healing

Is Grief Good?

Is Grief Good?

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

shutterstock_174741554To allow yourself to experience grief, and to choose to engage in the on-going act of grieving, is difficult and takes courage. I believe it is something we must actually choose to learn how to incorporate into our lives. According to Brene’ Brown, who has studied emotion and vulnerability for 15 years, we fear the emotion of grief the most. I agree.

As humans, we tend to run from what we fear. So if we fear the emotion of grief, then it makes good sense to say we will likely run from feeling and experiencing it in our lives to the best of our ability.

Why do we fear grief so much? As I asked myself this question, I realized I believed lies about grief and grieving.

Here are some lies I have either believed myself or have heard from others –

~”If I let myself feel sadness or pain, it will only make it worse.”
~”If I let myself acknowledge my grief, I will never be able to function again. It will engulf me.”
~”I don’t have time to be sad.”
~”I need to think positively and not dwell on the bad (on the pain).”
~”The pain from my grief will be so painful, I will not sustain under it.”
~”If I let myself grieve, I am just having a pity party for myself.”
~”Grief only comes when someone dies, and no one has died, therefore I shouldn’t be in pain.”
~”Something is wrong with me because its been “this much time” and I am still sad about ____.”

There are some deep-rooted misbeliefs exposed in the comments above. The assumptions exposed are that grief is bad, weak, wrong, only “okay” when someone dies, and that it exists on some sort of definable timetable.

I started learning a lot about grief and grieving 5 years ago when the landscape of my life radically changed through my divorce. Wrestling with betrayal, and the loss of our intact family, is something I am still grieving. My days are no longer shadowed by grief, but it still pops up from time to time. Some days it may pop up for a moment, some days it may take up residence for a few hours. It has taken me awhile to learn that I will be “okay” in living a life now sprinkled with grief on a daily basis.

I didn’t start out okay with my grief. For the better part of a year after my life had radically changed, I was angry at the pain of my grief. I tried to numb it, run from it, and mask it into something it wasn’t. I fought it, and I suffered for it.

I had to learn how to not fear grief, but rather how to embrace its presence. I had to learn grief is not containable, it cannot be managed, and it lacks predictability. It can last a moment or remain for the better part of a day. It does not ask for my permission to overshadow a day. I also had to learn that when grief rears its head, it doesn’t mean I am weak.

My journey to no longer fear grief is much like my process of no longer fearing thunderstorms. As a kid, I feared thunderstorms (and if i’m being honest here…my fear lasted into my early adult years). It didn’t matter if a storm came in the day or night. To me, the loud bangs of thunder and sudden flashes of light freaked me out! Now as I sit with my youngest son during a storm to calm his fears, I wonder, “What was I so afraid of? It’s just a thunderstorm!” I believed unfounded lies about storms: “something bad is going to happen,” “what if it never stops,” “I am not okay and I won’t be okay until the storm goes away…” and on and on my thoughts would go. Do you see the similarity between storms and grief? With both, I feared what I didn’t understand.

Allowing ourselves to feel grief, is as important as allowing ourselves to feel joy. When we try to numb only the emotions we dislike, feeling we set in motion the beginnings of living an emotionally handicap life. Over time, we will not only numb the emotions we don’t like, but the emotions we like become numb as well.

Is Taking Care of Yourself Important?

Is Taking Care of Yourself Important?

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC, EMDR trained therapist

It seems like our culture has some pretty disturbing contradictions when it comes to the way we interact with ourselves. We certainly live in an age of self-promotion, some would even say selfishness. “You are what matters,” “get yours,” “look out for you,” are common phrases and mentalities in our society and ideologies being taught to our children. If you look at that aspect of our cultural message alone, you might conclude that we are rock stars at self-care. However, we are also living in the age of “push yourself,” and “never settle for less than your best.” It is a badge of honor to be overly busy or thoroughly stressed out. People “top” one another in conversations about how little sleep they get, how little time they have to eat or relax.

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Do you wear out and neglect your most valued possessions? Do you leave your tablet or phone on the floor? Do you keep driving your car for thousands of miles past when it needs an oil change? Would you let your 5 year old play with your wedding ring? Most likely not. So if we truly are valuable, why do we tend not to treat ourselves that way?

The toughest part of taking care of ourselves is believing that we are worth it. This is a difficult battle fraught with deeply rooted negative self-beliefs cemented inside us a long time ago. Fighting this battle often takes time, persistence, a trusted friend or good counselor, and lots of courage.

