How to Know When to End a Relationship: 5 things to consider first

New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings

-Lao Tzu

Japanese organizing consultant turned Netflix star, Marie Kondo, offers sound advice to her clients who struggle with saying goodbye to things in their home they once loved.  In her ‘Clearing out your Closet’ episode, she encourages people to take each item of clothing, hold it to their hearts, close their eyes and then see how it makes them feel. Then she says, “ if it brings you joy, keep it, if it doesn’t thank it”.

Saying goodbye to someone we love is never easy, and it’s certainly much harder than saying goodbye to an item of clothing or “thing” we love or once loved. 

Knowing when and how to do that is just as challenging, if not hopelessly confusing at times.

To make matters worse, we as human beings are wired for bonding, not for breaking up

Why is that?

Because, once upon a time, we lived in small tribes, had a small selection of potential partners to mate with, often died around the age of forty, and if we didn’t, we then became the wise elders of our tribe who helped guide and advise the younger members and then died a few years after that.  Our evolutionary biological “mating wiring”, hasn’t caught up with the relationship dilemmas of modern love; one of which is, “should I stay or should I go?”

There are some people who are  fortunate enough to find their life mates at a young age, and successfully negotiate that relationship through them many changes and challenges of life, in sickness and in health, until “death do they part”. 

Most people however, will experience having two to three significant partners who “make sense” for different phases of their lives, during their brief, transitory and mysterious trip around the sun.

It means that ending a relationship or having someone else end it, is pretty much inevitable, as is the pain that accompanies the ending. Still, it begs the questions: how do you know if ending something is the right thing to do? Shouldn’t you at least try to repair it before you end it? 

While the latter is generally a wise choice to make first; repairing and renewing doesn’t always happen.

And if you are on the fence about repairing things before you make the decision to say good bye or trade in, here’s a few questions you can ask and answer for yourself  first, to help you make that decision.

1.     Think back to when you met this person. What part of you chose that person and what phase of life were you in? What were you looking for and what did you want to experience? E.G. sometimes people choose a partner because they are looking to start a family. Sometimes people fall in love. Sometimes people feel the pressure of social clocks and think that settling down is “the right thing to do”. Sometimes people are lonely and looking for companionship. Whatever the reason for your choice, know that there is no right or wrong reason for choosing someone, there’s just YOUR reason.

2.    Reflect on the course of your relationship. When did things start to change? What role did you play in that change?Remember: wherever you go, there you are; meaning that unconscious relational patterns will repeat if they are not tended to properly. Answering this question for yourself is crucial for your well-being, regardless of what you choose.

3.    If you could “rewind the tape” so to speak, and change some things you did or said, what would those things be?What do you imagine the outcome would have been if you could go back in time and get a redo? Take some time to imagine this and get a felt sense of “what could have been…and… if only you had done…” and see what insights come. Also, to help with any potential analysis paralysis with this line of questioning, see if your brilliant analytical brain can step back for a bit, while you explore your intuitive self.

4.    After taking your time to do step three (and rinse and repeat that step as many times as you need), ask yourself, what is it that you want now? Does your current relationship feel like you are spending time with a synergistic soulmate and or pragmatic partner with whom you have a shared vision for the future?  Do you both want the same things? Will possibly having different visions of the future work for you?

5.    Now, follow Marie Kondo’s advice, and honestly ask and answer whether or not your current relationship brings you joy. If it does, then keep it, knowing there is no such thing as perfect. If it doesn’t and you know that you have done your best; whatever that is to you, then thank that person. Tell them how much they have meant to you, and how they’ve touched your heart. Tell them how you’ve grown because of them, and how you know that you must do the next part of your life without them. 

Then wish them well and say goodbye. Consider giving them a small gift, perhaps a card or symbolic object, so they will have something of you to hold onto as the two of you transition into a new phase of life without each other. And though you will feel sad while this chapter in your life’s story begins to end, in time, a new chapter in your life’s story will start its first outline, first sentence, and first paragraph. And you, the author of your story, get to hold the pen to paper, while you create and then possibly start to co-create, a new story in your book of love and life.

 

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Why Unforgiving Someone Can Be More Important Than Forgiving Them

When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.
— Maya Angelou

 

English Poet Alexander Pope wrote in his Essay on Criticism,  “to err is human, to forgive is divine”.  

Photo by Natalija Grigel/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Natalija Grigel/iStock / Getty Images

Few things feel more heavenly then when someone really “gets” how they’ve hurt you. It’s easy to forgive them when they honestly apologize, make amends, and genuinely do things differently because they’ve learned the error of their way(s). Sometimes however, this doesn’t happen. Sometimes, behavioral patterns repeat, promises get made that aren’t kept, and sometimes, the one that did the hurting actually denies doing what they did.  

It’s devastating when someone you love deeply, lets you down, betrays you, leaves you, or hurts you in unspeakable ways. What complicates the pain more is this idea that you have to “forgive” that person, let go of your anger, grudges, and resentment, so that you can take the high road and move on in your life.   

 What if there’s wisdom to your pain and that working so hard to forgive someone might actually keep you from hearing what that wisdom is?  

What if your anger, hurt, and resentment, helps you to get the space you need from that person, so that you can begin to heal yourself? And, while in your process of healing, what if you then start to understand somethings, possibly even many things about you, that you never knew? Perhaps you gain insight into why you chose that person, and or made some of the choices you made in that relationship, including the oh so common choice to ignore the little red flags you saw early on because, well, you liked how you felt when you were with them, and no-one’s perfect, right? What if your pain inadvertently offered you an opportunity to learn something so important about yourself that it would empower you to move forward and engage in relationships in a different way, one that doesn’t make excuses for another’s behavior and stays true to you?  

Much has been written about forgiveness and the importance of learning to accept things as they are and let go. Much has been said about not allowing people who have hurt you to take up too much space in your head because that gives them power over you.

All of that is true.

 But I don’t think that means forgiving them, especially if they haven’t proven themselves worthy of your forgiveness. 

I often find in my clinical work, that the reason people struggle with trying to forgive the one who hurt them, is because it feels inauthentic. What feels authentic is the painful double bind they find themselves in. On the one hand, they want to forgive the one who hurt them because they still have some hope that things might somehow workout. Jumping quickly to forgiveness in this way acts as a defense mechanism, protecting people from taking in the awfulness of what the other did and the pain of the loss. On the other hand, the awfulness may be unacceptable and admitting that to oneself means there will be no reconciliation. It’s an impossible dilemma, where people feel damned if they do and damned if they don’t. This bind however, actually has an underlying positive intention, because it acts as a way to slowly remove the band aid and mitigate the overwhelming pain people finds themselves in. 

 

Sometimes, I encourage people to take a few steps back and metaphorically “un-forgive ” the one who hurt them. This allows them to really process through the pain that scarred their soul.  When they take this step back, they then come to understand that’s it’s normal to find themselves cycling through the memories of what happened and the wishing and wanting of what could have been. When people really take the time to proactively heal their wounds, grieve their losses, and learn their life lessons; their lives begin to transform. The void and loss of the other creates the vacuum that draws in new people and situations that are better suited for them and their new phase of life. They begin to become the person they were meant to be. Then, the person who once hurt them so terribly, doesn’t matter so much anymore. The winter of their obsessing, resentment, anger, and discontent, begins to melt away into a new season in their life; one with renewed hope and promise. 

This happens, not because they forgave the one who hurt them, though through this process they may genuinely decide to do that.

It happens, because they stayed true to their process and in turn forgave themselves.

Do You Prefer Platinum or Gold? Some Simple Tips on How to Treat the One you Love with Love.

“Humans were capable of so many amazing things, but too often they just sit making words, not doing anything” – A Dog’s Purpose


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We’ve all heard of the golden rule: “treat others as you would like to be treated”.

But believe it or not, it’s actually not the best strategy for our closest relationships. 

 Why?  

Because it assumes that what other people think, want, need, and feel, are the same as what we think, want, need, and feel. The truth is: sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. So how do you know when they do or don’t?

Ask.

