vulnerability

The Healing Power of Tears

 

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

 

Tears have a complicated place in our society. Have you ever had a good cry, and felt (strangely) a little bit better afterwards?  Well, there is a scientific reason why that is the case.

In 2010, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher worked on an amazing photography project called Topography of Tears. In this multi-year long project, she collected and examined more than 100 human tears under a microscope.  Among others, she studied tears shed while laughing, grieving, and responding to change, as well as basal tears (those meant to keep the eye lubricated) and reflex tears (those that respond to an irritant in the eye).

Fascinatingly, Fisher found that the appearance of tears is different based on what elicits them; and not only is their appearance different, but the physical composition also varies – most notably, emotional tears contain the neurotransmitter leucine encephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress to help improve one’s mood.

 

Our physical bodies are so intricately connected to our emotions that a chemical is released to help heal us emotionally when we cry!

 

So this remarkable discovery makes me wonder – when we view crying as weakness, what are we really doing? Why do we have a tendency in our culture, as well as other cultures, to view crying as something to be squelched, and prohibit our bodies from naturally responding to distress? What kind of healing are we missing out on?  It seems that we are rejecting the very thing that can actually physically aid in our healing!  If this is you, what does it look like to let those tears flow? What do you need or to believe in order to do that?

{A Smithsonian article describing Fisher’s project in more detail can be found here – I encourage you to read the whole thing!}

 

Perfectionism and Blogging

Perfectionism and Blogging

by Frank Theus, LPC

In my line of work as a therapist writing a blog or contributing to one is considered part and parcel of the profession; in fact, I know many fellow therapists who attest to how much they enjoy writing informally via a forum that invites conversation. Perfectionism has stood in my way before now.

“Every time I write a [blog], I have to remind myself that all I have to worry about is the next paragraph.” – Donald Miller

However, what does a therapist-blogger do when the writing becomes de rigueur du jour and try as best they can simply can’t lift a pen, or type out the next word much less “…the next paragraph” (Miller)?

Ignore the panic attacks? Obfuscate, deny, and delay regarding the topic and proposed deadlines? Stop writing? Quit the job? Does any of this seem extreme to you? Well, hello, I’m that guy who has been there, done that, and has those t-shirts.

You see, I hate to write. Duh!

Writing’s a powerful medium that can expose the author’s heart-life leaving them vulnerable to evaluation and critique – real or imagined – by others; and, my basic survival instinct wants no part of that. Perfectionism won out. Are you able to relate?

You see I’m recovering from perfectionism, triggered by the thought of writing, grammar, punctuation, and (reasonable) expectations of me around this topic. For a variety of reasons I failed to learn the basics in secondary school and later in my undergraduate years. In Abba’s infinite and providential sense of humor I was thrust into leadership roles within professions that required me to write for the sake of other’s careers. No pressure there. Right?!

But writing didn’t get easier for me then or by the time I went through graduate school as a 50-something reinventing retiree, or afterward here at Avenues Counseling. Finally, I shared my angst with my boss and we agreed I’d take a mini-sabbatical from writing. I wish I could say I used this holiday to constructively reflect, engage in intense psychotherapy to get at the root causes of my graphophobia, become a modern day contemplative Reformed-Benedictine, to journal (God forbid) but I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I more often than not simply disengaged from any thought of ever writing again. I was good with that.

But here I am. Writing. Haltingly so. Imperfectly, and [relatively] free. What happened? I’m not sure; and, I don’t know that I have to have it all figured out.

Whatever the “it” is in your life that keeps you stuck or otherwise diminishes your quality of life maybe the first step is to be kind and gentle with yourself and to simply acknowledge it aloud.

But don’t stop there. Risk, yes, risk being vulnerable enough to tell someone that’s trustworthy what the “it” is. Ask for help, learn, grow, heal, and re-engage with enjoying the whole of your life. L’chaim!

toughest people to lead, live with, love

by: Frank Theus, PLPC

toughest people to lead, live with, love…

 

You know who that person is. He’s the socially awkward single at church who falls asleep during your homily snoring loudly enough for most to hear. They are the neighbors who are polite enough from a distance but who make no effort to approach because, well, you’re not a member of the parish congregation. It’s your sibling who has been labeled by the rest of the family as having “unresolved emotional issues” and s/he chooses to distant themselves from the rest of you because, after all, when s/he is around for more than a couple of days all hell breaks loose. It’s the co-worker who has a knack for being able to drive you and others crazy because of her increasingly bizarre antics in the office. It’s the parent who is wounded and wounding others through their chronic passive-aggressive anger, lying, and substance abuse. It’s that women at your 12-step meeting whose recovery has little to do with program work and more to do with hooking up.

The list could go on-and-on couldn’t it? But, before we close out the list just yet who’s missing in action (MIA) here?

You know who that person is.

