Life online

Today so much of our world is online. The internet has changed the face of dating, communication, work, shopping, travel… In 20 years the internet has changed the world as we knew it. As part of changing the world, making it smaller, it has also made it more impersonal, created a new place for us to bare ourselves, and created a new world for us to re-invent ourselves. John Suler, PhD

Did you know that at any given time you are part of at least 10 experiments that you don’t even know about?  And that is just on Facebook.  We are learning more and more about the new normal, who we are online.  We are finding what gets us to feel happy, included, angry, and sad.  We are finding what people are comfortable saying and not saying to each other with a computer as an intermediary.  We are finding that our online presence brings us closer together as we can share our life with people far away.  And it moves us further apart as we disconnect from the true emotion of interaction.  We respond with YELLING or lol’s or even lmao’s.  But we say lol, when we grin.  We yell at people we haven’t met, and will probably never meet.  We create pages that post hope or hatred for people we know, and that we don’t.

Individually, each of us has to decide what we want our online presence to be.  What we “like” and what we “share” does define us.  It speaks to what we believe and how we process, it speaks to how we see the world.  We have to decide each time we log on who we are.  Because we will see the infuriating, the inspiring, the haunting, and the cute at any given moment we have to decide how we want to respond.  We even have to decide who we are.  In games where we create avatars we can be whomever we want.  You can act as though it isn’t you that is doing what ever it is you’re doing, so if you’re hurting someone, it isn’t you.

It is easy to get lost in anger when you see someone’s opinion or belief that is the opposite of yours.  The key is to walk away from the keyboard instead of getting in to a discussion with someone online.  First, there is no finesse and no body language to see nuances, and second it is  unlikely that someone is going to change their mind based on a comment from a random person online.

Karma isn’t just for our offline actions.  What we do reverberates and because we can’t control where it goes we aren’t able to see how big our splash is.  It is easy to forget, sitting behind our computer screens, that there are thinking, feeling people on the other end of what we say.  We wouldn’t call a person fat to their face, but online, fat is one of the nicer things people say as an insult.  We have to remember that no matter where we go there we are, even online.  When you jump in to the ocean to surf the web, remember to swim nice.

 

The foundation of love

We think the first step of love is attraction. Tinder is a fine example of this, where you see a person and you have to decide if there is attraction to find out anything more about them; swipe left or right to decide a person’s worth and fate within your life. We do ourselves and each other a disservice when we take this approach. Of course there is a level of physical attraction that is important. What we find is more important is shared ideology, philosophy, principles, values and morals. Physical attributes will fade. Shared ideologies, principles, values and morals can shift together.

When is the right time to bring up that you want kids? That you have kids? That you don’t want kids? When is the right time to talk about your thoughts on retirement, saving vs spending, where to take vacations? The next question to ask is how long you want to spend on someone that doesn’t want children when you do, or who wants a beach vacation when you want to ski, or who wants to live life now instead of save for retirement? When you’ve been married for 10, 15, 20 years, when is the right time to talk about the fact that your beliefs have changed?

Beauty is only skin deep, and once you move forward in to a relationship a person’s attractiveness just isn’t going to cut it. Relationships are about fondness and admiration, and we can’t be fond of someone if we don’t know them. Many people’s ultimate fear is that their partner will see them. Truly see them, that they will be naked and their partner will know them. This is because letting someone in, letting someone see us requires vulnerability. When we let someone in, letting them see us, there is a chance they will take what they know, a chance they will get in to our heart and run around wreaking havoc. The truth is: when the right person comes along, they will be OK with all of you, even the not-so-awesome bits. And you will be OK with them, even their not-so-awesome bits.

While we are letting our partner to get to know us, we are also getting to know our partner. When we take the time to get to know them, we start seeing if they are worthy of being let in. We are all very well aware that this is part of the process of dating. We forget that our partners are changing and growing just like we are, and we forget that the “getting to know you” process needs to continue as the years progress. After 10 years we think we know our partners. We stop asking what their wants, wishes and would-likes are. When we get in arguments we think that we know why they believe what they believe, because we learned it 7 years ago in that argument way back when. But in 7 years there is a possibility that the why’s of desires have changed. If we don’t ask, if we are so lost in our own hurts, in the last 10 years of hurts and angers and frustrations and fears that we don’t ask, we don’t know our partner anymore.

