Tag Archives: happiness

Architects of our Destiny

2015Small

Typically, when it comes to New Year’s resolutions we think along the lines of changing our physical appearance by going on a diet or getting involved in an exercise program. We may focus on breaking a bad habit or resolve to accomplish a project we’ve been putting off. The commitment to make any of these changes is commendable, but there’s something else to consider in terms of change. William James, a philosopher and pioneer in psychology, wrote:

“Man alone is the architect of his destiny. The greatest revolution in our generation is that human beings by changing the inner attitude of their mind can change outer aspects of their lives.”

Unfortunately, the endless array of problems parading through our lives can leave us feeling jerked around by life itself. Here’s the problem with that attitude, though: if we see ourselves as mere victims of life’s circumstances, we sentence ourselves to an unhappy and powerless existence. Change is impossible under such conditions because our will is disabled. Maria, 48, was one such person. Her husband of 27 years left her for another woman. She didn’t see it coming, and to say she was shaken is putting it mildly. In our counseling session she expressed her despair. “It’s been a year since he left me,” she said, “and I’m still not over it.”

Regrettably, a full year of marinating in negativity had taken a toll—Maria had grown bitter. Over the months, she had retreated into a shell of distrust and resentment.  “I was doing everything right,” she said, “and look what happened to me.”

William James would say that Maria’s inner attitude was her new enemy . . . responsible for fashioning the outer aspects of her life. No question, her all-engulfing sense of betrayal—by her husband and by life itself—paralyzed her from moving on and blocked her from being open to change and receptive to new love. In fact, her attitude was discouraging it.

Maria and I spent the next few sessions exploring the ways she was sabotaging change and how she could turn that around.

By the time she had finished her therapy, she had renewed hope and confidence about her ability to shape a new life for herself.

Yep, we truly are the architects of our destiny.

 

How have you been successful at changing your life by changing your attitude? I’d like to know. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

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Furry Love

choc lab

I must share a story about Nora and her best friend, Monty. Monty, you see, is a dog, a chocolate lab who has lived a full life. He’s twelve, which I hear is equivalent to age 89 in people years.

For several months, Monty’s health has been on the decline. And because he requires a great deal of care, Nora is drained emotionally, physically and financially—costing her money she doesn’t have.

Her vet has suggested that it’s time to consider putting him down. Others have given her the same advice—including me. But despite the burden and despite the suggestions, Nora  has adamantly refused. Her stance has been a mystery to me, so at one point I simply asked her, “Why?”

“He’s never been so happy,” she said. “He’s full of life and doing everything he did when he was a puppy . . . only slower. When I take him for a walk, he smiles and wags his tail at everybody! When we cross a street, he drags me over to a stopped car and stares at the driver as if he’s expecting that person to roll down the window and give him some attention. It’s hilarious! I can tell he’s a day-brightener for a lot of people.”

“And what’s he doing for you, Nora?” I asked.

“I love being greeted with that happy spirit,” she said. “He expects nothing from me. He accepts me the way I am, and I’ve had very little of that throughout my life.”

Ahhh, now it was all beginning to make sense. Monty is providing something for Nora that’s priceless—something that only the heart understands, something the practical mind misses. It’s called love, connection, acceptance and joy.

Let’s face it, as life happens, such gifts make it all worthwhile no matter how burdensome our load.

My heart was touched that day, and my capacity to see grew a notch. I thank Nora for that . . . and I thank Monty, too—a real day-brightener.

 

Let me know your insights. I like reading them! 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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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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Escape Your Jungle

dark jungle

Self-compassion . . . how do we get there?  In my most recent post, I suggested that the key to this nirvana is disbelieving our conditioned self-concept, which is comprised of innumerable verbal and nonverbal messages we’ve absorbed over our lifetime.

Years ago, I worked with Donna, a woman with depression. She saw herself as inferior, unlovable and insignificant. That self-concept took root early. She was what some people refer to as an oops baby . . . the result of an unplanned pregnancy. Many unplanned babies are received with joyous grins and open arms, but that didn’t describe Donna’s experience. Her parents were getting older and not up to the task of raising yet another child—they had long since transitioned out of that phase of their life. As for her siblings, the one closest to her in age was nine years older. So the sad truth is that her parents, along with her siblings, were only minimally involved in her life.

