Experiencing The Unpredictable

I laugh when the very thing I write about catches me and spits me out! We planned a once in a lifetime trip for my husband’s mother. She is Norwegian but has never set foot on the soil of Norway…or anywhere outside of the United States. My husband had been promising her he’d take her there someday.  At 81 someday needed to happen soon! So we decided to take the plunge this summer. The itinerary is planned, tickets purchased and passports are ready to go! Then, the unplanned jumped out and smacked us. My father-in-law’s health plummeted and my mother-in-law needs to stay with him. Go figure!
At first I was understanding. Then this nasty poison crept in. I realized we planned this whole trip for her! What!? You mean we’re spending all this money and taking time away from work (which for me with a private practice means zero income) and she isn’t even going? What?! Visualize my red face, temper rising, anger beginning to leak out all over the place!!!
In church a woman prayed, among other things, to speak blessings instead of cursings…healthy conviction began sinking in…well, after I had a little fit! Now I am amazed at my behavior. Really, Karen? You are incredibly self-centered sometimes. I must give myself grace as I always tell my clients and yet, I do hope that one day I can be more concerned about others than myself. Oh, and roll with the unpredictable a little earlier in the process.
 

The Misery of Growth!

I heard a quote generally attributed to James A. Garfield from a friend recently, “The truth will set you free but first it will make you miserable.” Prior to my journey into my own emotional healing and understanding the lies I had been believing about myself and others, I would not have resonated with this at all. When we delve into the world of understanding and healing our reactions to situations and people, we go through a season when it is as though we are falling apart at the seams. In my journey, I learned my once useful coping strategies were unhealthy and I knew I didn’t really want to stay that way. At times I felt devastated. I can remember sitting in deep despair and wanting to quit. I was a mess!
I’m not finished with my healing process. I will be in this journey for as long as I am breathing and I know first hand it is worth it. At some point I turned a corner and had positive experiences of emotional health and connectedness. Seeing myself change and reaping the reward compelled me to keep moving forward. This doesn’t mean the journey is easy now. The dynamic nature of life and a commitment to growth are anything but boring and stagnant. I regularly encounter challenging situations that show me new areas where I can work on my skills. I get frustrated sometimes but in the end, I realize I am free and I will never go back to being a captive of lies!

Your Mind: Friend or Foe?

Taking a break from the “I Have A Question” series to remind you about the power of your mind. Most of us, barring any major mental health disorder, can choose what we want to believe. It seems like we don’t but we do…always.
Be aware of your thoughts and notice how they affect your emotions. Emotions follow thoughts. If the thought is negative, the emotion will be, too. For instance, if you make a mistake, then start thinking of every mistake you’ve made and end up in a depressed tailspin, you have chosen to go down an unnecessarily brutal path. Keep your mind focused on the one mistake you just made and use it as an opportunity to learn something. You can be mad but don’t dwell on it for too long.
The dialogue, either audibly or in your head, might sound like this: I totally screwed up the report. Ugh! I am so mad at myself! This is going to take time I don’t have! Ahhhhh! OK, take a deep breath in and out…in and out. Now, what can I do about this and what went wrong? Oh yeah, I didn’t double check my work. I was in a hurry, rushed through it and skipped proofreading. That’s on me. I don’t need to beat myself up over this, that won’t help. Just recognize it and learn from it. Deep breath in and out again…let go of the anger…and move on. I have other things I need to be doing right now and wallowing in this will not help me at all. I am human. I make mistakes. I can learn from my mistakes. Now, I’m going to work on this next task. You will need to repeat this each time the negative thoughts start creeping back in. They are kind of like cockroaches…hard to get rid of but if you’re persistent you will!
If you veer off the path and start recounting every time you screwed up or start telling yourself you are a loser, STOP! That won’t help you one bit. Literally say stop to yourself. Say it aloud if you can and start the above dialogue to get out of the old way. I can tell you from personal experience this works! Every time I use it, I have success and feel so much better. An added benefit is I usually have more clarity and energy to use on productive, life-giving tasks.
The shift is not easy. Meaning it won’t come naturally. We all have many horribly unhelpful neural pathways that are as strong as the fastest highway you can imagine. When we get on this learned neural pathway it seems like it’s a reflex but it isn’t. We learned it over time from a young age. It was likely modeled for us or it’s just part of how we are wired or it’s both. Knowing the origin and working through it can be helpful but you don’t have to in order to change the pathway. Be super intentional. Take this seriously and you will see results!
 

