How much meat are you leaving on the bones? It’s time to stop wasting our moments.

Picture it with me (my guess is your version looks awfully similar to this–just alter and delete a few things and presto! My day becomes your own!):

sleep-woman-tired-needs-coffee-half-asleep-dreamstime_m_79917322-2I wake up, stumble out of bed, head straight to the coffee pot and stumble around my kitchen until I finally get a cup of that black brew in my hand. I quickly suck down some of that black nectar and stumble over to my favorite chair where I sit comatose and blinking until the black goo starts to work its magic. Somehow, that process takes far longer than it should (and far longer than it feels like–I swear there is a kind of time warp we get stuck in in the morning–ten minutes becoming a half an hour, twenty minutes becoming 50) and so I have to rush to get ready and then race to work–a couple of minutes behind schedule, of course, pulling into the parking lot with a squeal of tires and a cloud of dust and gravel in my wake (okay, so not really, but that’s what it feels like).

I get to work and, despite the fact that I do like my job, I start counting the moments until I get to go home and veg. in front of Netflix watching whatever tv series currently offers my dose of escapism (currently the DC comics–who doesn’t love a good hero?). In the meantime, I fight to cram bits of learning into unwilling minds, and battle the mindset of this entitled generation which seems to think that because they suck air they deserve the right to pass my class. Finally, the anticipated moment arrives: the bell rings, and I haul my disillusioned and exhausted self out of there and I try to put the chaos and the stress of the day behind me. Ironic that, with the current state of driving, which often only increases my stress level due to the idiocy of the modern, cell phone distracted driver…so I arrive home feeling more stressed than when I left.

Finally I get home and steal those few minutes of escapism that I have spent the whole day longing for, those few minutes of alone time in the midst of the chaos of living, and I escape from my world until I begin to feel at least marginally human again, at which point I then snuggle with my littles and chat about their days.

Being that hunger seems to hold my growing children in its grip, the “I’m hungrys” cannot be long put off before I have to forfeit my brief reprieve and cook dinner. Well, then of course, I have to clean up from that dinner I just provided. Typically, as I am still finishing this odious task, my big little dude starts pestering for our one on one time: it’s time to take a walk with that biggun and to talk about the things on his mind (usually video games, or weird bits of knowledge, or girls these days–fun times!).

clockBy the time we get back, all I want to do is crawl into my bed and sleep, but I typically force myself to work another hour or two instead. Then of course, I need to reward myself, so I watch another episode or two of my latest binge watch, and thus fall asleep much too late, which means not enough sleep, and then, of course, someone hits repeat and, much like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, I get up to do the same thing all over again the next day…

Life in the modern world.

Insert a different TV show, change the order, maybe insert takeout for making dinner, make a few other minor adjustments and poof! You have your routine instead of mine. The narrative itself changes little.

When I was young, the treadmill of life as I like to call it, seemed unthinkable. I would never get on that treadmill. Life was meant to be lived, experienced, appreciated…not be lived on repeat.

So how in the world did I end up on the treadmill along with just about everyone else?

Psychologists would likely jump to the fact that we love patterns and routines us human beings. We’re creatures of habit. It seems to be hardwired.

But I believe that’s only part of it.

busy-momI believe the truth is that we are just too darn busy to live any other way, and that we have lost the art of solitude which prevents us from knowing any better.

Solitude? What in the world does solitude have to do with the treadmill of life?

An awful lot actually.

As I’ve been getting ready to teach Romanticism, I’ve found myself re-reading Thoreau for the first time in many, many years, and I find myself rediscovering why I loved him so much the first time around (still hate Emerson btw! What a load of bollox!)

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

Once again I find those words resonating with me. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks pondering them and thinking about what they mean to me in this modern life.

My pondering led me on a journey of sorts. I started thinking about everything I should do: places I wanted to go, things I wanted to experience, goals I have yet to achieve.

But as I pondered these things, I found that just the thought of them made me tired. A part of me seemed to whimper at the thought of so much doing.

Yes, I want them, and yes, I plan to climb those mountains and dive deep into those seas, but something inside of me waived its arms in protest, dissenting at the thought of still more doing.

Adventures should be exciting and exhilarating. They should fill me with anticipation. And yet, though a part of me undeniably wants these things, a part of me feels the weight of burden at the mere thought of achieving them…something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and I was determined to figure out exactly what it was.

So I pondered some more, and the pondering lead me to that word “deliberately.”

What does it mean to live “deliberately?”

When you look at the meaning of the word, it seems pretty obvious. It is more than just filling our moments. It is a great deal more than simply doing.

find-arrowheads-in-the-woodsIt’s going to the woods as Thoreau put it. It’s pulling away, and pulling inside. It’s finding the solitude to reflect on the moments so that we can get all the meat from the bones, so that we can suck the marrow from the moments.

In our society, we forget that solitude and reflection are a necessary part of living to the fullest.

We’ve all felt it–that itchy feeling when we have an empty moment. That urge to grab our cell phone and hop onto social media or text a friend. The urge to fill the silence with music.

When I was a girl I was so good with silence. As an adult, I too often fill my silence with noise.

When I listen to the inner voice I realize that, for me, living deliberately is less about the doing and more about honoring the silence.

solitude (1)Living deliberately is much more about appreciating the small moments than it is filling up our lives with big ones. I want the big ones. I crave adventures–but I’m starving for solitude.

It’s the difference between want I want and what I need. But I’ve been too busy to even notice, or at least acknowledge, that I need it.

What about you? When you look inside, when you dig deep, is it really what you’re not doing that leaves you feeling empty and unfulfilled?

