It is my belief, as a therapist, parent, friend, child, family member and mate, that a commonly shared human desire is to be seen and heard. It is the foundation of knowing, connection, healing and growth. Enter more deeply into the journey of being Seen and Heard.
Absorbing the loss of my parents has become a three dimensional task that I hold onto with white knuckles so it doesn’t consume me. Within 7 weeks of each other their long lives of 86 and 88 have ended. It’s painful enough to consume the reality of rich, brave, resilient, blessed and hard lives gone in a blink in time, but these were my parents – individuals who knew me intimately and at times not at all. They saw and heard me and they also didn’t. The times they didn’t informed me to know myself more and ultimately deeply. Little did they know, or me for that matter, that when they “failed” me they were setting a path towards growth and self discovery. This awareness and process makes me miss them even more.
The conflict with them, individually and collectively, was rich and very much alive. The conflicts had an energy that informed engagement, contact and something to come back to – an energy forward, leaning in. I’ve done a lot of work on my relationships with them. I’ve known for sometime that I needed to make peace with the ways they failed me and the ways I failed them – the calming of the external and internal storms. Ending each conversation with “I love you” was not an asking but a confirmation that we were good. The conflict with them has ended.
I feel hollowed out. As if someone took a kitchen utensil meant to take the innards out and went to work on my gut – attempting to remove parts of my core. I realize now that this is deep grief and the topsy turbulent process of grieving and loss.
My daughter wins a close tennis match, gutting it out in a third set tiebreaker and I want to call my father with joy and pride knowing how absolutely thrilled he would be. There’s no call to make. My son comes home from sleep away camp, a success of maturity and fun, and I want to call my mother, who always saw something “deeply special” behind his eyes and in his spirit. There’s no call to make. These are not only opportunities to share joy and pride about their grandchildren, but an opportunity for me to connect with them. In these stories I am the messenger of this generational lineage. I am part of the story – the narrator. For me, there is something profoundly relational in this process. This process has ended.
Grieving is not the same as being a victim. I don’t feel like a victim. Rather I feel blessed to have had my parents for so long. I do feel, however, a pain that begs for more marrow in my bones, oxygen in my blood, and greater eye sight that can see light in the future.
It’s easy to conjoin grieving with depression. There is a facing of the existential reality, the impermanence of life, that makes for a dreaded cocktail of grieving, death and life.
Death pushes you to grapple with what’s meaningful to you.
Depression is often the struggle of aloneness, hopelessness and the dark. Grieving has you dance with impermanence, loss and meaning.
I’m holding on, white knuckles, taking this ride of grief through rough terrain towards the landscape of cherished and loving memories – streaming light through darkened clouds.
I truly feel blessed in the work I do. Individuals, couples and groups walk into my office and unpack their internal world. They give me the opportunity to see into the nooks and crannies of their lives. I believe that one of the greatest therapeutic and healing capacities a clinician has to offer is in the working relationship. Yes, this relationship is unlike others – there is an imbalance of sorts, there is a fabrication, there is money exchanged, there is confines to date and time, etc. I try hard to walk the balance between taking my clinical knowledge, gathered by readings, conferences, course work, supervision, and the relationships with colleagues and 25 years plus of work AND the presentation of myself to my client as a real human being – eye-to-eye in the relational journey. It is not their job to take care of me, but rather my job to care about them and challenge them to know more about themselves and to ultimately take the best possible care of themselves. That process, however, often if not always, has them care about me. This exchange deepens the work – builds a thread of attachment and healing. (Please see future posts about the vast importance of attachment.) Pain and trauma often lies in the places of attachment – breached, broken or battered.
It is through this clinical and relational process that many patients return to our work. We have created a safe and productive place to return, to come “home,” to pick up from the knowledge of the past and bring to the present. They walk through the door again (and sometimes again and again) to set off on another journey of self-discovery, healing and growth as it relates to the current chapter in their life – a marriage has dissolved, a tumor has been found, retirement has knocked on the door, a child has left the nest, an elderly parent has become frail, a cherished dog has died, a friendship has ended, a loneliness has settled in, a bout of depression has emerged. Here, at this moment of now, we will unpack the current, as we tenderly hold the history and set off into a journey of greater clarity, healing and growth. As a result, I feel blessed all over again.
Dear Friends, Family, Colleagues, Others I Know Well, Sort of Well and Not At All,
How do I find, define and hold onto hope for the New Year after such a topsy-turbulent year? 2016 challenged my belief in human decency and the value of facts – facts are an essential ingredient to a civil society. On a personal level, this has been a year of change for me and my family. This has been a year of growth for my children. This has been a year of great sadness with many deaths of leading cultural figures of my time and my generation. This has been a year when my mother’s physical and cognitive health took a huge blow with a big stroke. I am not able to call her tonight for the traditional Happy New Year well wishes, nor to tell her how her granddaughter’s birthday (just two days ago) went or to tell her small insignificant things that help to make up daily life.
