Finding Forgiveness

Dr. John Gottman identifies the four killers of relationships as criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. If we want to make a relationship work, we have to get rid of these four things. What about your relationship with you? If I want my relationship with myself to work, do I have to get rid of the criticism, contempt, and defensiveness towards ourselves as well? The answer is yes. These four things will lead to anger and resentment, no matter at whom they are aimed. If I only greet myself with contempt and criticism, I will become angry and resentful and the world. If I only notice where I struggle, or put the blame in the wrong place, I will struggle to do well.

The opposite of contempt is compassion. Take a moment and think of someone you are really frustrated with or hurt by in your life. Now try to find a place where you can hold any kind of compassion for them, seeing them as more than just the asshole that is making your life difficult. For anyone over the age of 25 that is usually pretty easy to do. We see the whole picture and know that even though this person may not be our best friend, they aren’t a complete and total horrible person. Now find a part of yourself that you consistently hold in contempt. Find one thing about that part of you that you can hold compassion for, even for a second. Much more difficult, right?

When we look in the mirror and see nothing but the warts and the problems we aren’t finding compassion. We aren’t seeing the whole picture, only the parts that are bad and ugly.   Often we hold ourselves in contempt in as an effort to force ourselves to improve things, but it doesn’t actually work. It creates depression and pain and often creates stagnancy.

Criticism often starts with a “why” question. In a past post I discussed why “why” is a problem. It is accusatory and judgmental creating automatic defensiveness, no matter who you are. “Why don’t you ever do the dishes?” “Why are you such a jerk all of the time?” “Why do you never get off your ass and help me?” “Why don’t you have a job yet?” These create anger and resentment and defensiveness when we ask them of other people, and at the same time we throw these questions at ourselves all the time. Often we add a little bit of contempt in there as well. “I don’t know why I can’t get off my fat ass and go to the gym”. “I don’t know why I’m so lazy.” These statements often do the exact opposite of what we want them to do, which is to motivate us. We think “Well, if I call myself a fat ass I will move and it will change”.   But what they really do is encourage shame and depression.

The opposite of criticism is what Dr. Gottman calls the soft start-up.   This involves changing the statement to a wish, want or would like that comes from a neutral tone. “I would like you to help me with the dishes more.” Identifying feelings about what or isn’t happening. “When you don’t help with the dishes I think you aren’t invested in keeping the house running, and I feel alone and overwhelmed.” We can use the same skills with ourselves. Instead of using shame to try to motivate, change the language you are using and identify what you want. “I want to exercise more and spend more time with friends.” Identify the feelings that are related to the lack of success, and that often get in the way. “I’m feeling very dismayed and ashamed right now and they keep me from doing what I know I need to do”. Changing the way we approach talking about difficult concepts, moving from judgment to desires changes the dialogue.

The opposite of defensiveness is accountability. This will mean something very different from the judgments that you’ve already been throwing at yourself. You already tell yourself how horrible you are. This isn’t accountability, this is shaming and damaging. Accountability is difficult and scary, because it means seeing what the problem actually is. It means being able to look and identify the reason that you aren’t able to meet up with friends is because you’re embarrassed about something and you are afraid that they will judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. You struggle to go the gym for the same reason, but tell yourself that you’re just too lazy to go. It’s admitting that you struggle to stick with a diet because you feel that the only good thing in your life right now is the food you get to eat and you are afraid that if you give it up, there will be nothing. Accountability is being honest with the things you’ve been avoiding and a way to move past the avoidance instead of using shame, criticism and contempt.

I titled this blog “Finding Forgiveness” and until I haven’t mentioned the concept. These three things: defensiveness, contempt, and criticism all get in the way of forgiveness with ourselves and with others. They keep us stuck in a cycle of shame and anger, fear and judgment. When we are in that cycle, we aren’t able to find peace or forgiveness for others or ourselves, and we can’t find health. Letting go of the judgment that leads to contempt, criticism and defensiveness is difficult. It is rewarding. When you can find compassion for our own short-comings we are better able to face them and improve. When we learn to let go of the language of shame and learn a language of motivation, we move forward. When we take accountability for the truths in our lives instead of the hurts in our lives, we aren’t as angry. This is what forgiveness is.

