Tag Archives: guilt

Stay Out of the Mud!

pig_31

 

Setting boundaries includes placing limits on what we’re willing to do for others.

Sometimes, we make the same mistake a bazillion times before finally waking up.  It’s exasperating! One of  my clients knows this experience all too well. His mistake was believing he had to rescue other people—mainly women. If they weren’t happy, he felt guilty and responsible. It left his spirit heavy almost all the time.

At some point, he realized that sacrificing himself senselessly was self-destructive so he chose to rescue himself, instead.  I knew he had reached that step when he wowed me with something he had learned while growing up on the farm:

“You can’t get a pig out of the mud if it doesn’t want out. More often than not, you end up in the mud yourself–you get muddy. Pigs like to soak in the mud. Why try to get that other person out of the mud when they want to be there?”

(c) Salee Reese 2016

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The Wiser, True You

A photo of an owl

 

“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not your mind—the thinker. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated.”

— Eckart Tolle, The Power of Now

I was walking—no, sleepwalking—in the mall one day when I became aware that I was doing a whole lot of judging. I judged people on how they looked, how they walked, how they treated their children . . . the list is infinite.

In the past, I would have been critical with myself for that sort of thing.  Ironically, self-criticism is an act of judgement, too. How is that okay?

I would have become guilt’s hostage for the duration of my walk.

Not anymore. I’ve come to understand that judging is a natural function of the brain.

In truth, it wasn’t me doing the judging, it was my brain. As long as we have a brain, we’ll be inclined to judge. Why? Our brains are wired to compare, evaluate and critique. So the tendency to judge is hardwired—innate. It’s an activity our brains do constantly and automatically. We compare yesterday’s weather with today’s, we decide if it’s a good idea to cross an intersection. We determine whether it’s safe to approach a stranger standing on the corner, or a  barking dog. Should I eat that purple-ish food or not?

The judging function of our brains is connected to our survival instinct. Without it, we would be handicapped in our ability to navigate the world we live in.

So with all that said, the goal isn’t to stop judging. We can’t. Believing we can, merely sets us up for lots of self-punishment. The realistic goal is to commandeer it. Take over. It’s akin to tending to a small child. We monitor where she is going and what she is doing. When she’s headed in the wrong direction we say “There, there now. We’re not going that way.” She doesn’t need to be punished, only redirected.

In other words, we need to disidentify with the brain. Our true self is the one observing the mental voice.

With that in mind, let’s rewind, shall we . . . ?

I was walking in the mall one day when I noticed that my brain was doing a whole lot of judging. It commented on how people looked, how they walked and how they behaved. I chalked it up to a brain operating in default-mode.  This objective observation allowed me to redirect that brain: a higher level of consciousness was activated and those judgments — toward others and myself— were immediately replaced with acceptance and compassion. Nice, huh?

This post was actually inspired by someone who wrote about her own discoveries about judging.  You can find her here. And by the way, you’ll find that she has a very attractive spirit. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

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You Have a Choice: Walnuts or Apples

apples and walnuts

 

Once upon a time, a walnut tree decided to start producing apples instead of walnuts. He was shunned by some and admired by others for his raw courage.

He had defied his programming.

No question, if this had actually happened, the news of this free-thinking walnut tree would have received world-wide attention in a matter of seconds.

In truth, we all know that it’s impossible for walnut trees to grow apples. They’re genetically programmed to produce only one thing … walnuts. And just like walnut trees, we humans are genetically programmed. Take our physical appearance. It’s directly influenced by genes passed down from our ancestors.

But unlike walnut trees, we also undergo parental programming that shapes our behavior, our thoughts and attitudes. That we can change! And if we choose to do so, we will be shunned by some and admired by others. 🙂

For example, Cheryl has been programmed to put her mother’s needs before her own. If her mother requests something or manipulates Cheryl through guilt tactics, Cheryl drops everything and caters to her wish. Even if it’s hugely inconvenient. Even if her own family suffers.

