A Series on Guilt Part 1: What is Guilt?

For starters, guilt is not an emotion, it is a state of being.  For the average person it may seem that I am splitting hairs, but for the therapy world, it’s helpful to know the difference.  If you are sick, you don’t necessarily need to know that much about your body to describe it to your doctor; however, your doctor better know details about human anatomy and system functions in order to treat you.  Emotions generally fall into four categories: joy, anger, sadness and fear.  Notice guilt isn’t one of them, nor is shame, the paralyzing cousin of guilt.  The common denominator of emotions and most states of being is they are all centered in your brain.  Each is a result of thoughts.  The thoughts are generally a reaction to an outside stimulus, either in the moment or any amount of time later.
Guilt is a function of our brain when we have done something wrong or something we perceive is wrong.  This function helps shape us to move toward the common good rather than just benefitting ourselves.  Guilt is imperative for the health of a community.  A person with Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopath) sees himself as above the law in all respects. He does not feel guilt or remorse for his actions.  Without guilt, we have an ‘It’s all about me” attitude.  Every person has this attitude some of the time but those with Antisocial Personality Disorder have it in nearly all circumstances.  This can be taught or it can be a malfunction of the brain; some people with Antisocial Personality Disorder are a result of their environment, some are a result of DNA and some are a result of a combination of both.
Guilt is often misunderstood.  Some see it as bad, but it’s not.  No more than the emotions of anger, sadness or fear.  These functions of our brain help us live in community in a healthy way through being authentic and connecting with others.  When we eliminate any one of them, we damage ourselves and healthy interactions.  The movie, Inside Out portrayed this beautifully.
Your first action is to notice your guilt.  Ask yourself some questions about it.  What did I do that I am feeling guilty?  What is the standard by which I am measuring my actions?  Does this system make sense – is it in the best interest of both myself and the common good? What if someone else is telling you that you did something wrong, but you don’t see it that way?  Find out what that person’s reasoning is.  Is it for both the good of you and the common good or is it some arbitrary set of rules that don’t make any sense?
Next week I’ll continue this series with how to process your guilt in a healthy way that leads to restoration.

When Our Dreams and Reality Don't Match

I am a firm believer in following our dreams.  It was the essence of my quote in my senior year high school yearbook 31 years ago and I am still passionate about helping people achieve their dreams.  Sometimes, our dreams get dashed.  What do you do when you believe in something with deep conviction and passion but it doesn’t happen?
It’s time for some processing.  First, take time to grieve the loss of the dream.  It’s important to acknowledge reality and give reality its space.  Feel the sadness associated with the loss.  Notice what it feels like in your body.  Set aside some time every week where you can feel the hurt, pain and sadness of the loss.  Keep track of your thoughts.  Harness them so they stay true to reality.  Sometimes our minds can wander off into story creation world.  These might sound like, “I’ll never have anything in my life that makes me happy.”  “I’ll never find my passion.” “I’ll never be successful at anything.”  “I’ll never find my life partner.”  You know these thoughts, huh?  Most of us have them when we are hurting.  Unless you have 100% accuracy with predicting the future you cannot possibly know what is going to happen in your life.  Put a stop to the thought.  Don’t entertain it.  Every time the story pops into your head shut it down.
Ask yourself where you have some control in the situation.  If it’s a loss that you don’t have control over (a job, a relationship, a life) look at the areas where you do have control.  You can look for other employment.  You can get training to pursue a better fit.  You can, when you’re ready, get back out in the dating world.  You can cultivate the relationships you have with those who are alive.  You make choices of how to take care of yourself in healthy ways despite the loss.
Remember that you have some control.  You are not a victim of your circumstances.  You can decide your next steps.  Allow time to process the loss and get back in the game.  It might be an entirely new game.  That is simply a part of living in an ever changing world and our need to yield to reality.

Going Through a Break-Up?

