When I Heal, You Heal

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR


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The question about whether taking care of oneself is selfish comes up a lot in therapy.  When I say taking care of oneself, I mean it on a number of levels: physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Everyone knows the oxygen mask theory from flying on airplanes:  you can’t put the oxygen mask on a child (or anyone else) without having put yours on first.  There is a lot of talk in the personal growth world about self care these days as well.  I’m loving that these conversations and ideas are spreading because it is beginning to undo some outdated beliefs related to giving and self sacrifice that just don’t work when living an authentic life. 

Today I want to talk about prioritizing your emotional and spiritual needs.  Yes, I get it.  This sounds selfish.  But, hang in there for a second.  This doesn’t mean “I feel like watching a movie on the couch right now instead of helping you check out that leak on the roof”.  No, I’m talking about times when you are spreading yourself too thin and you end up lashing out at your child, partner, coworker or being hysterical over something trivial.  Right there.  You might be putting other’s needs in front of yours and it just isn’t working out. 

It might be time to look at your obligations and who they are really about.  I know it is hard to disappoint or upset other people by saying no.  In the short run, it is easier to say yes and smile. In the long run, this is harder because you end up doing and being things you don’t want to do or be.  I think we can all relate to this.  The truth of it is: if we can take care of ourselves each step of the way and tolerate disappointing someone or allowing others to have their anger about when we say no, we can be at our best in all of our interactions, which is, in turn, better for the relationship.  On top of that, that person has a more intimate understanding of you and the relationship you share.

I want to take this a step further.  I believe this happens on a scarier and deeper level that is hard to look at.  I see people at a crossroads in important relationships with their family members and their partners.  The crossroads comes when a person realizes a truth about who they are, how they want to live or how they feel and this does not match the contract that was originally set up with their partner or family members.  The truth comes into awareness and it can create a lot of upheaval if it comes to light in the relationship or family.  So the choice is:  do I honor my authentic feelings or do I stay in this the way it is set up so as to spare the other person’s feelings? 

Let’s bring it into reality.  What am I talking about?  What about someone who is married to a partner of the opposite sex and realize they are gay and are in the wrong relationship even though they love their spouse?  What about someone who feels deeply compelled to pursue a dream that would take them away from their marriage or family?  What about someone who has been entrenched in alcoholic family dynamics and deep down know there is another way to live, but that this pulling away would cause a great deal of anger and chaos in the family?  This short little list is just off the top of my head.  I think you know what I am getting at.

Being connected to oneself, even just from time to time, you are going to encounter some deep knowing that might guide you places that you did not expect.  Following and honoring what you know deep down might initially hurt, scare or disappoint important people in your life.  [Of course, this is not something to do on a whim, but something that needs to be done mindfully.]  When you are living in alignment with who you really are, in alignment with the deep knowing, it creates space for other people to also be more aligned with who they really are.  What you do might force them into being in alignment through the pain they experience.  There might be a lot of protesting on their part.  But, maybe that is why they signed up to be with you in this life:  you were going to push them toward who they really are by being who you really are. 

On a spiritual level, each step we take toward growth and healing is a step for us all.  The pain I heal in myself, gives way for the pain in your self to be healed, even if you have no clue about the internal work I am doing.  The more authentic a life I live, the more space there is for you to live authentically.  And vice versa.  So, is that really selfish?


Get closer or move away?

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR


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Sometimes it is hard to tell whether we should honor and stay with our difficult feelings or to distract ourselves and not focus so much on them.  Generally speaking, as a therapist, I am in support of honoring and staying with feelings, especially since most us of naturally employ avoidance tactics.  But what about when that is causing more suffering than necessary?

In the next section of the book, David Richo talks about affirmations.  Earlier in my life, my association to affirmations was that they were a way to bypass reality and ignore/avoid.  It is my understanding that David Richo suggests using affirmations in a meaningful way that supports creating a reality and state of being that is your choice, drawing from the best parts of you that already exist.  But before we get into that, I want to talk a little bit more about the question about staying with or moving away from feelings because this comes up a lot for clients and friends.

Feelings are agents of our emotional system that deliver messages to us.  They are meant to make a delivery and move on. Just like the FedEx guy comes and drops off your package (signature required, this is fancy mail!) and leaves.  He doesn’t stay and chat for the rest of the afternoon or move into your place, right?  Ok, same deal.  As soon as you sign for the package, that feeling is on its way out because it did its job.   If you don’t sign and acknowledge the feeling, the guy is going to have to come back.  The messages help us know what to do or not do, say or not say, get closer or move away.  Get good at opening the door and being there to sign when those packages come in.  It is important to honor real feelings.