I’m happy to say that’s all changing. Lately, when Cheryl has the impulse to drop everything and do her mother’s bidding, she stops and asks herself: What do I think is the best use of my time right now? How do I best take care of me and my family?

In other words, what do I choose to do?

Then there’s James. He gave countless examples of his father yelling at him when he was a boy and telling him how worthless he was.

“In his eyes, I sucked at everything . . . I couldn’t do anything right.”

For 40 years, James bought into that piece of damage. He even picked up where his father left off. As an adult he would mutilate his own self-esteem with the same messages he got from his dad.

Not long ago, he chose to see himself in a new light.

Katie was programmed to tough it out. Instead of comforting her when she got hurt—either physically or emotionally—her parents would sternly say: “You’re alright.”

Her programming failed to prepare her for understanding and working through her emotions. So she was at a loss—to the point of panic—when her dog died, when her car broke down on a busy highway, when her boyfriend cheated on her, and when she became the target of cyberbullying.

By the time I met her, she was inches away from suicide.

Today, she’s choosing to embrace her feelings. By doing so, she’s on the road to learning how to manage them.

Each of these individuals chose to defy their programming. They’re to be admired.

Walnuts or apples? To break the spell of programming, make it apples. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Cultivate Self-Compassion

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”                                                                                                          ~Buddha

I found a little gem online I want to share with you all.  Kristy Arbon’s site heartworks.training is a breath of fresh air.  Take a look around sometime and see if you agree.  Here’s a little taste to whet your appetite. 🙂  I particularly love the way this particular piece on self-compassion ties back to my earlier post, Meet Your Roommate.

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Don’t Grin and Bear It!

smile outside

 

Out for a walk one day, I was struck by how natural it is for animals to protect themselves from harm. Their survival instinct doesn’t seem cluttered with emotional logjams such as second-guessing, guilt, or denial. At the first sign of danger, without the slightest hesitation, a bird will take flight. Likewise, rabbits hop away to safety. I think birds and rabbits have something to teach us about boundaries.

Cassandra, a distressed client, comes to mind.  She once asked me, “Is it okay to skip being nice to people who mistreat you?”

“It’s more than okay, Cassandra!”

I pointed out that, just like birds and rabbits, we’re supposed to be invested in self-preservation.

Unfortunately, Cassandra’s boundaries crumble when the programming of her childhood overrides the instinct to protect herself.

Cassandra’s parents downplayed her brother’s bullying behavior and sarcastic remarks. Instead of protecting her, they excused him. The message conveyed was this: “Boys will be boys. And you—being a girl—should be nice.”

Because we’re drawn to what seems familiar and normal to us, we tend to surround ourselves with people who psychologically resemble those from our past. So, not surprisingly, Cassandra’s in a relationship with a man who treats her like her brother did. And instead of objecting to his hurtful behavior, she takes it. The result is a dampened spirit and constant knots in her stomach.

Her learned behavior is the same in all settings, including her workplace. Wearing a smile despite being treated unkindly, Cassandra allows them to cross her boundaries.

Cassandra yearns to free herself from such programming. That’s a good thing, because trying to make something palatable that isn’t—enduring the unendurable—is not only exhausting, it’s also an act of self-betrayal.

In the weeks ahead, Cassandra and I worked on boundary-building. It began with her learning to listen to the truth of her feelings instead of listening to the programming that told her how she “should” feel. I recommended a book I would love to hand out on street corners, The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel.

Birds and rabbits don’t question—even for a second—their right to self-preservation. And the predators of the world have learned just how difficult it is to lay a paw on them. Why should we—thinking creatures—be any easier prey?

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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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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Latest Wow: Anger’s a Mask We Wear

angry woman

“I don’t mind being the bitch … it gives me boundaries. It protects me from how vulnerable, wrong, and empty I feel inside.”

