Category Archives: Contemplations

Outsmart Your Guilt

 

 

Things go wrong when guilt’s the driving force behind our actions. That’s because guilt doesn’t do a good job of steering us in the right direction. It lacks intelligence.

Dru, 17, is a prime example. She didn’t want to hurt her boyfriend’s feelings, and as a result became pregnant. In our counseling session with tears streaming down her face, she expressed what was going on in her head the night she conceived:

“I didn’t want to do it! I didn’t feel right about it, but I would’ve been consumed with guilt if I let him down!”

The desire to give to others, the concern over disappointing or hurting someone, stems from a kind heart. That’s a good thing. It’s not such a good thing, though, when we hurt or disrespect ourselves in the process.

No question, Dru would be paying a hefty price for being dominated by guilt. Her future suddenly looked quite different, because the demanding responsibilities of motherhood would place her dreams, interests and much of her freedoms on hold.

Dru’s pathway for getting healthy entailed learning that self-neglect is wrong. She cared too much for her boyfriend and too little for herself. Her fear of letting him down resulted in letting herself down.

I remember her telling me that he would have acted hurt if she had said no to him on that fateful night. In the months ahead, Dru came to understand that hurting someone’s feelings isn’t always a bad thing. We all need to be told ‘no’ on occasion and to learn our limits with other people. How else do we become sensitive and respectful of others? We rob people of growing in these ways when we give in to pouts, angry outbursts, or other manipulative ploys.

Dru finally ended the relationship with her boyfriend.

I asked her: “In looking back, what did that experience teach you, Dru?”

“That I can’t let anybody have control over me again,” she said. “I can’t let someone suck my spirit from me. It drains me.”

“Exactly what drains you?” I asked.

“Worrying about people, needing to make them feel better,” she said. “I have this problem of wanting to make everyone happy even if it costs me my own happiness. It’s all so draining! But I’m getting stronger.”

I agreed—Dru was getting stronger. She found a new relationship and to her delight, she isn’t obsessed or burdened with worry about what he’s feeling, thinking, or needing. She describes the relationship as “freeing.”

“How will you know if this relationship turns unhealthy?” I asked.

She thought for a moment and shared her newfound insight—that pleasing someone else at the expense of her own well-being would be wrong. “If that happens, I’ll feel trapped and guilty for not taking care of him.”

She learned that guilt shouldn’t be in charge–she and her intellect should be running things.

It made me smile to see that Dru was “getting it.” Smart girl. 🙂

 

 

(c) Salee Reese 2019

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free

Don’t Be Nice All the Time

 

Over and over again, while growing up, Kari heard: “It’s better to give and be nice than it is to receive.”  Valuing the other person more than yourself was expected. So, today, she tends to be nice to everyone but herself. No surprise. When people mistreat or take advantage of her, she gives them a free pass. But Kari’s been waking up to that unhealthy pattern—seeing how it’s not serving her very well. Her current relationship is a perfect example, and right now, she would like to end the relationship but guilt stands in her way.

Guilt over caring for herself blocks her from doing the right thing.

Doug, another client, received the same training. “The way I feel good about myself is by being a good guy … doing for others.”  He gave me an example.  When an acquaintance of his, John, needed a phone, Doug agreed to sell him his $250 phone for $80. He even agreed that John could pay him later. Doug didn’t hear from the man for several weeks. Finally, when they bumped into each other somewhere, John paid Doug … but he paid him $50 instead of $80. When I asked Doug how he felt about that, he said: “I wanted to do the right thing.”

“Is it right to let others take advantage of you?” I asked. “How do others learn the same morals you were taught if you rob them of that opportunity?”

We talked at length, then Doug arrived at a realization:

“I should have stood up for myself,” he said. “Sometimes it’s right to upset people.”

Several years ago, I created a little story for the sake of illustration:

Imagine a classroom of small children—crayons in hand—each thoroughly absorbed in his/her own drawings. Jenny is sitting beside Joey, and at some point, he reaches over with his crayon and marks on her paper. Jenny objects, “No Joey!” while pushing his hand away. He stops, briefly, then repeats the offense. Again Jenny protests but this time she briskly moves to another spot in the room, taking her sheet of paper with her.

