Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Story of the Angry Man

This is one of my favorite stories that I’ve told clients over the years, as they struggle to manage their anger at others or at the world in general.  Every time I tell it, I get the same reaction from the client that I felt when I first heard it. It seems so simple, yet we humans have a way of really complicating things:

One day Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him. “You have no right teaching others,” he shouted. “You are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake.”

Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead, he asked the young man “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger.

If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you.

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So when you find yourself grappling with anger, I hope you’ll remember this story, and that regardless of what the situation involves or what the person has done, the anger belongs to YOU. Even though you have no control over anything or anyone else, you are the one who must decide what to do with that feeling. You can decide to use it against others; to stuff it so that it will come up again the next time something goes in a direction you didn’t intend; or you can allow yourself to feel it all the way through and then make a rational decision as to whether you’re ready to let it go, or put that energy to use it for a more constructive purpose.

What do you Value?

There has been a lot of talk recently about our values as Americans or just as human beings. Many of us believe there has been a huge crack in our moral foundation that seems to be widening

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

-John A. Shedd

It’s All About Perspective

While I was on my morning walk a few weeks ago, I noticed that the way the sun was shining on the weeds beside the sidewalk cast a beautiful shadow.  Each one was a little different, but they looked like beautiful tropical plants.  For some reason, my mind immediately went to a conversation I had with a client just the day before, where I was encouraging him to back up and look at life a little less personally. My hope was that he would see that all the stuff that we go through that feels so overwhelming and like it’s too much to handle, is just the weeds we have to uproot in order to see the beauty of the garden. But, like the shadows I was looking at, even the weeds can be beautiful, depending on our perspective.

Some time ago, I wrote a blog about things only being difficult if we believe they are. Here’s the gist of it:

I can’t count the number of times clients have said  – “but it’s so hard. . .”  I don’t usually confront them at that moment, because it’s taken a lot for them to get to the place where they finally at least recognize what they might need to do to make a change. That process might take some time (most things that are really worthwhile do). But what I’ve learned is that it’s only hard if I allow it to be.

For example, I’m one of those crazy people who loves to work out.  When I can, I walk around the neighborhood lake.  It’s a slightly hilly terrain, but I walk on a sidewalk, so it’s a pretty smooth path.

One day, several years ago, I met another woman walking in the opposite direction. As we smiled and exchanged “good mornings” she said, “I hate having to climb uphill here when I’m going your direction.”

I just smiled and went on. But I was surprised, because I had never even noticed that I was walking uphill. Suddenly, I noticed that indeed, I was climbing up an incline, and yes, it seemed difficult to navigate at that moment!

I have walked that path many times in the years since that encounter, and every time I remember that it’s uphill.  It’s amazing how just having your attention brought to something in a different way can make a difference in how you view it.

But, I didn’t let the new-found realization that I’m walking uphill bother me. I have always enjoyed the challenge of walking up an incline and gratefully focus on how good the muscles in my legs feel as they work to move my body.  I love the feeling I get after working my body in an intensive workout – it’s a feeling of accomplishment. Besides, once you get to the top of a hill, you’re either walking on a flat surface for a while, or you’re going downhill, which is so much easier – it’s almost exhilarating . . . like that garden you’ve reached after tearing out all those weeds.

So when my clients struggle because things are difficult, I don’t tell them they are being ridiculous. I sit with them in that realization. While we can consciously choose how to look at something, most behavior changes do feel difficult when they’re new – until we’ve practiced for a while.  When we put the effort into a practice of some kind, whether it’s learning to feel through something instead of avoiding it, meditation, exercise, prayer or just challenging ourselves to look at a situation from an alternate perspective; that thing we thought was so hard at first becomes less of a pain and more of a joy. Because we’ve accomplished something for which we can take responsibility. It may never become perfect, or completely easy – that’s why we call it a “practice.” But it can be a thing of beauty that we created, and take pride in.

It’s all about perspective – like those weeds. They represent the beautiful process of growth we each experience when we’re ready to move out of our comfort zone.

If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities.

If you believe it won’t, you will see obstacles.

– Wayne Dyer