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.
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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.
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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.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Recovery from Trauma, Stress and Abuse

There are many articles on trauma and stress. This one is excellent and addresses many of the issues we face in our relationships. It is interesting to note that the field of psychology has determined to give a diagnosis to the condition we in recovery have long termed codependency. As we practice our tools and increase our self esteem we overcome so many of these difficulties in our daily lives. Here are some excerpts from the article for our review.

The Effects of Prolonged Psychological Trauma and Abuse by Brian Trappler, M.D.

There was a time when mental health professionals attempted to fit all trauma-related symptoms into the single category of PTSD. Several years after PTSD was adopted , studies revealed that this diagnosis captured only a limited scope of post-traumatic symptoms.
Several studies of traumatized children reported patterns of unmotivated aggression and impulse control, dissociative symptoms and difficulties negotiating interpersonal relationships. Others studied victims who had survived rape or incest during childhood. Their findings also illustrated problems not captured in PTSD. Instead, these victims appeared to have a compromised sense of safety, self worth, and an inability to self-soothe.

People who have been in any type of prolonged abuse situation, including hostages, abused children and battered spouses, may continue to feel and behave as victims as a result of the sense of danger they felt when they were in the abusive situation... it never passed from their conscious or unconscious memory. Throughout their lives, they describe themselves as feeling emotionally dead inside... other people may see them as being detached. Almost twenty years after psychological effects of trauma had been squeezed into the label of PTSD, there emerged a new term for this syndrome: Complex Trauma.

The following symptoms may occur in people with prolonged histories of inter-personal trauma: disturbances in perception of self and others, patterns of trauma re-enactment, inability to regulate mood, the adoption by victims of the belief systems of their tormentors, a loss of a coherent sense of self, an inability to engage in stable or trusting relationships, and an inability to free themselves from the abuse dynamic. While some victims became abusers themselves, others appeared to become compulsively attracted to predators. By so doing, they continued a repetition-compulsion of their childhood abuse into their adult relationships. Complex trauma may cause changes in the following areas of development:

1. Alterations in mood and impulse control
2. Alterations in attention or consciousness
3. Symptoms of a somatic nature
4. Alterations in self-perception
5. Alterations in relations with others
6. Alterations in perception of the perpetrator
7. Alterations in systems of meaning

Complex Trauma may cause damage to the following areas of interpersonal functioning:

1. The capacity to feel secure and emotionally comfortable in relationships
2. The capacity to feel empowered in relationships with others (via empathic engagement)
3. The skills required for self-awareness.
4. The skills required for affect-regulation and self-soothing
5. The personal sense of boundaries
6. The ability to preserve world beliefs and a sense of meaning
7. The ability to stay anchored and mindful during stress (as opposed to dissociating)
8. The ability to tolerate a full range of emotions without being overwhelmed or shutting down

We can be grateful that we have the tools necessary to combat the effects of trauma, stress and abuse in our daily lives. We practice self care increasing our self esteem and moving ever so steadily toward acceptance. In this way we continue to give ourselves the gift of hope.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Where's Your National Pride?

Today was a milestone. Our President, Barack Obama, was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for his teams work in their efforts to reshape the global attitude toward stopping terrorism and striving for a nuclear free world. It was the first time in many years that I was able to be proud, once again, to be an American.

Please don't misunderstand, I have always been proud of my citizenship of our country, but these last years have been quite embarrassing for America in several areas. We have tortured prisioners against the Geneva Convention, of which we are signers. We have invaded another country without proper cause, and in the process lost sight of our real goal in the mid east. We have increased the income of the top 1% earners in our country at the expense of the poor and middle class. We have gone from a budget surplus to a multi trillion dollar deficit. We have become the worlds largest international debtor. We have allowed in exess of 44 million of our countrymen to be without health insurance, directly contributing over 40,000 of them dieing each year.

It is horrifying, to say the least, to see what has happened in our country. The place that was supposed to be one of the best places on earth... where people could live decent respectable lives without having to work themselves to death... ", liberty and the pursuit of happiness..."

What happened? How did we go from that ideal to being slaves to giant, multi-national corporations? Theives that run our banks... that are now "too big to fail" taking huge bonuses with the public's money? Investment institutions that make up new types of gambling style investments that rape those who get sucked into buying them? While being regulated by no one?

