The storms of life test the quality of the house we’ve built for ourselves. If we’ve built well, we will be kept safe in the storm; if not, we’ll find ourselves with a leaky roof and water in our basement, or worse. In the fall and winter of 2000, in the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in the midst of a lot of storms.
“Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.”
Reinhold NiebuhrIn October 2012, the New York City area felt the fury of Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane was responsible for about a hundred deaths (one in my neighborhood) and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage. After the storm had blown over, the re-builders had to make extra-sure they were now laying the best foundation possible in order to ensure the stability of the new structure.
Imagine an emergency room doctor trying to remove a small splinter from her patient’s eye. Big-Log-Removers AnonymousNow image that the doctor has a telephone pole protruding from her own eye! How can the doctor see clearly enough to help her patient, with a big log stuck in her own eye? But, of course, this is something all of us do all the time – we point out to others the issues we think they should be working on, while we ourselves can’t see the same issues in our own lives.
You know when to change the oil in your car, because the windshield sticker has the 3-months/3,000 miles date on it. You know when it’s time to change the baby’s diaper because … well, you just know! But how do you know when you’re ready to make an important change in your life? Here are 5 ways to assess your readiness for change. You know you’re ready to change when …
- You become conscious of how unmanageable your life is.
Nothing helps clarify your values like being in an intimate, committed relationship. We are often unaware of our deeply held values and goals. But when your partner-to-be says or does something that runs afoul of one of them, you might hear yourself saying, “You believe what?!” The similarity between your values and goals and those of your potential life-partner are critically important in creating a healthy relationship, especially with respect to issues such as these:
For most of history, your pool of potential marriage partners was limited to the people who lived in your village. You knew just about everything there was to know about each of them. Today it’s often the case that the only thing you know about someone is what they choose to tell you in their dating-site profile, whatever you can glean from their social media and the results of a criminal background check.
Once upon a time, getting married was easy. Your parents chose your mate for you, you had little or no say in the matter, and you got what you got. If you were lucky or blessed, it was a good match; if not, you endured, and the whole thing was over in a few decades, anyway. Today, technology provides us with unlimited choices. The one big down-side to our thoroughly modern system, however
We watch “Dancing with the Stars” and shows like it to be inspired by the artistry of the contestants. But some of the celebrity contestants, sincere though they may be, inspire our sympathy rather than our admiration. When a couple comes into my office for the first time, they bring with them their “dysfunctional relationship dance,” with wounded hearts rather than sore feet. Allow me to introduce you to the three phases of helping a couple turn an injury-prone relationship dance into an intimate one.
In my previous blog, I discussed how a couple therapist serves as a “lifeguard” for relationships. The therapist calms the couple’s panic, listens empathetically and normalizes their experience of woundedness. As the couple and the therapist collaborate in the healing process, the tension between the partners begins to lessen and they begin to soften toward each other. They learn how to turn toward each other and create a “safe haven” relationship.
The beginning of the year is a great time to start or restart therapy with your partner, to pursue new perspectives and new skills for your love relationship. To this end I offer you a story, “The Lifeboat.” Once upon a time two people met on a cruise ship, fell in love, and were married by the captain. They were having lots of fun and everything was going well, until one day a huge storm capsized the ship.
Just like compound interest for our mind and heart, the lessons we learn early in the new year will keep producing dividends month after month. Let’s look right now at 3 lessons that, if learned early in 2015, will spare you a lot of frustration this year. In 2015, you will experience some necessary, legitimate and unavoidable suffering. If you start right now embracing the inevitable disappointments, losses and reversals life throws at you, you will experience a lot more serenity the rest of the year.
Thanks to the hopeful (or cynical) genius who invented the concept of New Year’s resolutions, the average gym derives the majority of its revenue from new memberships purchased in January. A January 2013 article in Forbes magazine suggested that, although more than one-third of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, “just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.”
“One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.” In his classic Christmas short story The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry paints a picture of a young married couple making their passage through the rough seas of early twentieth century urban life. The outline of this tiny literary gem is simple: each wishes to buy a magnificent Christmas gift for the other – she wants to buy him a platinum chain for his heirloom pocket-watch, and he wants to buy her a set of tortoise shell combs for her long, beautiful hair.
One of the scariest movies ever isn't about vampires or chain saws. It’s the 1951 version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The scariest part is not the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, but the warning they bring to Ebenezer Scrooge: What if you spend your whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall?
At this time of the year, if we listen carefully, we can hear the Spirit of Thanksgiving calling to us, “Remember … remember.” That’s what the practice of “thanks-giving” is – the conscious remembering of undeserved benefits we've received. This practice enlivens us and connects us to others in many ways. When someone enters therapy, it’s rarely because they’re having trouble managing all their feelings of gratitude!