Finding our way back to each other past shame

Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.  Think of that statement.  We are so scared of being seen as weak, and having others take advantage of our weakness.  Every single one of us has had someone take advantage of our vulnerability in the past.  We have been stomped on and hurt through our vulnerability, and so we start to associate vulnerability with weakness.

Brene Brown is a renowned researcher that found that vulnerability is the key to living a full life.  One of the roadblocks to vulnerability is shame.  Shame keeps us from each other and from ourselves.  This 20 minute talk is revealing, and throws our beliefs and our fears in our face.  Take the time to watch, think, and wonder what you need to do to move past shame to vulnerability and connection.


Waking up on the wrong side of the bed

We all have those days where just waking up goes wrong. Whatever it was; the dreams, the weather, the dinner the night before, the day gets off on the wrong foot. The thing we have to remember as we start to get going is that it is just a feeling. It isn’t who we are, and shouldn’t be how we act as we move through our day.

It is easy to fall in to the bad day. All you have to do is treat everyone around you the same way you feel; crappy. You just take your bad mood and your frustration out on the people around you as you move through your day.  It is easy to see all of the small bumps and frustrations of the day, frustrations that normally would slide right off your back, as the universe just digging the bad day in deeper. You can cut people off in traffic, snarl at the grocery clerk, and be impatient with co-workers and friends while you yell your frustration to the stars for waking you up in a bad mood. It leads to greater and greater frustration both for you and those around you, compounding the bad day. It leads to more bad days, resentments and hurts.

There is another option. It takes a little bit of digging, a lot of patience with yourself, and a lot of patience with the people around you. Begin by looking for the beauty of the world that you would normally see. If you would see the beauty of the clouds even on a rainy day, try to find that beauty. If you would find humor in the irony of the news, try to find the humor. When you greet the grocery clerk with a smile even though you’re grumpy, instead of returning your grumpiness they smile back at you. When you tell a joke to your co-worker even though you want to snarl at everyone, they laugh and even if the day doesn’t get better, it sure doesn’t get worse.

It is natural to want to kick the people around you when your down.  We see people around us that aren’t in a bad mood and we feel alone.  We see people around us that ARE in a bad mood, and we feel frustrated that they are dragging us down.  It really does just make the day worse.  Finding the strength to be nice to those around us when having a bad day doesn’t always make the day lighter and easier to bear.  Often though, as we fake the good mood we make the good mood.  At the very least, it rarely makes the day worse.

It is also important to drink a good deal of water, eat healthy even though you want Krispy Kream, avoid alcohol even though you want to drink your frustrations away, and exercise.  The you of right now may be angry while you’re walking, frustrated when you’re drinking water instead of wine, and just down right bitter when you can’t have your donuts.  The you of tomorrow will thank you, and you are a good deal more likely to be in a better mood the next day when you aren’t hung over and bloated from trying to digest a ton of soda and junk food.

We all have bad days.  Sometimes we have bad weeks, or even months.  It is absolutely possible to make it worse for ourselves.  If we treat the people around us the way that we feel, if we try to pull people in to our misery so we feel a little less miserable, we start a slide it can be difficult to get out of.  When you’re in that place find one person you can be nice to, even if you’re neutral to everyone else because you’re having to work to not bite everyone’s head off.  Find the one thing you can find beautiful, magical or funny in your day.  It will probably help you pull yourself out of the funk of the day, and if it doesn’t it rarely makes the day worse.