Ask what they like. Ask what they don’t like. Ask what hurts them. Then listen to what they have to say. Now, take your turn and do the same. Tell them what matters to you. What you like and don’t like. What you want, need, and what hurts you. Teach the other about you and let them teach you about them. 

This is the platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated, not as you would.

Then try as best you can to follow it: with one caveat.

It’s not your job to always do what the other wants you to do. There’s a difference between “doing and treating”.  You are not responsible for taking care of all the other’s needs and pain. The same goes for them. That’s care taking, which in time, will suck all that was once precious out of any relationship. Following the platinum rule means you understand that the “other” is both connected to and separate from you.  And while no one can always be 100% attuned to this unique arrhythmic relational dynamic, understanding that it’s there and holding the intention to follow it, will create a much richer connection between you and your partner. 

 Here’s an example: you like to be hugged. Your partner prefers handshakes. So instead of hugging them, why not shake their hand?

 Now, If you want a hug from them, ask them if they can do that for you. If they can- awesome!

If they can’t, then ask them why.  If what they say makes sense and works for you – great. If it doesn’t, well, then a new problem arises - and here’s where many get into trouble. They try to make the other do what they want so they can get their needs met. They think the other needs to follow their rule.

Except that rule (founded in some deeply held belief that’s actually not true) is not golden, silver, platinum or lead. It’s rust. And it’s death to the soul: yours and theirs. 

Trying to make someone hug you when they don’t want to, stay with you when they want to leave or anything else that’s not aligned with the other’s heart or soul’s purpose,  wreaks havoc on everyone closely connected to the “rule makers and breakers” in that relationship. It’s a fool’s gold where dysfunction and chaos, only creates more dysfunction and chaos. 

 Sigh…

Putting anarchy aside, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect.  People find each other by missing each other. And sometimes they need to miss each other a lot,  before they can really find each other and start again.

 And should they choose to do that, they can then trust in the other and relax. They will know that no matter what happens to them, or what life throws their way, if they can commit to following the aforementioned rule, all we be well. 

 Not only will they be able to talk about doing so many amazing things together, they will actually do them with platinum success.

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Are You Settling for Crumbs in Your Relationships? 5 Strategies that Will Help you Get the Dinner you Deserve.

Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you meant what you promised.

Anon.

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People are perfectly imperfect. There’s no getting around that. 

And while our imperfections and peccadillos will inevitably disappoint those we love from time to time, most people, in good faith, don’t mean to mistreat or rather, “misfeed” others.  Most, like to treat those they care about “well”, by metaphorically feeding them delicious dinners, either made for or paid for with love. Sometimes, however, those who allege their unwavering loyalty and undying love, and promise you that highly coveted meal over and over again, always seem to come up short. 

Instead of delivering that paid for in advance, five -course fancy feast, they show up to the table time and time again with, well, you guessed it: crumbs.  

And while they chronically apologize for coming up short, citing climate change, their chaotic lives and even their ADHD as the guilty Grinch that stole dinner, getting crumbs when promised a real meal over and over again feels crummy.

You can beg, bully and even try to black mail the one who promised you that meal into living up to their word. This may result in an occasional serving of small appetizers and aperitifs, but those tactics won’t get you the dinner you deserve. 

Crumbs are crumbs and their trails don’t lead to the dining room.

So, what tactics can you employ to get what you need when you’ve consistently asserted your dinner request and still only get crumbs? 

  1. Try saying “thanks but no thanks”, and direct that person to feed those crumbs to that which would appreciate them most: the birds

2. Refuse to give or accept crumbs for yourself or anyone else by choosing to live up to your word and walking away from those who choose not to live up to theirs. (Who knows, maybe they will “get woke” and follow.)

3. Make sure to treat yourself to many gourmet gatherings of faithful friends who serve food without fodder.

4. Know that you never have settle for crumbs again.

5. Make sure to enjoy your dinner.

Bon Appetit!

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7 Simple Lessons on Happiness from a Defiant Dog Named Ben.

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We can not solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.

Albert Einstein.

Seven Years ago in August, I adopted a rescue puppy named Ben. He turned eight a couple of weeks ago. Not treated well by his first owner, he and his brother were surrendered to a shelter. The original owner reclaimed Ben's brother, leaving Ben alone and feeling abandoned,  when he was first adopted by another.  He had difficulty adjusting to his first adoption and was returned to the shelter the very next day.  I was fortunate enough to adopt him that very next day. Though it's been a tough road at times dealing with his severe separation anxiety and reactive aggressive behavior, he's given me so much joy and I admire his defiance, which is perhaps better called " resilience".  While I could make a list of dozens doggy behavioral lessons on happiness that Mr. Ben has taught me, here are seven simple ones.

 1. Take time each day to play .

Ben Loves to play. Every morning after his walk and breakfast, he searches for a ball for me to throw to him. If he can't find one, he then grabs one of my shoes instead. Catch or catch me if you can has become a big part of our morning routine.

Adults need to be silly, laugh and play. It releases endorphins and actually can help them to be more productive at work and more at ease with others. Woking too hard or always being on the go, stresses the adrenals and leads to anxiety and depression.

2. Take time to rest.

Ben loves to go for walks- short ones though. Once he tires out, he just plops himself under a shady tree.  He has no particular exercise agenda (unlike his owner) and he listens to what his body needs.  When he needs to slow down or stop, he does.

Just as people need to take time to play, they also need to sleep and take time out in their days for rest. Believe it or not, just ten minutes of mediation a day or a fifteen minute power nap can be a wonderful reset for one's mind, body and soul.

3. Ask for what you want.

There's a park that I often take Ben for walks. At the beginning of the loop there’s an inlet to the pond, and oooohhhh how Ben loves to swim. We have a routine when he goes swimming: I throw out a stick for him to fetch – and off he goes…paddling with a mission, head above water and tail wagging the whole time.    Each time we approach the inlet, without fail, Ben runs down the sandy beach, wags his tail and waits. That's his ask.  Ben doesn't assume I know what he wants, (though I do), so he makes sure to ask me each and every time we approach the pond.

When people come to therapy, particularly when they are having difficulty in their relationships, I notice that they often assume the "other" should always be attuned to what they want and deliver on it.  It's an assumption that can cause a lot of strife and disappointment when expectations aren't met. I encourage people to ask from their hearts what it is they want rather than expect the other will just know.

4. When you can't get what you want, find a way to come to terms with it.

There's a rule in my home: if Ben goes in the pond – he then goes in the tub for a bath. This doggy momma doesn't have time for a fluff and buff bath routine every day, so Ben doesn't always get to go for his much coveted swim.   Though he always asks, when I know he’s not going swimming on a particular day,   I say “no” and then keep walking.  He waits for a few seconds with sad eyes hoping I will change my mind, but soon finds a way to let go, and follows me for the rest of his walk.

People can't always get what they want from another. Yet some have a hard time tolerating when things don't go their way.  Certainly one can always ask again from their heart, but if another doesn't want to oblige, it's best to respect theit wish. If the other obliges because they feel guilted or pressured, then resentment will build over time.  

 

5. Make sure your actions match your words and surround yourself with those who do the same.

When I ask Ben if he wants to go for a walk, we take one. When I ask him if he wants to eat, I feed him.  Imagine what it would be like for him if I only followed through on what I said only some of the time? Would he feel loved and secure?

No, he wouldn't.

When someone follows through on what they tell the other they intend to do, it says that they are a person of integrity and that the other matters. It shows that they care. When they don't, the opposite is true on all counts. Now, no one's perfect and life happens. When things get in the way and force a change of plans, explain that to the other and find a way to make it up to them. It feels good to make other's happy and others feel happy and respected when people in their life do the same. It builds trust and deeper intimacy and It's win win.

6. When someone's actions don't match their words,  know it's not about you.

Dogs take everything personally. Their limbic brains are much bigger than their human companions and they don't have a prefrontal cortex that helps them use logic and resort to higher reasoning. One of the reason's Ben has anxiety and PTSD is because he didn't know that his former human had problems and took them out on him.

