A Mindful Approach to the First Day of Fall Semester: Like New Year's Day!

Road
Last year, when I wrote this post, I said that the first day of the Fall semester was like Christmas morning, because I got to come down the stairs five different times to see the presents under the tree with  each of my new classes.

 

This morning, as I contemplate the new academic year ahead of me, it feels like January 1, New Year's Day. I find myself searching for new goals, new areas of particular focus that I would like to improve upon.

 

I would like to use the tool of Mindfulness to slow my reactions down and resist the temptation to judge, to be impatient with students who waltz in late, who ask questions that have already been answered six times, and who cannot seem to form a complete coherent sentence.  These students appear to be my teachers this lifetime. I know this because they really piss me off. 

 

I would like to use the tool of Mindfulness to stay in the present moment, to not get ahead of myself with concern for the future. I sometimes suffer from pTSD. This is a new diagnosis I invented based on a Case Study analysis: my own. It stands for Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder - the experience of anxiety caused by trauma that has not yet happened - except for in my own creative catastrophizing mind. I hope to live not only one day at a time,  but one life at a time - the one that is actually happening right now in front of me in this moment. And when you think about it, most "this moment right now" moments are pretty manageable.

 

I hope to use the tool of Mindful Self-Compassion to not take myself too seriously. I Comedy Sign
intend to be a compassionate witness to myself. I hasten to add that I want to use a humorous lens through which to experience myself as starring in my own Emmy Award-winning sitcom.  Through Humorous Mindful Self-Compassion, I can laugh at myself with a knowing smile of acceptance and I suspect this will help me to extend this benefit of the doubt to my students as well.

 

OK, I think that is a good start toward a good start. 

 

Let the academic New Year begin with lighthearted mindful awareness of this moment unfolding into the next. Throw open the doors to the school; I am eager and ready to get started!

 

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It's Never Too Soon to Start Menopause

Self Concept- Valentine Candy I'm Me
Yes, you read that right. I encourage everyone to commence menopause as soon as possible. Men, that includes you, too.

When I was about 35 years old, I noticed that I had a few women friends who seemed to have it together. They were confident, self-assured, comfortable in their own skin. They didn't seem preoccupied with needing everyone's approval. They weren't constrained by arbitrary cultural norms for appropriate role behavior. If the norm suited them, fine. If not, they made up their own rules for their own situation.

 

Self Esteem

These women had voices. And they used them to speak up - to agree, to disagree, to point out inconsistencies and injustices. They spoke up just to share their opinions, to have their vote counted as though it was a legitimate contribution. They didn't hesitate with self doubt and, I hasten to add, they didn't abuse the privilege by being overbearing. 

They carried themselves with an air of self-legitimacy, taking their rightful place among other respected men and women. They didn't seem to need to convince anyone of anything. They didn't try to earn the right to be reckoned with. They just showed up assuming they had it. Incredible!

 

Menopause?

Then I noticed that they all had something in common. They were all over 50 years Woman Power Martial Arts Moveold. I asked one of these women, "What's the deal with you? What is your secret? You seem so comfortable, so self-confident." "I'm not a people pleaser anymore," she replied, matter-of-factly. "Oh, and menopause happened." Menopause? Apparently, it has something to do with estrogen levels dropping and then that unmasks the testosterone that's been there all along, waiting to finally have its day.

 

Self-Empowerment

So, I decided to start menopause at the age of 35. I liked what I saw and I wanted some of it. I got a jump on all that self-empowerment. I decided to start even before the hormone changes started. I figured when I hit 50, I'd get to be a gifted student for the first time in my life. I found out that parents aren't the only ones who get to use the phrase, "because I said so." It's a very freeing thing to say. Try it right now, "because I said so." Nice, huh?

Those of you who are in your twenties, I am so sorry. That is such a tough time, always being simultaneously anxious about and devastated by what everyone thinks of you. How exhausting! I totally understand why you feel that way; our culture does that to you. I remember. But take heart. You, too, can choose to start menopause anytime you want. Imagine the gifted student you will be by the time you arrive at your 50th birthday!

 

 Stop Being the Jailer and the Jailed

Puzzle Missing PieceJust decide today that you want to be free. You want to figure out who YOU are and what YOU want. Take back your Life. Silence the noise of your family, the culture, the advertising and the myths you unwittingly bought into. You are plenty. You deserve to be here. In fact, you have a responsibility to be here to share your particular gifts. I am meant to be gifted by you. So show up! Let's hear that voice! Start menopause!

Why?

Because I said so! 

  Wisdom Owl

What are your thoughts?I would love to hear from you! Really! Please take a moment and submit a comment.You all write such nice emails to me and I would love for them to be published for all to read. Thanks!

 

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Mindful Grieving

Grief Wood Sculpture
"I want to go through this just once - whether it takes a few days, a few months, or a few years." Those were the wise words of my dear friend as she asked me for some suggestions about how to navigate this new journey thrust upon her by the sudden death of her older brother. Two weeks ago, she was halfway around the world in Australia when she got that dreaded call in the middle of the night. He had been missing and then the police welfare check confirmed their worst fears, four days after he apparently died alone in his apartment. Shocked and stunned into paralysis, she sat on the edge of her bed unable to move, unable to put together a plan of what to do next. Literally, what to do next. Somehow, in a surreal blur of warp speed and slow motion, she made her way back to Albuquerque only to leave the next day for the funeral and then back home two days later. Events transpired so fast, even jet lag couldn't catch up with her until a few days ago.

 Of course, I listened far more than I spoke, and then only to remind her of the need to drink plenty of water, eat nutritious food, get as much sleep as possible, trust love, and stay in today.

 

The Mindful Path of Grief

Path in Woods

Within the embrace of today is this moment. Notice this moment. Notice that you are feeling; perhaps notice what you are feeling. With the gentleness and delicate care that you reserve for only your most beloved friend, gaze upon yourself with compassionate acceptance. Notice, too, that in this loving space, there is no need for "shoulds," no need for judgments, no need to be anything different from who you are right now. Grief is as unique as the proverbial snowflake. Each person's process is invented as it unfolds.

Perhaps you are in shock. Perhaps your mind is racing. Perhaps you are numb. You may want to withdraw. You may want to invite friends to come close. Maybe you want to talk. Maybe you want to scream. Maybe you want to sit and rock yourself in the dark. There is nothing to change; there is only to allow. Allow your natural instinct for self-compassion to guide your conscious process through this most sacred and searing time.

Dice Today Tomorrow

As much as possible, protect your physical space, time, and privacy to respond to whatever inclination your grief asks of you. Simplify your life; reduce your usual daily demands to only the most basic. This is the surest and safest path through this challenging journey.

Neither be averse nor attached to your experience. You don't need to be afraid of the pain. Even if you allow yourself to be overwhelmed with your pain, seemingly lost and alone, and beyond reach, you are not. You are tethered to your truth through your trust in a love-filled universe.

Let your friends love you. Let us lift you up when it is time for you to be lifted up.

                                                              Ocean One Big Wave

You don't need to judge the waves, let alone name them. Just ride along with them, assured that you will be delivered safely to a better place. No feeling is too much or too little, too soon or too late. There is no normal; there is no abnormal. Follow your own lead as you compassionately witness yourself. Allowing yourself to be in this moment will mysteriously reveal your next steps. Trust that those steps will carry you to serenity.

                                                            Anxiety Workshop Butterfly

Let your grief move through you. Notice it and respect its own wisdom to move beyond you. Do not insult your grief by clinging to it or identifying with it. It knows its rightful place is to merely touch you, like the alight of a butterfly upon your shoulder.

