Thursday, December 10, 2009

What is the Purpose of Our Relationships?

Every relationship arrives in our lives to give us the opportunity for healing. What we do with that opportunity is our choice. If we waste it trying the same old behaviors that didn't work for us in the past, we can repeat the same old mistakes and get the same lousey results.

If we decide to do our recovery work and begin the journey within, we may find that we have been presented with the same lesson again and again. Our Higher Power has the patience and all the time in the world to teach us the lessons we need to improve our lives. If we don't learn our lessons, they are repeated over and over again until we finally get it. Once we learn the lesson, the next one is presented.

Each time we have a choice... it's okay to lose, just as long as we don't lose the lesson.

Here are some of my lessons...

I learned patience, tolerance, forgiveness, wisdom, kindness, generosity, and letting go from my relationship with my son's Dad after we no longer lived together.

I have learned tenderness, love, gentleness, loyalty, respect, acceptance and that change can be safe in my relationship with my partner.

I have learned to let go and allow my son to become his own person, a capable adult.

These were all difficult lessons. Some hurt a great deal, some left me with scars that remind me of the difficulty of the lesson every day. But all of them are lessons I needed to learn to be the person I have become. I regret none of them.

The most important lesson of all I saved for last... trust... I learned that from my Higher Power

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Am I Angry or Enraged?

I like to think of anger as a stop sign. It is a signal to us that someone or something has crossed our boundary or violated our values. If we ignore our anger and internalize it we eventually experience it coming out sidways... possibly passive aggressively, making ourselves sick, or a multitude of other avenues.

Anger is the tip of the emotional iceberg. Most of the time is it our defense mechanism rising up to protect us from experiencing deeper feelings... like fear, loss, saddness. That's why I like to call it a stop sign. If we stop and consider, why am I angry? We may get a chance to know ourselves better. We may be able to realize a deeper feeling underneath the anger and address an unresolved issue.

There is another form... rage. Rage is very different from anger. Rage is not a response to a current boundary incursion or value violation. Rage is a response to a trigger from the past. When we react toward current events with rage we are reacting to something that happened long ago that has remained unresolved.

Rage feels different than anger. It rises us from the depths of our toes, it burns like a fire, we feel it bubble and boil in our guts. Rage causes us to react with a 10 when a 2 is appropriate. Rage is a signal that we have been triggered and have an unresolved issue that needs attention.

Anger has a place in relationships. When we are angry we can take some time to think about our situation, figure out why we feel the way we do, then choose to do something about it.

Rage has no place in relationships. Rage is a destructive force that injures both parties causing resentment and bitterness over time. Rage is a form of abuse.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why Is Betrayal So Complex?

Betrayal is complex. Although it appears simple and straight forward it is not. Betrayal comes in many forms... adultery is one, domestic violence is another, so is spousal abuse.

There are a number of reasons why people betray. The most profound is that before we can betray our partner, we must first betray ourselves. As partners we generally agree on basic human values. We have made certain agreements about how we will behave in the relationship.

When we make the decision to betray we first decide not to honor our own internal values. We intellectualize our emotions and turn off our feelings. If we permitted ourselves to feel, we would be overwhelmed with saddness and disappointment in our own behavior, so we choose to feel nothing.

Once we have become numb it is impossible to feel the pain and loss that we are creating by our betrayal. We are living in our heads, not in our hearts. After the initial numb phase has passed and the reality of our situation has begun to sink in, we may begin to defrost. This is a very dangerous time for us. We may face an overwhelming backlog of feelings that have been stifled during our numb stage. As we process these feelings we may swing from grief and regret over the losses we caused to anger and blame over the consequences of our actions.

Through it all we may find that we are no happier with our new life than our old one. We have not dealt with our issues, only substituted one set of problems for another. The common denominator being the same... us.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How Can I Get Along With Difficult People?

everyone else is a jerk

Since many of us have house guests around the holidays and want to enjoy our time with them, here is some excellent advice from Dale V. Atkins, PhD on how to get along with difficult people.

It’s inevitable that at some point we will have to spend time with people we don’t like. Maybe you don’t like your spouse’s best friend or your daughter’s boyfriend. Here are some simple guidelines for getting through these tricky situations...

This is someone you can’t avoid completely but with whom you can spend only so much time before he/she starts to drive you crazy. Perhaps your sister is a slob, and you’re very tidy... or you have a parent you love, but who is overly critical.

With these people, it is best to keep activities confined to neutral zones, such as going to a movie or a restaurant. Usually, in these places, conversations don’t get too out of hand. With a movie, you’ll be able to talk only before and after, though you’re still spending time together. Also, these activities have built-in time limits, so you will be spending quality time with someone you love, but you’ll also be giving yourself an exit.

Keep in mind that while you may be tempted, it’s usually not worth your time to try to redesign someone’s personality. This almost always meets with resistance and can lead to fights. Just try to focus on the best aspects of his/her personality.

When you don’t like your partner’s friend, it can be difficult for both you and your partner. First, try your best to see things through your partner’s eyes, and try to find something you like or can appreciate about his friend. It can be something as simple as appreciating his sense of style or a joke he told once.

Let your partner know that it’s OK to do things without you, but try to attend if there’s an important event in the friend’s life -- for example, a wedding or a party for a promotion.
Never try to turn your partner against his friend. You don’t have to like him as much as your partner does, but you should respect the relationship. Don’t be rude or say nasty things about him.

Let your partner know that it is OK to not like your friend, but it’s not OK to be rude or dismissive to him/her. Ask for the same respect to be shown to your friends that you show to your partner’s friends.

Cultivate your relationship with your friend without your partner, and don’t insist that everyone spend time together. Sometimes it’s easier to do this during the week, instead of on the weekend, when you may have family obligations.

One of the trickiest situations is when your child marries someone whom you do not like. It can be very hard to hide your feelings, but for the sake of your relationship with your child, it’s a good idea. Make every effort to get along with your child’s spouse, and do your best to care about him/her and show him respect.

Don’t say anything bad about your child’s spouse. You don’t want to put your child in the middle of a conflict between you and his spouse, and it is not fair to make your child choose between you and the spouse.

If there is a legitimate issue between you and your child’s spouse -- for example, if she is rude to you in public -- it’s best to pull her aside at another time and try to work it out.

It’s always hard to see someone you love making bad choices. Maybe a child is spending too much time partying at college or a friend is in a damaging relationship.

Talk to him/her in an open way, and share your concerns -- but don’t pressure and don’t be overly judgmental. Discuss with him the consequences of his actions. For example, if your child is partying at school more than studying, there is a real chance that he could flunk out.

Remember that he must choose to change -- you can’t force that on anyone. Tell him that you love him and that you always will, but that you don’t agree with his choices.

One way to reduce the stress you feel when seeing a friend or relative in situations you don’t agree with is to focus on your own wisdom and be grateful for what you have and who you are.

Sometimes there’s no way to avoid having your castle invaded by people who get under your skin -- whether it is your partner’s old college roommate or your great-aunt Helen.

Try to carve out some time for yourself. Find something relaxing and recharging that you love to do. Take a quiet walk by yourself... have a relaxing bath... or meditate.

It may help to put your guests to work if they are staying with you for more than a few days. Having them do some dishes or fold some laundry can help to greatly reduce your own stress level. If you have less stress and less work to do, you might even enjoy your guests.

Regardless of what tools we use and how we cope we may face stress in dealing with difficult people during the holiday season. If we remember to practice self care whenever we begin to feel overwhelmed, we will be able to enjoy our family and friends and rejoice in the precious present.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Have I Become My Mother?

Don't we all have one of those Mom's who give us the crazies when we really just want to reflect and process?

I certainly do. My Mom is a loving caring woman... she is probably one of the nicest people you would ever meet. She literally can kill you with kindness. But... she is tenacious too... she learned a long time ago that if she bugs me enough I will most likely do whatever it is that she wants... to get the bugging to stop... even though it's done so sweetly it almost feels like she's not bugging... and yes, I do love her a great deal. But the bugging... she has a way of instilling this feeling in me that I have failed miserably as a person if I don't do this one thing... whatever it is... whether it's a small thing or huge... it's immaterial... I must comply... and then sweet surrender... and the bugging stops... and I can breathe again. Until the next request!