Here's where humans have dogs beat. Yes, it hurts when people don't do as they said they would and sometimes, one may never know the reason why they didn't. Learning not to personalize  others behavior and lack of follow through can help build one's self esteem. It can also create enough space for one to calmly ask the other what happened rather than react harshly -which will only shame or push the other away. If necessary, not personalizing an other's behavior can then make it easier to walk away from those who's actions consistently don't match their words .

7. Above all else: "To thy own self be true." 

Dogs are incapable of being inauthentic. They show us who they are all the time. Their sometimes bad behavior also lends a clue as to what happened to them. When a stranger approaches Ben and he feels uncomfortable, he growls and barks. He can't pretend he feels what he doesn't and he won't warm up to someone until he feels safe, secure and happy with that person.

This lesson is much harder for humans. It's not easy to live authentically as choosing to do so may  mean letting others down. A mentor once told me that at some point in the life span, everyone must choose between the following seemingly impossible dilemma, which boils down to this: "If I choose what others want for me, I betray myself and if I choose what I want for myself, then I betray others." 

While there are those who believe it's "nobler to suffer", I believe Shakespeare's Polonius had this one right. To thy own self be true. The human heart is filled with wisdom and when one follows it, they follow the ultimate lesson on human happiness- which in the long run, has a positive trickle down effect on those around them.  The same holds true for when they don't. When people follow their hearts and learn to disappoint others in a compassionate and loving way, it actually IS in everyone's best interest because it allows them to do the sameInauthentic living never amounts to genuine happiness.

So there it is, seven simple lessons on happiness.  

The irony is, none of those lessons are easy.

 Most have to make time to play and they often don't believe there's enough time in the day to do that.

Most need to take time to rest and they are worried that they won't get everything they need to get done if they do.

Many need to learn to ask from their hearts what they want and accept that sometimes they can't alway get it. This requires the courage to be vulnerable and grieve the disappointment.

While most want to have their actions meet their words, sometimes they can't and then they  avoid explaining to the other the real reason they didn't. This avoidance only leads to hurt, distrust and more avoidance: not down the path of happiness. It's also hard not to take another's lack of followthrough personally, because it really does hurt.

Yet, when people master the last lesson: To thy own self be true- the hardest lesson of all, all the other lessons fall right into place. If they consistently practice lessons one through six, then lesson seven becomes easier too.

When all of these lessons get practiced consistently, then one can truly say that "life is good!"



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7 Simple Ways to "Shape-Shift" Your Life When You Feel Down for the Count.

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible ”  -Audrey Hepburn

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible

-Audrey Hepburn

 

Albert Einstein shamelessly stated, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” A renegade physicist most known for his equation E=MC2, he believed that energy could not be created nor destroyed, “ just changed from one form to another.” His ideas spoke to the heart of the culturally diverse and timeless fascination of “Shape Shifting”.

“Shape-Shifting” means “the ability of a being or creature to completely transform its physical form or shape.”*  A common  theme in ancient mythology and shamanism, it involves a magical transformation from one state to another -often from human to animal.  In the modern era, “Shape Shifting” has become a widely used metaphor for variety of genres.

 

Sports is one such genre. Remember the  Boston Bruins 2011 playoff series ? Fans road the rollercoaster of constant come from behind wins (accompanied by Jack Edward’s historic commentary) from the quarter finals in Montreal all the way to Lord Stanley's Cup in Vancouver.  The B’s “shape shifted” again and again until they emerged victorious. Then there was Malcolm Butler’s against all odds and ergonomics game winning  interception in Super Bowl XLIX .  With :26 seconds left in the game and Marshawn Lynch inches from the end zone, Seattle Seahawk players and fans began celebrating the seemingly inevitable game winning touchdown.  The Patriots  then “shape shifted” and dashed the Seahawks’ hopes.  In 2017 they did it again. Down 23-3 in the third, the Falcons smelled victory.  Tom Brady marched down the field and showed the world once again, that miracles do happen- sometimes.  What seemed fated to be an epic loss “shape shifted” into  one of the most legendary Super Bowl victories to date.  

“Shape shifting” happens in psychotherapy too -though in this genre,  most  keep bragging rights to themselves.  People come to therapy when they feel down for the count and desperately seek to transform their lives.  While therapy may not be for everyone, almost everyone has found themselves at some point in time in dire need of change. If you can relate to that sentiment, then here are seven simple “shape shifting”  techniques you can practice on your own to begin turning  your life around.

  1. Ask yourself the following question: If anything were possible and nothing mattered, what does my heart long to be, do or have?  The sky's the limit, so be brave. Right now this secret desire gets to live privately and safely within the walls of your imagination. No one has to know about it, except you. Feel what happens in your body when you do this. Compare that “in the body feeling” with your feelings towards your  current situation or  whatever it is you think you should  be do or have. Notice the contrast. Without thinking, kinesthetically feel which thought or idea makes your heart lift.

  2. Focus on what does lift your heart,  imagining yourself being, doing or having it.  Sense and   feel what happens in your body.

  3. Allow the parts of you that tell you why you can’t or shouldn’t be, do or have this to come forward. Sense and feel them in your body.

  4. Send all those naysayer parts of you lots of compassion. Contrary to what many people say, pushing aside or ignoring fears doesn’t work. Those parts of you have important messages and concerns that need to heard. They have good intentions and are trying to protect you from deeper held beliefs and fears in your inner system.  Listen to all their concerns and  then channell Aaron Rodgers’ invitation for relaxation towards them all.

  5.  Allow the deeper fears to emerge in their own time and way. (If this becomes overwhelming, than you may want to consider psychotherapy.) Listen with compassion to all your pain - every last drop of it-and allow it to dissipate.

  6.  Shift your focus back again to what makes your heart happy and feel what happens again in your body.   

  7. Wait and Listen. Allow yourself to be guided by your heart’s intuition and follow its lead by taking whatever inspired actions it asks of you.

Practice this simple technique three minutes a day, three times a day for three weeks, three months or three years and watch your life begin to transform. You CAN “shape shift” anything in your life IF it’s what your  heart truly  desires. If it’s not, then It won’t happen no matter how hard you try. Trust that your heart has an inner wisdom in wanting what it wants -whatever that may be.

While Shakespeare’s Hamlet tormented over “Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and many have followed in suite, I believe there’s a better way. What lifts your heart- at least the essences of it- IS what you are supposed to be, do or have. When you surrender to that and set your intention to allow for what you really want to flow into your life -you will discover some really good news. What makes you happy- when pursued in a kind, compassionate and loving way- is  always in the best interest of the greater good.  

Why not give it a try and see what happens? .

You never know what dreams may come.

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The Homecoming: Why it's Never too Late to Live Authentically

“So you can doubt. And you can hate. But I know no matter what it takes:I’m coming home.” - Skyler Grey


 

“What about anacondas?” I asked. “Isn’t the Amazon Scary?”

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He paused for a moment and smiled at me before he answered. ‘It’s the safest place I’ve ever been,” he said while pulling out his phone to show me a picture he took of a Jaguar swimming away from his boat.”

After a  2 & ½ hour shuttle ride to the Liberia airport in Costa Rica, listening and learning from this man about his thoughts on Shamanism, the Mayan ruins in Guatemala, the Pachamama Alliance, the Amazon, and of his former work life involving unsavory business deals that effected the global economy, this man assured me that visiting the Amazon was a must.

 “Don’t worry” he said, as we exited the car and grabbed our luggage, “ the Amazon IS safe.”  He looked at me one last time before we parted for good and said “but love... now that’s scary”.

“Did he just do a little door knob therapy with me? ” I wondered as I walked into the airport and searched for the Jetblue Terminal. Tracing the threads of our conversation over and over in my mind, I finally remembered that I did tell him that I was a therapist. Perhaps that’s why he said what he said when he said it, just as many of my clients do at the end of session? They reveal  their deeper truths as they are literally walking out my office door- which allows them to say what they need to say, while avoiding any real exploration of it.  This man shared with me a deep vulnerability and then left.    

As I stood in line waiting to pick up my boarding pass for my flight home to Boston, unable to shake my curiosity, I decided to buy and read his book.  After perusing the chapter about his childhood,  I understood what he meant.