 

Could it be that the “who” that is MIA above might just be you and me?

 

 

Wait a minute, Frank. What are you suggesting?

What I’m suggesting is that too often you and I get so caught up in living life and managing our myriad of relationships that we seemingly are unable to slow down enough to look longingly at our own visage in the mirror. In other words it’s easier to recognize the other troublesome folk in your life because, I suspect, it keeps you from facing your own pain and agency.

Remember the list above? Before you can deal well with the “tough people” in your life with authenticity, healthy boundaries, and empathy you must first fully embrace and love the unique person you are.

I’m inviting you to embark on a journey. It’s one that challenges you to leave certainty as you have come to know it. This will require courage because it inevitably calls you to slow down life and to risk exploring your respective storied-life, baggage and all. We all need to do this very thing from time-to-time.

I’m inviting you to embark on a journey.

You see, when you take time to be safely guided into exploring the baggage of life or as one writer described it, “[y]our own dark nights” (DeGroat), you are in effect choosing to take responsibility for how you will now live. It’s learning to exercise a self-care that isn’t selfish because it’s transforming you to grieve the shadows of your “false and private self” (Merton). It’s a change-process that grows deep confidence from within enabling you to say aloud standing in front of the mirror, “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!” And, in time, realize a renewed sense of compassion and hope for self and resilience in living with the toughest of people.

Resources for your consideration and growth:

Books:

  • Henri J.M. Nouwen. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
  • Henri J.M. Nouwen. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. New York: Doubleday, 1979.
  • Chuck DeGroat. toughest people to love: how to understand, lead, and love the difficult people in your life – including yourself: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014.

Online:

http://avenuescounselingcenter.org/

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

Increasing our Ability to Love and be Loved

Increasing our ability to love and be loved –

Whew…I literally just finished reading this article (below) by Brene’ Brown, who happens to be one of my fav’s when it comes to teaching me how to live and love.  I thought I would share of few of parts of the article that were highlights for me.  This article is so good.  So, so, good!

“To say no (to something or someone), we have to understand why we’re saying yes.”  This is so true and needs no further words – if we don’t understand why we are doing something it just won’t last.

This next highlight I have never considered before, but I sure am now!  Here it is, “I had to push myself to rediscover my own artistic side.  Unused creativity is not benign.  It clumps inside us, turning into judgement, grief, anger, and shame.”

“None of us get calmer by telling ourselves to calm down.  we get it by understanding what calm is: being able to see clearly because we are not overreacting to a situation.  We’re listening and understanding.  We are letting ourselves feel the vulnerability of the moment (the call from the doctor, the meeting with the angry boss) and then managing that feeling.”  To feel is to allow yourself to be vulnerable – what a great reminder for me!

Here’s my last highlight to share before sharing the article in its entirety.  “We become what we do.” Yep, simple and true.  The more I practice at growing a garden (my current hobby) the better I will become.  Similarly, the more I practice loving who I am and not hating myself the easier it will become.

So those are the specific items Brene’ shared that impacted me.  I wonder how it will impact you….

-Lianne

“5 (Doable) Ways to Increase the Love in Your Life

Can we increase our ability to love and to be loved? Brené Brown, PhD, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, on what wholeheartedness means—and how you can take a few practical steps to cultivate it.

Avenues Counseling

Of all the thousands of people I’ve interviewed and studied over the years—looking for patterns in the data—only about 15 to 20 percent were folks living with their whole hearts, folks who were really all in when it came to their relationships. So I decided I wanted to find out why. What quality did these people have that made them so capable of both receiving and giving love?

When I examined my research, I discovered that these were people who deeply believed that they were worthy of love and belonging. These folks believed this regardless of the circumstances, unlike the majority of us who think: “Okay, I’m worthy of love and belonging a little bit, but I’ll be superworthy if I get promoted. Or I’ll be superworthy if I lose 20 pounds.” These folks believed that they were loveable and that they had a place in the world, and those beliefs translated into specific choices they made every day. They were aware. They recognized shame, and they knew how to deal with it. They recognized vulnerability, and they were willing to feel it—rather than ignore or numb it.

What I wondered was, How do the rest of us cultivate these same qualities? It’s not like we can just decide to be vulnerable or say, “Hey, I’m worthy,” after which—poof—this instantly comes true. But there are practical changes you can make in your life which encourage these beliefs. Here are five basic everyday actions that can help you develop a deeper, more loving sense of wholeheartedness, both for others and for yourself.

Letting Go of Exhaustion

Everybody in the world says that you need to work less in order to live a fuller, more connected life. But so few of us address what prevents us from doing it. The reasons are simple: (1) exhaustion is a status symbol in our culture, and (2) self-worth has become net worth. We live doing so much and with so little time that anything unrelated to the to-do list—taking a nap, say, or reading a novel—actually creates stress.