Now, there are time when your tricky brain is not telling you the truth.  Your brain is actually doing something that it thinks is more important, which is protect you.  Sometimes your brain will send up the alert system, fear, in order to help you avoid experiencing pain that you have experienced before.  If there is something that has hurt you before, and it has, since we are humans living in a human world, your brain will do you the favor of trying to make sure that never happens again, without you even knowing.  Usually, the fear being activated is illogical and, what David Richo calls, “neurotic fear”.  How do you know if it is neurotic fear?  You can do a little test.  Ask yourself 1.  Is this true? (meaning: is the thought causing the fear true?)  2.  Is it helpful?  If you get “no” on either one, that is illogical fear that you don’t need to get into.  It needs to be acknowledged, but you don’t need to spend a whole lot of time on it.  Here’s an example:  Is it true that there could be a big earthquake?  Yes.  Is it helpful to walk around every day thinking about the fact that it could happen any second?  No.  You can prepare reasonably.  But obsessing about it is not going to help you.

So, what do you need to do?  You can reframe it.  For example: “I know that an earthquake is not happening right now and it is not probable” or “I know this fear is not real.  I am completely safe right now”.  And/or, you need to start thinking about or doing something else.  Literally, get into something else.  Call someone and ask about their day, listen closely and get absorbed in what they are saying.  Play a videogame.  I really don’t care what you do as long as you are super into it and it is safe.

Another situation when it is better to move away from your feelings (after acknowledging them, you can tell the FedEx guy he has the wrong address) is when you have a false belief going on that is giving you some really unpleasant feelings like fear, hopelessness, anxiety, shame.  Here’s how you know this is going on:  you have had this thought or some version of it going on for a long time.  It causes regular suffering.   You can ask your friends if your worry is a familiar theme.  They likely know.  There probably is some pain in there that comes from your past that you need to pay attention to and work out at a certain point.  However, if you have already worked on it, this thought/feeling cycle might just be a habit.  You need to stop poisoning yourself and get off that racetrack.  There’s a good chance that the thoughts and feelings around that false belief are not only unpleasant, but also reinforcing more of that theme to show up in your life.  Why do you want to reinforce negative things that are not even true?  You don’t.  So, that is another time when you need to acknowledge that thought/feeling pattern and back away, get into something else.  Catch yourself in the act and move away from it.

If you want to read more about neurotic fear and identifying it, check out Distinguishing Types of Fear.  To know more about the system for healthfully processing your feelings (i.e. opening the door, signing for and unpacking your delivery), readBuild Your Bridge.

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".  


Every Way is Our Way

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR


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“Enlightenment is not a prize at the end of the race or search but finally being present in the world as it is.  As long as we are looking for something from the world, we never really see it as it is, as the pick pocket never sees the wizard, but only his pockets!  We reclaim the world and the moment as ours whenever we drop the desire to make things come out our way and simply let things happen, trusting that every way is our way.  We remind ourselves of what Govinda said, ‘The certainty that nothing can happen to us that does not in our innermost being belong to us is the foundation of fearlessness’” (p. 203).

This week, all I am going to write about is this small excerpt.  It says so much. 

First of all, it is important to realize that our work toward higher consciousness and higher level functioning is never done.  We are human!  There is no end of the road or “there” to get to.  We are in constant evolution. It would help us all to get super cozy with the concept of being in process.  I fully know and accept this and was kindly reminded of it today.  Yes, that’s also part of the human deal:  you get it, then you lose it, you get it, then you lose it.  The game is: how fast can you get your awareness back on track?  One merciful part of the process is that usually the more times you “get” something, the deeper you integrate it.

The issue of trying to get our way by controlling outcomes is what I want to talk about.  Let’s just put it out there right away:  when we are strategizing mentally, coercing, convincing, pressuring, nagging or getting angry to make things come out the way we want, that is called controlling.    Don’t worry, we need to be in action and control things to some extent.  Where we want to look is where we are over doing it.  When we are over doing it, it is likely that we are not accepting some part of reality and wasting our energy fighting against the flow or we are getting in our own way.  Most of the time, over controlling comes from fear.

Here are a couple of ways to address this:

  1. Realize the importance of equanimity.  My general understanding is “I do my work and allow others to do theirs”.   We need to let things around us do their work.  Cooking a steak in pan?  Leave it alone and let it char for a while.  Baking cookies?  You don’t want to keep opening the oven every two minutes.  You let the oven do the work.  Realize what is beyond your control or not yours to do.  It is that way for a reason!

