Category Archives: Contemplations

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

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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

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

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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

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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

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Thank You, Daddy

daddy-kiss

Whether you’re a grown-up or a young child, your father probably occupies a special place in your heart. 

Over the years, my clients have shared many thoughts about their fathers with me. One client made me smile with this one: “I remember Sunday mornings listening to records and Dad dancing the polka in stocking feet on the linoleum floor in the family room!”

Can’t you just picture that?

Annette recalls: “I treasure the simple memory of Dad tucking us in bed each night and kissing us goodnight. And he was the one to get us up in the mornings and make us breakfast.” He cooked the evening meal, as well. She was especially touched by how he went out of his way to make their favorite meals.

Chad told me of his father’s endless patience: “Whether Dad was showing me how to throw a ball, helping me with my homework, or teaching me how to drive, he was always patient.  And when I got in trouble, or failed at something, Dad wasn’t the type to blow up. I can still hear him say: ‘Well son, what did you learn?’”

Claire loves that she can go to her dad for reliable advice: “What stands out about my father is how well he listens. I can talk to him about anything and I know I’ll get his undivided attention. I remember one time when I had been offered a new job and was debating whether to keep my present job—which I really liked—or take the new one. So when I shared my dilemma with my dad, he asked me questions about both jobs—what I liked about my present job and how different the new job would be. In essence he was causing me to weigh the pros and cons of each. He didn’t actually tell me what to do, but prodded me to examine all aspects so I could figure it out for myself. It fills me with a sense of security to know I can always turn to my dad and he’ll listen to every word.”

My own father never had much to say, yet somehow his love for his three girls infused the air with an ever-present soft glow. When he did share his thoughts, I could tell he was in the habit of doing some deep thinking when off by himself.

Dad was the playful one. I have precious memories of him playing hide-and-seek with us. He taught us how to swim, how to fish, how to plant a garden, how to dance and how to go after what we yearned to achieve. Like Annette’s father, he did the cooking.  When we came downstairs in the morning, a smiling dad and a breakfast of poached eggs awaited us. There were no exceptions. Even on Christmas morning, Dad made it mandatory that we eat breakfast before all else. Our presents would just have to wait. Seemed like hours! 🙂

Jan, another client, was moved to write about her late father.

“As I sit here anticipating my first Father’s Day without my dad, I wonder: Does everyone who has lost their father feel the same emotions I’m feeling?

“Before he passed on, Father’s Day meant worrying about purchasing the right gift and hoping it was something Dad would enjoy. It was trying to get everyone together and accommodating schedules. With five other siblings, this wasn’t always an easy task.

“My father was a man of few words. He had minimal education and worked construction his whole life. He worked many hours to provide for a family of eight. There weren’t many heart-to heart talks with my dad or one-on-one moments. Sometimes—I’m embarrassed to admit—I even wondered if my dad really loved me.

“But as I sit and ponder, I realize it wasn’t really about the gift I had to buy or the time it took from my busy schedule. Father’s Day represented the man in my life who was always there. He wasn’t going to divorce me or leave me. He was there for every holiday, every marriage, every divorce. Basically, Dad was there for every event.

“Although we didn’t spend a lot of time together and never talked about the latest topics, he was present and always watching over all of his children. More and more I realize there’s something comforting and important about the feeling of being watched over.

“Recently we buried my father, and as all six siblings stood watching over him in his final days, I realized there was no animosity between us. We were in total agreement in his last hours about how we would make him as comfortable as possible.

“It was the night my dad passed away that I finally realized what he’d taught me. He taught me how to love.

“And as I watched my five siblings gather around his bed that final night, I also realized they were given the exact same gift.

“Most importantly, I realized that with my brothers and sister in my life, my dad would always be there. I can now see him in each and every one of us.