The next most difficult part of embracing self-care is that it is not black-and-white, nor is it consistent. What to one person is self-care might not be to another, and what is self-care one day may not be the next. There are times when exercise is wonderful self-care, while other times it is a nap. Watching television for an escape from stress or pain, or for relaxation, can be the perfect option; but other times it is just unhealthy avoidance or numbing. An ice cream cone can be a good treat or an over indulgence. A day off can be a perfect respite and rejuvenating, or it can be irresponsible.

So how do you know? Well like I mentioned above, first you have to believe you are worth it. That you are worth being treated like you are valuable…..by yourself. Next you have to question yourself and your motivations, rather than numb your self-awareness away. You need to ask yourself what you need, rather than what you “should” do. Because guess what? You are worth it.

Why are some relationships just harder?

 

Why are some relationships just harder?

by: Andy Gear, LPC, EMDR trained therapist

I’ve recently seen some articles asserting that ‘if people just communicated and committed to their relationship, then their problems would go away.’ While communication and commitment are very important, I think this overlooks the many people who are committed and communicating but still struggle.

In fact, I find that many people that come in for couples counseling are deeply committed and are communicating very clearly. Then why are these relationships still difficult?

We have outside stressors

Many of the sources of relationship difficulty have nothing to do with the effort invested in the relationship. In fact, studies show that some of the biggest predictors of relationship difficulty are largely outside of the couple’s control:

  • Poor health
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage after 20 weeks
  • Low income
  • Multiple children with ADHD
  • Partner with mental health issues
  • Death of a child

If your friend seems to have an easier relationship than you, it may have more to do with your different stressors than it does with different effort. Actually, I find that most couples that come to counseling have been working tirelessly on their relationship. If they weren’t trying, they wouldn’t be coming to counseling. But with major or persistent stressors, communication can become a minefield. And it’s not always as easy as learning a few communication skills.

I am overjoyed when I see people who have easier relationships. But there is something uniquely encouraging about a couple that is still trying after years of difficulty. It takes a special type of courage and commitment to seek the help you need to better love your partner, even when it’s hard.

Our families are different

The families we’re born into also impact the ease or difficulty of our relationships. For better or worse, parents model what relationships are like, and some people have better models than others. We can choose to act differently than our parents, but in stressful times we tend to fall back into the patterns we saw modeled (or against the pattern, in an equally harmful overcorrection).  

Parents teach us what love is, how to show it, and how to receive it. They also teach us how to view ourselves. If our parents were neglectful or abusive, they gave us a distorted picture of our self. Without working through these issues, this lack of self-worth will lead us to look for that worth in our partner—creating challenging and often volatile relationships.

This requires more than a simple resolution to change. It takes awareness of how our families impacted our view of the world, relationship, and our self. Since our families tend to be our normal, we often need an outside perspective to help us heal from this impact. This doesn’t mean that you are too weak to handle it alone; it means that you are strong enough to pursue what is necessary to change it.  

We get stuck in a cycle

Couples often get stuck in patterns of relating that rob them of their joy in connecting. These cycles have nothing to do with their effort, compatibility, or how much they love each other. In fact, the fear of losing the other is often what escalates the conflict.  

The most common negative cycle is the pursue/distance (or attack/withdraw) pattern. People usually aren’t even aware that they are in this cycle. Most often, each partner simply sees the other as being unnecessarily critical or distant. It is hard for people stuck in this pattern to see the bigger picture.

Beneath this cycle, both partners truly value their connection, but they seek to preserve it in different ways: the pursuer by attacking  (to get through to them) and the distancer by withdrawing (to avoid conflict). Their mutual attempts to save the relationship (seen as criticism or lack of care by the other), only escalate the problem as each person doubles down on their ‘go-to’ strategy for preserving the relationship.

In these cases, demands for more communication will only push the withdrawer deeper into his bunker. Instead, we need help gaining awareness of our own role in the harmful cycle, so that we can interrupt it and develop a healthier pattern of relating.

Everybody’s relationship is different

It isn’t useful to compare our relationships to others, because everyone’s history and circumstances are different. Learning a few communication skills may be very helpful for someone whose relationship has had few stressors, had model parents, and hasn’t been stuck in a cycle.

