Saturday, May 27, 2006

Courage and Honor

Officially Memorial Day is meant to remember and honor those who have fought to preserve this country, the United States. The best military men and women have acted with great courage and honor. Many have given their lives.

Some of you reading this may have come back from war with PTSD. You know firsthand the cost of war.

Growing up, I heard these words associated with soldiers: Honor. Courage. Doing the right thing even when it’s scary or hard. Doing what has to be done even when you’re so tired you just want to give up.

Those are ideals towhich we all can aspire. And if we live our lives with honor and courage and a determination to do what needs to be done and to always do the right thing, then we are helping to create a world in which we would all like to live.

If you’ve ever been abused or traumatized, you may feel powerless. You may feel as if what you do can’t be “good enough” or can’t matter. But it does. No matter what has happened to us in the past, no matter what we have done in the past, we can begin, today, to live our lives by these ideals. We can make a positive difference in the world.

I truly believe in the ripple effect. Everything we do impacts not only those with whom we interact directly but everyone those people interact with on a daily basis. We help to create the world we live in by the choices we make.

When we act with honor and courage, we may inspire others to do so as well. When we act and speak with kindness and compassion, we encourage others to treat those they encounter with kindness and compassion.

If you find it hard to believe that what you do matters, take a day and all day, no matter what the other person does, no matter how you feel, speak and act with kindness toward everyone you meet. Smile even before you know if the other person will smile back. Look for the best in the other person and connect with that. Do what’s right, even if it’s hard. Then watch how the world around you reacts. Some people will be suspicious because this isn’t what they are used to encountering. Odds are, though, that you will find your own day going more smoothly. Odds are you will find other people smiling at YOU. And though you may never know it, odds are that your kindness will have an impact on people you will never see or hear about.

Most of us will never wear a uniform, never go into battle but each of us, every day, can work to bring about a better world—for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren. Each of us can help to preserve the best of our culture and society. WE can live up to the ideals of seeing each man and woman and child as created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We can, by our example, help to create and preserve a society in which people act with decency and compassion and kindness and courage and honor.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hope and Self-Belief

If we have hope, we have everything we need. We can keep going, keep working to make our lives better. The key is to know what the right hope is.

What do I mean by that? How many of us stay or stayed way too long in relationships hoping they would get better—and got hurt more and more in the process? How many of us twisted ourselves into pretzels hoping that if we just became the right person, the other one would love us back?

On the other hand, if what we are hoping for encourages us to be more true to ourselves, lets us move forward and do the things that truly enrich our lives, lets us reach out to lots of people (because then the odds are greater that we will meet and interact with someone who will treat us well and enrich our lives), then this kind of hope is good. If it gets us out of unproductive patterns, if it gets us to take action when our fear would otherwise hold us back, if it lets us believe in ourselves, then this hope is good.

Notice that last sentence and the words “believe in ourselves.” For how many of us is that a struggle? (Pretty much everyone, right?) Fear that we can’t do something holds back so many from going after dreams. Fear that we aren’t good enough keeps so many hiding away, afraid to let other people close. Fear that we can’t make it on our own keeps way too many trapped in difficult or even abusive relationships.

Not a pretty picture is it. And yet it’s the reality for far too many. Is it true for you? No—don’t panic! There is a solution!

First, make a list of every success you have accomplished. Big or small. The longer the list the better. Whenever you doubt you can do something, pull out this list and look at it and remind yourself that if you have done these things in the past, odds are you will be able to handle whatever challenge is facing you now. Keep adding to that list with each new accomplishment in your life.

Second, every day do something that makes you smile. Three times a day at the minimum! This is a proof to yourself that you do have the power to create happiness in your life and that you can trust YOURSELF to do so.

Third, surround yourself with people who believe in you. That may begin with finding just one such person. It may even be a therapist or counselor. This is one of the most powerful gifts of therapy or counseling—having someone who believes in you even when you cannot believe in yourself. And if your counselor or therapist doesn’t, FIND A DIFFERENT ONE!

Fourth, when you interact with others, do so with the intent and desire to help them believe in themselves. There is no greater gift you can give another person. And it helps to create a better world because someone who believes in him or herself has no need to hurt others. Someone who believes in him or herself can accomplish marvelous things. And that person could be YOU! The better you get at fostering self-belief in others, the better you will get at fostering it in yourself.

Hope lets us change our lives and belief in ourselves feeds that hope. This week, may you find lots of ways to act on steps 1 through 4! Wishing all of you hope and self-belief and lots of safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))).


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

Okay, I’ll rant a bit here. For those of us who had abusive childhoods, Mother’s Day is likely to be a very difficult time—as is Father’s Day. Either it was our mothers who abused us or who at the least failed to protect us. Maybe they didn’t know or couldn’t protect us, but a part of us carries anger about that for a very long time—even when intellectually we understand.

It gets even more complicated if we are mothers. We worry that we will make horrible mistakes with our children. We second guess everything. We may defer to the other parent believing surely they know better than we do because their childhoods were more “normal.” And if/when we realize they were wrong, we will feel guilt about abdicating the choices to them. And yes, “normal” parents worry about all of these things too but somehow it feels more urgent, more significant, the stakes higher if we were abused as children ourselves.

