The truth shall set you free

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

Billy Joel

Honesty. A vital construct that improves the quality of people’s lives. Seemingly it should be easy for people to acknowledge their wrongdoings and say ” I messed up” However this seems to be harder than I think since famous people (Brian Williams, Lance Armstrong, #13) have the hardest time doing so. (This lying issue has been covered in an earlier blog–go to lies lies and more lies to read more)

Honesty in interpersonal relationships is critical to intimacy, growth and change. It seems to me that many people tell half-truths, white lies, and justify their dishonest behavior. As you would expect, the lies grow, the relationship gets further apart, until the big BOOM occurs. The truth that sets you free causes a boat load of pain to the other person.

Take infidelity. I have never worked with a person who wanted to be unfaithful to their partner. Distance and misery breeds close connections with another. Lack of communication and dishonesty breeds incentive to cheat. At the end, you have an unfaithful partner leading a double life of lies and deceit and an unknowing partner whose life will change dramatically when this affair is discovered. A simple remedy is in order– telling the truth. Saying “I messed up” or those seven difficult letters “I’m sorry” is far simpler than delivering a trauma laden truth bomb destined to crush everyone within a family!

Why don’t we do this? Why is it so hard to say “I messed up” or I’m sorry”. Are our self-centered ego’s so out of whack that we cannot deliver honest bad news and “feel bad” moments? Are we really protecting a softer fragile ego which would make us look bad? Are we so afraid of the shame and guilt that will occur?

Addicted people are aware that in order to have a meaningful recovery, people have to make amends. They have to say “I’m sorry”. They have to say “I messed up” They have to make the relationship better. They need to work on forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of those words that we all think we know about, but we really don’t. In the most recent tragedy in Charleston, Arthur Hurd, the husband of his murdered wife said to the murderer, Dylann Roof ”I forgive you” . He added “I would love to hate you but hate’s not in me. If I hate you I’m no better than you.” In this moment. Mr. Hurd freed himself. Forgiveness is the elixir to pain. It does set you free.

In order to forgive, we have to be ready to do so. We have to be able to let go of bitterness and pain and hurt. It doesn’t excuse the injury; it makes us better because we’ve freed up the resentment and pain. In relationships this works best as a dual process. The offending spouse apologizes, the hurt spouse forgives. They then work on healing together. Forgiveness is very powerful. I can heal my hurts without another. I have to make the decision to forgive. Once I make the decision, I get my power back. I am no longer the victim; I am the victor. Forgiveness is the truth that sets ME free!

Change is possible.

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Strength Benchmarking

We may get knocked down on the outside, but the key to living in victory is to learn how to get up on the inside.”
― Joel Osteen

I had a trainer who periodically decided that the best external indicator of the improvement in my strength was the one rep bench press. This measures the maximum amount of weight that I could lift at one time. For example, if in October I could lift 100 pounds, and in April I could lift 125 pounds, it was clear to him that I was getting stronger. He could take out his excel spreadsheet, look at these two measurements, do some statistical analysis and draw the conclusion that I was indeed stronger.

We use the same statistical measurement in many other areas of life. We can look at the performance of a stock or at the speed of a computer. We can make a determination that the gold standard or benchmark should be this rate of return (stock) or speed (computer). We can then measure other stocks or computers against this benchmark.

Emotions can also have their own benchmarks if we measure them correctly. Our lives are full of tough events that push us into making hard decisions. Our automatic thought is “I can’t handle this, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this” Some people unfortunately stay in that place and avoid issues–relationship conflicts, financial issues, their own poor self-care etc. The avoidance of the issues only makes them worse and reinforces the “I can’t handle it” approach. This pattern can go on and on and on and on until some crisis occurs. This crisis may mobilize the person’s internal resources in order to deal with the issue. If the crisis is resolved, the person realizes that they can handle stress and crisis and pain. They have just created a benchmark that they can measure other painful events against.

Strength benchmarking can also be used as a challenge to those automatic thoughts. We can ask ourselves “What is the toughest thing that I’ve ever had to deal with?” We can then recollect that situation and the skills and tools that were used to tackle that situation. We then can measure the current situation against the strength benchmark and see how it measures up. Most times, the benchmark will be much greater, giving us confidence that we can handle the new situation. “If I handled losing my job, then paying this bill is much easier”.

Life, however doesn’t always work in positive statistical measures. We may get hit with harder things —a major illness, a significant loss, or infidelity. These issues can be monumental and overwhelming. Strength benchmarking can be helpful in giving us the confidence and tools to handle these difficult issues. “I handled my job loss through exercise, prayer, meditation, and good eating. If I approach this other loss the same way, I know I’ll be working in the right direction”. Positive self-talk, through examination of our past struggles, can give us the confidence that we need to overcome the tough things that life can throw at us.