  2.  You can ask yourself:  is there anything I am not willing to see and accept right now?  Usually what you are not seeing is quite simple, it fits into a 10 second truth.  It’s important to look for this because trying to over control comes from not wanting something to be true that actually is true.  There is a lot of pain and wasted energy in not being able to be with the world as it is and our circumstances as they are.  There is actually beauty and perfection, right now, all around you.  It’s a question of whether we are present to it or not. 
  3. Consider the possibility that everything is EXACTLY as it should be in this very moment.  Even if it is difficult or painful.  Human beings have an intrinsic drive toward growth (growth doesn’t always happen when things are easy) and we are imperfect, so pain is inevitable.  When we are trying to control, we are often trying to avoid pain.  Resetting back to the consideration that everything is exactly as it is means you don’t have to control any outcomes.
  4. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to whatever the feeling is in response to the reality that is in front of you that you are not liking.  Yes, it is OK to be sad or worried about your child being held back a grade in school.  And, it might be the very best thing for them.  Yes, it is OK to not want to have surgery AND it might be what your body needs to get better.  Just because it is for the best in the long run, doesn’t mean your feelings about it shouldn’t get their day in the sun. 
  5. Being connected to yourself and present to the world is really the safest way to operate.  Why?  Because all the resources and wisdom you need are inside you and everything in the world around you is exactly as it needs to be for your life’s mission.  We get ourselves into trouble when we are disconnected and avoidant of the truth around us, when we try to control the truth of what is around us.  If you can be connected, the feelings you have about a situation will do their job of giving you the message of what needs to come next.  The idea is to learn how to let those feelings be and learn what they mean.  How can you be connected?  Start tuning in to your interior world.  Write, talk, notice the sensations occurring in your body in response to what is happening.  How do you be present to the world?  Slow down, be mindful, meditate, try to see things with new eyes.

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".  


Unexpected Ways Aggression Shows Up

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR


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When I think about being aggressive, there are obvious examples that come to mind like someone being violent physically, being rude or insulting.  When David Richo talks about aggression in this section of the book, he sheds some light on being aggressive in ways that I have never really considered aggressive, but knew were less than productive ways of operating.  While there are a number he discusses, I want to talk about the ones that caught my attention the most.

First, he talks about using “you” statements vs “I” statements.  If you are a therapist or have spent any time with one, you are probably familiar with this concept.  The idea is that if you start sentences with “I”, you are owning your experience, you are less likely to seem to be attacking someone and you are discussing the only realm where you really do have absolute authority of the truth (your own experience).  If you want to have any chance of productive communication, there is little room for insulting or making statements about the other person.  For example:  “you are a jerk” is definitely going to lead to a fight whereas saying “I feel angry about how you are talking to me” has a way better chance of leading to an actual conversation.  Insulting someone and even making “you” statements are aggressive ways of being. 

Another aggressive habit David Richo talks about is blaming.  Blaming is something that comes up a lot in my work with couples.  It is natural for people to come in saying that their partner is causing problems because that is how they experience it.  The trick of it is that their partner is not actually causing a problem, it is that they are experiencing something uncomfortable that their partner triggered.  Right away, that takes blaming out of the equation for productive dialogue because blaming tries to focus on fixing the problem in the other person, but there is no fixing something in someone else because you have no control anywhere except in yourself.  Anyway…. the interesting thing about what David Richo is saying is that blaming is aggressive because it “usually masks a demand to do something ‘my way’” (p. 180).  Think about that for a second.  Blaming really is making someone else wrong for doing/thinking/feeling something.  So, I want to take it a step further by saying that blaming actually is also overlooking where you might have space to grow and assumes that you considered every possible perspective and have landed on the determination that you are right and your partner has pretty much nothing to contribute to broadening your perspective.  Really?  Who wants to be like that?  Probably no one that is reading this.   

Finally, I want to talk about what David Richo says about being secretly separate.  He identifies many ways we can distance ourselves from people:  “competition, excellence, one-up-manship, running, judgments, secrets, intellectualizing, being right, being super anything” (p. 182).  Here’s what really caught my attention:

“The choice to be separate is not aggressive in itself.  It becomes aggressive when we pursue it as a secret agenda of our own while our partner believes we are committed to intimacy and cooperation” (p. 182). 

Really consider for a second if you have done this.  I consider myself to be a loving, considerate human being and partner and, reading this, I am clear that I have committed this aggressive act without even realizing.  Think about how it feels on the receiving end of this.  It is a betrayal and the physical feeling that accompanies the betrayal does feel like the impact of something aggressive.  And, I feel like it is aggressive in the sense that your partner, while believing you are committed, may also be committed and vulnerable.  Their heart may be open and vulnerable so that there can be intimacy in your relationship, then that secret agenda is a violation of that openness.  What does that do to how safe they feel leaving their heart open to you or to someone else in the future if it is not a good match between the two of you?  I always tell my clients, in love and relationship, aim to use one of the rules of camping:  leave it cleaner (better) than how you found it. 

So, if you are being aggressive in ways you didn’t realize, it’s OK.  Build your awareness, clean it up, grow as a human being and partner and learn ways to be assertive rather than aggressive.  I’ll write about that next week. 

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".