Monthly Archives: January 2017

Do you have a Wishbone or a Backbone?

In recent blogs I have confessed that I’ve become very concerned about the condition of our current culture, which has led me to become more active politically.  It’s really nothing new for me. I’ve always had the mindset of an activist.  Even as a secretary 20+ years ago, when I saw injustice, I did what I could to stand up for those being victimized.

I’ve never been very good at just feeling sorry for myself.  When I begin to feel stuck in some way, I allow myself to feel the pressure, anxiety, sadness for a while (my rule of thumb is to keep it to 24 hours whenever possible) because I believe it’s important to face our reality in order to change it.  Then I channel it into “fix it mode”.  My mind turns to “what can I do to move forward?”

This is where the Serenity Prayer can really be helpful to remind me that I need to do what I can, accept what I can’t change, and learn to be at peace with where I am, knowing there’s a lesson for me there – whether I see it yet or not.

When I was studying psychology, I learned the term “locus of control”.  Those of us with an internal locus of control take personal responsibility for our attitudes, actions and outcomes.  We know that as adults, we have to be accountable for ourselves and our behavior.  Those with an external locus of control basically feel others and environmental factors control their lives.  They believe they have few, if any choices, and can fall into the “victim” trap.

Years ago, as a therapist, it became apparent to me that, even though there are a variety of issues clients present, much of the time it comes down to one.  People tend to live their lives for others – to please parents, bosses or spouses (which usually starts as pleasing parents & is just transferred to whoever is wielding power in their lives currently).  This stems from that external locus of control; the belief that something or someone outside of myself is in control, encouraging the victim mindset. The scary part is that it can continue to the point where a person takes little to no responsibility for anything that happens in their life, which can lead to the blame game – and becomes a vicious cycle of negativity.

We are all victimized at some points in our lives.  But whether we remain a victim, is up to each of us.

There are various ways to be a victim: operating from being stuck in the past, being stuck in family or institutional values without questioning whether they fit us; being intimidated or bullied by others or even by organizations; and even just not wanting to “make waves” or be confrontational because we have been conditioned to believe we don’t have the right. And often those in the power position in our lives are good at manipulating and gaslighting us.  I call it “crazy-making,” because they keep projecting onto us what they, themselves are – making us believe we are the problem, so eventually we are unable to defend our own actions. Those who are good at manipulation have a radar that zeroes in on those they can abuse. The radar works both ways. People who have been abused are naturally attracted to abusers until they understand they are worth more. It all stems from a mindset of weakness.

Weakness comes from doing and saying what others expect of us, or doing what makes others feel good.  Strength is operating from integrity and truth – your own truth (not to be confused with “alternative facts.”  We’ll address that in another blog).

This weakness mindset is taught to us. Many of us are stuck in values that have been forced on us by family or other institutions (the work place, the medical system, the educational system, bureaucracies such as government, organizations, religions, etc).  We can even be victims of our own thoughts.  We are the product of the choices we make in our lives.  When we’re stuck, we ask “Why me?” instead of “What’s the lesson for me here?”

Some don’t make the choice to avoid remaining the victim.  They allow themselves to be manipulated by others, family, bosses, friends . . . Being a victim can become a habit.  Some don’t even recognize there might be a different choice.  But we can choose to teach others how to interact with us by the behavior and attitudes we accept.

We came to this life on purpose.  Living an empowered, healthy emotional life is an important part of life on earth.  Allowing the victim role to take us over can undermine our strength and our ability to live out that purpose.

We each have to take responsibility for every situation in which we find ourselves. Even when others put us into these situations, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we often are responsible for being in a place (physically or emotionally) where we are at risk of being taken advantage of at that moment.  Therein lies one of the lessons.  But please do not misinterpret this to mean that others who sometimes harm us are not responsible for their actions.

Sometimes there aren’t a lot of choices.  There are times we are victimized that we could not have avoided.  However, there is always at least one option, other than remaining the victim.  That is to be able to look at it differently; to accept the situation for what it is. And (once we have done what we can) we can allow things to play out as they will.

