Darkness into Light

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.

Imagine that you walk into a room.  It is dark.  The shades are pulled down.  The curtains are pulled down.  There is no light.  All you see is the darkness.  While in this dark room with out lights, you become aware that you are wearing dark sunglasses to keep out any light that might even creep into the room.   You live in this darkness for days/weeks/months, even years. Why would a person want to stay in this dark room?  It’s safe.  It’s familiar.  You can’t see anything that you don’t want to see.
I’ve worked with people who live in the dark.  They’re very good at it. They miss out on seeing :
  • alcoholism
  • drug addiction
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sex addiction
  • domestic violence
  • physical or verbal abuse
  • dysfunctional family patterns
  • infidelity
  • things that everyone else sees

With that list of issues, we’d all choose to stay in the dark room of denial, avoidance, lack of awareness, and cluelessness.

Many years ago I worked with a woman whose boyfriend was an intravenous heroin addict.  She said ” I had no idea he used heroin.. He wore long sleeves a lot but I didn’t think much of it..Come to think of it, whenever he was around, I was always short on money… I just thought I’d spent it on something…Now that I’m talking about it, there’s a pair of earrings, I’ve never found.  You don’t think he took them do you? ”    DARKNESS

How about this one.  “I love my wife with all my heart, but she’s been acting strange lately.  She’s always on the phone.  When I ask who she is talking to, she says a friend.  If I walk into the  office and see her writing an email, she’s quick to close the computer down.  Again when I ask her, she says it’s just work.  The other day, she didn’t come home until real late like 2 or 3 in the morning.  When I asked her where she was she hesitated an said she was with her friend Dawn and must have fallen asleep.  She looked awfully dressed up to go out with Dawn by the way.  You don’t think she’s cheating on me do you?  She wouldn’t do that, would she?      DARKNESS

Darkness is pervasive.  We don’t want to know what we do not want to know.  If I don’t look, I don’t see.  If I don’t see, I won’t be upset, or scared, or hurt, or angry.  If I’m this in the dark, I don’t have to do anything to change.  I can live my dark bliss forever.

Is there a cost to living in the dark?  Yes, but if you are in the dark, you don’t recognize the cost.  Ironically you only see the cost, when you find the courage to:

take off the dark glasses

open the blinds

open the curtains

open the shades

When the light comes into your dark room, you begin to see what you don’t want to see and begin to ask the questions that you don’t want to ask.  At that point, the feelings come in and now it’s time to recognize what you didn’t want to see.  The more that you allow the light to come in the more that you can answer the hard questions:

Why did I not see this?

Why did I put myself in this place?

What am I going to do?

Can this situation be changed?

Will I be OK?

Will I ever be the same?

 Asking the questions turns on the lights, and begins your healing,  and your changing.  The more you ask, the more you see, the more you heal.  This process will take time and patience.  You don’t have to do it in one hour, or one day, or one week, or one month, or even in one year.  You owe it to yourself to find the courage to turn on the lights.

Change is possible.

 

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Digging in the dirt

I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

Peter Gabriel

 

 

Recently,  the Rock and Roll Hall of  Fame inducted Peter Gabriel.  As the front man for the band Genesis, Gabriel’s elaborate costumes got the band noticed.  His unique singing and writing led to the band’s success. In 1986, Gabriel left Genesis and released the album So which sold five million copies. His next album Us was released six years later.  On that album you will  find the  song Digging in the Dirt.

According to Gabriel,Digging in the Dirt  is a song about his therapy.  There are many interpretations about the song.  These include domestic violence, murder and many others.(you can find more of those here.)  Since there are no factual interpretations, please indulge my therapeutic perception .

This is the chorus of the song :

This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]
This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real
Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The beginning part,

This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]
This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real

 

I believe  this is Gabriel’s fear and  shame  speaking.  He wants to run, avoid, and not deal with the places he got hurt.  Gabriel is shaming himself with the repeated yelling “this time you’ve gone too far/ I told you”.  He knows that he should not be sharing his innermost thoughts with anyone( a message perhaps that he received in childhood).  In the next part of the song, Gabriel sounds like a small boy who is hearing what he needs to do :

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real

Gabriel’s inner shame and self loathing have taken over.  He is worthless, afraid, and ashamed.

