Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"I (Don't) Want to Be Alone"

Alone time can be delightful -- an opportunity to replenish our psychological and spiritual stores, to putter and play mindlessly, to reconnect with our inner selves. But being alone is not the same experience as being isolated. Isolation is a destructive occurrence that crushes hope and fuels disconnection.

Alone in the Dark 
Researchers Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver have written, '"We believe that the most destructive and terrifying feeling...is psychological isolation...It is a feeling that one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and of being powerless to change the situation.'" (quoted from Brown, 2007). Some experts theorize that isolation is the largest psychological threat humans face. As a species, we need each other. We yearn to be known, to have our stories heard, and to feel valued. Isolation can take physical forms: we begin a new job and no one at our workplace has reached out to us yet. Or it can be an emotional affront: we risk being vulnerable with someone, and our feelings are dismissed or negated. Isolation can result in feelings of depression, physical illness, hopelessness and despair. As easily as we can "connect" with others thanks to technological advances, many people report feeling more cut off and lonely than ever before. Like most complex problems, isolation cannot be cured by simple means. But demonstrating empathy for others is a potent beginning to curbing this deep sense of aloneness. Listening to others with the goal of communicating an understanding of their experiences, of validating that you share what they feel or need, is a powerful tool of connection. Being "heard" communicates an acknowledgement of the other, a sharing of their truth. Connection is restorative. It builds hope and resilience. Listening and providing empathy are two gifts we can offer to affirm that, indeed, we are all in this together. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn

Summer is a time of beginnings. Birds are re-building their nest in the maple tree out back. My son is planning activities with friends to make this the "best summer ever." We can venture to the farmers market again each weekend in our small downtown. My peony bush is bursting with magenta blooms. But endings accompany all beginnings. I've packed away my winter sweaters and drained the snowblower. The end of the school year means some friends will depart for colleges near and far. For children, structured schedules fall away to wide-open days of lazing in the yard, long bike rides and water balloon fights. The longer days and higher temperatures invite us all to consider ending or beginning a new chapter for ourselves.

To End is to Begin
What project or hobby have you been putting off? Do you want to decorate your porch with a container garden? Maybe try your hand at knitting, or woodworking? The joy you found in crayons and coloring books as a youngster might encourage you to sign up for a pastels class. Caring for yourself can create the perfect summer "to-do" list. Commit to walking each evening, even just around the block, to enjoy the extra hours of daylight and sumptuous summer smells of barbecues, blooming gardens, fresh cut grass. Enjoy healthy treats like cold slices of watermelon and tart Bing cherries. Take your dog to the park and replenish both your spirits with a vigorous roll in the grass. Or maybe you'd prefer to bid adieu to a bad habit. Banishing self-criticism or negative thinking are "endings" worth the effort. Putting an end to a toxic relationship could free you to the beginning of more fulfilling connections. Shedding old beliefs of limitation or lack provides us with an outlook of possibility.  Whatever your choice, embrace action with the fervor we enjoy these sunny days. Make a conscious choice to a beginning - or an ending -- that brings you freedom, joy and peace.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dear Diary

Journaling is a common tool used to help clients make progress in therapy. Even if the idea of writing makes you cringe with memories of ninth grade English compositions, consider how chronicling your thoughts, feelings and memories can provide you with multiple benefits. 

Write It Out 
Journaling can be used to facilitate different kinds of growth, including:

1. Insight. Recording memories, our emotions, fears or desires, can provide us with a platform to look at patterns in our lives and understand what may be driving us to feel or behave in a certain way. Many people report re-reading their journals and discovering new areas to explore in therapy.
2. Catharsis. Pouring out our anger, resentment, or disappointments onto the page can create a feeling of lightness, allowing us to let go of old pain and move forward.
3. Documentation. For some clients, recording details of traumatic events is a way to bring validity to their experience. Trauma survivors can feel empowered by naming their experiences and recording their truth.
4. Goal-setting. Some clients benefit from creating a template for their goals. Writing down the steps they need to take increases their chances of success and provides accountability.

Journaling doesn't have to be a permanent record. Some clients discover a sense of transformation through burning their writing soon after they've finished. The act of burning or tearing up our written words can offer clients a sense of relief, or of moving beyond the material they transcribed. Remember, journaling isn't about following rules of grammar, spelling or composition. It's a process of discovery and development. The best part? All you need is a pencil and paper to get started. Go on -- write it down.