The greeting “Happy Holidays!” carries with it the expectation of joy, celebration and happy times. Yet our actual experience of the holiday season is sometimes the opposite. The joyful experience that the holiday season is meant to be can be obscured by over-spending, over-indulging, and over-sentimentality. Our heads are filled with real or reconstructed memories of happy times in the family circle, and when memory is trumped by reality, we might come away feeling disappointed.
- Staying up late
- Having money to buy things
- Eating ice cream whenever they want
- Driving a car
For a family member or friend of an alcoholic or addict, life can feel like a non-stop roller coaster ride. When we are emotionally attached to someone whose life has been rendered unmanageable by addiction, our own life can become unmanageable.
- We might experience unhealthy demands on our time, energy, and finances.
- Our home or workplace might become chaotic or unsafe.
- Our own mental, emotional and physical health might become compromised.
First published in 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous (the book from which the Twelve Step fellowship got its name) says that alcoholism and other addictions are “cunning, baffling, powerful.” Because of the Hydra-headed nature of addiction, treatment for it and recovery from it requires a broad array of means and methods. I experienced this “by any means necessary” approach when I developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma some years ago. The oncologist prescribed a combination of seven medications administered over a four-week cycle, repeated three times.
- Tolerance (always needing more)
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Loss of willpower
- Distortion of attention
For people of all ages, there’s something about September. Even for those of us who have been working throughout the summer, there’s a wistful sense that the “real year” is about to begin. The summer days dwindle down to a precious few, each day gets just a little bit shorter, the cicadas emerge and sing their mating song, the trees are beginning to turn.
According to the sixteenth century Jewish mystic Isaac Luria, when God decided to create the world, since He filled the entire universe, He found it necessary to withdraw Himself. Without this process of creative withdrawing, which Luria called tzimtzum, “there would have been no room for anything finite or separate to exist, for all would have been obliterated by the immense light of the infinite” (from Estelle Frankel,Sacred Therapy). God literally had to make room for the universe to exist!
Imagine if, when we left our homes tomorrow morning, every one of us saw our secret thoughts and feelings spelled out in neon lights above our heads. Would we be horrified? Would we rush to throw a blanket over our neon-light secrets, or cover them up with fig leaves? One thing I believe we would notice is thatother people’s thoughts and feelings are pretty similar to our own. As the Roman playwright Terence said: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, “I am a human being; nothing that is human is foreign to me.”
What we call “grieving” is our journey from normalcy into the disorientation, pain and darkness of loss, and then, if we do our “good grieving” work, into a new world. We all make this journey many times, in ways big and small. Learning about the predictable stages of this journey can help bring us into that new world more quickly.
Grieving is the name we give to the ways we respond to change and loss in our lives. We can’t stop change and loss from intruding into our lives, so we can’t not grieve, but we can learn to grieve well and healthily. Our first response to loss or trauma is often denial. If we get the help we need to move from denial to reality, and if we deal with ourselves sympathetically and gently, we will succeed in breaking through the wall of denial.
“Good grieving” is the process of responding and adjusting to change and loss while learning how to keep your heart open to hope. The “good” in “good grieving” is not about “good vs. bad,” but about “more healthy vs. less healthy.” There is certainly a wide range of healthy responses to change and loss and learning the practice of “good grieving” helps us move into the “more healthy” zone.
Grieving is a master concept that helps explain many of the issues that clients bring into therapy. Learning the practice of “good grieving” helps bring healing within and between people. “Good grieving” is the process of responding and adjusting to change and loss, while learning how to keep your heart open to hope. Everyone grieves; it is not possible to not grieve. Your only choice is to grieve well or to grieve poorly.
Monday, January 12th, 1998, 10:00am. My wife and I are sitting in the office of a marriage therapist in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The therapist sits across from us, and invites my wife to talk about the pain she’s experiencing in our marriage, in the hope that she and I can begin to untangle some of the messy unexplainable twists in our relationship. After sixteen years of marriage we were now sinking under the weight of untreated character defects (both hers and mine), and cyclical patterns of conflict that we didn’t understand.
It is written in the Talmud (the most important text in traditional Judaism), “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it, whispering, ‘Grow, grow!’” It is the destiny of every little blade of grass to become all it can possibly be. And it is the responsibility of each blade’s guardian angel to see to it that the blade gets everything she or he needs in order to fulfill its destiny. What do children need in order to grow and flourish? After the child’s needs for proper food, clothing, housing and medical care are met, what then? What factors make for an “optimal environment of growth”? I can think of at least four categories:
James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi blockbuster movie, Avatar, features human-like, cat-like creatures called Na’vi. When these blue, 10-foot tall creatures connect with each other in an emotionally intimate way, they announce to each other, “I see you!”