Grief is the ecstatic reminder that you have loved. Take comfort, even joy in the knowledge that you have fulfilled the purpose of your life, that you have willingly paid the price of deep love with the currency of deep pain. Perhaps you will even love again in your life because, having now come full circle, your healing teaches you that the pain of loss is the bittersweet affirmation of your highest accomplishment: you loved.

Do just these three things today:

                   Notice . . . . .    

                                               Accept . . . . .      

                                                                                 Release . . . . .

 

 

KR NaPali Coast Small

  

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Did You Feel It? Could You Tell We Were Talking About You?

Students To the Student SignI think it's only fair that someone tells you that over 400 of us got together this past Friday and we talked about you all day long. Yes, we did. We plotted to do this a year ago. We rented out the Albuquerque Convention Center downtown for the Second Annual CNM Conference on Teaching and Learning. Many of us petitioned ahead of time, requesting to talk about specific things related to you. Then, everyone else picked what they wanted to hear about you and then they talked about you, too.

We even paid an expert on you to fly in from across the country so he coulWorkshops Hand With Microphoned talk about you. He did and then we clapped. When he was done, we spread out to different rooms and we talked about you some more.

Were your ears burning? We got into some pretty animated conversations about you. In the rooms, in the halls, in the bathroom and in the ballroom. We laughed about you; some of us even teared up about you. We spent only a little bit of time talking about how sometimes you infuriate us; you can be aggravating and exhausting. But mostly, we avoided that. We set that aside and we focused on the best of who we know you - and we - can be. Of course, you inspire us; you bring us alot of joy and satisfaction.

You are the reason we are here. We love to teach you. And we spent all day Friday trying to figure out how to better teach you, to help you grow and to reach your dreams. We gathered together to share our experiences, to report on the latest research, and to translate all that into better ways to serve you - on Monday.

The diversity was grand. The carpentry teacher taught the philosophy teacher who passed it on to the math tutor who shared it with the nursing instructor who wrote it down and passed it along to the business teacher, the aerobics instructor, the academic advisor, and the dean.

I thought you would want to know that we care about you. We really do. We see you. We want to see you learn and grow and move on from here to run headlong into your now brighter future.

And when you get there, remember to drop us a line and let us know how you are doing. So we can talk about you some more.

Accomplishment Man At Top Of Rock Silouette


"There is No Such Thing as Co-dependent Behavior"

Codependency If You Were Drowning
OK, so I may have gotten your attention with that post title. Today, I want to share with you a nuance about co-dependency that will explain my rather unconventional assertion. Certainly, I believe that co-dependency exists. Even though you don't hear about it much in the self-help world anymore, it is still a challenging aspect of personal growth and relationship happiness. It also happens to be one of my favorite workshop topics.

 

Codependency History Trivia
The term originates from the early days of the family treatment of alcoholism. The label, "co-alcoholic" was applied to the spouse of the alcoholic. Soon, alcoholics were identified as often being addicted to other drugs, as well, so the term "chemical dependent" replaced "alcoholic" as a much better and more inclusive term for patients in treatment. That meant that "co-alcoholic" would be changed to "co-dependent," again, to simply identify whoever was the spouse of the chemical dependent. It didn't take long before family therapists working with alcoholics/chemical dependents, started to recognize that these spouses had many compelling personality traits and treatment issues in common. A new client population was being recognized among the spouses, the co-dependents. Finally, the term, "co-dependent" came to be used to describe anyone who shared those common personality traits, whether they were spouses or not, from alcoholic homes, or not.

 

Co-dependency Defined

Perhaps I should first define my terms before going much further. I define co-dependency as, "the process of giving your power away because of fear." The old joke about co-dependency asserts that "you know you're a codependent if, when you are about to die, someone else's life flashes before you!" See the above image. I like this definition because it reflects the component that other people are always more important than you. Other indications of co-dependency are: extreme avoidance of conflict; compulsive need for approval from others, persistent self-doubt and low self-esteem, and fear of abandonment to the point of addictive relationships.

  Friendship Two Women Friends Hugging

The salient feature here is the emphasis that is placed on other people, a focus on their needs as more legitimate than one's own. The co-dependent person often gives to others, takes care of others' needs first, and generally acts in unselfish ways in order to 1) gain approval from others and 2) avoid conflict with others. What concerns me is that so many people are quick to observe behavior that appears kind, thoughtful, and unselfish and then assume that it is "co-dependent." If that is true, then Mother Theresa would be considered the Patron Saint of Co-dependency.

 

It is not the behavior that is co-dependent; it is the motivation behind the behavior that determines whether it is co-dependent.

When I observe your behavior, I can not know what the motivation is, so I am not in a position to assume that you are acting co-dependently.For example, you might ask me to babysit for your children on Saturday night. Let's say I really don't want to, but I say yes. Sounds pretty co-dependent, doesn't it? You assume that I am saying yes when I really want to say no because I need your approval or I don't want you to be mad at me. Isn't it possible that it's true that I'd really rather not babysit, but I want to do this as a gift for you because I care about you and I want to give you the gift of babysitting. My "yes" is freely given with no resentment attached to it. That's not co-dependency; that's kindness, love, and generosity.

Idea Lightbulb Color Illus

So, my assertion that "there is no such thing as co-dependent behavior" means that no observed behavior on the part of others can be assumed to be co-dependent without knowing the motivation. Motivation is the key - not surface behavior. This is why each of us needs to be vigilant in playing the game, "What's my Motivation?" as we make relationship decisions. Sometimes it can be very difficult to discern my motivations; I can easily delude myself thinking I am not carrying resentment, when I really am.

The other extreme is just as important. People who are on the recovery journey can also become too suspicious of their own "healthy" motivations and behavior. They are so used to assuming the worst about themselves, it's hard to recognize genuine kind intentions that spring from an opening and healing heart. We might benefit from trusted friends who can remind us that we are allowed to like ourselves and to recognize growth when it is there.

I'd love it if you would take a moment and leave a comment letting me know your thoughts about this topic. It is a great subject and very central to alot of people's healing. I look forward to your input. Thanks!


Free Advice For Students on the First Day of Class

Teacher with Test
It's the first day of the semester. Welcome! And congratulations on your good judgement in choosing to take Intro to Psychology.  If this is your first semester of post-secondary education (that means "college"), then a particularly hearty welcome to you! I am sure that my faculty colleagues join me in wishing you success. Please know that we are not the enemy; we are your advocates and we look forward to the day you attend your Graduation Ceremony and we get to line up and clap for you as you go by.

There are several factors that contribute to your success in college: emotional support from others, skills in time management, note-taking, test-taking, study techniques, stress management, goal-directed motivation, willingness to seek, find, and accept help from others, perseverence, a sense of humor, and finally, an easy rapport with your faculty. Today, I would like to offer a few suggestions that might make that last factor - relationships with faculty - more likely to be successful. These are some tips for interacting with me and they might be applicable to some of your other instructors.

  Checklist Color Illustr.