A Can Do Attitude

When running a marathon there is an event called “hitting the wall”. It is a place in the race when you’ve run about 18 of the 26 miles and you’re exhausted. You hurt. You’ve run so far, and yet you still have another 8 miles to go. You start to wonder if you can keep running. While many of you have not run a marathon, you have had a difficult task that took physical or emotional effort to complete. You have had something that you made it ¾ of the way through and you’ve hit the wall I speak of. The place where the physical or emotional strain of the goal made finishing seem huge, and almost impossible. The words “I can’t” went through your mind.

It happens to all of us. Every single person out there has hit this wall, some have bounced off, some have broken through, some went around, and some went home. What is different about the people that bust through or find a way to continue when the going gets rough, and the people that stop or run away?

A willingness to be uncomfortable.

People that go further than the first couple of belts in Martial Arts have a strong understanding of this concept. There comes a point in the process where stuff just hurts. Your knees, your hips, your nose after someone kicked you in the face, something just hurts. There are days when there are bruises on your bruises. Your ego especially is bruised, over and over again. Any physical sport has this. This concept is easy to explain to people in sports, in construction, in any physical hobby or employment. It is easy to understand the concept of pushing through physical discomfort.

You actually know very well how to deal with being uncomfortable. You’ve gone to work when you were sick and pushed through. Being able to push through discomfort comes from knowing you can make it through to the other side and it will get better. You will finish the race. You won’t stay sick forever. You won’t hurt forever, and there will be some kind of reward or relief on the other side. It comes from knowing that even though it hurts right now, it will be better.

It also comes from knowing there is no other choice. In 2010 I did a 60 mile trek to Mt. Everest Base camp. It took 14 days, 9 days there and 5 days back. There would be days where I was tired, hurting, sick, and wanted to stop. My choices were: stop and sit on the side of the mountain; or keep going until I hit the Tea-House we were staying at. Can you guess what I picked? You’ve also had these moments, that didn’t feel as though they were moments. The place where your choice was to power through or to stop, and you think “but I had no choice”. You did. You had a choice to give up and stop, and you didn’t.

When we think of a “can do” attitude we think of chipper and annoying. We don’t think of just moving through an experience that is miserable and horrible, knowing that you can make it through to the other side. A “can do” attitude is hitting the most difficult moment, and thinking “I can do this”. It’s easy to say “I’ve got this” when the experience is easy or moderate. When you’re in the crucible and fire is all around you, “I’ve got this” is more difficult. At the same time, you have successfully moved through every single experience in your life up to date.

I can do this. There are moments in everyone’s life when they are thinking the exact opposite. There will be those that push through the fear through to the other side. It may take a moment or it may take a year. There are those that fear the wall so much that they don’t even start. There will be a moment when you are faced with a choice. Do I give up, or keep going. A can do attitude is knowing that you can do it. No matter how scary, difficult, or hard it is.



New Years Resolutions

Every year I dread January at the gym.  I go regularly twice a week, and all of a sudden during the month of January I have to fight all of the New Years Resolutions to get to the machine I want or to a lane in the pool.  A month later everything dies down and goes back to normal.

The New Year is a great marker to make changes in your life.  It does create a start line for what often is a marathon that often has no finish-line.  New Years Resolutions are often resolutions that are made for health reasons.  New Years resolutions often consist of drinking less, eating less, eating healthier, exercising more or letting go of a bad habit or addiction that is dragging life down.   Instead of starting the healthier lifestyle as soon as it is realized that it is necessary, people create an imaginary start line in their head and wait until January 1 to get going.

The difficulty with this is people start out the New Year like many mistakenly start real races, pushing hard and fast losing steam quickly.  In a real race people rarely just give up and quit, but with resolutions there is no one to see if you walk away from the goal.  The going gets rough, life gets in the way, and the realities of the change one has to make in their life start to seem overwhelming.  There are challenges and temptations at every turn, leading to the frequent failure of resolutions.