Or, if you’re honest, is it more about the fact that you’ve lost yourself, that you’ve become so busy and your life so filled with noise that you don’t take the time to suck the marrow from the bones of life? That you don’t take the time to realize what you already have, or the things that need to change, or the people you need to connect with or…well the list goes on and is different for each one of us.

Scale back. Unplug. Spend some time reconnecting with yourself.

It’s what I’m going to do. It’s what you should do. We owe it to ourselves.

Live deliberately–not more. That is what it is all about.

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What kind of Divorcee are you (or would you be)? A libertine? A good enough? A crazy? And what does it say about you?

i_like_being_home_aloneComing home to an empty house…nothing but the stretch of silence. Hours without the sound of another voice…nothing but the whirring of the fan or the deep grumble of the dishwasher…

Does that scenario make you anxious and itchy, ready to call the first friend you can think of?

Or does it sound like a little piece of heaven?

Your answer to that question just might give some indication of what kind of divorcee you will be should you ever find yourself divorced.

Last year I taught a class called Lifespan Development for the first time. I had taken the course in grad school, but my focus was a bit different back then. I was still in my twenties, had only been married a handful of years, had already buried one child, and was pregnant with another that might also be sick. My focus was on the early end of lifespan development, not the what comes after.

DivorceThis time around, I had just turned forty and was also adjusting to the life of a freshly divorced/single person. My interest was piqued by that side of things. Particularly divorce.

Since I had to teach life and marriage after divorce as a part of the class, I decided I’d go ahead and do a little research. What I found was interesting.

Up to this point I had heard the newly divorced classified in two categories: the crazies (they went out a lot, partied seemingly endlessly, drank copious amounts, had casual sex, etc.) and the depressed (wept into their pillow every night and couldn’t get past what had happened). Being that I didn’t feel like I fit into either of those categories, my interest in the whole “what kind of divorcee I was” had quickly waned and I’d just gotten down to the business of moving on.

Until I found the the research of E. Mavis Hetherington. Her take on things seemed to be a bit more all inclusive.

Apparently, according to Ms. Hetherington’s research, we tend to fall into one of 6 pathways post divorce–not the two that everyone always talks about.

The first pathway is called the “enhancers” This group accounts for about 20 percent of divorced individuals and is mainly made up of females. These individuals become “more competent, well-adjusted, and self-fulfilled.” They tend to bounce back from stressful situations and can bring meaning from chaos.

Already I was liking the sound of this much better than my choice between crazy and pathetic.

dating_after_divorce_clotheslineThe next pathway is labeled the “good enoughs” and this group counts for a large number of the divorced. These individuals have average coping skills, show some strengths and weaknesses. They tend to initially make choices that enhance themselves or expand their careers, but in the end, they end up defaulting to what they had left–a marriage that was fairly similar to their first one. They settle.

I definitely did not want that to be me. No going backwards. No defaulting to the original settings. Nope. Not for me.

The next group is called the “seekers” and it accounts for 40% of men and 38% of women. These individuals hit the pavement running. They want to find a new mate as soon as possible and quickly find themselves in a relationship or even a new marriage. A few, settle down, and drift into one of the before-mentioned pathways and begin to become more stable and competent after the initial “craziness.”

Definitely NOT me. No need to fill the gap. Certainly not going to rush to fill it. Slow and steady wins the race after all!

The “libertines” (the name alone tells me this is not where I want to be) as the name suggests, just want to go out and have fun. They embrace their newfound freedom with a lot of partying and a lot of casual sex. Individuals in this group tend to settle down at some point and then join one of the other groups, eventually becoming more stable.

happy divorceThe next group is called the “competent loners” and makes up only 10% of the overall group of divorced individuals. They are “well-adjusted, self-sufficient, and socially skilled” having good careers, a good social life and lots of hobbies. Should sound like I’m repeating the “enhancers.” The big difference is that this group has little interest in sharing their lives with anyone else…hmmm. More on that in a bit.

The last group is the defeated. As the name suggests, these individuals really struggle with depression and recovery. Moving on is a major issue. They become stuck.

As I reflected on these categories, I found it very interesting. I have several friends who got divorced at about the same time I did. We each seemed to naturally pick our own pathway. Many of my friends very quickly found themselves in a new relationship. One is already engaged, one just ended a year long relationship, a few, have gone on a couple of dates, but aren’t in any hurry.

We all deal with it differently.

When I first read this list, I initially saw myself as an enhancer…but then I got down to the description of the competent loner. Which one am I?

The truth is, I still don’t know.

fresh-happy-woman-bed-wakes-up-morning-smiling-66521588I woke up this morning, alone in my bed, the silence of my house surrounding me, with a big grin on my face. I stretched luxuriously and thought about how much I like being alone. I LOVE being alone.

I love being accountable to no one. I love having whole days when it is entirely up to me what I want to do (though yes, often it ends up being, work, cleaning and the mundane, it’s still my choice). No need to compromise. No need to share. What do I feel like doing? It has been so very long since I was able to focus on that question.

I love the freedom of choosing to leave the dishes in the sink, of ignoring the growing pile of laundry and not feeling like I’m letting someone down (not that Aaron would have cared mind you, but a good wife doesn’t do those things–but now I’m not a wife so…).

I thought that I would feel terribly lonely for my children on the days that they aren’t with me, but guiltily I have to admit, I instead find myself luxuriating in the alone time: endless piles of books, playing the piano, art, writing…all the things I was too busy to get to spend much time doing before, now I can immerse myself in them.

For a woman who had lost herself to motherhood for many years, I have had the opportunity, the gift, of being able to find myself again.