Getting over a break up can be incredibly challenging. We’re used to having that person in our lives, doing things together, talking on the phone, texting…in general being connected. Whatever the reason, when the relationship ends, we have some work to do.
When we don’t want the relationship to end we hang on and get stuck. My picture for this is from Titanic where Rose is holding on to a frozen and very dead Jack. She hears someone calling out searching for survivors. She has to let go of Jack in order to live. It’s the same for you. You will need to acknowledge reality: the relationship is over…it is frozen and dead. You cannot revive it. You cannot make someone be in a relationship with you. How do you let go? Every time you are longing for the person, missing him, wishing she was holding you, remind yourself of reality: The relationship is dead.
Generally when we are missing the relationship, we are focused only on the good parts. When we let go of someone, we have to let go of all of them. Think of it like a circle. So bring in the other half, the reasons you are not together. It wasn’t perfect. No matter what you might be thinking, if the relationship ended something wasn’t working, so bring that into your awareness.
When you are super angry with the other person and are focusing only on the bad, it will help you to bring in the good half. If not, using anger to help you move on is not really moving on, it’s only an attempt at letting go of the bad. Eventually this will come back to bite you in the form of unresolved bitterness and resentment…you’ll still be dragging that dead corpse with you. Letting go of the whole relationship will help. Take time to remember what was good in the relationship.
Now put the two halves together and visualize yourself letting it all go. Every time you are sad or angry, go through this process. The more you do it, the easier it will get over time. This is a grieving process. You are grieving the death of a connection and dreams. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you let go of the entire person and relationship.

Getting Your Needs Met Part 2: What Are Needs?

OK, I know it’s been a few weeks since my last post…I’m one of those people who has big dreams, limited follow through and poor organization…but that’s for another post. Back to needs!
I think the best place to start with the topic of needs would be: What are they? Some may say all we need is air, water, food and shelter. If we are merely talking about physical survival that is true. It starts to get a bit more complicated as we look at the deeper layers of what it means to be human. Research has shown that emotional and physical connection with others are as important to surviving and thriving as the basic life sustaining ingredients of air, water, food and shelter. So now the list of needs may read: air, water, food, shelter, emotional connection and physical connection with other human beings. The additions raise some questions. What kind of emotional and physical connection with human beings is necessary for survival? Prisoners in concentration camps had physical and emotional connections with human beings which resulted in death. No, those don’t count. We need certain kinds of connection with others. Connections that breathe life, hope, and healing into us. What does that look like for you?  Just as each of us is unique, so are our needs.  There may be some similarities from person to person, but there is not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to needs.  What works for one person may not work for another.
I want to create a bridge here between needs based on mere survival to needs that enhance the quality of our lives and relationships.  The latter are the type of needs we will focus on for the remainder of this series of blogs on needs.  First we’ve established basic needs for survival.  Now we will look at how those needs manifest themselves in our relationships.  Although we can survive without some of our relational needs being met, we are not truly thriving or reaching our full potential.  I can live without touch in my marriage, but the quality of my connection with my husband plummets when a hug, handhold or some sort of body to body contact are non-existent.  There is something about this type of non-sexual physical connection through touch that increases the intimacy in our relationship.  On the opposite side, one of my daughters does not enjoy very much physical contact.  Hugs are seldom given or received.  She needs me to sit and connect with her verbally.  She wants me to listen to her, to interact with her through conversation.  That is how she experiences an increase in intimacy with people.
Mmmm…I’m hearing something about my use of intimacy.  I’m not using it with any sexual reference.  Intimacy in this case refers to deeply knowing and connecting with another person.  It’s the space in relationships where we let our guard down.  I feel safe with the other person and allow her in to the secret, well protected parts of my heart.  Because she is safe, I allow myself to be fully exposed in the relationship.  Typically this type of connection is two-way.
Now to you.  What are your needs in relationships?  What elements are necessary for you to connect and feel connected to another person?  Is it touch, verbal connection, spending time together?  There are many needs, not just the few I’ve pointed out.  Each of us also has more than one need in relationships. We’ll delve into our individual needs more in the next part but for now, begin to simmer in understanding what your needs are.

Looking At Our Debris

I just read a post from a friend.  In her story, neglect from a parent was disguised and excused away by “service to God.”  It’s interesting how we can find ways to justify or excuse away our choices that ultimately result in pain for those  around us.  One of the greatest gifts of humanity is the ability to make amends.  We are able to look at our lives, to take stock of what we have done, and make mid or post-course corrections.   We can go back to those we have hurt, own our part in it, and apologize.  By doing so we free ourselves from the bondage of our missteps.  We also open up the possibility of experiencing a healthier relationship with those we have hurt, if they are open to working on that with us.  Debris is that which is left in our wake as we pass through our life.  The debris is a gift that we can openly examine and use to change the direction of our lives.