valentines-day_110001316-012814-intSelf-love is critical if we want to enjoy this life and relationships. Some wonder if self-love is selfish, “Is it really ok to put myself first? Won’t people who need me get mad about that and tell me I’m being self-centered?” Yes and yes. In order for us to be able to authentically love others and truly be there for and with them, we must have that love for ourselves. We can’t give what we do not have. Not everyone will appreciate your self-love. Some will challenge you if you say no to them so you can take care of yourself, especially if people are used to you saying yes all the time. When we say yes to someone or something, we are saying no to someone or something else. If the no has been for yourself, then the switch to yes for yourself is going to feel strange and wrong. The people you were always saying yes to will tell you that you are wrong. That dynamic will mess with you and your journey toward self-love.
How do you navigate this journey toward self-love? Start by being aware of your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations in your body. Just notice yourself. Notice what you like and what you don’t like. When you are eating ask yourself if you like what you are eating. Does it taste good to you? Does it feel good in your mouth, going down and settling in? When you bathe, do you like the method; shower or bath, warm or cold? Ask yourself these questions with everything you do in your life. If you run into hurdles and can’t answer or the answering becomes emotionally painful for you, you may need the help of a professional therapist. Ask if he/she will guide you toward self-love, awareness, mindfulness and boundaries.
Once you are aware of what you like and don’t like, it’s time to start voicing it. “I started listening to myself and have discovered I don’t like this. I’m not going to do it (eat it…) anymore.” There are some limits here. If you have a baby and don’t like getting up in the middle of the night to feed or change him or her, sorry! Some things we must do. If you don’t like your job, I don’t suggest quitting until you find another job you like better if you don’t have any reserves to tide you over until you find a job you like. If you don’t like driving the speed limit, again, sorry! Some things are have-to’s because of morals, laws and positions we have put ourselves in. Beyond those areas, there are a lot of other areas where you have the choice, so exercise your choice in those areas. This self-love action will fill you up to deal with the areas you can’t change because it’s not legal, healthy or wise to change them.
If you have always bailed out your alcoholic brother, it is not wise for you to continue; although your brother will tell you that you are selfish not to help him. He is not a helpless baby. He is an adult who is making unwise choices because of his addiction. It is up to him to decide to deal with it. Not you. You can say no. “I love you. It is not my job to take care of you. You are an adult and it is up to you to go get help. I will help you find an AA meeting, but it’s up to you to make sure you get there and keep going.” (You could go if you want to. Also, you don’t have to help him find the AA meeting. That’s your decision.)
This is just the beginning of your journey toward self-love. Get started on it…it will be the best decision you ever made for yourself (and ultimately everyone around you!).

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.

Hate vs Tolerance

My first thought after hearing about the massacre in France was, tolerance. We cannot change the hate in the world, but we do have the power to change our feelings toward and thoughts of those with whom we are at odds. Each person who does their part creates a ripple effect that can eventually spread throughout the world.
I recently watched Amazing Grace, the movie about William Wilberforce and his crusade to abolish slavery. He had few supporters at first. Slavery had become a widely accepted practice throughout the world. Wilberforce knew it was wrong and spoke out against it. He was just one man, but he was not alone. The band of abolitionists grew and of course we know now how it all played out.
We will never change anything in this world as long as the factions are motivated by hate. We will only create change when our motivations come from a tender place within. A place that seeks to understand why a person might think or act the way they do. A place that sees people as individuals not as stereotypes. A place that seeks to mend not destroy. Few of my readers live lives remotely close to Charlie Hebdo’s. We are not on the front lines of political battles. So you might think, “What does any of this have to do with me?” A lot!
Think about the way you react to a post you don’t like on Facebook, a tweet, an email, a comment. How do you respond to people’s views about hot button topics like Gun Control, the environment, abortion, health care reform, immigration? Do you get angry at the person because they don’t agree with you? Next time this happens, step back for a moment. Breathe. Then seek to understand this person and why she believes as she does. Your job is not to force another to see your point of view. You job is to seek to understand. To really listen and to acknowledge you have heard her point.
When we take this stance we remove a lot of the hot anger that can sever a connection with a person. Perhaps it will set the stage for actual dialogue rather than accusations and profanity that are rarely productive. Remember your job is not to change but to listen and understand. It may seem contrary to your mission: to spread your beliefs to perhaps create change. But has anyone been sincerely won over to another way of thinking through anger?