Finally, the public being enslaven by the health care industry... specifically the insurance cartel... the one that charges a fortune, pays it's executives in the neighborhood of $57,000 an hour and denies coverge for whatever they deem a pre-existing condition or an unnecessary procedure? Who made up these rules and put them into a health insurance policy? What happened to those who regulate the insurance industry? Were they asleep at the switch?

Isn't the purpose of heath insurance to insure that we can affort to get health care... especially when we need it the most... when we are sick? How is anyone supposed to heal when they are worrying about how to pay the bills that are sure to arrive even when they have health insurance? Or worse yet... can't see a doctor because they don't have health insurance and can't afford to buy it!

What happened to our country? How did we end up with radio and television talk show hosts making policy in Washington by exaggerating, spewing lies and filling up the airwaves with garbage in a 24 hour news cycle? These people are interested in one thing... ratings... why? because ratings effectively line their pockets... they say so themselves!!

How did we end up with a Congress that doesn't have term limits? Who can take campaign funds from whomever they please, vote however they please... oftentimes not in line with their constituents, but with their donors... and still get re-elected. How did we end up with politicians who are totally out of touch with the American public, who rely on skewed polls instead of finding out by asking the people they were elected to represent... the American people... what they want.

It is too easy to yell and scream at phoney Town Hall meetings. It's too easy to sit on the sidelines and pass judgement about what others may or may not think and feel. It is too easy to do nothing except talk about one's opinion... as though talking about it has any effect... it doesn't. We can all argue and talk until we are blue in the face, but if we don't get up off our couches and DO something, nothing will change.

There are things we can do. We can pick up the phone and call our Congressional Representatives and Senators. We can write a letter or send an email to those same folks letting them know what we want and how we feel about the issues upon which they will vote, and about what we think of them taking campaign funds from lobbyists who are lobbying against our best interests... the American people.

We can all band together and ask for a national referendum imposing term limits on Congress. We desperately need to break the pattern of insulated out of touch behavior in Washington. Two terms is enough. Congress will never vote themselves term limits... they won't vote themselves out of a job. Congress would be much healthier if they only served a maximum of two terms... like so many other elected officials we would get a chance for change. The effectiveness of lobbying would be lessened to a degree that might make governing the actual priority of our Senators and Congressional Representatives. Wouldn't that be change we can believe in?

Let us take action. There are issues before Congress this year that will impact our lives for generations to come... health care... environmental protection... the war in Afghanistan and Iraq... ending Don't Ask Don't Tell... balancing the budget and ending our dependence on foreign investment... investing in renewable energy... breaking the barriers between politics and governing...

We have a job to do. We each count. We each need to act to make a difference. It is never too late to become part of our country and make our voices heard. The time for allowing the media to set the standards in Washington is over. Nature abhors a vacuum. Let us not leave a vacuum. Let our voices be heard, whether we agree or not is unimportant, just as long as we speak our minds... we are all vital. We are all guaranteed free speech by the Bill of Rights. Let us exercise our right to be heard!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Am I Still In Love?

What do we do when we feel that in love feeling changing in our relationship? Does that happen to everyone? Does it mean our relationship is over, or doomed?

When we first meet our partner we feel excited, we look forward to our next time together with great anticipation. We enjoy our shared experiences and tend not to notice each others flaws. We are in love.

If our brains were scanned in an MRI during this early phase of our relationship while looking at a photo of our new partner, we would show the same type of energy patterns as obsessive compulsive disorder.

Thinking about this we understand that this makes perfect sense. We are obsessed with our new romance. We are compulsive about our appearance and the condition of our living space. We think about our new partner almost all the time. This level of energy is pleasant and exciting, but in the long term unsustainable. If all goes well, eventually our relationship matures into one of committed intimacy.

Some of us are troubled by the change in feelings. We may not understand that these are normal,. healthy, mature feelings that grow out of the initial lusty times we shared in the beginning of our new partnership. If we believe that our relationship is in trouble we may make foolish choices, leaving to again find that in love sensation we found when our interactions were new.