I’ve written about Donna’s story in the past, so if you’ve been following my blog for a while, it my have the ring of familiarity. I find it valuable because it so effectively reveals the shaping of a self-concept—our thoughts and ideas about who are. Click here to reacquaint yourself with her story.

A bonsai tree is deliberately shaped to suit the preferences of the gardener. Donna’s shaping wasn’t deliberate but rather was the result of erroneous conclusions she made about herself due to childhood experiences. Those conclusions created a strangling thicket, which played a significant role in her depression and dissatisfaction with her life’s course.

Donna’s ultimate pathway out of her jungle—into the fresh air of clarity—was to disbelieve those conclusions and return back to her “original and natural form.” Call it the true self.

Our true self is the core of our being—our uncorrupted reality. It emerges when we’re out in nature, when we’re creative, when we laugh and run, when we sing without restraint or inner judgment, when we pause and look up at the stars, when we think our own thoughts, choose our own color, play our own music. In other words, it’s the free spirit expressing itself. Our true self.

To expand on that, I’ll borrow a quote from Chopra: You’re in touch with your true self  “when you feel secure, accepted, peaceful and certain.”

It is only from the space of our true self that we are able to cease believing in the self we aren’t. We realize we’ve been identifying with a programmed self—a false self that is nothing more than sheer fantasy. Compared to the true self, it’s just an empty shell—a delusion or dream we only imagine as real.

At an early stage in our life, our true self got lost during the shaping process. One could say we fell asleep while being redefined by fellow dreamers. That is to say, we were innocently brainwashed. No one deliberately programmed us to think of ourselves as lazy, selfish, stupid or any other unflattering label. We just surmised that those unflattering things must be true. Why? Because when we were young—while ripe for conditioning—we automatically assumed that older people knew the truth and stated the truth. We trusted them as authorities on everything including ourselves. We believed that their perceptions and opinions were accurate.

The good news is we’re not at the mercy of our programming. We can break free. As children, we are easily susceptible to being shaped by our parents and other authority figures. But as adults, we have the advantage of mental sharpness. We can override our programming by out-thinking it. With maturity, we’re capable of distinguishing between fact and fiction. It’s a capability that paves the way to living life on our own terms rather than living the one prescribed to us.

A vital step to disbelieving our programming is to recognize the difference between our programmed self and our true self.

If you haven’t given that truth much thought, then that’s the place to begin.  Ask yourself: “What ingrained beliefs about myself continue to float around in my brain? What should I discard? What do I need to disbelieve?”

Let’s face it, before we can throw something away, we must first know what it is we’re throwing away. Like Donna, we need to identify the lies that block our self-compassion.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Love Who You Are

 

 compassion

As I contemplated jumping into this enormous project, I was grateful to get the following comment from a reader:

“Having compassion for ourselves and letting go of unrealistic expectations is a life long journey. A few simple steps to help us move forward would be helpful.”

—Judith

That sounded to me like a mighty fine place to start . . . a few simple steps.

I’m certain the first step involves coming to understand what is blocking our self-compassion and self-acceptance. As far as I know, we weren’t born with self-contempt or an active inner critic. Does it enter a baby’s mind that she might be crying too loudly or burdening her parents with yet another dirty diaper? Are babies born with a list of expectations in hand?  I don’t think so.

Guilt is learned—acquired later after we’ve been here for a while. If we don’t like ourselves, or if we’re accustomed to beating ourselves up mentally, it’s due to what we’ve been exposed to in the world—our conditioning. At some point, we bought into the idea that our flaws are unforgivable, that we’re unlikable or that we need to be hard on ourselves for failing to live up to certain standards and expectations.

We are shaped by the prevailing culture of the time, and the many with whom we share our life experiences. Our job is to disentangle ourselves from the limitations of all that.

The key to escaping this murky quagmire of self-degradation is by disbelieving how we’ve been conditioned to see and think about ourselves. But what, you may ask, does this look like in my daily life?  What is disbelieving and how do I do it?

We’ll tackle that the next time . . . stay tuned! As always, I welcome your feedback.

 

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Let’s Lighten Up . . . on Ourselves

feather

Perfection is elusive. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Perhaps . . . life is merely about building muscles. If that’s the case, we need to ease up on ourselves. Could it be that this classroom we call life is one gigantic planetary fitness center? I tend to think so. 🙂

We shouldn’t use past regrets—or past wrongdoings—as clubs for beating ourselves up . . . but we do.

