When You Hit Rock Bottom

“Insanity:  doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

It seems obvious when considered in the abstract or when it’s someone else’s life.  But when we’re mired in the midst of a difficult, emotional issue, change is not so easy.   Unfortunately, for many of us, we wait until when the pain of stasis exceeds the pain of making a change before we are willing to make meaningful change.  For some, this means hitting rock bottom: an emotional breakdown, depression, addiction, or a catastrophic personal event like getting fired or divorced.

Recently I was talking to a mentee about her personal life.  She stated she has hit rock bottom and felt she was on the verge of a breakdown.  Her story was coming out angrily and urgently, and when I offered feedback, suggestions, or shared personal stories of my own for a different perspective, she looked away, crossed her arms, said “that’s not going to work,” or interrupted me to tell me another story that reinforced her position that she was being wronged. And so, at the moment, she is stuck in this unhappy quagmire, continuing to give away her power and happiness to those that are causing her frustration.

I’m not saying she’s a bad or stupid person.  She’s not.  She’s a wonderful, smart, and talented person who is simply trying to do better, but can’t for some reason.  She’s stuck in the pre-contemplation/contemplation stage of change.  She says she wants to change but perhaps she’s really not ready to actually do what it takes.

In my experience, if someone is talking to me about their problems, then typically they have reached either the contemplation stage – they’re considering making a change – or the preparation stage – they’ve already decided to change and are just trying to figure out what they need to do to change successfully.  Change occurs organically following these stages, though the change process may be characterized by alternating successes and failures.

This does not seem to be the case with my mentee.  Why is my companion talking to me about her problems, but not ready for change?

One contributing factor is her left brain.  As I wrote about previously in  Brain on a Rampage, our left brain can become corrupted in toxicity, negativity and judgment to the point where it is overriding our wisdom and equanimity.  Our sage is our right brain, which enables us to feel connected to the world, creative and whole.  Those of us who have been mostly left-brained for most of our lives, are used to using this one tool to solve our problems – our logic and analytical ability that resides in the left.  After all, if all you have is a hammer, everything will look like a nail.  Additionally, that miraculous left brain has gotten us where we are today – smart, accomplished, successful, and in some situations, very f****d up.

It’s natural that we’d try to do what has always worked:  think through our problems.  But you can’t solve an emotional problem with your thoughts.  It’s like using a screwdriver to filter coffee grinds, or algebra to figure out how to get your kid to eat his green beans.  It just doesn’t work.

To solve an emotional problem means we have to engage in inner sage and shut off the critic in our heads.  Peace, love, and connection are within all of us, and when we can quiet the negative chatter in our heads, we can access our universal truths.  After quieting the chatter in my head, I have frequently been able to elicit an “Aha!” moment that sends me on a new, more productive and positive course.

It also means we need new tools and strategies to manage emotional issues.  The main antidote to left brain negativity and destruction is to strengthen the right brain to be more present (recently discussed in Soothing the Child Within).  This requires exercise,  just as if your goal was to firm your abdominals.  Repetition and practice.  That’s why it’s called meditation practice, or yoga practice.   All we can do is to try to get better at it.   Few of us ever really master being present all the time.  Many of us have spent our lives ignoring our right brain, and may have to struggle to get it strong enough to balance the left.

There are also tools that one can learn and use to detoxify the malicious left brain habits.  An intellectual understanding of an emotional situation is usually not sufficient to make a meaningful change.  Again, it’s like understanding that you need to change your flat tire, but until you actually bend down and do the heavy lifting, it won’t happen just by knowing it needs to replaced.  These tools are helpful to elicit changes in behavioral and emotional habits we’ve been relying upon for decades.  It does not tend to happen overnight, but rather, it is a lifelong journey.

If you’re in the contemplation stage but are not ready to move forward, you might be thinking:  this is too much work.  I can’t do it.   My stance is that if everyone took 10% of the energy and time they spend on being critical, judgmental, angry, depressed, resentful, or bitter, and invested that into being more grateful, forgiving and positive – toward self and others – that we’d make a profound change in ourselves and our world.   I also contend that you and your happiness are worth the effort.  So what are you waiting for?  You don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom.


Same Problem, Different Relationship

It’s always a surprise, but it shouldn’t be.  Our friends and family, though, can see it coming a mile away.  In the meantime, you’re kicking yourself for falling for the same type of person who just broke your heart.