This brings us back to what is going on these days.  We live in a time where isolationists who are threatened by inclusion and globalization have gained power.  My belief is that those who are hanging onto “the way things were” by their fingernails were also victimized and bullied; and this is their way of fighting back.  But they misunderstand the need for personal power as power over others, and it mushrooms from there.  This is why those of us who understand every citizen deserves the right to live their lives according to their own choices must do whatever it takes to keep that in our society. So we might be seen as a bunch of angry, “nasty” women (and men).  One of the primary roots of anger is the feeling that something is unfair. We are channeling that anger into a force never before seen by uniting because we have the vision of a world full of equity, peace and compassion.

We need to acknowledge the bullies and abusers of the world.  They have played an immense role here that has allowed us the opportunity to reach deep into ourselves and find the power that is there. We are not fighting them. We are choosing not to remain victims. And when we have done what we can, we will have moved the world – not back to where it was, but forward to something we only previously could have imagined. We need to understand that we may not see it immediately. But we can feel peace and pride, knowing that we played an important role in making the world one we all deserve.   We didn’t come to this life to live it for anyone else.  We came to live and learn for ourselves.  That’s living from integrity.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

-Desmond Tutu

How to Support the Grieving (Part 3)

This is the last in a series of blogs I’ve posted about how to support someone who is grieving.

When is grief no longer “normal?”  Before we go further into this part of the series on supporting a loved one or friend who is grieving, remember the number one rule:  There are no rules.  No one grieves in the same way as anyone else.  If your friend says they feel like they’re going crazy, reassure them that (as strange as it sounds), that’s normal.

However, occasionally, grief becomes more than “normal crazy”.  In this case, the grief takes on a life of it’s own, and requires more support than friends and family can provide.  This is what we call “complicated grief”.  (Again, all grief is complicated, so there’s no black and white here).

Although their lives are changed forever with the loss of their loved one, the majority of grieving people have good days and bad days after a period of time, and the grief becomes their “new normal”.  Their lives are different, but they can begin to integrate it into their days. They start to live in the moment and begin to look to the future without such overwhelming dread.

But for some, even after months or years have passed, all their days are still bad days, and their life feels impossibly overwhelming all the time.  Their emotions and attitudes appear to be irrational – crying daily, angry all the time – sometimes their personality seems totally different than the person they were prior to the death.  But even as a professional, it’s sometimes difficult to determine if this is still “normal” grief or if it’s become complicated.

If it’s been more than a few months and their symptoms appear to be the same, or worse than they were immediately following the loss, talking to a professional is probably a good bet.  If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to talk to someone with an unbiased, fresh perspective.  And  it gets them out of the house.

From a study conducted at the Columbia University School of Social Work, here are some signs of complicated grief.

Strong feelings of longing for the person who died
Feeling intensely lonely, even when others are around
Strong feelings of anger or bitterness related to the death
Feeling like life is empty or meaningless without the person who died
Thinking so much about the person who died that it interferes with daily tasks or relationships
Strong feelings of disbelief about the death – still finding it difficult to accept the death
Feeling shocked, stunned, dazed or emotionally numb
Finding it hard to care about or to trust other people
Feeling very emotionally or physically activated when confronted with reminders of the loss
Avoiding people, places, or things that are reminders of the loss
Strong urges to see, touch, hear, or smell things to feel close to the person who died

The researchers suggest that 3 or more of these symptoms persisting beyond 6 months may be an indicator of complicated grief.  This next piece is important: Certain factors put a person at greater risk for complicated grief.  The death was unexpected and/or violent, a suicide, a younger person or child, the griever has had previous traumatic losses, or doesn’t have a support system.  Having one of these risk factors does not automatically mean the grief will be complicated, but just that the risk is higher.

HELPING A GRIEVER GET HELP:

First, a pushy friend is not a helpful friend.  You cannot and should not try to force the person to get help.  If you do, you risk them backing away from you, and the trust and sense of safety may be lost.