Like many clients I see, he grew up having to do what others wanted him to do- which became a part of his adult relational reality.  His own wants, needs, ideas and desires, if they deviated from what his family approved of,- were not permitted.  He developed what therapists call “a false self” -one that organizes around pleasing others and their realites- denying the authentic yearnings within. Yet, he always acted out his deeper wishes- just in destructive ways; dropping out of the school his family wanted him to go to, having affairs, ending his marriage, etc.  It made perfect sense to me why love felt so scary to him.

When people fall in love, they are often falling in love with parts of themself that they see in the other person.  Sometimes, they can only experience those parts of themself through that other person - at least initially. In a way, lovers become each other’s muses, inspiring their true nature and deep creative passions. If these parts are lost parts - exiled because they were never permitted and deemed unacceptable by those close to them, then the euphoria of being “in love with another” can quickly turn to panic - as the primitive implicit memories associated with the negative consequences of being authentic begin to surface.  For many, like this man, Love WAS scary.  And for those whom it still is, until healed, it will remain so.  When this is the case, people then chose relationships that reenact the model of love they are most familiar with- and sometimes find partners with whom they feel safe with but empty.   The lyric from O.A.R..’s song shattered “all I can feel is the realness I’m faking” speaks to that reality.

Yet the lie (false self) can not become the truth no matter how hard one tries to make it so and the call to authenticity will always be there as long as we are alive and have air to breathe. Some have the courage to take a deep breath and answer it and some do not - but the “phone” will never stop ringing -even when silenced.  

It will not quit.

Rather it will wait patiently for you to surrender to the sound of the song your soul sings.

The man I shared the shuttle ride with did answer his call-at least professionally - as he changed careers and is now dedicated to helping people all over the world live in economic fairness and in alignment with the earth’s natural resources. The draw to the amazon was his therapy and his experiences with nature and people who live connected to nature and her rhythms, helped him connect to his own.

He writes about how Shamans literally saved his life. “Shamans”,  which means medicine men or women are healers of the mind, body and spirit.  

Therapists are too.

But if you are not quite ready to answer the phone call home to yourself, here’s a pre therapy tip that will prepare you to feel safe for the “some day” trip to your inner amazon.  Find a quiet place to sit or lie down and close your eyes. Bring one hand to your heart and another to your stomach. Scan your body for tension and see if all the aches, pains, tensions and knots would be willing to soften just a tiny bit- more if they’d like. Relax your jaw and allow yourself to breath in through your mouth without even trying to.  Just wait and yield to the breath when the body needs air and inhale. Then allow the exhale.

Repeat.

Repeat again.

And again and again.

That’s it.

It’s a simple surrender to the rhythm of your breath - and the rhythm of your soul, where all the answers to your questions live- patiently waiting to share their wisdom with you.

As the breath slows down, so will the mind. When that happens, you will soon begin to hear the sounds of the rich biodiversity of all the inner voices  and parts inside of you - which at first will feel scary. If that’s the case, just return to the breath and see if you can  trust that all the frightened, shamed, scared, angry, lonely, sad, should, no don’t, but I have to and any and all  parts  of you that constantly contradict each other -have valuable data for you to listen to. They all matter and they can all live in harmony inside of you when and only when you listen to them all and deny nothing of what they have to say. They will then guide you on your journey home to authenticity and your true self.  

That’s when love shifts from scary to rich, alive and exciting.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Finding Hope After Heartbreak Hacks

Not only can you survive heartbreak, you can learn to thrive in your life because of it!

Are You Feeling Stuck? Tips on how to clear up your inner traffic jam.



"With one breath, with one flow

you will know

Synchronicity" 

-"Synchronicity"- The Police

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Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung (1875-1961) shared a story about a patient who once had a dream about an expensive piece of jewelry which she referred to as a golden scarab. Clinically, he was trying to help her get more connected to her heart, which her rational, logical, defensive mind protected her from, with good reason I am sure of. He struggled with her for quite some time and asked for a little help from the universe which he got on the day she talked about her dream.  As he listened to what she was describing, he heard a light tapping on his window.  He turned around and saw that it was a golden scarab beetle - which were widely revered in ancient Egypt. He pointed this out to his patient who quickly made the connection between her inner world being mirrored by the outerworld.  This synchronistic moment reportedly worked and the therapy began to help her.

 

“John” was a client I had been working on and off with for several years.  Normally on time for session, he arrived twenty minutes late, seemingly aggravated.  ‘Sorry” he said as he plopped himself on my couch, “I’ve been stuck in traffic for over an hour”. “John” had been feeling frustrated with many things in his life, one of which was an out of state job that he desperately wanted and had been in the works for over a year now. It seemed that each time the company got close to making him an offer, they would tell him that they didn’t have to go ahead yet, but encouraged him to hang in there with them.  Trying to ignore his immediate experience of frustration, he dove into reporting on all the recent developments or lack thereof in his life.

 

“Being stuck in traffic really sucks” I said, to which he paused, nodded his head and looked at me.  “Can you feel the frustration in your body? “ I asked.  

 

“Yes, but I really just want to forget about it”, he responded.

 

“Of course you do” I said, “but why not take a moment to just acknowledge it and see what happens?”.  

 

He agreed.  He closed his eyes and focussed on the tension in his neck and shoulders. As he followed his breath, his frustration turned to anger and then softened to a profound sadness.  He acknowledged how helpless he felt regarding his current life circumstances and wished things could change.  We spent the rest of the session holding that as he grieved his sense of helplessness.  By the end of the appointment, there was an alchemical shift in the room. Though the therapy in and of itself couldn’t do much to change the external issues in his outer life, his inner life dramatically shifted when he discovered self compassion.  

 We joked as he left that evening hoping the traffic jam would be cleared up by now so that he could have an easy ride home.  “It will be what it will be” he said, smiling as he walked out the door.

Two weeks later, John arrived early for his appointment.  I opened my office door to see him seated in the waiting room grinning from ear to ear.  “Guess what happened?” he asked as he entered my office?

  “You tell me” I responded as I waited to hear his news.

“They made me an offer last week.  I will be moving out of town and starting my new job in two months”.

He had his golden scarab moment and his inner traffic jam cleared.


Whether or not one buys into Jung’s theory of synchronicity doesn’t matter.  Taking the time to sit compassionately with all of one’s parts and unburdening the pain inside does.  

Why?

Because it help us to better manage the inevitable traffic jams we all experience and then find new routes to travel on in our lives.


 







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FInding Hope after heartbreak hacks

Not only can you survive heartbreak, you can learn to thrive in your life because of it!

Are You in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship? Tips to Help You Understand What Implicit Contract you May Have Signed.

“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”- Carly Simon

 

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Narcissistic abuse has become a hot talking point these days.


 If you follow social media, particularly Facebook, you may find many articles about this such as “ How to spot a narcissist” , “gas lighting” ( a manipulative technique where someone tries to tell you that you are crazy and are imagining their abuse rather than take any responsibility for it) and even “10 signs that your partner is a psychopath”.  While these essays do have some meat to them and offer sound advice on self care, trusting your instincts and maintaining no contact once you end the relationship, they don’t get to the heart of the matter, which is why people get ensnarled in these relationships in the first place.

“Karen” had been in therapy with me for two years. Her husband “Jack” who was once the love of her life, had for many years now, been showing her his darker side. He often neglected her, raged at her when he was upset and seldom showed any genuine interest in Karen’s wants and needs. When she would withdraw her attention from him and begin to contemplate leaving the relationship, he would then change his tune and start following through on the many promises he made to her. This in turn, offered her some intermittent moments of hope and happiness and she would re-engage with him. Yet once she did, little by little he would switch back to his old behaviors. After a while, she would then start to withdraw again and he would then start to pursue her again.  He offered her just enough of what she needed to get her hooked into riding the rollercoaster of his moods and maltreatment, yet again.  This was their relational contract.  