See, it’s tempting to think by kicking your Ex to the curb that you’ve learned your lesson and you’re going to do better the next time around.  Your new love just seems so perfect.  So different.  What you don’t remember is how your Ex also seemed so perfect when you first fell in love.

“You complete me” – Jerry Maguire

There are two parts to this equation.  First, according to relationship experts like Harville Hendricks, we fall in love with people who replicate our childhood wounds.   Since I have discussed this previously in What Every Couple Should Know Before Getting Married and Blessings of a Dysfunctional Marriage, I will just summarize to say that we fall in love because, on some level, we feel that we’ve met the person who will heal our childhood wounds.  When we realize they won’t is when the trouble, conflict and discontent occur.

The second part of this equation is your choice.  You can either blame your partner and get all your friends to agree what a horrible person she is (see A Random Act of War, Part 2), or you can heal your own childhood wounds.  By healing your wounds, you also help your partner heal hers, and thus strengthen and reinforce your relationship (see Do I Stay or Do I Go?).

“You bet on me like I bet on you” – Rod Tidwell, from Jerry Maguire

If you choose blame and denial about your role in your troubled or failed relationship – guess what? – you’ll go and repeat the cycle with your next partner.

If you don’t believe me, go out and try it.  Or maybe you have already.

“How’d I get myself into this?” – Jerry Maguire

If you’ve gone from failed relationship to failed relationship, ask yourself:  what is the common denominator?

If you’re now launching into a 20 minute answer, then maybe you’re fooling yourself.

You don’t know what it’s like to be me” – Jerry Maguire

If your answer is “me”, then you know what to do.

“Show me the money!” – Jerry Maguire

How to do it is another story, and is a major theme of this and many other blogs, books and therapy sessions.  Know that it is a life-long journey that is filled with wonderful discoveries, beauty, joy, and forgiveness.   Remember:

It’s about the journey, not the destination” – Dad

(If you need a Jerry Maguire quote the only thing I could find that works is, “If you fuck this up I’ll kill you.”  It just seemed wrong.)

Soothing the Child Within

Your stomach is clutching, you’re sweating, you feel a pressure building up inside your chest or head, you shut down and can’t think, you feel panicky.  Someone has pushed your hot button, gotten your goat, ruffled your feathers, or gotten your panties in a bunch.  You know what I’m talking about.

What do you do?

  1.  Get mad
  2. Get even
  3. Blame the other person
  4. Feel terrible about yourself
  5. Realize that even if you’re wronged (and you may just think you’re wronged) doesn’t mean you have to react.

(Gosh, I should write self-help test questions for a women’s magazine like the character in Gone Girl.)

After indulgently considering 1, 2, 3, or 4, you pick 5.  Congratulations!  Your momma taught you well!

Now that you’ve acted in a grown up fashion and know that you can choose not to react, how do you actually not react?  That definitely falls into the “easier said than done” category.   You (circle all the correct answer(s)):

  1. Pour yourself a stiff drink
  2. Have a good cry
  3. Work it out at the gym
  4. Talk it out with someone you trust
  5. Meditate at least an hour every day.  Turning off your left brain leaves you feeling so blissful.

Test is getting harder, right?

Personally I think 1-4 can be adaptive to a certain degree.  But the question that I would ask if you choose one of these options is this: Is your approach is improving your ability to deal with your hot button issue?  Using substances to numb your feelings is not a good long-term strategy any more than harboring anger, resentment, self-pity, helplessness, or victimization.  Crying/gym/talking might make you feel better in the moment, but it doesn’t necessarily help you modulate what is probably an over-reaction at the next hot-button opportunity.

(I can hear you thinking: But  I HATE meditating!)

I may not be successful in getting you to meditate in the traditional sit-and-feel-your-body way.  Not everyone can do so successfully despite a true desire and dedication.   If you want to try or try to do better, check out this meditation website.  You may not believe how amazing it feels to just be completely in your body, without your mind constantly distracting you from that bliss.

More importantly, meditation will strengthen your right brain so you’re not so tempted to let your left brain run away with your logic and equanimity next time you encounter a hot-button issue.  Just like if you weight train only working your trapezoids but not your deltoids, you will look like ape-man because your muscles are unbalanced.  Same if you only work your left brain and never develop the right – you’ll have ape-brain.