Ah yes... one more area where I do not want to be like Mom... and yet, as I get older and look in the mirror.... my God... there she is. And I find I am bugging... ~gasp~

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Can't I Clear Out The Fog?

Why is it that we can clearly see problems and solutions for others and yet when our own difficulties come into play we often remain in a fog?

We have the ability to practice a form of mental self defense where we either deny a challenge exists all together, or we rationalize away its severity. We may intellectualize our issues, not allowing ourselves to feel our emotions fully. We may do this to minimize pain and loss, or in an attempt to keep ourselves from recognizing the truth of our situation.

We may have begun learning this defense mechanism when we were children. If we lived in a family of origin where there was a great deal of chaos we may have needed this defense in order to survive. As we grow into adults we may find that our old defense mechanisms have begun to hinder our ability to fully participate in our own lives. We may be incapable of recognizing when we are being treated poorly. We may be unable to experience joy. We may be marching through life in a state of suspended emotional animation, existing, but not living.

When we begin our walk on the path of recovery we may initially find our emotions overwhelming and feel incapable of handling the waves of feelings that surge through our minds and bodies. As time progresses we become more comfortable within ourselves and feel capable of handling our strong emotions. We may recall that as children we may have had no one to guide us through the maze of our own feelings. They may have been strong and frightening, so we locked them away. Now that we are adults we can unlock those stored childhood feelings, process them in our adult minds and allow them to become a part of us.

In healthy families adults model appropriate reactions to strong emotions by regulating their responses. In dysfunctional families there may be no responsible adult present to serve as role model. The only model we see may be an emotionally frightened or enraged caretaker who is incapable of managing their own feelings and is acting out. If we grow up in an environment such as this, it is no wonder why we, as adults, may feel overwhelmed by strong emotions.

Learning to properly respond to feelings and challenges is a skill that is developed over years of observing role models and experimenting with our own abilities. If we have not developed these skills in childhood we may be emotionally immature.

We can learn the skills necessary to function in a healthy manner in all our interactions. It may take practice, learning new skills and a great deal of failure before we finally become adept at handling our strong feelings appropriately, but we can master the necessary skills with time and practice.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Am I a Support or a Burden?

How we cope when our partner is having a rough day is important. Are we a person who helps make the difficulties lighter? Or are we someone who drags our partner down even more when times are hard for them?

We may not always have a choice about what happens in a day, but we have a choice in how we respond to the presenting challenge. We can meet challenges with gratefulness, realizing that we are learning a necessary lesson for our or our partners growth. Or, we can meet it with angst and hostility, feeling resentment that our plans have been altered against our wishes.

How we respond when our partner is wrestling with an issue is vital. If we maintain our composure, keep our response appropriate yet positive and try to see the benefit, we can enhance our partners surroundings.

If we succumb to the temptation to wallow in self pity and regret we may add fuel to our partners fire, possibly helping to derail their attempt to maintain composure. Or, worse yet, we may become an additional challenge in their day.

The last thing we want to do is to make our partners day more difficult when they are already stressed out about a challenge they are facing. One of the purposes of a relationship is to be a support to one another when difficulties arise. Our role of supporter is never more vital than at a time when our partner is in crisis.

We use our tools to remain centered, exercise patience, exhibit compassion and offer our assistance when appropriate. In this way we allow our partner the space and time necessary to solve their own challenges, while remaining available, should the need arise for our help to be requested. In this way we give our partner the gift of support.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pity, Compassion, Trust and Selfishness

What is the difference between compassion and pity?

Compassion is based on a belief that both parties in a relationship are equals... that each of their points of view are worthy of regard. Pity includes a feeling of intellectual superiority. We pity our partner who is suffering and see them as being inferior, inept, incompetent or unable to function in some important way. Pity then leads to contempt if our partner is unable to resolve their issue within our time frame. Compassion leads us to offer whatever assistance is appropriate, then allowing our partner the opportunity to solve their issue within their own time frame.

What is the difference between compassion and excusing irresponsible or selfish behavior?

Compassion includes us behaving in accordance with our own values. This does not mean we excuse the irresponsible or selfish behavior of our partner when they have done something that does not agree with their own inner values. We have the responsibility to respect our own and others boundaries. We can feel compassion for the poor choices our partner has made without allowing them to continue to hurt us. We own our power in our relationship and reinforce our boundaries with our partner, telling them what we will and will not accept in a gentle loving manner.

What is the difference between compassion and discerning when it is safe to trust?

When we are compassionate we are able to see our partner as they really are without pretense. We see them with all their vulnerabilities and flaws and can discern accurately what we can realistically expect. If our expectations are on track and we are accurately discerning what is and is not possible, we are less likely to trust inappropriately. Many times we are hurt in relationships because we refuse to acknowledge the flaws of either our partner or ourselves. Our ability to discern when it is safe to trust relies upon our acceptance of reality. Our ability to accept reality relies upon our level of compassion in our relationship. When we feel compassion toward our partner we are able to view them in truth thereby assessing accurately when it is and is not safe to trust.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Make NOW the Most Precious Time

'CoverCover of The Precious Present

I read a story a while back called The Precious Present. When I picked up the book in the store I thought it was a Christmas story. It was around that time. It caught my attention so I began to read. I do that often... read in the book store... I was drawn in by the story and it was fast reading so I sat down with the book.

About thirty minutes went by and suddenly I came to the end. It was not at all a Christmas story. I recall sitting very still in that moment and realizing that I had never actually noticed the passage of time in quite the same way. The message of the book was astounding... and I realized for the first time in my life that the most precious commodity I had was time.

Those thirty minutes changed by perception permanently. I had a new goal... a new view of what mattered to me.

Later on that evening I was watching television... a drama that I enjoyed and one of the characters said, "Make now the most precious time. Now will never come again." I was stunned. I was getting the message again.

The next day I was chatting with several other folks and someone said, "If one is using one's time fretting about the past or worrying about the future, no energy is left for the present." Again... the same message. This was more than mere coincidence.

This time I gave the concept serious thought. Was I wasting my energies fretting over the past? I thought I had moved on from that place... had I some remaining strings still holding me captive? What about the future? Was I worrying about outcomes... not having faith in the path my Higher Power had placed before me? Was I trying to exert control where I had none?

The answers eluded me but I made a decision to redouble my efforts at letting go. I would work harder on my recovery... make every moment count. Suddenly I burst out laughing. That was exactly the message... living the moment... making each moment count... not working harder at recovery or letting go, but actually being present... emotionally and spiritually present in each wonderful moment.

I realized that if I put my energy into being fully alive in each moment that I would no longer make time available for fretting or worry. It was a choice... a choice I could make each moment of my life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Volunteering - A Path to Better Self Esteem

How can we feel better about our own life? What can we do to improve our self esteem?

In addition to the recovery work that we practice in our daily lives we have another avenue open to us for increasing our self esteem. Volunteering. When we avail ourselves of the opportunity to help others we leave our own issues and difficulties behind and focus outside ourselves for a time. We become immersed in the problems of others and in the process may gain some perspective on our own issues.

One of the most wonderful ways we can accomplish this task during the holidays is a creation of the United States Postal Service called Operation Santa Claus. The movement had its beginnings in the 1920's when postal workers took letters from the dead letter office address to Santa and chipped in some of their own funds to buy gift for needy children. Since that time the New York City postal workers at the post office located at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue, behind Madison Square Garden, have collected the letters and set them aside for folks to read over and choose each year, beginning in December. These postal workers do this on their own time without pay each year. It is estimated that this year there may be up to 200,000 letters due to the economic down turn.

Let us each take a moment this year and choose to give a child who will receive nothing a gift. If your own economic circumstances don't permit the expense of any funds, making something creative will fill the void nicely.

I have participated in Operation Santa Claus and have found it made my holidays the most fulfilling of all. Here is a link to an article about Operation Santa Claus.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The God Box

The hardest part about splitting up isn't leaving the person... it's saying goodbye to all the hopes and dreams we had when we met.

One of the exercises we are given is to take a pretty box... whether we buy one at a $1 store or make one ourseves, it doesn't matter. We can use a favorite urn, vase or any covered dish if we like. I use a ginger jar with a cover that I made in a ceramics class. Some folks use a family heirloom that has meaning to them. Whatever you choose will work for you.

We hand write all our hopes and dreams we had for our relationship on a couple of sheets of our favorite note paper. The more we cherish the note paper the better. If you aren't into pretty note paper, that's okay. Any paper will do. It is important that we write this exercise ourself. We absorb more of what we are doing when we use multiple senses, sight, touch and hearing.