Some Tips to Maximize Your Success

  •  You should probably know right up front that I don't give As in my classes. I also don't "give" Fs and I don't give Cs or Ds either, for that matter. I give my time, my expertise, my effort and my encouragement. You will earn whatever grade you earn. Let's hope you reach your goal in our class.
  • Please do not walk up to me and ask out of the blue, "Did you get my email?" How can I know if I got your email if I don't know who you are or what it was about? Say, "My name is Sally Student and I wondered if you got my email about needing to miss class during the third week of the semester."
  • When you speak with me before or after class, please use complete sentences. Your speech should include a subject, a noun and a verb; that's what a sentence is. So don't just hand me a piece of paper and grunt something about "my paper." Say, "Would you please look over this rough draft of my paper?" You might want to formulate your full sentence before you get up from your seat.
  • Remember the manners you learned in grade school? They apply in college. I really appreciate those old fashioned courtesies such as "please," "thank you" and "excuse me."
  • Please don't ever say, "I missed the last class session; did you cover anything important?" Really, now, what would you expect me to say to that? "No, not really, in fact it was an entire waste of everyone's time." I don't think so. Perhaps you could ask, "Did I miss any announcements?"
  • While I care very much about your academic success, the fact that you may lose your financial aid because of your low grade in my class is not really my problem. You plead with me - during week 13 of a 15 week semester - as though if you sound pitiful enough, I will somehow be persuaded and "give" you a higher grade. That's not going to happen. However, if you talk with me after the second test and you express concern about your performance in the class, I will work with you to develop a strategy for your success, not my capitulation (look it up).
  • Please do not concern yourself with any special accomodation you believe I have made with another student. That student's situation is not your business; remember that you don't know the whole story and you are most likely about to make the Fundamental Attribution Error (we will cover that in the Social Psychology chapter or you can look it up now).
  • I can forgive a multitude of sins, so please just be honest and confess your transgressions. Take responsibility for the fact that you missed class, you didn't turn the paper in on time, you weren't listening in class, you didn't sign the attendance sheet, or you didn't follow the directions. The minute I hear even the slightest hint of not taking full adult responsibility for yourself, I begin to shut down in judgmental disdain. When you begin the conversation with, "I screwed up," my heart chakra opens up and I begin to feel compassion and a willingness to help.

No one ever said, "I want to be rich; I think I'll become a teacher." I certainly didn't. In fact, I didn't really consciously choose this career. This career chose me. I believe this is a sacred contract that I made and I am just showing up to keep my Promise about how I would use some of my gifts during this lifetime. I love teaching. I love it when you love to learn. I even love it when you don't particularly care about psychology, but you show a desire to be a good student and a good person. I want to be a good teacher and a good person. Let's work together - 'cuz I really can't wait to go to your graduation and fuss over you and gush about your success and clap as you go by...

Classroom Blackboard With Chalk



First Day of Fall Semester - Like Christmas Morning!

Teacher Apple on Desk With Pencils
It must be Fall semester.  There's a cool in the air, the trees are beginning to turn, the marching band is practicing in a distant field, and the school zone lights are once again flashing around 3:00pm. OK, well, at least the school zone lights are flashing again.



It is the first day of school. Believe it or not, I can't wait to get started. There is something about the first day of Fall semester that feels like we're throwing a party and around 27,000 guests have RSVP'd.  No, it's better than a party. It's like Christmas morning to me and I teach five classes, so I get to come downstairs to find the presents under the tree five different times!

Christmas Santa Claus Ornament Close Up

I throw open the door to the classroom and there you are! You size me up; I size you up and we're off! Who are you people, anyway? Why are you taking this Psychology class? Whatever reasons you think you may have for taking my class, I know the Real reason in the Big Picture. I am meant to cross paths with you. And you are meant to cross paths with me. For better or worse, the universe has thrown us together. Let's not make things worse; let's make things better. You bring your gifts and I bring mine and hopefully, our dynamic together will enrich our lives and we will part in December better people for it.


I know that might sound schmaltzy to some, but I don't care; I love teaching. I love psychology, and I love teaching psychology at CNM! And I do believe there are no coincidences. So, welcome to our class.


Now, as I size up my class, I wonder who will be the class clown? Please God, let there be one and I hope you will sit up front. Who will dominate the discussions? I hope you will gain more true self confidence by the end of the semester. Where are the perfectionists who take notes with rulers and different colors of ink? I hope you will learn that you are good enough regardless of your final grade. Who among you doesn't particularly care about doing well at all? Maybe you will surprise yourself by being open to loving psychology. Where are the returning adult students, scared to death that it's been "too long" since they've been in school? You deserve a standing ovation. Who will be the lost child and never utter a word the entire semester? You are the one I want especially to See. And how about the "gang member" with the black leather and the tats and the piercings who scares me at first and then teaches me that you, too, are a worried parent or a straight A student?


I get a kick out of all of you. You are each a present under the tree and I look forward to getting to know you. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Tree Lit in Woods



Announcing Mary Roush's Book! "The First Eighty Years Are the Hardest: Feeling, Dealing, Healing"

As many of you know, I have been working during the last eight months on getting my mother's life Mom on Couch in GV Livng Roomstory manuscript published. She finished it about two weeks before her unexpected death in August, 2012. Well, I am thrilled to report that it is now available on Amazon! You can purchase it by clicking on the link over there to your right.

In case you don't know, this is an inspiring story of a woman who lived to be 81 years old; 44 of those years were spent in AA recovery and helping hundreds of sponsees from Philadelphia, St. Louis, Denver, and finally, Green Valley, AZ. My mother's story begins with the drowning death of her father when she was only five years old. It goes on to include her difficult childhood, marrying her husband, Skip (61 years), bringing up six children and then her descent into and out of alcoholism. She went on to become a therapist in private practice while living in Denver, CO. She conducted numerous weekend recovery retreats for spouses and adult children of alcoholics.

The book includes her move to Green Valley, AZ and the difficult years caring for my sister, Karen, who eventually died in August, 2005. My mother then endured a botched hip replacement surgery, three years of chronic pain, and then bladder cancer. I am happy to assure you that her last 18 months were pain free and filled with joyous volunteer work and remaining active in the local AA community. My dad, Skip Roush (86), continues to live in Green Valley at a beautiful retirement community, La Posada. He has decided to use proceeds from the sale of my mother's book to assist women in recovery. 

I am also announcing the launch of a blog/website that I am still in the process of building in order to celebrate the life and work of Mary Roush. You can reach it by clicking here www.Feel-Deal-Heal.com It includes several of my mother's self-reflection papers written while she was working on her Master's degree. I have included a listing and link to some of her favorite books. The site will contain many more photos that she selected but could not be included in the book because of space restrictions. I will be transcribing more of Mary's writings about codependency, family therapy, and women's issues.

I hope you will consider purchasing my mom's book and I would particularly appreciate your help in spreading the word about its' availability now. Perhaps you could post it on your Facebook page or send a note to people on your email Contact list. Thanks so much for joining me in celebrating the life of this wonderful woman!

Joy Word in Stone


Emotional First Aid: How to Keep it Together When You Are Falling Apart

Depression Woman with Kleenex
Have you ever noticed how Life sometimes delivers a "lightning round" of challenges, one right after the other? It is possible to spiral to a level of emotional "tilt" where it seems like every aspect of your life is falling apart. You can get to such a crisis point that you don't even have the presence of mind to stop and know where to start. Paralysis may set in and all you can do is sit on the couch with a frozen stare of overwhelm. Days become nights filled with depression, apathy, anxiety, isolation, and confusion.

Here is a suggested place to start when you feel like you have enough composure to start to put one foot in front of the other.

1) Get help. You need and deserve some help. Confide in a friend; talk with a therapist. Just share what is going on for you. You don't have to be "fixed;" it can be a comfort to share the weight of your burden with another human being.


2) Narrow your focus down to just today.  Do only what is in front of you. Simplify. Stop replaying yesterday and stop practicing tomorrow. Manage your life one hour at a time, one day at a time. Chunk your life down into manageable bits. "What am I in control of? What am I not in control of?" Simplify. Breathe... You need to conserve what little energy you have left and use it for yourself.


