Monthly Archives: March 2018

What Do You Value?

The process of examining values often pops up in sessions with my clients. Many clients are stumped by the question, “what are your values?”

I don’t see how anyone can work through issues without knowing what is really important to them – and looking a little deeper into how and why they’ve embraced those things that can give our lives meaning.

I’ve developed a fairly simple process that can help. All you have to do is answer a few questions.

What are my values?
Am I putting my energy towards the things I listed above?
Where did my values originate?
Do they still fit for me?
If there are some that no longer fit, what else might be more appropriate for the life I want for myself moving forward?

Let’s look at each of these steps a little more in depth.

  1.  What are my values? To determine what your values are, just ask yourself, “What is important to me?” Some examples might be family, spirituality, religion (yes, they are different), friendships, alone time, financial security, honesty, trust . . . You get the picture.
  2. Am I putting my energy into what I say is important? I suggest writing every value down, then look at each one and ask yourself “Is this where I spend my time and energy?” For example, if you say family is your number one value, do you really put them above all else? Or do you spend more hours at work, going out with friends, looking at social media or watching sports or Netflix than you do enjoying your family? If you say honesty is extremely important to you, are YOU always completely honest, or do you just expect others to be honest with you? It’s important that you not expect something from others that you wouldn’t also apply to yourself. (This is especially true for parents and their children).
  3. Where did my values originate? Many of our values originate outside ourselves; from parents, religion, society, friends (ie, what everybody expects of me). Upon examination, some of those might still fit for you, but some may not have been your choice in the first place. In this step, I want people to really look at whether they have just taken on values they were told were important, and are living their lives to please others. If so, sometimes those values are no longer appropriate for them personally. I can’t count the number of times a client has come to therapy because they feel they’ve disappointed a parent or someone important in their lives. (It’s my belief that my job as a parent was NOT to just expect my children to take on the values I’ve embraced. Their path in life is very different from mine. I’ve tried to expose them to various perspectives on things so they can eventually choose for themselves what works for them).
  4. Do they still fit for me? This step is kind of like cleaning out an old closet that you’ve ignored for years. Some of the pieces of clothing might be too small now or have holes in them. Some might never have fit, and you just shoved them in that closet and forgot about them because you didn’t want to confront what they might mean. This is your opportunity to really examine each piece and determine if you want to hang onto it, or if it’s time for the dumpster. For some items, it might be that you’re not sure yet, so it’s OK to hang onto them, but set an intention to continue to evaluate how/if they benefit or handicap your life in some way.
  5. What might be more appropriate for me now? Now that you’ve examined all the values you’ve lived by (or ignored) for years, maybe there are some cavities left in your value structure. You may decide that ridding yourself of some of your old values helps you feel lighter, and you don’t need anything in their place for now. Sometimes we load ourselves up with rules that actually restrict our energy. But for others, now is the time for exploration. If you found several areas that don’t fit anymore, maybe you need to start looking elsewhere. Study different philosophies about that part of your life; talk to or observe people who have different views or who have led very different lifestyles than yours in order to see whether another value might fit for you. But do this as research – with curiosity. Do not simply take on another value just because someone else you know believes in that. That would defeat our purpose here.

This can be scary, but it can also be a very exciting time. It’s important that whatever you choose will become a foundation for your life. It has to fit into YOUR life; don’t try to squeeze into something just because you think it’s the thing to do. We all get to choose who we become, but most of us just put blinders on and go down the path of least resistance. It feels safer somehow. It’s not. Life is not supposed to be safe. It’s supposed to teach us lessons.

I examine my values occasionally, and I encourage my clients to do the same. It helps solidify our sense of self. When we know what we stand for, we begin to love ourselves more because there’s more of a purpose behind every choice we make. And we are being true to ourselves, not dependent on pleasing or fearing disappointment of anyone else. Therein lies true peace.

A ship in a safe harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for.

-William Shedd

This is Why We Practice

I feel very strongly about practicing what I preach.  When I was running addictions programs, I worked the 12 step program with a sponsor, just as I expected my clients to do.  Now, when I encourage meditation, good nutrition and exercise, I make sure I do the same.

None of us are perfect.  We all have the tendency to slack off when things are going well, myself included.  But when things get stressful, we need to have the skills and strength to withstand the storms that come at us. If we’ve been neglecting the habit of using those skills that we know keep us healthy and strong just because we haven’t needed them, they tend to get rusty.