In the beginning it is scary to talk about what we want and believe because of the fear that once our partner knows who we are they won’t like us anymore. When we’ve been in the relationship for years we have the same fear. We don’t want to tell our partner that we don’t like the beach anymore and we want to go to Germany instead, because we don’t want to upset them, or don’t want them to rethink their relationship with us. We don’t talk about how our sexual fantasies are different, how we don’t like Chinese food anymore, or we want a dog, when it was agreed years ago that you wouldn’t get one. But then we don’t let our partner know us. In hiding things we become resentful, fearful, frustrated and alone.

Then getting to know each other process doesn’t stop. It is the foundation of relationships, the place where everything else starts. Every building needs a strong, healthy, complete foundation to build from. Keep checking in, learning, and knowing your partner. You’d be surprised at what you learn. You’d also be surprised at the closeness it creates between you and your partner. You get to let go of loneliness and anxiety. You get intimacy, closeness and happiness.

Who am I?

The question we will ask ourselves our entire lives. Who am I? Am I successful? Am I playful? Am I intelligent, sarcastic, trustworthy, fun? What makes me, me? The difficulty is that what makes up each one of us changes. We have pieces of us that are consistent. When we are stressed, feeling romantic, feeling playful, working, in general we have a certain reaction. You aren’t the same person when you are having fun as when you are working, or when you are stressed.

The tricks is finding the parts that you like in each situation and cultivate them. I heard a couple of you say that you have a hard time finding things that you like. We are trained from a young age to find the problems. As a culture and as a country we focus on problems and “solutions” instead of focusing on what is going well and building from there. It is considered egotistical to like something about ourselves. It is seen as narcissistic. Narcissists is believe they have accomplishments they don’t, they haven’t earned. Confidence is seeing where you are strong and allowing yourself to build on those strengths.

Ultimately we are who we decide to be; we are the habits and characteristics we cultivate. If you want to be a source of light for others, find the light within yourself and help it grow. You have it in you, no matter how buried it is by life’s experiences. Find people, find experiences, find the joys that help the light grow. You decide who you are in any given moment. Decide wisely.

 

I wonder
from these thousand of “me’s”,
which one am I?
Listen to my cry, do not drown my voice
I am completely filled with the thought of you.
Don’t lay broken glass on my path
I will crush it into dust.
I am nothing, just a mirror in the palm of your hand,
reflecting your kindness, your sadness, your anger.
If you were a blade of grass or a tiny flower
I will pitch my tent in your shadow.
Only your presence revives my withered heart.
You are the candle that lights the whole world
and I am an empty vessel for your light…

Rumi

 

The not knowing

We move through life, surfing through our days. In general we have achieved a homeostasis, where we are OK. Sometimes, we aren’t great, but we are OK. If we happen to mention to someone that we aren’t perfect or great, they ask us what we can do to feel better. Sometimes we do know, and we don’t like the answer. And sometimes we just don’t know.

It is OK to not know. The answer doesn’t need to be right there, and we can’t always find the answer right away. It is OK to not know. The struggle is tolerating the not knowing. Not knowing can be unpleasant because we are do-ers. As a country and as a culture, do want to have a plan and a course of action. We want to DO. If we don’t know what we want, then we have nothing to do.

This is OK. The answer is in us, and will come to light in time, when we are ready. It may take a day, a week, a month, or years. When the time is right, we will know what to do. The trick is to make it through the in-between. One of the tricks of making it through the not knowing is trusting that the answer will come eventually. At times it will feel hopeless, and the answer will come, in it’s time, when the time is right. When you are ready.

I hear you saying “I’m ready. I’m ready for the answer to come, the answer of what I should do. I’m READY!” Relax. A watched pot never boils. The knowing will come when you least expect it. It will come.