The contract didn’t start out that way though and generally speaking, in this kind of relationship, they never do.  Karen told me that she and Jack were once very much in love. “We had a chemistry like no other” and “he always felt like my soulmate” she would say, which I am sure is all true. This kind of chemistry however, allowed for the classic “bait and switch” where overtime, and unbeknownst to her, she came to implicitly agree to be in a connection with him that ultimately, was all about him.  Never did she imagine herself to be sounding board for his dreams and disappointments and a psychic punching bag for his rage.  Always trying to fix him or "therapize" him, she lived with chronic knots in her stomach.  Obsessed with how to get things back to the way they used to be, she came to therapy after her friends and family expressed concerns on how her self confidence and joie de vivre seemed lost.  She agreed that it was.

So how did this implicit contract get signed?

Karen grew up in a disorganized household.  Her father, who adored her, traveled for work so he wasn’t around much of the time and her mother, who was a trauma survivor herself, would often rage at Karen when she was a little girl. Karen shared with me her memory of her mother screaming at her for some unknown reason as she didn’t remember doing anything “wrong”.  Her mother’s affect was so intense that Karen remembered wanting to faint in an attempt to get her to stop her and to win back her mother’s love.  “I just wanted her to hold me” she said as she wept silent tears.

As a four year old, Karen did not know how to stand up for herself or even run away. Those are not skills that any small child has. Instead, she developed a belief that it was her job to take care of her mother’s emotional needs. By doing this job which was necessary for her own sense of survival, she denied her own feelings and burdens of fright, anger, loneliness and abandonment that arose during and after one of her mother’s tirades. When she was older and did try to protect herself, her actions were then met with more rage and more neglect.  In many ways, her relational wings were clipped.

So how did this type of trauma manifest in Karen’s intrapsychic system? First, she developed both a panic and fainting disorder as her fight/ flight response lived in constant overdrive for many years.  Second, she found herself in a string of bad relationships, until she met her husband, so she thought.

A couple of days before a session I had with Karen, I learned that a former client I treated for many years when working at a methadone clinic, had overdosed and died. He too grew up in an extremely disorganized household. He was from Medford, Ma or as many homegrown “bean towners” prefer to say: “Medfa”.  A talented artist who dropped out of school because of drugs, he knew how to stand his ground and he never back down from a fight, even when he probably should have.  Unlike karen, who didn’t know what to say when her husband mistreated her,  my former client had just the perfect vernacular of hysterically funny and vulgar push back lines for when someone mistreated him.

He was on my mind during a session with Karen which ended up being a turning point in the therapy. She was trying to find a way to stand up for herself in anticipation of her husband’s next outburst.  I began to tune out as she practiced and played with polite niceties such as “when you do that, I feel….(blah blah blah)”.  Then suddenly, I got hijacked by intense countertransference and interrupted her. I said, just as my former client would have, “No, the next time he acts out, you tell him to go choke on a big fat D**k!”

Silence filled the room.  

Then a spontaneous eruption of laughter between the two of us took up the space and remained there for the rest of the session.

My former client would have been very proud. Karen took his lead and said something to that nature to her husband a few day later when he started up again.  It worked.  Stunned by both her words and assertiveness, he apologized and told her that she was right, he did need to go back to therapy.

Whether or not Karen’s husband can earnestly engage in treatment and learn to become more relational remains to be seen. His declaration could be yet another bait and switch move where he offers her just enough of something that appeases her so that she will get back on the rollercoaster with him, because he can’t tolerate losing her. In narcissistic alliances however, the loss has little to do with the loss of the actual person. It’s more about the loss of an object that supplies the other with a drug like fix.  If a person does leave the alliance, the other may quickly find another empathic partner who will take the previous one’s place.

These alliances are not always so black and white though.  There often can be a continuum of relationality that some people have.  He or she may both genuinely care for the other and see them as an object at the same time.  This is when it gets really confusing. Depending upon where the person is on the narcissistic continuum will have much to do with whether or not this relational dynamic can change. That is why therapy is a must to survive something of this nature.

If Karen and Jack do end up entering couples counseling, which they will need to should they want to remain in the relationship, they may be in constant contract negotiations for a long time.

Yet there’s a creative genius behind Karen’s relational patterns. The four year old parts of her (frightened, angry, lonely and abandoned)  that got pushed aside when dealing with her mother’s abuse for years kept desperately trying to find ways to have their story seen and heard by none other than Karen.  One of their tactics was to find just the perfect partner to contract with who will help them re enact their story.  They are the parts of her and of you for that matter if you can relate to Karen’s story, who signed the invisible implicit contract in the first place.

The good news is, once you see what these parts are up to, you can then take a front row seat to their show, just as Karen did.  With a little curiosity and a lot of compassion that allows these injured parts to grieve and heal in their own time and space, you will be able to rip up that contract and get off the rollercoaster for good.  And if you start to waffle when your partner makes desperate attempts to lure you back in, try imagining yourself saying the crass words of my former client: “Go suck on a big fat d**k”. Allow that energy to fill your body with courage. Next take a long slow deep breath, find some stillness and pause. Then, calmly look your partner in the eye and say these two words.

Good bye.

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Finding Hope after heartbreak hacks

Not only can you survive heartbreak, you can learn how to thrive in your life because of it!

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Not only can you survive co-dependency and abuse, you can learn how to thrive in your life because of it.

Why Feeling Discomfort is a Good Thing and Can Help You Open Up a Whole New Window of Possibilities in Your Life.

“And it goes so slowly on,

everything I’ve ever wanted,

tell me what’s wrong”

- The Replacements, “Unsatisfied”

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Nobody likes change.

 Most resist it until they can do so no longer.  Only when “optimal discomfort” ( a clinical term) takes place, do people then begin to embrace what they can no longer deny: something’s got to shift. It’s called optimal discomfort because too much discomfort creates panic and resistance and not enough leads to continued “stuckness”, a condition many are comfortable in.

Every summer, I take a trip to Kripalu in the Berkshires with a friend and colleague who is also a therapist. The rooms there are simple and clean.  There are windows and a fan, but no air conditioning.  Summer days in the Berkshires can be extremely hot and humid and though it does cool off at night, the rooms at Kripalu tend to hold onto the heat from the.

One year, on the first night of this trip, I tossed and turned for most of it.  At 2 am, my friend whispered from across the room “you can always open the window you know.  You might sleep better.”  I responded “that would require me to get up” and we both laughed.  Though I was uncomfortable, I wasn’t uncomfortable enough to do anything about it.  

 In therapy, many of my clients share their quiet discontent with me, often for a long time before they are ready to make any changes.  

This is part of the process however.  My job is to create a space that allows them to honestly explore their level of dissatisfaction, whether it’s with work or a relationship, until they become dissatisfied enough to do something about it. Hence they experience optimal discomfort.  Sometimes therapy helps people learn to better tolerate conditions that they aren’t ready to do anything about and sometimes it empowers them to be bold and take the risk their heart and soul desires.

Either way, nothing changes on the outside, until something changes on the inside first.

The second night at Kripalu, I began to toss and turn again while trying to sleep.  Though the temperature during the day and night were roughly the same as the previous day, something inside of me wanted something different: to sleep better.  So at 2 am, I quietly tiptoed out of bed to open up the window.

 I wasn’t quiet enough however, as I heard a voice from across the room ask “what are you doing”?  

“Opening the window” I whispered back and then we both burst out laughing.  

Optimal discomfort allowed for me to create space for something new, which in this case was more fresh air and a soft breeze that led to good night’s sleep.

 Imagine what optimal discomfort might allow for you to create space for in your life?

 

 

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Finding hope after heartbreak hacks

Not only can you survive heartbreak, you can learn how to thrive in your life because of it.

Lessons on Letting Go from a Frog Trapped in a Sewer.


Free Yourself to Be Yourself

U2 Iris

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Ahimsa means non -violence.

In relationship terms, it’s comparable to self compassion, but it’s actually an eastern term signifying more.

In Vedic and Buddhist philosophies, there’s a belief in the equality of all sentient beings. The practice of ahimsa which can also be thought of as compassion and self compassion, extends towards all of them all.

One summer, there was a frog that appeared to be trapped in a sewer on the street where I reside.  Night after night, for the entire month, I would hear it croak loudly from my home office window. As I would walk my dogs by it, the frog seemed to croak even louder, almost as if were pleading for help to escape.  I spoke to several neighbors to get their thoughts on the frog and they too worried that it might be stuck in their with no viable way out. I found myself wondering if there was anything I could do to set it free and it pained me to know that there wasn’t.