Becky and Duane provide two examples that I’ll be including in my book on guilt and shame.  So, as promised, here’s a bit that’s going to show up somewhere. I’m not far enough along in the process to know where, exactly, but I’m trying not to beat myself up about that (ha—physician, heal thyself).

When it comes to life here on Planet Earth, imperfection is simply built in. The skater—no matter how well-trained—will fall. The car—no matter how fussed over—will get dinged. The plan—no matter how polished—will be altered. Count on it.

But knowing this fact about life doesn’t keep us from being hard on ourselves for the mistakes we make. Many people find it easy to forgive others but are hard pressed to forgive themselves. This shouldn’t be the case—forgiveness is forgiveness. Why be discriminating?

Fifty-year-old Becky is a perfect case in point.

“It’s killing me how I squandered money in the past,” she said in our counseling session.

Now her finances are pinched. Yes, she could be tempted to place the blame on the economy, but she doesn’t do that.

“I just didn’t plan well and I wasn’t disciplined,” she explained. “I spent freely and without thought.”

Her sense of shame ran deep—fermenting for a long time.

“How do I get beyond this awful sense of disgust toward myself?” she asked.

“Becky,” I said, “realize that the shame you’re feeling simply means you’re in a different place now. The person you are today wouldn’t have squandered money. Correct?”

She nodded.

“You’re ashamed of who you were,” I continued. “But you’re not that person anymore. A better choice would be to feel warmly toward that younger and less mature version of yourself—just as you would toward a child struggling to learn how to walk.”

I told her to imagine her life as a tapestry that she’s weaving. Each strand signifies a certain time period and aspect of her life.

“Realize that each strand has been necessary for contributing to the entire picture of who you are,” I said.

Like all of us, Becky cannot unravel what she’s already created. All she can do is step back and examine her tapestry, taking inventory of all the lessons she’s learned.

“But I’m so angry at myself,” she said.

“To be angry at your younger self is pointless,” I said. “And it will remain pointless until they invent a time machine so you can go back and yell at that self for the mistakes she made.”

Becky smiled—she caught the humor.

“I never looked at it that way,” she said. “Mistakes were never acceptable in my household growing up. We were expected to be perfect. Perfect grades. Perfect at sports. But once I was out on my own, I threw that all out for a while. I guess I really do wish I could go back in time and slap myself!”

“Perfection is never attainable,” I said. “You’re parents burdened you with an unattainable goal. No wonder you rebelled and went a little wild afterward. And now that same perfectionist upbringing is filling you with emotions of regret. You still have the voices of your parents inside your head.”  Her parents had become unfriendly “roommates,” taking up permanent residence in her head, judging, criticizing, and generally being nuisances.  Like all bad roommates, they needed to be evicted.

After our session, Becky was noticeably lighter. In subsequent sessions, we worked on her gaining control over her shame . . . er, unwelcome roommates.

Duane is another client who was riddled with guilt and shame when he came to see me. He had almost entered into an affair, and when his wife found out, she was devastated.

Duane loves his wife and family with all his heart—he never wanted to cause pain.

I saw them individually and as a couple for several sessions. In time, as he made amends, his wife’s wounds began to heal.

She has forgiven him, but Duane is still having trouble forgiving himself.

True, he can’t undo what he did—he can’t unripple the pond—but he can and has worked to rectify the damage.

The problem with shame is that its focus is too narrow and therefore distorted.

“Duane,” I said, “Your shame doesn’t acknowledge your heart and all the good you bring to your family.”

“Even though you are convinced that you’re undeserving of forgiveness,” I said, “the people who love you disagree with you. Shouldn’t you listen to them?”

He cried.

In life, self-forgiveness is underappreciated. The people we are today evolved out of each messy path, terrible decision and mistake we ever made. If we hadn’t made those mistakes, we wouldn’t be who we are now. And unless we learn to forgive those bad decisions we made—especially those we know we’ll never, ever make again—we’ll just continue to torture ourselves.

When I bumped into this quote, I had to chuckle:

“In order to profit from your mistakes, you have to go out and make some.”

—Jacob Braube

I like that. Not only are we given permission to mess up, we’re encouraged to do so. Sweet.

I would so welcome your feedback on this section: Does reading this make you want to read more? Did anything grab or pop out at you? Did reading this raise any questions in your mind that you would like to see addressed?  Thanks!