“So here’s to you, Dad: You might not have taught me to put a napkin on my lap or how to write a letter, or to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ but what you did teach me was so much more valuable. Thank you for the gift of love. It outweighs everything else.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2018 Salee Reese

 

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Moving Through Grief

 

It has been two years since her husband, Trent, died. But to Amy it feels like yesterday.

“Why am I grieving?” she lamented. “I thought I was over it.”

I answered her simply: “We’re never over love, Amy.”

After his fatal car accident, she told herself she must be strong for the children. So she stuffed her feelings—locked them up in a steel vault deep within. The truth is, such attempts fail miserably. Denied or submerged feelings slowly creep into our everyday consciousness, so eventually we’re forced to face them. This is what happened to Amy, prompting her to seek help.

In our counseling session, I explained that when tragedy strikes, numbness is a natural response—an automatic defense mechanism—that cushions us from experiencing horrendous and often incapacitating pain. But such numbing is a temporary fix—it doesn’t heal the wound. Healing must occur before we can move forward, before we can be intact as a complete person, and before we can engage in our life wholeheartedly again.

On the emotional level, Amy needs to experience and talk about every aspect of the loss associated with Trent’s death, including the loss of his presence, his companionship and the loss of their dreams.

She needs to let herself miss the sound of his voice, his smiling eyes, his laughter, his scent.

He’s no longer there as a father figure for their children. That’s a loss.

Yes, he had flaws and idiosyncrasies. But she’s surprised at how insignificant they all seem now.

“It’s what made him unique,” she said fondly.

I suggested she set aside time to quietly reflect on Trent, letting her heart call forth countless warming memories.

“And if you feel moved to write, don’t resist doing so. Most likely, your instinctive wisdom is nudging you in the direction of healing,” I said.

To keep it simple, some people write down single trigger words associated with special memories.

“Maybe you’re moved to visit certain places, like favorite vacation spots. Go there again,” I insisted.

“Above all,” I said, “let yourself cry.”

I advised her to take her time—to be patient with the process.

Grief can neither be hurried nor directed. At best, we can only surrender to it.

I asked Amy about her childhood, how her parents dealt with negative emotions.

“Emotions weren’t dealt with,” she replied. “They were ignored—never discussed.”

As a result, when Amy’s dog died, or when she wasn’t invited to the prom, or when her best friend moved away, she felt isolated and alone in her suffering.

“So, do you think your children feel alone in their suffering—even two years later?” I asked.

She nodded.

Amy handled her husband’s death in the only way she knew how. And she believed she was doing the right thing for her children—by being strong.

“Your children need for you to be strong in a different way,” I said.

“Strength isn’t demonstrated by being emotionless, but by one’s willingness to face emotions head-on.”

Healthy coping isn’t exemplified by ignoring or hiding unpleasant emotions, but by going through them. It takes courage to grieve, and children benefit when they witness their parents embracing the process and coming out fully intact on the other side.

In contrast, emotional numbing may force a family to pretend the deceased family member never existed. This was true in Amy’s household. After Trent’s death, he wasn’t mentioned at all. Such silence and avoidance is akin to erasing him from every picture in the family album.

“That doubles the grief, Amy.” I said.

Not only did she lose him, she lost the memory of him as well.

“How can he touch your life—yet today—if his memory is eradicated?”

I went on to explain that a cloud of gloom persists because she’s looking at what went wrong instead of what went right. He showed up in her life. He added a strand to the fabric of  her existence that would not have occurred otherwise. He not only enriched her life but he also enriched the lives of his children. That fact should be celebrated.

I suggested she break the silence and get everyone talking about Trent. She should expect tears and laughter. Both are good. They will express and acknowledge Trent’s powerful impact on their lives.

Amy followed my advice, and now that she is bravely sharing her emotions with her children, things should soon be much better in their world.

An emotional wound is finally being allowed to breathe, and I think Amy will be surprised at how much healing can occur when emotions are allowed to see the light of day instead of being buried in a vault of silence.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2018

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