LOVE IS IN THE AIR
February. Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air.
Not for everyone, unfortunately.
As a therapist, my services are usually needed when love is no longer in the air. A heart has been broken, and love has turned cruel. Or the pain of loneliness has become unbearable. Rarely do people seek therapy when love is blooming like the daffodils.
But take heart, everyone. Like the words in so many songs, love is indeed the answer; always has been, always will be. It’s the question that needs examining, that question being, “who do you love”?
Here’s what the therapist has to say. All to often, people give their love to another before they’ve ever loved themselves, which is a setup for problems in the relationship. Why? Because until you truly deem yourself worthy of love, you will likely sabotage the love given to you by others. It’s like building a mansion on quicksand. It may be beautiful at first, but after a short time, will likely disappear. To experience a sustained, loving relationship with another, you must have a sustained, loving relationship with yourself.
I am not talking about narcissism, which is an ego-inflated sense of self-importance. I’m simply referring to a healthy and loving sense of self, and knowing that your value as a human being is at least that of others. Believe it or not, many people struggle with this. For some, it’s due to leftover childhood shame or negative messages that program us into thinking something is wrong with us or that we’re not worthy of love.
Second, try thinking of love as a verb. It’s about action. Behavior. Many people believe love is a feeling, and it certainly can be, but that feeling is ultimately the result of how we demonstrate our love, whether we’re talking about love for our self or another. To expect the feeling of love without actively nurturing it through everyday actions is like expecting fruit from a non-existent tree. If we want to grow fruit, we must first take the action steps of planting and nurturing the tree, then expect the fruit, or the feeling of love.
How to accomplish this? Find ways to express your love, and don’t be confused by advertising messages. Contrary to what the retail community would have you believe, it’s not necessary to spend money to show your love. It has more to do with language, thoughtfulness, and realistic expectations rather than outrageous demands. Refrain from language that criticizes, condemns, disparages and shames. It will only serve to create misery, not love. Instead, try seeing mistakes as opportunities for redemption and forgiveness rather than punishment. Try seeing yourself as a human being who, like everyone else, is searching. And practice a few of those random acts of kindness toward yourself, as well as a stranger.
Do this for at least three reasons: one, it’s the way we should all be treated, and no one not even you — should be an exception. Two, because, like being in love, it sets you up for inner peace, success and joy in life. Who doesn’t want those? And third, when you have love and peace toward yourself, you’re much more likely to attract and maintain genuine love with another person, if you’re so inclined.
So this Valentine’s Day, may I suggest, regardless of your romantic status, that you give yourself the gift of love. Begin by looking in the mirror and seeing the person who most deserves it. Then love that person with all your heart and your actions. Love is, after all, the answer.
In relationships, we typically see “minimizer” and a “maximizer” roles or behaviors. Minimizers are compared to turtles, ducking into their shell when they sense trouble or conflict. Maximizers… well, they’ve been compared to hailstorms. Or Tigger in an angry mood. Very overwhelming to a minimizer, indeed. Maximizers are the ones who insist that you come out of that shell and talk about it right now; it usually sounds like “why won’t you ever TALK to me”? And when a maximizer says that, the minimizer say something like “I don’t know” and installs bolts and locks on the shell closure because that is the only safe place and it needs to stay safe, which, in turn, drives the maximizer nuts.
So the more the maximizer maximizes, the more the minimizer minimizes and the more the minimizer minimizes the more the maximizer maximizes! How minimizers and maximers find each other is still a great mystery to me, but it happens with uncanny predictability.
The *growth edge* in all of this, M&M’s, is once you figure out and own this defensive behavior, try doing less of it. So minimizers, your job is to show up more and be willing to talk about your feelings. Maximizers, your job is to… well, be quiet and calm and listen more. And oddly enough, when you’re quiet and calm and listening, your partner will open up, but only if it’s safe. So no pouncing! This is all best accomplished in the structure of the Imago Dialogue which restores the safety and connection you once felt.
One of mine was to blog more… like once a week. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm I keep wanting to write an excuse! I’ve backspaced several times because I… want… you … to know see? I’m doing it again.
Change is hard, folks. *RE-actions”. We do them over and over again. Well-grooved neural pathways in the brain entice us to re-act with the familiar behavior instead of act. Examples of re-actions? Well, negative coping behaviors that do nothing to solve the problem and actually make it worse:
1) “Help me; I’ve gained weight and I’m so stressed out I’m eating everything I see”!
2) “I over-spent during the holidays; I know I did and I’m so anxious I can’t open the credit card bill because I can’t pay it, so I went shopping to make myself feel better.”
3) “I can’t help myself; you make me act like this”.
Blame has never solved a problem. I’ll grant that it was likely reinforced as a child when we figured out that finger-pointing kept us from “getting in trouble”. That is very likely the origin of blame. Action—> consequences —–>learned re-action = blame.