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Following a Dream

rainbow-jetty

In my blog and in my practice, I talk a lot about honoring our inner truth. My truth is this: I have a book inside of me that wants to come out. This won’t be my first book. (If you’re interested, you can find that here.) This second book will be about guilt and how to break free of its grip.

I’ve decided that now is the time to turn my creative energies in that direction. So, I may be posting less frequently, but when I do, the topic will most likely be related to guilt or what I playfully refer to as the guilt monster.

I have a personal history with the guilt monster. We go way back, starting with my childhood. Its impact was so significant, in fact, that it was a key factor in my decision to become a therapist. My life’s work has been to help people free themselves from that cage.

Guilt estranges us from ourselves.

Guilt causes us to wear masks and to go into hiding. Guilt blurs our vision, resulting in poor choices. It inhibits us. It destroys self-esteem. It cripples us from stating our truth. It stifles love for ourselves. It’s at the core of self-denial and self-condemnation.

Guilt drives so much dysfunction, and it creates so much misery . . . its effects are felt in all arenas of life. The longer I practice, the more people I talk to, the more I realize this book needs to be written!

I’ve already shared many of my views on guilt in some of my posts (Shed Those Unwanted Pounds . . . of Guilt, and Meet Your Roommate, to name just a few). The concepts I write about in those posts, and more, will be expanded upon in the book.

While on my journey, I want us to stay in touch. I will be posting pieces of the book here as I go along, and I would love to continue to hear from you. Wish me luck!

(Thanks, Tracie Louise, for letting me use another one of your wondrous photos!)

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You Create Your World

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So You Create

Your thoughts are setting the stage for things to come.

As you think, so you create.

If you believe your dreams are attainable, so you create.

If you anticipate failure, so you create.

If you imagine being smiled at tomorrow, so you create.

If you predict rejection, so you create.

If you envision having a good time, so you create.

If you view your child as a problem, so you create.

If you expect to have love in your heart

. . . for everyone you meet today, so you create.

—Salee Reese

 

What world do you want to live in? We all have a choice.

When we venture deeper than the surface of our lives, we notice that life is a tapestry and we’re the artists. We use our selection of paints to color our world. Life isn’t always controllable, but how we respond to it is—how we look at it and how we react. That’s the world we create.

Here’s another anecdote that illustrates this creative power inside each of us. It’s an excerpt from Pema Chodron’s book Awakening Loving-Kindness:

A big burly samurai comes to the wise man and says, “Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.” And the roshi looks him in the face and says: “Why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you?” The samurai starts to get purple in the face, his hair starts to stand up, but the roshi won’t stop, he keeps saying, “A miserable worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything?” Consumed by rage, the samurai draws his sword, and he’s just about to cut off the head of the roshi. Then the roshi says, “That’s hell.” The samurai, who is in fact a sensitive person, instantly gets it, that he just created his own hell; he was deep in hell. It was black and hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger, and resentment, so much so that he was going to kill this man. Tears fill his eyes and he starts to cry and he puts his palms together and the roshi says, “That’s heaven.”

 Let’s go with heaven today, shall we? 🙂

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July 4th for Your Spirit

freedom

“The deeper human nature needs to breathe the

precious air of liberty.”  

—Dalai Lama

We’re hard-wired to seek freedom, according to Muriel James. In her book, Perspectives in Transactional Analysis, she writes:

The urge to be free is closely related to the urge to live.  Freedom is the first struggle for life. It starts in the process of birth and the gasping for breath and continues to death . . . . Because of this basic urge, people sense a welling up of desire to break out of confining situations—clothes that are too tight, playpens that are too small, jobs and schools and jails and cultures and personal relationships that are overly restrictive. ‘I want my freedom’ is a personal, individual desire and a universal shout.

My client, Joe, was feeling the pains of this bondage:

Far from being free, Joe lives in the prison called “settling for.” Consequently, he lives a boring, soul-deadening existence. Long ago he deserted himself when he aborted his desires and dreams. Now Joe isn’t where he wants to be, doing what he wants to do. Not surprisingly, in the process of sacrificing his will, Joe lost any zest for life. Today, he’s hollow inside, a mere shell. He’s resigned to living a life that in no way resembles his true self.

Click here to continue reading . . . .

 

“When we attend to the soul’s need, we experience freedom.”  

—Jean Shinoda Bolen

fireworks

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

 

 

 

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