Saturday, December 30, 2006

Our New Year's Resolutions

I hope that when you look back over the past year you are able to see how far you’ve come and the good that’s been part of your life—no matter what may have gone wrong.

Most people make resolutions that they won’t carry out. I’d like to suggest a different approach to New Year’s resolutions. These are resolutions we may be able to carry out and which will make our lives better and we are more likely to make positive changes in our lives if we begin with these.

Here are the New Year’s resolutions I propose for us:

1) I will celebrate my strengths EVERY DAY.
2) I will find reasons to smile or laugh EVERY DAY.
3) I will wake up in the morning and name three things I am grateful for EVERY DAY.
4) I will go to bed and name three things that happened or I saw or did that day for which I am grateful EVERY DAY.
5) I will celebrate all the good in my life EVERY DAY. I will cherish it and remind myself of the ways in which I am lucky.
6) I will look for people who are happy and who believe in me and these are the people I will bring into my life.
7) I will trust myself. I will look for ways I can succeed at whatever it is I most want to do.
8) I will hug myself and then hug those close to me EVERY DAY.
9) I will treat others with kindness and respect and EXPECT others to treat me with kindness and respect as well.
10) I will treat myself with as much love and kindness as I would treat anyone I truly loved.
11) I will make time to play, to find joy EVERY DAY in something—little or big, I will find reasons to smile and approach life with the attitude of: HOW CAN I MAKE THIS BETTER? and HOW CAN I MAKE THIS FUN?

I truly believe, you see, that when we take the approach of finding joy in our lives we create resilience and strength that let us make positive changes in our lives and make wise choices. When we are happy, we don’t need to numb ourselves with self-destructive behaviors or substances. When we love and accept ourselves, we are more able to love and accept others. When we know that kindness and respect are bottom line what we expect of others in how they treat us we do not have to be afraid of new relationships because we know they will either be good ones or we will walk away. If we know that we can AND WILL make ourselves laugh and feel joy then we will never again be hostage to anyone else’s behavior toward us.

May the New Year bring all of us health, happiness, and much success. Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

For me, this is a time to look back and see how far I’ve come. Often I feel as if I’m not doing enough fast enough and it’s only when I stop and look back that I realize what a miracle the past year has been. And the year before that. And...

The thing is that often we set impossible standards for ourselves. Worse, we may set them for the child we were who didn’t know, couldn’t know what we know now and certainly didn’t have the strength and skills we have as adults.

I love that on Christmas Day, for me, there’s time to stop and wonder and remember and reflect. I love the symbolism of birth—a birth of our new selves and of hope. I love that most people are able to feel, at least for a moment or two in this season the understanding that we are connected—no matter what our superficial differences may be.

I hope that at this time of year each of you is able to feel hope. I hope that each of you is able to feel at least a spark of faith in yourself. I hope that each of you feels the wonder of the possibility of rebirth of who you are and of your life so that you imagine, even if only for a moment, joy and laughter and that faith in yourself replacing any shame and fear you may feel.

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


Saturday, December 16, 2006


Holidays can be difficult if one was abused as a child. They may bring back unhappy memories or just plain unhappiness if we don’t have that picture perfect life now, either.

One source of unhappiness can occur if we are expected to give gifts but aren’t getting many or if we have always felt deprived. It is very hard to lovingly give a gift if we feel deprived! But this is a time of year when gifts are expected and if we don’t give them we may stand out (or feel as if we do) as strange or different or acting like a Scrooge.

So what’s the solution? (You know I’ve got one, don’t you?) The solution is to make sure that YOU don’t feel deprived.

NOTE: Let me be very clear! I am NOT talking about spending more money on yourself than you can afford! I am not talking about huge spending sprees for things you won’t care about in a month or two!

So what do I mean? Well, do you remember me saying you should make a list of things that make you smile? Little things as well as big things? Maybe it’s a cup of mint hot cocoa. Maybe it’s a special flavor of tea. Maybe it’s a scoop of rum raisin ice cream. Maybe it’s a sweet scented soap.

None of those things are very expensive. Especially if it’s one scoop of ice cream, one cup of tea or hot cocoa. The key is to very consciously pamper yourself by having them or using the scented soap. The key is to consciously pamper yourself several times during the day—every time you start to feel deprived.