This scenario would have played out quite differently had Jenny been indoctrinated with the directive to always “be nice.” In that case, she would have wilted when Joey marked on her paper, letting him have free rein. Believing that objecting is hurtful, she would be ruled by restraint. Striving to be nice is a worthy ethic to teach children, but it should be a two-way ethic.

Niceness should run both ways.

Yes, Jenny should be nice to others, but she should also hold the belief that virtue applies to everyone else as well. Joey wasn’t being nice and that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Jenny’s actions preserved her well-being and dignity, but she also did Joey a favor. She gave him the opportunity to learn an important lesson: If I mistreat people, I’ll alienate them. They won’t want to be around me.

Had Jenny folded, submitting to Joey’s will and disrespect, she would have sent the opposite message.

We humans don’t grow when others are placating or pretending to go along with us. The best mirror we have available is the authentic response given by other people. No, it’s not always easy to look at ourselves through the eyes of others. It can be painful, but some deeper—truer—part of ourselves finds it gratifying to be shown the truth.

Protesting isn’t hurtful if done correctly. Being enlightened by truth is quite different from being punctured by it. When Jenny voiced her protest, she wasn’t being hurtful.

If Joey was hurt, he was hurt by the truth—not by Jenny.

When someone crosses a line, our instinct tells us to be self-protective. It’s the same instinct that protects us from eating spoiled food, stepping out in front of traffic, getting close to a raging dog. Psychological well-being is no different. Inner distress is a signal announcing the need for change.

Instead of just enduring, we’re supposed to listen to it and take action. Doing so is an act of love, both for ourselves and for the other person.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free

Love Me Tender

 

Some people believe they’re detestable. In fact, the thought of being worthy of love and accepted–even cherished!–for who they are at the root level seems unfathomable to them. 

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to be content with ourselves.

So where do low self-opinions come from? Children internalize or see themselves as mirrored in their parents’ eyes. If that reflection is a positive one, then they carry around a positive attitude toward themselves. If that reflection is negative, then they acquire a negative impression of themselves that can last throughout their lives.

Two former clients, Mike and Lori, come to mind.

“My mother hated me,” Mike said in one of our sessions. “It’s oppressive to be hated by your mom. It takes the color out of everything.”

He’s right.

Mike’s mother never came right out and said she hated him. She conveyed it in subtle ways–through looks and in her overall attitude toward him. It wasn’t warm, caring, forgiving and understanding. Not at all. When he got in trouble–even for little things–she came down hard. She also seemed to never want him around. “Go away, don’t bother me,” was one of her favorite expressions.

Mike grew up hating himself and hating his life. No surprise.

Lori was raised under similar conditions. She and her siblings paid dearly–physically and emotionally–if they failed to toe the line.

That early conditioning resulted in anxious perfectionism, and when she would fall short of that unrealistic expectation, she would spiral down into a grimy pit of shame and self-loathing.

Lori would spend days immobilized, unable to socialize and unable to leave her home. It was a pattern spawned in early childhood–one she couldn’t shake until she sought help.

Both Mike and Lori were afflicted with shame.

Shame and guilt go hand in hand, but there’s a fine distinction. Guilt is what we feel when we break the rules, laws or violate parental or societal expectations. With guilt, we feel it’s possible to clean up our mistakes, learn from our misdeeds and move on. But shame is different–mistakes and wrongs are unpardonable.

In John Bradshaw’s book, Bradshaw On: The Family, he writes: “Guilt says I’ve done something wrong; shame says there is something wrong with me. Guilt says I’ve made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake. Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am no good.”

When we’re exposed to a steady diet of humiliating messages, those messages end up defining our being. Our pure sense of self gets lost in the contaminating process we call shaming.

Where’s the line between discipline and shaming? Healthy discipline guides and instructs. Shaming undercuts self-esteem. At an extreme degree it crushes the spirit.

