Thursday, October 20, 2016

Say What You Gotta Say

Communication issues are a core reason people seek therapy. Whether couples seek counseling to learn how to resolve conflicts or individuals desire to learn assertive, effective ways to share their feelings, therapy can help people develop the skills to speak their truth. But often clients will say, "it won't matter what I say. They won't listen to me." But being heard is not the only endgame of speaking our truth.

Truth Connects Us 
We cannot control whether people listen to what we say. Whether or not people do what we want or respond favorably to our requests, our feelings and opinions still deserve to be aired. Not because we can guarantee the end result, but because we respect ourselves and the other. We demonstrate respect for ourselves when we give our feelings the weight they deserve. With our expression of our thoughts and feelings, we show  others that we respect them enough to be honest and authentic. We become empowered when we resist censoring ourselves. Our courage to be authentic gives others the encouragement to be as real themselves, With genuine conversation, truth-sharing and empathetic expression of our wants and needs, we gain more than being heard, even more than getting the response we want. We develop shared respect, deeper understandings and genuine connections.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"It Is What It Is" -- But IS It?

First used in sociology, the concept of social construction pertains to the ways social phenomena are created, institutionalized and made into tradition by humans. In more everyday language, we name objects, customs and behaviors based on how we see their functions in relation to our times. For example, we see a ballpoint pen and think "a writing instrument." But to our ancestors thousands of years ago, the slim, cylindrical object might be used as a tool to dig in the dirt before planting seeds, or as a "drumstick" to create rhythms when struck against a hollow gourd. Similarly, in modern times, aboriginal people of the rain forest would be unlikely to need an ink pen in their nature-based lives. How we use things guides us in naming them, as does where we are in history. Now, apply this idea to the labels we speak and think everyday. Man. Woman. Teenager. Success. Health. Goodness. Work. Play. Marriage. How do we define what makes up our world? Does the meaning of these words change across cultures, or even within our own lives, as we grow and change? Do we assume everyone uses these labels to mean the same things? By questioning the meaning, appropriateness and effectiveness of our morals, expectations and social rules, we allow for the evolution of greater understanding and compassion to occur. When we pause to explore whether an idea or custom still serves us, we enact the freedom that allows us to embrace new possibilities. Some things in life may remain unchangeable: gravity, nighttime following day, carbon as the basis of human life. But so much that we believe just "is", in reality, is what we choose to call it and how we choose to see it in this moment in time. What is more accurately could be called what could be. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Extraordinariness of the Ordinary

"Our culture is quick to dismiss quiet, ordinary, hardworking men and women. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless." -- Brene Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) 

As I near my 50th birthday, I'm aware that many of us at the midline of our lives become reflective of our journey thus far, while also looking ahead to whatever achievements or dreams we still plan to pursue. I'm finding, however, that the future I look forward to will be marked, I'm hoping, with "smaller" moments, a slower pace, a focus much more on "being" than "doing." And this thought jars me, at least initally. In my first few decades, ambition and material comfort and building a family and a career kept me moving, always anticipating the next necessary step to achieve my goals. I gained esteem and competency by acknowledging my efforts and their impact, and by making the most of the "big" moments in my life (i.e., graduations, marriage, a promotion, having children.) And yet, those milestones were hardly extraordinary, and I found they rarely defined or sustained me for long. I know I'll never be famous, or cure cancer, or run a sub-four-minute mile. My face will never grace currency, nor will my name be recorded in any history books. But I've discovered the "ordinariness" of my life's days are graced with such wonder and bounty that I can't imagine any material honor could rival. And I want more of "those" kinds of days. The days of enjoying languorous sunsets; of my elderly dog's soft muzzle -- and even softer eyes -- settled comfortably in my lap. The meals I love cooking, filled with colors and aromas and shared with the people who matter. The softness of my beloved's neck, or the achingly sweet sound of my near-grown son snoring softly in the next room. No longer do I believe my life has to be unique or exemplary or "larger-than-life" to be worthy, important -- to be overflowing with meaning. I know now that contained in every "ordinary" moment is the totality of magic that makes all life truly a miracle. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Stranger Among Us

Our family is about to wrap up our last college visit this weekend. Our son is polishing his college applications and researching potential scholarship opportunities. For the most part, our venture into the college search has been marked with open communication, shared excitement and anticipation of the new experiences ahead for my son as he launches into his next phase of life. But most recently, my usually affectionate, talkative, connected kid has shown us a different persona -- curt, isolated, ripe with comments like "I can't wait till I'm OUT of here!", and "You won't know ANYTHING I'm doing when I'm away at school!" Wait...what???

