Seriously.  I can help.

Posted on March 22, 2015 .

Apples out of Lemons

 

I don't know much about technology and the only Apples in our home come from the grocery store ... but I know there are some things we can learn from Steve Jobs. 

1.  BELIEVE in your Agency

From what I have understood about him,  Steve Jobs:

  • was born to unmarried, graduate student parents who gave him up for adoption.
  • was raised in a working class family.
  • dropped out of college, after only one semester and never returned.
  • was fired from the very company he founded

No privileged family 'set up' was handed to him.  Plus he made some mistakes and had some bad luck. But somehow he found it in himself to make lemonade out of lemons. (Or in his case... apples out of lemons...)  Rather than becoming bitter or dejected, Steve Jobs made the best out of what he had – then went on to create the kind of life he wanted, eventually becoming the CEO of one of the most valued companies in the world.

When you get stuck, fearful, disheartened or hurt... when life seems unfair, unlucky,  overwhelming or scary... when you feel discouraged, angry, miserable or paralyzed... remember that you have it in you to be an agent in creating your own life.  And.. if you cannot pull yourself up to create something on your own, then ask for help.   See a therapist, a coach, a counselor or a wise friend.  Do not sink and settle.  Just don't.

2. Dream big and START MOVING

Before Apple’s rise in the last decade, Microsoft dominated the world of personal computers. Before iPod, mp3 players were known only as mp3 players. Before iTunes, it seemed pretty  unlikely that anyone would pay for music online. Before iPhone, Nokia was the market leader for cell phones. Before iPad, there didn’t seem to be a need for tablet computers.

It would be difficult to have anticipated these shifts.  There wasn't really a 'need' for them.  But Steve Jobs moved ahead with his passion and big dreams.  I remember reading an interview where Steve Jobs was asked "How do you figure out what people need before you invent it?  Are you constantly doing surveys?" and he said something like "Nope. I invent it before they know they need it." 

Get in touch with your passion and dream big and then take action.  It doesn't matter if you make mistakes, you will learn from them and know to do it differently next time.  If the problem for you is that you cannot find your passion and have no clue what you want to do.... and dreaming big seems unrealistic or downright ridiculous... and taking action with the potential for error seems foolish or overwhelming... ask for help.  See a therapist or coach.  It is difficult to move forward if you don't know where you're going.

3. Make lemonade

That old quip ... "when life gives you lemons...make lemonade"... is actually really good advice. 

Steve Jobs seemed to have received his share of lemons. When he was publicly fired from Apple in 1985, he was written off by the industry as a "flash in the pan".  What followed though, was an extraordinary process of self re-creation.

After losing the company he had built, he created a new company - NeXT.  In 1996, in an ironic twist of events, Apple acquired NeXT.  Steve Jobs stepped in as interim CEO in 1997, before being appointed as official CEO in 2000. Under his leadership, Apple was brought back from the brink of bankruptcy.

If you're reading this and thinking "well that might happen to Steve Jobs but it would never happen to me" then perhaps you are caught in a sort of victim mentality where things happen 'to' you instead of YOU being an agent in creating your own life.  You can actually change that mindset if you want to.  You can change how you think and that will change how you move through your day.  You might be surprised at how much 'luckier' you become.

And... one more time... if you can't do it on your own... ask for assistance.  Email me.  I can help.

 

 

 

Posted on March 15, 2015 .

Making Your Life Work

I watched a movie awhile ago called "How Do You Know?"  It was about a 31 year old baseball player named Lisa who just got cut from the team and 2 men who have become involved in her life.  One of the men, Mat, is a pro ball player making 14 million per year and for whom life is an extravagant party.  The other man, George, is an honest man who has found himself in the midst of a corporate catastrophe, who has lost everything, and is being forced to make some difficult decisions.  All three of them seem pretty lost.