Do I want to give that up? Do I want to go back to a life of compromise and considering someone else’s desires as much (or let’s be honest, more than) my own? Do I want to give up long stretches of silences and hours of solitude?

SolitudeSometimes I say yes, and sometimes I say no.

For the right man, it would be worth what I would be giving up, but for the wrong man, it most certainly would not be.

And do I trust myself to see the difference?

For today, I embrace my solitude and trust that in time, that will be an easy question to answer.

What about you? Where do you fall on the divorce pathways? Where do you think you would fall, if you’re not divorced?

We can learn a whole lot about who we are, and shed some light on who we want to be, by considering where we fall and where we wish we would fall.

Butterfly, Caterpillar, or Dementor…which are you?

This week I found myself thanking God for my pain. I found myself thanking him for the suffering I have lived through. I found my heart overflowing with gratitude that he didn’t leave me in my comfort and mediocrity, thankful that he had pulled me into the deep and submerged me in a sea of suffering.

I’m not a masochist or anything. I hate pain just as much as the next person, but I have learned something about pain.metamorphosis-012

It’s our cocoon.

It is the key ingredient in our metamorphosis.

It is through pain that we emerge either in our splendor or…in a crippled and warped version of ourselves.

And the difference is all in our attitude.

One of my friends always throws a big halloween party, and I was excited to go this year as a bunch of my old gang, many who I hadn’t seen in over a year, were going to be there.

One of the things I hadn’t thought through was the fact that, the intervening year had been one of the hardest and most humiliating of my life. And of course, every single one of them was going to ask me how I was doing.

That was a loaded question.

How was I doing?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one to just answer with the lame (and typically untrue) “fine.” One of my core beliefs is living with my life wide open. I don’t mean emotionally vomiting all over people (be honest, you just had someone’s face or name flash though your mind. We all have that one person). I mean being authentic and real.  Admitting to my struggles and open with my failures. No photoshopping my life to make it look better than it is. Just being me, in all my imperfection.

So if I was going to answer how I was doing and be real, I needed to do some real reflection. How was I really?

With a little bit of surprise, and a feeling of intense gratitude, I realized I was good, really good.

Wow.

Last year at this time, I was still feeling the ache (and sometimes sharp agonizing pains) of betrayal. I was still fighting the battle of humiliation. I was still battling (sometimes hourly) the fear of how I was going to make it as a single mother in an expensive city with zero child support.

Last year was a battle in faith. It was a battle in truth. And it was a battle of trust.

I put my stake in the ground, my hands up in surrender, and I threw myself in the arms of my savior.

Nothing made sense. Nothing was what I had planned. I didn’t know how tomorrow could possibly work.

But I knew my God. And I trusted that He had a plan.

god in the stormNot despite the devastation I was experiencing, but through it.

There were times I begged God to take the pain away. Times when I thought this life was just too hard. Times when the very idea of living made me feel weary.

But, beneath those times, and far deeper, was my knowledge, my unshakeable faith that, if I let him, the work He would do in me would be well worth the pain. All I needed to do was hold on. And hold to him with everything I was worth.

And here, only a year later, I realized that I had come full circle.

His promise to comfort was filled. His promise to heal was answered. His promise to provide was fulfilled.

And I found myself filled with gratitude for my suffering.

Because here I stand, not just a survivor, but an overcomer. Stronger than I ever imagined. Independent. More sure of who I am and whose I am than ever before. And it never would have happened if He hadn’t led me through the fire.

hidden strengthMany people have often told me how strong I am. But, I don’t think that my strength is exceptional. It’s just that suffering and heartache have burned away my weakness and revealed what was already there–I just didn’t know it.

I’m not stronger. I just let pain do it’s work.

See, growth is often not about growing, as much as it is about chiseling away the excess and revealing what is already there, buried beneath the surface.

The Bible calls it the refiner’s fire, burning away the dross.

And we have so very much dross.

We tend to see the fire as an attack from the enemy, or an injustice, or the unfairness of fate, but I believe that God is not just in the good parts of my life, but also in the storms, the disasters, and the darkest nights of our soul. They are a holy fire, a gift, yes a gift, and an answer to our prayers to be more like Him.

So many times, when I tell someone about Serena and what I lived through with her loss, they say they could never have done that, they never could have survived such a loss. But here’s the thing, I would have said the same thing if I hadn’t been forced to live it.

We simply don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re forced to it. Until we’re stretched and pulled and thrown into the fire we just don’t know what we’re capable of. Only then do we find out just how strong we really are.

If I have learned anything from this crazy, and heart-wrenching journey called life, it is this: Though our instinct is to run from pain, we should meet it with our arms open wide and embrace it, knowing that, if we let it, transformation is on the other side.

If we fight it, if we run, or if we hide, pain warps and it cripples, but when embraced, we are re-made.

The thing about pain is, it catches us all. There is no escaping it. It is part of the human experience.

No one gets to stay a caterpillar.

The decision we each have to make it who we want to be on the other side of it.

dementorThere are no short cuts when it comes to pain. There is no getting around it. Not tunneling under it. No hiding from it.

There is only getting through it.

When we hide from our pain, ignore it, or when we allow it to consume us, it turns us into something ugly. It is a poison that steals and maims.

And these people never emerge as who they were intended to be.

In truth, these people tend to become inflicters of pain. In their brokenness, they leave pain in their wake. They suck life from those around them, a real-life dementor.

 

But here’s the thing, it’s totally up to you.

You are stronger than you know. Are you willing to find out how strong?