Wholehearted people, on the other hand, know when to stop and rest. Personally, I had to learn this. I’m still learning this. I screw it up every now and then, but five years ago I made some huge changes in my personal and private life. I went from full time to part time at the university, and my husband, who is a pediatrician, cut his hours to four days a week. As it stands now, we never get less than eight hours of sleep.

What did this require? A constellation of choices. For example, one of the things I have to do to cultivate more rest is to say no. Last year, I turned down 85 percent of the invitations I got to speak. Because I have a commitment to be at the family table four nights a week.

To say no, we have to understand why we’re saying yes. One of the reasons is scarcity. I, like many of us, was so afraid that maybe all these opportunities would just go away, that maybe next year people wouldn’t ask for me to come speak, and maybe my work wouldn’t get the attention it needed, and that if I didn’t have my work, who would I be? So I thought I had to say yes, yes, yes. The only reason I can now say no is because I work on my shame “gremlins.” Gremlins are the tricksters who whisper all of those terrible things in our ears that keep us afraid and small. When the gremlins say “you better say yes, or they won’t like you” or “they’ll think you’re lazy,” I whisper back: “Not this time. I get to say no. I get to love myself, stay home and drive soccer carpool.”

Painting a Gourd

All of us were made to make things. During my studies, I found out a surprising piece of data: There is no such thing as a creative or noncreative person. Every single human being is creative. Every research participant could recall a time in his or her life when creativity brought him or her great joy. It was usually childhood, and the creative expressions ranged from coloring or finger-painting to dancing, singing or building. What was most fascinating was that the participants never talked about learning how to be creative—they just were.

As adults, what keeps us from being creative—from painting, cooking, scrapbooking, doodling, knitting, rebuilding an engine or writing—is what I call the comparison gremlin (a close cousin of the shame gremlin). People say, “I’m not good enough,” or “Why am I the only one with dangling modifiers?” or “I’m not a real sculptor…I’m a total poser.” In other words, we shame ourselves into stopping. While we may have all started creative, between ages 8 and 14, at least 60 percent of the participants remember learning that they were not creative. They began to compare their creations, they started getting graded for their art, and many heard from a teacher or a parent that “art wasn’t their thing.” So we don’t have to teach people to find joy in creating; we have to make sure not to teach them that there’s only one acceptable way to be creative.

I had to push myself to rediscover my own artistic side. Unused creativity is not benign. It clumps inside us, turning into judgment, grief, anger and shame. Before I turned my life around, I used to dismiss people who spent time creating. When a friend would invite me to go to an art class or something, I’d respond: “How cute. You go do your A-R-T; I’m busy with a real J-O-B.” Now I realize that was my fear and my own frustrated need to create.

To kick things off, I went to a gourd-painting class with my mom and my then-9-year-old daughter, Ellen. It was one of the best days of my life. I’m not kidding. I still paint, and now I’m having a serious love affair with photography. But start with something easy. Why not start with a gourd? Put a silly face on it. Make it smile.

Practicing Calm

None of us get calmer by telling ourselves to calm down. We get it by understanding what calm is: being able to see clearly because we are not overreacting to a situation. We’re listening and understanding. We are letting ourselves feel the vulnerability of the moment (the call from the doctor, the meeting with the angry boss) and then managing that feeling.

Calm participants in my studies all have a few things in common. They breathe when they’re feeling vulnerable. They ask questions before they weigh in, including the three most important questions—ones that changed my own life. The first is, Do I have enough information to freak out? (Ninety percent of the time, the answer is no.) The second is, Where did you hear the upsetting news? (Down the hall? From a trusted source?) The third is, If I do have enough reliable information to freak out, and if I do that, will it be helpful?

When my daughter, Ellen, comes home and says, “Oh my God, Mom, the school moved my locker, and now I can’t reach it!” I stop. I remember what I used to say: “Oh that’s it! I’m furious! I’m going off to school tomorrow, and you’re going to get your locker back!” Now I say, “Tell me more about it.” And 15 minutes later, I find out that the guy she likes has a locker down at the other end of the hall; what she really wants is to have a locker nearer to him.

This is real change. Four or five years ago, I was the least calm person you have ever met. And when people describe me today—people like my co-workers, friends and family—they say, “You’re the calmest person I know.” Well, it’s because I practice it, the same way you practice the violin. We become what we do.

Fooling Around

One of the things I noticed in my research was that wholehearted people tended to fool around a lot. This was how I described their behavior, “fooling around,” because I didn’t know what this behavior was. It was such a foreign concept to me that I couldn’t even name it correctly until I happened to be sitting in the backyard watching my kids jump on the trampoline. All of a sudden, I went: “Holy crap. Those grown-ups in my studies are playing! They are piddling and playing! They are total slackers!”

Then I found some research by Dr. Stuart Brown. He said that play is something you did “that caused you to lose track of time.” Which I called work. He called play “time spent without purpose.” Which I called an anxiety attack.