Even the language we use implies the age at which we learned to avoid responsibility. “Getting in trouble” is the language of a child. To dismantle old re-actions, we need to understand them, and perhaps more importantly, understand why they do not work. A much better way is to think and behave around what we do want instead of coping with what we don’t want.
I am here to tell you that a successful conflict resolution strategy is to take responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Like any new behavior, weekly blogging included, we find it very difficult and stumble at first. We may even “make up a story” that it’s impossible. Anything new is difficult the first time we do it, maybe even the 2nd or 3rd, but with practice, we get better and better.
Reducing *reactivity* will improve life. Keeping a commitment, losing weight, getting control of the finances, taking ownership instead of placing blame are all *actions* that are worthy of the effort. And if we stumble at first, make no excuses, just own it like the adult that you are and try again.
Open the mail, close the refrigerator, open the dialogue and lose the blame. The best way to lose any negative behavior is to replace it with something positive. So when I say “close the refrigerator”, I need to ask “what will you do instead”? Try going for a walk or writing or talking about the anxiety that’s creating the need to cope.
Hope this helps. Blogging weekly is still a worthy commitment, unless, of course, I can find an excuse not to. 🙂
As a child, I loved “The Night Before Christmas” because it so beautifully conveyed the magic and wonder of the Season. It instilled great anticipation and excitement and fed my belief in the spirit and generousity of Santa. These nights before Christmas were truly delightful. Such sweet memories…
Over the years, I confess, that luster has faded some. Like many, I’ve grown tired of the commercialism, the exploitation of the birth of Jesus to sell more loot along with batteries that make the loot run, the endless advertisements that can drown the meaning of it all. Humbug! If it weren’t for the kids in my life, I’d probably head off the islands and come back when it’s all over.
I heard a story on NPR this morning that lit the reminder that there continues to be substantial meaning amidst all this electrical surge and tinsel. That part of me that wants to believe is still here. That is a good thing.
It’s the story of “Secret Santa”. As I understand it, some three decades ago a young man was broke, homeless and hungry in Kansas City, when a stranger did a kind and generous deed. The cook in the KC diner reached down and pretended to pick up $20 and handed it to the young man we now know as Larry Stewart, the original Secret Santa. “You dropped this”, said the cook, and in that one gesture, did far more than feed him that day. He restored hope and dignity and spawned a magical, joyful phenomenon of anonymous giving on the streets at Christmastime.
Larry Stewart apparently amassed a fortune, and as he did, he made good on his vow to give back. So for all those years until he died in 2006, he anonymously went out on the streets of Kansas City at Christmastime, identified those in need and “quick as a flash”, they had cash and he was gone.
This is the gift that keeps on giving, apparently. Now there are “Secret Santas” all over the country. Mysterious, generous strangers that give away hundreds of thousands of dollars to people just trying to cover the basics. What a twenty dollar act of kindness has started is truly magical.
To be able to give to those in need is such a gift to all. Is it really more blessed to give than receive? The answer is yes. But it’s all blessed! I’ve worked in non-profits, I have raised money for those in need. I have been fortunate to be on both ends of giving and receiving, and I can attest: it’s ALL amazing. Try buying coffee for the person in line behind you and notice what happens. Everybody lights up! Last week, I had someone do something similar for me. I was short on change and was going to have to use my credit card at the cash register. This beautiful soul behind me said “I got it”! I was embarrassed and said “I’m sorry to be holding you up”. She said “I’m in no hurry; I’m just in the mood to be kind”. “Let me get it for you”. Everybody in line lit up; and I cried!
It was not about the money; it was about the kindness of a perfect stranger.
And the magic that seems to come at Christmastime. Is it magic or is it kindness?
Are they one in the same?
Do you believe? I do, once again.
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Moseley is 13 today. She and I are hanging out this morning, watching the sunrise, appreciating the little things as we’ve done for the close to 4700 days we’ve been together. This has been a challenging year for her. She’s become arthritic and deaf in her old age.
Then, nearly three weeks ago, she walked in the back door and suddenly began to stagger, and fell down. She got back up and did it again. I watched in alarm, firing thoughts that she was having a seizure or a stroke, I noticed her eyes darting back and forth, her head tilted in a bizarre looking way. We loaded her into the Moselymobile, and headed to the ER.
The symptoms came and went; we’ve had two more follow-up visits with the vet, one involving a doggie gurney because she couldn’t stand or walk at all. Warning: this experience is not for the faint of heart.
Her head tilt, the eyes darting, the staggering and loss of balance all add up to what we now know is “Idiopathic Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome”, which means, “we don’t know why, but your dog has lost her sense of balance the way a lot of older dogs do, and she may very well recover, but we can’t say for sure, but try these antibiotics, just in case it’s an ear infection”.
The good news is that she is showing signs of improving, for which we are both profoundly grateful. And once again, as she has for 13 years, she offers yet another lesson in gratitude.