As a psychotherapist, I work with many people who, possibly like the frog, feel utterly trapped in their current life circumstances.  

They see no immediate way out and often begin to feel resigned to being stuck in their own personal sewer. Being stuck feels lousy. Getting unstuck feels scary, sometimes even terrifying.  More often than not, many prefer feeling the dysthymic sense of stuckness over the terrifying possibility of becoming free. They then  waffle between the two polarities, sometimes for a very long time. This waffling however, is a necessary part of the process should one truly desire the risk, reward and responsibility of becoming a free and individuated self.

One night, after a month of listening to the frog and my own agonizing feelings that I was projecting onto it (who knows, it may have been enjoying its’ time down there) I walked over to the sewer where it lived.  I spent some time sending compassionate energy towards it and waited until its’ croaks and my angst quieted. Then I walked back into the house, knowing there was nothing more I could do.

I let go.

The next night, I didn’t hear the frog.  I walked the dogs a couple of times by the sewer to check on it.  I feared it may have died.  Then, as I walked the dogs back home and entered my garage, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.  Lo and behold it was a frog hopping it’s way through an obstacle course of randomly stored and  over stacked stuff.

Seeing it gave me such joy as I imagined the frog found the courage to free itself so that it could be itself.

Six weeks after I “terminated therapy with the frog” (kidding) but what a case study it was, I was struck by the power of possibility when we practice and surrender to ahimsa, compassion and self compassion with ourselves and others.

I was struck by what can happen when we just let go.

It also made me wonder to myself what would happen if we all dare ask the question: what if I just let this burden go?  

 

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Finding Hope after heartbreak hacks

Not only can you survive heartbreak, you can learn how to thrive in your life because of it.

Disfunction Wrapped in a Sentimental Bow: How to Recognize the Many Faces of Manipulation.

“Don’t fear the reaper.  You’ll be able to fly"-Blue Oyster Cult

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There’s a story that has been circulating on Facebook for a few years now.  The headline reads “He told her he was leaving and  she asked him for just one thing.”  The story goes on to say something like (and this is paraphrased) “ Mary and John have been married for 20 years.  They have a 15 year old son. John fell in love with another woman, named Janet and asked Mary for a divorce.”  Mary said, “Ok I will grant  you that wish provided you do one thing for me.  For the next thirty days, I would like you to carry me down the stairs and through the door like you did when we were first married.”  John agreed.

 The first few days of this exercise felt awkward to him.  He began to notice that she had lost some weight and seemed frail.  By the fourth week, the feelings of love he once had for his wife came back to him and he ran over  to see Janet to tell her that he did still love his wife and no longer wanted a divorce.  He then ran back home to his wife Mary, only to find her dead in their bed.  Unbeknownst to him, Mary was dying of cancer  The author of the story claims that Mary kept her terminal illness  a secret  to both protect her family from the pain of knowing she was dying and her son from the scar of a divorce.

 After Mary dies, John weeps with regret and everyone else weeps for her loss.”

 There’s a lot that can be said about this story.  

It is a bit of a tear jerker upon first read. Yet, let’s try to ask and answer the following question before we break out the kleenex. Is the author of this story trying to recapture the fairytale Mary once had with her husband John 20 some odd years ago or expressing a sentimentally gift wrapped revenge fantasy because John chose to leave?   For arguments sake and good dialectics, let’s say it’s both and start with the fairytale.

 Fairytales and myths predominate our culture and with good reason. They are both poignant and fun.   Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Santa Clause, fill our imaginations with adventure, hope, fear, love and in some cases, can offer us guidance on how to live our lives.  The story of Santa Claus may be perhaps one of the best fables for couples who want to understand the secret for a successful relationships .

 Why might that be, you ask?

Parents who are attuned to their children’s needs, delight in surprising them with gifts.  Couples who are attuned with each other delight in doing the same.  And though not everyone celebrates Christmas, the theme is universal. Healthy happy couples choose to make the fairy tale real once the honeymoon phase ends. When there are mis attunements between them, they see that as an opportunity to get curious and turn the inevitable empathic failures into a deeper connection. This is how they make Santa real, time and time again.  This is how they create and recreate the magic, even when the demands of work, family and life take over.  Though there’s never a 100% guarantee that making it and keeping it real will last till death do us part, it is the best strategy for getting their, if that’s what both parties want and continue to want.

 

What I most wonder about in the story of Mary and John is their capacity to reinvent themselves after the fairy tale ended?

Were they able to walk down the stairs hand in hand and through the door together as equals and carry each other at different times when needed?  The author doesn’t say. As a psychotherapist, I am going to venture out and say, probably not and they are also not alone in that matter. What we do know from the story is that he found someone else and she is dying and doesn’t tell him.  We also know that she wants to relive some elements of the fairytale with him before she passes.  Who could blame her? Yet the specific tactics the author endows Mary with to help her get what she wants disempowers her. I can’t help but wonder if those same tactics took place in the marriage, reflecting part of the reason their marriage fell apart?

The first tactic is guilt.  

Guilt is a powerful motivator, one that can never be underestimated.  She guilts John into carrying her down the stairs each day because he’s leaving her. He did love her once and probably feels bad for hurting her by asking her for a divorce.

 

The second tactic is manipulation via secrecy.  

Perhaps there was something noble about keeping her illness a secret to  protect her family from the pain of her impending death and her son from the scar of a divorce.   On the flip side, this choice was really rather cruel. Most families would want to know this  so they could prepare for the loss. It is also arguable that Mary had darker motives, choosing to seduce John through guilt and manipulation only to then abandon him with her death.  The proverb “revenge is dish best served cold” might be applicable here. 

Wouldn’t it have been nice if the author endowed both Mary and John with courage?

What if we changed the ending to  have Mary say the following when John tells her he wants to leave? “John, I know we lost our way, and I don’t really know why.  I do know that we are both responsible for it and that we never talked about our growing distance.  I regret that and I hope you do too.  I am dying. What I would really like from you is to be here for me during my final days. Do you think you could do that for me?”

 Feel the difference?

 This would allow them to end their marriage with love. And while I can appreciate that many would like to change the story entirely to have Mary and John stay together and work things out, the author did not write that story.

Endings are sad.  But they are not always bad.  

The longing and ache one feels in their soul to live an authentic life is just as powerful a motivator as guilt, though guilt can actually feel more authentic to some. In my clinical practice, I often see people who are polarized between the two. “Should I stay or should I go?”,  becomes the focus in therapy until this polarization dissolves. If one has the bravery ,will and inner hope to get to the heart of the matter, then it will.

 

There’s a lyric from the Semisonic song “Closing time” that says: “every new beginning starts from some other beginning’s end.  Yet I prefer the Blue Oyster Cult to close out this story to honor both the phenomena of endings and the gift of disillusionment.

 

Don’t fear the reaper. You’ll be able to fly.


 

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Finding hope after heartbreak hacks

Not only can you survive heartbreak, you can learn how to thrive in your life because of it.

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Your can not only survive divorce, but you can learn how to thrive in your life because of it.

Why Love is a Verb, Not Just a Feeling: Lessons from the "Gift of the Magi".

“The greatest gift that’s ever earned is to love and be loved in return” - Nat King Cole

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O. Henry’s short story, The Gift of the Magi and its many adaptations are generally told during the holiday season.  Though it’s a story about gift giving, I think it’s really a story about love, which can be told year round.  My favorite version has a folksy feel and goes a little something like this.

 

 A farmer and his wife would like to give each other a gift.  He knows that she would love a pair of golden combs to pin back her beautiful long thick hair.  She knows he would like an extra cow so he can produce more milk to sell.  Neither can afford to buy each other their ideal gift, but unbeknownst to each other, they both came up with the same idea. They devised a secret barter plan, to get each other the gift the other truly wants.  She cuts and sells her long thick hair to buy him a cow and he sells one of his cows to buy her the combs for her long thick hair. 

 

 Now, if that is not love, then I don’t know what is. 