Shaming communicates to children that they’re bad. How words are expressed is as important as the words themselves. For example, it’s possible to say: “You didn’t put the milk away,” but convey an attitude and tone that says, You’re bad!

I remember explaining to another client, Ethan’s father, that his son needed mentoring—not shaming. When 6-year-old Ethan kicked a cat, his father became furious. Among the nasty labels he shot at him was “cruel.” Instead of coming down hard on him, he should have viewed the situation as an opportunity to provide a lesson on kindness.

A non-shaming approach communicates that the action is wrong, not the child. It was appropriate that Ethan learned that it’s wrong to hurt animals. But he also needed his sense of self-worth to remain intact.

Ethan is but a tadpole–he’s just beginning to learn how to function appropriately on planet Earth. So the situation called for patient leadership, conveying: I’m at your side, son, ready to show you the ropes.

After all, it’s tender love that turns tadpoles into contented frogs.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

2 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free, Parenting

Planting the Seeds

In passing, I overheard a heart-sinking exchange between a father and son. “Hey, Dad, what’s Grandpa’s phone number?” His father frowned. “What’s the matter with you? You know the number—you call it all the time! Are you a retard?”

If it pained me to bear witness to such harshness, I can only imagine its impact on his son.

I remember how strongly I felt the urge to ask the father how he would like his son to feel about himself in the years to come. Like most fathers, he would undoubtedly convey that he wanted his son to have a positive impression of himself.

I would then ask: Do you think your current treatment of him is planting those seeds?

As parents, whenever we lead, correct, discipline, teach or talk to our children, we need to be asking ourselves: Is my child’s spine bent or a little straighter as a result of this interaction?

Does my child hold his head up high or does it hang low?

A heart-opening exercise for the father would be to take a moment and imagine his boss standing over him making derogatory comments just as he had done to his son. Possibly—hopefully so!—it would activate some healthy soul-searching and trigger some serious renovation work on his part.

How could this scenario have played out differently? How could the father have been a force for self-esteem enhancement versus the opposite?

I visualize the father putting his hand reassuringly on his son’s shoulder, looking warmly into his eyes and saying: You know the number…I know you do.

And after patiently waiting, if his son is still unable to recall the number, his father would respectfully and kindly provide it.

Isn’t this the way we all wish to be treated?

Such treatment can’t help but cultivate healthy plants…everywhere!

 

(c) Salee Reese 2019

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Parenting

Make Your Soul Happy

“Depression is a distant early warning system that something in you is being pressed down, beat on, kept in prison, dishonored.”   ~Sam Keen

Sandra is depressed and it’s because she’s been dishonoring herself for a long time.

Although she despises her job, she forces herself to tolerate it. Not only is it unrewarding, the pressure and the demands are unrelenting. What’s more, she yearns to move back to Maine where she had a fulfilling job and a close and supportive circle of friends. She also had the ocean. It was within walking distance, and brought her unparalleled serenity.

“My soul was happy there,” she said while fighting back tears. “I’m grieving over the life I feel I’ve lost.”

Sandra doesn’t question her decision to uproot from Maine. Her aging parents needed her, and she was their sole source of care. “I couldn’t betray them,” she said. “I told myself it would only be for a few years.”

They’ve since passed on . . . several years ago, in fact. So why hasn’t she returned to Maine?

Blame it on the lure of security and the paralysis of fear.

Though she hates her job, it provides a steady income, insurance, and growing retirement benefits. She tells herself it wouldn’t be practical to venture off to a place she hasn’t called home for 15 years. Too risky. But that form of reasoning doesn’t pacify her soul’s yearnings. Why? Because souls don’t and can’t live in that “ought-to” world.

Although Sandra couldn’t bear the thought of betraying her parents, she’s been betraying herself for years. She’s guilty of surrendering to a settled-in existence.

Our comfort zones don’t cultivate happiness. If anything, they can be a recipe for depression. Our soul is constantly letting us know when something doesn’t feel right. Will we listen to that voice or the voice of fear, familiarity and the dozen “ought-to” messages that hound us every day? That’s the challenge.

In our session, I asked Sandra to close her eyes and imagine her sadness as a separate entity sitting across from her.

“What is sadness saying to you?” I asked.

Her face grew solemn. After a long pause her sadness–emanating from the core of her being–told her this:

 “I feel sad because you gave up on me. You knew what I needed and you gave up. You didn’t take the energy to do what you needed to do. You retreated and you keep retreating more and more.”

Impressive. Sandra’s soul is summoning her to leave the tomb of settledness and head in the direction of her passion.

Giving her sadness a voice allowed Sandra to finally recognize the true cost of playing it safe. She’s learning that her depression won’t magically disappear, nor should it. It’s sending her a very important message. The only thing that will work is taking control of her life–managing it from a space of courage and love for herself instead of fear.

“We’d all like a guarantee before making a decision or taking a risk, but the irony is that taking the risk is what opens us to our fate.”   ~Mark Nepo

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free

Let’s Do Gifts!

“The best things in life aren’t things.”

This little piece of wisdom came straight from a bumper sticker.

A few years ago, as the holiday season was approaching, my thoughts turned to gifts. I decided to ask several people: “How would you define a gift?”

Here’s a sampling of the responses I collected:

  • “To me, a gift is a symbol of appreciation–when someone lets me know that I’m appreciated.”
  • “Acceptance. By that I mean when I’m simply accepted for who I am.”
  • “Being given something without any strings.”
  • “When I’m totally surprised. An unanticipated gift–coming out of nowhere.”

Amazing. Of the many people I surveyed, not one mentioned a particular material object.

The message is loud and clear:

Gifts aren’t defined by wrapped boxes with pretty bows. The real thing–what we treasure most–comes straight from the heart!

Gifts show up in an assortment of “unboxable” packages, such as smiles, thank-you’s, compliments, and various acts of kindness.

Giving of our time is a gift. Just ask the elderly.

Listening without interrupting or judging is a gift. Just ask any teenager.

The act of giving is good for us. It makes us glow inside, and studies show that giving to others is an elixir for depression. I recall a particular client, Holly, who felt worthless and insignificant. “I have nothing to give,” she said.

“What do you love doing, Holly?” I asked.

Without the slightest hesitation she told me she loves taking care of toddlers. I couldn’t help but be fascinated while she chatted nonstop about countless delightful moments with them. And I couldn’t help but notice how her face lit up for the first time!

Challenging her self-doubt, I asked: “What do you mean, you don’t have anything to give? Not everyone can pull that off!  You have a gift, Holly.”

Tears trickled down her face.

“Not only that,” I continued, “everyone you meet has a toddler tucked somewhere inside of them, just needing someone like you to show them love and acceptance.”

Hmmm. It appears that gift-giving possibilities are endless, inexpensive and fairly easy!

For something to qualify as a “gift,” it need only be paired with the heart. ♥

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2018

2 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest

Acknowledge Your Magnificence

What if a ray of sunlight–feeling guilty for its brightness–purposely dimmed itself?

Who loses out? We all do!

Light-dimming is fairly common. Concealing our flaws is understandable, but it’s a bit tragic when we conceal our finer qualities.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, we may hide those better attributes even from ourselves, banishing them to the territory we call our subconscious. There, they reside alongside the other things we don’t want to face about ourselves.

It’s a sad state of affairs when acknowledging our assets is as hard to do as facing our flaws.

Why do we dim our light? There are many reasons, such as fear of looking pompous, inciting jealousy, and the desperation to fit in or gain approval. If we do give ourselves permission to shine—just a wee bit—taunting voices in our head tell us things like, “Well, who do you think you are?”

After all is said and done, I think Nelson Mandela put it perfectly:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? . . . Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

Mandela is on to something. A flower doesn’t seem to worry about offending the flower next to it, or causing it to feel insecure. No . . . it blooms with abandon, and without the slightest urge to apologize for its magnificent beauty!

The whole garden benefits. Sweet. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2018

2 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free