The goals we set on for Jan 1 generally fall in three categories:  Finding greater peace in life, achieving greater health and find greater happiness.   Giving up on these goals a month or two in to the year.  There was a reason the resolution was set, and walking away keeps the goal setter in the same rut that they’ve been in that keeps them unhealthy and unhappy.  There often are high stakes for keeping New Years resolutions.

Instead of throwing yourself in to a resolution with the plan to just carry it through, think of your resolution as you would any other goal.  Think of goals you have completed in the past, races run and finished.  Often these goals were long term goals, such as graduating from school or learning a new skill.  There are ways we set ourselves up for success. First, look at the underlying motivation for setting the goal helps us to stay on track. Why did you set the resolution you set?  What will it bring you when you follow through on it?  This is motivation that you will need to keep in mind when the going gets tough.

How can you help yourself make the resolution do-able when life gets in the way, when you’re having a bad day, or when the steps you have to take are painful?  Break the resolution in to smaller pieces, things you can do day by day.  There is a reason that the Alcoholics Anonymous saying is “Take it one day at a time”.  Thinking of the entirety of the change you have to make will make you feel like you are drowning in an avalanche, burdened and overwhelmed.   If You start thinking of what you need to do tomorrow, instead of everything you have to do to make your goal a reality it starts to feel a good deal less overwhelming.

Find friends and family that will help you stay accountable. If your goal is to improve your fitness, find work-out buddies.  If you’re changing your diet, get your family on board so they will help you with the goal. If you’re looking for a greater peace in life, find spiritual leaders that will help you on your path.  Don’t feel as though you have to conquer the resolution on your own.

You set your resolution for a reason.  There was something you wanted to do that will lead to greater happiness in general in your life.  Don’t allow yourself to give up on it easily, as many resolutioners do.  Find your path to success and let the New Year be your clean slate for the you that you want to be.



Be True To Yourself

Have you seen the motivational posters that instruct you to “Be True To Yourself”? And we think “Yeah, I need to be true to myself”. Have you ever pondered what that means? Does that mean that I need to take care of myself, or that I need to speak my mind, or that I need to take what I want to take or do what I want to do? What does “being true to myself” actually mean?

It means living within your values and morals. To be able to do that you have to identify what they are. In general we get out moral compass from our environment. Our family, our community and our culture tell us what good morals are, though it is very easy to see that all around us our families, religions and communities say one thing about values and morals, and often do something very different. This leads to confusion and difficulty defining our own values and moral compass, and “being me” becomes difficult when we don’t know if we are supposed to be the person we are told we are supposed to be, or be the person society acts like we are supposed to be. Through this what needs to happen is a little soul searching.

First we have to search the messages we got growing up. What did our community think of self-care, or taking care of others. How did your community and family view emotions and love? How did your community and family view vulnerability? Was helping others seen as kindness to fellow humans, or helping lesser beings?   Did your family or community focus on having nice things, and see belongings as a right, not something to be earned?   After looking at the answers to these questions we start to look at our own beliefs about self-care and helping others, emotions and love, vulnerability and kindness. We take a look at how we view people and objects.

Next we start to look at what is important to us. What do we value? Values include everything from ideas and concepts such as honesty, humor, kindness and love; to pets, objects and people. If objects and pets are listed higher than ideas or people then the concept of “being true to me” actually gets in to dangerous territory and often ends up hurting the people around us, often the people we care about. When ideas like honesty, humor, trust and love are at the top of the list and we aren’t living by our values then we are not being true to ourselves. If we value health and self care and we aren’t making sure to take care of ourselves, sacrificing this value for our job or even our kids, we will become resentful.

Being true to yourself does not mean stepping on others. The people around you are part of your values as well. It does mean working to make sure all the things that you value are sponsored in your life.  When we put one set of values over another for extended periods of time it leads to resentment and anger.  Working to find balance within meeting your needs and values will help you find a greater peace within yourself and your relationships.



Why are you doing this to me?

Why are you doing this to me?

In any kind of relationship we are going to step on each other’s toes. Friendships, business partnerships, romantic, and family; It doesn’t matter the kind of relationship. When two or more people get together they are going to have different ideas, values and goals that are going to clash.