You are capable of more than you ever believed. Will you dare to find out just what you can do?

And you are more amazing, more beautiful, than you can imagine. Are you willing to be transformed?

I won’t lie to you. It won’t be easy.

But it’s worth it. You can trust Him. He’s got you, and He’s got this.

 

From one sometimes screwup to another…(come on, admit it, you know that includes you!)

Sometimes I feel like crap, complete and utter crap.

Screwed upSometimes, I feel lonely, so lonely, that I wonder if, when my children grow up and leave me, I’ll be alone forever–the crazy cat lady, minus the cats.

Sometimes, I feel like the biggest failure in the history of failures, the epic underachiever, the cautionary tale of who not to become.

Sometimes, I feel so angry at my ex-husband for what he did to me and my family that I nearly simmer with repressed emotion: anger, rage, bitterness…the all too cliche’ stereotype of the wronged, “victim,” cheated on wife.

Sometimes, I feel not good enough in every single way–not pretty enough, not thin enough, not special enough, not anything enough…

Holy crap! Did she just admit all that?!

Yep, I sure did. Because that’s the truth. Sometimes, I feel all those things.

But most of the time, I don’t.

Most of the time, I don’t feel those things at all–but sometimes I do.

consumer-confidenceMost of the time I feel strong and confident. Most of the time, I am happy in my messed up little life. Most of the time I don’t feel lonely because I know I have family and friends who love and support me. Most of the time I know that I’m not a failure, but rather a survivor, and that failure isn’t a badge of defeat, but a chance to overcome. Most of the time, I can extend grace and forgiveness to me ex–despite the pain I sometimes still feel. And most of the time I know I’m enough–a work in progress–but enough. And in those moments, I feel beautiful, and strong, and confident.

But not always.

Sometimes, I just don’t.

And I don’t believe that makes me less. In fact, I think that makes me exactly normal, because I don’t think I’m alone.

I think even the strongest, and seemingly most confident, of us feel all those things at times–but we hide it. We pretend.

We think that strength is never feeling fear, never feeling doubt, and never, ever admitting failure.

pretendingSo we pretend. Because, we can’t admit that sometimes we’re terrified, and sometimes we’re so insecure that we can’t believe the whole world doesn’t notice, and that sometimes, we feel like an absolute failure at absolutely everything.

But, we all feel all of those things…sometimes.

So let’s help each other out, and stop pretending.

It is time to stop hiding, to stop window-dressing our lives, and to stop competing with something that has never been nor ever will be.

It is time to start getting real with one another.

Which means, it’s time to get vulnerable.

There is nothing I admire more than vulnerability.

I think nothing is more misunderstood than vulnerability. So often, vulnerability is portrayed as weakness. Or an excess of emotion. Or as a liability.

I view vulnerability as the height of courage and strength.

Vulnerability means admitting that I have wounds. It means bearing my battle scars. It means giving a window into my private struggles, my moments of shame, and my weaknesses.

That is strength, not weakness. That is not a liability.

It takes great fortitude, a strong sense of self, and true bravery to lower the mask to our greatest failures and wounds. It leaves our most personal moments and struggles open to attack, to ridicule, and to judgement. That doesn’t sound like weakness to me.

Vulnerability_Brene-Brown2I have very slowly been making my way through Brene’ Brown’s “Daring Greatly.” (Slowly, because it is filled with so much truth and food for thought.) One of her topics is shame and vulnerability. She talks about the “double bind” that we find ourselves in as women in modern society.

According to Brown and her extensive research, we, as women, feel that we are expected to be perfect, and to be it effortlessly. That we are supposed to be ourselves (well, unless you’re an introvert, then you’re supposed to pretend, because people prefer the outgoing, fun types). That we’re always supposed to be confident (no one likes insecurity), and that we’re supposed to walk this line between not being too emotional (because that is a lack of control), but not too detached either (what a cold-hearted bitch!). In sum, we’re supposed to be this perfectly balanced, confident (but not too confident because no-one likes the arrogant), version of ourselves (well, if, remember, we’re outgoing and fun) that is, of course, gorgeous, because how we look is really the defining standard of our worth…

And since none of us are all that all the time…

We believe we have to hide. Hide our struggles. Hide our weaknesses. Hide our insecurities. Hide our true selves.

And so we feel alone in these struggles. We feel ashamed of who we really know ourselves to be, believing that we should have it all together like her…or her…or her…

But no one has it all together. NO ONE.

And I, for one, have no interest in pretending.

Authenticity-Quote-2I do not have it all together (in case you haven’t already figured that out).

Sometimes I lose my temper with my children. Sometimes, I choose to binge watch netflix and let the dirty dishes pile up in my kitchen sink. Sometimes, even when my makeup is freshly applied, and I’m all decked out in trendy fashion, I feel woefully short of our modern standard of beauty. Sometimes, despite two degrees and one of them being psychology, I have absolutely no idea how to handle my son. Sometimes, all I want to do is give in to cynicism, become a hermit, and not find the bloody bright-side. Screw the bright-side!

But that doesn’t make me a bad mother, a bad woman, or a bad human being.

It just makes me normal. No better and no worse than anybody else.

So how about giving me a break?

And giving yourself one too while you’re at it.

Let’s stop trying to impress, trying to pretend, and get down to the business of admitting that none of us have it all together all of the time.

You think I suck? Guess what–I don’t care–and you shouldn’t either!

So, someone recently said to me, and I quote, “you’re not that pretty.”

Ouch.16601641_10154530828337054_5350964088706426815_o

Just what every girl who’s just recently turned forty and gone through a divorce because her husband left her for another woman needs to hear…

The question is, how did I react?

