Monthly Archives: April 2018

My Head is a Nice Place to Visit, But I Wouldn’t Want to Live There

One of my favorite quotes is: My head is like a bad neighborhood and I shouldn’t stay there alone!

I’ve shared that with many people over the years. What it’s always meant to me is that if I try to analyze my problems myself without verbalizing them to a trusted friend or therapist – or even just writing them down, or without allowing myself to actually feel through them – they just seem to take on more & more power over me. I call it the intellectual violence that I perpetrate on myself.

In the 12 Step Program we talk about getting outside our own heads, which I’ve taken to mean something similar – and also understood that if I carry the message on to others, then I will learn and grow more myself, as well as being of help to others.

Staying in the moment, which I remind myself to do on a consistent basis, also means staying out of my head. To do that, I usually switch the focus to my body.  As humans, we’re kind of thinking machines, so we’ll never completely get away from our thoughts. But we can work on being aware and conscious of what is going on around us as much as possible, so as not get caught up in that intellectual violence.

At times when I’ve had some real hurt in my life, I’ve meditated to help me stay in love as I dealt with it. Then, invariably, a friend or family member shared some very difficult problems in their lives. I’ve “gotten outside my own head” and reached out to them. I’ve put myself in their place and felt their pain. As a therapist, I’ve learned the art of being compassionate while detaching at the same time, so I can remain objective enough to be helpful. It’s much more difficult with friends and family, but I’ve been able to use that skill to be there for them.

During the time I was focusing on my friends and their issues, I totally forgot my own problems. And sometimes the issue I’d been working through just turned completely around and started working well again. I know it won’t be that way forever but I’ve learned to live in the moment and take joy in the good times when they are here without waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The part that amazes me is that I just know part of the reason it turned around is because I let go of it for a time, and gave from love to someone else who needed it. Don’t misunderstand. Very often, our problems need to be revisited until we see them through. But that means letting go of the obsessive thoughts about them and feeling the emotional part. And it doesn’t help to stay in the problem constantly. Otherwise, we’d never move toward a solution. Allowing ourselves to be there for others, even in the midst of our own pain (if we are able), can help us in that process. I swear what we put out there comes back to us – and even opens up the energy field for everyone else!

The energy in the world right now feels very heavy and sometimes dark – depending on who we are listening to or what we are focusing on. We are all experiencing some very harmful, painful events, even if it is somewhat vicariously for some of us. It’s difficult to just brush it off and go about our own business.

I have always been the eternal optimist when it comes to societal issues. I believe we are on the cusp of a more enlightened civilization, but there are those who are not as spiritually or emotionally in tune, and they feel very threatened. They are hanging on to everything they “know” (the familiar) because the unknown is too scary and they don’t seem to be willing or able to learn about that uncharted territory. That heavier energy is felt by all of us.

But I do think we can combat it by doing just what I said earlier. Let it go, even if for a few minutes at a time. Do whatever works for you to free yourself. Meditate, pray, play, plan the vacation of your dreams – even if you don’t believe you’ll ever really take it. Most of all focus on love. Look for stories about the people who are helping in the horrific situations we wake up to on the news every day.

Nothing in this world happens that is not first imagined. Contrary to what you may have been told as a child, daydreaming is not a bad thing, as long as we don’t stay there ALL the time. We need to envision the world we want to see – personally and socially in order for it to come to fruition. That’s the first step towards the solution. Then we come back to today and do what we can to move towards that vision.

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Who’s Life Are You Living?

This blog was written prior to the news of Tony Robbins misrepresenting the #MeToo movement. I do not condone the way he conducted himself.  I want to make clear that while his underlying message is similar to some concepts in this blog, I strongly support the MeToo movement and believe it has been instrumental in advancing the process of women (and some men) finding their personal power to stand up to abuse and harassment. (In fact I have written other blogs about this very topic). I work daily with traumatized clients and I’m very aware that trying to bully someone into feeling better about themselves is counterproductive, at best.  I am open to any discussion once you’ve read this blog.  I appreciate all my readers and always attempt to take other perceptions into account when writing,

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During my adult life, I’ve encountered many situations that left me feeling powerless. I have always been an independent, pro-active person, so when I begin to feel stuck in some way, I allow myself to feel the pressure, anxiety, sadness for a while because I’ve learned that it’s important to feel things fully at the emotional level before moving on. My rule of thumb is to keep the pity party to 24 hours if possible because it’s just as important to face our reality. Then I get into what I call “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 feel more 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 attribute the outcomes of their circumstances to others and environmental factors. They usually believe they personally have few, if any choices, which can lead them to the *victim* trap easier than someone who lives with a more internal perspective. (That’s not to say those with an internal LOC don’t get caught in that web occasionally. None of us are totally independent of outside influences).

Years ago, 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 ourselves is in control, encouraging the victim mindset. For some, 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, and in order to feel a little better about themselves, they are pulled into the blame game.

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. These things stem from a concept of NEEDING to be a part of a tribe.

If you’ve followed my blog for any time, you’ve probably seen me say that being vulnerable is a human condition and not weakness. Just as we’re all victimized at times, we’re also all vulnerable at times. We become weak when we continue doing and saying what others expect of us, or doing what makes others feel good, but it’s not really what we want for ourselves. Strength is operating from integrity and truth (our own truth).