Think of your place of work. What are your goals when it comes to your job? Often they are to find value in what you do, feel accomplished at the end of the day, and make some money in the process.  Are these your companie’s goals? At times your company is going to make decisions in an effort to reach their goals that are going to affect you in ways that you may not appreciate, from implementing a new policy all the way up to a reduction in force that terminates your job. The company is not doing this to you personally, they aren’t doing this to you, their actions just happen to affect you.

The same thing happen at home in closer relationships. Being able to learn the find distinction between something that our partner or friend is doing intentionally to us, and something that they are doing for themselves that happens to affect us, is important. It will change our reactions to the situation and will give us an ability to communicate our wants wishes and would likes more coherently.


The other night my husband and I had a disagreement. Because of the disagreement he went to the office for 4 hours, and astutely ignored me. It did not feel good to be ignored for 4 hours. It felt lonely and punishing. The energy in the house was tense and thick. Luckily I knew that he wasn’t ignoring me to punish me or to hurt me, he was taking space and time to calm himself down and soothe his anger and frustration with the situation. This made it much easier to be able to take time and manage my own hurt, anger and frustration with the situation (by baking cookies). If the belief had gone the other way, if I had taken his actions as a personal attack against me, the evening could have gone a very different way, with anger, resentment and escalation.


Our partners will take actions that affect us. These can be as benign as going to the gym instead of making it home in time for dinner, or deciding to go back to school to advance their career, to being lost in addiction.  There are times that our partners are doing something specifically to hurt us through spite and anger. It does happen. Just as often, if not more often our partners are just trying to take care of themselves in a way that steps on our toes, even if they way they are trying to take care of themselves is unhealthy and does some extensive damage.


When we find the distinction between “they’re doing this to me”, and “they’re doing this for them and it affects me”, then we have choices to make. Then we have to figure out what we need to do to take care of ourselves.   The first thing to do is to identify to yourself how your partners actions are affecting you by identifying the emotions surrounding their actions.  For example, being able to identify the feelings of hurt, betrayal, dismay, fear, etc will allow you to start to put a container around your emotions.  You will be able to say to yourself “I’m feeling afraid and angry right now” without necessarily blaming or acting on them.  Next you can start working to soothe the feelings by either finding something to do that you enjoy, or alternative self talk.  “I know I’m feeling really frustrated and scared, and I know that I will be OK.  I know that he/she is isn’t trying to make me feel angry and scared on purpose.”  Then you can ask yourself if there is anything that can helped by communicating these feelings to your friend or partner.  If you tell them you are really scared and frustrated, will they be able to change what they are doing, or even just confirm that their actions are affecting you even if the actions can’t be changed.  Often that confirmation, that recognition that their actions are having consequences elsewhere is comforting, even if they are unable to stop what they are doing.  Finally, in extreme cases such as drug use and sexual infidelity, which is not about you but about the other person taking care of themselves in unhealthy ways, you have to decide if you are able to stay in the relationship.  The dynamic of the decision when you have a full understanding that their actions aren’t personal, even when you have to protect yourself from the consequences of their actions, changes how you feel.

I’m not doing this to you, I’m doing this for me.  In most relationships, especially when they are overall healthy,  partners aren’t spitefully trying to make each other hurt, angry, scared, or feel abandoned or betrayed.  If you are with a person that does such things, then there is a completely different conversation to be had.  If they are taking care of themselves however, and how they take care of themselves is affecting you, move through the above steps.  Let go of the personal aspect, which will help you think more clearly, and take care of yourself without acting spitefully toward them.  It will help you be more at peace with your friends and partners, and more at peace with yourself.

Kindness – a poem

Kindness – Naomi, Shihab Nye


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things.

Feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

What you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.


Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he was too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.


Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow,

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.


Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

it is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.