There are options.  They can see a counselor in an individual setting, participate in a group, attend a conference or workshop on grief (or on the Afterlife) to answer questions they may have.  There are grief retreats, and even online support groups and therapists.  Depending on the person and his/her belief system, they may also want to seek out a medium or a therapist trained in Repair and Reattachment Grief Therapy who can help them connect with the loved one’s spirit.

Depending on insurance or inability to pay, check into local hospices.  Find out if they have EAP services (Employee Assistance Program) through their work.  These organizations offer a set number of sessions at no cost to the client or can refer to professionals who do so.

If your friend says they are willing to seek help, but never make the appointment, offer to call to schedule it and/or drive them to the appointment. Again, don’t be pushy about it, just offer.  If they don’t take you up on it, that’s all you can do.

After the memorial service and family members have gone home, is when they need you the most.  Once all the chaos is over, they can experience a profound sense of isolation. This is when support really counts.

This is a good time to share your stories, pictures and memories of the deceased, or if you didn’t know them ask your friend to share their memories and pictures. Again, take your cues from them, but typically, remembering the loved one’s life and their connection is a huge part of their healing process.

Remember anniversary dates (birthday, death day, holidays and other important dates in their lives you may know). These days are even harder than “regular” days in the life of a griever.

Prepare to see your friend in crisis.  Anger, forgetfulness, wearing the same sweatpants every day, dirty hair, not eating, using substances to escape – are among the symptoms you might see.  Understand that you may not be the person they want to talk to or spend time with.  They may not say thank you.  This is a good time to practice giving from the heart without expectation of acknowledgement or return.  Grief makes us selfish, and they may not notice things you are experiencing.  Be cognizant that you can support them, but you can’t fix anything.

Finally, I commend you for caring enough to read these suggestions, and be there for your friend(s).  Whether that person acknowledges any of your efforts or not, you will be a valuable part of their healing process.

(I want to give credit to What’s Your Grief? for many of the suggestions in these blog posts.  They helped me pull my thoughts together in a much more coherent way than I could have on my own!)

Our New Reality

I posted this blog after the election in November.  Because the inauguration and actions that our new president took shortly afterwards brought all those feelings back in spades, I thought I’d re-post it today.  Although I was unable to personally take part in any of the marches that protested his presidency, I was there in spirit, and I watched them via Facebook as my friends from all over the country posted pictures and comments about the love and unity.  It feels as if, rather than protesting against anything or anyone, the march became more about celebrating our similarities and fighting FOR unity and equality. We can become more united than ever before. But we can’t stop here.  To make a difference, we have to stay organized and active, and to remember that the president and congress are our EMPLOYEES not our leaders.  Here’s the blog:

This blog is not about politics.  It’s about humanity.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 was probably the most intense and difficult day I’ve had as a therapist.

For the past several months, as the presidential race heated up, I consistently had several sessions a week where clients expressed fear and anxiety about what would happen if Trump won. I do a lot of trauma and grief work. Some of my female clients were being re-traumatized by his misogyny and his sexually explicit language; some feared his far reach into business deals in other countries and the fact that he had given a voice to white supremacists – both of which could jeopardize our country’s security and frankly threaten our democratic way of life.

Other clients (some who had been bullied themselves) were upset by his hateful mocking attitude and what it teaches our children when a man running for President behaved in ways that a 1st grader cannot get away with.  And then there were my LGBTQ clients who were both re-traumatized and fearful of losing the few rights and benefits they have finally managed to gain recently – mostly because of Mike Pence’s history with the mindset and laws he has championed.

On November 9, two of my clients were parents of adult children who have recently met violent deaths.  When people are already struggling with such a trauma, they’re constantly re-living the pain of the incident, and basically live in fear because the unimaginable worst has already happened.  They are more sensitive to everything – especially any violence – behavior or words.   The damage reaches very deep.

(I want to add here, that a few clients did express frustration with Hillary, but it never rose to the level of having to deal with traumatic issues in therapy).

But all of the above are human concerns. As I always do, I want to emphasize that what I’m about to say is my belief, and that I am not trying to make anyone change their belief system.  I simply want you to think outside the box a little here.

