Sunday, May 31, 2009

We See The World As We Are

We see the world not as it is, but as we are.

This is a fundamental truth. People see the world through their own eyes and no one else's. The experiences of their lives form the basis for the lens through which they view the world and those in it. Native Americans have a saying that aptly addressed this most basic truth: "I shall not judge a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins." We try without success to see the world through the eyes of another. The best we can hope to accomplish is empathy.

In our relationships we may have times when we need to be able to see our partners point of view. When we disagree it is imperative that we recall that our lens through which we view the world was created in our family of origin. A family that we no longer live with on a daily basis. The way in which our caretakers interacted with one another colors our beliefs about how we behave with our partner. If our caretakers were gentle and open with one another it is likely that we will display that behavior in our relationships.

But what if our caretakers were not warm and balanced with one another? We may have had one caretaker who manipulated and cajoled their partner in order to have their way. Although we may not have been able to verbalize what we witnessed at the time, due to our youth, we incorporated the lessons we saw into our memory. Over time we may have perceived the imbalance as weakness on the part of the manipulated caretaker and become intolerant of weakness in others as a result.

If one of our caretakers was cruel or abusive toward their partner, we may have unintentionally adopted their style, as we may have seen the abused partner as a weak and ineffective adult. Adult relationships are complex. As children we do not have the mental capacity to interpret or understand the nuances we witness.

When we enter into adult relationships we may attempt to correct the imbalances we witnessed in our caretakers interactions, in our own relationship. We must come to realize that attempting to fix the imbalances we witnessed in our caretakers relationship, by duplicating them in our own relationships, is not possible nor desirable. In adopting the patterns of our caretakers we are taking on problems that we did not create and cannot solve.

Once we become aware of our patterns and how we are duplicating those of our family of origin we can begin the long journey back to a healthy relationship. Breaking free from the patterns of our family of origin is difficult work that requires we become willing to see ourselves with all of our warts. It is not work to be undertaken lightly. It requires the guidance of a counselor capable of steering us through the maze of feelings and beliefs in order to peel away the inaccuracies within.

As we begin our journey we reach out to our higher power for guidance and wisdom. This path is one that many have travelled before us. We place one foot in front of the other not knowing where the path will lead, but having faith that we are exactly where we need to be to learn the lessons we must to move forward with our lives.

We use our tools to help us cope as we walk the path of recovery into light from darkness.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Living Your Own Life - Together

Inter-dependent relationships are the most healthy and productive. What does it take to create and sustain an inter-dependent relationship?

It is vital for each party to a relationship to have their own life in addition to the life they share with their partner. Personal space is vital to each parties ability to have an independent identity apart from the other. It allows each partner to bring their own lives to the relationship as a gift, enriching the relationship in the process. The whole then truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts as each partner has the opportunity to learn from and revel in the accomplishments of the other.

Imagine how dull life would be if each of us were the same. There would be no surprises, nothing new to discover, no new paths to walk, just the same old routine day after day. When relationships become dull and routine partners may begin to feel bored. Boredom is toxic to the health of the relationship. It is like a cancer that spreads slowly, seeping into all parts, making the time together difficult and unpleasant.

It is vital for partners to have interesting and productive individual lives, whether they have a career or are homemakers. Having interests and hobbies may be one way for partners to keep their intellect alive and their ability to be interesting people flourishing. There is no quicker way to kill the relationship than to bring nothing new to it on an ongoing basis. Sewing the seeds of boredom quickly brings contented partners into discontent.

Equally important is couple time for partners. When relationships include family, whether children or extended family, partners may become overly involved with familial obligations and begin to neglect their partnership. Over time a neglected relationship begins to die. Making time on a regular basis for a date night is vital to keeping the emotional intimacy alive between partners. If funds are tight, taking a walk together after dinner may be enough for partners to reconnect after a hectic day. Being alone as partners allows for sharing of intimate feelings without distraction or interruption.

When we take the time to invest in our own lives and create interests and hobbies we bring ourselves happiness that is dependent on no one else. This is vital to our mental health. When we are happy individually we do not depend on others for our emotional stability. We become capable of providing ourselves with a fulfilling life. This is the basis of a healthy relationship. We bring ourselves as a gift to the relationship, not an albatross of dependency to be hung around our partners neck.

We use our tools to develop our gifts and abilities as whole rounded human beings. In this way we increase our self esteem and our inner happiness. Our relationship grows as we feed our inner selves and allow our partner the same privilege. In this way we give ourselves and our relationship the gift of inter-dependence.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why Do You Talk To Me Like That?

Emotional abuse can be more difficult to detect and more damaging to our sense of self than physical abuse.

When we are being struck we can react to the immediacy of the threat. We are acutely aware of the risk to our safety. There is little doubt as to the violation we are experiencing. Physical violence generally occurs in relationships sporadically. There are episodes, followed by periods of calm which may extend for days, weeks or longer.

Emotional abuse is much more subtle. It generally involves denigrating comments, sarcastic or caustic remarks, or emotional absence. Since it may occur on a daily basis it is more insidious. It may involve a continuous stream of verbal degradation that erodes our self esteem like sand on a beach. Living in this environment of constant tension, the abused partner feels as though they are constantly walking on egg shells. Try as they may, the abuser finds reasons to continue the verbal onslaught.

The critical piece of the puzzle is the realization that abusers don't abuse because they are unhappy with their partner or any other part of their life, they abuse because they have lost touch with the part of themselves that recognizes and values others. This may be called self involvement, selfishness, lack of compassion, narcissism or immaturity. The truth is that the label is unimportant. The effect that the behavior has on the abused partner is traumatic.

One of the reasons that the effect is so marked is that abusers often appear emotionally available and empathetic during the courting phase of a relationship. When that phase ends and the abuse begins, partners often wish to believe that the real person, the one they loved during the courtship phase, is within. The partner may believe that the abuser will return to their former loving self when their conditions are met and demands satisfied.

This could not be further from the truth. The only way for an abuser to change their behavior is to recognize their lack of empathy for others and begin to see themselves as others do. Generally, abusers see themselves as victims and lash out in response. The efforts of their partner in telling them how their behavior affects the relationship feeds into the victim role and adds to the response of abuse.

The abused partner may eventually tire of continuously being berated and become angry or bitter. At this point stiff emotional penalties will become apparent within the relationship. The abused partner may announce a no tolerance policy and begin to avoid interactions. The abuser now faces a choice: change or lose the relationship.