If that’s not for you, maybe try one of these other approaches:

  • Moving meditation – exercise such as swimming or running can be very meditative, as long as you clear your mind and focus for extended periods on some aspect of your senses (what you feel, see, hear, taste, smell).  Perhaps you are very intentional about where you put your feet, how you put your feet, what your feet feel like as you take each step, and so on.  Don’t let your mind jump from feettobirdtochesttocarhorntothingstodoatworklist…. Focus on one thing at a time for as long as you can.  Doing the moving (or sitting, for that matter) meditation in nature is an added boon.
  • Writing meditation – in The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends three minutes each morning of a writing meditation.  It’s not journaling, it’s not about practicing your writing skills.  It’s about dumping the accumulated garbage from your left brain onto a page and leaving it there.  Write whatever random thoughts/ideas come into your head for three minutes without editing it, questioning it or stopping, then leave it behind.  Do not, under any circumstances, post it on your blog like I do.
  • Mini-meditations – Three minutes still too long?  You ADD folks might like this one.  You only have to meditate 10 seconds at a time.  Yes, 10 seconds.  That’s the amount of time it takes to draw 3 breaths.  But you have to do it 100 times per day.  Yes, 100.  You can do several at a time, or one at a time, or some combination, but you should do 100 during your day.  Like the moving meditation, focus on one of your 5 senses for those 3 breaths.  For example, you might focus on how it feels to have your back pressed against the back of the chair for 10 seconds.  Try it now.  You can do it.  This method, described in Positive Intelligence, can also be used to calm your inner child when you get your hot buttons pushed.

If you decide in advance none of these will work, they won’t.  Resign yourself to ape-brain.

If you decide this will work, it will.  Be prepared to face your world with a renewed sense of peace and bliss.

There’s a no-brainer.

Exercise both sides

Exercise both sides

Easter Bunny, Lazy People and Other Myths

I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy or Prince Charming any more.  Happy endings only happen if you create them.

I also don’t believe in lazy people, mean people, stupid people, people who don’t care or who want to be negative, trouble makers and other miscreants.

This is not to say I don’t believe in anything.  I do believe that climate change exists, that we should reduce our national and personal debt, that everyone is inherently lovable, worthy of respect and full of talent.

I’ve frequently written in this blog about perfectionism and not being able to say No.  To me, it’s really easy to understand that emotional and psychological approach to dealing with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, as I’m a recovering perfectionist/control freak  myself.   Those that choose to view us compassionately see us as being driven by needing to prove ourselves repeatedly, despite our achievements and talents, and only focusing on how we are not quite good enough.  We’re also easy enough to deal with (in my opinion) – just get out of the way and let us take care of everything.  You have to admit, it has its advantages.

What about the opposite extreme?  Lazy, sad, unmotivated, dysfunctional, rebellious ne’er do wells.   They have some inherent character flaw that makes them this way, right?  Or maybe they don’t want to change?

This question came up in the Inspired2ignite blog.  Denise Hisey talks about Kurt Cobain’s pain and depression driving his creativity.  She also asks the thought-provoking question:  Would he have wanted it to be different?  What a great question.  Thank you Denise!

It had me thinking about the people I know who might be considered lazy, depressed, selfish screw-ups and so forth.   I often hear those accusations that this is “just how they are” and “they like being that way.”  I do agree, that this is how they are.  I mean, if they weren’t that way, they’d be something else.  There’s a level of acceptance implicit in that statement that belies our lack of control over most of our lives and especially someone else’s.

I don’t like that statement, however, because it implies resignation that we cannot influence or guide others, or that the other cannot or does not want to change.    This may also be true since the readiness to change happens on a unique, individualized timeline, and they may or may not ever reach that point where they are ready.  But I believe that everyone wants to be happy, optimistic, productive and successful.

What stands in the way of people being happy, optimistic, productive and successful?

I suspect these folks are stuck in dysfunction/underfunction for the same reason I was stuck in overfunction/enabling:  it’s how they deal with their self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.  Let me explain.

I work hard to prove I’m competent and needed; they may avoid tasks to avoid demonstrating their incompetence.

I try anticipate what people need and problems before they occur so that I can believe that I’m a good person; they may avoid initiating activities to avoid feeling like they made the wrong choice.

I was a good student because I wanted to believe I was smart;  they may avoid working hard in school because if they failed it would prove that they’re dumb, not indifferent.

I was always the good girl because I wanted approval; they may avoid conformity because they want to avoid rejection for who they really are.

The other hard lesson I’ve learned over the years is that we overfunctioners are often unwittingly reinforcing these underfunctioning behaviors.  For example, my need to prove myself constantly then makes it hard for the underfunctioner to step up.  I mean, why would he take a chance if I will do everything and he doesn’t have to risk making a mistake? It’s a win-win.  I can prove how competent and worthy I am, and he doesn’t have to stick his neck out.  I can say he‘s lazy and he can say I’m uptight.  We’re both invested in this dysfunctional dance while pointing the finger at the other.

