Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

After I posted my last blog post, I went to read other blogs and immediately got reminded how much more difficult challenges others are facing. My prayers are with all of you.

And today, of course, is another such reminder. I've never had to go to war (though some might argue my childhood WAS a war zone, it's still not the same thing). I haven't lost a family member to war either. I've been lucky that way.

Today I want to take a moment to salute those who have gone to war—both those who died and those who came back changed because of what they saw and did and what happened to them.

My generation was the last to face the draft. It's hard for me to imagine the courage it took to go to war when there was a draft and the courage to choose to go when one doesn't have to go—as young men and women are doing every day now.

It was good for me to be reminded how lucky I am and that however huge changes may feel to me, there are others dealing with much more difficult issues right now. That doesn't mean our own issues don't matter—because they do—only that it's good to stop and realize the ways we are fortunate and to honor the courage others show in coping with the challenges in their lives.

Today we honor those who have had the courage to be in the military and do what they can to keep us all safe. And to pray that soon this world finds a way to exist in peace so that no more men and women--of any nation--have to go to war. That we find a way to resolve disputes without fighting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I was going to write a “Valuing Self pt. 3” and talk about how it matters that we value ourselves because it's in the moments we fear we aren't good enough and/or we will be rejected/abandoned that we are most likely to do or say things that hurt ourselves and/or others. That's what I was going to write about. But...

But this week I heard that my son with Down syndrome may soon be placed in housing. And that's a good thing, I think.'s churned up all sorts of emotions for me.

Will the housing be good enough?

Will my son be able to adjust?

Will he be happy there?

It also means a lot of other changes. My ex-husband will almost certainly sell the house where my kids grew up. My links with the state where I lived for over 20 years are disappearing.

Odds are that my ex-husband will marry since it's our son who his girlfriend didn't want to deal with.

There won't be many more times I go and stay in the house with my son (while my ex-husband is elsewhere).

I know. In the grand scheme of things, none of this is terrible. None of this is unexpected. None of this is even, necessarily a bad thing.

But all of this adds up to profound emotional upheaval for me.

Let me be clear: I don't begrudge my ex-husband happiness. I'm glad that maybe my son is moving to a new level of independence. I hope a new setting will help him grow. All of this could be good.

It's just a profound emotional upheaval for me.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Valuing Self, pt. 2

Everyone wants to be loved and accepted for who they are—just as they are. And everyone is afraid they won't be. That's true whether someone has abuse in their background or not. It's true for apparently successful people just as it's clearly true for those just scraping by.

And yet we have this tendency to berate ourselves for needing and wanting validation—as if it wasn't part of the human condition and something everyone needs! Babies who are not loved enough literally die—it's called failure to thrive.

So why are we so reluctant to accept this part of ourselves?

Well, first a lot of kids, even those not in classically defined abusive homes, often get the message that they shouldn't be so needy, shouldn't cling to their mothers (or fathers) so much. The message may be explicit or implicit (in the body language, voice, or facial expressions of adults around them). But that speaks to the fatigue adults so often feel—not to the very human need we all have to connect with others!

As adults, if we feel needy, we may act in ways that we HOPE will elicit validation from others. The problem is that it rarely works and often means we push away the very people we hoped would stay connected to us and provide us with validation.

If we're lucky, we're able to explicitly say to someone important to us: Hey, look, I know it's silly, but it really helps if you TELL me that you care and that you believe in me. really helps if you SHOW ME that you care and believe in me. (The tricky part is that often the other person tries to show us by doing what would make them feel validated and cared about and that does not necessarily match what actually works for us.)

Now the other person may not do what we ask. If they are abusive they will use it against us and that's a good sign to get out! Or it may be a request that seems to that other person inappropriate—or more than they have the energy to do. But simply by asking we are validating ourselves. We are saying we matter. And we begin to discover what we can and can't ask for—the boundaries of the relationships around us.

Ultimately, we're best off if we can give ourselves the validation we need and then connect in other ways to those we care about. And this is, in a sense, the goal of therapy—that we reach the point where we believe in ourselves enough to provide all the validation we need. But how do we do that?