This was the first session Kate’s focus went inward. Before that, her focus had been on her outer enemies. Kate’s wow—one of many—had me jumping out of my seat that day! It was exciting to be part of her breakthrough.

A protective shield began forming when she was a small child. She didn’t feel cherished the way children should feel. Instead, she felt afraid—afraid of being attacked verbally by her father and shamed by her mother.

“Making the other person bad is my defense mechanism against feeling guilty,” she said.

Mostly, she was afraid of not being loved, afraid of not being even worthy of love.

“You wanna know what’s at the bottom of my anger?” she asked.

“What?” I inquired.

“I’m craving bonding … real connection.”

When Kate’s heart was hurting, she wasn’t comforted. When she yearned to be heard, no one listened.

“At some point I quit trying. I had determined that no one would listen and nothing would ever change.”

It’s a lot easier to be angry than to feel the sadness that accompanies hopelessness. In a strange sort of way, anger soothes the wounded heart.

Not surprisingly, Kate’s current relationships—including her marriage—are continually impacted by her powerful early family environment. For example: “Just like my parents, I go straight to being pissed. I don’t talk things over. Things were never talked over when I was a child.”

Kate reminded me of another client I was seeing, Lindsay, who shared Kate’s inflammatory, angry outbursts.  Her motivation was different, but the root cause was identical.

Find her story by clicking here.

Both Kate and Lindsay grew up in homes where they were not heard and felt disconnected from their families, particularly their parents. They coped by adopting anger as a mask—a protective shield.

Ironically, the very thing they have used for protection is the very thing that interferes with their getting what they so desperately crave. In short, anger works against them. It doesn’t cultivate closeness and understanding. In fact, it does the opposite. Kate’s husband can attest to that: “It’s hard for me to be soft with her if she’s angry.”

I applaud Kate for acknowledging her destructive patterns of relating, and for wanting to change. She’s also willing to remove the mask and face her buried pain. And she’s willing to test being vulnerable. All that takes courage!

I’ll walk that path with her. I’ll also be helping her establish healthier boundaries and a more effective substitute for anger . . ., er, bitchiness. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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Husband and Doormat

I-am-not-a-doormat - touched up

The problem with walking on eggshells is that it imprisons you, and nothing gets better.

That was my response to Naomi in our counseling session. She habitually succumbs to her hot-tempered husband.

“I’m careful about everything I say because, well, he gets ugly if I tell him what he doesn’t want to hear,” she said.

He routinely undermines her self-worth with hurtful, sarcastic remarks. But instead of objecting, Naomi immediately self-censors how she feels.

There’s a price to muzzling ourselves: a restricted voice—unspoken words held captive in the throat—is a form of confinement. If we can’t talk freely, we aren’t free.

Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist, would agree. In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he equates freedom with the ability to articulate grievances. Our founding fathers understood that basic truth when they wrote the constitution.

“When did you become a slave to his moods?” I asked. “And why is degrading treatment okay with you?”

Naomi lowered her head …. and after some tears and lots of sighs, she opened up about the many years of putting up with his abusiveness.

A pattern, though, took root way before Naomi met her husband—when she was a small child. Her one sibling—a sister—kept the household in constant turmoil with her explosive outbursts. Naomi was frequently the target of her sister’s rage and hostility.

“My parents catered to my sister in order to keep things peaceful,” she said.

And they coached Naomi to do the same. When her sister was offensive toward Naomi, instead of being supportive by prompting her to stand up for herself, they hushed her.

“They would tell me to not make waves,” she said.

In fact, Naomi was reprimanded if she fought back or defended herself. Anger wasn’t allowed, even when it was unquestionably justified.

“I was supposed to be understanding,” she said.

Clearly, Naomi and her sister weren’t held to the same standards of conduct and selflessness.

This sent a distinct message to Naomi: the difficult people—those hard to live with—are to be excused.