A classic family or group dynamic is the Problem Child scenario.   It’s so tempting to blame our problems and unhappiness on someone who is causing trouble, like the Problem Child.  But that Problem Child behavior is often reinforced by the family because it provides a convenient distraction and decoy to avoid tackling the real issue, whether it is abusive behavior, addiction, mental or physical illness, financial issues, etc.  Problem Children are also often expressing the emotions that the group is unwilling to confront.  For example, the Problem Child may be having difficulty adjusting after a family catastrophe, but is merely expressing the anger/fear/grief/sadness that the individual family members are trying to suppress.  Their failure to acknowledge the problem and feel the emotion is preventing the PC from working through her feelings.  Ironically, the family reinforces PC behavior because it allows them to stay in denial.

If you’ve read to this point I hope you can see that perhaps I’m not completely in Denial-Land myself, that there are things I DO believe in.  What I believe is that everyone, regardless of how they assuage their self-doubt, wants to be happy and live their life to their fullest potential.  We each have unique ways of expressing our fear, sadness and doubt, and that just because we may not understand each other, does not mean we have to judge one another.  Rather, by using forgiveness and compassion and looking at ourselves to see how we are contributing to the problem, perhaps we can help both ourselves others – both over- and under-functioners – find that peace and self-actualization we all deserve.

That being said, you under-achievers are not off the hook.  You have to find the courage to step-up just as much as we over-functioners have to find the courage to let go.   Remember, these are all self-fulfilling prophecies.  If you fear on some level that you are incompetent, your actions will subconsciously control you until you have proved to others that it is so.  (Note to all:) Caving to your unconscious script/story is worse than any failure you might experience by taking a risk. 

“The only real failure in life is the failure to try.” – Sven Goran Eriksson

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It’s OK to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.” – H. Stanley Judd



Love the One You’re With

Seems we’re obsessed with love, judging by the endless number of songs about finding or losing love.  Why?  I think we’re all trying to have a love that is so fulfilling and gratifying that we no longer have to resonate with those mournful melodies.   Boy was I tuned in and resonating with music like mad toward the end of my twenty year marriage and beyond. I went from feeling I had that soul mate (I Will Always Love You) to: knowing I didn’t (Cry Me a River), to: wondering if there was even such a thing (How Can Love Survive?).  There was a surreal period where I felt literally like I was floating in space adrift, with no anchor points.

Is that it?  Is that all there is?  Will I ever find someone who will actually fulfill my needs and love me the way I’m supposed to be loved?

Then it hit me.  Du-uh.

No, duuuu-uuuh (include several inflections for emphasis).

“Wherever you go, there you are” – Unknown

In other words, I am the only constant in my life.  So I must fulfill my own needs and love myself.

What I mean  is that we can provide everything we need to ourselves without relying on someone else.  If I want to feel loved and valued, I have to love and value myself.

Since this, like so many other things, are easier said than done, I considered the Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, for guidance.  Chapman says that people communicate love in five different ways:  touch, service, gifts, time, and words.  Interestingly, we may express our love using one or more languages that are different than how we might perceive love. For instance, I feel loved when people spend time with me, but I express my love in service – doing things for my loved one.  Odd, isn’t it?

(You know where this is leading…) Problems can arise when you  communicate love in a way that doesn’t synch with your partner.  So, if my partner feels loved when given gifts, he may not see my service as an act of love.  In addition, gifts are not on my love language radar so I don’t give gifts very often.  The result will be that he feels unloved.  Cruel, isn’t it?

This concept has four major implications:

  1.  Start seeing the love that is already there.  Don’t believe your story that you’re unloved, because you are.
  2. Communicate your love needs to your loved ones. Maybe they don’t know how you prefer to be loved.
  3. Love your partner in the way that makes them feel loved.  Ask if you’re not sure.
  4. Love yourself in the way you need to be loved.  I think this is the most important step, so I saved it for last. (Read more about the first three in Chapman’s book.)

Since time is the way I feel loved, loving myself means spending time with myself.  What this mean for me is that if I don’t have a partner or one willing to go do stuff with, then I go on my own.   I do not let “being alone” stand in the way of what I want to do, or what would make me happy.  Accordingly, I go to the gym, go to movies, volunteer, ballroom dance, take long walks, sit in coffee shops, try new restaurants – regardless of whether I have someone to go with me (Dancing With Myself  – well, I find others to ballroom dance with.  I’m not crazy after all, just sometimes alone).   I soon find I do not mind doing things on my own; in fact it has its advantages.  Being alone means I am more open to meeting people than if going as part of a couple.