Emotional abuse is one of the most difficult areas to clearly identify within relationships. There is never an acceptable reason or excuse for abuse. Each of us has a choice about how we interact with others. We may become angry or upset with those with whom we are in relationships, but we must choose not to allow ourselves to abuse or be abused. When we behave in concert with our inner values we will be at peace with ourselves and feel comfortable in our own skin. We use our tools to increase our self esteem, find our values and make quality decisions about how we want our relationships to function. In this way we give ourselves the gift of inner peace.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You Can't Drug Yourself to Health

Supplements are taken to fill in the holes in our diet. They are supposed to give us the missing pieces in our nutritional puzzle. We try to do our best to eat a balanced diet: limit fats to the healthier variety, eat more complex carbs, limit sugar, eat less red meat, eat more fruits and vegetables, etc., etc. We take a multi vitamin that we hope breaks down in our digestive system.

There are problems in the supplement market. One of those is the fact that there is actually no real regulation of supplements. We buy our products from reputable manufacturers in the hopes that what is on the label is what is in the product. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Although there is oversight by the FDA with regard to supplements, the FDA is not qualified to do the work and doesn't have the time or the staff available due to overwhelming submissions from drug companies. All of this is problematic, as supplements are intended to help us get healthier.

The real issue concerns herbs. We often take herbs as if they were supplements. They look good on the shelf in the health food store, we read the label and conclude that we might benefit from their therapeutic effects. Unfortunately, we are completely unaware that herbs are in fact drugs in their natural form: Digitalis(heart regulating medication) originally comes from Fox Glove, aspirin from White Willow bark.

The benefit of herbal remedies are enormous. Herbs are whole plants. They contain the active constituents needed to aid the body in its natural healing process. Herbs also contain micro-nutrients and other constituents that complement the healing process and give balance to the effect on the body, thereby avoiding most side effects experienced from drugs. Herbal remedies when prescribed by a Master Herbalist, are generally taken in a combination designed to cleanse the body of build up and toxins, aid the part of the body needing to heal and balance the medicinal effect with a tonic. This type of treatment is the most effective and safest use of herbs. When taken in this way, herbal remedies can aid the body to heal a vast array of disease processes without unpleasant or dangerous side effects.

Many drugs given to clients for long term ailments, such as high blood pressure, have devastating side effects that can significantly impact the clients quality of life. Since the risk of not addressing the disease is so great, most clients take their Rx's and suffer in silence. Early intervention with herbal remedies may, in some cases, lessen or remove the need for drug therapy. The lessening or elimination of side effects significantly improves clients quality of life.

Educating the general public as to the dangers present in taking herbal remedies without adequate counsel from a Master Herbalist is paramount. Medical practitioners are not always aware of drug/herb interactions and may not ask clients what herbal remedies or supplements are being taken. It is vital that medical practitioners become more knowledgeable regarding drug/herb interactions and continue to query clients regarding their regimen.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why Aren't I Happy When Everything Is Perfect?

"Happiness isn't out there, it's in here", she said pointing to her chest.

A profound statement. Being happy is not something we aspire to once we get our to do list completed. Happiness is not what we get when we find the one. We don't suddenly become happy when we are in the right relationship with the right partner living in the right house with the right kids and the right dog.

Happiness is an inside job. It's something we make our personal responsibility to work on every day. Some of us are more optimistic than others. We see the glass as half full. We see the silver lining in the clouds. We give people some slack. That doesn't mean that we don't have to make an effort to be happy. It just means that for us, maybe its a little easier. It may even mean that we are more willing to do what it takes to see the better side of life. We are more willing to be ahead of the weather rather than under the weather.

Much of the way we see life comes from our family of origin. We learn from our caretakers by watching how they deal with adversity. When our caretakers have the ability to rebound from setbacks and keep on keepin' on, we learn that lesson. We learn to use our struggle muscle.

We all have setbacks and disappointments in life. Our ability to bounce back and regain our balance is of prime importance in our ability to be happy. When we can take a trial in stride and either try again or learn from it, our self esteem increases. We see ourselves in a positive light, as triumphant. We all get knocked down on occasion. Our ability to get back up and keep on our path is key to our sense of value and our happiness.

When we are living our lives in sync with our personal values and goals we will feel our best. We may have setbacks and disappointments along the road, but if we are happy within ourselves we will be able to regain our balance and continue along our chosen path. We practice self care in our daily lives to increase our self esteem and improve our ability to bounce back from setbacks. As we use our tools and move along our chosen path, we have faith that we are not alone. We walk with may others who use the same tools. In this way our efforts yield us our ultimate gift, happiness.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Processing Grief

Working through grief is one of the most difficult challenges we face in our lives. When we lose someone we love, whether through death, divorce or simply a relationship that ends, we can feel a great deal of pain and anguish. It may be helpful during grieving to be aware that there is a range of reactions, and that all may be part of the process.

Initially there is a reaction of shock at the severity of the loss. We may embrace denial in the form of, "Why is this happening to me?". Our feelings may be numb or we may not yet fully comprehend the loss itself. Wishing to return to life before the loss is a common response as well. The overwhelming pain has not been fully processed at this stage. Denial is our defense mechanism protecting our psyche from the full brunt of the loss.

Eventually we can no longer deny what has happened. At this point we may begin to feel angry. We may be angry at the person we have lost, angry with our higher power, angry with other loved ones in our lives for their perceived part in the loss. We may remain angry for an extended period of time as we grapple with the seriousness of what has transpired. Anger too is a defense against the overwhelming feelings of loss.

After a time of extended anger we may move into bargaining. We are trying to mitigate the loss. This is a time of rationalizing and trading. If we have lost someone we love we may attempt reconciliation even if it is against our best interest to do so. If someone has passed away we may attempt in vain to bargain with our higher power for their return.

When we have passed the stage of needing our defense mechanisms and are finally faced with the full brunt of our loss we face depression. We may feel incredibly sad, hopeless, numb, filled with despair or even suicidal at times. We are overwhelmed with grief and the loss of both the person, and the dreams and hopes we held onto in the relationship. This is an extremely painful and vulnerable time. We may need help at this juncture to cope with the extent of the loss. It is important that we allow ourselves to grieve and give ourselves time to heal our wounds.