In this seedbed of her early formation, Naomi naturally concluded that her feelings should always take a back seat, and that she’s expected to quietly endure harsh treatment.

This early programming set the stage for the dynamics in her current relationship. In effect, Naomi married her sister. And now her parents reside inside her head, instructing her to “not make waves” and to tolerate her raging and demeaning husband while ignoring her emotional wounds. A clear-eyed, critical stance toward her husband’s behavior leaves Naomi feeling guilty, causing her to second-guess whether her feelings and observations are accurate, acceptable or even normal. My work with Naomi has included helping her question her programming instead of herself.

“What did your parents need to do differently?” I asked.

“I should have been allowed to assert myself with my sister,” she responded. “They should have let me fight her, stand my ground and say how angry she made me feel. Instead, everything was suppressed. I was never able to speak up to verbal abuse.”

Since her feelings weren’t validated as a child, Naomi has to learn how to do that for herself as an adult. Trusting her emotions is an important hurdle. She is learning just how important it is to be able to honestly assess how others treat her, and how to do it without feeling guilty. Sometimes, subjecting another person to critical analysis is absolutely called for—and necessary for both parties.

I asked her, “Now, what does your husband need from you?”

She seemed surprised by the question. “He needs . . . he really needs me to be myself. He needs me to be honest with him, or he’ll treat me like this until the end of time and we’ll have no chance of really being together. We’ll be ‘husband and doormat’ until we’re old and gray . . . .”

A few sessions later, Naomi told me how she had successfully stood up to her husband after he made a rude comment. She told him she didn’t deserve being talked to that way. And as one could easily predict, he flared up. She, on the other hand, felt bad about upsetting him.

In so many words I said this to Naomi:

He’s upset because you’ve given up your doormat status. Remember, he married a doormat. He didn’t opt for a partner who stood up for herself. So understandably, he’s not in a jubilant mood upon running headlong into your integrity. He’s going to fight back at first, hoping to return things to how they were. Consider his fury a clear sign that you’re evolving.

She smiled, and I could see the relief on her face. Clearly, a new day is coming for Naomi! 🙂

Hopefully, Naomi’s husband follows suit and does some evolving himself. If not, she probably won’t stick around. That’s because once we perceive things through clear eyes, and once we become our own advocate, it’s impossible to go back to tolerating the status quo.

Something to keep in mind:

Don’t automatically assume when someone’s angry at you that you’ve done something wrong. Maybe, just maybe, you did something right.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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Leaving Your Cage

flying+bird+out+of+its+cage+the+best+for+the+post

A cage is anything that confines, reduces, inhibits or limits us. This includes our distorted ideas about ourselves.

In  Meet Your True Self,  my previous post, Brad woke up to the fact that his inner roommate, also known as an inner critic, was a liar. In that mere flash of an instant, Brad freed himself from a cage.

Brad didn’t stop with that single insight. In fact, on that day, he was on a roll and I wasn’t about to stop him. I just sat back with a big grin on my face.

He said he realizes that his inner roommate is a product of his conditioning and that it operates automatically “just like breathing . . . most of the time we’re not even aware of it.”

Nor are we aware of the constant stream of dialogue swirling around in our head. “My brain just keeps playing the same tape over and over,” Brad said. “What I have to do now is reprogram myself.”

Brad also had a good idea about how to do that: “Since we get programmed through repetition, we can also get re-programmed through repetition.”

In other words, instead of telling himself over and over again how worthless he is, his plan is to start telling himself the truth about himself . . . over and over again. In effect, he’ll be arguing with his inner roommate . . . and winning.

Unfortunately, inner roommates don’t simply go “poof” and disappear when we get wise to them. Conditioning, by definition, sticks. Brad calls it a “default setting”—something our brain automatically goes back to. Inner roommates may fade through disuse and neglect, but in all likelihood they will reactivate when life throws us some curve balls or when we hit a low point. So patience is called for.

