Saturday, September 30, 2006

Breast Cancer

No, I don’t have it. Someone I care about does. And it brings me to all the old feelings of helplessness and also fear of being drowned by this person’s fears and needs.

That’s not admirable to say. That part of me is afraid of being needed too much when her life is at stake. And it’s a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Day by day she can literally feel it growing and spreading. And it’s taking too freaking long for anything to be done!

Part of me willingly reaches out to her and jokes with her and sends her cards and buys crazy, funky, flamboyant earrings she can wear if/when her hair falls out from the chemo she’ll need.

Part of me is terrified of falling into the abyss that was my life as a child when the adults around me pulled me into their world and wanted me to take care of them and I couldn’t.

How many of you were in situations like that? Overwhelmed by demands of adults? Overwhelmed by having to take care of them and/or your siblings because if you didn’t no one would?

Often kids like us grow up and go one of two ways. We either devote our lives to others, never feeling as if we deserve to have anyone take care of us or we avoid like crazy doing things for others because we had too much of it as kids and sometimes we alternate between the two states, not knowing how to set boundaries when we do help others.

I’ve pondered this a lot because I didn’t want to be someone who isolates herself and refuses to help others. I also didn’t want to be someone who had no life of her own because she was always taking care of everyone else—admirable as that might be. I’ve tried to find a balance. In the end, I came to these conclusions:

1) Whatever I CHOOSE to do, needs to be done in a spirit of love—otherwise I hurt myself and those I think I am helping.
2) I need to make sure I take care of myself.
3) I need to find a way to help that is in tune with who I am and what I passionately care about.
4) I need to know what my limits are and respect them.
5) I need to realize that just as I help others, it’s okay to let others help me and in fact, if I cannot let others help me, I will resent helping anyone myself.

That last one is a tough one. It’s something that friends and I have been discussing online. If we grew up unable to depend on the adults in our lives, we may have also grown up believing we had to be strong and able to handle anything and everything on our own. We may not want to acknowledge need because that’s too scary because what if no one can or will help us?

There have been times in my life when I let others help me. I had to and it took a conscious effort of will. I had to work, too, on letting myself believe I deserved help and the whole time I was terrified that sooner or later—probably sooner—it was going to be yanked away. Even now, my instinct is to always try to do things myself, first, and only if I can’t to ask for help.

It comes down to trust, of course. I used to say it’s like facing a bridge over a gorge and every step I take on that bridge—asking/for/accepting help—carries the fear that any moment the bridge is going to be yanked away and I’m going to fall. Better not to go on that bridge even if it means climbing down one side of the gorge and up the other—a far harder and longer journey, but at least no one could yank the bridge away or worse, refuse to let me on it in the first place!

The other risk, the other way it goes is that we may expect unreasonable levels of help from others. We may not understand where the boundaries should be because the adults in our lives, our role models, didn’t when we were growing up. We may have friends who don't understand either and we see how demanding they can become and either think we should be able to demand the same level of time and attention or we're terrified of becoming like them. And that’s my other fear about accepting help—that I will become a black hole asking for too much from others, which would be a poor repayment for their kindness. It’s one more reason I’m reluctant most of the time to ask—because I don’t want to be like that and know that I sometimes have been.

What are your attitudes toward giving or accepting help? How do you balance the two?

I will continue to reach out to help my friend and remind myself that I am no longer that scared, overwhelmed kid. I will remind myself that now I am an adult able to make choices and that the adult me knows I don’t have to cure my friend’s breast cancer, only be there for her as she fights it herself. I will remind myself that it’s okay to ask for help, sometimes, if I need it. I will also remind myself that there are and need to be boundaries if/when I do ask for help. In all of this, I know I’ll make mistakes and when I do, I will remind myself that’s part of how we learn.

Please keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers.

Know that I wish for all of you that you have good friends or loved ones to care and help when you need help and that you are able to help them. Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Saturday, September 23, 2006


One of the issues for many people who have been through traumatic experiences is relationships. How do we keep from getting hurt in the future the way we may have been in the past?

First, we need to recognize our own patterns.

1) Do we tend to choose people like those who have hurt us in the past? If so, we may want to look for someone different. See if maybe we can have a relationship—whether romantic or friendship—with someone we are not intensely drawn to. Because that sense of intense connection often means the person IS like someone we have known in the past and part of us wants to try again and this time get it right. The problem is, the same personality is likely to respond to us in the same way the other person did and we are likely to play out the same roles. It may be better to try someone new.
2) Do we tend to gravitate to people we think are not very successful or well liked? We may do so because we think we can help them and therefore have something to offer so they will like us. Problem with that is they are more likely to resent needing us than appreciate what we have to offer.
3) Or maybe we think that they don’t have many friends so surely they will appreciate us and if we learn how to do this friendship thing we can move on to other people, too. Problem with this is that people who are hurting often lash out at others. They often feel the need to put others down to make themselves feel better. We have better odds with someone healthy because they won’t need to hurt us. This, of course, means looking at how we relate to others ourselves. Do we put them down? Do we look for insults and expect slights?

