Finding Love

Love is such a difficult concept. What does it mean to love someone? What does it mean to be loved? Does it mean sacrifice? Does it mean losing yourself to their needs and wants? If they love you does it mean they lose themselves to you?

I often find people with the belief that love is filling. Love is about filling each other and being filled. There is a belief that love is about taking away the emptiness. This ends up being a trap. This kind of love is about taking from someone to fill holes, and love is never about taking.

The base of love is about caring enough about someone that you want them to be the best them they can be. That means sometimes watching them struggle to learn their own lessons and walk difficult paths. Even when those paths push us in directions we don’t want to go.

This can feel very empty as we watch our partner struggle through a difficulty that we can’t help with. It can feel even worse when they struggle through a difficulty that takes them away from us, even if only temporarily. Love is about wanting to help your loved one as they walk their own path, and learning to fill the emptiness in your heart through your own compassion and care.

We have a desire to be loved by others as part of a survival instinct. We are pack animals meant to live in groups, and living in groups requires caring about the people we live with, loving them. We are now so removed from each other. We live in small family groups and only come together to worship, work, and sometimes play. It seems as we move further and further from having strong community groups we start to rely on our partners, children and friends more and more to feel loved and loveable.

Love is about supporting each other as we work to find that place in ourselves that we believe is loveable. When we let go of the belief that love is about feeling filled then we can start down a path of kindness, support and intimacy that lead to strong relationships and belief in ourselves and our own ability to be loveable.

Learning to know what you want

What do I want to have happen?

This question is about outcomes. When I move through this situation, what to I want to have happen for me and those around me? When this situation is finished how do I want to feel? This question is about not only what I want now, but the bigger purpose and bigger goals you want to accomplish.

We often get lost in the immediate goal of feeling better in the moment. That doesn’t always move us toward success in the long term, or feeling better overall. In fact, if we aren’t looking at the bigger picture trying to just feel better in the moment can actually set us back.

Think of a situation you are struggling with right now. In the long term, what do you want to have happen? What do you want the long-term outcome to be, how do you want to feel about yourself, and how do you want to feel about the situation when it is finished? Are your short-term goals moving you toward your long-term goals?

I’ll use a common example of wanting to lose weight and decreased depression.   The long-term actions to meet the goal are to eat healthy foods and exercise on a regular basis. Foods are related to mood, and if we eat mostly junk our bodies will struggle to run, like putting bad gas in your car. Eating healthy will be like putting premium gas in your car with fuel boost. It will give you more energy and more fuel to run on. Exercising will help burn calories and help with weight, as well as release endorphins and improve serotonin and dopamine production to help with mood overall. The long-term goal of losing weight and being healthy sometimes call for sacrifices in the short term. After a long day though, a cheeseburger and a beer can sound really good.

Kids that I worked with who were on probation would often sacrifice long term goals of finishing probation (and sometimes getting out of treatment) for the short term goal of not feeling powerless. Sometimes they either didn’t know what they wanted to have happen overall, or they didn’t believe they could accomplish the bigger goal. They would use aggression, theft, self harming and drugs to try to feel less hopeless, helpless and powerless. These can distract or hide the pain in the short-term, and long-term make more problems.

What do I want to have happen? When I start to believe that it is possible, and I start to identify what the overall goal is, I can start to work toward making it happen.   Identification of our larger wants isn’t always as easy and we make it sound. The short-term wants are often siren calls distracting us. The larger goals often seem too big and too scary, making them elusive. Being able to recognize our strengths instead of just our limitations will help make those larger goals seem less impossible, and make them less elusive.

We aren’t as lost as we feel. We all just want to find peace, happiness and meaning in our lives and relationships. Being able to figure out what that means for you individually and believe that you are worth it means you can start finding the bigger goals and start taking the steps to reaching those goals. Understanding that taking power from others, hurting ourselves or others, and distracting from pain will not move us closer to our goal helps begin to identify what we can do to start the journey to peace happiness and meaning.

I want to feel more connected to my partner. I want to feel loved. I want to feel useful. I want to feel at peace. I want to feel happy.  I want to enjoy the work I do.  These wants are often masked by surface wants.  I want my husband to do the dishes. I want my boss to stop being a jerk.  I want

Zebras, Ulcers and you

There is a fantastic book out there called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Did you know that zebras have the exact same stress response we do? They have the exact same chemicals go coursing through their bodies when they hit that moment of fight or flight, and it takes the same amount of time that it takes for us to purge those chemicals from their bodies (about 4 hours for every 5 minutes of stress).