That’s where discipline comes in.  We all know that physically, if we work out on a regular basis, our muscles don’t feel as sore, and we feel healthier and better about ourselves.  So it is with emotional and spiritual health.  If we know meditation or prayer works to help us feel better about ourselves, feel more peaceful and to deal with the world around us, then we need to build that muscle by doing it consistently.  If we continually strive to express how we feel (taking personal responsibility for it – not accusing others of making us feel it), we might begin to see that the emotion stems from the way we perceive the situation. Hence, if we are open to checking our perspective, we should be more able to regulate and tolerate emotions in a healthier way.  In this way, we can work on not letting the emotions control us, but recognizing them as a response to the choice we made in how we looked at the original event.   Then we’ll have stronger communication skills when that important conversation with our boss, child or partner needs to take place because we’ll be more open to seeing their perspective as well.  The more we do these things consistently, the stronger we’ll feel when we need it.

In the last couple of years, the atmosphere in our world has become very heavy with fear, division and hatred being thrown around like it was a volley ball – or maybe more appropriately, a heavy medicine ball. This weighs on all of us, regardless of how involved we are or how closely we pay attention to the news. There are days when I have to stop between sessions to breathe, relax and clear my own body and mind because so many of my clients appear to be in crisis mode. It takes a lot out of them and, because compassion and empathy are two of the major tools in my tool belt, it takes a lot out of me. I’m grateful that, over the years, I have developed the ability to be compassionate, while also maintaining a sense of objectivity that allows me to not get too sucked into the energy of my client’s heavy emotions. I can’t be helpful to her/him if I’m not taking care of myself.

A few years ago, a friend shared this article with me and I love it because It says what I’ve just tried to relay in a much more eloquent way:

You will be called on to expand. And this is why we practice.

I traveled to Dharamshala, India with six friends to meet with The Dalai Lama. It was cell-altering and heart-expanding. (The story is here.)

The week before our arrival, there had been a horrible event in which some monks were murdered — most shockingly, by other monks. The story was on everyone’s mind and in our small, private meeting with His Holiness, the first thing we did was offer our condolences. His response captivated me.

“Ah, yes, thank you for your thoughts,” he said. “This is why we practice, for times like these when compassion is so necessary.” He didn’t nod in mutual disdain. He didn’t show any drama. He was soft and … practical.

This is why we practice.

For times like these.

You don’t need to forgive until you need to forgive. You don’t need nerves of steel until you need nerves of steel. You don’t need to call on your reserves of compassion, or fortitude, or faith until you’ve used up everything else.

This is why we practice.

This is why, that even when life is ambling along nicely and there’s food in our spiritual cupboard, we still make sure that we get to yoga, or the reading group, or Sunday services.

When we’re healthy and happy we make sure to dance, we hit the court, we pick up the phone to check in, we drop by with something in hand.

When we’re believing in the fairness and the glory of human nature and the so-called Fates, we keep seeking, and meditating on reality, and praying for healing though nothing obvious ails us.

We keep standing up to make our art even when we could be predictable pedestrians.

Because the day will most certainly come, as it does whether you are a whole-hearted Lover or in denial of Grace, that you will be struck down or ground down by life. It can come in tiny tearing heartbreaks five times a day, just walking through your neighborhood. It could come in the name of tragedy that could only happen once in a lifetime.

And you will need to withdraw the insights that you put into your heart’s escrow. And you will need to call on your people — the unseen and the ones right in front of you – to help you meet the day.

You will be interrupted. You will be called on to expand. You will be asked who you are and why you are here.

This is why we practice.

-Danielle LaPorte

 

Your Tool Box

For years I ran Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs for substance abuse. I used to hold an Orientation Group for those just coming into the program. During this group, I set the boundaries:  I explained what would be expected of the clients and what they could expect of me and of the program.

One of the images I used to help them understand my hope for them was to ask each of them to imagine a tool box sitting beside their chair. That tool box may already have a few tools in it; some might continue to be useful, but some were probably old & worn out, or just no longer appropriate for a lifestyle of recovery. But by the time they finished the program, I hoped that toolbox would be so heavy and full of the new tools they would begin to use, that they would have to drag it out the door.

This same concept works for those in any therapy – or anyone who just wants to make positive changes in their lives. Yet, many of us have trouble accepting that we need tools to repair the  damages we’ve allowed to happen to ourselves. Who would try to nail boards together without a hammer or change a flat tire without a jack?  To reject our need for tools to perform these tasks would be ridiculous.

One tool that is available for a lifestyle change is therapy, itself.  I know people who think going to therapy is, in itself, a sign of weakness and only for those who can’t “figure things out” for themselves. To me, that sounds like the person who always needs to feel in control. I can relate to that. I’m a huge control freak. But over the years, I have learned that I’m often better-served by letting things go and allowing them to work themselves out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to maneuver things so they’d turn out the way I thought they should. And you know what? Almost every time I was successful at changing things to “my way,” they ended up being more screwed up than they would have if I’d left them alone and just let them fall into place. One of the places I learned the tool of *letting go* was in therapy.

I know others who believe people who go to therapy depend on advice from their therapist. That’s not the point of therapy. It’s self-education. As a therapist, my goal is to work myself out of a job. I do that by making observations and suggestions – and by throwing in an occasional concept that a client may not have considered, to encourage him/her to think outside the box.  Then I allow them to decide for themselves what (if) they want to change. I stress self-responsibility, and my hope is that clients will become more self-reliant so they don’t feel like they need my help. My job is not to give advice. I couldn’t force anyone to make changes if I tried. I tell my clients it’s not my life and I don’t have to live with the consequences of their decisions. They are the experts on their lives – I’m just another resource (tool).

So just as sheer force won’t lift a car so we can replace that tire, it won’t lift a heavy heart. Reading a book, and understanding how to nail those boards together won’t guarantee that they’ll look like a table the first time we try. Insight and knowledge can possibly help us see why we behave the way we do, or how we’d like to change.  But it takes consistent use of new tools: support groups or learning appropriate ways to open up to (or set boundaries with) family and friends, gratitude lists, stress management or communication techniques, restructuring our thoughts – or in some cases, even medication  – to actually repair that battered ego. Usually just one tool won’t do the trick, but each of us has to find the combination that works for us.

If we can’t acknowledge the problem exists and then be willing to let it go or change it, we won’t make much progress.  It isn’t weak or shameful to admit that we may not be able to accomplish something alone – without the help of others or of tools. If we need to lay a new foundation, we need to dig a big hole. And if we need to dig a hole, we’d better be willing to use a shovel (and maybe ask a couple of friends to bring theirs, too). That foundation is our willingness to do whatever it takes.

Vulnerability and Strength

It’s not uncommon for people to sit in my office, feeling very down emotionally, and tell me they believe they are weak. I don’t believe our problems make us weak. We are often vulnerable, however. One of the benefits of therapy is to acknowledge our vulnerabilities. We can only become stronger when we can identify those areas – then decide if/how we can change them.

When we say the things that others want to hear, regardless of our own truth, or allow others or our environment to dictate how we behave, we might see ourselves as weak. As I’ve studied human life and explored my own sense of spirituality, I’ve come to understand that most of us have to go through these periods in order to experience how that feels. Our world is one where we often learn from opposites, so when we’re finally tired of feeling the way we feel when we aren’t living in our own truth, we’ll be motivated to change. That’s a process – and often a very slow one. But when we recognize that it’s OK to be who we really are, we’ll naturally be drawn to making the choices we need to make.

People respect strength, but they identify with vulnerability. Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s getting in touch with our humanity. Just stop to think. In your experience, who have you felt more comfortable with? Someone who always portrays themselves as strong and never admits to or allows anyone to see that they’ve made mistakes? Or someone who occasionally says, “Hey, I really screwed this one up!”  I know in my life I’m drawn to those who are human – just like me.

Strength is operating from effectiveness – with integrity and truth. The ability and willingness to acknowledge our vulnerabilities is a sign of strength.

The following comes from one of my favorite authors, Melody Beattie. She writes like I think, so almost everything she writes resonates with me:

Many of us feel that we can only show our strong, confident side. We believe the face we have to show to the world should ALWAYS be one of politeness, perfection, calm, strength, and control.

While it is certainly good and often appropriate to be in control, calm, and strong, there is another side to all of us — that part of us that feels needy, becomes frightened, has doubts, and gets angry. That part of us that needs care, love, and reassurance that things will be okay. Expressing these needs makes us vulnerable and less than perfect, but this side needs our acceptance too.

Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable will help us build lasting relationships. Sharing our vulnerabilities helps us feel close to people and helps others feel close to us. It helps us grow in self-love and self-acceptance. It helps us become healing agents. It allows us to become whole and accessible to others.

Today, I will allow myself to be vulnerable with others when it’s safe and appropriate to do so.