Although afraid and ashamed, Gabriel is aware that he is in need of the therapist’s help. Later in the chorus he finds his healthy voice:

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The phrase “stay with me I need support” is a request to  the therapist to be with him on this journey of “finding the places I got hurt”.  He knows that he is in a trusting therapeutic relationship because he not only wants to find those places, he wants to “open up the places I got hurt”.

Gabriel sounds calmer, less shamed, and very aware in the next verse:

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind

He knows there’s a bunch of issues that he has to find.  He gets overwhelmed as he starts to uncover the pain.

This song is a great example of the therapeutic process.  The chorus is so appropriate for many people that I have seen over the years.

I  have seen  clients having a  “this time you’ve gone too far” reaction  many times by doing the following:

  •  having “hot flashes” (men too)
  • getting uncomfortable physically–fidgeting, playing with pens, keys, pillows, etc
  • needing an immediate bathroom break
  • standing up
  • abruptly changing the subject
  • leaving the session

Like Gabriel’s experience, therapy is scary.  It’s full of fear, pain, shame and guilt.  People keep looking and finding.  They keep asking “why” sometimes without answers.  Sometimes they find answers that they don’t like. Sometimes people become aware that they need to take action and those actions are overwhelming and scary.   Sometimes there are no answers, only questions.  Sometimes, my best and only contribution, is my understanding of the pain, sadness, and loss that my client is feeling.

I’ve seen many clients over the years go through storms in order to find their rainbow (If you’d like to read more on this topic,  go to one of my old blogs “You can’t have a rainbow without a storm”).   I enjoy the experience of seeing people make changes in their lives.  As we “dig in the dirt”,  we get to plant seeds and crops that grow year after year.  They are fruitful, they are plentiful, and they are healthy.  Don’t be afraid to dig–Change is Possible!

 

 

 

 

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Thank you

You didn’t have to love me like you did
But you did, but you did.
And I thank you.
Issac Hayes

When I say “thank you” I mean it as it is intended. Thank you for helping me. We probably don’t say it enough. We don’t acknowledge those people who do the simple mundane tasks or even those who go out of their way to do more. For whatever reason, we have decided that thanking people isn’t all that important. We move on to the next thing that we are doing. For those who still have these words in their vocabulary, thank you for using them!

It’s good that we take the time to thank people. However, there are some people that we would never thank. These are people that we feel hurt, resentment and pain towards. These feelings are the venom that pervades our souls with blackness. We are much more likely to use some other two word greeting than the kind and gentle “thank you”. But what if I said “thank you” to this resented person? What if the “thank you” could actually help ME?

If we have venom towards an ex-partner, family member, boss etc, these feelings follow us everywhere. They invade our day, our night, and our sleep. We constantly bombard ourselves with these intense feelings. We can’t stop thinking about the damage that has been caused. In the worst of circumstances, we are engulfed when thinking about the upcoming family gathering, work meeting, sporting event. There is no way that we could possibly be in the same room as that person, let alone in close proximity. By constantly obsessing about this person, we are giving him/her tons of power. This person is “taking up rent free space in our heads”. We can do something different to make it better for us.

Doing something different implies taking a risk. The risk involves thanking the person for their help. For example, I have to ask my ex-partner to pick up the kids from swimming class. My automatic thoughts might be “I have to ask this person to do this; s/he should know the schedule and should be volunteering to help. I mean after all s/he did to me…..etc”. My healing and empowering new thoughts can be “I’ll ask him/her to pick up the kids”. When the ex-partner fulfills the request, all I have to do is say “thank you”. I don’t have to rant, rave, harangue, tell everybody about what a jerk -off my person is. All that is necessary is a thank you.