My resolve, capacity for resiliency and buoyancy is challenged at the beginning of 2017. I will, however, forge forward and lean into life with a determined hope. I will be leaning in with the kind of humanity that informs hope. This has to be a hope that transcends dark forces. This has to be a hope that has the ability to morph and reshape itself into an agile being – like a super hero that has yet to be named. My hope will not fall prey to the seduction of only bashing the overly powered who most likely will make choices to enrich their existing power. My hope will be challenged to live in its purist form.
Join me in hope. Let’s join the forces of humanity in creating hope. A toast: Here’s to hope.
Identity, ego, super ego, love and fear – are they keeping your child from growing?
Love vs. fear and the interference of both.
Does love get in the way of giving your children the freedom to grow, mature, fail, build a full, rich and solid sense of self, or is love the answer? Perhaps we need to redefine love. A love that is not necessarily knowing of outcome, a particular kind of blindness, that requires ingredients rather then a finished product.
Psychological or emotional blindness however is a concept I envision as a skewed perception of oneself in relation to others in the world. In this way blindness makes it difficult to navigate relationships and be a self-relient contributing adult.
To avoid this blindness we need wide open arms that create space for joy and disappointment, as well as the arms offering boundaries, that come from knowing, well meaning and thoughtful parenting.
Fear is not necessarily the evil poison to love, but rather fear lives as a shadow in all of us. It can inform us of our need to know more about ourselves, honor our historical primary wounds (see previous blog post), the courage to loosen our grip on control, and give voice to the unspeakable in the pursuit of freedom. Fear, however, without the passenger of love darkens the world of our children. I think of it as truth accompanied by being held. This informs resiliency. I can know, tolerate and learn from the truth so long as I carry your hugs.
The dance between love and fear, in their purist form, and our courage and vulnerability to embrace both, allows for us to embrace the goodness of being blind without creating blindness. It is often a difficult and tricky balance for me as a parent, often losing its equilibrium. When the dance falls apart and where either “too” much love or “too” much fear inhabits the space, I find it an opportunity to say, “I am sorry” and for the lesson of being fallible.
I would much rather tip and fall in this dance between love and fear than create blindness in a child who does not know either fully. I just pray to the goddesses that I am somewhere in the ball park.
I feel honored to work with the people that walk through my door each day – filled with courage, resistance, hope, despair, vulnerability and regression. They are, despite their resistance and regression – a necessary part of finding the growth edges – presenting and unpacking themselves to reveal their shadows and their longings. This leads me to my first annual list of The Things I Am Grateful For: Thanksgiving 2016.
I am grateful for (not ordered better to worse or more important to least important):
1). Spicy Kids: they are not vanilla as my son reminded one day when at a restaurant I wanted ordered “well mannered” quiet children, like the ones at the next table, “Dad if you wanted vanilla you didn’t get it. You got spicy. I thought you knew that by now.” Thanks son.
2). My love of dogs. This is how I met my husband. The image of him walking in the dog park, parking himself on a bench with a book in one hand and the leash to his chocolate Cocker Spaniel in the other, still brings a small smile of delight – sitting on that bench, book opened and his bonded dog draped over his feet.
Not too mention, the joy of waging tails, hugs and kisses no matter if I was annoyed at them 30 minutes before, greetings as I walk in the door as if I were the best new dog treat they ever had and many other traits.
3). My daughter of abundant energy. As friends said when my daughter started to walk, which is the exact same time that she started to run, “Oh, I thought that after your son turned out to be such an energetic kid you would get easier. You didn’t.” I mostly love her abundance – abundance of her views and opinions, abundance of desires, abundance of movement, etc – and if I don’t it is usually a sign that it is my problem, that I have too much going on that I don’t value the gift before me.
4). Half moons, quarter moons and full moons
5). A love in my life that I can share the craziness with and who truly has my back.
6). My desire and ability to be curious and therefore continue to learn and grow.
7). A family that is filled with resilience, difference, integrity and genuine hearts that care.
Now your turn.
Group Therapy and Its Power
Group therapy is like a collection of short stories creating a collective multi-layered novel, whereby the characters of the book and their stories, individually and in composite, create a broad and varied landscape where they live together – a family, a community and a place of home. This home, in that therapy room, provides a safe place to be caringly challenged and to ultimately know oneself more in relation to and with others – to grow. This capacity to create a richly woven tapestry with others and thus be an integral part of a unit and of healing and knowing becomes yours – a tool that is now yours to take into the world.