Clearly, I had a problem. So I sat down and made a list of nonwork-related things that I love to do where I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self-consciousness, I didn’t want them to end, and they didn’t serve any purpose except that I enjoyed them. Then I had my husband do the same thing. Then we did it with our two kids, and I made a Venn diagram to understand the data (sorry, I’m a researcher).

Our family-play Venn diagram showed us what kind of play we share in common, and we realized there were only three kinds that we all enjoyed. Because sitting on the floor playing Candy Land? I’m not losing track of time. I’ve been on the floor for 30 minutes; I could shoot myself. But swimming? Hiking? Going to the movies? All of us enjoy that.

So now, we totally build our family vacations around being outside. Because it’s play for all of us. It’s battery-charging for all of us. But that doesn’t just happen. We draw diagrams. We plan. And then…we goof off.

Doing the Scarecrow

What keeps most of us from dancing—at any age—is usually the desire to be cool, and being cool, even for grown-ups, is a refusal to be vulnerable. Cool starts early. Some of the latest research shows that rather than being an adolescent issue, our kindergartners and first graders are starting to feel anxiety over being cool and belonging. Imagine being 5 years old and deciding that it’s not so good to let others see how we feel.

When it comes to dancing, we’re afraid that we’re bad dancers or that others will laugh at us, so we don’t do it enough. About eight years ago, my daughter and I were at Nordstrom. She was in fourth grade, and there were these beautiful, put-together mothers in the shoe department with us. I was in my Jabba the Hutt sweatsuit; I looked horrible. And I was doing the whole shame routine…down to telling myself: “Argh. You’re a disaster. You don’t belong in this nice store with these fancy, put-together people.”

The kids’ department started playing a song. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement. Then I saw three of the beautiful, put-together mothers and two of the daughters look past me, gasping. When I looked over, it was Ellen. Everyone was looking at Ellen. She had put her shoes down, and she was full-on doing the robot to the music—popping and locking. Without a care in the world. And you could tell these daughters were getting ready to laugh, and the moms were like, “Oh my God, girls, shield your eyes.”

At that moment, I had a choice. Previously, shame would have taken over, and I would have looked at Ellen and just said: “Pull yourself together, Ellen. Come on. Jesus. Stop being so…weird.” But I just heard this voice, the voice from my research and the voice from what I was trying to change in my own life, and that voice said: “Don’t betray her. Be on her side. Be on her side.” So I looked over and said, “Awesome robot.” And she said, “Hey, Mom. Show me the scarecrow again.”

The scarecrow is when you swing your hands like they’re not connected to your elbows. I did not want to do the scarecrow in Nordstrom. Inside me there is a seventh grader with sweaty palms who doesn’t have anywhere to sit in the cafeteria. But I did it. My daughter and I danced. Maybe I was faking it at little, but actions are far more important than anything we tell children. We have to show them love and self-worth, just as we have to show ourselves love and self-worth. We can’t just overlay these ideas on our lives. We have to change the way we live—and, fortunately, there isn’t just one way to do it.”

 

 

Empathy Requires Vulnerability

“Yes, empathy requires some vulnerability, and we risk getting back a ‘mind your own damn business’ look, but it’s worth it.”  – page 100, Daring Greatly

 

I’ve been slowly making may way through Brene’ Brown’s book, Daring Greatly.  It’s a great book.  It even made #1 on the New York Times bestseller list!  I honestly haven’t read a book written by her that I haven’t fully enjoyed and learned from yet, but if I ever do I’ll let you know.

empathy

After having read the quote I opened this post with, I stopped reading.  I had to think more about what she was saying.  I thought to myself, “Empathy requires vulnerability?  Really…hmmm, why?”

When we choose to empathize with another in their suffering and/or emotion we are choosing to say, “I will not ignore your pain, your emotion, or your needs, and I am here for you.”  Saying something like this absolutely requires us to be vulnerable!

Choosing to empathize with another requires things from us, doesn’t it?  Showing empathy requires that we be vulnerable.  Vulnerable with our time, emotional and mental energy, our personal comfort (or rather discomfort that can come when we become involved in another’s situation), sometimes it requires that we speak into their pain and sometimes we sit in silence with our friend.  In your friendships do you think its “worth” all of the things it may cost you to show empathy?  Sometimes I have found that the very thing keeping people from experiencing healthy  and intimate friendships is their lack of willingness to “step into” their friends lives.  To show empathy.

If we choose to not show empathy to those we claim are our friends, spouse, family, etc., then we can never hope to have relational intimacy.  As Brene’ talks about in her book – We need to move about our relationships with COURAGE.  Courage is what we need be vulnerable, which leads to our willingness to choose and risk showing empathy to another.

Courage is the first step….once we have courage nothing can stop us!

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC