Sunday, July 30, 2006

Making Changes

Okay, suppose you know you want to make changes in your life. Where do you begin?

Step 1: For me, it was first imagining what I might try and how I might handle it. Since I had a terror of making mistakes, this was really important for me.

Step 2: Do whatever it was I needed to do that scared me. No way around this step.
• I would remind myself of all the times I had succeeded in the past.
• I would reward myself each time I tried and took a step forward.
• I would make sure I did things that made me smile—every day! Especially when I least felt like doing so.

Step 3: Evaluate the experience. Sometimes that meant listening to feedback I didn’t want to hear. (Boy didn’t I want to hear it!) Sometimes that meant thinking it through myself. What did I like about the outcome? What didn’t I like? What could I have done differently?

Step 4: Imagine the next possible step and take it.

The thing is, as I’ve said before, what we are afraid to look at gains power over us but when we stand and face our fears, often we discover things aren’t as bad as we feared.

When we do things that scare us but will ultimately make our lives better, right there we’ve proven to ourselves our courage and our intelligence in taking steps that will improve our lives. And often we discover that we can do the very thing we thought we couldn’t.

There’s another thing about all of this. Odds are that for you, as for me, the fear lies in part in having other people find out we aren’t good enough or that we’re incompetent. So we avoid things that are public. But when we take public steps that will make our lives better, we get the chance to discover that other people always assumed we could do it. We may discover that they see us very differently and in a far more positive way than we see ourselves.

Making changes in our lives isn’t easy. And it’s tempting to try to stay in a situation/behavior/relationship/pattern that feels “safe.” The trouble is, all too often that “safety” is only an illusion and we would actually be truly safer if we took the steps that scare us. I know that’s been true in my own life and when I look back, I can see lots of places where I would have been better off, been safer if I had risked leaving what felt like “safety” and taken the steps I was too afraid, back then, to take. How about you?

What would make YOUR life better? What steps could you or will you take TODAY to make that change begin to happen?

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

Saturday, July 22, 2006


There was an article in the paper today and it was about daydreams. I found myself thinking about mine. All the daydreams I’ve ever had, I think, are about protecting people and/or being loved and valued for who I am—something that seemed so unlikely when they first began when I was a child.

In real life when I was a child, just as in those daydreams, it seemed that people generally saw me as not good enough or outright bad. And the key to the daydreams, the payoff, was that someone special would discover that I was really helping people and really was special and really was a good person.

That mirrors my need in real life to protect others and help them believe in themselves and be happy. I CAN’T not do those things. I think the one thing that cuts me down faster than anything else is to believe I have done something that hurt someone else. Plus, for so much of my life, I desperately wanted someone, anyone to realize what a good person I was trying to be and value who I was.

The thing about daydreams is that they can help us see what we value and what matters to us emotionally. They can show us who we want to be and what we want to do.

Some of my daydreams these days are about hitting the NY Times bestseller list or becoming a famous movie star or a highly successful motivational speaker. I picture myself on Oprah and other talk shows. Why? Because it would feel as if people realized I was special and my words were worth reading or I was someone they resonated to when they saw me on stage or on the screen. Plus, of course, it would be nice to have the financial recompense that goes with those things—without having to take advantage of anyone to get that much money!

To some degree I’ve lived part of those dreams. I have protected others. I have found people who value who I am. I’ve had several books published. I get to give workshops that make a difference in people’s lives. Thinking about this, though, makes me realize that sometimes I let fear keep me from going after these goals in a more focused way. But now that I’ve started thinking about them, that may change.

What are YOUR daydreams and how have you lived them in real life? How could you live them even more?


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Who Are You


I ask because I came up against something this week that made me realize this is a core issue for many of us—maybe for everyone.

If you are unhappy, how much of your unhappiness is because of the gap you perceive between who you are and who you think you ought to be?

I found myself thinking about this over the past week. Where do I think I should be physically, emotionally, professionally, socially? How does that compare to where I am and how does THAT impact how I feel about myself?

It’s good to have a sense of who we want to be. We need to know what we believe makes a person honorable and good and successful. So where’s the problem? Well....

I believe the problem comes from making judgments about what it means not to meet those goals, not to live that idealized vision of who we think we ought to be. In other words, these are GOALS and life is about trying to get closer and closer to being the person we believe we ought to be.

As long as we are moving in that direction, beating ourselves up because we haven’t yet gotten there can do tremendous damage. Yes, damage. So much harm I have seen in my own life came out of the shame, guilt, and even sometimes self-hate people have felt when they weren’t living up to the image of who they thought they ought to be. Sometimes it was bullying and belittling others to try to get them to say the person was who he/she thought he/she should be. Sometimes it was harming others to try to cover up ways in which the person didn’t live up to his/her ideal self. Sometimes it was simply paralysis—the feeling one could never be good enough so why even try? Sometimes it was alcohol or drug use to try to deaden the pain of not being able to live up to the ideal.

The thing is, it’s not an effective strategy to beat oneself up and even can result in serious damage to oneself or others—damage that is directly contradictory to the goal one is trying to achieve.

So what’s the answer? Lists. (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)
1) Past successes to help build the belief that you can achieve your goals.
2) Things you like about yourself help remind you the ways in which you do match your image of who you believe you should be.
3) Steps you can take to be more and more like the person you believe you should be.
4) What’s not part of that image that maybe should be?
5) What’s part of the image that maybe shouldn’t be?

You’ll notice the last two suggest re-evaluating your image of who you believe you should be. You can keep that image exactly as it is if really looking at it reaffirms that’s what you should do. But for many of us, that image was formed years ago, shaped by assumptions we learned from our parents and the world around us. It may or may not be what we would choose if we examine it carefully now.

The other bonus, when we examine our ideal image, is that we may realize our judgments about our inability to fully achieve that ideal come from others as well. How many of us were raised, after all, with the focus on what we couldn’t do or weren’t doing? How many of us heard what was wrong with us rather than what was right? How many of us internalized that as meaning we weren’t good enough—or maybe were even told that out right?

The thing is, believing in ourselves, honoring the ways in which we do strive toward and match up to the ideal of who we want to be encourages us to keep trying, it gives us courage and the ability to believe it matters and that it isn’t hopeless to try. It also means we are far less likely to lash out or do things that will hurt others if WE know that we are good enough NOW, that we ARE taking steps toward being who we want to be, if we know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes were unforgivable in my house growing up and maybe they were in yours as well. But mistakes are inevitable and part of how we learn. Mistakes are the ways we understand things we couldn’t otherwise and they are part of being human.

If we strive to be more and more like the person we believe we ought to be and can accept ourselves as we are at the same time and forgive ourselves for mistakes we make, we move toward that ideal faster and we are likely to have more love and acceptance of those around us.

So....who are you and who do you want to be? How will you honor who you are RIGHT NOW and what steps will you take this week to be even more the person you want to be?

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

Monday, July 10, 2006

Habit of Hope

What are your emotional habits? Do you easily fall into a pattern of feeling discouraged or sad? If so, that makes life an uphill battle. How do you cope with it? Do you hurt yourself—either directly or by overeating or doing things that you know are likely to add to the hurt? Do you maybe use the idea of snapping a rubber band on your wrist?

If any of the above statements are true for you, I’d like to suggest an alternative: creating a HABIT of HOPE.

First, here’s why I hate the rubber band suggestion that at one point was really popular: YOU”RE HURTING YOURSELF!!! Doesn’t matter what the goal is, it involves hurting yourself. Here’s my alternative suggestion: Surround yourself with things you LIKE that you couldn’t have when you were a child. For me, that includes clothes I love, pretty jewelry, furniture and objects my parents would never have tolerated, food they wouldn’t have eaten or that I wasn’t allowed to have as a child THAT I LIKE.

The reason I prefer this approach is that it instantly grounds me in the present: NOW I am safe, NOW I am happy, NOW I can create the life I want to have. It is also tangible proof that I CAN have things that make me happy, I CAN create the life I want to have, I won’t always feel this way (if in that moment I’m unhappy or scared or hurting).

Which approach is more likely to make you want to hang around and enjoy life? Which approach helps you believe in YOU and your ability to create the life you want to have?

Another really big part of creating a HABIT of HOPE is to find ways, EVERY DAY to smile, NO MATTER WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE. If you do this when times are good, then when you hit a rough patch you already have this habit. And by smiling, even in the midst of difficult times, you are promising yourself that you will not always feel this way. You are promising yourself that no matter what happens you will ALWAYS be able to find moments of happiness.

The other step to creating a HABIT of HOPE is to make and hold onto a list of everything good about yourself—all your strengths, all your successes, all the good things about who you are. And every time you feel stressed or scared, look at that list and remind yourself of these things!