We read over what we have written aloud. It should be a comprehensive list of all the dreams we had for our relationship and the future we thought we would have together. We say a prayer to let go of them all. We listen to our heart. If our feelings begin to come to the surface, we allow ourselves the time to feel whatever is within. We let ourself grieve as fully as we need.

We empty the trash bin underneath our shredder. We put the sheets through our shredder then collect them from the trash bin and put the shredded sheets in the God box. What ever we place within is what we are giving over to our Higher Power.

This is an exercise in letting go. We shred the sheets as a symbol of the fact that once we give them to our Higher Power we won't take them back. We place the sheets in the box and say a brief prayer, finally giving these hopes and dreams to our Higher Power.

When we enter into a new relationship we create new hopes and dreams, we don't revive the old ones... but first we have to let go of the ones we already created to make room for new ones.

We make a God box for ourself and use it frequently, whenever we have to let go of something. One of my favorite authors, Melody Beattie, once said... "I never let go of anything that didn't have claw marks on it."

Me too...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Am I Enhancing My Relationship?

What makes one relationship work while another falters? What steps can we take to preserve our partnership?

There are habits that we can create in our relationship that may help us feel more connected with one another. These are simple choices we make each day that can make the difference between happiness and emptiness.

Going to bed at the same time each night where possible gives partners the chance to snuggle and reconnect in a physical way after a long day of being apart. Our skin responds to touch by releasing chemicals that help us relax. Snuggling may help us fall asleep more easily and feel connected in a positive way.

Having shared interests is important for us to flourish in a partnership. We bring ourselves to the relationship as a gift. If the gift we bring is filled with interests and fun we add a great deal of positive energy to our relationship. Cultivating our own lives as well as common interests is paramount to a healthy balanced partnership.

Letting our partner know that we are proud to be seen with them is vital. We show our pride in our relationship by encouraging touch when we are with others. We may hold hands, or rest our arm in theirs. We may walk with fingers entwined or lean against one another while sitting. All these gestures allow our partner to feel the sense of pride we share in our partnership.

Assume the best. When we are in a committed relationship we are bound to make mistakes as is our partner. When we begin by assuming the best we are giving our partner the benefit of the doubt. We allow ourselves to make our first priority trust and faith in our partner, that they did not intend to cause harm. If harm was caused, we display forgiveness as we would want to be forgiven when we falter.

The old saying, accentuate the positive... eliminate the negative... applies well in relationships. We tend to see the glass as either half full or half empty. If we have learned to see the world through an optimistic view we are more likely to have positive outcomes. We learn to overlook the tiny annoyances that all relationships endure and focus on the areas we enjoy in our partner. We too have annoying attributes and wish our irritations to be overlooked.

Make it a habit to check in with one another during the day. We offer our partner support, love, encouragement and allow ourselves to get a glimpse of how our partners day is progressing. This is an invaluable tool in assessing how our partner may be feeling later on in the evening. If we are aware of the stresses they have dealt with during the day we can be more prepared for their energy level later on and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Make your first encounter after a long absence, such as a day at work, positive. A smile and hug or kiss at first reunion paves the way for positive feelings they may last well into the remainder of the day. Showing our partner how pleased we are to see them again is well worth the effort.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Questions and Answers on Relationships

We worked through a lot of issues... Please explain... what issues have you worked through? Were they the same issues you have now? If that is so, then maybe you haven't worked through these issues.

We have no intimacy... What does intimacy mean to you? Intimacy doesn't mean sexual or physical gratification. Intimacy means allowing another person to get to know you without all the masks, roles and pretense most of us use to protect ourselves. Has your partner tried to get to know you? Have you allowed them in?

There's no passion... What is lacking here, sexual passion? Was there ever any? Is this a problem of different libidos or a problem of sexual attraction?

I'm just so worried I'm making a mistake... Maybe we are making a mistake. We have tried couples counseling for some time with little to show for it. Have we considered going to individual counseling first to sort out our own issues before we try to fix our partner? One of the first things we all learn is that if we expect our relationship to get better we have to stop trying to fix and change our partner and work on changing ourselves. Once we have worked through our own issues then we are ready to try couples work and improve our relationship. The cart before the horse rarely produces results.

I'm so bitter from the lack of love being shown me and the way I'm made to feel, like I have to beg for love... Once we become embittered and lose our ability to be compassionate toward our partner we are doing to them exactly what we feel they are doing to us. It becomes a self fulfilling cycle of victimization and punishment. We move from being the victim (such a comfy role) to being the punisher (the angry role) and build walls keeping each other out.

Nothing changes and I'm tired of hoping it will - when it seems apparent it won't... even if we could make each other happy it seems it would be both of us somehow being something were not, it would always be fake...This is the saddest comment of all... anticipating that even if our partner does change, we would still be unhappy because it wouldn't be spontaneous. The best relationships are those where both partners make a conscious decision to do the work necessary to make intimacy and passion happen. They often don't happen on their own when partners are tuckered out from working so hard and helping around the house. Partners may begin to get lazy. Instead of trying to make things better with action and effort they may resort to the lazy way of fixing things... complaining... pointing fingers... blaming... It is much harder to do the work of making the effort than it is to blame our partner. Sadly when our partner makes an effort, often we are so angry and bitter that we don't give our partner the appreciation they need to feed that effort. So, after a couple of weeks of trying and not really getting the feedback they need... they give up. No relationship stays static. It is always changing, hopefully growing, and always needs maintenance and care or it dies. How would you feel if you failed and your partner didn't give you another chance to make it right?

I love my partner, but I cant take the pain... Love isn't a feeling. Love is an action verb... it is a word that indicates a willingness to put the person we love before ourselves. Love is patient, kind, gentle, appreciative, humble, giving... when we love we allow them to fail and try again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Can I Learn to Let Go & Forgive?

What does it mean to let go? Why is it important? What does it have to do with forgiveness?

Letting go doesn't mean letting things go. Letting go means not trying to control other people or outcomes in situations. It means letting the universe unfold naturally. When we try to control anything we cannot, that thing ends up controlling us. Letting go means... Let go and let God. It means we stop trying to do our Higher Power's job and let our Higher Power handle it.

Forgiveness doesn't mean that we believe that our partners unkind actions are acceptable. Forgiveness means that we have let go of the anger, the need for revenge, the need to punish and allowed ourselves to get out of the way so that the our partner can experience the natural consequences of their actions... without our interference. Consequences happen in their own time... not in ours... so patience is a part of the process as well.

Forgiveness is a part of letting go. When we forgive we decide we are no longer going to allow the actions of our partner to continue to control us. It does not mean that we believe their behavior is acceptable or that we necessarily tell them they are forgiven. It is something we do within our own heart that we share with our Higher Power. Forgiveness is internal, just like letting go and compassion. It is not something we advertise, just a decision we make within our hearts and with the guidance of our Higher Power.

These two recovery concepts may seem to go against everything that feels natural and normal. It may feel reasonable to remain angry, punish or exact revenge. The reality of the situation is that the angry feelings and all that accompany them, them are a toxin for our emotional health. Keeping ourselves in a state of agitation due to a lack of forgiveness, is akin to taking poison and waiting for our partner to die.

In time the wisdom of the words of these recovery principles will become understandable to us. It's okay to not be ready to hear them initially. Each of us becomes ready in our own time. We learn that if we have patience, all will become clear to us. Someday we will be a shining example to everyone we meet of the benefits of recovery work.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why Be Compassionate?

What is compassion? Why do we need to feel compassion toward our partner? What happens to us when we are not compassionate?

Compassion is something we feel inside. It is an emotion. It is what it feels like to look at our partner, who has behaved in an uncaring manner, and feel for the loss of self esteem they experience as a result, rather than reacting to the perceived hurt. It means that we give our partner the benefit of the doubt when they behave in ways that may give us pause.

When we are in a committed relationship there will be times when we become irritated with our partner. If we do not deal with these minor irritations in productive ways... effective communication... dialogue... compromise... over time we may become angry and resentful. When we move toward anger we move away from compassion. We begin to see the world in a myopic manner, viewing our own emotions and excluding all else. We may forget that our partner has feelings. When our anger takes over and we focus exclusively on our own feelings we lose our ability to feel compassion. We forget that there are two viewpoints to every situation.