This is one reason I believe so strongly in doing things like making lists of what we like about ourselves and reasons we might have to believe we can accomplish what we want to accomplish. This is why I believe in building on small successes to create bigger ones and celebrating what we do.

If we begin by looking at our (perceived) flaws, we may never get beyond that point! We will feel like failures to ourselves. On the other hand, if we begin with what we LIKE about ourselves and our STRENGTHS, then we have something to build on. The more we love and accept ourselves, the more we discover about who we are AND WHO WE CAN BECOME.

I wish I'd been able to say to a person in my life a few years ago: Look, I know it's silly but it would really help just to have you actually say these words, every so often: “I believe in you and you're doing fine.” Then I probably wouldn't bug you with so much email, hoping what I write will (without me having to explicitly ask) get you to say it.

I wish with another person I'd been able to say: What's really going on?

I wish with my ex-husband I'd been able to truly be myself—rather than trying to be who I thought he wanted me to be. My marriage probably would have ended sooner but I'd have had more of my self-respect intact when I left.

But we can't change the past. What we can do is look at where we are now and if we are not valuing ourselves—ALL of who we are—we can practice, even if it's for short moments at a time, accepting who we are. We can look at the things we like about ourselves and past successes and begin from the point of who we are and what will make our lives better and happier. And instead of calling ourselves idiots or weaklings (or whatever else our favorite chastisements may be), we can practice reminding ourselves that we are strong and resilient and creative and capable and survivors.

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

Friday, May 09, 2008

Valuing Self

Everyone has different aspects to their personality. It just tends to be more extreme for victims of abuse. Some abuse victims become multiple personalities, others of us just...compartmentalize.

I was thinking about this after watching the movie: The Three Faces of Eve (which my mother made me watch growing up—perhaps because she “lost time” a lot when she was in college). (If you're MPD you probably don't want to watch it. Even as a kid, I was appalled at the idea that "success" might be getting rid of 2/3 of yourself!) But it got me thinking about times I've suppressed part of who I am. Did it as a kid to survive, of course, but I was also thinking how to get through my divorce, I had to in a sense suppress the part of me that liked being married/in a relationship. And at another point after that, something happened and I suppressed the kid part of me that had needed to cling to the other person involved.

See the thing is, there's always a cost when we suppress parts of ourselves. That needy kid part is also the part of me that can love unabashedly and is able to reach out to other people without fear of getting hurt. That part of me that liked being's tough to move forward and even consider another relationship if one is suppressing that part of oneself.

And I realized the hurt that happened when I suppressed the needy kid wasn't so much because the other person's words or actions were so damaging. I doubt he even had any idea there was this needy a kid inside me. No, the real damage happened because my reaction was to suppress that needy little kid. If I'd reacted by soothing and valuing that part of me, I doubt the experience would have been so distressing. If I'd been able to soothe and value that part of me beforehand, the fiasco might never have occurred and/or I might have been able to continue to reach out to others as easily as before. Mind you, I couldn't see it that way at the time. At the time, I blamed that part of me for precipitating a crisis that hurt not only me but the other person as well.

But I see now what a mistake it was to try to suppress that little kid inside after that fiasco. Just as I see that rather than suppressing that side of myself that liked being married/in a relationship, I'd have been better off cherishing that part of me and focused instead on why a different relationship could be better.

The goal is always, it seems to me, to value and integrate all the aspects of oneself so that they all work together. Victims of abuse or not, we are not served by bashing any part of ourselves. We are best served by accepting and nurturing who we are—rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into someone's image of who we should be—even our own images of who we “should” be. We are who we are and the more we accept ourselves, the easier it becomes to explore new possibilities—and perhaps grow in ways that enrich our lives and bring us greater happiness. Plus, the more we love and accept ourselves, the less likely we are to ever hurt anyone else.

I don't know if my mother was MPD or not. I do know she went to her grave desperately unhappy and hating herself. I feel profoundly grateful that my life has taken a different path and that I am able to be happy.

Here's hoping that each of you is able to love and cherish all of who you are. Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs))))))),