For others, there will be too much anxiety and conflict in the relationship for communication skills to be the answer. This doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed, that you don’t love each other, or that you aren’t compatible. Relationships are messy, and life often leaves us in places where we need help sorting out the pieces. In my opinion, one of the surest signs that someone loves and is committed to their partner is that they are willing to seek help during the hard times.

What if I don’t feel grateful?

What if I don’t feel grateful?

by: Andy Gear, LPC, EMDR trained therapist

20648028973_184236efa9_mRecently I was in a group where they talked about how important gratitude is for living a happy and healthy life. I remember thinking “yeah, sure, that’s all fine and good, but what if you don’t feel grateful?”

They explained to me that gratitude isn’t primarily a feeling; it’s a discipline. It’s like a muscle that we can strengthen or allow to atrophy. And there are a number of ways we can exercise our gratitude muscle:

Make a list of what you have to be grateful for every day

Keep a gratitude journal. It can be just a simple notebook or something more elaborate. Schedule a time to write five things you have to be grateful for daily. If you do it every morning, you will remember it throughout the day. If you do it at night, then it will shape how you look back at that whole day. (After a while, you’ll find that you’re having a lot more good days). The list doesn’t have to be of big things. In fact, it’s better if they’re not. Even the smallest positive event counts.

The simple act of bringing to mind the good things in your life has a huge impact on your wellbeing. But it takes intentionality to notice the good. We are much more skilled at noticing the negative things that happen to us. They tend to stick out more than the good. (And when you’re depressed your brain actually goes to negative memories more easily). So it takes an act of the will, a habit, to make your brain notice the positive. You will be surprised by the results. In time, your feelings will follow.

Strengthen gratitude by looking outward

Another way to exercise your gratitude muscle is to notice those around you in difficult situations. They can be close to home or on the other side of the world, but they can’t be people to whom you usually compare yourself. Comparison is toxic to gratitude; it is like gratitude kryptonite. The purpose of comparison is to judge (either your self or the other). This leads to dissatisfaction on one hand or pride on the other. Either way, it’s destructive to gratitude.

Looking outward is different. Its purpose is to empathize and help. Helping someone is invigorating, provides a sense of purpose, improves self-perception, and helps put your blessings in perspective. Not only that, but it benefits someone who needs you and gives them a reason to be grateful.

Purposefully remember in hard times

There are times where it is hard to be grateful. This is just reality. Seasons in life are hard, painful, and seemingly hopeless. During these times it can be difficult to think of current things that make you feel grateful. In these periods, it helps to look intentionally at the past and the future. Remind yourself of good events from your past and dwell on potential positive opportunities in the future. This is a habit that you have to nurture; it won’t happen automatically.

Our brains can get stuck in a negative rut, but we can short-circuit our brains by forcing ourselves to consider other options. Think of yourself as a lawyer cross-examining your negative brain. Bring evidence of any positive experience to the jury of your mind. Look back for anything, however small, that disproves the case being made that your life has been uninterrupted tragedy. Then look forward for any possibility that things will be better than you are currently expecting.

Extra Credit

For extra credit, you can make a list of five positive outcomes that could happen in your future. Developing a positive view of your future is a great antidote for hopelessness. (Notice that I said developing a positive view). A life of gratitude doesn’t just happen overnight; it has to be nurtured, exercised, and grown.

Having an attitude of gratitude is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Consider starting a gratitude journal today. Your brain will thank you.

Healing from Domestic Violence: The Struggle to Find Clarity

Healing From Domestic Violence:  Struggling to Find Clarity

One universal truth of all those who have been abused is the struggle to find clarity.

Abusers love to cause confusion.  They tend to do this by distorting reality through lies and manipulation.  Years of this type of relating can cause the abused to feel crazy.  Being lied to over and over again is not only crazy-making but it begins to make untruth’s seem like truths.

Abusers also love to make themselves the victim.  Abusers will claim they are actually the ones being abused and will make their mate out to be the “bad one.”  This can prove very difficult because abusers are usually eloquent speakers who are well-liked in their community.  They are very believable people – skilled in the art of lies, deception, and spinning the truth to accommodate their agenda.  Once the abuser begins relating in these ways it causes much confusion – for both the victim and those trying to care for the couple.

In the midst of these realities how can clarity be achieved?

Stop second guessing yourself.  A person who has lived in an abusive setting for any length of time has become a second-guesser of themselves because their abuser has constantly re-written and changed reality to meet their agenda.