Finally we come to acceptance. We cannot change what has happened. We take the best memories we have and continue with our lives. If we have lost someone we love due to divorce or the ending of a relationship this may be the time we come to terms with the facts. We let go of blame and retribution and begin the process of healing in earnest. If someone has passed away we enjoy the memories we have of the wonderful times we shared while they were on this earth. In this way we keep their memory alive in our hearts and keep them close to us in thought.

The transition from relationship to loss can be overwhelming and painful. We do not have to make the journey alone. There are support groups available at most major hospitals and religious institutions. There is support in counseling and online. Trying to handle grief alone may be overwhelming and lead to isolation and long term depression.

It is common to feel like we may not survive serious loss, but we will begin to feel better. We may find we have mostly sad days initially, but over time we will begin to have better days until finally we have settled into our lives again. With the help of our family, friends, support system and our higher power we will triumph over loss and once again feel a part of life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Negative Attention Is Better Than None

Negative attention is better than none. We parents know what that means when we think of disciplining our children. How does this concept apply in our adult relationships?

When we are dealing with our partner we may need to set boundaries in certain areas of our lives as a part of self care. We do so in a loving way, letting our partner know that we value them and our relationship. Many times when we set a new boundary we will get change back messages telling us that our partner is not readily accepting this new development. There may be refusal to go along as well as much complaining.

If we have been practicing self care and using our tools we are prepared for this eventuality and may expect that it will happen. We lovingly keep our word and allow our partner time to adjust to the new boundary. During this time it is imperative that we ignore the negative attention that change back messages engender and respond with support to the positive actions our partner takes in beginning to show acceptance. We must remember that change is difficult for us as well and give our partner the time needed to absorb what has happened.

As time passes and the relationship once again begins to settle within the new boundaries, we show our appreciation for the changes our partner has made. We give them the approval they deserve to feel valued for their contribution to the relationship in accepting this new situation. It is vital to the health of our relationship that we acknowledge the difficulty that we all experience in dealing with change, reinforcing the positive behaviors of our partner and ignoring the negative whenever possible.

We all experience change as a difficult and wrenching time we would rather not have to encounter. Life hold few guarantees, but one of them is that change will occur. Our ability to accept change and acknowledge how difficult that acceptance is for others, gives us humility. It reminds us that we are all human, capable of inflexibility and myopic vision. Accepting change requires that we become more flexible and open our view to include new ideas in our lives.

As we learn to set new boundaries in our daily lives, we practice self care and use our tools to strengthen our resolve against change back messages. We increase our self esteem as we continue to live according to our inner values. In this way we give ourselves the gift of humility.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Am I Self Medicating?

What does it mean to self medicate? Why do we do it? How does it effect us?

We all like to feel pleasure and avoid pain. That is the natural order of being. Some forms of pain are emotional rather than physical. We may feel pain when a relationship ends or when we are hurt by a caustic remark. If our family of origin was a place of frequent pain and chaos we may have learned to ease our pain by self medicating. We may have seen our caretakers self medicate in various ways: having a couple of drinks daily after work, smoking marijuana to relax, eating too much sweets after an argument, running to OTB to place that last bet.

There are any number of ways in which we can self medicate including: abuse of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, food, gambling, pornography and sex, to name a few. Some of us engage in high risk activities as a way of self medicating. All of these methods involve releasing chemicals in the brain that effect our pleasure center.

For those of us who have self medicated with alcohol, tobacco or drugs, these chemicals increase certain neuro-transmitters giving us that high feeling. Food too can be abused. Sugar activates the same receptors as heroine, the casein in cheese activates the same receptors as opium and caffeine reacts in the body as a neuro-stimulant. Gambling, pornography, sex and high risk activities all create a rush of adrenaline which creates a high similar to and as addictive as cocaine.

When we opt to self medicate we are using our medication of choice to block out pain and increase pleasure. This may feel good in the short run, however, over time some forms of self medication take on a life of their own. When we don't choose to deal with our issues we run the risk of burying them under a landslide of denial. It may be harder to face our difficulties, but in the end we will be far better off for the work.

Avoiding the trap of feel good self medication takes a great deal of self discipline. We use our tools to practice self care in our daily lives. As we resist the urge to self medicate we increase our self esteem. In this way we give ourselves the gift of sobriety.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Accepting Reality When We Don't Like It

A very wise woman once said, "The hardest part about life is accepting reality when we don't like it."

The same can be said of our relationships. When we are having difficulty in our relationships one of the hardest parts is accepting that we may need to change. It is always easier for us to point fingers at our partner rather than look at ourselves. When we practice self care, one of our most important tools is our use of introspection. When things aren't going as we might like and we have hit a rough spot we ask ourselves, "How did I contribute to this mess?"

We take the time to review the recent incidents in our relationship. Has a pattern emerged? Have we been hearing the same complaint from our partner lately? Is there any validity to what is being said? Can we see the situation from their point of view? In every conflict there is our side, our partners side, and the truth, which generally lies somewhere in the middle. Keeping this in mind may help us to be more open to seeing our partners position.

If we can see our part in the situation and take responsibility for our behavior, we may be able to begin to build bridges instead of walls. When we reach out in honesty to our partner and acknowledge how we have added to the difficulties, we open a line of communication that may lead to a better understanding between us both. This doesn't mean that we take the blame for our partners behavior or misdeeds, only that we recognize where we have misstepped and be willing to take personal responsibility for our part.

It takes maturity and self esteem to be able to admit that we erred and make amends. It may be difficult to put our ego aside and see ourselves as we are. However, if we are to grow we need to be willing to see ourselves as others see us, even if that view brings us pain.

Consistent use of our tools strengthens our self esteem and makes taking responsibility for our behavior, whether we approve or not, our choice. This alleviates us feeling shamed when we misstep and feel we must hide behind a mask of perfection. We are all human and all make mistakes. We resist the urge to succumb to the pretense of perfection by practicing self care and increasing our self esteem. In this way we give ourselves the gift of humility.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spring Blooms Bring Sniffles & Sneezes

Allergy season is upon us. How can we cope with the runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat and persistent cough?

If you have ever seen a photo of pollen under a microscope you may have recognized the shape. Some pollen grains look much like a chestnut in its hull. The exterior of the pollen grain is covered with spikes. Those spikes give the pollen the ability to stick to bees or birds, get caught by wind and blown through the air to pollinate other flowers - and, by the way, stick in your nose.

Pollen causes a histamine response (allergies) within the body. That is how the body protects itself from invasion. Not all foreign bodies that enter a human body are as innocuous as pollen. Some are much worse, like the H1N1 virus (Swine Flu). The histamine response allows the body to produce cells that attack and eliminate the source of the invasion. Depending on how much of a response we have determines our level of allergy.