So what makes it so that they don’t get ulcers? After the lion’s attack is over, they let it go. They don’t think about the last attack and how if they had zigged left instead of zagged right they would have been lion food instead of Bob. They aren’t thinking about what they should have said to the lion and how next time they’re going to….. They just go back to eating grass. They don’t plan for the next attack, they don’t worry about zigging left or zagging right. They don’t worry about it, they think about the grass they’re eating.

How much time do you spend ruminating, chewing a thought or an experience over and over again in your head? My most usual time to ruminate is between 4:00 am and 6:00 am. When I have woken up and can’t get back to sleep, and some experience is spinning over and over in my head. I go over all the things I wish I had said, or what I believe the other party needs to hear, or what I’m going to do the next time. I spend time obsessing about the past or the future instead of being present with what I am doing. (BTW, the cure for this at 4:30 in the morning is to get up and go do something for 30 minutes. Read a book, do a puzzle, knit, whatever brings you pleasure. Then when you have reset your brain, try going back to sleep.)

We of course do need to plan for the future. We live in a world where we need to study for tests, we need to plan for retirement, we need to prep for interviews amongst other things. We do need to use our “superior” intelligence to remember facts and figures that we use in our daily life. Part of what has helped us survive so successfully as a species is our ability to use our past to learn for and plan for a future.

What we don’t need to do is ruminate. Spin around and around on a wheel like a hamster going nowhere. This does nothing to help plan for the future, and it can’t fix the past. While we can prepare in general for a metaphorical lion attack, spending our time obsessing about when and where and how it will come does nothing but stress our bodies. Zebras live their life not knowing when the next attack will come. They don’t obsess about the last attack or the next one. They can peacefully chomp on grass 50 yards away from their buddy that is getting eaten by the lion, or drink water 100 feet from the lion without living in constant fear. We need to take a page from the zebra’s book.

Take a breath. Now take about 10 more. There are no lions attacking right now, so it is the perfect time to work on getting some of that adrenalin and cortisol out of your system.  Let yourself be present here in the moment and let go of what you have next. Being present in the now does not mean ignoring the future, it means being present with what you are doing right now, completely present, even if it is planning for the future. Living in a constant state of fear does no good. Be present with the grass you’re eating now, and worry about the lion when it comes.



Click to open expanded view

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping – Now Revised and Updated [Kindle Edition]

Robert M. Sapolsky

Just be you!

I was speaking with my chiropractor (AKA my torture guy) and he was talking about how his wife talks in her sleep, and will answer the questions honestly through her subconscious that she will lie about while she is awake.  Now, as far as I can tell he is playful with this and doesn’t use her sleep-talking for nefarious purposes, but he did share something that he thought was cute and funny but can create large difficulties in relationships.  He asked her if she really wanted to go to Canada, and she admitted in her sleep that she doesn’t.  When awake, because she knows he wants to go, she says yes.  This folks, is a relationship killer.


It seems harmless, doesn’t it?  Telling your partner what they want to hear helps us validate them and make them feel more connected to us.  Right?  But what happens when they go to Canada and do his chilly outdoor adventure, when she really wanted a tropical paradise.  The first, second, even 4th time this happens it probably won’t be a big deal.  But if she never says anything, never stands up for her own wants, wishes and would likes and instead always allows him to have his, she will eventually become resentful.  The anger will build.  I have watched this happen in couples, and then all of a sudden one partner is raging at the other. When asked why, the raging partner usually yells something the equivalent of “Because we always do what YOU want to do!”.  Yes, well, did you ever say what you wanted to do?  Did you ever stick up for your wants, wishes and would likes and he just ignored them, or did you just ignore them yourself until the frustration built to a boiling point?


I see this not only in relationships but in friendships as well.  We have this belief that we need to validate each other.  We have a belief that we need to have the same likes and dislikes or our partner or friend may decide we aren’t what they want and then we are left alone.  We fake desire or interest in something to make ourselves move attractive and desirable.


A repeated topic in the therapy sessions this week has been the work “acceptable”.   We will do a lot and contort ourselves in to strange emotional positions to be considered acceptable by others.  We will lie about who we are, our likes and dislikes, even our hair color just to be “accepted”.  The difficulty with hiding who we are to be accepted is the resentment that comes when you keep sacrificing yourself for others over, and over and over. It also creates problems when people that like you for the lie that you show them all of a sudden have to find a way to accept the new you. In all reality they probably would have liked you for the real you (and if they wouldn’t have, then you probably like them for the wrong reasons anyway) and will just be frustrated that you lied to them.