I told Brad to expect setbacks, but to view them as temporary. Serious backsliding is impossible at this point because he’s too aware to stay lost. He has taken a huge step with his epiphany about his inner roommate being a liar. That’s a game changer. It’s like trying to unripple the pond—it can’t happen. Like returning to a cage after getting a taste of freedom—it won’t happen.

Clear-eyed reflection—seeing something for what it is—makes it impossible to return to our delusions on a permanent basis.

I’d like your comments. Do you agree with that last statement? And what are your insights on reprogramming and cages? Thanks!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Meet Your True Self

bird reflection

 

 

When you’re harassed by guilt and self-judgment, you’re vacating your true self . . . and you’re vacating truth. Period.

In my last post, Escape your Jungle, I defined the true self and how it can easily become overshadowed by a bogus self-concept—based on erroneous beliefs about ourselves.

Donna was my example. Her negative conclusions about herself created a strangling thicket which played a significant role in her depression and life dissatisfaction.  Her pathway back to her true self entailed disbelieving those conclusions.

Like Donna, Brad needed to get reacquainted with his true self and identify the lies about himself that he was hanging on to.  I’ve mentioned him before on this blog.

Long ago, when Brad was a child, an inner critic started to sprout. It criticized and shamed him the way his father would. And it picked on him exactly the way his siblings did. In time, Brad grew up and left home but his inner critic went with him. That’s too bad. It meant he would continue to experience internal assaults and guilt on a constant basis.

Another term for “inner critic” is “inner roommate.” I happened upon that term while reading Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Learn more about the inner roommate here.

This nasty brute hangs out in our head, taunting, judging, scolding, bossing, and finding fault with everything we wear, think, eat and do. (And the list doesn’t end there.) 😉

Those internalized messages obscure our true self. I remember Brad once telling me, “My true self is foreign to me, so I don’t feel it’s attainable.” Like so many of us, he had fallen into the habit of giving his inner roommate more reality than his true self.

“How do I figure out what my true self is?” he asked.

“We don’t figure out who we are,” I said, “we experience it.”

I had Brad close his eyes and imagine a time when he felt free from guilt. With barely a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Being out in nature.” His voice cracked with emotion as he talked about finding refuge in a woods near his house. He played near a creek, climbed on logs and built a few forts over time. Nothing disturbed his peace. His siblings weren’t there to pick on him and his father wasn’t there to shame or judge him. He felt peaceful and self-confident. He didn’t need his father’s acceptance out there—he was experiencing self-acceptance.

I urged Brad to tuck that memory away and pull it out whenever he feels a guilt-attack coming on. It’ll key him into the truth about himself.

Another client recounts similar feelings while playing a piano . . . when she gets to a space where the music is “effortlessly flowing through my fingers, and the whole world shrinks to nothing—there is only that moment.”

As for me, my earliest true-self memory goes back to the age of five. It was one of those sunny, deep-blue-sky days, and I was outside on my bicycle. Not a soul was in sight . . . just me, the birds and the serene day.

The inner roommate is relentless and doesn’t go away without an entire arsenal being deployed against it. The inner roommate doesn’t use logic. It can’t use logic, but we can and must. We shouldn’t blindly buy into what our inner roommate says about us. How did it get a monopoly on truth anyway? Questioning the validity of the roommate’s accusations involves logic.

In our sessions, whenever Brad said something negative about himself, I questioned it. I demanded evidence to support the allegations. I got ruthless at times! 🙂 Finally, after enough exposure to this, he began questioning his negative self-talk on his own. That was the idea.

I get excited—call it a eureka moment—whenever clients see their inner roommate for what it is and cease to pay homage to it. Such a moment presented itself not long ago when Brad leaned forward in his chair and uttered these words:

“You know what? My roommate’s a liar!”

We high-fived that one! That moment of clarity, by the way, came straight from his true self.

What are some of your true-self experiences? I’d love to hear them!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

 

 

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