Quercitin is a compound known as a flavinoid. It is a naturally occurring substance found in foods that humans consume without side effect on a continuous basis. Quercitin has been shown effective in diminishing the allergic response. Taken on a continuous basis throughout the year Quercitin may help allergy sufferers by lessening symptoms. For those of us with severe allergies, Quercitin alone may be insufficient and a visit to an allergist may be in order. But for minor symptoms, Quercitin may provide sufficient relief to allow the spring blooms to once again be an enjoyment rather than a source of the sniffles.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Emotional Abuse: Is There Hope?

How do we become victims of emotional abuse? What does emotional abuse look like? What can we do to repair an emotionally abusive relationship?

Emotional abuse is difficult to define. It doesn't leave bruises on the body, it doesn't break dishes or punch holes in walls. It does, however, leave the victim feeling confused, angry, degraded and wounded. Emotional abusers denigrate their partners with a sharp tongue that cuts like a knife. Words that wound leave deep emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Name calling, sarcasm, vulgarities, litanies of past offenses, screaming tirades, public humiliation, defamation, character assassination, the silent treatment, emotional blackmail and other offenses are among the tools of the abuser.

We may feel terribly afraid and unhappy. We are confused about what has happened to our relationship. We once felt that our partner was our perfect match, but now those times seem to be less and less frequent. We may be questioning our instincts. We feel that we are being treated with disrespect, but we are told that we are at fault. We may be spending a great deal of time crying or feeling despair at our inability to communicate our needs to our partner in a way in which we can be heard and understood. We tell our partner why we are upset, but they seem unwilling or unable to modify their behavior.

This scenario is all to familiar to many of us who have been emotionally abused or are being emotionally abused at the hands of our partner. We are confused by our inability to decide how to proceed, but unable to decide whether to leave the relationship. As a result of the abusers continuous denigrating behavior we are beginning to feel less and less capable. We are slowly suffering from the effects of degraded self esteem.

The cycle of abuse has a distinct pattern. Following incidents, abusers oftentimes apologise for their behavior and actions. They may promise change. The honeymoon phase that follows incidents may include times when we are showered with affection and gifts in an attempt to decrease the abusers sense of guilt and shame. We too are often filled with shame as a result of allowing ourselves to be abused. We may tell virtually no one what is happening, believing what we are told by the abuser, that we are at fault. This combination of low self esteem and shame keeps us locked into the cycle of abuse and makes deciding whether to stay or leave the relationship extremely difficult.

Initially the relationship may have been fulfilling allowing both we and the abuser to enjoy the partnership. Over time, as the incidents became increasingly frequent, both we and the abuser began to feel less and less satisfaction within the relationship. We may feel angry, resentful and hostile over the continued abuse. The abuser, on the other hand, may feel misunderstood and persecuted due to their inability to see their behavior from another point of view.

Our ability to connect the dots and see the interconnection between our enabling behavior in allowing ourselves to remain in an abusive relationship, and the degradation of our self esteem, is paramount to us being able to rebuild our self image and begin to practice self care. Emotional abuse occurs within partnerships gradually, growing worse over time if left ignored. It is imperative that we seek help to increase our understanding of our part in the situation. At the same time, if we are to repair our partnership, the abuser too must desire assistance to change the pattern that has emerged in the relationship.

If both partners are interested in repairing the relationship and willing to do the necessary work to increase their respective self esteem, there is hope for recovery. The key to having hope for improvement is the individual desire of both partners to commit to repairing the relationship. If this commitment is present, both partners may be able to deal individually with their underlying issues in a safe therapeutic environment. Once the process of recovery has begun in earnest and individual progress has been made, learning how to communicate effectively may be possible.

Emotional abuse is not to be ignored. We may not realize how great it's impact is upon us initially. Over time as we become aware of our decreased self esteem, we learn that our enabling behavior has cost us a great deal. It is never too late to learn self care. We ask for help in finding and using tools to rebuilt our shattered ego.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cloaking Vulnerability with Anger

Some of the most important issues responsible for anger, particularly in men, are fear and shame. Feelings of inadequacy may be a trigger to his anger because those feelings of inadequacy are either shame or fear based. Resentments in a relationship may often be a result of building walls instead of bridges where feelings of inadequacy spur shame and fear. But, the underlying cause is still shame and fear. The resentment may be the symptom, not the cause.

Behavior which agrees with one's inner values is vital to being a comfortable human being. However, having vulnerable feelings is something that men in our society are taught from earliest times not to do, eg: big boys don't cry, suck it up, man it up, etc, etc. All these phrases tell men that it's not manly or okay to have vulnerable feelings. When men have those feelings they feel wimpy or girly or faggy. None of these tags are positive and therefore having vulnerable feelings is seen as unmanly and and weak by men themselves. Anger is an effective defense mechanism for cloaking vulnerable feelings, since it is a socially acceptable emotion for men to portray. Anger is manly, macho, primitive and fearsome. These tags are positive in the man's world.

The additional pressure in a relationship to be intimate and allow for human error and flexibility may draw men even further into the depths of despair when coming face to face with vulnerable feelings. It is common for folks to project their feelings onto others when upsetting issues come to the forefront. Men are no exception. When vulnerability surfaces they most often look to their partners to blame outward, whereas women most often tend to blame inward, accepting that this vulnerability may be their doing - whether earned or not. Anger again is a socially acceptable alternative to choosing vulnerability. Men tough it out! There's strong and then there's Army strong! Not the poster child for vulnerability.

The societal erosion of men's self esteem in this area of vulnerability is, I believe, quite serious. Sam Keen, in his book, Fire in the Belly, states that men are the canaries in the coal mine regarding the state of our nation in the area of emotional availability. I firmly believe that men's groups that allow men a safe place to vent and speak about their issues with other men in a safe environment, is the most important step we have taken in the recovery movement toward addressing these very difficult issues.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shining the Light Through The Veil of Deception

And so it begins. The hearings in the House and Senate on torture will bring to light the information that has shamed all of us who are proud of our country. We will see the ugliness that came from absolute power that corrupted absolutely. Those who committed war crimes under the guise that, a threat was imminent and we had no other choice, will be trotted out, their sins finally seeing the light of day.

We must do this as a nation to give the clear message to all those who come after us that this type of behavior will not be tolerated by the people of America. We are a people of morals and values that we will not compromise, even when faced with extreme fear. There is no reason to stoop to such degradation and humiliation.

