Tag Archives: mindful

She Wasn’t Being Silly

 

Paralyzed with fear, Kathleen stopped suddenly in her tracks. The trail she was hiking with her husband, Zach, had come to an unexpected fork. They were assured, back at the visitors center, that all trails would be clearly marked. For the most part, that proved to be true, but definitely not now.

Zach motioned to the right. “Let’s go this way,” he pressed.

Kathleen didn’t budge. “I just want to go back,” she said meekly.

“No, let’s keep going,” Zach insisted. “It’ll be alright.”

Kathleen—reduced to the emotional age of a six-year-old—started crying.  “I felt he wasn’t listening to me,” she said in our counseling session.

In truth, Zach was baffled. The intensity of her fear didn’t seem to match the circumstances. He tried to get her to snap out of it. “I told her she was being silly,” he said.

That tactic backfired. Her state of distress didn’t subside. In fact, it worsened.

What Kathleen really needed at that point was supportive understanding—empathy. The same soothing attention a six-year-old would need.

Kathleen’s reaction isn’t all that unusual. It can happen to all of us when we venture too far from our comfort zone. Any significant threat to our sense of security can trigger our  automatic fight-or-flight response. Instinctively, our bodies prepare us to do battle or run.

Kathleen’s automatic response was to flee. She turned to go. Zach went with her.

“I felt myself calming down,” she said, “even before we got back to the car.”

Unfortunately, Zach’s inner six-year-old wasn’t happy. “Living in Indiana, we don’t get a chance to hike in the mountains very often,” he said. “I felt it was a rare opportunity and that we should take advantage of it.”

Because Zach is adventuresome, he felt the thrill of a challenge when they came to the fork–the exact opposite of Kathleen’s experience.

In their therapy session, Kathleen was critical of Zach for taking risks, and Zach was critical of Kathleen for being too cautious and rigid.

For the sake of their relationship, they need to stop the criticism and appreciate how the other is different. Kathleen seeks security and predictability, while Zach seeks adventure and spontaneity. Neither is wrong—they’re just different.

In fact these differences attracted them to each other in the first place. She liked his daring adventurous spirit along with his optimistic, confident and light-hearted nature.

He was drawn to Kathleen’s practical, down-to-earth side. She’s an avid planner, and she likes structure. He appreciates how those very qualities keep him grounded and focused.

I’d say they’re well-matched. All they have to do is learn how to collaborate. It’s a skill they could have used on the mountain, and who knows, the final outcome may have been a win-win instead of a joint loss.

For starters, Zach could have utilized a more effective approach in helping Kathleen “snap out of it.” He would have used empathy.

People who are in a near-panicked state, cannot engage in an objective, problem-solving discussion. Their brain and their emotions must be calmed first. They can do that for themselves by walking away for a few minutes or by being comforted by another person.

Empathy naturally comforts. It entails stepping out of the brain and moving into the heart. An empathic ear seeks to understand someone at the emotional level. If I feel empathy for you, it means my heart goes out to you. I’m not detached from your pain—I’m with you in your pain.

At the foundation of empathy is listening. Looking warmly into Kathleen’s eyes, Zach could have asked, “What’s wrong?”

As she explained her fear, he wouldn’t interrupt, he wouldn’t downplay, he wouldn’t advise, lecture, attempt to fix, insult or criticize. He would simply listen attentively. He might not understand her fear of unmarked trails, but he does understand fear. That’s where he can connect with her experience and express understanding.

In their counseling session, Zach listened and in so doing learned the underlying cause of Kathleen’s intense reaction: Her sheltering mom never let her venture far from sight.

“She was always warning me,” she said, “telling me what awful things could happen to me.”

Kathleen also conveyed a painful incident when she was a young child involving a Ferris wheel. “I didn’t want to go on,” she said, “but my family made me.” She remembers being petrified and seeking refuge by lying face down on the floor while her stepfather shook the car and laughed at her. Her mother did nothing.

Her feelings weren’t listened to. She wasn’t comforted.

By the end of our session, Zach was able to do what Kathleen’s mother couldn’t.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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Will it Last?

 

“If only I could see into the future. I keep wondering if we’ll be together.”

Abby has a new love in her life. He treats her well, they laugh, play and enjoy many of the same things. Secretly though, she’s consumed by fears of it not lasting.

“Right now your relationship with Tyler is only a tiny sprout,” I explained. “So at this point it’s impossible to know if that sprout is a weed or a flower.”

I also pointed out that she’s not a mere passive observer—powerless—waiting for the future to unfold. She’s an active participant in creating it.

The nature and the quality of the future are under construction today.

Day-to-day interactions serve as the building blocks affecting the quality and fate of our relationships. Invariably, we shape tomorrow by how we choose to relate and operate in the present.

Abby freely admits that her recent treatment of Tyler hasn’t been the greatest. Instead of being positive and light, she’s frequently snippy and impatient with him. She says it’s because he’s reluctant to commit. He tells her it’s too early since they’ve only been together for a matter of months.

Her obsession over tomorrow robs her of any enjoyment that the moment offers. So how can he enjoy the relationship if she isn’t?  And how appealing is a partner who comes off prickly?  One could say that Abby’s outlook is self-defeating—creating the very reality she fears.

For those in Abby’s shoes, I offer the following advice: Don’t focus on getting a commitment. Let the quality of the relationship be your goal. When the experience of being together is gratifying on a multitude of levels, for both parties, a commitment naturally follows.

Abby’s trying to control her insecurities by controlling the situation. To gain assurance about the future, she’s counting on external cues from Tyler.