Did I get angry and hang up on the person?

Did I sit down and cry and feel as if I was the doggy doo-doo you need to scrape from the bottom of your shoe?

Did I end a relationship with this person?

No, no, and no.

What did I do?

I laughed.

Yes, I was offended. Yes, my feelings were hurt. But my sense of self is not dependent on what anyone else thinks of me. It didn’t rock my world. It didn’t send me to the depths of despair. I confronted the unkindness, and I moved on.

Sounds simple, but it’s really not something most of us can do without a little practice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about self esteem lately (for obvious reasons as mine took a pretty brutal hit over the last couple of years!!).

ImproveSelfEsteem_thumbThere are so many misconceptions about self esteem: that a healthy sense of self is arrogant, that we need to be successful to have a healthy sense of self, that a lack of failure equals a healthy self esteem, that if we are told we’re awesome enough, we’ll believe it.

All of these are false. Our sense of self isn’t reliant on what we do or don’t do, how we succeed or how many times we’ve failed. And it isn’t dependent on what other people think of us.

Having a solid sense of ego comes from knowing who we are, independent of what anyone else thinks of us. Knowing both our strengths and weaknesses, and with that knowing, still knowing that we bring a meaningful contribution to this thing we call life. It isn’t in our successes, but in how we react to our failures, that we can see how healthy our self esteem is.

Most of my life, I’ve had a pretty healthy sense of myself. I’ve had a healthy awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. I haven’t allowed the weaknesses to overshadow my strengths, but neither did I ignore them. I worked on them, and some became better, and some still need more work. But in the midst of this, I never lost sight of my value as a human being. I’ve weathered my failures with grace knowing that they were opportunities for growth. Not perfectly, but consistently, always looking for ways to do better the next time around.

iStock_000011408450XSmall-e1377826869734And then came my divorce. Talk about failure! And such a public failure! I felt like I had a scarlet D tattooed to my forehead. And the stigma that goes with having your husband cheat on you…I don’t like feeling a victim, but that’s what it made me. Publicly.

And then there is the stigma…people look at you as if it is your fault that your husband cheated on you. You can almost hear the thoughts in their heads: “What’s wrong with her that he cheated?” “Is she frigid?” “There has to be a reason…”

Despite knowing in my head that my husband’s cheating on me was all about him and nothing about me, my ego struggled to accept that knowledge. What was it about me that caused him to walk away from me? Why wasn’t I worth his faithfulness? Was there something wrong with me?

My self esteem became a battleground.

But I battled, and I didn’t give in. I didn’t accept the lies, but countered the lies with what I knew to be the truth. And I did that over and over again until I started believing it for real.

Self-Esteem-TipsAnd I stopped worrying about what other people thought. The truth is, people are going to think what they’re going to think regardless of what the truth is. For some people, thinking less of someone else makes them feel better about himself and his life. For others, it adds some interest to a rather boring life. For others, it might give them a feeling of vindication for some perceived slight along the way or maybe a feeling of fairness for someone who struggled with jealousy.

Whatever the reason, people are going to think what they think, and we can’t change it. We need to stop worrying so much about what “people” think and focus on what God thinks.

Am I good with God? Did I walk in obedience with Him? Did I submit to His will? Am I where He wants me to be?

If I can say yes to all of these–if you can–then guess what? It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. He’s the only one that matters.

Self esteem is not about affirmation. It’s not about ability. It’s about taking an active part in what goes on in your head. It’s about confronting the lies we tell ourselves with the truth, and it’s about worrying about who we are, not in the eyes of others, but when we stand eye to eye with our God.

It’s active and it is a process. But when you take the time, people can say all sorts of horrible things to you, and think whatever it is they’re going to think, and it doesn’t shake your knowledge of who you know you are.

CLBCRYmUEAACz_TYou are a child of God. You are beautifully and wonderfully made. And you are loved. Unconditionally.

If you are valuable in the eyes of our creator, who on this earth can tell you that you aren’t of value?

And that is truth.

Believe it.

The Surprising Truth about Happiness

How happy are you? Right now. This minute. Unqualified.happiness-baseline

That is exactly how happy you be one year after winning the lottery.

Or becoming a paraplegic.

Wait a minute–what?! How can that possibly be?

It can be because, contrary to what society tries to tell us, happiness is not about what we have or don’t have. It’s not about achieving our goals and accomplishing our dreams. It’s a state of mind.

Stop it. Right this minute. I can see the eye-roll. Hear me out.

Happiness-is-Inside-JobThere are two different kinds of happiness, what some would call “actual” happiness and synthetic happiness. Our culture is built around the idea of “actual” happiness which is what we feel when we get what we want. Synthetic happiness is what we make–it’s the ability to take what we get and choose to be happy. (See Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert’s Ted Talk on the subject here)

Synthetic happiness is an approach to living.

Have you ever wondered how one person can approach a tragedy, a heartbreak, an incredible loss and seem to become better, stronger, somehow more?  And how another who is confronted with the same loss, tragedy, or heartbreak becomes somehow less–angry, bitter, somehow diminished? Well, this is a piece of the puzzle, this is one of the key aspects of what counselors like to call “resilience.”

Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I lost a daughter to SMA. It was horrific. There are not sufficient words in our vocabulary to describe what a parent feels when they have to bury their child. It’s agonizing.

Of course I was angry! It wasn’t fair!

Of course I grieved! My heart was broken.

Of course I was bitter. Why me and not you? Why me and not someone else–anyone else?