The key is to go into your closet and only wear clothes there that you love during this time of year. The key is to take five minutes and think of all the things in your life that ARE good, that you can appreciate. The key is as you wrap a present for a friend or loved one is to stop and let yourself FEEL the warmth of that friendship or love and remember your happiest moments with them.

Another suggestion: Buy SMALL gifts for yourself and wrap them up. Don’t necessarily open them on the day that everyone else is, but know that you can open one up whenever you need it most. Hey, it could even take you all year! Just knowing, though, that you have presents waiting, presents you will love, that you can open any time you want, can go a long way to making you feel loved and pampered.

Create for yourself an experience of smiles, of feeling pampered, of loving yourself. Because if you can do that, then you will find yourself wanting to give presents to others and making them smile, just as you are smiling.

We cannot change the past. We cannot change the people around us. What we can do is create within ourselves the experiences we want to have. We don’t have to wait for someone else to make us feel happy or pampered.

So as we go through the holiday season, look for little, inexpensive ways to pamper yourself and make yourself smile. Look for things you can genuinely appreciate about your life. THEN shop for and wrap the presents you want or need to give. And on your most difficult day, if it seems like none of this is possible; promise yourself that you will begin NOW to work toward being able to have a holiday season next year when you can smile. Promise yourself that you will begin NOW to look for new ways to make yourself smile and feel happy and loved EVERY DAY—by YOU. Promise yourself that you will find, in time, the perfect way to celebrate the holidays for YOU.

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

PS I'm adding this after posting my original message because I read something in Parade magazine today that made me realize I had neglected an important part of the holidays. There is a story about people who invite others over on holidays--frieds or neighbors or just people who are alone. I love this! It is an affirmation that even if our own families were/are not loving we do not have to be alone on holidays. We have choices. We can choose to invite people who will enjoy our company, who will be glad to spend time with us, and who will brighten the day, not diminish it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mirror Neurons

I discovered something this week that seems really important for anyone who grew up in hugely dysfunctional families. (Note: I’ve seen the same phenomenon in women who were in abusive relationships for significant lengths of time.)

On an email loop I’m on, someone posted a link. I’m going to post it here so you can check it out to see what I’m talking about. It’s: NOVA scienceNOW Mirror Neurons PBS

Why is this important? Well, the idea is that our brains have neurons that mirror the emotions of those around us. I’m paraphrasing but as I understand it, the idea is that we literally feel what others around us feel and that when we see someone else do something our brains respond as if we have done it as well.

Here’s my theory and how it applies to abused children. Note: I have no scientific proof of this, it’s just MY theory. If we grew up in a household with crazy parents, survival and NOT repeating the pattern of abuse may have required that we detach from that mirroring. Not that we couldn’t do it but that we somehow learned not to in order to protect ourselves. In a sense we learned to shield ourselves.

Let me be very clear. We still PERCEIVED the emotions—often more clearly than other children could because it was a survival mechanism to be able to read the moods of the adults around us. We just learned not to mirror what they feel. Because that ability to mirror IS important, however, we may have channeled it into safe directions such as deeply internalizing emotions of the characters when we read a book, listened to music, or watched a movie or television show.

Pretty clever, huh? And no more unlikely than any other survival mechanism that abused children adopt to survive. The problem is that as adults we may find ourselves detached from others. We may tend to be loners. We may be able to see the emotions others are feeling with remarkable insight (perhaps because we can observe without being caught up in the other person’s emotions) but we stay isolated in our own emotions. In other words, if I’m right, we may watch with some bemusement the way others get caught up in crowd emotions when it makes no sense to us—whether it’s sports, politics, or whatever. We still feel emotions ourselves. We still see and understand and CARE about how others feel—sometimes too much—we just do not mirror those emotions in the same way that other people do.

The upside of this is that we may be able to be more clearsighted in evaluating situations and information and less likely to get caught up in the “mob mentality.” We may be able to work with people who are hurting without being overwhelmed ourselves.

The downside is that it does isolate us to some degree. In extreme cases, one could become a psychopath. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about those of us who are able to empathize and care about others but not mirror those emotions in the way that most people do.