If you are attracted to someone and they won’t like you for who you are, it isn’t going to work. There is no way around that, no way to make it work. You aren’t able to lie forever, no way to sacrifice your identity forever. It will make you resentful and angry, and is a disservice both to yourself and to the person that you like.


We all want people to see the best in us. We want to be accepted and liked. For most of us, who we are as individuals is actually not that bad, and when you show your true self, people will like you. If there are parts of you that people really don’t like, instead of hiding them and lying about them, change them. Be honest with who you are, it will make you and your partners and friends happier in the long run.

Recovering from betrayal

Each of us has been betrayed. We have all trusted someone or something or some company and that trust has been misplaced. We learn quickly that some betrayals are bigger than others, and some betrayals are harder to recover from. Learning to recover from betrayal requires learning to trust again. Sometimes that learning to trust just takes time to put distance between you and the betrayal. We see this in regular break-ups, when we are left reeling but within a year or two life moves on again, we trust ourselves and start to branch out and trust others again. Sometimes learning to trust takes a bit more work.

As said above, betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes. What happens when these betrayals are bigger, and it takes more than 6 months of pizza, beer and Hagen Daaz? How do we learn to trust that the world can be safe, that there is good in the world?

Believe it or not, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising is key to recovering from any kind of life difficulty.  Our body is our temple, and if we aren’t treating our body with respect our mind will have difficulty working toward recovery.

We need to find someone we can be safe with or even someplace anonymous, and tell our story. There is power in telling our story when we are heard without judgment. This can be a counselor, a friend, a parent or even just a letter than gets thrown away. It is important to use very careful judgment about with whom you disclose to. Sometimes parents and friends can be the most judgmental, and sometimes they are even more invested than you may have been in keeping the betrayal secret. They can be harsh and cruel in if this is the case. Words like “liar” can be just as traumatizing as the initial betrayal. Counselors are often a safe place to disclose because they have no emotional attachment to the betrayal or the betrayer, or even to you.

We have to learn to trust ourselves.   The first instinct when we have been betrayed is to believe that we are at fault for the betrayal, that we should have known. This is tricky, because even if we did know, there are times that knowing would have been dangerous or we would have lost more than we gained by seeing the betrayal, so being able to forgive yourself for not seeing or not doing anything about the betrayal is important. We have to begin to pay attention to when we have made good judgments about people and situations (usually this is more often than not) and start to trust in our own ability to judge something or someone.

In addition to trusting yourself learning to care for your own heart is crucial. Other may people have taken your heart and played badminton with it. You may have had people that expected you to manage the pain in their hearts. The truth is the only person that can manage the pain in your heart is you. Learning to look at the hurt you feel without judgment and give it the care and comfort that you wish you could get from others will be a big step. Knowing that you can recover your own heart when it is broke makes it easier to trust others.

Start to learn your own trigger levels. Begin to understand where you are at in general, and work to bring your level down to a consistent green. It is more difficult to trust others when you are consistently activated, as we are always ready to be attacked. The levels of distress are:

Subjective Levels of Distress (Melissa Bradley-Ball, MS)

Green: 0-3

Neutral or low activation

At this point you feel calm, centered and grounded with diaphragmatic breathing. Even if slightly annoyed or anxious things are good.

Yellow: 4-6


You’re “on alert”. Either through anxiety or frustration your more focused on what’s going on around you and your breathing has gotten shallower.

Red: 6-10

High Intensity

You’re running on adrenalin. You’re in fight, flight, freeze or fold and your breath is shallow and fast. You have scattered or impaired concentration and are more prone to paranoia.


When you are yellow or red you are less likely to trust because you are more alert for threats around you. This means you may start to see threats that don’t exist, start to feel betrayals that didn’t happen, and stop trusting your own judgment. Knowing when you are triggered is the first step to being able to soothe. If you can’t even recognize when triggered you aren’t able to put your coping skills in to practice to begin with.  When we don’t know we are triggered we often try to get other people to soothe us instead of doing it for ourselves, and become hurt, feel betrayed, and ultimately feel more miserable when they ultimately can’t.

The final step is to trust someone else again. There is a level of vulnerability in trusting someone. It leaves us open to being hurt.  Fides tamen quin – Trust but Verify.   Begin to see what characteristics generally mean people are safe, and take time to get to know them. Allow yourself to move slowly in to relationships and friendships to allow yourself to know that while no one is perfect, there are safe people out there. They won’t always be able to keep from stepping on our emotional (and sometimes physical, believe me) toes.