I watched not only my daughter get buried, but many of my hopes and dreams. I watched my marriage become a sickly shadow of what it had been. If actual happiness was all there is, I should have been diminished: angry, bitter, and depressed.

happiness-is-a-way-of-travel-not-a-destinationBut on a basic level I understood synthetic happiness–the happiness we make when life doesn’t give us what we want. I didn’t have the words for it then, but I knew it instinctively. In the words of the old adage, I had the ability to take my lemons and make lemonade.

Synthetic happiness is our ability to make happiness in any situation, to find the bright side, to see the proverbial hope at the end of the tunnel. It is the ability to find something good, even if it’s tiny, in the most dismal of circumstances. Synthetic happiness is a choice.

I love this. We are exactly as happy as we choose to be. We are not at the whim of fate and circumstance. My happiness isn’t dependent on someone else or on what I have or don’t have. It’s dependent on my looking at the blessings in my life, what I have to be thankful for, and what has potential for good in the circumstances I can’t control.

My happiness is up to me.

And your happiness is up to you.

So, I ask you again, just how happy are you?

And what are you going to do about it?

 

Divorce and Pregnancy: they make experts of us all

Divorce is kind of like pregnancy–everyone feels entitled to give you their opinion.

Never will you find people more willing to dish out advice than when they know that your marriage has fallen apart at the seams.933cf99a612349ffefc40a9518266f8e

They will tell you how to feel, when to feel it, and how long to feel it for.

Everyone has an opinion on how you should grieve, how long you should grieve, and how long you should wait before you should get back in that saddle.

And the thing is, everybody has a different opinion, and not a one of them knows what your particular story is or what mine is either.

They have not walked a day in the life of you or of me. They don’t understand the years of grief leading up to the final acceptance that this broken thing can’t be saved. They don’t understand that the marriage has been dead for a long time. Or that the divorce was completely out of the blue and you were still head over heels for your spouse when he/she left you for another woman or man or just because.

bhb____empty_heart_by_burning_heart_brony-d9hadnq.pngFor some, divorce comes as a surprise, for others, like me, it’s the gradual admittance of what you’ve known for a long time–no amount of resuscitation can bring back to life something that is thoroughly dead. Flat lined. DOD. Over.

I’m a counselor and a Psych professor. I talk to the grieving and the hurting all the time. And there’s one thing I have learned along the way: grief is a personal and individual process. We can try to put labels and timelines on it, but the reality is, the process is going to be as unique as we are as human beings.

It’s time that we stepped back and stop dishing out advice and instead started listening.

But, that causes a problem. We’re not very good at listening. We’re into quick fixes. We like short and sweet platitudes that soothe our conscience and make us feel like we’re helping, when in reality, we’re handing somebody a band-aid and telling them to get over it.

Not in so many words, of course, because that would be rude. But we might as well just say it, because that’s what we mean. We want to pat them on the head, say that we care, but then get back to the business of living our own lives.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Psychologists everywhere are starting to  wave their hands to get our attention about this very issue. Our social media driven society is causing us to look for instant gratification and short fixes in the place of true and authentic relationships. We are replacing intimacy with connection, and the result is a society that is sinking into loneliness and low level depression (more on this in an up and coming blog).

And no where does it show more than in our relationships. Writing in the Atlantic, Stephen Marche reportsWhile loneliness has been increasing there has been an explosion in the number of psychologists, social workers, life coaches, and other “psychic servants”…We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.

As a counselor, I read that and cringe. Yep. That’s it entirely.AAEAAQAAAAAAAAXEAAAAJDQ0MzEzNWFkLTMzMmItNDViYi1hOTMxLTZjZjljYTk5MWZlOA

We leave the listening to the therapists, and we, the friends, hand out the band-aids.

My ex insisted that I see a counselor, even though I didn’t feel like I needed to see one. In an effort to get this whole thing over with, I went to one anyway. The therapist looked me in the eye at the end of my first session and told me that I didn’t need her, that I clearly was well adjusted and dealing with things well.

When I told my ex that, he didn’t much like what my therapist had to say. I shrugged and told him, “I have friends. When you have good friends, you don’t need a therapist to help you get through the normal stuff like this.” And, as a therapist, I believe that’s the truth.

There are issues that are too big for friends to deal with, but grief and loss, a failed marriage, when one is dealing with them in the “normal” way? Good friends are all you need.

n-CONVERSATION-628x314A friend who listens and doesn’t just send the occasional text or Facebook platitude. A friend who can look you in the eye and have the courage to say, “I think you’re wrong, but I love you anyway…”

Are you that kind of friend? You should be. If you’re not, then I would question your level of commitment to your friendships.

What kind of friends do you have? If you have the good ones, the ones who really listen, not just the band-aid pushers, make sure you give them their due. They’re rare and should be highly prized.

Let’s stop with the advice and the judgement. Let’s stop outsourcing the practice of everyday caring. And let’s start listening.

 

 

 

How Emotion Hijacks our Reason

20120818_mo-running-from-bearWe’ve all heard of the fight or flight response, and we get it. We see a grizzly in the woods and our instinct is to run screaming. Makes total sense (though it will get you killed, so don’t do it).

What most of us don’t realize is that we also have this same response to intense emotional situations. Feelings of shame and betrayal hijack our limbic system the same way that spying a King Cobra would.

According to Psychologist Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly:

“When shame descends, we almost always are hijacked by the limbic system. In other           words, the prefrontal cortex, where we do all our thinking and analyzing and                             strategizing, gives way to the primitive fight-or-flight part of our brain.”

heart-mindThat instinct you have to run and hide after you’ve said or done something incredibly stupid? Yep, that’s the fight or flight response too. In his book Icognito, neuroscientist David Eagleman describes the brain as a “team of rivals.” In other words, in these emotional interactions, it is quite literally a battle between the heart (or our emotional selves) and our minds. That disparity between what we know in our heads and what we feel is a real battle, and whichever wins is going to call the shots in terms of our behavior.