 

As a therapist, many of my clients, both individuals and couples, come to see me about their struggles with love.  “Why didn’t he do that? Or why did she do this?” they complain when their wants, needs and expectations aren’t met. While there are times when “the complaint” is genuinely born out of one or both parties consistently not following through on what they contracted to do, more often then not it’s a different story.   When I politely ask the question “why do you place the burden of responsibility for the other to take care of this for you?”, they pause and stare at me with both curiosity and confusion.  At this point, the therapy either begins or it ends.

 

When it begins, people start to learn that their angst is their own and not to be managed by the other. They start to look inside themselves and see what’s really going on. And what that is, more often then not, is this: a reenactment of their unfinished childhood business craftily uploaded onto the other, as the unhealed wounds they carry from their unmet wants and needs incurred during childhood still bleed into adulthood, midlife and beyond.   The key here is, only they, themselves can heal that, not the other.  And if they can heal that, then they can learn how to become relational. 

 

That is when people can ask for what they want, what the other wants and express their disappointments without finger pointing and blame.     That is when they can successfully negotiate their relationships and co-navigate their journey together.

 

That is when they can love and be loved -which in my view, truly is the greatest gift that’s ever earned.. Henry’s short story, The Gift of the Magi and its many adaptations are generally told during the holiday season.  Though it’s a story about gift giving, I think it’s really a story about love, which can be told year round.  My favorite version has a folksy feel and goes a little something like this.

 

 A farmer and his wife would like to give each other a gift.  He knows that she would love a pair of golden combs to pin back her beautiful long thick hair.  She knows he would like an extra cow so he can produce more milk to sell.  Neither can afford to buy each other their ideal gift, but unbeknownst to each other, they both came up with the same idea. They devised a secret barter plan, to get each other the gift the other truly wants.  She cuts and sells her long thick hair to buy him a cow and he sells one of his cows to buy her the combs for her long thick hair. 

 

 Now, if that is not love, then I don’t know what is. 

 

As a therapist, many of my clients, both individuals and couples, come to see me about their struggles with love.  “Why didn’t he do that? Or why did she do this?” they complain when their wants, needs and expectations aren’t met. While there are times when “the complaint” is genuinely born out of one or both parties consistently not following through on what they contracted to do, more often then not it’s a different story.   When I politely ask the question “why do you place the burden of responsibility for the other to take care of this for you?”, they pause and stare at me with both curiosity and confusion.  At this point, the therapy either begins or it ends.

 

When it begins, people start to learn that their angst is their own and not to be managed by the other. They start to look inside themselves and see what’s really going on. And what that is, more often then not, is this: a reenactment of their unfinished childhood business craftily uploaded onto the other, as the unhealed wounds they carry from their unmet wants and needs incurred during childhood still bleed into adulthood, midlife and beyond.   The key here is, only they, themselves can heal that, not the other.  And if they can heal that, then they can learn how to become relational. 

 

That is when people can ask for what they want, what the other wants and express their disappointments without finger pointing and blame.     That is when they can successfully negotiate their relationships and co-navigate their journey together.

 

That is when they can love and be loved -which in my view, truly is the greatest gift that’s ever earned.

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Can Everyday be an Opening Day with Your Partner? 5 Strategies for a Winning Season of Love.

“Oh, put me in coach, I’m ready to play today.”  John Fogerty

By Maura A. Matarese, M.A. LMHC, R.Y.T.

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Opening Day began with a bang this year. Tom Brady threw out the first pitch. Rob Gronkowski playfully stole his Super Bowl LI jersey. The pair chased each other cat-and-mouse style all the way to shallow right field. And most importantly, the Red Sox won.

 

It doesn’t get much better than that, in sports and in love.  Yet many people find themselves lost in the field of disillusionment when the excitement of Opening Day with their partner wears off. Not knowing if they can end their losing streak, they agonize over whether or not their love can last.  Why can’t every day be Opening Day, they bemoan?  In every relationship, there really is only one Opening Day.  However, if a couple can come to understand some basic plays in the field of love, then it’s very possible, should they have both the will and desire, to have many winning seasons together. 


So what are some of those basic plays?

 

  1.   First, understand your attachment style: How you were loved when you were young is how you love as an adult.  Some people need to feel close all the time; others need more space and some feel anxious, ambivalent or even avoidant when there is too much or too little of either one. Most people are drawn to others whose attachment style feels in sync with their own. 

  2.   Heal your inner attachment.  Those who have a secure inner attachment and got just the right amount of closeness and space as a child tend to fare better in long-term relationships.  Those who didn’t get enough of what they needed often put the responsibility on the other to somehow make up for it. That’s when the fighting and disillusionment begins.  Remember that you are the only person who can make up for it. 

  3.  Know that it’s not possible for one person to fulfill 100 percent of what you need all the time. The other person will eventually fall off the pedestal and let you down.  When couples learn to recover from the errors in play they both make, they become better players together.  Learning to give yourself what you need and getting back up after you fall down time and time again makes winning together possible.

  4.   Honestly assess your willingness to continue playing: Sometimes people outgrow each other.  Not all relationships last through the seasons of a lifetime. Many couples stagnate as they experience their ambivalence about staying together. Some work through it and rediscover their Opening Day excitement and commitment to playing through this season and the next. Others decide it’s better to leave or even switch teams. 

  5.  Find the courage to know and do what’s right for you. The rules of dating, mating and relating are changing as serial monogamy and even polyamory (an open relationship) have become the new, albeit minor league options in town. They’re not for everyone, but do offer viable options for some.


Now that Opening Day has come and gone, let’s see if the Sox have what it takes to have a winning season.  And if your Opening Day has come and gone, then you will soon discover that too.  Regardless, play on! 

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What is Self-Energy? How can it heal? Events from the Women's March explain.

"They say God is in the details. Well, the goddess is in connections."

- Gloria Steinem

 

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The Women’s March, which drew more than 3 million people world wide and close to one million in DC, celebrated our interconnectedness. Triggered by hateful rhetoric in a divisive presidential campaign, this article has little to do with the politics of the January 21st 2017 event.

 

Rather, it is about the little moments of respectful, calm and playful spiritedness that embodied the millions of women, men and children on every continent of the globe who marched in support of equal rights and respectful treatment of women. It was the largest march in history with no violence and no arrests. What made all this possible?  Perhaps a phenomena called Self Energy. 

 Self energy has become one of the latest catch phrases in modern psychology. Known to many practitioners and clients of Dick Schwartz’ model of psychotherapy called The Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model, self represents our inner resource of calm, creative, curious and compassionate energy that can heal and also help us create anything we truly desire. The word self and its concept first became known to humankind some 5,000 years ago, when it made its debut in the Rig Veda under the Sanskrit name Atman, which means self or soul. 

 As a pre-Christian culture, the Vedics, who occupied what today is known as India and Pakistan, held a polytheistic world view, where gods and goddesses of varying temperament, status, stature and agenda, worked in unison to help maintain the order of the universe. The Vedics believed that through the deities’ connection to each other and their human counterparts’ inner connection to them, our modern world slowly became what it is today – an amalgam of beauty, wonderment and awe contrasted with the darker forces of nature. 

Thus was the spirit of the Women’s March.

  While I could list many examples of the spirit of self energy manifesting itself throughout the event, two events in particular blew this humble activist’s mind. 

 The first involved the police.  Yes, the men in blue have been under fire lately in the news for wrongful shootings. When a dozen or so of them rumbled into the crowd on their motorcycles with riot gear, many of us froze.  They parked their bikes one by one on the sidewalk and looked towards the crowd as the crowd looked back.  After a long pregnant pause, one woman, with obvious trepidation, wiggled her fingers at them in a shy hello.  After some delay in response, a police officer nonchalantly waved back. With the ice somewhat broken, that same woman tentatively held up her smart phone gesturing a photo request which was met with a “why not” shrug of that police officer’s shoulders.  She took a selfie with him and the crowd began to chuckle. A few minutes later, countless women, men and children and the police laughed, smiled and posed for photos together with some creative posturing of their bikes and ominous gear.  The good vibe energy – self energy – dissipated the fear.  