3) Be gentle and nurturing toward yourself. If your best friend was going through this, how would you support her? Support yourself this way. Breathe in to a count of three; breathe out to a count of five. Do this four times a day. Buy yourself flowers.


4) Eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water, try to move your body even if it's just to go for a walk and get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure every day. You need the Vitamin D from the sun.


5) Remember that this kind of crisis warps your sense of time. You will fear that you will never come through the other end of this. You will. "This, too, shall pass." Don't quit before your miracle. Get back into today. Now. This minute. Breathe...


6) If you have any kind of spiritual belief system, get back to it. Read an inspirational book, something that will put you back into "the big picture" of Life and the Universe. Pray, meditate, light a candle, journal about it. Write every worry down onto a piece of paper, fold it and put it in your "Let Go, Let God" bag. If you are agnostic or atheist, do it anyway and call the bag something else. The act of writing it all down on separate small pieces of paper helps to organize, and it imposes some appropriate perspective to what feels like a huge brown overwhelming cloud. It helps you to feel bigger than your problems.


7) Do a mental or written gratitude list. I know you might be mad and you don't feel like being grateful. Do it anyway. Just look around for a minute and recognize a few small or large things you are grateful for. Related to this, perform some act of kindness today, preferably for a stranger and do it anonymously if you can.


8) It is OK to withdraw; just don't isolate. You can go within, be quiet and be alone. It is a common response to want to contract and pull inward. The fetal position under the covers can be comforting. Just be sure you come out and bathe, eat, drink water and do your life whenever you can.


These occasional periods of "too much" are a normal part of Life for those of us who are showing up to do our lives. Get some support. This is why friendships are made. Every now and then, we need to actually call in and enlist the benefits of the friendships we have built. They are not there just for movie companionship.

I would love to hear from you about how you have navigated troubled waters in the past. Please share your tools for getting through the hard times.

Candle Close Up With Blue Green Background

 

Megaphone with Words Special Announcements

Make this easy for yourself! Let me come to you!

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When you become a Subsriber, you will get an e-mail from me when I occasionally publish a new post. The link will bring you right back here with one click. Just fill in your e-mail address over there >>> on the right side bar where it says, "Subscribe."

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"The First Eighty Years are the Hardest: Feeling, Dealing, Healing" - Mary Roush

Mary RoushMy mom, Mary Roush died on the evening of August 27, 2012. On the morning of August 28, 2012, I awoke a motherless daughter. That was seven weeks ago and that's why I haven't published a post in awhile. There was the drop-everything-race-to-Tucson drive to the hospital and then the flying-back-and-forth-to-start-the-Fall-semester, and then the funeral service, and then flying back the next weekend to be with my now-all-alone dad, and then all the usual life demands continued, unwilling to even pause a moment while I sat and cried and grieved and rocked myself on the couch, clutching the pillow, or the dog, or anything at all that might fill my now motherless arms. It has been a time, it has.

My mother was 81. She had survived hip replacement surgeries (one was botched and had to be re-done), back surgery, pneumonia, thrush, MRSA, bladder cancer, and finally bladder removal surgery because the immunotherapy destroyed her bladder. She was finally pain free, cane free, and happily care free. She was volunteering; she performed in a talent show, and she was sponsoring several women through her 12-Step program. She had 44 years as an actively recovering alcoholic. Ten days later, she would have celebrated 61 years of marriage with her husband, my dad, Skip.

Mary Roush Performing One Woman Skit
"Growing Old Disgracefully" Skit


How fitting that she was at her usual Saturday morning 12-Step meeting when she experienced sudden severe abdominal pain, passed out and later that afternoon barely survived (flat-lined twice) emergency surgery to repair a perforated bowel. She never awakened - at least not until she reached the Other Side on Monday night.  I was with her in the hospital. I held her hand and kissed her forehead and rubbed her feet and stroked her hair. I talked to her, assuring her that everything was fine, that dad was OK, and that what came next was up to whatever she and God decided.  I thanked her for being my mom and for teaching me so much about love, spirituality, acceptance, and living in this moment. Many of the posts on this blog include references to my relationship with my mom. Aware that the other kids may not have this blessed chance to be with her, I went down the line in their stead. "Kathy loves you." long pause... "Kim loves you." long pause... "Mike loves you." long pause... "Kay loves you." long pause... "And dad adores you." I went on to include the in-laws, the grandchildren, mom's best friend, Carole, and ended with the two dogs, Fannie and Foxy.

My mom had just finished her autobiography, the title of this post, "The First Eighty Years are the Hardest: Feeling, Dealing, Healing." For many years, her friends and family implored her to write her story and she finally did. I am now in the process of copy editing and working with her self-publishing consultant in Green Valley, AZ trying to get it formatted (she picked out way too many pictures!) and printed. Her goal was to have it done by Thanksgiving and then have at least five copies made for the kids as Christmas presents this year. By the way, if anyone who is reading this can offer some direction about how to get from the completed manuscript stage to the printed self-published book stage, I welcome your help. Someone in Albuquerque would be great. We need to insert the pictures and then we're done.

 

 

Mary Roush in Academy Awards Dress
Mary Being Fitted with her Academy Awards Gown
Many years ago, during the years of her psychotherapy private practice in Denver, my mom was contemplating the AA motto, "Think, Think, Think." She said she appreciated the spirit of the message, - and - she realized she had often abused the privilege a bit too much in order to avoid feeling her feelings. And so, she invented a new AA motto: "Feel, Deal, Heal." Hence, the tag line of her book title.

I am including the obituary that I wrote here,  Download Obituary for Mary Roush if you would like to read it.

I plan to share with you in my next post a bit of what I've experienced around grieving. I teach a class at CNM called Death and Dying. While I learned alot through my sister's death seven years ago, this experience is quite different. I hope I might have something to offer you for when you go through this process. A friend of mine texted, "Thinking of you. How are you doing?" I texted back, "I am flowing along with the process. The process sucks." And while that is true, the process is amazing; it is huge, and it can be done. Until then, I will open another box of Kleenex, go through some more pictures and drag the dog up onto the couch with me.

Mary Roush with Daughter, Kris
Mary Roush with her daughter, Kris

 

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The Fine Art of Misery Series: Introduction

Frustration Woman With Head in Hands
This series is being brought to you as a public service. I have recently observed an alarming number of Americans smiling, walking with long confident strides with heads held high, greeting total strangers with kindness, remaining optimistic in the face of disappointments, and perhaps most alarming, exhibiting generosity while searching for parking spaces.

 

Now, to the casual observer, these might appear to be positive behaviors. No! Don't be fooled! Look around you. It is not normal to be happy and carefree. If you are well adjusted, physically healthy, and you enjoy a satisfying relationship, you are a social outcast. You are in a minority that enjoys no legal protections.  You are hopelessly doomed to a life of being misunderstood, judged, and socially shunned. The normal person won't be drawn to you. You will never be able to relate to Wednesday Afternoon TV Specials or Lifetime Channel movies. With no excuses for poor performance, people will expect quality outcomes from you. The pressure will be too much. Think about it. The vast majority of Americans are depressed and overweight. The divorce rate is over 50%. Drug abuse is on the rise and even the planet is taking a nose dive. Do you want to risk social alienation at such a time of misery solidarity? There is a reason for that saying about "safety in numbers." Rejoin our ranks and relax in the safe and strong arms of mediocrity and melancholy.