Eagleman puts it this way:

away“There is an ongoing conversation among the different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behavior…the rational system is the one that cares about analysis of things in the outside world, while the emotional system monitors the internal state and worries whether things are good or bad.”
toward

Our response to these emotional confrontations isn’t that much different from the one with the grizzly. In classical psychology terms, Karen Horney’s theory that we move toward, move against, or we move away explains it best.

According to Dr. Linda Hartling’s research while at the Stone Center at Wellesley, in these types of situations, we tend to move away by withdrawing, hiding, and keeping secrets. We move toward by attempting to appease and to please. We move against by attempting to gain power over others through aggression, both verbal and physical.

The reality is, we likely do all of these in different situations with different people at different times. The important thing is to recognize it for what it is, our limbic system hijacking our reasoning.

We need to learn to spot it, take an emotional step back, and give our reason a chance to come back on line.

 

 

The Misinformation Effect:Why our memories can’t be trusted

Uncle Ron

We all have the uncle (or aunt, or grandparent, or wacky fifth cousin twice removed) who likes to reminisce about how “When I was a kid…” he used to walk uphill both ways to school, or she helped her mama with all the chores before she was asked, or he never disrespected his parents.

We fully recognize that their memory has taken on a tinge of unreality and, in response, we are ready with the prerequisite eye roll or groan, recognizing that “Uncle Rob’s memory is a few bricks shy of a full load.”

We fully accept that their memories are somewhat lacking.

But what if I told you that it isn’t just Uncle Rob and Aunt Cheryl? What if I were to point my finger at you, and tell you that your memory is just as false as crazy cousin Wally’s?

a1We like to think that our memories are ironclad. Often, in disagreements and arguments, we site our recollection of events as solid, irrefutable back up of our version of reality. We don’t pause to consider when our [spouse, parent, friend] refutes our version of the experience with their own version of events that we might be the one who is wrong. We tell ourselves he/she is simply wrong. They are remembering incorrectly. It happened the way we replay it in our heads.

But, if their memory can be incorrect, why do we assume that our own isn’t inaccurate as well? Why do we somehow believe that we simply are better at remembering?

False memories have gotten a lot of attention lately with the documentary series “Making a Murderer.” Anyone who’s on Facebook couldn’t escape the indignation that permeated half the posts several months ago. Many watching the series felt a sense of moral outrage that an innocent man could have had his life taken from him in such a way. How could such a mistake be made! It’s unacceptable! How does this happen?!

The truth is, it happens very easily. Rather than being the anomaly, a little digging shows that it is not an uncommon tale. Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has been pointing out this flaw in our memories and by extension our legal system for years. Check out her TedTalk on the subject here

Eye witness testimonies are frequently wrong. They are wrong, not because of some vindictive purpose of the witness, but due to the inherent flaws in memory.

Through a series of experiments, Loftus found that simple semantics changed the testimony of a witness.

a2If an individual was asked how fast a car was going when it “smashed” into another vehicle versus how fast a car was going when it “hit” another vehicle, the witness would raise the mph of the car because the word “smash” implies more force. Same accident, different wording equaled different memory of the events.

Loftus decided to take the susceptibility of our memory to alteration one step further. She decided to see if a completely false memory was planted, it could cause a person to believe something that they did not see or experience at all.

Through a series of experiments, she found that, absolutely, we can come to believe that things happened that did not happen. She calls this the misinformation effect.

For instance, if an individual is told that when they were very young he became separated from his parents in a mall and that he wandered terrified and lost, the individual is likely to begin “remembering” details of the event–even though it never actually happened.

a3Our memories are susceptible to suggestion. They can be altered.

As a Psych professor, I decided that my skeptical students could benefit from a little experiment of their own. They recorded a memory of their own in as much detail as they could remember and they were then told to rate the accuracy of the memory on a scale of one to ten. The memory had to be one in which another individual was involved. They were then to interview that individual and record their version of the memory in as much detail as the individual remembered it. They were then told to compare the two sets of memories.

The next part of the assignment was even more interesting. They were told to try to sew misinformation. The goal was to plant false memories and to see if they were believed. To aid the success of the experiment, they were told that they had to come up with plausible additions, things that easily could have happened.

The result of their experiment was that most of the students realized that their memory wasn’t nearly as reliable as they originally believed it to be. When they compared it to the other individual’s memory, they found things they had forgotten and many discrepancies between the two sets of memories.

Secondly, about fifty percent of the students were successfully able to plant false memories. It was far easier than any of us had believed to warp and change an individual’s memory of an event. In fact, it was a little disturbing to see how easy it was to alter a person’s memories and it left most of us with the uncomfortable reality that rather than looking at our memories as a movie played back in our minds, they should be regarded with suspicion and doubt.

So, what does this mean to you? The next time you are entrenched in your belief that your version of events is the accurate one, you might want to take a step back and reconsider–memory is malleable and downright faulty–and it is certainly not a hill for relationships to die on.

 

 

There’s a little bit of magic in all 0f us, and it’s called the mind

Savoring-ChocolatesWhat would happen if you were to eat something unhealthy but believe it was good for you … or something healthy but believe it was bad for you?

I doesn’t matter, right? If it’s healthy, it’s healthy. That’s simply a fact.