When we are betrayed as young children or teens, repeatedly betrayed, and betrayed by our supposed rescuers this has a strong effect on how we build trust. It can also affect how we process and understand other people’s actions, at times causing us to feel as though we have been betrayed when there has been no betrayal. Examples of this are:

  • Parents setting limits
  • Friends setting limits
  • Friends not liking pictures / posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Parents / friends / partners giving painful feedback
  • Partners saying hi to friends of the opposite sex
  • Partners spending time with co-workers / friends of the opposite sex
  • Partners / friends having their own hobbies that exclude you
  • Partners / friends not being interested or invested in an event in your life
  • Partners / friends not understanding triggers
  • Therapists giving painful feedback / setting limits
  • Situations in which you have to set limits with parents, friends or partners (If they loved you they should just know what your limits / triggers are, right?)

These situations often feel just like the betrayals of the past, and we often react to them in a similar fashion. This often confuses our parents, partner or friends and creates cracks in relationships. There are often fights in which both you and the other party go back and forth, probably neither knowing what the true problem is.

To be clear, these are not betrayals. They feel invalidating and attack the parts of us that hold our deepest fears. This often includes fears of worthlessness, being un-loveable, having done something wrong, and not being enough.

Being able to understand the difference between a true betrayal and what feels strongly of betrayal is an integral part of developing trust and intimacy.

Being able to tell the difference between traumatic betrayal, self-care betrayal, and non betrayal will increase your own self esteem, you own feelings of worth, and your ability to open yourself to vulnerability in healthy relationships.

Self-care betrayal is when our parents, friends and partners ignore our needs to take care of their own. This is not selfishness, this is self-care. At times this is going to make us feel abandoned, hurt, invalidated and unloved. We have to learn to do this ourselves. Not make our partners feel hurt, abandoned, invalidated and unloved of course, but to be able to see ourselves as valuable enough to put other’s needs, wants wishes and would-likes to the side to take care of our own.

Trust is an integral part to building intimacy. We have to be able to not only be able to keep someone else’s heart safe when they let us in, we have to let people in to our hearts. This means finding people that are safe to be let in, knowing how to manage our own stress and distress levels by understanding your triggers, and most importantly trusting your own judgment. Recovering from betrayal trauma is a series of steps, some of which are life long. The results are worth it.




We want to punish neglegence, not failure

Negligence – Definition:

noun: negligence; plural noun: negligences
1. failure to take proper care in doing something.
“some of these accidents are due to negligence”
failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another.

Failure: Definition

noun: failure

lack of success.
1. an unsuccessful person, enterprise, or thing
o plural noun: failures
o “bad weather had resulted in crop failures”

2. the omission of expected or required action.
o “their failure to comply with the basic rules”
The owners of my martial arts school have a 7 month old baby that they bring to the evening classes. She is one of the cutest and sweetest babies I have ever had the pleasure of being around. She is currently working on being able to sit up without support and learning to crawl. There are a ton of failures. Last night she forgot to use her arms in her attempts to crawl and scooted across the floor on her head. If she is sitting without support she falls frequently. She is failing over and over again in her attempts to learn to sit up and crawl.

There is an instinct to run over and keep her from falling, or at the very least keep her from getting rug-burn on her head while learning to crawl. The problem with saving her from these failures though is that she will never build the physical or mental muscles to do these things on her own. We have to watch and allow her to fail over, and over and over in order for her to learn.

Take any task you have ever had to learn how to do. In learning there is always a series of failures as you figure out the concept, the technique and the implementation of the task. There will be trials and errors as you find how to incorporate the new task in to your understanding of the universe. This happens whenever anything new is tried. This builds muscle, be it physical or mental regarding the new task. It creates a new understanding of how the world works, how we work (individually, as a society, or even the laws of nature) and allows us to expand. We build muscles through failure that we wouldn’t have otherwise.  Failure builds the muscles of humility, self examination, and self realization.

A difficulty we are running in to at present is we are seeing failure as negligence and punishing any kind of failure. This means that any time we as an individual or as a society try something new and it fails, we have judgment, irritation or down right anger, inquiries, and at times punishment. This creates a society where innovation is restricted to what will only succeed the first time, which is almost nothing. It keeps us from experimenting with new ideas or new technology and will stifle personal, professional, and even societal growth in the long run.

Where is see this frequently in my practice is with parents. The parents of children don’t want their kids to be hurt emotionally or physically so they protect their kids from their failures. If a kid fails in school, instead of working with the kiddo to improve the teacher is yelled at for letting the kid fail, implying negligence on the teachers part. Think about what this teaches the kid. It teaches that your failures aren’t your fault, you don’t have to learn and you don’t have to try hard. There is an entire generation of young adults now that have the attitude that they don’t have to try and failures will be someone else’s problem. They are entitled and frustrating to work with as colleagues because they are very self-focused, thinking about what the company can do for them instead of what they can bring to the company. Their muscles haven’t been developed for work-ethic and it is visible (and crazy making to those they work with).