Many of us are stuck in values that have been forced on us by family or other institutions (the workplace, the medical system, the educational system, bureaucracies such as government organizations, religions, etc). This is one reason teenagers and young adults feel a lot of frustration when they are trying to develop their own set of values by which to live (Gospel According to Patti). They may feel constrained by the rules their parents, religion or social tribe has advocated, but they are still very connected to the safety of these affiliations, so it often becomes a difficult transition. 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. As I said, sometimes it develops from a belief that we have to fit in. Some don’t even recognize there might be a different choice. This is often when depression, anxiety and other issues arise. What I want those people to understand is that they do have choices, and one of those is to choose to teach others how to interact with them by the behavior and attitudes they accept – or decline to participate in.

We came to this life on purpose. Living an empowered, healthy emotional life is in 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.

Sometimes there aren’t a lot of choices. As I write this I’m acutely aware of the MeToo movement and the struggles women and men have had for centuries at the hand of those who have wielded more power. There are times we are victimized that could not have been avoided. Please do not misinterpret this blog to mean that others who sometimes harm us are not responsible for their actions. We can’t take responsibility for what they do to us. However, there is always at least one option, other than remaining the victim. That is to eventually be able to look at it differently; to accept the situation for what it is. This may take a lot of time and effort, because we have to work through the emotional effects on us before we can be more rational about the situation. But (once we have done what we can) we can then allow things to play out as they will. As humans, most of us can’t see into the future. But if we approach what seems like an unbearable circumstance from a place of acceptance and love, things often fall into place in a much smoother, more positive way.

We didn’t come to this life to live it for anyone else. We came to learn our own lessons, through our own choices and our own consequences. How will we ever learn anything if we stay tucked away from the lessons?

Expand Your Perspective

When was the last time a stereotype popped into your head? If you’re like me, it happens all the time. That doesn’t make us racist, sexist or whatever-ist. It just means that our brain is working the way it’s supposed to in order to make sense of the world around us. We have to put things and people into categories – notice patterns and make generalizations to be able to function. But the same thought processes can also make us biased.

This tendency to stereotype that passes spontaneously through our minds is called implicit bias. It sets us up to overgeneralize, and sometimes that leads to discrimination even when we feel we’re being fair.

For instance, there have been studies showing we all have perceptional illusions – such as white subjects in a study perceiving black faces as angrier than white faces with the same expression; or college professors being 26% more likely to respond to a student’s email when it is signed by Brad rather than Lamar.

But we don’t like to think of ourselves as having this “implicit bias” because it sounds like we are purposely trying to favor one person or group over another. It isn’t nice to think of ourselves as not nice.

So what can we do to avoid exhibiting bias towards others? First and foremost, just being conscious that we have that tendency, regardless of who we are can help us respond with compassionate intention, rather than just reacting impulsively when triggered.

Something else that helps tremendously is to just get out of our own heads as often as possible, and to keep our focus on the people and world around us – noticing (with curiosity, not judgment) what might be going on in their lives to trigger their behaviors. When we focus on only ourselves – or others like us, we severely limit our options of how we view the world.  When our thoughts are centered only on us, those thoughts cut us off from a whole world of possibilities.

It’s all too easy to become frustrated, disillusioned, angry and bitter when our own perspectives are the only ones we consider.  Our own narrow concerns can seem painfully overwhelming if we give all our attention and energy to them, and we can even become a little paranoid, believing others are getting more than we are; or that we don’t matter as much as other people or groups.

If we allow ourselves to stay with this perception of society, we eventually may even act out to prove in some way that we are also worthwhile – or to knock the *others* down a peg. The way out of this mindset is to expand our perspective beyond ourselves.  If we genuinely take other people into consideration our positive possibilities multiply dramatically.

If we pay attention to the concerns of others, we’ll gain valuable insights that otherwise wouldn’t be available to us. When the concerns of our own egos fall away, an enormous amount of energy is set free.  When we are no longer restricted to our own narrow perspective, a whole new set of magnificent opportunities will open up to us.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I have no idea where I heard this story, but it’s about a family (a father and several small children) that boarded a city bus. All the passengers on the bus prior to their boarding had been adults, who were enjoying their rides to their destinations – in quiet conversation, reading, listening to music or just looking out the window.

But when the family found their seats, the father just sat, staring into space as his children began running all over the bus, playing games, screaming at each other as they played, and generally annoying all the other passengers.

The passengers looked at each other in disgust, as this father did nothing to reign in his children. Eventually, one man had all he could take, tapped the father on the shoulder and said, “Hey man! Your kids are causing a lot of chaos here and disturbing all the rest of us on this bus! Can’t you do something about them?”

To which the father replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. We just came from the hospital. Their mother just died. I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

Instantly, the attitude of each passenger on the bus changed to one of compassion. One by one, they started engaging the children in conversation or finding quiet things for them to focus on for the remainder of their ride. A couple of them sat with the father and just listened to him. They had expanded their perspective beyond themselves.

When we can see things from another’s perspective instead of just how we are affected, we can genuinely take them into consideration, and we’ll gain valuable insight that will change what we see in the world – and how we interact with it.