78653217_2And no matter how often you tell yourself that pan of brownies is actually good for you, it doesn’t make it so, right? I mean, that’s common sense.

Or not.

Wait a minute…what?

I can’t possibly be telling you that you can just think the calories out of your brownies?! What kind of quack am I?! I mean that’s ridiculous! You’re just going to stop reading now. Obviously, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But wait, just for a minute. Hear me out.

Okay, so you can’t make those brownies into a carrot stick no matter how hard you try, BUT it seems that what we believe matters more than we think. Our body responds to how we view something. How our body reacts and interacts changes based on what we tell our brain is true.

This shouldn’t be as shocking as it sounds. We do things like this all of the time.

Seriously. No joke.

Take phantom limb pain. One of the ways we handle it is through something called mirror therapy. We quite literally trick the brain into thinking that the missing limb is still there–even though it’s not.

By using a mirror, we envision a leg where there is no leg, and the brain responds sort of like this:

“Oh! Dear me! My mistake! So sorry! There is a leg there. I see it now. Well, let me just get rid of this pain for you. My mistake. Won’t happen again!”

And poof! The pain goes away.

Are we still missing the leg?

Absolutely!

Are our nerves still sending a static message to the brain?

Yep.

But we’ve tricked the brain into believing there isn’t a problem.

How about another example: stress.

Are you stressed?

stress-300x266I’m stressed.

I’m not sure you can live in this modern world and not be stressed.

For years we have been told that stress is bad for us. It makes us sick. It can even kill us.

Many have mistakenly believed that stress can cause cancer. Research has never supported this. Though there is a correlation between stress and cancer, there is nothing that backs up the idea that stress causes the cancer. A basic research principle there: correlation does not equal causation.

We are now finding out that we have been demonizing stress to our own detriment. Stress itself is not bad. It is only the belief that stress is bad that gives stress the power to harm us.

Huh? What kind of psychological mumbojumbo is this? I’m losing you again, aren’t I? Hold tight. It sounds like mumbojumbo, but it’s not.

It’s backed up with research, and it’s pretty amazing. Check out this TedTalk and let the experts say it better than I can myself: Kelly Mcgonigal TedTalk Trust me, it’s worth the watch.

163808-Good-Morning-Let-The-Stress-BeginStress itself is not bad for us. In fact, we need to take our stress response and make it work for us.

I decided to take this concept and consciously practice it recently when confronted with a crisis in my own life.

As a professor of Psychology, I am very aware of the cycle of the stress response and exactly what is happening in my body when the fight/flight response is triggered. I felt the acceleration of my hearbeat. I felt the blood pumping in my veins. I was aware that my lack of appetite was due to my body focusing its energy on more important needs. I was aware of the the cortisol flooding my system to ensure that I had energy despite my lack of nutrition. I was consciously aware of my body’s response to the crisis at hand, and I told myself just what I was told to tell myself: this is a good thing. This is my body helping me to rise to the challenge and to overcome.

Phase two, I called my friends and family. Remembering the second part of Kelly Mcgonigal’s TedTalk, I got the people who love and care about me involved. I didn’t try to do it on my own. I didn’t let pride or embarrassment keep me silent. I knew I needed friends, and I called them. And they came, because my friends and family are awesome that way!

This was the second worst crisis of my life, only topped by the diagnosis and subsequent death of my first child.

It was bad. Really, really bad.

in-times-of-great-stress-or-adversity-its-always-best-to-keep-busy-to-plow-your-anger-and-your-energy-into-something-positiveAnd yet, I handled this crisis better than any crisis in my life. My body empowered me to deal with it, and my very belief that it would, ensured that it did. It didn’t make the situation any less terrible, but I handled it so very much better!

And I am continuing to handle it so much better, because, though the initial crisis is over, the stress and the aftermath are going to take a long, long time to deal with, and the continued stress I feel can sap my energy and will, or it can feed me.

I choose the latter.

I know my body is designed to help me withstand and overcome just such situations, and I’m going to let it do just that.

The Huffington Post puts it this way:

This isn’t exactly new material. Think of Shakespeare’s wisdom that “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Or this affirmation by 19th century Christian religious thought leader, Mary Baker Eddy: “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts.” (See #9 on: “10 Positive Thinking Books That Might Change Your Life.”) 

In other words, the more research we do, the more the link between our spirit/soul/consciousness and our physical selves becomes evident. What we think matters. Negativity hurts us physically. Whether it is our inner dialogue telling us how we don’t measure up and how we can’t ever achieve what we want to achieve (for more on this concept see my earlier blog: Queen of Schmucks ) or whether it is telling ourselves that our biological stress response is bad for us, negative thoughts take a toll on our physical bodies.

We need to change how we think.

How do we go about it? Well “Forbes” magazine breaks it down and gives us some practical steps in how we can begin to change our mindset about stress and make it work for us:

Tembracestresshen, follow this three-step process for cultivating a new stress mindset over the next month:

Step 1.

Acknowledge stress when you feel it, notice stress in your body.

If you have a difficult time noticing what you feel in your body, try meditating for just five minutes a day.

Step 2.

Welcome stress by knowing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect with the positive motivation behind the stress?

What is at stake here? Why does it matter to you?

Step 3.

Make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting time trying to manage stress. Think of something you can do now and take action aligned with your values and goals.

If you believe the research, this short intervention can change your life.

Changing how we think is hard. It takes conscious effort and time. We can’t change our thinking over night.

For the optimists out there, we have a built in buoy system that makes it a whole lot easier.

For the pessimists, it might well be an uphill battle–but it’s a battle worth fighting.

It just might save your life.