That never works. Not only does it pressure others, causing them to pull back, it also fails to provide real guarantees. That’s because life is about changes—unpredictable changes. What exists today can change abruptly.

The only certainty we have is the present moment where we all dwell. Therefore, we must relish that moment and make the best of it.

Abby’s desire for a committed relationship is understandable. She just doesn’t have a right to ask someone to meet her expectations. Love accepts the position of the other person, and it accepts his or her need to be true to themselves.

Abby emphasized that she’s hesitant to stay in a relationship that lacks a commitment. “In case it doesn’t work out between us, I don’t want to get too attached to him.”

I responded, “Your downcast demeanor tells me it’s too late—you’re already attached.”

When Abby doesn’t let pessimism take the reins, this new relationship is nourishing in many ways, so walking out seems a bit premature. Let’s face it, a complete break from a person who has added brightness to one’s life seems like deprivation. Why do that? It smacks of self-denial.

I suggested she give the relationship time to grow—committing to the process.

And there’s another thought for Abby to chew on: Some of the best relationships don’t have marriage as an endgame.  So Tyler and Abby may not be headed for marriage, but that doesn’t diminish its potential worth.

Among Abby’s many challenges in this current growth lab of hers—and that’s what relationships are!—is conquering that all-or-nothing mindset.

Long-term devotion blossoms where two people are dedicated to the quality of what they build together—in the here and now.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2017 Salee Reese

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Your Inner Judge Is a Liar

image-self-love

“Talk to yourself the way you talk to someone you love.”  

Brené Brown

Self-criticism is learned—we don’t come out of the womb with that tendency. I’m talking about the self-esteem-destroying self-talk that buzzes around in one’s head endlessly. Like a virus that invades the brain, it constantly judges and condemns its host.

Infection takes hold early in childhood after repeated exposure to pathogens like belittling comments, looks of contempt, and ridicule. In time, we start to believe what the virus is saying. It tells us we’re bad for messing up, selfish for wanting something, cowardly for being cautious, mean for speaking up, weak for crying, and a loser for our failures.

What’s really sad is we give the virus more credibility than the nicer treatment and messages we receive from kind-hearted people. Their messages are seen as inaccurate.

The good news is that the virus can be annihilated. We can unlearn self-criticism.

Sophia—a client in her 20’s—is a good example. She began the process of unlearning by becoming aware of the constant babble of negative self-talk occurring in her head. Before that, she accepted it as a valid part of herself—it seemed to belong.

That’s all changed. Acting as her own ever-vigilant investigator, she became determined to root out and destroy any belittling self-talk that deflates her self-esteem and joy. How are they destroyed? By questioning the validity of all thoughts that tell her she’s defective, guilty, bad or inferior in any way. Increasingly, she—not her conditioned brain—is the master of her opinions about herself.

I’m proud of her!

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

Names used in this post are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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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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After Grief

Misty path thru the woods

One of the hardest parts about a loved one dying is the sense of disconnection. I can relate to that awful feeling—I’ve experienced it many times.

A special person comes to mind. For nine full months, I grieved his death. It seemed like all color had left my world during that time. Joy was virtually nonexistent. In fact, I think I avoided joy—clinging to grief instead. I somehow believed our connection would stay intact if I remained in that grief-space. Not only that, I thought that moving on seemed like letting go . . . even dishonoring what he meant to me. A betrayal of sorts.

I was wrong.

At the end of those nine months, I came to realize something: Joy—not misery—is the space of connection.

An image of him in my mind prompted that sudden shift in my perception. He was looking lovingly into my eyes . . . and he was joyful. Radiant, in fact—a far cry from miserable. I smiled back and a warmth I hadn’t felt for nearly a year filled my entire being.

This is how they communicate, I thought.

I can’t see, touch or hear him anymore, but I can experience nearness.

Now when I think about him, I smile. That smile immediately ushers me into a joy-space. It’s the only space he can be in and the only space where I can find him.

That comforting image of him wasn’t new. It had penetrated my consciousness before, but I’d ignored it.

I’ve discovered that others have experienced something similar.  When I tell people I saw my sister and my father smiling ear-to-ear after their deaths, invariably they start nodding knowingly. We then begin to share our stories.

Yes, grief has its place. It sets the stage for an intimate connection with ourselves and with the truth and depth of our feelings. In a way, grief can be comforting as it shuts out the noise and artificiality of everyday life. It’s a silent walk down a gray and misty path.  We need that for our goodbyes and reminiscences.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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Cool, Calm, Gutsy Courage

stoplight

 

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  Emerson

Imagine being in your car at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. It seems forever . . . and your mind drifts. In other words, you’ve stopped paying attention, but the driver behind you hasn’t. The instant the light changes, he or she lays on the horn.

I’ve been the day-dreamer in that scenario on multiple occasions, and—admittedly—I’ve been the horn-honker, too. But sometimes I’m the passenger . . . a mere innocent bystander. That was the situation a few months ago. My friend Lana and I were engrossed in conversation when the light changed, and guess what? Yep, it happened.

Lana didn’t waste a millisecond—she obeyed. Bearing down on the accelerator, we were in full motion in no time.

“Now, if my grandmother had been driving,” she said, “we would still be waiting back there at the light.” Lana recalled an incident that took place when she was nine or ten.  She was riding in the car with her grandmother. They were at a stoplight and when it changed her grandmother apparently wasn’t responding fast enough for the driver behind them. He communicated this very effectively with his horn. Lana’s grandmother didn’t budge.

“We just sat there,” Lana said.

Lana was mystified, and after a few seconds had elapsed, she finally asked: “Grandma, what are you doing? “Unfazed, her grandmother simply replied, “I’m helping the person behind me learn patience, sweetie.”

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