She is an amazing companion, true to a dog’s reputation for loyalty, she is fiercely so, with the possible exceptions of a new Frisbee partner or a cheese wielding visitor, once they’ve been cleared by security of course. She is obedient, protective, dignified, and sometimes stubborn. And loud. The dog has a bark. A friend recently asked if it was possible for a dog to go deaf due to the sheer decibel level of her own bark? Does anyone know?
I am looking over at her as I write this, and of course she is looking back, communicating with her expression as she always has. We both know these are cherished times when we can be together. She gives my life so much joy and meaning.
Happy birthday, beloved dog of mine.
You continue to teach me. The latest lesson is about not giving up. Life throws curve balls – we can complain… or we can adapt and find the meaning. Life is sometimes painful – learn the lesson and move in the direction of healing. When you’re off balance, find a trusted friend to share the burden, and prop you up if needed.
Cherish now. Live fully, appreciate the little things, and keep your head up even if you have to tilt it to find your way.
To Moseley! Here here!
Most of us grew up in a paradigm of “right” and “wrong”.
If we were right, we got the approval, recognition, and favorable attitudes we needed from our parents or caregivers. If we were wrong, there’s a good chance we experienced some degree of shame, blame, criticism or punishment. Which got internalized and stored like ammo to be used against ourself or others in conflict.
Why would we do that? Because it’s what our amygdala recorded just in case we would ever need to recreate our childhood pain. And we do. And we can shame and blame and criticize in spectacularly, profoundly painful language. Words hurt. But why recreate childhood pain? Answer: because you are trying to heal and grow.
This right and wrong business is what typically perpetuates the power struggle in the relationship. And can you think anything more emotionally painful than shame, blame and criticism in place of what was once bliss? “Who ARE you, and what have you done with the person I fell in love with – the person who once understood me so well”? So we add deep disappointment to the mix, and decide we’re outta here. Divorce court here we come.
What if I told you there is a way to turn these conflicts into connections? What if I told you that you can reconnect and feel loved again? But you’ll want to lose the right/wrong paradigm.
Relationships end unnecessarily because of the power struggle. The “story we make up” is that we’re married to the wrong person, so we divorce and get into another relationship, and guess what? It’s wrong person again! How does this keep happening? The truth is this power struggle is actually growth in the making. Time to wake up and become conscious of what we’re doing – recreating the same old pain by making somebody right and somebody wrong. There is a much better way. It’s not about right and wrong. It is not about deciding you’re with the “wrong” person or finding a new “right” person. It is about each partner becoming a better person, by learning to live, love, be loved, and communicate with intention.
Is there more?? Absolutely. Click on the question to find out.
Trigger: The lever that discharges the firearm, right? The trigger doesn’t hurt you; it’s what it causes to happen that creates the pain.
Similarly, in many relationship conflicts, we get triggered. Think about it – is it the differences between us that’s causing the pain or what gets triggered; i.e., shame, inadequacy, fear of abandonment, etc. ? Then once we’re triggered, we likely start with defenses, which can usually cut deeper than a knife wound and take much longer to heal.
Understand that if you can talk (using the Imago dialogue of course!) about what got triggered rather than defending or demanding, criticizing or raising your voice, you will likely get some relief. You can get heard, understood, validated, and even empathy. This is healing work and brings you much closer to the connected feeling you really want.
The misunderstanding is just the trigger. It’s the old historical hurts that are causing defensive reactions, and ultimately perpetuating the pain. These need healing, and a safe dialogue is an AMAZING and effective and rewarding replacement for painful *reactions*.
What we focus on is what we grow, so after yesterday’s big feast, I have a few questions as “food for thought”.
Are you focused on on scarcity or abundance? On your fear or your faith? On wellness or illness?
Are you focused on what is working or not working? On yourself and your own growth, or on blaming others? Peace or war? Gratitude or anger? Intimacy (vulnerability) or defensiveness? Your strengths or your weaknesses? On what you’ve got or what you could lose? On what you can do something about or what you can’t? On what brings you joy or what brings worry?
My vote is that we operate within the spirit of gratitude for what IS and grow abundantly from there. What we’ve got is today. Live fully into what you’ve got now. “When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change”.
Listening is loving.
Validation is understanding.
Empathy is healing.
Some people believe that emotional / relational healing is about having each violation cancelled out by a complete and remorseful apology, followed up by amends. Some think punishment is the path. The more heinous the crime, the stronger the punishment. Such symmetry would be tidy, indeed. Who doesn’t long for that, come to think of it?
Others think that healing can only come by cathartically re-living the whole event and expressing strong, even angry emotion. “Releasing” angry emotion can be cathartic and empowering in some sense, though I would argue that staying in anger only reinforces that neural pathway, and the chemistry that goes with it. That chemistry can be harmful to your health, and to your relationships.
I believe healing is an internal process — not an event. Often it is a function of seeing something differently — the paradigm shift. I think that healing happens when we can allow and receive the desired effect. You want peace, be peaceful. Healing requires putting down your weapon which in this case has been anger.