 At one point it comes together  for George.  It's Lisa's birthday and Mat has just given her a very very expensive watch.  George gives her a small container of play-doh.   And when her quizzical expression meets his  excited eyes, he tells her the story of how play doh came to be.  After World War II, a grocery store requested that a soap manufacturer create a product that removed coal residue from wallpaper.   Noah McVicker concocted a cleaning putty-like substance that would do the trick.  However shortly afterwards, there was a switch from coal heating to natural gas, and the product quickly became obsolete.   Noah's nephew Joe, discovered that some nursery schools were using the 'putty' to make Christmas ornaments.   A  minor adjustment - like adding colour- and Play Doh was released.  Play Doh was a huge success and the company was saved from bankruptcy.   In 2005, Play-Doh was being sold in 75 countries around the world at 95 million cans a year.

 "And so" George tells Lisa, "I have kept this can for a long time as proof that we are all just one small adjustment away from making our lives work."

 It is a profound realization.  It offers tremendous hope and encouragement and inspiration and focus and we need that to keep us from sinking.  And it can be exciting.  What small adjustment can I make in my life right now?

 It is March.  Three months after the traditional day of new resolutions to change enduring habits and problems.  Lots of people don't bother with resolutions precisely because of the 'enduring' nature of their habits and problems.  Our efforts to 'will' and push our way towards a goal doesn't work for most people. 

But rather than resolute 'willing', we might keep this question on our fridge.  We could ask ourselves every day "what one small adjustment is needed to make my life work?"  Perhaps I just need to add a bit of colour?  Perhaps I just need to notice what's working in the nursery school?   Perhaps I just need to enlarge my mind to more possibilities.  Perhaps I need to be open to seeing "Play Doh' rather than 'cleaning product'.

 This is so important because our minds are capable of soooo much!  When we open and focus our minds towards possibility and inspiration and hope, we are setting ourselves up for seeing so much more than we currently see.   We truly have it in us to Live Life Better.  However sometimes this is very hard to do on our own because the words "open our minds" and  "set up for success'  are just a bunch of words.  We don't see the possibilities and as such we do not believe they exist   I get that.  I got stuck there for a awhile too.

 If you have trouble with this, if that "one small adjustment" seems elusive, invisible, unreal and impossible... or if you believe that 'play dough' success stories only happen rarely and to other people,  then email me. 

I can help.

 

Posted on March 8, 2015 .

Wait!  You Have One More Move!

I didn't choose to be a psychotherapist for the cash at the end of the session.  Just to be clear.  Yes it is the way I make money, but not the why.   Let me tell you the  'why'.

Sometimes I have a client across from me and they are truly at the end of their rope.  That's what they believe.  They have nothing left.  And I remember that feeling.  It's real.  It is heartbreakingly, in-your-face, overwhelmingly real.   You don't have the energy, ability or interest to hang on, climb back up, or even let go and see where you land.  You're stuck at the end of your rope without options.  It's a crappy place.  It could be that your spouse just told you they want out of the marriage.  Maybe you lost your job.  Maybe you've made a horrible mistake.  Maybe you have not felt joy for a very long time.  Maybe you feel that making others happy is draining your soul.  Maybe  you think there is something wrong with you.  Maybe you have no idea what the problem is but you just know you can no longer stay on your current path. 

The saddest thing is to stay there alone at the end of your rope.  The most wonderful news is that you don't have to. 

One of my favourite stories is about Paul Morphy, the international chess master, in an art gallery. Mr. Morphy was drawn to Retzch's “The Chess Players,” a painting depicting two men playing chess.

In the painting, a man is playing chess with the devil and at stake is the young man’s soul. It is apparently the young man's turn and he seemed to have just realized that there was nothing he could do to win the game.   There were no more moves for him.  Graphically depicted in his facial features and his posture is the agony of  hopeless despair.  His soul was lost.

Mr. Morphy stared at the painting for a very, very long time.  Finally he exclaimed in triumph, "Wait!  There's one more move!"   Mr. Morphy, a visitor in an art gallery, jubilantly offered freedom to the stuck, hopeless young man on the canvas by finding another move for him.

The truth is that there is always another move.  We just can't see it sometimes.  We are designed as relational creatures and we need each other to see further and to see more. 

And that's why I sit across from my clients.  To help them find another move when they're stuck.  To assist them in finding freedom when it seems that turning left leads to hurt, turning right leads pain, and staying still is unbearable. 

It really is worth giving yourself the chance to discover one more move.

Posted on February 4, 2015 .