When we use our own power instead of a reaction to the past, or obsess in the voluminous rent free space zone, we get to have a new version of ourselves. The partner may or may not see the difference but we end up of free of agita, anxiety, rage, hurt and resentment. This healing “thank you” gives us the freedom to change, the freedom to be better, and most importantly, the freedom to be myself. Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone said it best “thank you for letting me be myself again”

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Don’t You Want Me

In the fall of 1982, I was a graduate student in Baltimore, Maryland.  Every morning, I got up early to go to my job that started at 7AM.  From work it was onto class at 4PM .  This was what I did every day for 6 months straight.  Part of my morning ritual was listening  to the radio en route to work.  It seems that I heard this song every morning:

Over 30 years later, this song is still playing on the radio. I hear this song today  differently than I did then.  This song has a therapeutic theme which I have heard many times.  For example-

How many of my clients :

  • have told me this story?
  • got involved with a controlling possessive person only to have to extricate themselves from that relationship?
  •   did not or could not get out of that relationship?
  •   have been with that “love of my life” only for their partner to drop them and move on?

It’s always interesting how people choose their partner.  In previous blogs, we focused in on the communication patterns that stirred up “old stuff”.  I  often wonder what each person looks for in a relationship and what “old stuff” is contributing to that decision.    I’ve worked with countless number of women who grew up in addicted families and married another addicted person.  It was a familiar match made in hell.  I’ve worked with men who had a cold, rejecting, hurtful, mother who married a woman who was cold, rejecting, and hurtful.  Some of these decisions were consciously made.  The person thought that their partner needed fixing or that they would get better.  Other times these discoveries were made in my office after the fact.  Regardless of the motive, the question that I hear is “why did I do this”?  “Why did I marry him/her?”.

Michelle Weiner-Davis is a therapist, and author of the book Divorce Busting.  Her approach is to save marriages  because of the costs, both financial and emotional, of divorce.  However, when people are married to the wrong person, or have a dysfunctional, magnetic connection to a partner, those marriages can not work.  The cost of staying is far greater than the cost of leaving.  Staying in bad marriages, strips self-esteem, self- worth and self- love.  People tend to deal with these partnerships through “quick fix band aids”–addictive behavior, infidelity,  or by developing physical illnesses or mental illness such as anxiety or depression . These costs are chronic, painful, and some times leads to worse problems.

The “Should I Stay or Should I Go” decision  is difficult and scary.  It requires weighing out the  advantages and disadvantages of staying or going.  If you follow the Divorce Busting     approach,  you stay and you work it out.  If you are in a dysfunctional, painful, empty relationship, you have a lot of thinking to do.  Don’t You Want Me Baby is a painful refrain full of rejection; it’s also a song of getting away and getting healthy.

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Fork in the Road

“Life is complex.
Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another…The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness. ”
M. Scott Peck

Many years ago, before the gps was invented, I got directions to go to a family party.  The trip was going well, and we were right on time.  Unbeknownst to me, the road  that we were on was about to end (this part was not in the directions). We were faced with two choices–go left or go right.  We sat at the stop sign, trying to figure out the best option.  Ultimately, we turned right.  This was was in fact wrong and proceeded to drive off course.  After driving around for a while, we eventually righted our course and arrived at our destination.

 Each and every day, many of us arrive at that stop sign with a left or right turn option.  It looks like this:

 

Every day, we can decide to change or not to change.  We talk about it all the time ” I should go to the gym” , “I should get a new job” ,” I should lose weight”.  We “should” on ourselves but ultimately don’t do anything.  Change is hard.  I think the decision process looks like this:

Our “”change/no change” slide tells the story.  On one hand, it would be so much better for me to change–I’d feel better, but it’s scary and unknown.  On the “no change side”, it’s familiar,  but  as Henry Ford said “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got”.  “No change” keeps us stuck!  The hardest part about this “stuckness” is that I know intellectually that making any change is going to be better, but because I’ve projected way way down the path it looks very scary.  Staying right where I am usually wins out.

Let’s look at a concrete example of this.  It’s the new year, and I’ve put on a few pounds from the holidays.  It’s time to lose weight. Let’s look at our change/no change view:

 

The “change” side speaks loudly:The pants are getting tighter, I hate how I look in the mirror, I know it would be medically better to lose these pounds, but to do this I have to sacrifice.  Am I willing to sacrifice my comfort, my ability to be “comfortably numb”?  Do I really want to exercise and not eat what I want?  Can’t I just work around this by getting bigger pants or not ever look in the mirror?   Day after day, I argue with myself.  My head is like a giant seesaw going back and forth between change and no change options.