When you find yourself second-guessing how you remember a situation or something you said, because your abuser is telling you you’re wrong, choose to BELIEVE what you KNOW happened.  Not what your abuser is telling you.  Overtime this will get easier, but in the beginning it is very difficult.  Inviting safe and healthy people into your life (family, friend(s), pastor, counselor, etc.) to help you process through your second-guessing will prove very beneficial.

Learn from others who have been where you are.  Many times clarity is achieved by simply listening to other abuse survivors share their story and struggles.  You will begin to feel less crazy.  Trust me on this one.  You will soon be able to identify more of the scope and magnitude of your abuse. All of a sudden memories and stories you have never been able to fully understand or make sense of will fall into place as you hear from others.  Many cities have support groups that are run by professional counselors to provide this sort of care to abuse survivors.  If you are located in St. Louis, MO and would like this information please contact me and I will be happy to assist you.

Learn from the experts.  Finding clarity through learning and gaining understanding about your abuse, and more broadly about abusers, will be beneficial when seeking clarity.  A book that many victims of abuse find helpful is Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft.  This book will provide insight into the minds and ways of abusive men.  It will also help bring understanding and insight into the life you are still living or have broken free from.  Another book equally as helpful is written by Patricia Evans, and it is called The Verbally Abusive Relationship.

If you choose to go to counseling (which I think is extremely beneficial!) be sure to find a counselor that has experience working with abuse/abuse survivors.  Going to a counselor that does not have this sort of experience can prove to only further your confusion.

These suggestions are the first steps in your journey to find clarity in the midst of confusion.  Each of these suggestions have one aspect in common – finding clarity and healing is best achieved in community and not alone.

-by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Blood is Thicker than Water, Part II

Blood is Thicker than Water, Part II

by: Jonathan Hart, LPC

Back in February, I wrote a blog called “Blood is Thicker than Water”.  You can find it here.  It might be a good idea to check that post out before reading on.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Welcome back! Just in case you didn’t actually go read the previous post, I’ll give you a quick summary:  The main thrust of that post is that we keep “holding out for healthy relationship” with family far longer than we do with anyone else because family relationships are so vitally important. We still maintain our limits, and we don’t settle for less than the real deal, and we keep at it.

I used the image of the vehicle that starts making funny noises.  We don’t “just deal with it” when that starts to happen.  We do what is necessary to get it fixed.  The problem is that some things on cars (and in relationships) are not fixable.  This brings us to the question in family relationships: At what point is persisting in relationship futile or foolish based on the other person’s lack of willingness to move toward healthy?

The short form of the question is, “When do I quit trying?”

The answer is, “It Depends.”  It depends on the actual nature of the relationship.  We have varying levels of intimacy with different people.  Some are genuinely close and emotionally connected.  Some are truly intimate.  For some relationships, deep intimacy is not expected or required.  A friend of the family might stop by for a visit, but we might feel odd if they were to begin sharing their closest struggles and marriage woes.  It would feel “too close”.

Levels of Intimacy

Some Immediate Family relationships feel “too close” like this: “She may be Mom, but I don’t tell her things like this because she couldn’t handle it/I’d never hear the end of it/she’d tell all her friends/she’d use it against me…”

The categories in the diagram do not describe the blood relationship, but the nature of the relationship.  Dad may be a nice guy, but we have to keep the conversation about sports or things go south in a hurry, then the actual relationship may be more in the “Acquaintance” circle than “Immediate Family”.  I can have friends that are so deep and close that they actually belong in the “Immediate Family” Circle.  The functional question is “who are they to you, really?”

This can be a challenging question to answer, especially if the family culture says that “Siblings Equals Close, period”.  It’s especially hard because deep down we *want* real and close relationships with close family and friends, no matter what the actual relationship is.   Pretending the relationship is closer than it really is becomes wearying and is always silly. We have to start by acknowledging the actual nature of the relationship, before we can proceed.  Once you’ve done that, then you can begin the process.