From a spiritual perspective, I believe we all come from the same place.  While we are formless in the spiritual realm, the forms we take on in this realm are various sizes, shapes, and colors, so we look and sound different. But inside we are all the same.  That formless part of us is a piece of that place – nothing but beautiful, loving energy – regardless of our personalities, beliefs, religions, lifestyles, countries of origin, color of skin, etc in this dimension.  Some call that a soul, spirit, piece of God – again, the semantics may be different, but it’s all the same.

And we each come with a sense of purpose that usually involves a certain set of lessons we need to tackle. Those have to do with our own spiritual development, and in turn, can help the Universe evolve energetically. Those who make enough noise to get the attention of an entire country or the world are probably doing so on purpose.  They may be conscious of things they want to accomplish in society, but their human minds are not typically conscious of this deeper aspiration.  The soul holds the knowledge. The human mind’s purpose is to experience what we call reality.

It’s pretty clear what humans like Jesus, Buddha or Gandhi (to name just a few) came to do.  They each focused on love, non-violence, freedom, etc.  But often the purpose looks like the exact opposite of what the soul intends.  Someone like Donald Trump, Hitler, terrorists and others who cause upset or pain to their fellow humans by the things they say or do might become a force that changes civilization in some way.  From the human perspective they may be here for the advancement of civil rights or for their own selfish advancement, or some other reason we don’t understand.  BUT, if it causes enough grief and distress for enough people, it may very well be the opportunity we need to eventually move the energy of the Universe forward in a more benevolent way. This is because those who believe in love, unity and equality for all, might become motivated to work even harder to ensure those values are upheld.

To make you think outside the box for a minute, perhaps that is the original spiritual goal of Donald Trump.

Just the fact that since he declared his candidacy, the issues that have become so highly charged are now out there in the open and we have increased the conversation about all of those topics.  Yes, there have been a LOT of arguments in person and on social media, physical attacks at rallies and protesting on the streets, people losing friends over their political disagreements, etc. And yes, many people are dug in and will not listen to the other side.  It’s generally been miserable for all of us.  But at least we’re talking about some of these things!  These issues have always been there, and there’s always been pain around them.  But for a long time they’ve been more covert – at least for straight, white, able-bodied Americans.  Now that they’re out in the open again, it gives us the opportunity to possibly DO SOMETHING to correct them.  Don’t misunderstand, we’re talking a long-term process for all of civilization.  In the next several years, I’m sure it will be painful for all of us!  But, if we let this be an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, it could eventually put us on the path towards understanding and eventually making changes.  If we’re talking AND listening to each other, incrementally we can continue to make the changes that will empower ALL citizens.

I do have to admit that I have a lot of fear about the future, but fear doesn’t serve us if we stay there. PLEASE, let’s not quit talking about these things.  We need to tone it down some and be a little more rational, but we can’t quit talking.  And listening.  We have to be willing to hear the other side.  I don’t want to consider the alternative.

I send you each love and peace as we all navigate this next stage in our country’s development.  Like it or not, we’re all in this together.  There is no “other”. There is only US.

 

How to Support the Grieving (Part 2)

Last week I posted a blog about understanding a little more about how grief manifests itself, and about the difference between providing support and comfort.

Today, I wanted to continue this series with a few suggestions on what to do when someone you care about has lost a loved one.   First, please understand, I’m not telling you what is “right” or “wrong”.  Everyone processes grief differently and each relationship has different vibrations, which leads the process in it’s own unique direction.  The most important thing to remember is that you know your friend, and you need to determine how to approach it.   My main concern is to encourage you not to back away simply because you don’t know what to say or do.  I can’t say this enough, if that’s the case, just say “I don’t know what to say, but I want to be here for you.”

If you do nothing else, send a sympathy card.  Pick something simple, without a long elaborate pre-printed message.  A sincere and heart-felt personal note will mean so much more.  You know your friend, so think about him/her when you choose the card, and what you think would be appreciated.  Hand write a personal note and send it snail mail.  You can send a message on Facebook, an email, or text, but send the handwritten card also.  It says I care enough about you to take the time and trouble to let you know.