I no longer have my one rep trainer. His training methods, although statistically significant, produced many trips to physical therapy. I learned in physical therapy about the need to have a balanced core in order to prevent injuries. A balanced core makes you stronger in physical and emotional ways. When you are stronger physically and emotionally, you can handle whatever issues life throws at you. When we are aware our own benchmarks for inner strength, we can handle the weightiest of issues.

Change is possible.

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The Storm and the Sun

The sky is clearing and the night has gone out.
The sun, he come, the world is all full of light.
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but to carry on.

Stephen Stills

Recently, I was watching many weather forecasts for a celebratory event that I was attending. There were many conflicting reports, most involving rain. I heard the meteorologist on one channel say ” the nicer the day, the stronger the storms we will have.” I thought “wow that’s an interesting metaphor for life.” We want to have a life filled with beautiful blue skies, sunshine and a slight breeze. However, we will also have times with stormy skies, and days that are dark, rainy, cloudy and cold. It is how we “weather” the storms that lead to how much sunshine we will have.

Many people who come to see me are in the midst of their personal storms. They are unhappy in some way and using whatever coping strategies they possess. Not all of these are the healthiest. Some people may use some “quick fix band aids”– addictions of some kind to numb or escape. In an effort to stuff the pain, the person may become anxious or depressed. These predictably unpredictable storms are counterproductive but ironically get the person to make a therapy appointment. Unfortunately, the weather may get worse as we start to explore the issues and identify the mechanisms of how the storm got created. It’s always hard to know if the problems are recent or long standing. The more recent issues clear up sooner, but the older the issue, the harder it will be for blue skies to appear. (I have written about weather and therapy before. For a more dramatic description go to:http://jeffbrandler.psychcentral.net/2008/02/08/you-cannot-have-a-rainbow-without-a-storm/)

As a therapist who has a website change is possible, you would hope that I’m looking for sunny days. Seeing positive change, and quality of life improvements are the “spring” of my work. I am well aware that positive changes have set- backs. Relapses are often signs that more changes need to be made. When the negative behaviors occur, it is an opportunity for the person to examine their own willingness to change. Some people are done at the first raindrop. They enter the “therapeutic witness protection program” and are never seen or heard from again. Others are willing to examine every facet of their life and understand how and why the negative change occurred. The clients who handle the wind and darkness end up with the beautiful weather days that they want and need.

The event went off without a hitch. The weather forecast of the apocalypse did not occur. We were all grateful that our weather was cloudy with no precipitation. Late in the afternoon, the sun peaked through the clouds. It was an unexpected joy. On this day, like many days in my office, when the sun came out, a tear came to my eye.

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How to pick your next partner

Originally published by Expert Beacon:
https://expertbeacon.com/dating-after-divorce-how-pick-your-next-partner/#.VPb6mC7KMW7

 

 

You found the courage to end your last relationship. Maybe the relationship ended amicably. Maybe it had a dramatic and painful ending, perhaps in divorce. Either way you are finished with the relationship and are looking to begin to date. You may have some fear and apprehension about getting back in the dating game. To find the right person you need a plan. Here are some dos and don’ts for your plan to finding your next partner.

Do

allow time for healing

Ending relationships are hard. It is normal to have feelings of grief and sadness as well as anger and fear. Give yourself the time to heal and process these feelings. If you need additional support, find a good therapist who can help you with loss as well as to look for possible patterns in your relationships.

make the right choice

Most of us don’t make a major purchase impulsively. We research, talk to others, and identify what our needs are. Why wouldn’t you do that for your next partner? Identify what you want in a relationship and don’t settle for someone who doesn’t meet your needs.

pay attention

You started dating again but there is something about this person that bothers you. Pay attention to it. The old adage, “If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right,” is true with people as well.

talk to others

There is no reason to keep your date a secret from family and friends. Let everyone meet him/her. They will have opinions and insights to share. It’s more data to work with in order to make your decision.

feel the chemistry

There is no reason to keep your date a secret from family and friends. Let everyone meet him/her. They will have opinions and insights to share. It’s more data to work with in order to make your decision.

 

 

Don’t

repeat the past

If you are paying attention to your relationship history, you know what types of people you are attracted to. You also know which people didn’t work out the first time. It probably won’t work the second, third or fourth time either!

date everyone

Just because Mary from bookkeeping is single or Bob from shipping is available doesn’t mean that you should date them. Be clear about who you want to be with and stay with that plan. No one has ever died from being lonely. It feels crappy but probably won’t cause death.

ignore the “flags”

You know what flags are: they are the comments that are made, the illogical behaviors that occur, the stories that you question. Communicate about them. Pay attention to them. Don’t excuse them because you really like the person.

listen to everyone

Everyone thinks they know everything about relationships. They are more than happy to share their beliefs, opinions, feelings about who would be best for you. You have an idea about who your ideal partner is — listen to yourself.

think that the relationship will get better
If you are dating someone and there is regular conflict, major areas of disagreement, or addiction/mental health issues, these will not improve by themselves. The relationship will continue to be affected by these issues — they won’t go away. Love will not make them better; only the other person can make them better.