    1. Relax.  Start letting yourself be OK with relating according to the nature of the relationship.  You can release any guilt you may experience because the relationship isn’t closer.  You can’t make it happen alone.  The guilt only makes you go back to pretending something is true that isn’t.
    2. Reach.  Imagine what the next tier closer might be, and begin reaching for it.  This is important: don’t try to go from “Acquaintance” to “Close Personal Friend” all at once.  You’ll scare them.  Only reach for one tier at a time.   
    3. Give it time.  Deepening intimacy and connectedness is a process and generally does not happen overnight.  You may be hungry for a better sense of connection, but they might not realize what’s missing.
    4. Pay attention.  If they flat-out reject any overtures or offers of legitimate closeness, if they accept and then take advantage of your vulnerability, or if they continue to identify you as the problem (the “Take it or Leave it” stance), this may be as close as is possible for the foreseeable future.
    5. Repeat steps 1-4.  Ideally, the other person will eventually be able to recognize what you are doing and reciprocate.  IF they do, everybody wins better relationships.  If they do not…
    6. Repeat steps 1-4 in increasing time increments.  Maybe you make the offer of “closer” once a month for a while, and get the same answer every time.  Maintain your current position for several months and then offer again.  Continue this process and lengthen the time between offers a little at a time, and you will eventually discover the equilibrium point at which they are willing to operate with you.

This is effectively the “process answer” to the question of “When do I quit trying?”  This may mean that you will never have a “Daddy” relationship with your father, but you can operate kindly and respectfully as acquaintances.  You’ll have to grieve the loss of your father (Yes, grieve.  As though he died), but you won’t be expecting an acquaintance to be a “Daddy” to you, either.

Ultimately, unless the relationship has been vicious, brutal, fully abandoned, or otherwise horrible, you are never completely out of relationship with someone who is related by blood.  Even in the case of the horrible relationships above, even in the absence of any contact whatsoever, there is always a biological connection.  Even at its best, navigating these relationships is complicated and messy.  Trying to keep up the appearance of a “Normal Family” can be exhausting when “normal” isn’t true … and let’s be honest…  What does “normal” even mean, anyway!?

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

So, step back, find your footing, acknowledge what is true of the relationship, and then carefully, slowly, reach for more.  You will either gain a closer relationship, or be able to relax into the best relationship that is legitimately possible with the person in question.

Look out for Blood is Thicker than Water, Part 3: What Does Holding Out for Healthy Look Like, Anyway?

 

Indifference and Our Emotions

Indifference and Our Emotions

by: Kim Hammans, PLPC

Life can be so overwhelming at times. A new job, a shift in friendships, depression that feels out of nowhere, or sickness that is completely unexpected… any one of these can create big feelings in us that are hard to sort though, or even painful to acknowledge. Sometimes it takes a few days or even weeks to process through all that is going on inside us and find peace again with our situations.

But sometimes, a few weeks turn into months and the overwhelming feelings do not seem to be going away. The depression grows deeper, the fear escalates, or the sadness simply feels insurmountable or maybe even hopeless. In those situations, we have a choice: acknowledge the feelings inside of us, or deny them. This feels really risky, because in acknowledging them, there is often a question of: will this feeling consume me? And in denying them, there is a feeling that maybe the feelings will just go away on their own. I see this a lot both in my own life as well as others. We often want to run away from our big feelings, hoping that it will resolve if we can just find the right distraction.

There is so much that can easily distract us from these big feelings: food, sleeping, watching tv, staying busy… the list could go on and on. The distractions can work for a season to get our mind off of what is happening. Sometimes, distractions are good and healthy to remind us that life isn’t ALL bad or ALL depressing. The problem comes in when we begin to only seek out distractions and do not ever come back to acknowledging what is troubling us under the surface.

When all we do is distract ourselves, we become numb…. indifferent to our very lives as we seek to entertain ourselves, and distract ourselves from life.

The word indifferent has been ringing in my ears the past few months, due to this quote:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” —Elie Wiesel

Indifference is the opposite of love, faith and life? Really, Elie Wiesel?

What is indifference, exactly?

The actual definition is lack of interest, concern, and even lack of feeling. So, Wiesel seems to be saying the opposite of life is not death but lack of concern, lack of feeling, lack of interest in our very lives.

That makes sense. When we distract ourselves from our feelings, all too often we grow indifferent to our emotions, our bodies, and our mental state. I think this is partially how we cope with things we don’t know how to fix or change. It can feel easier to become indifferent than to truly embrace reality. But we miss out on so much when we make this exchange. Wiesel says we miss out on life itself.

What have you grown indifferent to in your life?

Maybe an easier question to answer is: What truly gives you life? What truly inspires you, awakens your soul to renewed energy and passion? And what is stopping you from pursuing this in your life? Indifference can be found in your answers to these questions. It is what creeps in when you no longer seek to change or better your life, even when you know it isn’t going the way you desire.