It is OK to not know. It feels miserable, and the situation may be horrible. And it will come. Have faith, have strength, and have trust. The answer will come.

You do not have to be good…

You do not have to be good.

you do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert,

repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your

body love what it loves

Tell me about despair,

yours,

and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun

and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are,

no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imatination,

calls to you like the wild geese,

harsh and exciting-

over and over

announcing your place

in the family of things.

 

Mary Oliver

 

Living life isn’t about repenting (though I know some religions that disagree).  It is about learning from our mistakes, not making them again, and learning to cherish that which can be cherished.

 

 

Take risk

I wish I had.  I don’t like closing doors in my life saying “I wish I had”.  I wish I had said this. I wish I had done that.  I also know that I am not the only one that doesn’t like closing doors with “I wish” on my head.  I wish I had traveled more.  I wish I had loved more.  I wish I had stood up for myself.  I wish I had tried harder.  The I wishes aren’t for desires to hurt people, or to get revenge, it is about taking risks.   It is about not settling back into the simple, but stepping into the scary and the uncomfortable to be able to look back and have no “I wishes”.  These wishes risk shame, heart-break, and pain.  They also risk love, happiness and joy.   There is a difference between comfortable and happy.   We can’t grow when we stay comfortable.

What is something you wish could be in your life? I wish I had taken that job, moved to that place, asked that person out,  gotten that tattoo…. I wish I could lose weight, travel more, or climb that mountain.  I wish I could find peace, I wish I could find joy.  I wish I could let myself be loved  What is the risk that you are required to take in order for that to happen?  Is it worth it?

The first thought that comes up is “Am I making a mistake?”  Mistakes can be great.  Failure builds muscle, and we can’t grow without mistakes and failure.  Any choice you make could be the one that is a big mistake.  Risks should be calculated not crazy.  If you have $4000 in savings, don’t blow it on the trip to Africa and set yourself up for difficulties later when your car breaks down, or your basement floods.  The joy and the experience of the trip won’t be worth the stress and difficulty after.  For some people walking out of their door is a risk.  Going to the gym for is a risk for some, as they open themselves up to their fears of ridicule and shame.  Work to make sure the possible mistakes are minimal and not colossal and things will be OK.

The next thing we do is stop making excuses.  I’m too busy.  I don’t have the money (at times valid, but something to work around).  It would bother my partner, friend, or dog.  We generally start making excuses to avoid the fear of the mistakes, or shame, or embarrassment.  The excuses are ways to avoid stepping outside of the comfort zone, growing, and changing.  As a therapist my job is to confront the excuses, but if you don’t have a therapist, you have to confront your own.

I want to know that I have explored this world.  I don’t want to close the door on this life without exploring the world as much as possible.  I have made mistakes, and they have helped me learn and grow stronger.  I will continue to make mistakes as I continue to explore.  I look forward to learning more about me and the world I live in.  I won’t live in fear.  I also know the courage it takes to look at the gulf in front of me and take the leap into the unknown.  Find friends and supports that can keep you motivated and accountable.  Find the strength that you have inside of you, that even if you haven’t been successful you’ve seen other people be successful and know that it can be done.  Find that place inside of you that doesn’t want to close the doors of your life saying “I wish”.

Letting go of perfection

We have standards and expectations, both for others and for ourselves. We have a concept of what should be, how things should be, how you should be and how I should be. The funny (funny ironic, not funny haha) thing is that the expectations and shoulds we have for ourselves is often far more stringent and exacting than the expectations and shoulds we have for others.

It’s OK for other’s to get laid-off, but not me. It’s OK for other’s to get divorced, but not me. It’s OK for other’s to be depressed, but not me. It’s OK for others to have a bad day, but not me. It’s OK for other’s to be angry, but not me. I can’t have a bad day, hurt, be scared, struggle or to not be perfect in general.