 

I am here to help you. Follow this series to learn a step-by-step guide to the joys of misery. We will be covering all the major topics that are designed to create self-perpetuating life-long drama. Each topic skillfully builds on the last one, illustrating a common sense progression of skill development and attitude changes leading to a lifetime of pervasive misery. Here is the list of topics we will be covering:

  1.  Stinking Thinking: The Sweet Smell of Successful Misery
  2. Low Self-Esteem: How Low Can You Go?
  3. Depression: Prozac is for Sissies
  4. Anxiety: How to Work Yourself Into a Panic in the Absence of Any Real Threats
  5. Finding True Love: Trample Over Those Pesky Red Flags
  6. Fair Fighting? Nice Guys Finish Last
  7. Create a Toxic Workplace: Take This Job and Shove It!
  8. Using Misery to Destroy Your Body
  9. Create a Lasting Legacy: Parenting to Create Crazy Kids
  10. Your Deathbed Reflection: A Life Lived Badly

 

I bring several years of tried and true experience to this column. I have personally tested all of the techniques described in these articles. My affiliation as a Provider within the managed health care system taught me how to masterfully keep my clients stuck in their dysfunctional living patterns while being limited to their six maximum-alloted sessions. Stay tuned for these titles coming soon!

On a serious note: Please know that this series is intended to be a spoof, a lighthearted invitation to look at how we create our own misery. It is by no means meant to be disrespectful or minimizing of many people's true pain, particularly around depression and anxiety.

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Recovering Catholics: A Success Story

Catholic Rosary on Bible

It was the summer of 1989 and I was conducting a weekend retreat workshop for Adult Children of Alcoholics at the Dominican Retreat Center in Albuquerque, NM. As the participants were checking in on Friday afternoon, I struck up an animated conversation with Sister Margaret Mary. Her pronounced east coast accent caught my ear as I tried to distinguish, was that Baltimore or Philadelphia? Indeed, she was a Catholic nun from Philadelphia, so we just had to compare notes about our lives there in the 1960s.

I had attended Catholic grade school from 3rd to 7th grade in Swedesburg, PA, a small suburb of Philadelphia. Sister Margaret Mary had grown up in Philadelphia and was several years older than me, so she was familiar with the Catholic school culture that I described.


I wanted to share with her all of my funny stories about the nuns, the ancient and kind parish priest, masses conducted in Latin, Polish, and English, memorizing the questions and answers in the Baltimore Catechism book, corporal punishment, May Processions, mid-morning snacks of soft pretzels and milk, $1.25 due every Monday morning to pay for the five 25 cent lunches per week, jumping rope every day at recess because we were not allowed to run on the asphalt playground, and making up sins for confession that weren't so serious as to warrant much more than the standard penance of three Our Fathers, four Hail Marys and one Glory Be thrown in for good measure.

Catholic Virgin Mary

Sister Margaret Mary laughed knowingly as she smiled with recognition at our many commonalities. It felt so good to find a kindred spirit. That is what we were to each other. Through the years, whenever I would meet someone new at a party or social event and find out that they, too, had attended Catholic grade school, there was an instant and mutual connection - particularly if we were of about the same age, and attended school before the rumored reforms of the 1980s. We would immediately sit together, knee to knee, and excitedly compare war stories. Yes, there were funny stories. And, as I was beginning to realize with Sister Margaret Mary, there was a dimension of "impromptu support group" to those kindred spirit connections.


Later that night, as I laid in bed recalling my conversation with Sister, I was barely able to recognize that there was a bitter tinge to the "funny" stories I was sharing.  I realized, to my innocent surprise, that there was an angry edge to the telling of some of my Catholic school experiences. I got quiet with myself and looked deeper inside and sure enough, I found anger there. And that anger was tangled up in hurt. There was in me a composite 10 year old little girl who was full of sadness and having a harder and harder time denying her forbidden anger.  Kris in 3rd Grade
Off and on throughout the next day, while conducting my workshop, I realized that this hurt and anger was real and that I needed to address it. I knew that I didn't want that resentment any more.

Sister Margaret Mary was busy running the conference center. I found Sister Janie. Sister Janie was a young noviciate - a nun in training, if you will. She was kind and helpful and I just knew she would understand. During a break, I explained what I was realizing and asked if she might be available to meet with me on Sunday afternoon after the workshop was over. I believed her when she said she was happy to help me in any way.


We met at the appointed time and we walked out into the hot arid desert to find a shaded bench. I told her that I wanted to inventory every single Catholic resentment that I had been carrying all these years. I didn't want this toxic anger any more. She listened. I talked. And talked. And talked.

  • the time Sister Camilla hit me over the head with the hard bound Geography book
  • the time Sister Gabriel stood me in front of the class as an example of a ratty school uniform because the tear in the front had only been patched from underneath... I was humiliated...
  • the many times the nuns said that the Roush girls would go to hell if their parents pulled them out of Catholic school and enrolled them in the public school
  • being told to never "touch yourself in an impure place;" the human body was dirty
  • being told weekly stories of children who had sinned during the day and then died in their sleep that very same night
  • being called "white trash" and my very tanned best friend, Joey being called "black monkey" by the nuns... I didn't understand what "white trash" meant until I got to high school years later
  • being made to memorize the meaningless answers to the Baltimore Catechism book questions
  • no exposure to the Bible, just my Catholic Missal
  • the incessant warnings about God's wrath and eternal punishment in a burning hell
  • the constant implied teachings that I was bad to the core and had to be diligent on a daily basis to resist my sinful nature
  • and perhaps most painful, finding out in high school, through Young Life (a Christian outreach for high schoolers) that God really did know me and love me all along and that my Catholic school had brainwashed me into self hatred and a terrified fear of a vengeful God.                              Catholic Nun

This and much more poured out of me and I will be forever grateful to Sister Janie. Through my tears, I could see her face. Her look of anguish as she slowly shook her head in sorrow, healed my pain. She didn't speak words. She spoke heartfelt compassion with her face. She believed me. She never defensively tried to explain away or excuse the nuns, the church, the doctrine, none of it. And after it had all come out, my pain, the betrayal, the lies, my resentments about it all.... when there was nothing left to say... I dared to ask.


I don't know where it came from. I was just as surprised to hear it myself. A small and tentative voice inside of me asked Sister Janie, "I don't know if I can ask this or not, but,... could you apologize to me on behalf of the Catholic Church?" I couldn't believe the selfish audacity of my request. Before I could recover from the shock of my own question, Sister Janie quickly answered, "Of course! I am so sorry all of that happened to you. It did happen; I have heard similar stories from other people. I am so sorry and  as an official representative of the Catholic Church, I do apologize to you and I ask for your forgiveness." Well, I burst into tears again as we held each other and sat on that bench together, - two women who had only met the day before.  Finally.  God was good.


I told Sister Janie of my intention to leave it all there, there in the South Valley desert. I had released all that anger and would not pick it up again. And now, I can honestly say that when I tell my Catholic school stories, that tinge of anger is gone. I smile a little smile for Sister Margaret Mary and for Sister Janie, and yes, even for Sister Camilla and Sister Gabriel and all those misdirected and wounded nuns who are indeed now, my sisters.


You know, I share this story as one example of how to recognize, address, and release toxic emotions that might have been living just beneath the surface for many years. It is important to know, though, that forgiveness is not an event; it is a process. I started a process that day. I did not snap my fingers and see that it was all gone. I declared an intention that day, which I followed up with conscious choices to not pick it up again in the form of re-living and ruminating. I disallowed myself the luxury of basking in my hurt and indignation. That is the only way to truly move on into the future, unencumbered by past baggage. One of these days, I will get back to work on the book I am writing about this very process. Until then, I hope you will share with me your experiences with letting go of old hurts and then enjoying the freedom of their release.