Where we saw this recently was with the Affordable Care Act web-sites. A completely new concept, new system, and new program wasn’t as smooth as we would have liked it to be getting off the ground. Instead of showing understanding and working to fix the bugs and problems, we punished the programmers and the entire administration as neglegent. This kind of thinking stifles innovation, because none of us wants to be punished for trying something new.
Of course there has to be limits. We want to make sure something is safe and within reasonable limits before implementing it so people are not injured. That is why we have medical testing before we put out new medications. That is why we have malpractice boards to pay attention to where we are neglectful in our attempts. An example in the therapy world of neglect vs failure ended in the death of a 10-year-old child ( and so having practices and policies for safe experimentation in place is important.

We have to learn the difference between neglect and experimentation. As a society we seem to have swung toward the end of believing any failure is neglectful on someone’s part, and working to assign blame. We as a society are starting to wither because of this. Failure helps with growth when we learn what works and what doesn’t work and consistently work to move toward success. We have to start re-thinking how we treat ourselves, our children, our employees, and our society as we work on finding the balance between punishing neglectful behavior and sponsoring through failure towards success.

Where do you need to start doing this with yourself? Think of the last task you worked to learn that was completely new. Were you perfect at it the first time? When you weren’t perfect, what kind of judgments went through your head? Did you feel as though you were neglectful, believing that you didn’t give it your all and throw all kinds of punishment in the form of shame towards yourself? Were you neglectful, or were you just working toward success and the failure was part of that? As we get older this desire to avoid failure often keeps us from trying new things or meeting new people. We throw so much judgment at ourselves we start to stifle our own growth and keep from expanding our boundaries. Something my own martial arts practice has taught me as I move closer and closer to my black belt is that I will fail, over and over again. It is expected and even required to learn. I have had to learn patience with myself, and how to sponsor myself as I fall (often literally) again and again. We are not perfect. We will not succeed the first time out at anything. We will have a series of failures throughout our lives. When we are honest with ourselves and reflect on if this is building and creating then we work toward success. At times there is negligence, and we need to be honest with ourselves about that too. Overall though, we need to work on punishing negligence and sponsoring failure.

Making “I love you” a meditation

I how often do you say “I love you”? How often do you say it to your partner, to your kids, to your parents? I love you can be one of those phrases that is uttered in a thoughtless moment as you rush out the door, or drop the kids off at school. It can be said in a moment of passion, but still said thoughtlessly, without intent.

Meditation is letting yourself be present, focused and intentional about what you are doing. It doesn’t have to be a 30 minute long session of intense breathing and focus, it can the little moments in the day. Meditation can be looking at the beautiful sunset in front of you, taking a breath and being present in with the sunset until traffic moves along. Meditation can be taking a breath and being present with the love you feel for the person you are with before saying the words.

There are words that have lost their meaning over time. I’m sorry is one of them. I’m sorry seems to have come to mean; “It sucks that you feel bad” as opposed to “I regret what I have done”.   What has “I love you” come to mean in your life? Is it the thing you say as you walk out the door or hang up the phone because you’re supposed to, but don’t really feel it? Or is it the way of maintaining a connection with someone you truly care about. If the words have lost their meaning, and you are just staying it to say it but don’t feel it anymore, then there is a bigger problem. If it is the way of maintaining the connection then make sure to be present with the connection.

Each time you say “I love you” take a breath. Find the place inside of you that truly loves that person and be present with it, even for just the space of that breath. Send the energy of that love and that connection through your words. This is more than reminding your loved on that you love them, it is reminding yourself that you love them, and being present with that love and that connection.

Imagine a household that does this with every I love you. You would know that every time you are told you are loved, it is meant deeply and truly. Even when things aren’t going well, they are words you can access to remember that you love them, and they love you. It takes the struggle out of the argument and hopefully brings it in to perspective. It allows you to take a step back for a moment, and instead of thinking “If you really loved me you would…” and be able to say “You really love me, and I don’t like what you are doing.”

Make each “I love you” a meditation, every day. Feel that connection every day. Remember you have true love, feel true love and true connection and be present with it every day. After a month, see what this does to your relationship, your intimacy and even your fights. Meditation is about being present with, and what a wonderful thing to be present with.

Willingness to change

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.