Tag Archives: heart

“How Do I Fix Us?”

stitched_heart (1)

 

“Why am I the last to find out? I didn’t know my wife was unhappy. She never told me!”

I had to tell him the truth. “Yes, she did, Todd. There were clues. You just weren’t seeing them.”

Beth had grown quiet and distant in his presence. In contrast, she was lively and talkative around her friends. Passion and affection were gone. She constantly seemed sad.

She was.

Where did Todd go wrong? Simply put, he didn’t do a good job of listening. Early on, Beth tried to open up and express herself but such attempts were abruptly shot down by his defensiveness. Eventually, she quit trying to be heard. So . . . the slow erosion of a relationship was underway.

Genuine listening is more than mere cerebral activity. Central to listening is the state of the heart and the mind. Are they both open?

Todd treated Beth’s grievances as one would a debate. Determined to defeat her, he aggressively attacked her opinions, concerns and feelings. His goal was to win by convincing her that she was wrong.

Instead, he convinced her that he wasn’t there for her.

When an exchange of thoughts ceases in a relationship, so does the intimate connection.

“You may be a winner when it comes to debates,” I said, “but your style doesn’t keep a marriage intact.” I pointed out that the goal in a relationship is to have two winners.

Downcast, he asked, “How do I get her back?”

“Todd,  you must start by narrowing the emotional distance, and you do that by listening to her . . . truly listening to her.”

Listening with the heart.

When that’s occurring, the listener is sincerely engrossed and curious about what the speaker is saying.  The speaker doesn’t  sense impatience, irritation, judgment or disinterest from the listener. And there’s no fear of being pounced upon.

More than the desire to win her back, I urged Todd to let his love for Beth translate into a yearning to understand her and remove her distresses.

A few sessions later—when I knew Todd was ready—I arranged a session with the two of them. His role was to listen. Leaning forward with warmth emanating from his eyes, he invited her to tell him why she was considering leaving him.

She talked and he listened. She was able to say all that she wanted without being interrupted or attacked. Nervous at first, she steadily began to relax as he remained calm and caring. Beth felt free and safe to express what was on her mind.

I was particularly touched by something Beth said near the end:  “When you listen to me it lets me know I matter, and as a result my heart opens up a little wider.”

Signs of progress don’t automatically usher in a fairy-tale ending. It was going to take time for Beth’s heart to trust and feel safe enough to freely open up. But I knew if Todd sincerely dedicated himself to change—and remained consistent with those changes—there was hope.

In the past, Todd had used his intellect to win. To his amazement, he learned that only the heart knows how to win . . . at love. How nice. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Love’s Magic

love (2)

The heart is a weapon of mass construction.

 

A light bulb finally turned on in my head one day. It was the wiser part of me saying: Okay, Salee, if you’re brilliant enough to know something isn’t right, then you should be brilliant enough to do something about it. In other words: Speak up!

I’ve learned to be careful when deciding to cooperate with such nudgings because opportunities start cropping up everywhere.

So yep, a challenge presented itself just a few days later. It took place while I was standing at a counter in a restaurant. I had just placed my order and the cashier told me what I owed. I asked her if I could write a check. “Oh no,” she said in her usual brusque and tactless manner. “You can only pay with a card or cash.”

Over the years, I had watched this woman’s attitude as she dealt with customers and puzzled over how she managed to keep her job.

I just couldn’t remain passive anymore.

Reaching out to something deeper in her, I asked warmly: “Can you say that with a smile?”

Blushing, she said: “I don’t like my smile.”

She was smiling.

“Your smile is beautiful,” I said. “It lights up your whole face . . . and besides, it makes me—the customer—feel good inside.”

The look on her face was priceless as she thanked me.

                                                    I felt hugged!

Increasingly over the years, I see that being forthright—when it comes from the heart— is a gift, even an act of love. Unfortunately, we tend to shy away from such directness because we fear it might seem rude, or it could inflict pain, or it may be a wasted effort.

All I know is I’m grateful for the people in my life who didn’t hold back telling me what I needed to hear.  How lucky for me they didn’t tell themselves: What good will it do? It won’t make any difference. Those bold people made me stretch. I thank them for that.

By the way, that employee I was talking about . . . she hasn’t stopped smiling.

Yes! We CAN make a difference.

 

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Gifts that Endure

family collage

A gift is defined by how it impacts the heart. 

Sadly, we’re hypnotized by ad campaigns that tie the act of gift-giving to the act of spending money. In fact, the more money spent, the greater the perceived value of the gift—and the greater proof of love.

Something has definitely gone awry when the measure of one’s love is determined by the amount of money sacrificed.