The Unsolicited Suggestion

Have you shared something that was bothering you and the response was a suggestion? You weren’t asking for advice, you wanted to be heard. Just listening to someone is a tough skill to acquire. Responding with, “That sounds hard” or “You seem so sad” are ways we can simply sit with someone in their situation rather than jump to advice or problem solving. You might put me out of a job but I think it’s worth it!
The unsolicited suggestion can feel like a slap in someone’s face. It essentially invalidates a person’s experience. “Oh, so you’re having an experience and feeling an emotion around it but I want you to stop feeling that and do what I’m saying, because somehow I know what you need.” We are conditioned to do this. Most of us learned this behavior from our caregivers and influential people in our formative years. We jump into solve mode without even thinking about it. Men are often attributed with being the fixers but I have experienced women doing just as much of the fixing as men.
How do you change this? I always start with awareness any time we want to change a behavior. Notice when you are listening to people. Are you preparing their solution or really listening to understand? Are you judging what you’re hearing or seeking to grasp what it is like for this person to go through the experience? When the person stops, are you jumping in with a solution? Just notice, be aware of what you are thinking, feeling, saying and doing.
You probably won’t change right away, first you’ll notice how often you have a suggestion. Just keep paying attention to yourself and the way you respond to people. Ask yourself why you want to solve this person’s problem rather than listen to her. If the situation is not a literal life or death situation, practice not speaking your advice. Contemplate the idea that perhaps your suggestion isn’t what she wants to hear. Consider that she can get to a solution on her own and you can help her get there by listening and allowing her the freedom to work through it.
Over time, with intention, you can stop suggesting and focus on seeking to understand a person’s experience.

Relationship Daggers

Want to destroy your relationships? Dr. John Gottman identified four daggers (he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) that, when frequently used, are sure-fire ways to disintegrate connection in a relationship. Defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling are all you need to do. For me, each one comes easily. I don’t actually even need to think about them, they just pop right out of my mouth when I am angry, hurt or tired.
How do you avoid using the four daggers? The answer is simple but not easy. Awareness is your first action. Notice what you are thinking and feeling. Next, say the word STOP to keep from sending out a dagger. Now process what you are feeling and thinking by identifying your emotion and the corresponding thoughts. The last piece, choose a productive response which usually involves being vulnerable about how you are feeling.
Example: My husband often leaves dishes on the counter next to the sink. I wonder how they are going to get into the dishwasher all by themselves. It irritates me. I could yell at him and tell him he’s a bleeping idiot (adeptly using two of the four daggers: criticism and contempt). Or,
1) I could notice that I’m thinking he’s stupid and feeling angry.
2) Say STOP before I let daggers fly out of my mouth.
3) Ask myself what’s going on that I’m so angry. I’m angry because it seems at times I’m the only one who puts dishes into the dishwasher. I have asked others to do the same but they don’t. That frustrates me. It seems that I am not appreciated and I’m being used to do others’ work. Does it make sense to me that I would be frustrated, even angry about that? Yes, it does.
4) Is there anything productive and positive I can do about it? Yes, I could tell my husband that I feel unappreciated when he leaves his dishes next to the sink then kindly tell him what I would like is for him to put his dishes in the dishwasher.
There you have it, four actions that will help you avoid using the four daggers and increase the chance of experiencing healthy connection.
Thanks to Dr. Henry Cloud’s post today on “The Daily Dr. Cloud” for my inspiration.