The expectations we set for ourselves often reach the level of perfection. A level of achievement that is unachievable. It’s OK for other’s to be good, I have to be great. The expectations and shoulds we have for ourselves often lead to judgment, frustration and anxiety.

There is a balance between having high standards for yourself and giving yourself room for mistakes, difficulties, and room to not be perfect. In a previous blog I discussed how failure builds muscle. We have to learn to give ourselves room for imperfection. So what does it take to give yourself space to not be perfect? Start by validating the facet of you that wants perfection. He or she wants for you to do your best, to fit in, and to be loved. Trying to find perfection has probably gotten you pretty far in your life so far. Then begin to look where that desire for perfection has held you back. Where has it caused anxiety that has made life just that much harder? Where has that part of yourself made you look with doubt on the places where you have done a good job, and eaten away at your confidence? And where has that side of you kept you from even trying because of that fear of failure?

Start to see where giving yourself some room will actually let you expand, grow, and learn faster. When you have permission to fail, then you explore different territories than you have before, experimenting and finding new ways to be great, to fit in, and to be loved. Striving for great isn’t horrible. Not giving yourself room for mistakes keeps you from trying in places where you may not succeed. It limits you, creates judgment that undermines you, and ultimately creates anxiety that holds you down and holds you back.

If no one else is required to be perfect, then neither are you. Giving yourself that space actually lets you be better in life than when you don’t. There is irony there; I understand that. In order to be great I have to be OK with failure.  Find the place where it is OK to not be perfect. Then try your hardest, have fun, and go love the life you live instead of dreading it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Sacrifice

In every relationship; be it work, friends, a personal trainer, partners, children, even pets there is a bit of necessary change and sacrifice that each party must make. There are times that you will need to give up what you want, or a part of who you are to make the relationship work. The fine line to walk is finding what to sacrifice, and what to make sure to keep for yourself.

Many different couples counseling programs point to a concept called differentiation. Dr. David Snarch, the Gottmans, Imago, all of these work to help couples move through differentiation and navigate their relationship. When one person’s identity and the other person’s identity bump in to each other, difficulties arise. Instead of negotiating and finding a middle ground that both can work from, often one person willingly sacrifices, or a partner demands a sacrifice (intentionally or not) and the identity of one is pushed aside. This doesn’t just happen with partnerships, but in friendships, at work, in all the places mentioned above.

When you find that you are losing yourself start by working to answer some questions. First, what is your dream? Have you clearly identified what you want to have happen, what you wish or need? If you aren’t able to clearly identify this to yourself then it can’t be expected for your boss, your dog, your friend or your partner to know what you want or need either. Next, look at what about your dreams, wants, wishes or would-likes are important to you. Is there a fear, or a desire?  Is there a story behind why they are important to you? The Gottmans found that examples of dreams are; a desire for a sense of freedom or peace, exploration of self, adventure, justice, honor or finding unity with one’s past. Others are having a sense of power, finding forgiveness, being able to relax, finishing something important, saying goodbye, or love. There are many stories behind dreams and wants. Be able to identify the story behind the want, wish or would-like.  They create who you are.

Be able to identify the deeper purpose or goal in your dream or wish. What would your ideal situation be, if you could wave a magic wand and everything could be the way you need it to be? Is there a deeper purpose or goal? Is the purpose or goal something that can be met, is it realistic? For example; if you have young children the desire to go to the bathroom alone in peace, the dream of peeing in silence is a valid want and dream, but unfortunately unrealistic.

Look at the values or beliefs that lie behind the desire. Is there a fear of something bad happening if the desire or dream isn’t met? Self awareness about the desire, what it is, what it means to you, and what it means to you if it isn’t met is important. If you can’t quantify these things for yourself, then the people around you can’t know or understand them either.

The next thing to do is to understand that the whole process that I just put you through, identifying what you want, why you want it, what it means to you, etc; your partner, boss, dog all have the exact same thing. Within any conflict they all have a want or a fear with a story behind it, with values and meaning.