 

Summary

In order to pick your next partner, you need to look inward. You need to pick “the best athlete available” — the one that fits your needs! It’s ok to be afraid and apprehensive. Collect data from both your heart and your head. Don’t be afraid to eliminate people from your search. Pay attention to the “flags”, listen to yourself. You will know when you have found the right person.

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Love songs of the season

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Bono

As the fall is now upon us, we can all use some inspirational love songs.  Here are 3 that I’ve picked that capture the mood of the season

If you celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, have a happy, healthy, sweet new year!

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Commitment to Excellence

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.
Pat Riley

The NFL season is about to begin. The summer brings optimism for all 32 teams who believe that they can win the Super Bowl.
One of those teams, the Oakland Raiders, became a dominant franchise in the 1970’s and mid -1980’s. The team’s philosophy was preached by its president, Al Davis. Davis told his players “Just Win Baby”. This goal- directed, arrogant approach produced 3 Super Bowl winners. The Raiders franchise promoted one other useful and famous phrase. This phrase was on a banner which was located in their home stadium, the Oakland Coliseum. This sign speaks to the organization’s goal:

raidersWhen a person commits, according to Webster, they promise to do something. “Commitment to Excellence” is an overall philosophy of being the best and not settling for anything less.

In my office, many of my clients carry their own “signs” with them. Most of these are self-fulfilling prophecies that describe their current beliefs. They accept these signs as being the script that they must follow.

Here are some examples of their signs:

  • I’m stuck
  • I’m afraid
  • I’m comfortable
  • I’m willing to have less
  • This is the best I can do
  • I’ll never be happy
  • I can’t ask others for help
  • I can’t get sober
  • I’ll settle for any relationship
  • I can’t leave this relationship
  • I’ll stay in this relationship even though it’s bad for me
  • I want what I can’t have

With these beliefs, there is no commitment to excellence. If anything, there is a commitment to mediocrity. It appears that it’s not ok to strive for excellence. People act and think that “less is better,” so familiarity wins out. “Why bother to do that something extra? It might not work anyway”.

It’s imperative to challenge these old patterns in order to make change. This challenge would sound like this: “Why only strive to be average? Why not try to be excellent? If you strive for excellence, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
The worst thing that could happen would be having feelings. A person might feel disappointed, or hurt. Feelings like these never feel good. Having feelings however, means that you have moved out of your comfort zone. You took a risk. That risk may or may not work the first time. Sports franchises do not win all of their games. Through risk, dedication, and commitment to excellence they learn how to win. If you want to win and put down those old habits, behaviors and patterns, you have to start the process of change by taking that first risk. You can incorporate the philosophy of “Commitment to Excellence” each and every day. No more settling for less, no more accepting someone else’s idea of what’s good for you. Total self-care, and a COMMITMENT to change.

Change is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nothing Else Matters

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.” – Eckhart Tolle

On a recent trip to Italy, I set out to find a particular destination.  My map reading skills were failing me. Every turn was the wrong one.  Using Google maps kept me turning and turning but not getting me to my destination.   A stroke of luck(brought on my actually going in the opposite direction) took me to the Pantheon.  The Pantheon is the most intact artifact of the Roman empire. It is nearly 2000 years old.  As I was standing in the plaza(Piazza) of the Pantheon there was the sound of music.  In Rome, it is not unusual to have street musicians playing for money.  Most of the music is hardly noticeable and noteworthy. Today’s musician’s were different.   There was an excellent trumpet  player and an  amazing electric guitarist.  They were playing songs that were familiar to me, but didn’t shake me out of my frustration. I was highly preoccupied with our current location and how we were WAY off course. I was feeling hopeless, defeated, and frustrated.

The guitarist then starting playing this very familiar riff:

 

 

As I was hearing this amazing rendition of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” I stopped immediately took a deep breath and said to myself:

” Nothing else matters.  I am right here in Rome, Italy, enjoying a gorgeous day at one of the most historical sites in the world.  Who the f@ck cares that I am not where I am supposed to be.”

At that moment every thing slowed down.  I kept repeating the phrase “nothing else matters”.

Being in the moment is the hardest thing to do.  We are usually projecting all our “what if” anxieties into the future, or ruminating about our past failures.  Eckhart Tolle  in 2004, wrote the book The Power of Now.  The book gives us good meditative ideas about how to be “right here, right now”. To learn how to be in the now will require us to have patience with ourselves and to practice this art regularly.