We have forgotten what kindness is in this world, as our news works to show us only suffering.  We forget that we are deserving of kindness, and those around us are doing the same thing we are; working to move through the world.  Today, find to places where you can be kind to yourself and two places where you can be kind to others.  Make this your habit every day, kindness toward yourself and toward others.  The world needs a little more kindness.

The comparison trap

We compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel

We all get stuck in the comparison trap. We either pat ourselves on the back, knowing we are doing slightly better than a person or a group of people, or we start beating ourselves up because we don’t meet the standard we believe someone else has set. Either way we have set up life that we are either better or worse than the person next to us. We have set life up with winners and losers. This is a losing game.

We know clearly what is going on in our own heads. We see our intentions, the thoughts and neurosis behind the outcomes. We then judge all the information we have about ourselves and how we got to our outcomes as good or bad. We then look at what we know about the person next to us and their outcomes. Because we don’t know for sure what their thoughts are, we judge by their outside presentation and make assumptions about their confidence and thought process, then finally deciding how we measure up against them.

We generally assume the best about other people’s motivations and thoughts when we see their outcomes. We see their successes, and from there extrapolate how they got to that point, and assume it is with the grace we want for ourselves. We know our own struggles, and then we decide that we are “lesser” even when we have the same outcome.

We all have our inner demons. They taunt us as we move through life, causing doubt, distraction and insecurity. We generally only share this insecurity with the people closest to us, and sometimes not even them. The people outside of our inner circle see only the successes, not the work and the inner struggle that goes on behind them, just as you see for everyone else.

When we compare our path to someone else’s we are stuck in a trap, stuck in a game in which we cannot win. There are many paths to the top of the mountain. We all slip, fall and stumble on that path, and comparing ourselves to others when we see them reach the top without knowing how they got there is a good way to drive ourselves crazy.

Raising Teenagers

I have a joke I tell the parents I work with.  Your child does have a diagnosis.  It’s adolescence.  It is not called the “terrible 2’s / terrible teens”‘ for nothing.  This is a period where teens are working to learn who they are in their environment, if it is trustworthy and safe, or hurtful and demeaning.  They crave the safety of their parents while working to step away and determine their worth and value on their own.  This is a confusing time for both them and you.  There is fear and frustration for everyone involved as the teen steps further and further away testing both parent’s and societies limits and boundaries, at times stepping over the line.    Just look at yourself for proof.    Remember what you did, how you acted, and some of the bonehead things you did as a teen?  I have several “For the grace of god” stories of my own. This does not mean we do not protect, teach and consequence our beloved teens, but have less fear and more understanding for their behaviors.  We were there once ourselves.  The fears we feel as we watch out teen venture out in to the universe are natural.  At the age of two, we run over to keep the child from grabbing the handle of the pot of boiling water as she curiously explores her environment.  As a teen this is more difficult, and those pots get more serious with larger consequences.   With teens we also have less influence or control over their actions.  Their peers are now the primary influence.  But as you cringe while watching them make mistakes, test limits, and be general boneheads, remember this is natural and normal.  We cannot learn in a bubble and sometimes getting burned is the best way to learn not to do something again.

There are times when raising a teen that you are going to feel like you want to put them in a zoo.  You are going to feel like you want to check yourself in to a mental institution just for the vacation.  A sense of humor is paramount when raising a teenager.  Being able to see their outrageous behaviors and joke will save your sanity.  The fear will eat your soul away, you will watch their behavior and wonder how your parents didn’t kill you if you pulled the same crap you did.  You wonder how your kid doesn’t die pulling the crap they are.  Remember, you lived through your bonehead moves, and so will your teen.  

Adolescence is not a terminal diagnosis.  It does end, and you can get through it with your sanity.  Learning how to move through with grace and humor will save your relationship with your kid, help them learn, and save your sanity.  You have to trust in the basics that you taught them when they were a kid, and if they go to drop that metaphorical pot on their head sometimes you have to just watch and hope and trust.