We can continue in this state of ambivalence for a long time.  It can go on and on and on until we make a decision to do something.  Sometimes change occurs just by taking any type of action.  In our weight loss example, the action may have little to do with food or exercise.  It may be a decision to read or not sit on the couch endlessly.  Small change leads to bigger change.  Bigger change ultimately leads to the changes that we want.

In addition to doing something,  making a commitment to change sets up some accountability.  In our weight loss example, joining a program (i.e. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystems, Over -Eaters Anonymous) allows us to “put our money where our mouth is”(literally) and commit to the opportunity for change.   Another way that commitment can work towards change is by telling people.Tell your friends, relatives, co-workers,  and social media universe about your plans for change(i.e. I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year). Ask them to check up on you about your change.  This accountability strategy can give you a little oomph towards your goal. We will definitely feel embarrassed if three months from now, my support people ask about weight loss, and there is no change.  Guilt and shame prevention is a good thing!    If we pay money and tell people about our changes, we’ve started to tilt that see-saw towards the change side.

We are now a technological society.  We have  a gps to help us to find our way when we are lost.  There is no electronic device that can change our default ambivalence settings.  We have to decide daily that change is better than no change.  Change is do- able.  Change is possible.  Make change happen.

 

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Change Is

Observations and Reflections as the year comes to a close

 

“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”
Libba Bray, The Sweet Far Thing

 Change is :

1)      Change is fear

2)      Change is pain

3)      Change is love

4)      Change is acceptance

5)      Change is hope

6)      Change is feeling

7)      Change is action

8)      Change is living life

9)      Change is flexibility

10)   Change is enjoying life

11)   Change is dealing with inconveniences, hassles and things that aren’t fair

12)   Change is grief

13)   Change is sadness

14)   Change is peace

Most of all change is possible

 

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20 Identifiable Traits of Female Narcissists

According to the largest study ever conducted on personality disorders (PD) by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), 6.2% has NPD [Narcissistic Personalty Disorder](Stinson et al. 2008).  Of the people meeting the criteria for NPD, 62 percent were men and 38 percent were women (Stinson et al. 2008).

Since 38 percent of NPDers are women, it would be good to know what makes them different.

Here is a nice behavioral list: (Walsh  2010: http://www.hookingupsmart.com/2010/06/28/relationshipstrategies/20-identifiable-traits-of-a-female-narcissist/)

 

Physical Appearance

 

  1. She dresses provocatively, flaunting sexually suggestive body parts.
  2. She focuses attention on makeup and hair, even for the most mundane tasks or events.
  3. She is overly confident about her looks. Research shows that narcissists are no more attractive than other people, but they believe they are much better looking than other women.
  4. She places high value on brand names, and feels entitled to wear “the best.” She frequently purchases new clothing, and does not distinguish between wants and needs.
  5. She is more likely to have plastic surgery, most commonly breast augmentation.
  6. She enjoys being photographed, and often asks others to snap her picture. She enthusiastically shares the best pics of herself on Facebook or other social media sites. She will sometimes invest in a professional photographer for a portrait that she uses on Facebook or for online dating.

 

Personality/Character

 

  1. She insists on being the center of attention, and is often the most charming person in the room. Narcissists are very outgoing and excel at marketing themselves.
  2. She often seeks favorable treatment, and automatic compliance. She believes that she is special, and that she deserves fame, fortune, success and happiness.
  3. She is highly materialistic.
  4. She is prone to envy, though she presents as supremely confident. She seeks opportunities to undermine others, and enjoys sharing confidences about how the two of you are better than others.
  5. She is convinced that others are envious and jealous of her, and often uses this excuse for her lack of real, intimate friendships. When her friends enjoy successes of their own, she finds ways to punish them by downplaying their achievements.
  6. She lacks empathy, and even common courtesy at times. She puts others down, including you. She does not hesitate to exploit others.
  7. She is very competitive.
  8. She believes that she is intellectually superior to her peers.
  9. She blames others for problems. Narcissists don’t believe that they make mistakes, and lack the ability to process shame.
  10. She displays a haughty attitude when she lets her guard down or is confronted. She will act impatient, arrogant and condescending. She will often excuse her own shortcomings by claiming that others are pressuring her or expecting too much of her.
  11. She is dishonest and often lies to get what she wants. She will never admit this.
  12. She is “psycho:” She engages in risky behaviors, has an addictive personality, and is prone to aggressive behavior when rejected. (Note: This is most common with Histrionic Personality Disorder.)
  13. She is unpredictable in her moods and actions. You have trouble figuring out what she wants and where you stand.
  14. She is capable of short-term regret, and will apologize profusely if backed into a corner. However, she will quickly rationalize her behavior and return to narcissistic patterns.