If we are to continue to be the light of the world and the example of democracy, we cannot behave in such dehumanizing ways. As the leaders of the free world we carry the heavy responsibility to act in such a way that sets the example of regard for all human life. We have reached the tipping point. The American people can no longer sit idly by and watch as our country is turned into a terrorist nation by the terrorized people who ran our former administration.

Torture is a war crime that carries with it not just the punishment of imprisonment, but the shame of betrayal. Those who have tortured others in the name of America must face the shame of their actions and be shunned by the respected citizens of the United States and the world.

In shining the light of intense scrutiny through the veil of deception we will uncover the truth. Let it come. It is the cleansing that we must endure to rid ourselves of the filth that these horrendous acts have bestowed upon us.

May God bless us in our search for truth.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Can't I Be Understood?

Why is it that my partner and I can use the same words and still not get the correct message?

When we communicate we are sending a message based not only on our verbal language, but on what the words in our language mean to us. We develop the meaning of those words in our family of origin. When each of us is young we learn spoken language from our caretakers. As they speak we listen and grasp the intended, as well as the inferred meaning from their use of language. Not only do we learn the apparent meaning of words, but we learn the underlying meaning implied by tone of voice and posture when the words are spoken.

When caretakers talk among themselves, they may use words that have multiple meanings. A word such as touchy can mean excessive handling of an object, over reacting to an action or statement or even tender qualities when used in combination with the word feely in slang. Depending on the tone of voice, the facial expression and the context of the remark, we learn as small children how and when to use such a word. These early lessons are unique to each of us. Siblings may have similar language usage and understanding, but their lingo is not exactly alike.

When we communicate with out partner we may easily forget that we don't share the same early life lessons and have not come from the same family of origin. We make a statement and have trouble being understood, as we may make a host of assumptions regarding what the phrase means to us, that don't apply to our partner. If we are to be understood we need to be as clear as possible in our discourse. We try to explain not only what is apparent in our usage of language, but what is not apparent, our lingo. Over time as we come to know one another better and learn more about each other's families of origin, we begin to share one another's lingo and clarity becomes easier to reach.

This is especially true for partners from varying cultures where language and customs may be vastly different. It is important to share not only the pleasures of our similarities, but also the gift of learning from our differences.

When we begin to truly understand one another the facade of fear slips away showing us that we are truly all the same species, human beings. In beginning to understand one anothers lingo we add to the possibility that one day humanity will come to realize that most of us are ordinary citizens who wish to live in peace with all of the world.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Impasse: What To Do Next

What do we do when we come to an impasse in a relationship? How to we decide what to do? Where can we go to find new ideas in a safe non-judgemental environment?

There may be times in our relationships when we cannot find agreement between ourselves and our partner regarding an important issue. When all of our efforts at communication have not brought us closer to resolution, we need a next step. Sometimes we may be unable to see our partners point of view. We may have tried listening, dialogue, taking time to process what our partner has shared, and trying to see the situation through our partners eyes. Both ourselves and our partner may have tried in vain to compromise.

There may be some issues which are important to both ourselves and our partner that resist all our attempts at effective communication and compromise. In these instances we may need a third party to get us unstuck. Even in the best of relationships there may be times when partners cannot find a way to resolve an important issue. There may be hesitance in asking family members for advice because one partner may fear family will takes sides. There may also be concerns regarding privacy due to the nature of the issues.

A counselor may be able to provide a fresh pair of eyes and ears to the situation. In a safe private environment, both parties may be able to air their differences regarding the issue at hand, along with their suggested solutions. Each of us may have an agenda during counseling, however, the overall agenda is to resolve the issue at hand and find a solution acceptable to all parties.

We may wish to have our partner agree to option A. Our partner may want us to agree to option B. Option C occurred to neither of us, but in fact meets both our needs. This is the benefit of getting input from an impartial third party. When we are honest and bring our hearts to the table with a clear agenda of making our relationship work, we will find the answers we seek. Often times partners only need a nudge in the right direction to be able to resolve seemingly unresolvable issues.

When we practice self care in our daily lives and continue to use our tools, we will see our relationships blossom. We may find we get stuck from time to time and seek the advice of our counselor. With consistent practice in using our tools, we increase our self esteem thereby increasing healthy inter-dependence in our relationships.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

We Owe You Our Lives

Happy Mother's Day!! Each of us has a biological Mother. Someone who gave birth to us some years ago. Some of us may have had additional caretakers who assisted in raising us as children. If we are lucky enough to still have our Mother with us, we may have a wonderful relationship with her, or we may wish that relationship was better.

Of all the relationships in our lives there is only one person in the entire world to whom we bond. That person is our biological mother. This bonding takes place in the womb before we are even born. Luckily for Fathers and the remainder of our extended family, there is also attachment. Attachments occurs after we are born. These various types of relationships are an integral part of our lives.

The unique bond that occurs between Mother and child is a lifeline for the child. Newborn infants can detect their Mother by scent even before they can see clearly. They can recognize the sound of her voice. Mother and child have a special connection that feeds the emotional and spiritual parts of the child, allowing the child to thrive.

One this special day of the year, we take a moment to recognize the irreplacable value of Mothers. They are the guardians of the heart and soul of the human race. Regardless of their race, color, national origin, faith or station in life, they are the most important people in each of our lives for we would not be here without them.

Thank you Mothers. We literally, owe you our lives. Happy Mother's Day!!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Shame of Being the Torturer

During these past months there has been a great outpouring of information regarding the torture of detainees in various government run prisons throughout the world at the hand of Americans. It is now apparent that the leaders of the American government at the time became terrorized as a result of the attacks that occurred here on September 11th, 2001. The fact that warnings were ignored and folks were asleep at the wheel, created such feelings of shame that the leaders of our country set out to create programs to protect themselves from ever feeling shamed like that again. Some of those programs have violated our core values as Americans. The torture program, researched before even one detainee had been captured, is one of the most embarrassing moments in recent American history.

The point of this discussion is to give a concrete example of how affected people are by shame. Shame is one of the most difficult emotions we may face in our lives. Unlike guilt, which happens when we do something that doesn't agree with our inner values, shame targets our self esteem. Where guilt reminds us that we have violated our own principles, shame attacks us at our inner core. Guilt reflect upon our actions. Shame reflects upon us.