This is a difficult mother’s day for me. One grown child is off on her own, in another state, and doing well but I miss her. The other is handicapped and when we divorced I believed it would be better for him to stay with his father. I worry that was a mistake. I worry it would be worse to bring him to live with me. I love both of them and wonder what I could or should have done better as a mother.

My own mother is dead. I understand the pain she was in all her life and the level of self-hate she carried inside. I also still remember my anger and hurt that not only didn’t she protect me, she hurt me herself.

So from all of this, as you might guess, Mother’s Day isn’t easy for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad society honors mothers. Mothers often give up a great deal for their children. Even my mother made sacrifices for us. Some of those sacrifices were huge mistakes but she meant them to help us.

I’m glad society honors mothers. I know some wonderful ones. This year just isn’t an easy one for me.

Sending safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))) (especially to all the mothers out there...),


Friday, May 12, 2006

Difficult Days

I know that I constantly talk about how we can create the lives we want to have. And I truly believe that—no matter what has happened in the past. I suspect that sometimes I seem unbearably Pollyannaish about it. But today let’s get real and talk about the days that aren’t so great. The days that make us wonder if it will ever be okay.

None of what I’m going to say contradicts my belief that we can create the lives we want to have. What I want to talk about is how it feels when things go wrong. Because that’s important, too—to validate that it is hard sometimes.

If we had a difficult childhood, it’s all too easy growing up expecting things to go wrong. It’s all too easy to feel that if things are going right, we should brace ourselves for the next disaster. We find it hard to celebrate the good or even really realize it’s happening because it doesn’t feel real to us.

We can change that. Little by little we can condition ourselves to notice that things can go right and create more and more good moments and hours and days and weeks and years in our lives. That said, there will still be those days, those times when we feel like: What’s the use? Something will always go wrong and we will wonder if it will ever end—things going wrong, I mean.

That’s when it’s important to pull out that list of all the things that have gone right in our lives. That’s when it’s important to reach out to the people in our lives who care. I don’t know about you but there is immense comfort in having someone who KNOWS what I’ve gone through, how hard I’ve worked in the past and how hard I continue to work to create a good life for myself. Someone who KNOWS and VALIDATES how hard I work at this! I need that acknowledgement. And I need it from someone who believes in me and believes and knows that I will continue to succeed.

So on days when the little (and sometimes big) things start to pile up, I pull out my list of challenges I have successfully overcome in my life and remind myself that I CAN DO THIS.

If I can, I talk to friends who will validate that I do have courage, that I am remarkable to have accomplished what I have in my life.

This does not mean I dwell all the time wrapped in a mantle of victimhood. How we see ourselves directly affects how we live our lives and how others perceive us! To see myself as survivor and thriver who can do whatever I want to do is far more powerful than to cling to the dubious benefits of being a victim!

But on days that are particularly tough or challenging, it’s good to be reminded that what I do takes courage and that I not only have that but that I am a resilient, resourceful person who can and will continue to create the life I want to have.

So...if you haven’t yet made a list of your strengths and your past successes—big and small, list every one!—I urge you to do so. If you don’t have a support structure, I urge you to begin looking around—in “real life” or find a supportive community online—so that you have someone who will encourage you when you need it most.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Other Shoes

When you are dealing with a difficult situation or person, how often do you stop and put yourself in the other person’s shoes? Not to be able to tell yourself what a mean, rotten person they are but to understand how what they are saying or doing might be justified in their mind or to realize that they may see the situation entirely different from the way you do?

Why would I suggest such a thing? Not because I think anyone should blindly adopt the beliefs or attitudes or ideas of another person but because it can be the optimal strategy for us to get what we want out of life.

Do we want to be hurt? No. Do we want to be taken advantage of? No. Do we want to lose in negotiations? No.

Seeing a situation from another person’s point of view can help us construct agreements that benefit us in the ways that matter most to us and benefit the other person as well. When we create those kinds of agreements, we all win. All sides are more likely to abide by the agreement and feel more positive about each other and therefore less likely to try to do harm.

If we understand the other person’s point of view, we may realize a situation is never going to get better and we know to get out. We may be able to realize that what they are saying or doing that is hurtful comes out of their own pain or fears and nothing we do will change their behavior. And we know to get out or at least not take things personally.

If we can understand how the other person thinks and we are in danger, we are much more likely to be able to take effective action to protect ourselves.

Note that understanding does not have to equal acceptance of the other person’s way of thinking! Nor does it mean we must tolerate abusive actions or words.

But there is power in understanding how and why others do things. There is power in knowing who we are and choosing how we interact with others rather than simply reacting.

We all perceive life and the world and people around us through filters of past experience. This can significantly distort our perceptions. Putting ourselves in the shoes of others can help us see situations in other ways and that may help us see more clearly other possible explanations besides those offered by our filters. And seeing more clearly may give us the courage to take actions that will make our lives better which we were not taking because of distorted expectations about what would happen if we did.

Wishing all of you a week, a month, a lifetime of being able to see through the eyes of others as well as your own.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),