  Sunset

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The Tetris Effect: Two Simple Steps to Train Your Brain for Happiness

Tetris Video Game
'Remember the video game, Tetris?  It is a relatively simple game in which falling sets of four squares drop to the bottom of the screen, and the player must rotate and move them so that they fit into the available matching spaces. Apparently, people get addicted to this game, playing for hours at a time. I wouldn't know. My video gaming experience began and ended with Pong.

 


After playing Tetris for awhile, many people report thinking about ways that different shapes fit into matching spaces in the real world, like cereal boxes on a shelf at the grocery store. They start "seeing" these four-square shapes in everyday objects and then naturally search for a place where they will "fit."  Tetris Pieces Falling
This after-imaging can occur after just about any prolonged visual task like weeding, playing chess, performing math calculations, or looking at slides under a microscope. Later, when people close their eyes, they often see the object of the prolonged task. This automatic and intrusive image seems to insert itself as the brain's way of saying, "Hey, this must be important since you spent so much time on it, so here it is for you again."

An Oxford study (Holmes, E., et al, 2009) found that when victims played Tetris shortly after experiencing their traumatic event, the frequency, intensity, and accuracy of traumatic memories were decreased. The preoccupation with the Tetris shapes interfered with traumatic memory encoding. How fascinating is that?

I remember an experience I had which I now recognize as The Tetris Effect. I starting being on the lookout around town for cardboard boxes because I was going to be moving soon.  Cardboard Boxes
For several days,  I drove around noticing dumpsters, loading areas behind liquor stores, trash cans set out by the curb, anywhere I might find discarded cardboard boxes. I picked them up and eventually had enough. My task was completed. Well, apparently, my brain didn't get the memo, because I continued to compulsively look for boxes even though I didn't need them anymore. It took a few days to convince my brain that that mental activity was no longer needed and it was eventually extinguished.


Happy Face in Sand

What Does This Have to Do With Happiness?

If The Tetris Effect is a phenomenon that occurs naturally, why not use it intentionally for a desired outcome? Try this popular technique. At the end of every day, for the next 30 days, jot down two short lists. Write a list of three things that you are grateful for and write a list of three good things that happened to you that day. That's it. You will find, well before the 30 days are up, that you will start 1) noticing and 2) actively looking for things that you are grateful for and good things that happen to you. Gratitude and the natural awareness of positive events will become second nature to you. You will not only recognize positive events; you will start to actively interpret neutral events as positive. Tetris will be everywhere!  Your brain will learn, "Hey, this gratitude/happiness event must be important since you spent so much time on it, so here it is for you again."

I gave the Two-List assignment to one of my Psychology classes as an extra credit opportunity. Just to get you started and with their permission, here a few items that they listed.


Spirituality Blessings Rock

Three Things That I Am Grateful For

  • That I didn't give up on going back to college after a 38 year absence.
  • I have a roof over my head.
  • I got thrown in jail for being a nuisance, which changed my life for the better.
  • I am grateful for being here in America and getting a better education.
  • The calm after the storm. Today was that day - the day that comes after the really awful day, so I am grateful for the peace that is restored when you have nowhere to go but up.
  • I am grateful for Louis Daguerre, who invented the first photographic device! Without him, there would be no camera and I would not be able to express myself through photography.
  • Finally learning that making good choices and doing nice things for others makes me a much happier person.
  • I can smell the recent rain on the still warm asphalt.
  • That God's plan was very different from mine; and it was a a better plan.
  • I am grateful for Habitat for Humanity who built my family and me a beautiful house.

Three Good Things That Happened To Me

  • My English teacher asked to use another assignment of mine as an example for future classes. That just never gets old!
  • I got a warning instead of a speeding ticket.
  • I found $5.00 in my dirty clothes.
  • There was finally some progress in the bureaucratic BS of getting financial aid.
  • I worked on my old car with my dad.
  • My new landlord finished painting our linen closet.
  • I received some useful advice for encouraging a better relationship with my son.

Notice that happiness can be found in the most unexpected places - your dirty laundry! And gratitude can be expressed for the simplest of things that we normally take for granted - your sense of smell! So start training that brain of yours to be more aware of the lovely things in life, and to be not so sensitive to every little bump in the road. I would bet that if we could train our brains this way, more four square pieces will start naturally falling into their rightful places in our lives, and the delight of synchronicity will become the norm.

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"Being Driven" or "Having Drive:" Are You Being Taken for a Ride?


Overwhelmed Woman Behind Stack of 3 Ring Binders

The Difference Between "Being Driven" and "Having Drive"

I am sure you have heard the enthusiastic compliment, "Oh, yes, she is really driven to succeed!" to describe that up and coming employee scrambling up the corporate ladder. We admire and trust the person who works hard to accomplish goals. Perseverence is an admirable trait and it is essential for success. Who could argue with the person who reaches for the stars and then follows through with passion and tenacity? No one. Although, their behavior does look suspiciously like that of the movers and shakers in the world, but we will forgive them for that. Sorry, I just couldn't resist.    :)


My concern is that sometimes, that drive to succeed is not a choice. It can be a compulsion - a compulsion that is fueled by inadequacy. In this case, these people are indeed, compulsively driven by a fear of being inadequate, or a fear of being exposed as a fraud, sometimes called the Imposter Syndrome. They are distinguished from people who are truly secure and self-confident, who simply enjoy "the thrill of the hunt," and the satisfaction of achieving a grand goal. For these people, self worth is not what is on the line. Failure to achieve the goal is a disappointment and only serves as a challenge to assess the difficulties, make some changes, and do better next time. For people who are driven to achieve by some nameless fear pushing them from behind, failure is experienced as a direct assault upon their core value as human beings. It is devastating and only serves to further entrench them in their compulsive need to prove their value through more accomplishment.

Overwhelmed Woman With Sticky Notes

When Choice Gets Thrown Out the Window, We Call That Addiction

When a person chooses to drink alcohol, we call that person a social drinker. When a person chooses to drink way too much alcohol, we call that person a social drinker who is making a bad choice, but it is still a choice, nonetheless.  When a person chooses to have one drink, but then that drink compels the person to have many, many more, we call that a compulsion to drink, which is addiction.

"First, the man takes a drink.

Then the drink takes a drink.

         Then the drink takes the man."        

                                                                  Chinese Proverb


Just as people can become addicted to alcohol, they can also become addicted to achievement. It is fine to be blessed with the personality trait of being ambitious. However, when that desirable personality trait turns into addiction because it is now fueled by inadequacy, the choice, the joy, the expansiveness of accomplishment is now deadened and no amount of success will be enough to fill that hole in the soul. What is also challenging about this situation is that it can be difficult to tell the difference between the person who is acting from choice and the person who is acting from compulsion. From afar, their behaviors are virtually identical. A closer inspection, though, reveals a distinct difference between their emotional states such as spontaneity, resilience level, optimism, patience, and off-the-clock happiness.

Road Sign Dead End

So Sorry About This Schmaltzy Analogy....            

So, who is in your driver's seat? Are you driving your car from a place of joyful choice? Or has your inadequacy taken over the steering wheel and started driving you erratically into desperate attempts to prove your worth? Do you have drive or are you being driven? Take a quiet and honest look inside yourself and ask, "What is my motivation?"  How would I feel, who would I be if I didn't accomplish these goals?