Your life really can be different. The issues that have led to indifference in your life can be sorted through and experienced differently. Acknowledging your indifference and finding a safe person to talk to is a great first step.

Take a risk to step out of your indifference and you may find that life is less overwhelming than you feared it would be.

Finding My New Normal After Divorce

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

I have seen, and personally experienced, a tendency to overlook the impact of relational trauma on our functioning. Why is it that even when our life circumstances change – we live through a relational trauma or betrayal, we are separated from our spouse, we unexpectedly become a single-parent, we go through a divorce, we discover abusive realities in our partner – Why do we keep living (or pressuring ourselves to live) as though these changes haven’t happened?  Why do we keep living as though our bandwidth for interacting with life hasn’t changed?

Sometimes when I realize I am pressuring myself to live as though my life hasn’t radically changed, I just sit and shake my head at myself.  I ask myself in these moments, “Why am I pressuring myself?  What am I fearing?”  The answers to these questions are usually the same, no matter the circumstance.  Part of the answer is that I desperately want to live like I was living, before my life changed without my permission.  I want my normal back.  I want what was known to me.  The other part of my answer is that it saddens me to feel like I am letting people down by no longer being able to perform as I had been.  I fear others won’t understand, or won’t care to take the time to learn, the basic equation I now have to live by: My life radically changing when I experienced trauma and betrayal in my marriage + an unexpected long season of separation and suffering + ultimately getting divorced + being a single mom + running a business = having less bandwidth for life.

For a long time, I angrily fought the equation I now had to live my life by.  I didn’t fight it by taking on more than I could, I fought it by being angry with life and retreating.  It wasn’t until I started to accept my new normal that I started to enjoy life.

Part of accepting my new normal was learning to like the person I am now.  To accept the me I am now.  I am different.  My traumatic experience changed me.  Learning to be a single mom, a divorced woman, changed me.  I am not quite sure how I could live through all of that unchanged.  But I guess the biggest thing I had to learn to do was accept the new me, my new normal, and learn who I had now become.

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Good Tears?

Good Tears? Is there such a thing?

 

I went for probably 20 years without shedding a single tear. It’s not that I never had reason to do so. I had plenty of sad or powerful things happen in my world in those times, and I even felt as though there were moments when I could have cried, but the tears would not come.
That has changed. My tears have been unleashed. It’s starting to worry me.
There have been many things recently that have moved me deeply, and my tears have fallen. It was as I drove through the smoky mountains with my family recently and found myself once again moved to tears that I realized several things all at once.

  1. I have driven here before, many years ago, and I was not moved to tears.
  2. I was in as much wonder and awe then as I am now.
  3. I’m crying a lot lately. It’s starting to feel like I’m crying “too much”.
  4. I’m not crying because I‘m sad.
  5. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is perfectly appropriate.
  6. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is richer than not crying.

Somewhere in the back of my head and deep in the recesses of my heart there is still a voice that says tears are risky and vulnerable, that crying means I’m a “wuss” or a “pansy” (these are old words, and I know they are not appropriate in common usage, but they are the words that are there).

There is a lot in culture that reinforces this. My tween-aged son talked about “man-screaming” on a roller coaster recently. He demonstrated gripping the safety bar and clenching his face and teeth without making a sound. He was proud of the fact that he resisted the urge to scream, but it kept him from “cutting loose”. Crying is often seen as weakness. Even the picture above shows a very stoic kind of tears. Sometimes mine look like this.

Crying a lot feels defective.

But these are good tears. These are tears of delight and wonder, of the overwhelming perception of beauty, of physically seeing and experiencing a fabulous reality that boggles the mind, of realizing that what I am in the midst of feels like a fantasy painting but it actually exists and I am here in it.

 

I spent 20 years not crying because I had refused to become vulnerable. I had been trained by many people that to become vulnerable in this way would mean physical and emotional punishment. I had buried other pains and refused to weep over them. I would not be touched or moved beyond my own control.

 

My inability to weep over pain robbed me of the experience of weeping in joy and wonder. We as humans are wired for emotional experience, and we are wired to weep. We cannot turn off one kind of tears without turning them all off. I could not weep at beauty because I could not weep at my pain.

I have been tackling my pain with the help of friends, colleagues, and of course with the help of my own therapist. The releasing of those tears of pain has released many other tears. Good tears. Tears that I relish and love for their potency and magnitude.