By creating such a list and creaing a HABIT of HOPE, you’ll find that you are happier and odds are you will also be more successful. Other people will begin to interact with you in new ways as you change how you see yourself and life and the levels of stress hormones will be lower so your brain will literally function more efficiently. In addition, you will not need to hurt others out of fear, you will not need to act in ways that run counter to your own sense of who you want to be, and you will find more and more good things coming into your life as you become more and more able to see the possibilities around you.

So please, begin today. Seek out things you have that make you smile. Surround yourself with them. Make it a point to find reasons to smile at least three times every day (and even more if you can!), and make that list of successes and strengths and good things about yourself. Create that HABIT OF HOPE.

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

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Your Independence Day

What if we declare this OUR Independence Day? What if we declare that as of today we believe ourselves free of past shame and fear and entitled to happiness?

We have both the right and the responsibility to make a choice—are we going to heal or are we going to let ourselves stay trapped in the past forever?

Making the choice to heal doesn’t instantly make everything all right. What it does do is cue our subconscious to find the answers to what we need to do to heal. It sets us on a path where only freedom from shame and fear and the achievement of happiness is acceptable. And if that is our focus, then that is what we can and will achieve.

It begins with a decision. We may not know how we will achieve our goal but if we keep it firmly as our goal the path opens up. People and opportunities appear in our lives to help us achieve that goal. I know because it’s happened to me. Once I accepted the possibility that I could be free of shame and fear and could be happy, I found myself, step by step, getting closer and closer to that goal. When I worked with a therapist, he used to ask what the plan was. I’d always answer that I only saw one or two steps ahead and I didn’t know the rest but I had faith the steps would always be there for me to take when I was ready. And I was right. My life is now incredibly good in ways I could not have predicted ten years ago.

Let this be YOUR Independence Day! Let this be the day YOU choose that the only acceptable course for your life is one free of shame and fear and filled with happiness. That choice won’t bring instant success but it will set you on a journey toward that goal and one that rewards you in ways you probably cannot yet imagine.

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

Sunday, July 02, 2006

You CAN Do It

How often do you avoid things because you think you can’t do something? Do you tell yourself this is a self-protective move? This way no one can find out your flaws and make fun of you? Or maybe you tell yourself that if you don’t try, you can’t fail and failing would hurt too much.

We all have an internal dialogue and for many of us there is a tendency to shy away from things we think we can’t do. I know—I’ve written about this before. And yet I don’t think it can be stressed often enough—what we run from gains more and more power and what we stand and face we can often overcome.

We think we are protecting ourselves when we avoid things we think we can’t do. And sometimes it makes sense to do so. I do not, for example, foresee myself ever trying to climb Mt. Everest!

What I’m writing about today, though, is avoiding things that would make our lives better. Unfortunately, many of us spend at least part of our lives ruled by our fears. I look back and know that many choices I made out of fear, trying to protect myself, actually made me more vulnerable and ended up hurting me in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.

If we think we can’t support ourselves, we may stay in abusive relationships far too long—or at least hand over control of our lives to a greater degree than is healthy for anyone involved out of fear that if we don’t, the other person will abandon us. The same is true if we are afraid we can’t handle being on our own emotionally.

If we think we can’t do a certain kind of work, we won’t try and may end up being paid far less than we are worth.

If we think we can’t set boundaries or have healthy relationships, we cut ourselves off from friendships and love that otherwise would enrich our lives.

What’s the answer? To do the things we want to do, even if they scare us. I don’t mean blindly doing stupid things but if deep down we know it would be a good thing, then go ahead and try.

One success, doing something we didn’t think we could outweighs all the words of support and encouragement anyone could possibly give us.

One piece of self-knowledge gained offers new possibilities for the future that we could never have had if we tried to stay safe by not doing this thing that scares us.

If we don’t try, we are telling ourselves that we can’t. If we don’t try, we are limiting ourselves far more than any failure could because if we try and fail at least we have gained information and we know we had the courage to try.

Many of us seek the validation of others, believing that will make us whole, that will let us begin to believe in ourselves. But the words of others, however helpful in the short run, count so little compared to what we tell ourselves. If we truly want to heal, if we truly want to be happy and create the lives we want to have, then it begins by changing what WE believe about ourselves and the fastest and surest way to do that is to prove by doing what we have believed we could never do.

Wishing all of you a week of self-discovery, of courage to do the things you’ve been putting off that you really want to do, that you know could enrich your lives.

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