If you think you recognize yourself as "being driven"  by inadequacy, then this would be a good time for more psychospiritual reflection and some attention given to improving your self worth.  If you keep trying to fill the hole in your soul with mere accomplishment, your satisfaction will be shallow and temporary, and pretty soon you will be singing along with Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?" (OK, so you have to be over 50 to get that; the rest of you just go Google it).


This whole "What is my motivation?" question is what underlies identifying codependency. I will be writing a new post about that in the near future, so watch for that one.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think about this "being driven/having drive" distinction. Please leave a comment with your input! Thanks!

Car with Man Driving

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The Serenity Prayer

 

Candles Photo Spirituality

 

This morning during my quiet time, I found myself contemplating the Serenity Prayer. In case you are not familiar with it, here it is:

"God, grant me the

serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can, and

wisdom to know the difference."


I was struck by the simplicity and brevity of such an all-encompassing prayer. It is widely attributed to Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian from Massachusetts, though its origins are still debated. It has been used as a closing prayer by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) since 1942.

I decided to study each of the words and discover their particular meaning for me. Perhaps I might glean more insight if I thoughtfully considered the words behind the words - for me. I would like to share this with you with the hastily added clarification that I am no philosopher. Here is how it broke down for me:


"God, grant me the                   "Something/Someone greater than myself, give me the

serenity                                       peacefulness, faith and knowing

to accept                                    to allow and not fight against

the things                                   the people and conditions

I cannot change,                        I am powerless over,

courage                                     the trust, resolve and strength

to change                                  to act and make different, - to transform

the things I can                         myself and the conditions I am able to make different,

and                                            and give me

wisdom                                     the transcending knowledge from experience

to know the difference."          to recognize what I can and cannot make different."

 

"God, grant me the

serenity, courage and wisdom

to

accept, change and know."

Spirituality Candles Layers of Votives

The Serenity Prayer seems to presume at least three things:

1) the need to go outside of the self to receive help,

2) the willingness to receive and act on what is asked for, and perhaps most strikingly,

3) serenity is not the result of accepting what we cannot change; serenity is the prerequisite to accepting what we cannot change.


So much is made of the need to accept what Life has given us each day, in order to experience peace in life. I can certainly see the wisdom of that, the directional flow that acceptance leads to peace. And yet, the Serenity Prayer calls us to do the opposite, to receive serenity in order to then have acceptance. This is where the need to seek help from outside of us comes in. This is what turns an affirmation into a prayer, the humble invitation to a higher power. I don't know if or how prayers get "answered" or "not answered." My personal belief is that the power is in the act of the asking.

I can appreciate that I might need divine intervention in order to have enough serenity to then experience acceptance. And, it strikes me that serenity is not the same as peace. Serenity is a state of grace that is sometimes the eye of the tornado. It includes a kind of faith from an inner Knowing. In this way, it is much more than a peaceful feeling. 

So, it begins with serenity and through acceptance, courage, action, and wisdom, it then ends in serenity and so goes the circular cycle. I am sure I have much more to learn from this prayer, and more importantly, from living from this prayer.

I would love to hear what your experience is with the Serenity Prayer and what it means to you. Please consider leaving a comment below.


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Anxiety: How to Work Yourself Into a Panic in the Absence of Any Real Threats

Note: This is Topic # 4  in a 10- part series called The Fine Art of Misery.

*On a serious note: Please know that this series is intended to be a spoof, a lighthearted invitation to look at how we sometimes create our own misery. It is by no means meant to be disrespectful or minimizing of many people's true pain, particularly around depression and anxiety.

 

Anxiety Color Illus Man Very Anxious
OK, first, look around you and assess the situation. Granted, your belly is full, you have a roof over your head, your bills are reasonably paid up, and you can call a person or two a friend.  You have a few bucks in your pocket. You can inhale and exhale with some degree of ease and you have access to at least the majority of your five senses. Do not be lulled into a sense of complacency! You can still create a crisis out of this seemingly secure situation. 

A creative imagination here is helpful. Since there is nothing major happening in your current reality that warrants freaking out, you will need to borrow some material from your past and also from your future.


Anxiety Borrowed From Your Past

Let's take a look at your past and see if you can recycle some old traumas and stresses. Let's start small.  Recall the way someone looked at you funny. If you think about it, it was actually a pretty critical look and they were probably judging you about something. That's a good reason to get upset, maybe create some after the fact indignation or better yet, fear that they really don't like you afterall. That would be devastating!

How about some "coulda, woulda, shouldas?" I could have done a better job on that project; now everyone thinks I'm a loser.  I would have made a better impression if she hadn't stolen the spotlight; now I'm just a nobody. I should have known he would react like that; now I'll bet he doesn't trust me.  A variation on this theme is the "if only." If only I had stayed at my old job, I wouldn't be in this mess. If only I had listened to my instincts, I wouldn't be stuck in this relationship. "If onlys" are handy if you want to add a tinge of depression to your anxiety. This makes for a nice touch.


Overwhelmed Finger Hitting Panic Button

Anxiety Borrowed From Your Future

The future is a great place to create some anxiety because you're not constrained by actual events that have already happened. The sky's the limit! Start with some "what ifs." What if I don't get the job? What if my girlfriend  breaks up with me? What if the car breaks down while I'm on the highway at night? What if I ignore this headache and it turns out to be a brain tumor and I die a slow agonizing death, leaving my family destitute and grief stricken?  See how quickly you can go from zero to sixty in a few seconds flat? "What ifs" are the gold standard for creating anxiety out of future thin air.


Anxiety: Go for the Gold!

If you're going for sustained, long term chronic anxiety, you will need to create some foundational negative beliefs and attitudes.  Beliefs like, "Everyone has to like me all the time," "I can't ever make a mistake or let them see me vulnerable," and "I always have to be the best at everything I do," are a good start.

I hope this little installment from The Fine Art of Misery series has been helpful. Stay tuned for the next title,  Finding True Love: Trample Over Those Pesky Red Flags.

 

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"I'm Codependent and Damn Proud of It!"

Codependency Man Tied Up in Rope

 

Codependents Unite!

Have you ever wondered about the origin of all of your "destructive" codependent behaviors? Could it be that you were just born that way? Maybe there is a genetic predisposition toward crazy-making behavior and you were just unlucky enough to inherit it.

I don't think so.  I think it is more likely that you were born just fine, with the same reasonable probability of sane adult relationships as the rest of us. Something must have happened to you sometime between the day of your birth and the day of your first date. Hmm... what could that have been? Maybe you grew up in a home where the grownups were not all that grown up, and you needed to learn how to cope with emotional upheaval. 


It Makes Sense To Be Codependent

  • If you came to believe that your misbehavior was what caused your dad to drink too much, then it made sense to feel overly responsible for everything around you.
  • Similarly, if you got in trouble for being messy, it made sense to become obsessive in order to prevent being yelled at.
  • If every time you expressed a feeling, you were told you were wrong for feeling that way, it made sense to just stop having feelings.
  • If you ever expressed a need or even a preference for something, it was probably ignored as unimportant or worse, you were made to feel wrong, it made sense to just stop having needs, let alone, expressing them.
  • If you grew up in chaos, constantly experiencing bizarre behavior, it made sense to learn how to adjust to anything and then not ever really learn what normal is.
  • If you felt like your world was unpredictable and out of control, it made sense to become super controlling of yourself and everything around you.
  • If people yelled alot in your home, with lots of arguing and verbal threats, it made sense for you to avoid conflict at all cost.
  • If you never had your world validated by anyone else, it made sense to stop trusting your own reality and then defer to everyone else.