 I’ve learned that the more vulnerable I allow myself to be, the more in control of myself I really am.         -Anonymous

We Can’t be the Light and Hold Someone Else in Darkness

I wrote this blog a few years ago while many of us were focusing on the legalization of gay marriage. Unfortunately, the blog is still applicable today –  even more so, given the energy currently forced on us by many who are misusing the power entrusted to them. Regardless of which group is being targeted, the issue is the same, so I’ve updated it to fit us today:

Last week I woke up to this headline on a friend’s Facebook page: Kansas Restaurant Kicks Gay Man Out, Tells Him “No Gay Eating Here”

I immediately got sick to my stomach. This was from a news company in Topeka, KS. The capitol of my home state.

I am an LGBTQ-affirmative therapist, a straight ally – an advocate of equality for everyone in every aspect of our lives. I’ve been following the news on this issue, so I’m very aware of  legislation being presented in the state where I grew up, the one I where I currently reside and across our nation.

I typically do not even respond to stories like this. I try to focus on those that are shining the light on humanity and showing the positive strides we’re making. But I couldn’t believe what I read – and I reacted immediately from the gut, apologizing to my friend for the ignorance of the bill (as if I carried some responsibility for it simply because I’m from Kansas).

Then as I began my morning ritual in the kitchen it hit me that I’d never heard of the news organization or the town they talked about in this post – and believe me, there are very few small towns in Kansas that I haven’t been to, heard of, or even lived in! So I realized it was probably a hoax.

Why would someone would go to the energy to write something like this? Part of me thought it was cruel and insane. It smacked of the same angry, fearful hatred that came out of the Jim Crow days. That’s why it hit me in the gut. Haven’t we moved past this mindset in our society?
But what I wanted to believe was that it was a cautionary tale. Someone was trying to get the rest of us to see the insanity of this bill as it might play out in reality. (It turned out to be just that).

Action that stems from fear only creates more fear. When we act out of fear, we aren’t living consciously. We are reacting to what things appear to be, without delving deeper to try to understand where others are coming from. Much of our news these days comes in short sound-bites. Many don’t take the time to dig deeper to find and understand the full story

People who do things to separate themselves from others, who at first glance appear different, feel threatened by something they don’t understand and they don’t (won’t ?) take the time to learn about it. I think it’s because there has been so much more progress in LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and those of immigrants, all people of color or any marginalized group we can name. Those people who are fighting this progress are running scared. The world is changing and that means they are going to have to deal with it. It’s a last ditch effort to stay in their comfort zone. Yes there are some religious teachings and beliefs that drive some of it, and I respect everyone’s right to believe as they desire. But beliefs are built on what we are told, what we experience, and the thoughts we feed. Beliefs are not necessarily truths.

One of my beliefs is that we all came from – and will return to the same place – the place of ultimate Truth and Light. If we could look into each other’s eyes and really see the soul there, we wouldn’t have any of these issues, because we would realize we are all one. What I do to you, I do to myself.

The following comes from The Book of Love and Creation, as dictated through Paul Selig:

“. . . You have made love small. You have made love an ideal that is stuck with candy and rests in a box. You have made love a discerning issue. “I will give my love to this guy because he’s got what I want” or . . . “I will love my job because if I don’t someone will take it from me”. . . None of that in truth is love. They are all aspects of ego seeking to control . . .You can no longer create love from a cookie cutter that excludes the fabric around it. You can no longer love John and not love Fred. . . You can no longer hold your culture in love, claiming that another culture cannot be love because you disapprove of their actions.”

This means ALL of us – those who espouse hatred of the gay community or some other group because their experience with a few have tainted their view, or because they are told they are not “normal” or are not sanctioned by a specific religious belief – but it also speaks to those of us who believe in and actively work for a more inclusive society. We tend to judge THEM because THEY don’t understand love as WE do. (There is no US or THEM).

We can’t deny women, African Americans, Muslims or LGBTQ citizens their basic rights and pretend it’s about our “religious freedom.”

If you don’t believe in birth control, don’t use it.  If you don’t agree with the way they practice their faith, then worship your own God in your own way. If you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person.

Religious freedom doesn’t mean we can force others to live by our beliefs. It means we can all live together and honor each other’s beliefs and lifestyles; and their right to a safe, equal education, job market and pay.

We can’t be the Light that we are meant to be if we hold even one other person in contempt and darkness. We all have the responsibility to find ways to make this life on earth work – through kindness, education and love. Let’s commit to being more creative as we look for ways to do so in peace.