As addressed in Part 1 of this two part post, revisiting the wounds of the past impacts the stories of the now. Group therapy is a wonderful way to hear, hold and help heal these historical wounds and to know the stories of your past. To have your peers, your created community and the assembled “family” be able refer and remind you of these past pains helps you, caringly challenges you, to tell your more pure stories of the now and therefore create more of a life that you want for yourself.
I have been blessed to witness and help guide such groups. The work they do is something I marvel at each day.
As a therapist I often say, as it relates to a patient sharing information, “The story in my head is…”
A big part of intimacy, I believe, is in the realization that our narrative, our stories, are solely our own. They are meaningful and dear to us as they should be. For us to be seen, heard and honored in and about our stories we need to learn to value them. We also need to develop the capacity to see beyond our own narrative long enough to see and hear the stories of those that are important to us to complete the intimacy equation.
Our narratives, our stories, are not Truth. They are a collection of richly woven experiences digested through the entity that is you. They are yours. Truth holds less value here. Facts matter, but they hold less importance in the interchange with another in the journey of courage, intimacy and connectedness.
I encourage you to separate Intimacy from Truth, your story from the need to be “right,” and connectedness from ego. When we are fighting to be right, it is not about the journey of intimacy in the now. It, might however, be the well worn historical path of not having been seen and heard. That path, that history, matters because it intrudes upon the now, it holds wounds to be healed and revisited, and it potentially skews the stories you are telling in the now. Attend to these ancient and not so ancient wounds, so that you and the dear person, whose eyes are looking at yours in the now, can hear the story you intend.
It is of great importance and can transport us from aloneness to intimacy to tell our stories – to live in them and with another. It is therapeutic and therapy, it is friendship and love, it is family…
The story in my head is…
I’m reading Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron. I started to take notes, underline and highlight words, phrases and sentences and even fold the corner of a particularly interesting and compelling page – marking my spots. Ironically, a major theme and premise of the book is the reality of impermanence, change and uncertainty, summed up by this quote from Chris Hedges, “the moral ambiguity of human existence.” Here I am trying to make the book into something permanent, as if to say, “this is something so important I cannot, I will not forget it – I will have it forever and return to it over and over again.” My journey in reading this delightful and meaningful book is to experience it, to allow myself to go on the journey with it, to make something relational between it and myself.
I’m going to go to my reading of it now…
Perhaps it is because I am a parent and believe it is a very difficult job, that most parents try their very best to nurture, guide, and push on the small of the back of their child towards growth and adulthood. However, being the imperfect and fallible creatures they (and we) are, children will not get everything they need from their parents and adults in their life, or worse they will be actively hurt, wounded, neglected, abandoned and even abused.
All children will have “Primary Wounds.” Think of these wounds as potholes. Some will be shallow, where you can see it’s dimensions easily. Others might be deeper with jagged edges, while others might be profoundly cavernous – where you can’t see or sense the bottom.
It is my clinical belief that a significant piece of therapy is to know your Primary Wounds. To know them is to revisit them, to know their topography, to become quite familiar to and with them.
The journey of knowing them can be a painful, even traumatic one. If traumatic it may take getting close and then stepping away from these wounds – back and forth, back and forth – to know and tolerate the journey. Be careful and even protective of re-traumatizing yourself.
As you come to know your primary wounds, you will know your legacy better, even intricately and ultimately know yourself better. This knowledge can help you better understand your emotional and behavioral responses.
The intimate knowledge of your Primary Wounds, of the potholes on your personal self-named street, will help you navigate around these potholes, or the need to slowly, with attentiveness and curiosity, drive over them. By courageously driving your street , with all of its potholes, you will hopefully get somewhere you want to go, with a life that reflects more of the wishes, desires and passions of the now.
There has been much written about the cost and cause of perfectionism, as well as its addictive nature. In my opinion, author Brene Brown does a brilliant job of linking the internal and external life of shame with its role in informing and perpetuating perfectionism.
In a recent session with a client we were talking about the lack of play, creativity and freedom in her life. I certainly know that feeling – to be bound up, as if I have tied myself up – where every move, action and utterance has to have purpose, direction and must be perfect. Don’t deny it, many of you know this feeling – come clean.
On the other hand, sometimes my kids complain about my silliness, “Dad can you just be serious. I mean it, be serious for once.” Other times I am compared to comedian Jerry Lewis. I wear their frustrations and the label as a badge of honor – reflecting my willingness to be imperfect. I feel more creative and absolutely more freed up.
To adhere to perfectionism is to set ourselves up. It leads us down a path of less happiness, of being bound, frustrated and reinforcing shame. Play, be silly, and let others become frustrated with your silliness. Take the risk of them being embarrassed by you, laugh at your awkwardness, and embrace your freedom away from perfectionism. Be happier.