 The second example involved the Metro.  With an estimate of roughly one million marchers in D.C., the Metro was the least anticipated pleasurable experience of the event. Knowing the inevitability of being packed in like sardines, my friends and I hoped that leaving the march a bit early would somehow mitigate that. Others had the same idea though – so no such luck.  When the first overcrowded train pulled up to the landing, a couple of people squeezed their way on board. However, the majority of our crowd of strangers seemed to believe that waiting, rather than forcing our way on, would be the better option. It was. So we waited, wondering how many trains would pass us by before we could comfortably enter. It had been a very long day that required a lot of energy.  Hunger and fatigue had begun to set in. Waiting, however, for what we thought would be a very long time just felt like the right thing to do.

 The wait was short.  Five minutes after the first train left, a completely empty train pulled up backwards on the rail seemingly out of nowhere, destined to move forward in the direction we were heading. Excited and bewildered, we all hopped on board AND most of us got to sit as we began the journey home! The relief felt nothing short of miraculous.

 The 2017 Women’s March delivered countless celebrity speakers, huge crowds, network news coverage, uber-creative signs and other Trumpian “best ever” factors. Much has been written about that. These two events I’ve mentioned probably pale in comparison to the sexier stuff of the day. But the simple ordinary self-led expression of creative and compassionate connection between one human being and another, which made up the majority of this day, in my view, stole the show.  

 Imagine what could happen if we all did our best to allow this self-expression every day.




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5 Reasons People Cheat: In Sports and in Love.

By: Maura Matarese, M.A. LMHC, R.Y.T.

I told my wife the truth. I told her I was seeing a psychiatrist. Then she told me the truth: that she was seeing a psychiatrist. two plumbers, and a bartender.
— Rodney Dangerfield


Photo by xuanhuongho/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by xuanhuongho/iStock / Getty Images

 

It’s very hard to overcome a scandal, whether it’s between the grid iron, or the sheets.

For example, the New York Press coverage of the New England Patriots 2017 historic Super Bowl comeback victory began with headlines such as “How Cheat it is” and “Cheat Your Heart Out”, reminding all football fans of the Pat’s infamous “Deflate Gate” season start scandal, rather than .

In today’s highly competitive sports world, the collective fan-ship of “we”, which often deifies athletes when they make great plays and win the game e.g. Tom Brady, David Tyree (sorry New Englanders- I know that still hurts) and in turn shuns them when they expose their mere mortality by making mistakes and loosing. To this day, most Red Sox fans react with a palpable groan upon the mentioning of Bill Buckner (my apologies again).   But what happens to fans and to ourselves if and when we discover that the team and or the one we have pledged to be faithful too, happens to play by a different set of rules then we do?  What happens when someone we love cheats or better yet, gets caught in the oh so scandalous act of cheating?

 Our vicarious love affair with sports, is not so different than our personal love affairs. Cheating happens. It always has and right or wrong, it always will.  Some deny it.  Some find ways to justify it.  Then of course, there are some who forever moralize over the cheating with an unyielding vitriol that doesn’t allow for the much needed exploration of why it happened in the first place. At least that’s what I encounter in my clinical practice with individuals and couples struggling with the thought of or effects of infidelity. 

 In sports, the why has many answers:

  1. The pressure to be the best all the time, which isn’t possible, gets to some. 

  2. The career ending consequences for not being the best all the time, gets to others.

  3. The dangers of the game itself, where the justified fear and high probability of a career ending and or quality of life injury,  looms over every athlete. Consider what happened to Wes Welker and Travis Roy among others and the very real existential threat (this game may be my last) that “ups the anti” in the choice to cheat? 

  4. Then their are leaders with power in the system who lack consistency and even common sense in their decision making process, giving one athlete a two game suspension for beating his spouse and the other four games for an equipment violation.

In a system where the rules don’t always seem fair or even make sense, that also lacks a forum for honest questioning and real feedback about it, players, at times, begin to play by rules that make sense to them. 

Rather then question the validity of a flawed paradigm, have a real conversation about what to do about it or even show a note compassion for the inevitable expression of it’s worts, most stick to the black and white business as usual way of being and throw mud at those who dare to defy it. This, in particular, applies to the rival team, who from a psychological perspective, represent either our partner or the “other” in the so called love affair. Ironically, when our team- which is a projection and expression of ourselves, comes under the same scrutiny, it generally doesn’t suffer through the same level ire.   

 The same holds true in love. 

The idea that one person can satisfy our every need over the course of a lifetime creates one of the greatest set ups for failure ever known to those who venture into the world of love, sex, relationships and marriage. This is NOT to say that monogamous relationship can’t last and even continue to be pleasurable while they last, for as long as the couple chooses, which for some, may be a life time.

What makes that so?

  1. Many factors, the first of which embraces the idea that no one person can give us all that we need. Is that an invitation to begin searching outside the relationship for the holy grail of love and desire?

  2. No, though many do start there once the chemistry fades, which by the way, always does.   Experts in the field of love and eroticism including: anthropologist Helen Fisher, author of The Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray , and renown couples and sex therapist Ester Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, offer up many cultural, psychological, scientific and phenomenological reasons why the euphoric high of romance dissipates after two years (at most) and what comes after that.  Some couples now find themselves feeling like best friends or roommates, others estranged, and then some, fighting with each other for not being the promised be all and end all for all of eternity that they were supposed to be.

  3. Some become exhausted from the demands of work, life and family which often leaves little time to recapture or reinvent the desire that brought them together in the first place.

  4. Many begin reenacting their unfinished childhood business including the abuse or neglect from their primary caregivers as well as their baggage, in a noble but impossible attempt to get now from their partner what they missed out on during their early developmental years.

  5. Those who fall into this category, first need to learn to give themselves what they didn’t get,  rather than seek to find it in another - because the other will always let them down. For the rest, most experts in the field of love, sex and relationships say the following “ that which we seek outside of ourselves, we need to first find within”.  Only then can an authentic decision be made about staying, straying or moving along.

 I personally don't believe the best marriages end at the funeral home*.

Sometimes people out grow each other and decide to part ways. Some chose to stay together for the sake of the family and openly seek love and desire outside the marriage. Some chose to stray as they may be unconsciously seeking a way out that they are either afraid to and or don’t know how to express with words.  I don’t claim to know which solution is best or right as it varies from person to person. 

I have seen infidelity cause some great pain and irreparable damage. I have also seen it offer couples a necessary wake up call, forcing them to find a way to reinvent themselves and they often do.  Rather than moralize over it, why not see it as invitation to explore the systemic breakdowns and existential crises that lead to it in first place? Or better yet,  why not have fearless talk with your partner about just that- before initiating an affair, bravely sharing what’s happening within yourself,  including your level of desire for the other and lack there of, willingness or lack of willingness to recreate it-  without blaming or pointing fingers? 

Though it may feel scary to voice this, having this conversation before an affair,  may help save you from having a very painful one after. Besides, If your marriage or partnership can’t survive this conversation, than it’s safe to say that it probably won’t survive over the long haul anyway. It’s the cleaner and ideal way to do things, but alas,  life isn’t always ideal and human behavior is invariably messy.

While the above ideas may offer a sigh of relief to some, they may also feel jarring and even blasphemous for others. They don’t make a claim on one “right” strategy or solution and probably do little to soothe one’s anxiety over the subject. I can’t say that I know the answer or even if there is one, however this I do believe: 

if our collective love and marriage fan-ship, much like our sports fan-ship, can’t begin to ask honest questions and be open to diverse answers and creative solutions, then the shame, blame and humiliating scars of infidelity will continue to perpetuate and pervade those enthusiasts who choose to play the game of modern love. The consequence for continuing the implicit contract of “If I catch you, you die”* (and most get caught these days) outweighs the necessary upheaval of challenging the status quo and seeing what else can emerge. As Shakespeare’s Miranda once said: 

 “ O, Wonder

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

that has such people in it!

 

Oh brave new world it is indeed for those who dare venture into the never ending tempest of love and desire!

* Phrases taken from a talk given by Ester Perel, author of Mating in Captivity.

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