We need to come to understand that the changes in emotion are what we seek. We do want the security and stability of a long term committed intimate relationship. That is were we may flourish both as individuals and partners.

Being in love with the in love feelings causes some of us to fly from relationship to relationship, never finding what we truly seek... the love of self and the intimacy of a mature partnership. We are worth more than just a flash in the pan. We are worthy of true deep intimacy. We can find what we seek.

Remember... we attract who we are, not what we want.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What Is Anger?

How do we cope with angry feelings? Is anger important? What does it mean when we are angry? What tools do we use to respond rather than react to our anger?

There are countless sayings regarding anger. Some are worth repeating as they hold truths that contain wisdom.

"Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die" Malachy McCourt

Anger has value. It is an emotion that acts as a stop sign, indicating that our boundaries or values have been violated. If we learn to recognize anger as a useful tool and pay attention when it arises within us, we can avoid the unanswered anger hardening into bitterness and resentment.

"Anger is one letter short of danger." Unknown

How many times have we spoken in anger only to be unable to take back those angry words later? Angry words are like slicing a feather pillow open on the highway while driving and letting all the feathers fly out the window. Can you ever pick them all up?

"Do not teach your children never to be angry, teach them how to be angry." Lyman Abott

Being able to feel and respond appropriately to anger is an important skill in relationships. We must be able to find our voice when our boundaries have been breached. We must be able to speak up and defend ourselves without becoming disagreeable.

"Sometimes when I'm angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn't give me the right to be cruel." Unknown

Being angry allows us to express ourselves in a way that honors and respects the person with whom we are angry. We are permitted to voice our opinion and defend our boundaries and values so long as we do not violate the boundaries and values of the other person.

"I don't have to attend every argument I am invited to." Unknown

We have the capacity to choose... to respond... we do not have to react to every situation that presents itself. We can opt out. We can ask ourselves... Will this matter in five years? If the answer is no... the next question is does it really matter today?

''Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." Buddha

Anger, though it has value as a tool, loses it's value when it becomes a way of life. When we feel angry all the time, or our anger lurks just below the surface waiting to burst out at any provocation... we have lost it's usefulness and have become it's prisoner. We must respond to our anger when it appears and not try to sweep things under the rug. The truth is... there is no rug. We may think we can just let it go, but the hard truth is that we may be unable to let it go without solving the underlying issue. When anger surfaces again and again it is an indication that there is some underlying problem that is demanding to be addressed. Refusing to acknowledge this indication may lead to bitterness and resentment.

"The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk." Jacqueline Schiff

There is a great deal of research showing that taking a brisk walk helps to diffuse anger. Getting ourselves out of the situation, giving ourselves a chance to be alone, think, analyse and process our disagreement may give us the opportunity to reach consensus when we reunite. Additionally, the physical activity releases endorphins... the feel good chemical in the brain that helps alleviate pain and lifts spirits.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sex, Love or Intimacy?

Sex is fully one third of every long term committed relationship. It is an important way for partners to stay connected and physically healthy... seniors who enjoy a steady sexual connection tend to be healthier and live longer... It is also a vital part of feeling good about oneself.

All that aside, sex is also an external expression of what is happening in the emotional life of a relationship. When partners are having difficult times due to disease, personal loss, job loss, economic stress or child rearing problems, their sexual activities and desire for sexual release may wane. As people age their sexuality changes as well. Compassion and tenderness are required to get through the difficult times and back to balance.

It is common for couples who do not have effective communication skills to face challenges in their relationships. Using their sexual activity and their personal desire for sexual release as a barometer may give partners an early indicator that there are underlying issues needing attention, clarification and resolution.

There is much to be said for spontaneity and pursuit on an occasional basis. It can greatly enhance the quality of the partners sexual experience. There is also much to be said for planned sex dates when partners have busy lives and active families. Jobs and chores may leave partners exhausted and unwilling.

The one area to avoid is using sexual activity as a substitute for love. Sex is not a substitute for intimacy which requires emotional availability and trust between partners. It is also not a substitute for love which requires that partners care about one another and place their mates needs before their own.

Sex is important. It plays a vital role in our continuity as a species. It is the reason that we humans are driven to find a mate and procreate. Without a sustainable sexual drive we humans would be extinct.