Then find the areas within your dream that you just cannot give up. And then find the places where are the areas in which you are flexible. What are your core feelings, the ones that just can’t be negotiated about the situation.  And where do you have breathing room?  This can be difficult if you have been in a tense situation in for a while.  Even the breathing space becomes a hard line that just can’t be crossed, and there is no middle ground between the two parties when the fight has been going on and on.  When you’ve engaged in the emotional equivilent of trench warfare for years,  finding middle ground can be difficult.   Find that middle ground.

If you know what their back story is, and why the situation is important to them and you still can’t find middle ground, then you are closer to parting ways.  Be it your job, your dog, your partner, or your friends, if there is no middle ground without sacrificing your identity then it may be time to part ways.  I had a dog that could not be left alone with my cats.  I was told that I would come home to find a dead cat if I didn’t keep the dog contained and the cats separate.  Well, my cats had been with me for over 10 years, so the new dog had to find a new home. The middle ground was a life with her in a cage at night and when we weren’t home, and the house divided to where she could be and the cats could be.  It wasn’t OK.  She wasn’t a bad dog, there was just no middle ground.

If you walk to the table with breathing room and a middle ground then you have a place to start.  If you are able to walk to the table knowing what their frustration and back story is, and why it is important to them, then you are even further down the road.  Ninety Percent of situations have a middle ground that can be found if you are willing to lay aside your ego, and they are willing to lay aside theirs to find that place where both of you can be OK.  The ten Percent is heartbreaking because it doesn’t matter how much love there is, it can’t be found and neither person is at fault.  Overall though, there is a middle ground.  If you both follow the above recipe, then with patience and understanding you can find shared peace.

The change that I want

We all have something in our life we would like to be different.   Be it our child, our sibling, our boss, our spouse, our weight etc we want it to change.  One of the most difficult things we have to realize is that for change to happen, be it internal or external, we are the ones that have to change first.  I often work with parents of difficult children. When I ask “What are you willing to do to make the situation different?” I hear a variation on the theme of “They need to”.     In one of my firsts posts I used one of my favorite quotes.  “If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got”.  If I want the world around me to change, I have to change too.

A treatment method I utilize in my practice is Solution Focused Brief Therapy.  The primary focus of this therapy is approaching the solution of the problem as though it were already solved.  How would you act, treat the person, do for  yourself, if the change you wanted already happened? What is one thing you could do that could bring you 1/2 a step closer to your goal of change.   The difficulty people have with this is they often find things that the OTHER person is able to do to make things better, and often have little concept of what THEY are able to do to effect change in the situation.  People often want the world around them to change, they want the end result without having to do their own work.

For any change to be permanent, our own behavior must change long term as well.  If I want to loose weight I CANNOT change my behavior short term only until the weight is lost and return to old habits without expecting to gain the weight back.  All parties in the relationship are required to change for the change to be maintained.  I cannot expect my child’s behavior to change while I treat him / her the same.

So, since my behavior and responses have to change no matter what, what would happen if I changed them first?  If I alter my behavior, the system around me will eventually shift to accommodate that change.  In the short term the system, no matter how much it wants that change, will work to maintain the status quo, but long term the system will move.

Say I want my brother to treat me with more respect.  Because he does not respect me I do not treat him with respect, and often display passive aggressive behavior toward him reinforcing his disrespectful behavior.  If I were to treat him with respect, especially when he isn’t actively disrespecting me (he can’t be disrespectful 24/7, there has to be a moment in time when he is pleasant), after he unconsciously works to maintain the comfortable status quo, he will eventually shift his behaviors.  If he DOES shift his behavior and I return to my previous attitudes and behaviors toward him he will not maintain his change.  If I don’t change my behaviors when he does show positive behavior toward me I don’t reinforce (training anyone?) his behavior and he won’t be encouraged to continue.

No matter what the problem the first question to ask is “What do I need to do differently to make this change happen”.  Willingness to alter my view, perception and behaviors in a situation will not only help my frustration in the situation (I at least know I am doing what I can), but will eventually help to affect change in my environment. It is always better than waiting around for things to change around me.