If I want my partner to help uncover my innermost thoughts and beliefs, but I don’t have a partner, then I can explore my inner world by myself.  I journal and meditate to discover my inner world and study to understand its implications.  Being alone means I could really dig deep and be honest, since there is no one to judge me or lead me down a false path.

If I want my partner to make me feel like the most important person in the world and loved and accepted unconditionally, then I value and celebrate my unique qualities and talents.   I invest in those talents because they’re important .  I decide to love myself unconditionally, no matter what I find in my quest for self-discovery or whether I feel in the moment like a miserable excuse for a human being.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this.  Everyone has different love languages and is unique in what makes them feel loved.  Your self-gift of time will look different than mine.  Be as creative figuring out how to love yourself as you might with someone you love.

For someone that is a strong extrovert (gets energy from being with others), this has been a major paradigm shift for me.   It does not prevent me from sometimes feeling lonely.  But it does help me feel whole independent of what someone else does or does not do.

In my current relationship, I now do not need my partner to make me feel whole.  Losing that neediness allows him to be himself and our relationship to develop holistically, without the burden of my unrealistic expectations. I am now also a better partner as I communicate in his love language and ask him to love me in mine.

Finally, I now no longer need melancholy love songs.  Footloose and Celebration are the songs on my playlist now.

De-Stress in One (Sort of) Easy Step

Stress relief

Stress relief

I don’t believe in stress anymore.  I think it’s highly overrated so I suggest you just dispense with it.

I’m not talking about the low amounts of stress that cause you to be productive, meet deadlines and do a good job.  I’m talking about anything beyond that, because then, by definition, the stress is counterproductive.  Don’t wait until you feel your life is out of control and your health and happiness are suffering to fix this.  Or maybe you’re reading this because it already is.

I used to do stress to the nines, complete with stress-related pain conditions and being grouchy and irritable.  All that stress was standing in the way of enjoying my life and feeling good each day.  I’m sure being with me was no Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte (this is how I imagine communal serenity).

Sunday afternoon

So I gave up stress for Lent.

Well.  Actually, I gave up stress for me.  To benefit me.   Giving up stress for Lent just sounds better.

I’m wasn’t sure what stresses other people so I did a little web surfing and found some causes of stress:

  • Problems – health, financial, unemployment, emotional, social/relationship
  • Unhappiness with situation – social (such as loneliness), career
  • Major life changes
  • Conflict between belief/values and life choices/situations

You may wish to add a bullet or ten to the list yourself.   But to me, it boils down to a simple bit of wisdom, from my man The Bard:

“Expectation is the root of all heartache” – William Shakespeare

Perhaps that sounds simplistic, but I believe most of human grief is self-generated and based on unrealistic or unfair expectations of self, others and the world.  Often these expectations are subconscious drivers of our behavior and feelings until they are brought to light, examined, questioned and even challenged.

Let’s re-categorize the above stressors into types of expectations:

Now that you’ve boiled your stress list down to one factor that you probably didn’t even realize was controlling your life, you can now deal with the stress in your life in a constructive fashion.

Find the balance between being accepting, but willing to change your perspective and the circumstances of your life.   In other words, if I don’t like my job, it’s because I’m having unrealistic expectations about myself, others, or my circumstances.

It doesn’t mean I should be passive about the status quo.  I can work to improve my situation there or to find a new job.  I can negotiate new salary, duties, space.  I can ask for and create changes that I think will improve the work environment.  However, until circumstances improve, I do not allow myself to get stressed or upset about what I cannot or have not yet changed.  If I feel taken for granted at work, I focus on ways that I am appreciated.   If I feel underpaid, I focus on ways that I am rewarded well.  (See (Uncover Your) Truth or (Suffer the) ConsequencesThe struggle itself is a gift and much can be learned from that endeavor.

The same is true with the difficult people in your life.    Accept them as they are, because like you, they are trying their best.   They, like you, deserve your forgiveness and compassion for being human.  Focus on how they are meeting your needs instead of how they are not.  It’s OK to try to influence people, but don’t tie your peace of mind to the outcome.

You can give up stress because you don’t need it.  You don’t want it.  Just do one thing:  Change your perspective.

Don’t you feel better already?