Feeling shamed is so painful that grown men and women react with extreme efforts to prevent shame from re-appearing. In the preceding example, our leaders felt shamed when the attacks of September 11th occurred. Part of the job of the government is to keep our citizens safe from harm. In that regard, the administration failed.

This reality was so painful that our leaders launched a series of reactions designed to prevent themselves from ever having to re-experience the shame of failure again. The fact that many of their reactions were not well thought out (those would have been responses, not reactions) and did not achieve the ends required (stemming the tide of terrorism) was not part of the consideration. The administration was concerned with never feeling shamed by failure again.

When we think about the reactions of those who were in the past administration to the torture policies that are now being aired, we are again brought before this same truth. Those who participated in creating the torture program are once again reacting to being shamed for their actions. Some are getting out in front of the media trying to sell their view of the issue. Some are silent. Some are trying to collect allies. All these reactions are attempts to stem the excruciating pain of once again feeling shamed.

In our relationships we may face feelings of shame, either within ourselves or from our partner. If we keep in mind how exquisitely painful the emotion of shame feels, we can be empathetic toward those in our circle of life who are dealing with shame. It requires great effort to respond rather than react when dealing with such strong emotions. We use our tools and seek help if needed. As we conquer our shame we increase our self esteem. We practice self care in our daily lives. In this way we give our partners and ourselves the gift of empathy as either we or they wrestle with our shame.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why Am I Getting The Silent Treatment?

What do we do when our partner won't speak to us for an extended period of time following a disagreement? How do we cope with getting the silent treatment?

Partners in relationships don't always agree. Each of us are individuals with our own wants and needs. Sometimes those wants and needs conflict. There are many ways to deal with conflict in relationships. Effective communication is the key to resolving differences between two parties. Each has their own point of view which may have validity. Both need to feel heard and validated for meaningful discussion to take place leading to compromise.

What happens when our partner doesn't participate in communication or compromise? Following a disagreement our partner may retreat within themselves and refuse to talk for an extended period of time. This type of withdrawal can last hours, days or even weeks. This does not mean they are not communicating. The silent treatment is a form of communication. It may be an unpopular form for us, the recipient, but it can be quite effective. Our partner is communicating their feelings quite clearly. Their non-verbal message says,"Do what I want" clear as a bell. It says something else as well. It says, "I am unwilling to listen to your opinion, negotiate or compromise".

This extended period of silence is a form of emotional blackmail. Many partners may need some time to process after a disagreement. However, when the time taken has nothing to do with processing and everything to do with punishing, we are no longer dealing with healthy self care, but with unhealthy emotional blackmail. This type of punishing behavior leaves us out in the cold. Our partner believes they can use their anger and silence to control us.

The unsaid message, however, speaks volumes. The emotional blackmailer is unwilling to communicate in an open forum where we can put forth our opinion. Our partner may feel frightened of direct communication. They may not feel adept at defending their views. Alternatively, the emotional blackmailer may feel shamed regarding their lack of ability to communicate or explain their feelings, leading them to refuse to talk at all. Finally, this may be a habit learned from a dysfunctional family of origin during childhood. If caretakers handled conflict in this manner, this may well be the only style our partner has known.

It is difficult to deal with emotional blackmail. The silent treatment may cause bitterness and resentment over time as partners build walls instead of bridges. Stressing the safety of our partner in the relationship and the importance of communication is a beginning. We, as the communicator, have the responsibility to continue to reach out to our partner with loving detachment.

During times when all is calm and we feel centered, we can lovingly set a boundary with our partner that is comfortable for us regarding the time we will tolerate silence. We then enforce that boundary by detaching when our partner becomes silent. We lovingly let them know that we are going to take care of ourselves and enjoy our time without them. They can contact us by telephone when they are again ready to speak. We reinforce that we are not angry and that we look forward to seeing them again when they feel better.

In this way we give ourselves the freedom to enjoy our time without having to witness their attempt at emotional blackmail. Our partner learns that if they want to enjoy time with us, they cannot continue this mode of behavior. When we reconnect we do so in a loving manner. This leaves our partner to begin to deal with their feelings in a new way. Patience and loving detachment are the keys to moving a relationship past emotional blackmail and the silent treatment. As difficult and time consuming as it may be, it is imperative to ensuring the long term survival of the relationship.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Are You a Victim of Domestic Violence and Abuse?

Domestic violence and abuse cross all economic, social, political and racial barriers. We cannot imagine how shamed we feel being involved with an abuser. Even telling one's family becomes impossible at first. We are aware that if our family knew the facts of our situation they would shun our partner. Until we are ready to face our situation in truth, we continue the charade. Though this is a sure sign that we are in an extremely unhealthy situation, the average sufferer of DV may try to leave the relationship seven times prior to succeeding. There is the constant fear that we will not be believed, especially if the abuser is successful and well liked.

In the early stages of the relationship the abuser may be cautious about revealing themself. The new partner may tell stories of past wounds at the hands of others. Over time the pattern begins. First there may be the explosive rage over seemingly unimportant events. These may be followed by grandiose apologies and promises never to repeat the incident. Sometimes extravagant gifts follow. The ensuing weeks may be honeymoon like. The incident may be forgotten and all is well. Gradually the tension increases. It may feel like partners are walking on egg shells around one another. Eventually another incident occurs. This one too involves explosive rage and may include breaking objects. Again the incident is followed by apologies, gifts or flowers and the honeymoon begins again. The pattern is set. Each time the abuser moves the line of acceptable behavior slightly farther than the last. Over time the abused partner accepts a level of domestic violence and abuse they would never have dreamed possible.

It is difficult to imagine how horrendous we feel, whether man or woman, while being involved with an abuser. The constant barrage of denigrating verbiage destroys our self esteem.

If you are reading this and are a victim of DV please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or on the web at Have hope that your life can improve. You are not alone.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Strong Emotions? Yuck!!

What are emotions? Why do they seem so overwhelming at times? How to we cope with strong emotions?

Emotional literacy is a concept that answers a multitude of questions for those of us in recovery. We may have journeyed through our childhood with dysfunctional family systems. Those systems taught us concepts that inhibited our growth: Don't think, don't talk, don't feel.

Thinking is a threatening activity if we are being taught to accept whatever is happening at face value. Thinking might rock the family boat. It might allow new ideas to emerge which could threaten the tight control that dysfunction has over the family system. That might be terrifying for the members of our dysfunctional family of origin. They have learned to accept the elephant in the living room. They walk around it quite comfortably. No one notices it any longer or allows themselves to think about it.