We need to think about how to relate to people. And yes, this was a huge challenge for me for years—something that surprises people who know me now. They generally are astounded at the idea I might ever have been awkward in social situations. How did I change? Well, I asked myself the following questions.

1) I asked myself how my family related to others. I realized they were hyper critical and almost completely isolated. My parents never did things with friends, never had them over, and generally were isolated. I realized this meant they had never been able to teach me social skills and I was going to have to learn them on my own. I read books and I watched other people and how they related to each other and by trial and error I learned.
2) I looked at how I expected to be treated. This is huge. I realized that how I expected to be treated affected my body language, what I said, and how I said it! I read about a study that had self-avowed shy people go to a party and act AS IF they were confident and outgoing and EXPECTED TO BE LIKED. Ooooookay, I thought. But what did I have to lose? I was so very tired of being isolated. So I tried it. And discovered just how powerful a tool it was. And the great thing was, the more I did it, the easier it got because I had more and more experiences of people relating well to me.
3) I treated myself well. I made lists of things I liked about myself. And the more I liked myself, the less I needed to put down others. The more I liked myself, the easier it was to believe others would too.
4) I got help to deal with the past and my own misplaced sense of shame and guilt. After all, it’s hard to let anyone get close if you’re terrified of what they will find when they do.
5) I found a sense of purpose for my life. I asked myself what I loved and how I could you use that to make the lives of others better. The more I focused on a sense of purpose rather than myself, the better I felt. And that’s not counting the reactions of others to what I was doing. The key was NOT to become a martyr and spend my life endlessly serving others. That would have made me angry and bitter. Rather, it was to share something I genuinely loved doing and that made ME feel good, too. It was finding a way to be happy as well as make a difference for others.

Relationships matter. They remind us we are all interconnected, all human beings. If we choose the right people, we are likely to be reminded often that we matter to others and they like us. And we are likely to be happier if we are focused on a sense of purpose than on ourselves.

Wishing each of you wonderful and rewarding relationships in your lives and sending safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))),


Monday, September 18, 2006

Dark Moments

It’s not realistic to think we will never have moments when we feel discouraged. Everyone does. The key is to know how we will handle them when we do.

At one point, someone dear to me was depressed to the point of feeling suicidal. When she was past the worst of it, one of the things I asked her to do was to make a list. What was everything she could think of that she could focus on if she got that depressed again? Some of the things I suggested she list were:

1) Who could she call/talk to who would be supportive?
2) What could she do to be physically active? (Walk? Swim? Run? Dance?)
3) What made her smile?
4) What made her laugh out loud?
5) What foods made her feel good? (NOT what did she reach for automatically when she was depressed but what actually made her feel GOOD?)
6) Every reason to find a way to go on. Every reason to find a way to cope.
7) What made her feel good about herself?

Another list I suggested she make was every success she had ever had in her life. Every time she had overcome a challenge. Every time she had done something others said she couldn’t do.

No, I’m not going through a dark spell. Things are good in my life right now. But I often talk with people who are going through a tough time and it just seemed right to mention these lists again now.

The other thing that can make a difference is having a sense of purpose. Do YOU have a sense of purpose? Remind yourself of that purpose often. I believe that part of my purpose is to help others believe in themselves and achieve their dreams. Another part is to touch hearts with what I write and help them see things in a new way.

What is YOUR sense of purpose? It truly will make a difference once you know.

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Nine Eleven

Those of you who knew me when I posted at The Wounded Healer Journal know that on 9/11/2001, I was living not all that far from NYC. Like everyone else, I was profoundly affected by that day and the events that followed. This weekend I had to fly for professional reasons and I did so thinking of that day.

Whenever something like this occurs, or we are reminded of such events, it’s easy to become even more afraid than before. But if you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you know that I believe in facing fear head on. I believe in being prudent but not letting fear rule our lives.

I also believe that we, of all people, must remember to look at everyone as individuals. We must look beyond labels and expectations to see the person within. How often, after all, have others looked at us and made assumptions based on knowing how we’ve been hurt in the past or on who we APPEAR to be?

What I would love to see us do is to focus on the courage and goodness of so many people that day and in the days that followed. While the acts of the terrorists remind us the world can be a dangerous place, the actions of courage and kindness of so many people remind us that most people are good. We can be a nation and a world where people care about each other, where we are all connected and understand that we are so that we reach out to help each other.