The word “sacrifice” is no exaggeration for many people around this time of year. Some have difficulty paying for heat and groceries. So, instead of joy in their heart during the holiday season, despair, guilt and anxiety fill the air.

Jerry is a good example. He’s a construction worker with four children. When I counseled him a few years back, jobs were scarce. I couldn’t help but sense his heavy heart as he talked about how disappointed he was with himself. Why the disappointment? Because he wasn’t able to buy enough “stuff” for his family. He was convinced he was a failure as a dad.

Another client, Nicole—a single mom—was equally distressed. She was laid off so her Christmas-anxiety was the cause of many sleepless nights and, like Jerry, she also felt like a failure as a parent.

How can Jerry and Nicole arrive at peace? I like what The Beatles had to say about that:  “All you need is love.”

As a therapist, I deal with issues of love and abandonment—stemming from childhood—all the time. But I’ve yet to encounter an adult client grieving over having received too few gifts as a child.

The fact that Jerry and Nicole are concerned for their children tells me their hearts are in the right place. The love—that precious commodity underlying a healthy parent-child bond—is more than evident.

In an effort to have them rethink their definition of a gift I asked them two questions: What would bring joy to your children’s hearts? Throughout the year, what do they ask you to do with them?

To get a sense of the sheer magic of those questions, imagine yourself at age eight and being asked by your parent, “What would you like us to do together?”

Our involvement with our children spells love to them. So my advice to Jerry and Nicole was simple: “Give them you.”

Sure, there’s a thrill—a rush—when receiving material gifts. But more often than not, they impact our pleasure circuits—which are fleeting—not our heart.

Ask yourself this: How many gifts do you really remember from last year? I would venture to guess that joyful experiences—involving people—remain memorable, evoking inner smiles yet today. Such memories clearly take center stage . . . because they impact the heart.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

 

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The Truth about Tears

inside out

“Only strong people allow themselves to feel pain.”

–Heather, 16

If you haven’t watched the movie Inside Out, drop everything and head for a theater immediately! The story takes place inside the head of 11-year-old Riley, where five key characters reside—all representing her main emotions: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness.

The story carries a powerful message about the important role each emotion plays in our life, including those less desirable emotions such as sadness.

In the movie, Sadness starts out as a bother but ends up the hero. That’s because she knows how to handle Riley’s problems. Unlike the other emotions, she knows where to take things so they can change for the better.

She’s also the only character who demonstrates  empathy. When Riley’s imaginary friend—Bing Bong—from early childhood, becomes sad and discouraged, Joy is powerless, but that isn’t true of Sadness. She listens in the only way that counts—at the heart level. Bing Bong got better.

And when Riley’s parents got in touch with their sadness over Riley’s sadness, they were capable of listening. The result? Things got better. Prior to that, Riley believed that the only allowable emotion was joy. And in the movie we learn that joy has its limitations.

It was apparent that Riley was sheltered from negative emotions from the start. Therefore, she was poorly equipped to deal with the stresses and heartbreak of moving to another state at the age of eleven.

As I lost myself in this movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Heather, whom I quoted above, a teenager I counseled who was grappling with overwhelming sadness. Her parents were oblivious to that fact until they found her suicide note. Read her story here.

Both Riley and Heather needed the freedom to feel, and the freedom to express it. They needed to be understood, and that was best accomplished when their parents felt with them.

When I asked Heather: “When you’re hurting, what do you need most from your mom? Do you need for her to be strong?” Without any hesitation, she replied:

“No! I need to see her feelings. Showing feelings isn’t being weak—it’s being close.”

That says it all.  Thanks, Heather.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

 

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I Want a Silverback Father!

Silverback

I’m certain we could learn a lot from silverback gorillas. Not about grooming habits, but about the way they care for their young.

The movie Instinct stars Anthony Hopkins as an anthropologist who lives among a community of gorillas for two years. He starts out as a detached observer, but it isn’t long before they win over his heart. He admires and adores these powerful yet gentle creatures and is especially touched by their undying devotion to their young.

Gradually, he is accepted as one of them.

One day, sitting among the gorillas as they groom themselves and nibble away at leaves, he becomes aware of a constant, attentive gaze that embraces them all. The gaze was coming from the “silverback,” the name given to the chief male—the elder or overseer—of the gorilla clan. His job is to protect and maintain order.

“It’s an amazing experience—the feeling of being watched over,” the anthropologist observed.

The gravity of that simple statement struck me. I wonder . . .  do our children feel “watched over” by their fathers . . . and in this manner?

I think a lot of kids feel “watched,” but not “watched over.” To me there’s a huge difference. To be “watched” implies a suspicious, critical eye. “Watching over” combines guidance with compassion.

Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly, has this to say:

In the quiet hours of the night when I add up the accomplishments of my life, those things that rank first, in terms of true success, have to do with my children. To the degree I have loved, nurtured, and enjoyed them, I honor myself. To the degree I have injured them by my obsessive preoccupations with myself, with my profession, I have failed as a father and a man. The health, vitality, and happiness of the family is the yardstick by which a man, a woman, a society should measure success.

To the dismay of many men and their children, that lesson is typically learned in hindsight. One such father put it this way: “Men fall into the trap of believing what their family needs most is a secure financial foundation. This isn’t so. The foundation comes from the heart, not the wallet.”

Turning again to Keen: “We learn to trust in a world that contains evil when we come crying with a skinned knee and are held, hurting, in arms; and the voice that is forever assuring us, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’”

Boys learn how to use their masculinity—in both positive and negative ways—by watching their fathers. Keen says, “A boy naturally learns how to be a man by observing how his father treats women, how he deals with illness, failure, and success, whether he shares in the household chores, whether he cuddles and plays.”

Keen mentions how his priorities as a father have gradually changed. “First time round as a father I had truckloads of rules, oughts, ideals, and explanations—all of which kept me at arm’s length from my children . . . . Lately I have come to believe that the best thing I can give my children is an honest account of what I feel, think, and experience, to invite them into my inner world.

We frequently hear the term “the absent father.” This doesn’t necessarily refer to the actual physical absence of a father. It can also refer to emotional absence. Children need to feel that there’s a special place in their dad’s heart reserved just for them. They need to see a certain delight in his eyes when they talk to him about their day or when they share their dreams and achievements with him. They hunger for his full attention—chunks of time in which he’s not distracted by schedules or electronic devices.

They need to see their father as powerful, but not “powerful” as in domination or through tough displays of fierceness or force. A father of young children once told me that good fathers are good leaders and that being a good leader requires a delicate balancing act. He said, “I must maintain an air of authority, but I have to be the right type of authority. I’m learning that the best leaders lead without squashing the spirit.

So, good fathering is about a warm and receptive heart. It’s about being involved and interested. It’s attentive to needs and distresses. It nourishes self-worth. It protects, guides and maintains order. It’s about cherishing and listening. It models strength, self-restraint and kindness. It comforts when there are tears. It accepts when there are mistakes and failures.

Being watched over is an amazing experience! The world needs more “silverback” fathers, wouldn’t you say?

© 2015 Salee Reese

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Missing Sasha

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just a dog2

Sadly, Carrie’s four legged friend passed away.

When she told me about it a day later, she struggled hard to fight back the tears. She was surprised to be so affected. After all, it was just a dog, right? Wrong. Psychological experts are increasingly acknowledging the importance of pets in our lives. Indeed, they provide companionship, loyalty and even love—all qualities of a true friend.

To move through the grief, I suggested that she write a letter to her furry pal. She did, and I was so moved by what I read, I urged her to let me publish it. I explained how it could help many, many people who have suffered the same loss. What’s more, that single letter described so perfectly the special bond between humans and pets.

She agreed to having it published. Here it is:

Dear Sasha,

I miss you!!! I am writing this letter to let you know how much you have meant to me. You have only been gone for a little over 24 hours and I miss you everywhere. I miss you at your dog bowl and at your bed in the closet. I miss you at the top of the stairs barking because you were no longer capable of making the long journey down. I miss you licking your paws endlessly and begging for the crust from our pizza on Sunday nights.

But most of all I miss you by my side. You have always been there when I was sick. You never left my side for days when I was down and out.

You were such an inspiration to me. Loyal till the end!

You were the smartest dog I’ve ever known.

You made us laugh so many times. Thank you for that. You will be missed by all.

I miss you so much.

Your jealousy of Amy [Carrie’s daughter] has always made us giggle. Seven pounds of dog trying to wedge in between us lying on the bed.

As I write this letter to you, I am realizing how much you made us all smile. In today’s world, you don’t always get a lot of that. Did I mention I miss you?!!?

Thank you for being my best friend. Sometimes I feel bad for saying that because most people consider their best friend to be a girlfriend, mother or spouse. (Humans!!!) My criteria for best friend is: faithfulness, understanding, loving, being accepting, never judging, taking care of my needs, listening to my problems. Yes, you meet all the qualifications of a best friend. I hope I was the same for you, because you gave me such great joy.

As I sit here and write to you, I feel as though I’m 10 years old. Not only were you my friend, but you were everything to me that my parents weren’t.

With you, I never felt alone—never felt judged. You were always on my side, always protecting me, and always standing up for me.

Did I mention I love you??? It’s lonely here without you. Some day there may be another dog in our home but he or she will never, ever replace you. I love you with all my heart.