One of the best tools that can be part of this practice is that of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the way of experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations that occur right now.  A recent article about mindfulness describes how to use this tool for difficult feelings.  If we can practice mindfulness and the Power of Now, we can learn to be in the moment better.  As we learn mindfulness skills, we can be calmer, more productive, and less stressed.

On that fateful day in Rome, armed with my new self talk phrase “nothing else matters” I found my destination and had an amazing day.  The frustration of not being where I wanted to be left.  It was replaced by the melodic sounds of peace, calm, and letting go.  In order to practice living in the moment, it would be better to start changing how you live now. Musical “coincidences” don’t happen everyday.

Change is possible.

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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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Manny Being Manny

“…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

 

It’s getting close to one of my favorite times of the year–the start of baseball season.  In order to get ready for the upcoming season, it’s important to have a historical perspective.  As a die hard New York Yankee fan, I am going to commit a blasphemous act–I am going to discuss a legendary Boston Red Sox player.  Manny Ramirez was their left fielder for 8 years, and was probably one of the Sox’ most popular player.  He had a knack of saying the wrong things at the wrong time, losing track of the game, and generally being on his own planet.  Redsox fans described this as Manny being Manny.This  video describes many of these Manny being Manny moments:

Wikipedia finishes our Manny Ramirez story:

In 2009 he was suspended 50 games for violating baseball’s drug policy by taking human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a women’s fertility drug.According to steroid dealer Victor Conte, hCG is often used to restart natural testosterone production after a steroid cycle.In the spring of 2011, Ramirez was informed by MLB of another violation to its drug policy, which could result in a 100-game suspension. He chose to retire on April 8 rather than face a 100-game suspension.

You would expect nothing different from Manny since he was a person who played by his own rules.  Although an exciting and charismatic player,  Manny was always being Manny.

In our daily lives, we are unlikely to find a Manny Ramirez.  We will however find people who are difficult to deal with.  When we encounter  these people, we  can  choose to either get upset or  accept them.  Let’s look at  these three vignettes, and answer the question that follows:

Vignette #1

Paul Maxwell is a 60 year old  man who happens to be your father.  Paul has an interesting character trait.  He likes to flirt, and make advances on all of your friends.  (These women are in their 20’s) One of them has described his behavioral eloquently  as being “PaulMaxwelled”.  When Paul Maxwell is your dad you have several choices:

A) Arrange a hit on his life (not a great idea)

B) Kill him yourself(a worse idea)

C) Become terribly depressed, anxious, ashamed, with no self-esteem and feel further victimized by Paul Maxwell

D) Accept that Paul Maxwell is being Paul Maxwell and get therapy for yourself in order to feel better

Vignette 2

Jenny Malone is your new boss.  Jenny is the company hotshot brought in from another state.  She is replacing your best friend who has left the company.  As a employee of the company for the past 10 years, you have given them your blood, sweat and tears.  Jenny decides to change all the things in the department that have worked for the 10 years that you’ve been there.  After massive frustration in dealing with Jenny you decide to:

A)  Punch her in the face(not a great idea)

B) March into the Vice-President’s office, shouting expletives, and describing in full detail her late hour escapades with other employees of the company(not a great idea)

C) Leave the best job that you’ve had with the awareness that you  will never get a job this good again

D) Accept that Jenny Malone is being Jenny Malone and get therapy for yourself in order to  feel better

 Vignette Number 3

Bobby and Janey Duncun  have been married for 5 years.  They have a child, Bobby, Jr who is  6years old.  Bobby Sr. drinks every day.  Sometimes while drunk, he has gotten angry with Janey and called her choice words .  Janey has tried to get Bobby to stop drinking.  She’s thrown out the alcohol, yelled and screamed at him for drinking, negotiated deals with him so that he wouldn’t drink.  She is angry and frustrated and feels unloved. At this point Janey’s best strategy is to:

a)    Continue to nag, scold, beg, cajole, scream in order to get him to stop drinking

b)    Have an affair with very interested neighbor Billy Washington down the street

c)    Take little Bobby and move back home with her  alcoholic parents

d)    Accept that Bobby is being Bobby(while getting therapy and attending Alanon)

The obvious answers to our quiz is “D” in all of these situations. The thing we learn from all of this is that Manny Ramirez, Paul Maxwell, Jenny Malone and Bobby Duncun are starring as themselves– They do what they do in ALL situations.  Manny is just being Manny, Paul is just being Paul, Jenny is just being Jenny, and Bobby is being Bobby.

When we encounter these people our best option is to ACCEPT them and their behavior.  In order to do that we need something that will help us–the serenity prayer:

serenityIf we ACCEPT what we cannot change, which are all other people’s behavior, and change the things we can, which is our reactions to them, then we can have serenity.  3 sentences can give us all the change we need.  Use them regularly and you will feel better.

Remember change is possible.

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