Should we lose our ability to feel compassion, we appear calloused and insensitive toward our partner. This adds nothing but fuel to the fire. Our partner interprets our actions as justification for their own behavior. We have allowed our reaction to create an itch scratch scenario. It no longer matters who instigated the problem, we are now involved in a circular pattern of reactions that continues to feed off itself.

When experiencing strong emotions, as a result of the uncaring behavior of our partner, we may be triggered due to unresolved issues related to our family of origin. These strong emotions may be exaggerated due to our childhood issues. This may lead us to employ defense mechanisms designed to protect us from feeling the fear generated by our early childhood experiences. Although these defenses worked well to ensure our survival during our interactions with our family of origin, they may be hampering our adult interactions with our partner.

We choose to respond rather than react. We realize that our partner may be feeling virtually the same emotions. They too have feelings and may be hurt or upset. We take a deep breath, center ourselves and consider how we appear from their point of view. We then respond with compassion, letting go of our need to defend ourselves against our fear.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Compassion, the Key to Joy

Sometimes there are posts written by those in the recovery field that are excellent and worth repeating. Here is one such post by noted author and blogger, Steven Stosny.

Anger in Marriage: Failure of Compassion and the Rise of Contempt

Most marriages end in a whimper, not a bang. The final rupture is not caused by too much anger or abuse or infidelity. Rather, most marriages die a slow, agonizing death from too little compassion.

Compassion is sympathy for the hurt or distress of another. At heart it is a simple appreciation of the basic human frailty we all share, which is why the experience of compassion makes you feel more humane and less isolated.

Compassion is necessary for the formation of emotional bonds. Think of when you were dating someone you eventually came to love. Suppose you had to call that person and report that your parents had died. If your date responded with, "Well, that's tough, call me when you get over it," would you have fallen in love with that person? Chances are, you fell in love with someone who cared about how you felt, especially when you felt bad.

Most of what you fight about now is not money or sex or in-laws or raising the kids. Those are common problems that seem insurmountable only when you're hurt. What causes the hurt, i.e., what you really fight about, is the impression that your partner doesn't care how you feel. When someone you love is not compassionate, it feels like abuse.

As compassion decreases, resentment automatically rises, making common problems insoluble. If unfettered by the better angels of our nature, resentment inevitably turns into contempt.

Contempt is disdain for the hurt of others, due to their lower moral standing, character defects, mental instability, ignorance, or general unworthiness. Contempt is powered by a low but steady dose of adrenalin. So long as the adrenalin lasts, you feel more confident and self-righteous in blaming your bad feelings on some defect of your partner. But you also feel less humane. And when the adrenalin wears off, you feel depressed.

Both compassion and contempt are extremely contagious and highly influenced by projection. If you're around a compassionate person, you're likely to become more compassionate. If you're around a contemptuous person, you're likely to become more contemptuous, unless you make a determined effort to remain true to your deepest values. If you project onto others that they're compassionate, they are likely to become more considerate. If you project contemptuous characterizations, such as, "loser, abuser, selfish, lazy, narcissistic, irrational, devious, etc.," they are likely to become more so.

By the time couples come to our boot camps for chronic resentment, anger, or emotional abuse, they have developed entrenched habits of protecting their respective vulnerabilities by devaluing each other. They try to justify their contempt with "evidence" that the partner is selfish, lazy, narcissistic, crazy, abusive, etc. Mutual contempt makes them both feel chronically criticized and attacked, although neither really wants to attack the other. They feel like victims and rationalize their bad behavior as mere reactions to the awful behavior of the other. Their defenses so automatically justify their resentment and contempt that they cannot possibly see each other.

Neither can they see that their resentment and contempt have cut them off from their deeper values and made them into someone they are not.

Once defenses become habits, they run on automatic pilot and resist change through insight. They will likely recur in any future relationship that stirs guilt, shame, and anxiety, that is to say, any close relationship.

The only way out, whether the couple stays in the relationship or not, is to focus on compassion - not to manipulate change in the other - but to feel more humane and to reconnect with their deepest values.

The problem is that most couples are afraid to embrace compassion once they've been hurt.

How we cope with our feelings is vital. We work hard during our recovery to embrace all our emotions and learn to give our partner the space to do the same. Our recovery emboldens us to be compassionate partners as we walk our chosen path.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Am I Practicing Self Care or Being Selfish?

Can self care become selfishness? How do we keep ourselves in balance?

Self care is an important part of our recovery effort. We learn to care for ourselves. We set effective boundaries, avoid the drama of others, stay balanced and keep ourselves from becoming overwhelmed in the face of lifes challenges. We practice discernment, use our tools to cope effectively, and in the process increase our self esteem.

As we begin to practice self care and learn to set effective boundaries we change. That change brings discomfort to our partner. We are no longer willing to do things that our partner can and should do for themselves. As a result, we begin to receive change back messages from our partner. This is their response to the stress our changes bring into their life. We exercise patience, showing our partner our committment to our recovery and allowing them the time to catch up. We use discernment to detect when we are being drawn into the drama of others, keeping ourselves in balance. When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed as a result of the strength of our emotions, we use our tools to bring ourselves back into balance, recognizing that we cannot effectively help our partner to cope when we ourselves are overwhelmed.

As long as our self care is focused on achieving balance for the purpose of being able to be emotionally present in our relationship with our partner, as well as for our overall health, we will be practicing self care and not selfishness. When we allow our defense mechanisms and fear to control us, we lose sight of healthy boundaries and begin to focus too much on ourselves and our issues. When that happens too often, we may fail to be emotionally present for our partner and our relationship. We cannot be centered at all times, but we can strive for balance in a consistent manner.

During our growth and change our partner may feel unsure of our relationship. We take the initiative, reaffirming our love and devotion to both our partner and our relationship, allowing our partner to take these new patterns of interacting in stride. We recall that change creates discomfort and unease and give our partner plenty of time and the space necessary to adapt.

As we walk our path of recovery we find that we take three steps forward and two back testing our resolve and misstepping frequently. We will learn slowly, carefully, in our own time, how to maintain balance without seeming insensitive or too self involved. Recovery may not be easy, but we find that the rewards are well worth the effort as we feel our self esteem grow stronger day by day.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Where Do Relationship Ideals Come From?

Where do we get our concept of what relationships should look like? How to these ideas affect our relationship with our partner? What can we do to compensate for differences in our relationship vision?

When we are very young we observe the world around us. We are like a sponge absorbing all that our senses can detect. We watch our caretakers as they go about their daily lives. As they interact with one another they serve as an example of partnership relationship behavior. As we grow up, we observe relationships other than that of our family of origin. We see other adults interact on a daily basis. We see our peers behaviors. We watch television, absorbing ideas regarding relationships from that venue. By the time we have reached the end of our adolescence we have observed thousands of relationships from a wide variety of sources.

Our earliest observations within our family of origin forms the basis for our values and beliefs regarding how adult relationships are formed and maintained. If our family of origin was healthy, balanced and communication was open, we will come to expect our relationship to mirror those values. If our partner came from a family of origin where there was hostility, dysfunction and a lack of communication we will have opposite expectations.

As we enter into a relationship with our partner the difference in our backgrounds may cause us difficulties in our partnership. We may, for example, expect to talk through problems whereas our partner may not wish to acknowledge problems. We may find that over time we experience discomfort due to the difference in the way each of us handles our emotions and how that difference affects our relationship.

If we are to create harmony and balance in our relationship we must find a way to communicate with our partner in a way that our partner is able to hear. We look for common ground, shared goals and values as a starting point. Once we have discovered that we essentially want to reach the same goals, the path to meeting those goals becomes easier to forge. As we share our values and ideals we may find that we share more commonality than we previously knew. As we work toward a solution we keep our shared vision prominently in view, keeping us on track toward our goals.

We adjust our expectations of one another as we walk the path we have chosen. Perfection is not the goal. We will both experience setbacks as we work toward our shared vision. With compassion and deliberation, we take two steps forward and one back on our road to balance and harmony in our relationship.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Caretaker... Victim... Persecutor... Round and Round We Go!!

What is co-dependency? How does it create the feelings we experience? What can we do to overcome the cycle of interaction it perpetuates in our daily lives?

It is a fact that we interact with others in our relationships in virtually the same pattern time after time. Some of these are learned behaviors from experiences we had during our childhoods. Some of these are due to events which occurred during our adult years. Either way, we seem to follow a specific pattern of interaction.

If we are behaving co-dependently in our relationships we may have been busy caretaking our partner. We are doing for them what they can and should be doing for themselves. This amounts to rescuing them from the natural consequences that might occur if we allowed the universe to unfold naturally rather than attempting to control outcomes. After a time we have taught our partner that they can rely upon us to rescue them from their missteps, forgotten chores, irresponsibility, laziness or just carelessness. At first we may feel empowered in our role as problem solver. But over time as we pick up more and more of the slack we begin to feel resentful.

As our resentment builds we begin to view ourselves a victims of our partners bad habits. The fact that we co-created these habits within the relationship escapes our attention. We are focused instead upon our partners failings, not on how we co-created them. We feel used, victimized, unappreciated and unhappy. We express our dissatisfaction to our partner in the form of complaints, nagging, emotional distance and withdrawal. Our partner is understandably confused at our apparent change of heart. Initially in our caretaking role we seemed happy to do the extra work in the relationship. Now, suddenly, we are upset and discontent. We are giving mixed messages to our partner and are unaware of it.

Finally we come to a point where we are angry. We have had enough of being used and had all our extra efforts go unappreciated. We explode in rage at our partner accusing them of taking us for granted and not appreciating all we do for them. When our partner counters with the statement that they never asked us to do any of this extra work for them, we are shocked. Can't they see how nice we have been? Don't they understand that this is how we are expressing our love for them? When our partner tells us that they resent being treated like an inept child we are stunned. How can they be so blind to all our caring efforts? We storm out.

We take time to mull over what has happened. How can this be? As we cool down we begin to feel guilty about all the accusations we have hurled in anger. We wonder if our partner is still upset by our outburst. We approach and apologize for our words. Our partner accepts our apology and we feel better. We resume our posture of caretaking and the cycle begins again.

In essence our partner has expressed the core of the problem. They did not ask us to undertake our caretaking behaviors. We did this on our own. They resent being treated as an inept child who cannot do for themselves. They would rather not have to deal with our anger, resentment, emotional ups and downs and mixed messages. We have created this situation with our co-dependency.

Co-dependency may look like help... but help is the sunny side of control. We are not helping because we have altruistic desires to aid our partner, we are trying to control outcomes. This sets up a peculiar energy that others can feel. Our partner may not be able to put words to what they sense, but they sense something is amiss. It is this pattern that causes dysfunction within our relationship and eventually leads us into recovery.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Self care or Selfishness... Which One Is It?

my self care remindersImage by CatrinaZ via Flickr

Self care... what is it? Is it being selfish? Is it putting myself before others? How do I know how to do it? What do I do to practice self care?

These are all excellent questions. Self care is all about learning to take care of ourselves so that we live balanced lives, avoid feeling overwhelmed and don't allow other peoples drama to control us.

That is a real mouthful. Learning to practice self care is a process. During that process we learn tools... actions to take to reduce our stress. We also learn boundaries... where we end and another person begins. Additionally we learn discernment... the ability to pay attention to our gut and our own innate capacity to know when, how much and whom to trust.

Learning these skills takes time and effort. It is a lifelong process that we continue to practice in our daily lives. We begin with tools. These are actions we can take to reduce stress. We learn deep breathing, guided meditation, visualization, affirmations, and techniques for self soothing. We begin to appreciate the quiet gentleness of taking a scented bath, reading a novel, sharing a phone call with a dear friend, having our evening meal by candlelight even when we are alone, taking a long walk, listening to the roar of the ocean or the breeze through the trees.

Boundaries... where we end and another person begins... can be a difficult lesson. We have control over one person in our lives... ourselves. We can cajole, beg, plead, order, dominate, manipulate, cry, scream, rant and try all methods of controlling others to no avail. Eventually we have to learn to let go. When we do we find that we are capable of saying no to requests we don't wish to indulge. We can ignore the behavior of others who are trying to control us and remember that we own our power. As we learn to respect others boundaries and our own we will reduce the drama in our lives and become more peaceful.

Discernment can be the toughest lesson of all. We have let others delude us for too long. We have believed the unbelievable, trusted the untrustworthy and forfeited our ability to trust ourselves in the process. Slowly, as we practice self care, we will come to trust our gut... to know when someone is not being honest... to listen between the lines... to pay attention to body language. We will learn once again how to trust ourselves, for that is the reality of our loss. We no longer trust our ability to discern the truth from lies.

As we practice self care we increase our self esteem one notch at a time. Like steps on a ladder we inch our way back to health and joy. We cannot underestimate how much we have lost, but we are on the road to recovery. In time we will find a healthier, happier self whom we can rely upon and trust.

These are the lessons of self care. We practice self care in our daily lives, using our tools, setting boundaries and slowly coming to learn discernment as we begin to trust ourselves once again. In this way we give ourselves the gift of increased self esteem.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Taking Care or Caretaking?

First edition coverImage via Wikipedia

What is the difference between taking care and caretaking?

We can start with a definition of caretaking to make the point more understandable. Caretaking is doing for others what they can and should be doing for themselves. The key words here are can and should. Of course we want to care for those we love, but that doesn't mean that we do things for them that they are capable of doing for themselves. Caretaking is not about taking care. It's about control. We are doing these things not to make our partner feel loved, but to control an outcome.

This can become very difficult to discern when we enter into a relationship with someone we love. We want our partner to feel the depth of our love. Some of that depth is expressed in actions we take to show our devotion. How far do we go to show our love? Is it okay to make our partner's lunch that they take to work? Should we be giving them advice on how to improve their relationship with their boss? Where do we draw the line?

When we express our love for our partner through actions we tell them without words that we value them and our relationship with them. When we take actions that our partner should be doing for themselves... and that they are capable of doing, we diminish them in their eyes as well as our own. We are telling them through our actions that we want to control them and the outcome of the event.

In the beginning of relationships we might be excited to do whatever we can to please our partner. However, if over time we don't move toward balance in our actions, caretaking can occur causing resentment and unhappiness between partners.

We must ask ourselves... Is this something my partner should be doing for themselves? Is this something they are capable of doing? If we can answer yes to both of these questions then we have to wonder if we are caretaking rather than taking care. The most important question we ask ourselves is why am I doing this? Is this because I want to insure a particular outcome? Is this because I want control over this situation? We must try our best to be honest with ourselves.

Over time caretaking leads to resentment between partners. The partner doing the caretaking becomes resentful that their actions are not appreciated. The partner who has been subjected to caretaking behaviors feels they are thought of as being inept and that they are being treated like a child. Resentment that goes unresolved can turn to bitterness, undermining the relationship.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why is Gratefulness Necessary?

Gratefulness... what value does it have? Why is it necessary? How does it contribute to our recovery and healing?

When we work through our issues during the recovery process we come to understand why we made the choices we did. We open our eyes and see ourselves in truth. We strip away all the confusion and dithering and come to grips with what has transpired in our lives. We make no excuses for our situation and understand that we own our own power and can guide our lives along the path that has been laid before us.

We move through recovery advancing through the process one step at a time. We begin in denial and blame... afraid to acknowledge the truth of our situation. We work through those feelings until we come to a place where we can no longer define our situation in terms of wishful thinking. At this point we become angry as a result of all the pain and loss we have suffered due to our pasts and the choices we have made. As we work through our anger we come to a stage where we try to bargain our way out of the facing our feelings. When we finally are tired of trying to avoid our emotions we succumb to the truth. It is a time of extreme sadness and depression. We are overwhelmed with emotion and feel the full weight of our pain and loss. We grieve in earnest. In time we move through the pain to a place of acceptance. We understand that we cannot change what has happened and we accept that these events are a permanent part of our lives.

This process of recovery takes us through emotional upheaval. At the close of the process we are faced with the truth and our feelings as a regards our situation. There is yet one more step we must face in order to heal the wounds we suffered. We must learn to be grateful for our past and the choices we made in order to be freed from the emotional pain they carry.

This is the hardest step of all. How do we become grateful for the caretaker that abused us? How to we become grateful for the parent who incested us? How to we become grateful for the partner who abandoned us?

We become grateful through compassion. We begin to understand that we would not be who we are today without the lessons those events brought into our lives. We may not be able to be grateful for the events themselves, but we can be grateful for the growth and changes we experienced as a result of those events.

The child who grew up with an abusive caretaker becomes an especially capable parent. The adolescent who was incested becomes a counselor for those who have suffered that same crime and is more adept than others because of the empathy felt. The abandoned partner learns to be independent and develop their individuality, becoming their best self as a result.

While we are grieving we cannot even fathom ever feeling gratefulness toward the incidents that caused us such pain and loss. As we come through recovery and move toward our healthier self we learn that this last step is the one that places us on the road to emotional freedom.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Does My Partner Need An Intervention?

Sometimes in our lives our partner becomes hostage to some sort of addiction. We may be unable to help our partner alone. We may need the assistance of others in doing what is called an intervention. An intervention is done when we believe that our partner's addiction has grown to the point of interfering with their ability to live their life... when their addiction is creating serious problems for them and those they love. Here is an excellent piece by Debra Jay explaining in detail the process and promise of intervention.

How to Help a Loved One Who Doesn't Want Help by Debra Jay

The friends and relatives of addicts often feel forced to make a painful choice -- endure the addict’s destructive behavior or cut the addict out of their lives. There is a third option -- stage an intervention.

An intervention is a group effort by family and friends to convince an addict to seek treatment. Despite the widespread belief that addicts never change their ways until they hit bottom and are desperate for help, 80% to 85% of addicts agree to accept treatment when confronted with an intervention.

Interventions can be effective with drug addicts... alcoholics... gambling addicts... people with eating disorders... even seniors who refuse to acknowledge that it is no longer safe for them to live alone or drive a car.

How to make an intervention work... select the group... The power of interventions lies in the power of groups. Many addicts are masters of manipulating the individuals in their lives, but they find it more difficult to argue when those individuals join together. Contact the people the addict most loves, respects, needs, likes and admires. This typically means relatives and friends but also could include the addict’s coworkers, boss, neighbors, clergy and/or doctors. Explain that you are exploring the possibility of staging an intervention, and ask if they will attend a meeting to discuss this. At this point, do not ask anyone to commit to taking part in the intervention. The meeting is for them to learn more about the process.

Try to build a group of between three and eight people. Fewer, and you won’t have the power of a group on your side... more, and the intervention process could become too drawn out. Helpful: When staging an intervention for a parent or grandparent, include people from the addict’s generation or older. This increases the odds that the addict will respect the group’s opinion. Exclude anyone whom the addict strongly dislikes... anyone who is currently an addict him/herself... and anyone whom you suspect will be unable to keep the intervention plan secret from the addict.

When the group meets, explain why you think the addict’s behavior needs to be addressed and invite everyone present to share how the addict’s behavior has harmed him/her. Explain that an intervention is the most effective way to convince an addict to agree to treatment. Mention that the addict must not know about the intervention in advance, or he might not attend. Also... Have the group select a chairperson. This individual must be respected by the addict and be capable of remaining cool and responding intelligently if the addict argues.

Alternative: Hire a professional interventionist to serve as chairperson and plan and conduct the intervention. An addiction treatment center or support organization can help you find one. Expect to pay $2,500 to $5,000. If you would like assistance but cannot afford to hire a professional, you might be able to enlist the help of a member of the clergy or a member of your local Alcoholics Anonymous (or Narcotics Anonymous).

Ask every member of your intervention group to write a letter to the addict prior to the intervention. These letters will be read during the intervention, not mailed. They should follow this structure... Start with a heartfelt message of affection. Explain why you truly love, respect and/or admire the addict. Discuss some of his best qualities. This should be the longest part of the letter. Explain how the addiction is causing problems for you. Cite one to three specific, firsthand experiences from the past 12 months. Example: "You borrowed $3,000 from me in March, lost it gambling and never repaid me." Close the letter by reiterating your care and concern for the addict. Write in the first-person singular. Do not try to speak for anyone but yourself. Format it as you would an actual letter. Example: Open with "Dear Bob," and conclude with "Your loving brother, Tom." Each letter should be one-half to two double-spaced pages in length.

Have each group member prepare a separate written "bottom line" statement as well, to be read only if the addict initially refuses treatment. These bottom line statements lay out the consequences of not accepting help. Example: A wife might tell her husband that he cannot live in their house any longer if he refuses treatment... a parent or friend might say that there will be no more loans... an adult child might say that there will be no more visits by the grandkids.

Explain to the group the inpatient residential treatment options available to the addict. Before the group meets, research the options. A list of treatment centers can be found on our Web site Determine what the addict’s health insurance will cover... or ask if members of your intervention group will help pay the costs. Choose a treatment facility, and make arrangements for the addict’s arrival.

Hold an intervention rehearsal prior to the actual intervention. Ask the group to read their letters aloud, and strive together to edit out any anger -- voicing anger will only inspire anger from the addict. Decide the order in which the letters will be presented. The first and last presenters should be the two group members most loved and respected by the addict, to decrease the odds that the addict will walk out of the intervention at these crucial moments.
Schedule the intervention for a time when the addict is likely to be sober -- morning often is best. Hold it at the home of someone the addict respects.

The intervention: Let the addict believe that he is visiting this home for a different purpose, such as for a meal or to pick up money promised him. It will be obvious that this is not so once the addict steps through the door. The group all should be there before the addict arrives. To keep the addict from leaving, a close friend or family member should take the addict by the arm and guide him to a seat on a couch between two people he loves, with the rest of the group facing them. The chairperson should explain that the group has gathered because of their love and concern for the addict, and ask group members to read their letters.

After the letters are read, the chairperson should ask the addict if he is willing to accept the help that the group is offering. The addict is likely to offer objections (see below). If the addict refuses help, each group member should read his bottom line statement. If the addict tries to leave, the chairman should follow and try to convince the addict to return.

If help is accepted, bring the addict immediately to a treatment facility. Have a bag packed and someone ready to provide transportation. If the addict needs to make personal arrangements, allow this only from a cell phone in the car on the way to treatment.

Many addicts initially voice objections at an intervention. The intervention chairman must be ready with calm responses. Common addict arguments... "I don’t have a problem" or "I have my problem under control." To respond say, "People with this addiction usually are the last to realize that they have a problem. It’s time to get a professional’s assessment. If you don’t have a problem, a treatment center will let you know." Another argument may be toward a person in the group "You drink or gamble, etc., too." The response from is from the chairman (not the group member whom the addict has accused of sharing the problem) who should say, "Today we’re talking about you." If the addict persists, add, "The issue isn’t who drinks -- it’s what happens when we drink. For you, drinking alcohol causes problems." Another statement might be "I have one or two beers a day." This needs a response, but don’t get drawn into a debate about exactly how much the addict drinks (or uses drugs... or gambles). Instead say, "However much you drink, your behavior tells us it is too much." Another argument might be "I don’t need treatment. I can stop on my own." This too requires a response: Say, "The odds of success are better with help." If the addict refuses to budge on this issue, at least obtain a promise that the addict will stop drinking/taking drugs completely and seek treatment if he touches alcohol/drugs again, even once. Another statement might be "I can’t go to rehab, I have to go to work... take care of my dog... pay my bills (or some other responsibility)." This requires a response: Anticipate excuses, and before the intervention, recruit members of the group to handle the addict’s chores while he/she is away... pay the cost of treatment or determine whether it is covered by the addict’s health insurance... and/or explore the addict’s employer’s medical leave policy.

We cannot control the behavior of others. At the same time we cannot ignore it when someone we love is destroying themselves and their life as a result of addiction. Intervention is a tool available to us to assist us in getting our lives and our partners life back on track if the need arises. Of course, as our partner recovers from their addiction we continue to practice self care and letting go. In this way we continue on our path of recovery.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Know Thyself... and be less angry!!

Why do we feel infuriated when we disagree with our partner over important issues in our relationship? When we disagree, why do we instinctively feel that we are right?

When events spiral out of control in our relationship we may become angry. We may feel as though our partner is on the attack. There is frustration and disagreement between ourselves and our partner. We may feel as though our partner is being unfair and unreasonable. Our defenses are primed. We may become unable to keep ourselves in a logical frame of mind. We may succumb to the temptation of playing the blame game.

All these defensive postures are designed to keep us from recognizing what is at the core of our anger. We are feeling vulnerable. We may not be certain that our partner is incorrect. On some level we may doubt the veracity of our position. We may feel that our partner has made their point well and we are too invested in our own position to admit that another possibility exists.

All these possibilities run through our head as we argue and debate our point with our partner. We both feel strongly. We each defend our positions well. We cannot sway the other to our side. At the close of our disagreement we may feel angry. We are entrenched in our position and blame our partner for their inability to see our point of view. But... the same could be said of us. We are at an impasse.

If we are able to put our ego aside, allow ourselves to eliminate blame from the equation we might be able to see our situation in a calmer more centered way. If we were able to view the facts in a dispassionate manner we might be able to avoid the confrontation. Both of those statements sound nice... but we are emotional, feeling, human beings. We can no more put aside our feelings and respond in a dispassionate manner than we can decide not to breathe any longer.

The answer is to recognize what is going on within ourselves... to acknowledge our own vulnerabilities and limitations. To know ourselves well enough to be able to be honest in our self appraisal. If we can accomplish this task we are in a much better position to be rational and compassionate during disagreements.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Am I Angry or Vulnerable?

Let us think about this quote from a renowned marriage counselor and therapist, Steven Stosny, PhD. It is from his blog on Psychology Today's website entitled, Anger Management Techniques, Why They Fail.

At least a couple of times a year, I get asked by members of the press why anger management techniques don't work. (Actually, they can work on a temporary basis, if you remember to do them when you're angry. I'll get to why you're not likely to remember them in a bit.) The more important point is that anger does not need to be managed; rather, the sense of vulnerability that causes anger must be reduced.

The key to this quote is in the last sentence. Managing emotions is not the answer to reducing their impact upon us. The solution is to deal with the underlying issues that cause the emotions in the first place. When we enter into recovery our goal is to understand ourselves more completely. Through this process of self discovery we learn what it is that causes the feelings we experience.

When we have unearthed our issues, our next step is to employ the tools we have learned and practiced in our recovery steps to help us cope more effectively with our environment. In this way we take charge of our lives, we own our power and in the process are able to fully experience our emotions without fear of seeming vulnerable or incompetent.

Attempting to manage our emotions is akin to suppressing them. We have learned in recovery that whatever we attempt to control or suppress eventually ends up controlling us. Therefore if we attempt to control or suppress our anger, it eventually ends up controlling us. We cannot successfully suppress emotions. They will leak out sideways causing harm to us and those around us via passive aggressive pathways. We may be chronically late, irritable, have headaches, feel tired all the time, be unable to enjoy sex, have insomnia, or any one of numerous other symptoms.

Here's a second quote from Steven Stosny's same article for our perusal.

Anger occurs in humans and animals when they perceive vulnerability and threat. The more vulnerable you feel, the more threat you will perceive.

The issue to effectively deal with then, is that of fear, vulnerability and the associated shame that accompanies these emotions. The recovery work that we practice, the tools that we employ and the success we enjoy in our lives works because we do address these underlying issues and fears. We take the time needed to become experts at ourselves... to fully reintegrate all parts of ourselves back into the whole person we once were. That our efforts yield results is a testament to the effectiveness of our philosophy, the diligence of our work and the quality of our tools.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Behind the Veil of Lies

When lying becomes a way of life... when we are unwilling to be ourselves and hide behind a veil of lies... when lying takes on a life of it's own... Why does this happen? Can we stop the pattern?

We are five years old. We are a home with the babysitter while Mom and Dad have dinner out with friends. The sitter lets us stay up past our bedtime and watch TV. It is fun to stay up late and be naughty. We scurry off to bed just before Mom and Dad arrive. The next day when Mom asks if we got to bed on time, we say yes. We have learned to lie. We have learned that we can be naughty, have fun, tell a lie and get away with it.

We are fifteen years old. We go out with friends and smoke pot. We forget our curfew and come home thirty minutes late. We tell our parents that we were watching a movie and wanted to see the end. They accept the story. We learn that we can take illicit drugs, feel good, lose track of time, miss our curfew, have fun, tell a lie and get away with it.

We are twenty five years old. We are married and have a brand new baby in our life. We aren't getting enough sleep, still have to work during the day and feel overwhelmed. A coworker seems quite empathetic toward our situation and gives us much needed sympathy and attention. We begin to have inappropriate feelings toward our coworker. Our partner is unaware of the developing situation. Eventually we enter into an affair. Over the next few months we find we feel confused and guilty and end the indiscretion. Our partner has noticed our distance and asks us if there is a problem in the relationship. We say we are tired and just need more rest. Eventually the baby begins to sleep through the night and our relationship stabilizes once again. We learn that we can have a brief affair, feel good, regret our decision, change our mind, not be discovered, tell a lie and get away with it.

We are now forty years old. We have lied our way in and out of circumstances for most of our life. As a result we have never learned how to deal with the consequences of our actions and have never developed a set of strong personal values. We have been able to manipulate our way out of sticky situations and never had to face the proverbial music. Our business life has been profitable. Then the economy collapses causing us to face massive losses. We cannot lie or manipulate our way out of this situation and have no skills with which to cope. We are lost.

When lies are not caught or challenged we may learn that we can cheat the lessons of life. That is inaccurate. Sooner or later everybody's bill comes due. As we have passed through the years manipulating situations and people through our lies we have never learned how to cope with actual consequences. When we can no longer wiggle out of our proverbial bed that we have made we feel lost and unable to cope.

At this point we have a choice. We can begin to learn coping skills and adopt tools to get us through life, or we can cry foul and decry the fairness of the world. It is the choice we should have learned as a child or teen, even as a young adult that is forced upon us at midlife. How we cope and the decisions we make will be a true test of our character. Will we whine and cry? Or will we finally step up to the plate as a responsible adult? The choice is ours.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Truth or A Lie? A Quandary!

What would happen if we never told any lies at all, if we answered every question with complete honesty? Would we be able to maintain our relationships?

Our partner asks us if their clothes look attractive... we look and see that the colors they have chosen make their skin look drab and dull. We stop and think... do we tell them the truth? Or do we say something nice so they feel good. We value honesty... but we also value compassion... we have a decision to make. If we tell the truth our partner has the opportunity to change their clothes and look better. We might hurt our partners feelings in the process. If we don't tell the truth we tell a lie and break our promise of honesty. A real quandary exists. What is more important... truth or compassion?

Our boss asks us if we have time available to complete a special project that will earn us the chance for a promotion in our firm. We are up to our eyeballs in alligators and don't even have time for the work load we already have on our desk. Do we tell the truth and turn down the opportunity for possible advancement? Or do we tell a lie and take on the additional work knowing we will have to work nights and weekends without pay to make up the time? Which is more important... truth or advancement?

In each of these situations we have decisions to make regarding events that occur in everyday life. We are often asked for our input by our partner in decisions that may affect their self esteem. In many instances we opt for compassion over truth. We do this because we are interested in enhancing our partner's self worth. We may decide that telling the truth would offer no gain in the relationship, whereas giving a compassionate answer may keep their self esteem intact over an unimportant issue.

When we are asked by our boss to take on additional responsibility we realize that we are being offered an opportunity to show leadership and the capability to handle a more complex workload. Since we are interested in promotions we take on the challenge even though it involves telling our boss a lie. We understand that we must invest the hours to make the decision work to our benefit. We choose the route to advancement over telling the truth.

In both of these instances we may have opted to tell a lie rather than the truth. We have weighed the value of honesty against compassion in one instance and against the chance for promotion in the other. Is it impossible to be completely honest in our day to day lives? Can we maintain our integrity and be compassionate at the same time?

As we learn the art of interacting with others during our formative years we begin a process we will continue over our lifetime of weighing and balancing truth with the need to be compassionate toward others. As we enter the business world and begin our career we learn that honesty must be weighed against our desire for advancement.

Although we long to live by our virtue of integrity, we learn that basic human interactions are complex and cannot survive well in a world built solely on truth. Compassion may require us not disclose certain facts. The need for advancement may overshadow our need to be completely honest. As long as we continue to weigh each decision individually with compassion and the ultimate desire to be as honest as possible we will continue to display compassion and dedication in our daily lives.

There is, of course, inherent danger in telling any lies, no matter how small or insignificant we may think they are at the time. We must never confuse blind ambition with dedication. We must never confuse selfish needs over compassion. So long as we are able to keep our perspective and be mindful of our responsibility to ourselves and others we will remain healthy and balanced in all our relationships.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lying, Insecurity and Alcoholism

When faced with a situation where our partner feels insecure or unsure they lie. We have discovered that their parent(s) were alcoholics. What happens to us when we are raised in an environment where one or both of our caretakers are alcoholics? Is this an underlying reason for their habit of lying?

There is a group called ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) that is a 12 Step Program based on the principles of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) that has a great deal of information about behavior patterns in adult children. This is the place to begin our journey for answers.

Lying is often related to self esteem issues. That doesn't mean that there can't be more serious problems, but generally when alcoholism is involved, so is self esteem. Very often adult children grow up in constant chaos as their alcoholic parent(s) drinks themselves into oblivion in front of them. Our partner may never have felt safe or secure in their early lives. They may have lived in a home that was always in a shambles either physically, emotionally or both.

The effect of having a parent who is an alcoholic cannot be underestimated. Very often children in alcoholic homes never learn to self soothe. They don't have parents who set appropriate limits and boundaries so they never learn what acceptable behavior looks like. They may be aware that they don't have appropriate social skills but have no clue where to find out how to behave.

There is great hope in counseling for ACOA. Many have been able to recover from the trauma of their childhoods due to alcoholic family members. It may take time and a great deal of patience by both our counselor and our partner. This type of recovery program may involve us learning to set boundaries and limits with our partner as well as our partner learning to face their fears and allow themselves to be seen for who they are without the masks. Our partner has lived without consequences for lying for most of their adult life. That will have to change.

The fact that our partner doesn't react with emotion may mean that they have learned how to stop feeling. As a result of the pain of trauma during childhood, our partner has chosen to freeze all feelings rather than face them. This is common in trauma survivors. As children they needed this defense mechanism to survive. Now as adults, it no longer serves a purpose and is actually the cause of difficulties occurring in our relationship. As they defrost and begin to feel again they can become very depressed and/or angry for a while as they process all the pain and loss they have been supressing.

That can be a very difficult time for both our partner and ourselves. Recall that our partner has some very positive qualities that we value... loyalty, humbleness, deference, good heartedness, excellent business person, handsome looking. Our partner is also intelligent and capable. These are some very positive statements. We must recall that we love our partner very much. There is a question we ask partners in couples counseling...

Are we happy with our relationship at least 50% of the time?

Remember, this isn't just about the flaws our partner has... we all have some real whoppers... our partner needs to learn judgement and appropriate behavior in a safe environment.

There is much benefit for us to be found in doing some reading on ACOA. There are some excellent materials available in bookstores, online through Amazon and at ACOA meetings. Here is the link to ACOA . Click on "the problem" in the first paragraph to learn about the disease and what it feels like for the adult child. Here is a link for some recovery books.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Addiction or Dedication... Which Am I?

What is the difference between addiction and dedication? Why is one destructive and the other constructive?

Work is a healthy necessary vital part of one's life. However, there are workaholics who lose their ability to get pleasure from other parts of their lives and find comfort only in work. We migrate from acceptable to destructive in that example and from dedicated to addicted.

Pain killers are a necessity after surgery. We would be unable to tolerate the enormous pain we would suffer without them. As we heal we take less and less of the pain killers until we no longer need them. When we do not take less and less, we become addicted to them. We have again moved from acceptable to destructive.

The point of addiction arrives when the substance or activity is interfering with our ability to live our lives, enjoy healthy pleasures and interact with others in positive meaningful ways. Through abuse we can become addicted to virtually anything... diet soda, sugar, McDonalds, gambling, illicit drugs, porn, sky diving, even violence and hostility can become addicting. When a substance or activity becomes addictive it destroys our ability to remain peaceful and centered, to practice self care and enjoy our daily lives.

Constructive substances and activities enhance the quality of our lives. They may give meaning and pleasure to our routines and enhance our enjoyment. It is easy to move from constructive to destructive when we become unbalanced. When we seek to escape from the pressures of daily life in unhealthy ways we may take constructive activities or substances and allow them to become destructive.

This is the reason we participate in recovery. Through our ability to practice self care and look within at our own truths we keep ourselves in balance. We remind ourselves not to struggle against the ebb and flow of the universe and allow our higher power to guide us on our chosen path. Through recovery work we learn to practice self care and return to balance in all areas of our lives.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shame... Obsession... and Recovery

Thomas J. Scheff, Sociologist has made some observations about shame, humiliation and obsession. These views are an excellent reminder of the reason we take recovery to heart, making time each day to practice self care and keep our tools sharp. We are grateful for the role recovery plays in our lives keeping us from being absorbed by humiliation and shame. We know who we are, we are honest with ourselves about our capabilities and our flaws. We see ourselves in truth. Each of us has our unique gifts and we celebrate them in our daily lives.
Here are Thomas Schreff's words.

Many of us have painful obsessions, lasting for hours, days, weeks or months. Someone has been rude or rejecting, so we think about what we should have said, or how we could have avoided the incident entirely. These thoughts go on night and day. We try to think about other matters or do other things, but we eat obsession with breakfast, lunch and dinner. These small obsessions eventually leave. We can still remember the moment, but the pain and compulsion have disappeared. What happened?

Perhaps emotions are the secret, particularly humiliation or shame. Instead of acknowledging the pain in the moment, we internalize it. The danger is that we can become ashamed of being ashamed, and so on, a spiral. People who blush, for example, can be ashamed of the blush, and so blush even more, round and round. So humiliation can spiral to the point that it haunts us. Emotions, at their core, are bodily states of arousal. It is bodily arousal over which we have no direct control that makes the obsession painful and compulsive.

At times, instead of merely swallowing the insult, we responds in kind, either in the moment, or more likely, in thinking about it afterwards. Instead of suffering humiliation in silence, we activate our defense... anger. We are still obsessed, but are now driven by anger about being humiliated, and shame about being angry, a loop. Both shame and shame/anger spirals can lead to endless obsession.

As we remember who we are and were we began our journey into recovery we can appreciate how easy it might be to allow ourselves to spiral out of control into the dark recesses of obsession and shame. We practice self care giving ourselves all we need to create a safe place where we can blossom. Our tools are our lifeline keeping us grounded in our gifts and our abilitiy to create a better tomorrow for ourselves and those we love.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Relationships in Step Families

Wednesday Martin, Ph.D, author of the book, Stepmonster, has some truths to share with us about the possibilities that may occur in step families when relationships begin to deteriorate over time and those involved are not in recovery. Here is her perspective.

One of the ugliest truths of stepfamily reality, I learned as I researched my book Stepmonster, is competition. Namely, competition between the woman with stepkids and her husband's kids for the husband/father's time, attention, and assets. In spite of our culture's insistence that divorced and remarried men with kids can jerry rig a life where "both his kids and his wife come first," and regardless of our notion that women should just "put his kids first because it's right," we live in the real world. And in that real world, the longitudinal studies by Bray, Ahrons, and Hetherington tell us, kids of all ages often find themselves in loyalty binds, leading them to treat their stepmothers in unkind ways. Other kids who have been parented permissively post- divorce (a common phenomenon) may act out well into adulthood, blaming their stepmothers for their parent's divorce even when it isn't the case, and failing to treat their father, his marriage and his wife with respect. Divorced fathers, for their part, too often refuse to require civil behavior from their kids toward stepmom, out of guilt that the kids went through a divorce, and fear that if they draw the line, the kids will walk away forever. And finally, more than a few stepmothers who want very badly to get stepmothering right will find themselves depleted from years of rebuffs; they may retreat in disappointment or frustration, in an effort to protect themselves and preserve their dignity. Steprelations, the experts cited above tell us, are virtually never effortless, and they are frequently difficult.

With that sobering thought in mind let us look carefully at our recovery process making sure that we are practicing self care and using our tools in our daily lives. This graphic illustration of what can happen when people attempt to brush issues aside, or pretend that problems don't exist brings home the tragic reality that when the truth is ignored both adults and children suffer needlessly. If those in these relationships were practicing self care and moving forward in their recovery journey their outcomes would all be more positive in the long run. This is not to say that real issues do not surface regardless, but dealing with them as they arise in an effective manner reduces their long term impact and promotes more positive interactions.

We are all responsible for the quality of our relationships and the effort we put forth to make those special ties work as well as possible. As we move forward in our recovery we add value to all our partnerships and those we care most about in our lives.