Until we meet again!  I wish you Godspeed.

Love you forever.   ~ Mom

If reading this brought a tear to your eye like it did mine, good for you. 🙂

I welcome your thoughts!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2007 Salee Reese

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Heart Connections Live On

colorful heart

“You don’t grieve to distance yourself from a loved one, you grieve so they become a part of your heart.”

I just love that thought! It was one of the many insights my friend, Pat, shared with me several months before her body lost its battle with cancer. Throughout my life, I’ve had to say goodbye to numerous loved ones, and as you all know, it’s never easy. Grief is a pain like none other, and it doesn’t just go away by wishing it gone. It lingers until it’s darn well ready to leave.

Grief is inevitable and often necessary for the healing process, but prolonged torment is preventable.

Grief, I’ve found, is worsened and perhaps prolonged when we believe our connection to our loved one has been cut. The result is an intolerable sense of separation. That was my experience when someone I dearly loved died. I suffered for a long time until I realized that being miserable was the separating factor—not his death. That experience, along with a strong desire to relieve suffering in others, led me to write a book, When the Cage Dies, the Bird Lives. In it I write:

The death of your loved one

is a tragedy as long as you

experience it as

severing.

The heart grieves

when the mind tells it

that a cord has been cut.

But the mind is wrong!

The heart’s yearnings are right!

cords between people

~heart cords~

can’t sever

Ever.

My thoughts turn to Kay, a client whose seventeen-year-old son, Jerod, died in a tragic car accident. “He was my life!” she wailed repeatedly. I have to say, it was heartbreaking to hear such raw pain.

Kay was a single mom and Jerod her only child. For years, a major portion of her life had centered around his schooling, including various activities and sporting events. She was on a first-name basis with all of his friends and their parents. She knew each of his teachers and his coaches.

“A year ago, before the accident, I was into everything . . . I was an extrovert,” she said. “But now I don’t want to be around anybody. I just go through the motions. I’m not really present in my life anymore.”

She wanted to share memories about Jerod. She needed to. As she talked, she would sometimes cry. At other times, she would break out in laughter. I cried and laughed right along with her.

Later on, I brought up the subject of moving on. “What new doors have invited you in?” I asked. “If you view your life as a storybook, what does the next page have to offer? What would you like it to offer?”

She shook her head vehemently while blurting out: “I don’t want to let go of Jerod!”

Kay’s logic told her that moving on was equivalent to letting go—severing a connection with Jerod. And for that reason, she had chosen to remain stationary in an attempt to freeze time.

To offer some degree of peace, I drew upon Kay’s own belief system. I asked her if she believed Jerod was more than his body, or whether he ceased to exist when his body perished. She was adamant that his spirit lives on.

If that’s the case, I explained, Jerod wouldn’t be shackled to the past. Under such circumstances, we’re forced to ask ourselves: Is reality a stagnant pond or a flowing river? Staying stuck in one spot—holding on to the past—isn’t an answer. It can’t provide relief. “That’s because Jerod is no longer in the past,” I said. The past is gone; the present moment is all there is.

“In your view, Kay,” I asked, “what is the meaning of life?”

“God gave us unique gifts and a purpose,” she responded. “We’re here to use those gifts and to fulfill our purpose. We are to touch people’s lives. Jerod touched people’s lives.”

Kay proceeded to describe Jerod as a kind-hearted person who radiated a warm glow wherever he went.

“Okay,” I asked, “how can Jerod continue to touch people’s lives through you? And how has Jerod’s touch—his coming into your life—fertilized your being and purpose? How can he enrich it yet?”

And in so many words, I added this:

Suppose death doesn’t mark an ending but the beginning of a whole new phase with souls—invisibly linked—engaged in some common purpose? Is it possible that the grandeur of your bond with Jerod has morphed into new and heightened meaning?

Tears slowly trickled down Kay’s face. The tears were different this time.

Healing won’t be an easy path for her. The death of a child is considered to be the greatest loss a person can endure. One client with a similar loss put it this way: “Sometimes the pain is so deep and so dark, you’re just drowning in it.”

I know that to be the case personally. I witnessed such pain in my parents when my older sister, Susan, suddenly died at the age of twenty-one.

Profound loss results in profound grief. The pain may never completely go away, but in time its sharp edge tends to dissipate, along with the accompanying shock and paralysis.

The people who recover their inner radiance are those who carry the confidence that love survives death. Although they can no longer see or touch their loved ones, they maintain a heart connection, not letting death be a barrier to their bond.

As for Kay, she’s finding relief through the growing realization that moving on is the act of letting someone in instead of letting someone go.

Names are changed to honor confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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