The Push and Pull of Separation 
Luckily, my sanity -- and training -- kicked in relatively quickly. After I reigned in my carastrophic thinking ("Is he doing drugs? I know it, the last time he'll speak to me is when I drop him off at college! Doesn't he realize I'm the COOL mom?? We'll see how he likes being grounded until graduation!!") I realized my son is doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing: he's separating. The developmental task of separation/individuation happens to allow children to discover who they are in relation to where and who they came from. This phase can include rebellious behavior, exploration of new or alternate values and interests, and a greater investment in peer relationships over family. When an adolescent pulls away from family influences and moves toward new experiences, people and ideas, he is building the "muscles" of self-identification. I thought back to myself in high school -- my shaved head, punk rock preferences and surly posturing were no doubt concerning to my parents. But, like most people, I mirrored most of my family of origin's values and belief systems once I fully arrived in adulthood. And I am fully aware that my son's pushback is mild compared to the challenges many parents face with acting out adolescents. My greatest hope for my son has always been that he believe enough in himself to launch into the world with authenticity and confidence. If the cost of that is a few eye rolls, exaggerated sighs and reminders of just how "uncool" my rules and requests are, I'm willing to pay that price. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

ADHD -- It's Not Child's Play

Often first diagnosed in childhood, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that often lasts into adulthood. Symptoms of inattention or restlessness may appear in both kids and adults, but adults with ADHD may exhibit a very different presentation than what most people think of when they hear the term "ADHD." Due to maturity and a lifetime of social conditioning, adults may not be "bouncing off the walls", but instead may struggle with inability to focus, low frustration tolerance, forgetfulness and disorganization. Relationship and social problems may haunt these adults, as those they interact with may mistakenly ascribe their distractility or lack of follow through as being indications of disinterest or unwillingness to be accountable in the relationship. Adults with ADHD may be able to tolerate the frustrations they experience at work, but decompensate in the "safe zone" of their home or intimate relationship. Thrill-seeking behaviors, substance abuse, contact with law enforcement and overspending are not necessarily emblematic of character deficits. Rather, for adults with ADHD, these acting-out behaviors may have developed initially as coping skills to manage frustrations or their need for stimulation. If you or a loved one was diagnosed and treated for ADHD as a child and are experiencing some of these symptoms, pursue an evaluation with a therapist or psychiatrist trained in diagnosing attentional difficulties. And since some individuals learned to compensate exceedingly well in childhood, many adults with ADHD go undiagnosed for decades, suffering unnecessarily the stress, low self-esteem and vulnerability that accompanies this disorder. Treatment may include medication, executive skills coaching, neurofeedback, and brain training via computerized teaching tools. ADHD is highly treatable, and the creativity, intelligence and resourcefulness of many of these individuals can easily surpass the deficits of the disorder if treated correctly.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Water, Water, Everywhere

On our recent family vacation to the beach, I experienced the intense feelings of relaxation and release that I get every time I'm near the ocean. The waves, the salty air, the damp sand between my toes -- I'm never as calm and centered as when I am near water. Perhaps it's the pull of our ancestors -- we come, ultimately, from the sea, and the human body remains anywhere between 85-50% water throughout our lifespans. According to different religions and cultures, water represents purity and fertility, an acknowledgement of our striving for truth and our urge to procreation. It symbolizes movement and transition, an understanding of the constant changes and growth that marks life. Water is used for blessing and sanctifying the beginnings and the ends of life. Water feeds our bodies and our souls. The next time you are near water, consider the ways it soothes, nurtures, moves and sustains you. As W.H. Auden wrote, "Thousands have lived without love, not one without water."

Monday, August 22, 2016

Go Gently

Take the gentle path. -- George Herbert

We celebrate achievement. We encourage effort, determination, "giving it the old college try." We are impressed when someone overcomes adversity, and we appreciate a good "coming-from-behind-to-win" upset. But what if true peace, accomplishment and esteem is best reached a gentler way?

Easy Does It
Being gentle with ourselves and others is not a manifestation of laziness or an indication we don't care. Rather, approaching our problems, efforts and relationships with care and quiet is a loving gesture, a stance that projects trust and hopefulness. Effort is not bad, but neither is waiting. Easing into change can be more productive than forcing. Forgiveness and gratitude provide healing and grace that anger and resentment cannot. Moving gently affords us the time to see and appreciate our environment, to let the wisdom around us seep into our bodies and our consciousness. Going gently, with awareness and openness, can bring us results steeped in the deepest layers of truth and allow us a stamina for more demanding aspects of life. Approaching life with gentleness can soften us, and others, providing a fertile landscape for growth and enlightenment.