Talking about what is happening in our dysfunctional family of origin may be incredibly threatening. If thinking was scary, than talking may be terrifying. Not only are we breaking the rules by thinking about the unspeakable, but now we are talking about it too? This is intolerable to family members. It creates immense discomfort. We are asking them to acknowledge that there is a problem or issue that might need to be solved. Since they may be unwilling to see any problem, there is nothing to discuss.

Having feelings about issues is verboten. Thinking was not permitted, talking was terrifying and having feelings about any of these unspeakable problems is impossible. It may be so far out of the path of possibility that the person having feelings may be shunned until they take the path of least resistance, and obey the rules of their family of origin. They must correct their horrendous mistake of actually having feelings.

The rules are clear: It is not permitted to think about, discuss or have feelings regarding the elephant in the living room. If these rules are not obeyed at all times, corrections must be undertaken to re-indoctrinate the offending family member immediately. Further, any family member who refuses to follow the rules after re-indoctrination will be shunned until they comply.

Of course the preceding paragraph is a dramatization, but it certainly sounds like our families of origin, doesn't it? Translated into common English the rules say, don't rock the family boat or we will be angry and give change back messages until you stop. If you don't stop, we will exclude you from family activities because you make us too uncomfortable to have you around.

That is a frightening message for a child to absorb. Therefore children, who literally cannot survive without their family of origin, follow the rules. They learn not to rock the dysfunctional family boat. They learn to do whatever they must to deceive themselves, so as to be able to function within their family of origin.

These early lessons may cause children from dysfunctional families of origin to become emotionally illiterate adults. We can be partners is relationships who cannot find the words to describe how we feel when we are having a strong emotional response. We don't have the vocabulary to describe what we are experiencing. We only know how to shut down and steam.

The thinking part of the brain is where language allows the processing of raw emotion into understandable feelings. Those of us who came from dysfunctional families of origin where the rules were strictly enforced by controlling family members, may have never developed the ability to marry words to emotion. We have not had the opportunity to learn this very important skill. We need to be able to join words to emotion to be able to intellectually grasp what is happening within us and feel the ability to regulate it. When strong emotions occur without the ability to verbalize, we are thrown back to our infancy. We are a being without language available to express what is happening to us. This creates additional feelings of shame and frustration as we attempt to grapple with what is effectively, the unknown.

Through recovery and using our tools we continue to practice self care. As we tackle this very difficult challenge of teaching ourselves the lost lessons of our childhoods, we practice patience with ourselves and forgiveness when we misstep. We will learn what we need to in time and with help. The path is before us. We take one step at a time and lean on our higher power knowing that the lessons before us will lead us where we need to go. We are not alone.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why am I So Afraid of FEAR?

FEAR... False Expectations Appearing Real. That is quite an acronym. Fears can be real or imagined. Staring into the face of a sabre tooth tiger and fearing for your life is quite real. Most of the fears we face today occur when we have insufficient information available to make an informed decision. We don't know all that we need to create a full picture so we fill in the blanks with our own experiences. Unfortunately our experiences may not apply to the situation at hand. We finish the painting, but alas we didn't start it and don't know the outcome the artist had in mind. Instead of completing the Mona Lisa, we end up with Dogs at Cards.

Fears can cause a multitude of problems in relationships. An example: When faced with an upcoming family gathering involving meeting new people for the first time, one partner may feel insecure. The insecurity may be based in low self esteem. Fear may take hold and as the event approaches the fearful partner may become ill and unable to attend. If this pattern manifests frequently in the relationship the other partner may eventually become angry and accuse the ill partner of not liking the family. A lack of understanding may cause a failure to communicate that the underlying issue is a fear of not being accepted.

It can be quite difficult to verbalize fears. Many of us experienced fear and trauma at an age where verbal language was not within our grasp. Two year olds have just learned how to ask for food or a toy. They do not have the words to discuss feelings. When caretakers frighten children with strong emotions of their own, such as anger or rage, children may become traumatized. Even five year olds rarely have the available verbiage to talk about emotions. If our caretakers were busy taking care of siblings, tending to a sick parent, going to work everyday and doing chores at home, going to school or just watching TV all day, no one was available to help us translate emotions into words. If our caretakers are the ones reacting with strong emotions, yelling often or becoming violent, there is no safe place for a child to take their emotions and get comfort and explanations.

By the time we have the needed vocabulary we are approaching twelve or thirteen years of age. At this point we have learned much about expressing feelings from our family of origin as well as our friends. Feelings may be unacceptable if our home is dysfunctional. Our experience with friends may make it uncool to talk about feelings. We may enter into adulthood almost illiterate regarding emotions. We have emotions, but may not be able to find the words to describe our feelings. This makes processing emotions quite difficult. We need language to allow our thinking brains to integrate our emotions into our selves.

This inability to join words to feelings leave us unable to tolerate strong emotions. We feel extreme unmanagability when strong emotions arrive. We react with our defenses to squelch the uncomfortable feelings. We have not learned how to process strong emotions and we are frightened by their intensity. As we learn which words to attach to the emotions we feel, our thinking brain can process them. We can integrate this new knowledge into our inner selves. Then next time the same strong emotion occurs we can be ready with our words. Our thinking minds can logically process the feelings for us creating increased self esteem and a feeling of control over our reactions.

This is vital for long term health. In order to create balance in our daily lives we must be able to process our emotions with our thinking minds. To rely on our reactive mind to guide us through the maze of feelings through our lives is inadvisable. It may leave us open to bouts of uncontrolled basic emotions, such as rage. These strong unprocessed raw emotions can be terrifying to witness, both for the one experiencing the emotions as well as for their partner.

The external view of raw unprocessed emotions appears uncontrolled and extremely frightening. Especially to a small child, unprocessed raw feelings may be traumatic. We want to avoid passing down our issues to the next generation. We have a grave responsibility to learn the words we need to process our emotions into feelings that we understand. Through our recovery work we have learned tools we can use to deal with issues, such as feeling overwhelmed or angry. Once our emotions have been processed into understandable feelings we can practice self care. Through using our tools we increase our self esteem and feel capable of controlling our strong emotions.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why Don't My Kids Want to Visit Me?