We can remind ourselves of the strength of the human spirit—that it IS possible to rise above tragedy and survive. We can use the memory of 9/11 to affirm to ourselves that we will not waste our lives wallowing in pain or sedating ourselves with food or drugs or alcohol or mindless television, but rather we will choose to LIVE each day!

That, above all else, was what I took from that day five years ago. I realized I had to make changes. I could no longer go on living as I had. I won’t lie—it was scary. I was terrified at the steps I was about to take. But 9/11 made me realize that it was even scarier to think that I might die without ever having let myself try to be truly happy.

It has not always been easy. But in these past 5 years I have grown in ways I didn’t know were possible. I have found contentment and laughter and made new friends and created a new life for myself.

I hope that for each of you this September 11th was a time for reflection and a time to remember how far you’ve come in the past 5 years. I hope that it was a good reminder to you to LIVE and look for ways to create the life you want to have.

As always, sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kindness and Respect--For Us

A couple of people raised issues that are important. In particular they relate to how we are treated. Even though I don’t usually post this often, it seems important enough to warrant an extra post.

How do people treat you? Is it with kindness and respect?

For many of us, that’s not how we’re treated, not even by people who claim to love us. Does it have to be that way? NO!!!!!

I didn’t used to be treated with kindness and respect. Or if I was, I viewed the person with suspicion. What did they want from me and when was I going to get kicked in the teeth? I thought it would always be that way. Thank God I was wrong. Today, most people treat me well and if they don’t I can shrug it off or turn it around so that they do. It took time and it took changing how I saw myself.

Step 1: I wrote down how I wanted to be treated. For most people, this might be easy but it actually took several tries to do it. And I ended up rewriting that list over time because the better I was treated, the better I wanted to be treated.

Step 2: I began to imagine people treating me the way I wanted to be treated—with kindness and respect.

Step 3: When people did treat me with kindness and respect, I accepted these things as if I deserved them. And I made sure I treated them with kindness and respect in return.

Step 4: If someone criticized me, I looked for what was useful in what the person was saying and thanked them for it and used the feedback to become better at what I was doing. (You should have seen some of the stunned looks I got, but some of those people became my staunchest supporters.)

Step 5: If someone continued to treat me with disrespect, I was polite to them but did not invest in that person emotionally. In other words, I shrugged it off and/or didn’t put myself in their presence again if I could help it.

Step 6: I began to choose far more carefully who I tried to please. I began to look far more carefully at whose opinion was worth caring about. I began to believe I deserved friends who valued me and spent less and less time with those who didn’t. And I found a world of people who valued me far more than the ones I had been hanging around with.

Step 7: I kept visualizing people treating me with kindness and respect. It altered how I interacted with others and how they interacted with me.

Very often, people value us to the degree that we value ourselves. Very often, if we don’t value ourselves, we hang around with other people who have all sorts of problems because we figure they’re the best we can do. If they don’t value us, no one will.

The truth is that healthy people are far less likely to feel the need to put us down to make themselves feel better. If we look around for happy people, we are more likely to find that they treat us with kindness and respect because that’s what feels right and natural to them. And if we see ourselves as being treated with kindness and respect AND ACT ACCORDINGLY then other people are much more likely to do so.

In other words, we do have control over how we are treated, but it begins with changing how we see ourselves and what we expect. Just the act of visualizing people treating us with kindness and respect can be empowering.

With love and respect for all of YOU and lots of safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))),


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Power of Focus

What we focus on unrelentingly becomes our reality. If we believe the world is a horrible place and people in it are all abusers, that’s what we will see. We won’t notice the times people are kind to us, we won’t trust opportunities that may appear. And abusers will be able to spot us as likely victims.

On the other hand, if we focus on the good things that happen in our lives, if we encourage and welcome kindness and opportunities then that’s what we will find, more and more.

Expectations have a profound effect—on us and on the people around us. Study after psychological study has proven it. Children told they are stupid believe it and do worse than children who are told they are smart. People who are expected to behave well are far more likely to do so.

What does this mean for US? It means that we can affect our own behavior and experiences by what we choose to believe about ourselves. We will act differently if we choose to believe that we are worth loving, that we are intelligent and competent and able to do anything we put our minds to than if we repeat lies we may have been told—particularly by abusers—about ourselves.

We can affect how others treat us. If we greet them with smiles, expecting to be treated kindly and warmly, it is more likely to happen. If we treat others as though we expect them to live honorably and honestly and to treat us with respect and kindness, they are more likely to do so. AND WE ARE MORE LIKELY TO WALK AWAY IF THEY DON’T—both because we know we deserve to be treated better and because we can believe that there will be other people out there who will treat us with kindness and respect.

There is tremendous power in choosing to focus on the positive in our lives. That doesn’t mean bad things never happen, only that we choose to see ourselves as people to whom good things can and do happen.

How will you choose to live your life this week?

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