These tears of wonder and beauty often surprise me. They catch me up and sweep me away. I could stop them up, but I have learned not to. Let them come. They are good and beautiful… and vulnerable, uncontrolled. In the back of my head, sometimes I think, “Really?! I’m going to cry about this?”

Yes, I suppose I am. And I am thankful.

By Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

The Healing Process: Not Just for Physical Injuries

The Healing Process: Not Just for Physical Injuries

Heart-and-stethoscopy

Have you ever broken a bone? Or sprained something? It hurts, doesn’t it?! And sometimes even worse is the inconvenience that comes during the healing process for many weeks following – learning to write with a different hand, covering the cast every time you shower, using those crutches that are brutal to your poor armpits(!!), etc. If it seemed optional, we might be tempted to skip past the healing part and just feel the intense pain of the break/fracture/sprain in the moment, but then choose to just ignore that it happened and move on with life. That would sure be a lot less inconvenient and annoying! But what would be the cost of doing so? Perhaps not being able to walk, continual pain, loss of functionality, or, at best, the occasional annoying reminder that things aren’t quite like they used to be.

Though some of us still might resist the process of taking time to heal from physical injuries, I would say that, as a whole, we are relatively inclined to see the value of doing so. The cost-benefit analysis favors that frustrating process of tending to the wound appropriately.

But what happens when we experience an emotional injury? A harsh word is said that hits at your core; you get rejected in a relationship or a job; you lose a loved one; you see or experience something tragic. What do we tend to do in the face of such an emotional injury? We ignore it. We try to “get over it”. We deny it. We shove it down deep to fool ourselves into thinking it’s not there. We feel shame for even being vulnerable to emotional wounds…as if we’re not human. We tell ourselves it wouldn’t be “productive” to do anything but just move on from it. But what are the costs of that approach? Sure, for quite some time we might be fooled into thinking it’s working quite well. But then that pesky anger gets ahold of us again. We develop an addiction. An eating disorder. Workaholism. We avoid anything that might make us susceptible to that horrible wound again, including relationships that we need. Or we put way too much pressure on other people to assure us that we’re okay. And we convince ourselves that this is the best way.

If you resonate with that, I wonder what it would look like for you to do it differently? To give yourself space to acknowledge that something has been hurt, to figure out how you have been wounded, to assess what is needed to heal, and to be inconvenienced by the process of tending to the injury. If this process is new to you or it’s difficult to see the value in it, here are more some thoughts on how to enter into it:

  • Give space to acknowledge that something has been hurt. Is it hard for you to admit that you have emotions? Or to feel comfortable allowing them to have any influence on you? Or to acknowledge that you can be hurt? Whether you like it or not, you are human and with that means you can be wounded emotionally by circumstances, others, or the consequences of your own actions. If there is shame around that vulnerability, explore it. Feeling the pain of living in this world is no assessment of your strength, character, ability, competence, or resolve. It is part of being a whole human. Give yourself room to accept that (or work on understanding why you can’t).
  • Figure out how you have been wounded. Some emotional injuries are easier to diagnose than others. Some require outside assistance to explore what has been hurt (I’m talking about a friend or therapist, not WebMD 😉 while others can be assessed with some intentional, mindful time alone. I would encourage you to pursue whichever is needed (or both).
  • Assess what is needed to heal. The prognosis is different for each diagnosis, but most all prognoses include honesty, introspection, reflection, grief, and time spent intentionally. Again, if you need help determining how to heal, seek help. And remember that healing doesn’t always mean that there won’t be a scar. Scars don’t come from our body ignoring wounds or passively leaving them as they are; scars come from our body’s incredible battle to heal what was broken.
  • Be inconvenienced by the process of tending to the injury. Just as you might have to cease participating in sports while your broken leg heals or you recover from the flu, you might have to step out of a few obligations for some time in order to give yourself space to heal. This is okay. And it might very well be the best investment you have ever made in others.

We do not tend to our own emotional injuries merely for the sake of finding someone to blame or to wallow in the hurt. We tend to our emotional injuries so that we can heal and move forward as a whole person, able to connect fully with ourselves and with others who are going through something similar.

I know – tending to emotional injuries takes time. It takes energy. And it’s rather inconvenient. But I would argue that it is essential to living as a whole human.

by: Melinda Seley, PLPC