A person does not have to have all 20 characteristics to meet NPD criteria

 

 

 

The NHL and Parenting

I have been a hockey fan for most of my life. I was struck by The National Hockey League’s(NHL) speed, power, grace, and excitement. It is a sport with a regular season that goes on too long. However its claim to fame is its playoff series, a 16 win marathon that culminates in the celebration of Lord Stanley’s cup. It’s a sport played by professionals from 18-48 making it a sport played by both the youngest and oldest professional athletes.
The NHL also has a rather strategic way of policing its players who do not follow the rules. In fact, the league’s penalty system gives us a good model for parenting strategies. It disciplines its players immediately, for a specified period of time, and uses effective time outs (penalty box). It is also dishes out consequences based upon the person’s behavior.

The NHL has a very specific tier system which looks something like this:

  • Minor Penalty(tripping ,holding, high sticking, inference, slashing) 2 minutes
  • Major penalty(fighting) 5 minutes
  • Misconduct(usually towards referee) 10 minutes
  • Game Misconduct(major offense—hurting another player etc) Thrown out of game, possible suspension or fine.

When a player commits a wrong doing, it’s not only the player who is penalized, it’s his team. When a player goes to the penalty box for a two minute tripping minor, his team also plays shorthanded for those two minutes. Playing shorthanded increases the possibility that the opponents will score a goal making the penalty much more significant.

Could parents discipline their children using the NHL model? Yes! Good parenting is based upon immediacy and “making the punishment fit the crime”. The NHL has got that down perfectly. The NHL is already using a “time out” model, (penalty box), so that too is a good fit. Most penalties committed by children at home or in school are usually minor. They need some immediate consequences. A simple timeout, whether in a time out chair or sent to their room, will usually suffice as a consequence. The penalties and consequences could be adjusted according to the age of the child— a seven year old who doesn’t listen and a 15 year old who doesn’t listen could both be “minor” penalties. However the consequences of these “minors” would be different. This model also allows parents to identify appropriate consequences depending upon the infraction. A child who is bratty towards his sibling and one who steals from a store would need very different consequences. The NHL model also reinforces that yelling is counterproductive. There is only 1 reason to yell at a child, that is when they are in DANGER! I’ve never seen a referee yell at a player. He has pointed to the penalty box, asked nicely for the person to go, asked with a little more assertion, warned that the player will get a misconduct penalty if that does not go, and then gave them the 10 minute misconduct. No yelling to reinforce the consequence occurred.

The NHL also rewards good behavior. There are the Player of the Week, and Player of the Month awards. At the end of the season, there are the trophies for Most Valuable Player, Best Goalie, Best Defensive Player etc. The best NHL award is The Lady Byng trophy which is given to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”. Imagine an award for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct in a professional sport. It is these awards and trophies that players can aspire to in order achieve bonuses in their contract. Using this incentive plan is also a way for parents to help their kids change behaviors. If you give a child a specific goal to work for (i.e. getting dressed in the morning by themselves), then they can have good reinforcement towards that goal—praise, stickers etc. Once the behavior is learned, no more struggles! Incentives also work with teenagers. Since teenagers always need something—phone, ride, clothes, money, they too can be asked to change their behaviors in order to achieve what they want.

The NHL has perhaps the finest conditioned athletes in the world, but ones who need structure, discipline, consequences, and incentives in order for them to have maximum performance. We want our kids to have their own maximum performance. To have that level of achievement, they need parents to give them incentives and consequences. Once children learn new behaviors, they feel better about themselves. Over time, they become happy and healthy kids. When they are happy and healthy, then they can win their own “Stanley Cup”.

Watch this video to learn more about the NHL:

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