Another downside is that we may tend to choose partners who lack the ability to mirror emotions as well because it’s too scary to have someone mirror ours. If they are capable of empathizing it may be okay but if we choose someone who literally cannot comprehend the emotions of others we’re in trouble because odds are we’ll know the relationship is lacking something important—even if we can’t articulate what it is.

So, how can we best use this information? How can we perhaps even reconnect the ability to mirror what others feel without losing the ability to step back to clearly evaluate what we are seeing or hearing?

1) Recognizing that it IS a factor in how we interact with the world.
2) We can understand and honor our child selves for finding a way to survive.
3) We can create alternative methods of safety so that we no longer need to detach.
4) We can consciously choose, in nonthreatening situations, to allow ourselves to feel what others are feeling, to allow ourselves to get caught up in group emotions when that would be a positive thing.
5) We can recognize that when others pull away in the presence of our intense emotions, it may not be a rejection of us or what we are trying to tell them but rather that the other person cannot help mirroring what we are feeling and MUST get away for self-protection.
6) We can recognize that this mirroring mechanism may help to explain some of what we felt as a child before we learned how not to mirror the emotions of the adults around us.
7) We can recognize how this explains the power of responding to anger with love and why we can change the dynamics in a room by being the one who is able to smile and feel hope when others do not.
8) We can recognize the power in finding someone who we are able to trust enough to let ourselves mirror the person’s emotions IF that person believes in us and has a sense of optimism about us and about life in general.
9) We can choose to spend as little time as possible with negative people and consciously seek out those who have a positive outlook on life.

I’ll admit that my first reaction to this concept was one of depression. Oh, great, one more lifetime negative impact of abuse! And then I stopped and reminded myself of all the ways in which I had accomplished what was supposed to be impossible in my life. I reminded myself of all the ways I have defied what would have been reasonable predictions for who I would become and what I would do. And so, as I thought about it, I realized how liberating it was to have this information. I realized that deep down I do believe that with this knowledge I will be able to make my life even better than it already is. I realized that I can acknowledge how essential it was for me, as a child, to adapt in this way and at the same time embrace the idea of exploring possibilities including that of reconnecting the mirroring mechanism.

Knowledge is power and this new piece of information feels like just that to me—power. I hope that each of you may find it a source of power for you as well.

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

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hope and Faith

This is the season of hope. I heard someone talk about it today. How do we hold onto hope if things have gone wrong in our lives? How do we keep from feeling overwhelmed? How do we work through past hurts to get to a better place in our lives?

The answer in every case is hope. Hope that things can go right in the future. Hope that we have the strength and courage to cope. Hope that we can create happiness in our lives.

Except maybe the right word isn’t hope but faith. Faith that within us is all that we need to create that happy life. Faith that we will always have courage and strength and resilience and whatever resourcefulness we need to face any challenge. Faith that no matter how bad a situation seems, we will be all right.

Like many people who were abused as a child, I used to expect bad things to happen. I used to believe I was going to get hurt, rejected, look like a fool, and fail at what I wanted most.

And then I began to hope. Hope that it was possible for things to be different. Hope that maybe I could be good enough. Hope that I could be happy, accepted, and even be loved. Because I had hope, I began to see things I hadn’t seen before, do things I hadn’t done before and it began to happen. My life got better. And because it did, I began to have faith that it would continue to do so.

There is real power in hope. And hope fulfilled becomes faith that it will continue to be fulfilled.

The most powerful step I took, however, was to adopt the following habit. Whenever something goes wrong, I ask myself: What good could come out of this?

That isn’t always an easy question to ask. It isn’t always easy to keep asking until I get an answer. But there always is an answer. And it alters everything.

Because I do this, I have seen possibilities I otherwise might not have seen. Even better, instead of putting my focus and energy and emotion into being upset and angry at what SEEMS to have gone wrong, I am putting my focus and energy and emotion into looking for ways to cause/allow/see something good come out of the situation.

There is real power in this approach! I know I’ve written about it before but I think that especially at this time of year, for those of us who may have had less than ideal experiences at holiday time, it’s important to know how we will handle disappointments or difficult days.

So I challenge you this week/month/year/lifetime to ask yourself, the next time something goes wrong, to ask yourself: What good could come out of this? And to keep asking until you get an answer. You may be surprised at how much it changes your life for the better.

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