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  I’m loving that these conversations and ideas are spreading because it is beginning to undo some outdated beliefs related to giving and self sacrifice that just don’t work when living an authentic life.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?

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".  

Where Is Your Power?

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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We are all born with a tremendous amount of power as human beings.  A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about not allowing our power to be wasted by fear, instead to know the fear and convert it into energy that can be useful to us rather than trying to cut it off or avoid it.  This week, I want to talk about what David Richo says about being passive.  It is another way that our power is drained away from us. 

The first passive act David Richo discusses is making excuses and apologies for other people internally.  He says:  “We may perform mental surgery on experiences so that we can gain closure on them without having to feel the inner trepidation that may be associated with an assertion on our part” (p. 176).  Now, sometimes we have to reconcile things on our own because the other person is not available or they are dangerous in some way.  However, if the majority of the way you are dealing with things that disturb you is by doing mental gymnastics to make everything OK without ever communicating with people about it, your power is being compromised.  Why?  First of all, you are doing things in relationships on your own, which means that the “relating” is actually taken out to some degree.  Operating that way is too much work to ever sustain a satisfying relationship.  Second, you are not taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself means having a voice.  Third, the other person has no chance to learn about how they are impacting you and no chance to shift to relate in a way that works better for you both.

Another passive act that David Richo discusses is “smoothing over”.  We all know what this is, we have all done it.  Here’s the thing, by smoothing over a situation to prevent anger in order to keep the peace actually is “acting against the truth” (p. 180).  Yes, it is burying the truth of what is going on, which means power is being buried.  So, let’s say you notice your spouse is starting to get upset or you know there is something that will upset them, so you try to smooth things over or you hide whatever you believe will upset them.  Well, that means that anger (or preventing it) has become more powerful than the truth.  And, by smoothing things over, you are doing work that is not yours:  dealing with someone else’s anger, when it is their job to deal with their own anger responsibly.  Also, if you are the one smoothing things over, your experience/thoughts/feelings get neglected.  Again, this is really not sustainable in the long run without being resentful or disconnected. 

While there are a number of passive acts that David Richo discusses, the last one I want to talk about is “living reactively”.  It means that behavior or feelings are based on what other people do.  So, you see what someone else is doing or being, then you devise your strategy to respond.  David Richo says “strategizing is a nonassertive behavior since it attempts to prevent or control a reality rather than letting it unfold: this is acting against the truth” (p. 180).  Yes, it is acting against the truth of what authentically occurs to you; what you want/think/feel/need.  When we are living in response to others all the time, we lose touch with our true experience.  Sometimes I notice that people are really confused and out of practice with knowing their true experience because they have been in the practice of only knowing how what to do/feel/think based on others.  This is a really sneaky passive act.  The other two are much more obvious.  So, really, take a look.  Be willing to look inside at how you are really being. 

Notice that in each one of these acts, there is an element of leaving yourself behind or not taking care of yourself AND there is a theme of the truth not being present.  So, think about this:  being passive means that you are not getting to actually embody your full self and the truth is buried.  What more powerful entities do we have in this world beside ourselves (this is the single place where we actually have control) and the truth?  Really, none.  So, living passively is foreclosing on the opportunity to live powerfully.  It is like trying to be an elite athlete without using the most powerful muscles in your body…sure to be a frustrating journey.  So, it seems to me like it is worth it to live through the moments of discomfort to be assertive.  Don’t you think so?

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


by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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We are getting into the section of the book where David Richo is talking about what to do with fear.  By this time, you know that part of being human is experiencing fear…. But why? “We were learning about intimacy in every childhood scenario and imago [relationship].  This is why relating will require a knowledge of and program for handling our fears” (p. 144).  What is in it for us to handle those fears?  “We love more freely and effectively when we let go of the fears that have been shadowing us for a lifetime” (p. 144).  Sounds nice, right?  I think so!

I’m excited because I get to talk about working with our humanness, not against it.  David Richo is always telling us to admit the fear, feel it and continue on as if it weren’t there.  His whole idea is not to eradicate it, but is more focused on integrating it.  Well, that doesn’t really fit with our standard western approach, does it?  Usually it goes more like: 1. Find the problem 2. Find a way to stop it, kill it, cut it out of the equation.

Think about this metaphor for a second (don’t get too technical, OK, it is just a metaphor!):  you are like a company that has employees doing different jobs.  You have a budget for payroll and if everyone is doing their job, the company is running smoothly.  Well, you find out that there is a position that is no longer necessary.  What’s going to happen?  Maybe you create a new position and have the person in the old position do the new, updated job or you have extra in your budget to pay your other employees more or some other place where either the money or the energy of an employee will go if a position is eliminated.  There is going to be at least a brief period of change that might include some protest and grief until everyone realizes that the new system is just as good or even better.  

Ok, now you are a human being that has been living with an insidious fear.  You do David Richo’s beautiful program of handling your fear.  Look what happens!  Now you have a surplus of energy that can do more productive work than plaguing you and your relationships with fear.  Think about how much time and energy you spend being anxious or fearful about things that are not even real (this is the position you are eliminating).  Think about how much time you spend dealing with the effects of that fear (maybe it causes fights in your relationship or results in you losing sleep at night which creates a cascade of other consequences).  Alright, if you just used the standard way of cutting it out, you would lose all that surplus!  It would be like cutting off your pinkie toe.  We have that weird toe for a reason!  “As long as we are trying to get rid of fear, we are not giving hospitality to something that is a deep part of our identity” (p. 145). 

So, by getting close to our fear, admitting it, allowing it to be there, but acting as if it weren’t there (i.e. I’m going to tell her I love her even though she might not feel it or say it back), we get to keep that surplus and take advantage of that converted energy.  Think about times when you do something even though you are afraid.  Don’t you feel a rush of excitement or flood of relief?  I do!  That is the surplus of energy and resource that is being released when the fear is confronted and integrated.  Do that a little bit at a time and you have a lot more employees doing productive work rather than silently sabotaging your company.  And, remember that growth is not linear, so know that a period of transition (including possible cameos of protest and grief) may come before the new way of doing things becomes “the way”.

**credit for the metaphor about integration goes to Lara Schwartz, MFT, a phenomenal clinician and talented healer.

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