Monthly Archives: March 2013

Keep Your Mouth Shut! Really?

 Numerous times in our lifetime—no, in a single day—we’re faced with a dilemma: Do I open my mouth or keep it zipped? Do I take the risk or play it safe?

It’s not easy being verbally courageous. I fail at it more times than I succeed. But when I do succeed, it leaves me feeling a bit giddy. I think it’s because the freedom to express one’s thoughts has an elevating effect.

I’m reminded of this quote by George Orwell:

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

It’s taken me a long time to realize that it’s not a bad thing to tell people what they don’t want to hear. It may even be a good thing—not only for ourselves but also for the other person.

For example, when we put up with ill treatment by remaining quiet, we silently side with the least noble aspect of that person. We don’t help them grow. In fact, we rob them of the opportunity to do some healthy soul-searching.

In his book, Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes: “When you adapt to the world, you don’t better it.”

As for the personal price for remaining tight-lipped, I recall counseling Nicole, who had a co-worker who repeatedly demeaned her in front of others. “I’d rather have a root canal than be around that woman!” Nicole exclaimed. “I swear, she must sit up nights sharpening her nastiness skills!”

When I asked Nicole how she typically responds to this treatment, she said she keeps it to herself. “I don’t want to cause any problems.”

“How about those problems you carry around inside?” I asked. “Don’t they count?” I was referring to the array of dark distresses that ferment deep within, robbing her of contentment—call it indigestion of the soul.

Bottom line: Asserting ourselves when honesty needs to happen benefits all parties.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Getting Naked

We all carry around our share of shame-debris.

That is, unless we grew up in a perfect environment with perfect parents, perfect siblings, perfect everybody, or—let’s face it—planted on a perfect planet.

Recently, I discovered a video where Brené Brown makes us feel pretty normal about our shame. She also makes us feel normal about our fear of appearing vulnerable to others.

In our culture, we tend to idolize the John Wayne-cool-tough-and-numb look—mischaracterizing it as strength. But Brené elevates vulnerability to a strength: “Vulnerability is not weakness,” in fact, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

If you watch the video, you’ll soon see, as I have, that Brené has the courage to get naked. She’s my new role model.

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The Latest Wow: The Power of Love

Remember Beth? I mentioned her in an earlier post.  She and Sam got a divorce several months ago but then decided to give it another go. In that post I asked her, “What made you change your mind?” She said, “I’ve discovered that anger fades a lot faster than love.”

They’re living together now to discover whether the love that joined them initially is stronger than the issues that separated them.

In our last session, Beth talked about a recent ah-ha moment:

“It used to irritate me when Sam would leave lights on. Now, it makes me smile. I just see it as a quirk. Besides, I can find him anywhere in the house. All I have to do is follow the lights.”

Hmmm. Same issue, just a different way of seeing it. Nothing is changed, but everything is changed. Now that love is a dominant force in their relationship, the colors in their world are brighter.

Happy for them!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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She Turned Me Into a Puppet … But Puppets Can’t Love

man puppet

“She turned me into a puppet, and then wondered why I no longer loved her. The answer is simple—a puppet doesn’t have a heart.”

“As men, we share a single purpose: to find that one special female who will kill us just slowly enough that by the time we reach 80, we’re already dead.”

To read more about Gordon’s struggle and eventual liberation, click here.

Gordon’s story isn’t that unusual. For example, Trey—a recent client—uttered these words to his girlfriend in his therapy session:  “I don’t want to be nit-picked to death.” He went on to say that he was rethinking whether he wanted to stay in the relationship. “I’m tired of being beaten down all the time,” he explained. 

“I don’t see how I make you feel that way,” she replied.

I loved his straight-to-the-point response:  “You do it by expecting the worst out of me all the time.” 

In that relationship, Trey felt he could never do anything right. He fell into the trap of making futile, exhaustive attempts at attaining her approval before finally realizing: “It’s not me, it’s her. She wants to see me as flawed.”

Like Gordon, Trey tried to make the relationship work by altering himself—by keeping his girlfriend appeased. It turned him into a puppet—an empty shell.

After that session, Trey broke up with his girlfriend. He came to understand that no woman—no matter how special—is worth the loss of his essential being.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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The Latest Wow: Military Officer Endorses Tears

Tear

I want to share with you a touching email I received from a Naval Officer stationed in Viriginia Beach.  He wrote to me after reading Tears Are As Natural As Breathing”—the column I refer to in the previous post, “Dare to Cry.” Here it is:

“Salee, I just wanted you to know that shortly after reading your column, I stood in front of a class of junior officers and instructed them to pay close attention because I had something very important to tell them. I then proceeded to tell them that it’s okay to cry. You could hear a pin drop.”

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Dare to Cry

“Tears are a sign of a soul feeling awake.”

— Michael Meade

I love that quote because it slams the notion that something is wrong with shedding tears. In truth, something is probably wrong if we don’t.

Like so many of us, I learned at an early age that tears aren’t acceptable, and that they stand for weakness. Better to put up a good front.

I finally grew up . . . from that sort of thinking. What I came to realize is spelled out in my column, Tears are as Natural as Breathing. There I write about two clients, “Jill” and “Ken,” who were conditioned as I was to fight their tears. Here’s an excerpt:

And far from indicating weakness, tears can be a sign of maturity and strength.  Think about it:  It takes toughness and courage to feel deeply, to hurt deeply, to grieve deeply. Only the courageous among us dare to do that. Tears are for the very gutsy, not the fainthearted.

Tell me your thoughts . . . .

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Black or White?

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By this time of year, winter has clearly worn out its welcome—we’re tired of it. If we’re not mindful, the dreariness and cold can transport our mood to the basement. As for the snow, it’s pretty but it does create its share of challenges.

The other day, a colleague and I were watching it come down in the parking lot.  “Here’s some food for thought,” he said. “It could be worse, snow could be black instead of white.”

Black snow. Hmmm … Such stuff would certainly darken things up a bit … or a lot, depending on the quantity.

I’m drawn to ask the question: Are life’s challenges white snow or black snow? Is the universe out to get us or is it out to grow us? Is there a purpose or a positive element lurking behind misfortune?

Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist, dealt with that very question while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for three years. During that time, he experienced and witnessed unimaginable horror and suffering including the loss of several beloved family members.

When his camp was liberated, Frankl walked away having learned a profound lesson. We read from his best selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances …”

It’s all in how we look at things. A terrible circumstance can defeat us or it can catapult us to a new way of seeing or being. Snow is white or black—it’s our choice.

Let me know your thoughts.

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