25 Reasons Why your Kids Don't Want to Visit You after Divorce By Kenia Maldonado

Ever wonder why your child doesn't want to visit you? Here are 25 reasons to consider.
1. never really built a relationship with the child
2. speaking negatively about the other parent
3. not spending one on one time with the child
4. yelling, screaming and complaining
5. cancel visits
6. make promises you can’t keep
7. show up late for visits
8. being controlling and are not letting the child voice their opinion
9. not asking the child about his/her feelings
10. not planning for the visit in advance (fun activities)
11. mentally and/or physically abusive towards the child
12. neglecting the child’s needs
13. badgering the child to give up information about the other parent
14. not encouraging the child to visit
15.forget the child’s birthday and gift along with other special dates
16. not honest and the child does not trust you
17. blame the divorce on the child or the other parent
18. show favoritism for one child
19. always bring your girlfriend/boyfriend on the visit
20. put your child in uncomfortable situations
21. tell the child to keep secrets from the other parent
22.not allowing the child to speak to the other parent while the child is with you
23. not cool or fun enough to hang out with
24. tell the child “the courts says you have to visit”
25. use a negative tone with the child

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What Kind of Relationship Style Do I Have?

There are many varied styles of relationships. There are dependent, co-dependent, independent and inter-dependent. It is likely that whatever style of relationship we generally adopt with our partner, will be our style with all those with whom we associate. This information may be particularly helpful to us if we see the same type of difficulties surfacing in many of our relationships.

Dependent relationships may take place when one partner's investment in the relationship becomes extreme. This may lead to feelings of an inability to live without the other party. The over investor feels consumed by the relationship and may lose their individual identity. In this process, the relationship suffers as the over invested partner brings little back to the relationship. They are putting all their energy into only the relationship, and not living their own independent life.

Co-dependent relationships may happen when one partners needs consume the relationship causing the other party to constantly be in the position of supporter. This imbalance causes the partners to adopt roles in the relationship: caretaker, victim, persecutor. In this model, the relationship dwindles as the parties cannot be themselves. They must live within defined roles which may feel suffocating and stifle intimacy.

Independent relationships may occur when one of the partners fails to make a personal investment in the relationship due to excessive self interest. This precludes the development of intimacy. The uninvested party does not value the relationship and therefore creates imbalance through neglect. This may eventually leave the other partner feeling emotionally abandoned.

Inter-dependent relationships come about when two partners are willing to invest, commit, communicate, permit personal growth, support one another, and create balance. No one parties needs dominate the relationship. There is personal investment creating intimacy. Each partner has their own independent identity as well as an identity as party to the relationship.

It is likely that we have a blend of styles which identify our relationship pattern. We probably lean toward one overall style, but have some characteristics of others as a part of our overall relational style. Finding out how we interact with others, especially in intimate relationships, helps us understand ourselves and the reasons behind our interactions.

If we find we are not as inter-dependent as we had hoped, we can make positive changes toward that end. We can work on being more independent within our own lives, allowing us to bring more back to the relationship. We can focus on having a healthier balance between need and support if we find we are out of kilter. We can use the information we glean to better understand ourselves and our partners. This understanding can bring about increased intimacy as well as increased personal independence, resulting in our goal of inter-dependence.

Friday, May 1, 2009

How Can I Tell If My Relationship Is Healthy?

In thinking about our relationships we can readily see the view from our own perspective. We have a lens through which we view the world that we developed during our childhood with our family of origin. We may have witnessed our caretakers discussing issues in a productive way, making compromises and finally coming to an agreement. In this way we learned how to productively negotiate to accomplish our goal within the boundaries of a relationship.

But what if we instead witnessed heated arguments or screaming matches, long lists of past offenses and degrading comments that inevitably led to extended periods of silence with no resolution. Alternately we may have seen one party always allowing the other to have their way with no compromise or discussion. What happens to our interpretation of how to conduct ourselves within relationships, when our ability to learn and emulate is broken by dysfunction.

Children depend on their caretakers to interpret the world for them. They don’t have the ability to interpret or understand their emotional responses on any significant level until about age five. Young children mirror their caretakers facial expressions and body language, thereby emulating the feelings of their caretakers. Additionally, they don’t have the capacity to fully process their feelings into decipherable thoughts paired with words until about age twelve.

If our caretakers are unable to provide a healthy example to us of appropriate behavior in relationships, we may have no other model available for comparison. Since we are young and uninformed, we adopt the patterns from our family of origin, healthy or otherwise. As we grow into adults and enter into relationships of our own, we may unconsciously duplicate these patterns absorbed during our childhoods.

We are initially attracted to our partners because it “feels right” to be with them. We may not realize it but we are like broken jigsaw puzzle pieces, looking for our missing counterparts. When we find a fit it feels familiar. All too often that familiarity is a replay of unfinished business from our dysfunctional childhoods. We have found a partner who’s characteristics gives us a choice. We either have the opportunity to heal from past wounds, or to replay the same old hurtful patterns we lived through as children. How we use this opportunity is up to us.

Virginia Satir, family therapist states that “Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible. The kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.”

The same is true in relationships. Nurturing healthy relationships offer partners the ability to be supported while allowing for individual expression. Open communication between partners where both feel free to express themselves in the relationship is crucial. Differences between partners become areas providing opportunity for learning and appreciation of one another’s strengths. Making mistakes is seen as unavoidable and understanding is available to smooth over rough spots. Rules are flexible to allow for individual creativity and growth within the bounds agreed upon by the parties.

Dysfunctional relationships offer no such rewards. Partners often feel suffocated by constraints in communication and inflexibility in rules. Differences may not be tolerated and individuality may be seen as a threat. The unspoken rules in many dysfunctional relationships may be, don’t think (for yourself, don’t rock the boat), don’t talk (about problems or issues), and don’t feel (or at least don’t talk about feelings if you happen to have them). This type of stifling of communication leads to festering of emotions, building walls between partners and turning unresolved issues into feelings of anger and bitterness.

Counseling can provide a open forum whereby partners can express themselves to one another in a safe environment. Having a disinterested third party present can give partners a window into the relationship from a new point of view. Often times all that is needed to get a relationship back on track is a chance for partners to see themselves as others see them. This paradigm shift can be a powerful experience allowing for internal motivation to change.

If partners accept one another’s basic personalities and feel committed to working on themselves and their relationship, there are few issues that cannot be overcome with enough time, effort and love. We commit to practicing using our tools in our daily lives to increase our self esteem. We give ourselves time to reflect and make gradual changes. We allow our partner the dignity of making mistakes and learning from them. We learn the art of apologizing when we falter. In this way we create the relationship that we desire and give ourselves the gift of hope.