  BandAid

 

You Were Brilliant!

I'll bet it never occured to you to think of yourself as brilliant. You came up with all of those creative ways to take care of yourself, to protect your sense of sanity, emotional safety and self worth. You survived that experience. Sure, you came out of it a little battered and bruised, but you deserve to be congratulated for all your strategic reactions that brought you to today. Congratulations!

 

The Bad News is...Codependency

The bad news is that what was once adaptive in the war zone is now maladaptive during peace time. All of those defensive strategies that protected you while under attack are now destructive traits that prevent you from enjoying intimate relationships. You are so well defended, people can't get close to you. You are so reactive, it is difficult for you to respond. You are "loaded for bear" in relationships when all you will probably ever run into is a raccoon. Your solutions from the past are now the problems in the present. 

 

Let's End With the Good News...

The good news is that you can reframe your experience and recognize that these problematic codependent tendencies you have today originated in some pretty brilliant maneuvering. You are not just "an unhealthy person with alot of work to do." Before you go trying to stop being codependent, give your inner child a hug and a congratulatory "high five" for getting you here today.  You can remind yourself that that was then and this is now. You can heal your emotional pain and relax those automatic reactions into thoughtful responses.  You can grieve the losses, understand all the dynamics, forgive what needs to be forgiven, and finally enjoy the freedom to make a different choice.

Now, say it with me, "I'm Codependent, and damn proud of it!"

 

 

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"I Wonder If You Could Help Me With Something..."

Friendship Two Women Friends Hugging

Do you need to say something to someone that might be hard for her to hear?

Do you need to ask someone to change her behavior for you?

 

These can be awkward situations. It is difficult to break disappointing news or to communicate any kind of message that might result in the receiver feeling embarrassment, guilt, conflict, or anger. Yet, sometimes, honesty requires it and healthy relationships demand it.

 

I recall a man who did a beautiful job of this. I had just moved into my first house and I was in the backyard with the gate open to the alley. My new neighbor approached me and I felt a little apprehensive for some reason. My guard was up as I anticipated what could possibly be the problem. As he neared, he smiled and said, "I wonder if you could help me with something." I instantly melted; my heart opened up, and I could feel myself being receptive to whatever he was going to say next. He then explained, "When you dump the concrete water here in the alley, it pools in this spot right in front of my garage and then I end up tracking it into my garage floor.  I wonder if you could just dump it a little closer to the fence." "Sure,"  I happily replied as we introduced ourselves.  As I walked back to the house, I reflected on how badly that whole incident could have gone if he had just yelled at me for being so careless and inconsiderate.

 

I think that many of us are good people. We identify with being generally helpful, kind to others, and responsive to their needs. Even the nicest people, though, will probably contract into a defensive posture when threatened. If you want others to be open and responsive to you, don't give them any reason to feel defensive. Be respectful and validate the legitimacy of their position. This can be very disarming and it helps them to feel emotionally safe. By validating the other person's reality, you increase the likelihood that they will be able to validate yours.


Man & Woman At Odds
"We Need to Talk"

Of course, never ever start a conversation with "we need to talk." Nothing good ever comes after that phrase. As soon as we hear it, we shut down in preparation for some kind of attack. We become well defended and resistant, ready to attack back. This will make it much less likely that you will get your needs met. So, it serves your interests much better to use a gentler introductory statement that leaves the listener more likely to stay or even become open to hearing whatever you say next.

 

I suggest you put the phrase, "I wonder if you could help me with something" in your back pocket and try it sometime. It is an "I" statement, which is the gold standard in the communications and counseling worlds. It implies ownership and self responsibility which helps the receiver to not have to feel confronted or attacked. Did you notice that my neighbor's last sentence was also an "I" statement?, "I wonder if you could just dump it closer to the fence." That is much better than "You should" or "Why don't you."

 

Disclaimer:

Of course, here is the small print. All of the above is all very nice. And, you need to know that it may not work at all. It is so frustrating when you do everything right and then the other person doesn't cooperate with the reaction the self-help book said they would have.  This leads me to another topic that we will get into sometime: We cannot change or control anyone. Using the above suggestions will do only two things. 1) It will increase the likelihood of a positive response, and 2) You will know that you conducted yourself with kindness and class. And that is priceless.

 

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Increase Your Self Esteem in 23 Seconds Flat!

Weekend Self Esteem Workshop Simplified Down to 23 Seconds Flat

  Happiness Woman Making Snow Angel

 

Fill in the blanks of the following statements, and then read out loud.

1) My ____________ is too big, but that's OK,

 I'm still a Child of God.

2) My ___________  is too small, but that's OK,

I'm still a Child of God

 3) With other people, I am not ___________ enough; but that's OK, 

I'm still a Child of God.


Believe it.

You are a real find,

A joy in someone's heart.

You are a jewel,

Unique and priceless.

Believe it.

God don't make no junk.

                                           Herb Barks

  Self Concept- Valentine Candy I'm Me

 

 

The "secret" to increased self esteem is not about generating a Personality Trait "Pro" list that is longer than your Personality Trait "Con" list. It is not about deciding that you have enough good qualities so that you deserve to have self love.

Your self esteem is a psychological concept with roots in spirituality. It is a precious and private choice to decide that you are "deserving" of self love just because you are a human being and you exist on the planet. That's it.  Sure, you have things about you that could use some attention. Have some personal integrity and gently attend to those things. That's all. Have the gentle intention to be a better person.

If atheism or agnosticism is your thing, no problem. Making a "precious and private choice to decide that you are "deserving" of self love just because you are a human being and exist on the planet" still works.

Beyond that and in the meantime, love yourself warts and all!  Don't try to believe that you don't have any warts or that your warts don't matter. Accept that you have some just like the rest of us and love yourself warts and all! God does. And if you're good enough for God, well then, who are you to disagree with God? There is a picture of you in God's wallet.

Remember, "God don't make no junk!"

 

Joy Man in Street Silhouette

 


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Depression: Before You Reach for the Prozac

Note: This is Topic #3 of a 10-part series called The Fine Art of Misery. 

*On a serious note: please know that this series is intended to be a spoof, a lighthearted invitation to look at how we sometimes create our own misery. It is by no means meant to be disrespectful or minimizing of many people's true pain, particularly around depression and anxiety.

 

Depression Pills
Believe it or not, some people don’t naturally come by feelings of depression.  They are afflicted with a sunny disposition.  Don’t despair.  A proven technique to generate an internal state of depression is to start on the outside and work your way in to the inside.


Begin with your physical appearance, then concentrate on your outward behavior, and finish off the process with the big guns as described in our last column: your inner thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs (Stinking Thinking: The Sweet Smell of Successful Misery).  This systematic approach will slowly but surely destroy your life spirit.

How to Appear Depressed

  •   Wear drab, dark clothes that communicate that you are invisible or otherwise deserve to be invisible.  Browns, blacks, grays, and navy blues are best.  Be sure your clothes are over-sized, wrinkled, and not clean.  A low slung hat or hairstyle that hides your eyes is a particularly effective touch that will keep you feeling invisible and unworthy.  It telegraphs to the world your morose and sullen nature and has the added benefit of calling attention to yourself as a misunderstood outcast.  Some people will be merely intrigued; others will feel sorry for you and that’s exactly the effect you’re after.
  •   Manage your facial expressions.  Always wear a frown on your face and do not make eye contact with people.  Use your face to express only minimal emotion; boredom, superior disdain and chronic irritation are best.  The well-timed rolling

Continue reading "Depression: Before You Reach for the Prozac" »