Say something about the deceased – how they affected your life, a specific memory of them, something you’ve heard about them if you didn’t know them, or just that you know how your friend felt about the deceased. (This can be tricky if you know they had a difficult relationship – but that is all the more reason to offer to be there for them.  Grief can often be much more difficult when the relationship was strained.  Your friend needs you all the more).

There are so many things you can do or say.   Make your contact personal. Something like “I’m here for you if you need to talk, or just sit in silence”  or “feel free to tell me to go away.”  Let them know that you understand you can’t know exactly what they are going through, but it’s OK to feel whatever they are feeling.

You might say, “I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers in the coming days”  or “I promise to speak (the deceased) name often and to cherish his/her memory.”

While it’s OK to say “let me know what you need”, realize they probably won’t.  You tell them how you can help.  Anticipate things they may not even realize they’ll need. Offer to bring a meal for the family once or several times, offer to go to the grocery store, or babysit if there are small children.  Offer to mow the lawn – or just show up and do it. Hire a service to clean the house.  Send something – flowers and plants are nice, but sometimes more practical items, like a gift card for a local restaurant, photos the family might not have,  a check to a memorial fund, a gift certificate for self-care (massage, manicure, private yoga class, etc) are also appreciated. Be creative, it doesn’t have to cost a lot.  And again remember to keep in mind what your friend might need or appreciate.

 What not to say.  Try to avoid stock phrases, such as:  You can always remarry; I know how you feel; He’s in a better place;  At least you have other children.  If you read my blog last week, this is NOT empathy.  That’s you at the top, looking down on your friend who is stuck in the hole.  Remember they need you to climb down and be WITH them – someone who can identify with pain, and who knows connection can help a little.

Don’t tell them they “have to be strong for the children” or for some other family member.  They need to feel supported to grieve in whatever way they need to.  They’re probably already feeling anxiety about how they are handling their grief in front of the kids.  This is your opportunity to take the kids to a movie for them, or stop by to visit other family members who your friend might not feel capable of caring for at the moment.

Be a good listener.  Being present, patient and listening are the most important ways we can support a griever.  Just letting them talk out loud may be what they need to organize their thoughts. You don’t have to have answers. They need to find their own answers.  Trying to understand them is one of the best ways to show someone we care.  Even if what they say sounds senseless to you, let them know you understand it’s important to them.  That’s all that matters.

Grievers will still be hurting months, or years after a death – long after the casseroles and sympathy cards quit coming.  Consistent check-ins let them know you are still thinking of them.  Sending a card or an email, that says “thinking of you” let’s them know the door is open if they want to talk, but it also allows them to choose to not respond if they don’t feel like it.  Don’t be offended if you don’t hear from them.

Finally, don’t pass judgment on how you think they’re doing after a period of time.  Remember, all of us cope differently.  Unless they are doing something harmful to themselves or others, allow them the space they need.  The next blog in this series will focus on what to do if you are concerned that your friend’s grief is no longer “normal”.

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr

With all the hate and violence permeating our world these days, it’s hard to not feel fear and intimidation.  Martin Luther King, Jr said “The only way to convert an enemy into a friend is through love.”

Love heals all.  It doesn’t negate the horror or the pain that we had to navigate to get there.  That’s just the journey we all have to tread. It’s necessary to go through that, in order to get to the other side. Our trip will take it’s detours – but that’s just part of the design.  It gives us time to develop the emotional muscles to endure the reality, and when we are ready, the reality appears.  The timing is not ours; it is divine order.  But when we find the love and the ability to let go and experience the freedom, we can bask in the love that gave birth to each of us.

I hope you will take a few minutes this week to examine the path you’ve been on. Things have been so divided lately, that I’m guessing all of us has someone in our lives that we just don’t understand.  They’re SO different.  Don’t run from that and retreat to the comfort of your own tribe.  Seek them out; talk to them. Ask questions about why they are the way they are, or did something they did.  Share something from your life.  Talk about your beliefs – and why you believe that way.  I’ll bet you’ll find you have more in common with each other, than is different.

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

 – Martin Luther King, Jr