Grief Revisited

Grief Revisited

Grief is a fascinating experience.  I have felt it several times in all its intensity but never with the death of a deeply loved and intensely close being.  I went through the ups and downs of my daughter’s failing health, lung transplant and cancer.  We came close to losing her, but we didn’t and still haven’t.  She’s doing really well!  I have been grieving the mortality of my dad as his health has been failing significantly in the last few months, but he’s still here and I get to have sweet special moments with him.

Mighty Maya!

Mighty Maya!


My current grief is a result of my tiny seven pound dog being snatched out of our yard about two weeks ago most likely by a coyote. There have been sightings of a mountain lion in our area but we didn’t see the creature only its paw prints in the mud near our fence and on the top rail of our fence. Whether coyote or mountain lion, it leaped from the field next to our house right into our yard and decided to take Maya. We were spared the gruesome remains of her but there was plenty of evidence to indicate she had been mortally wounded and removed.
It was a normal morning. I let her off the bed onto the floor (she was too tiny to jump), and she promptly headed outside to go to the bathroom. That’s all she ever did in the morning. Just a quick trip out and right back in. She has been doing this routine for the eight years we have lived in this house and never had a problem. But on this day, she didn’t come back in. When I went to look for her, she was gone. Vanished. I had no idea at that moment what had happened to her.
As the details came together, I was heartbroken. I sobbed and sobbed for the first two days. I was useless. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I got a warning for speeding. I told the officer I wasn’t paying attention to my speed only thinking about the death of my dog…I guess my authentic tears really got to him. He said he had to walk away before he started crying, too. He was sweet. That was no excuse for speeding, and I owned that I was being unsafe. I decided I better limit my driving for a few days and when I did drive I had to intently focus.
I thought about her tragic death which brought on heaving sobs. At first I was just really sad, then I moved to beating myself up for not going outside with her. If I had been there maybe I could have shooed away the animal. Then I moved to being mad at the circumstances because I just want my dog back. I want her to be curled up on the couch, taking all of about a 10 inch radius of space. I want her cute little face to look inquisitively at me while I ask her questions or talk to her. I want her company on my walks and I don’t want to have to go through the trouble of deciding if I want another dog (do not read that as I want someone to surprise me with a puppy! No, no, no!).
I am now deathly afraid to walk out on my deck at night because I’m literally gripped with fear that something is out there looking for something to devour. I don’t feel safe. When I go on walks, I am looking around, certain I’m going to get attacked. I never worried about these things before. I thought about it at times because we live in an area where coyotes live, too but I was never afraid of running into one. I’m only 12 days into this particular grief process and I realize that most of what I’m going through is normal, but when you’re going through it, it doesn’t feel normal!
The best thing I can do for myself is bring others into my grieving, which I have done. I am also allowing myself to feel all the emotions that come up. I let the tears fall. I notice the fear and understand why it is there. I feel the anger and get why I would be mad. As time is moving on, I’m noticing the intensity of the emotions is dissipating. I can focus on tasks again (including driving!) and I’m accepting reality, well, sort of.
It’s interesting to grieve the untimely and tragic death of a pet. I did not expect the intensity to be like this. My husband’s uncle died last week. I was sad for him and his family but he wasn’t in my life on a regular basis. I had only known him for eight years and saw him briefly a handful of times. I felt more sad for others in that situation than myself. My dog has been a constant companion. She adored me. I was definitely her favorite and everyone knew it. I’m realizing now how much I bonded with her. Our bonds can be with skin or fur…and the loss of either can be painful. I also believe we learn to connect with others more deeply when we are willing to connect with our grief.

A Series on Guilt Part 1: What is Guilt?

For starters, guilt is not an emotion, it is a state of being.  For the average person it may seem that I am splitting hairs, but for the therapy world, it’s helpful to know the difference.  If you are sick, you don’t necessarily need to know that much about your body to describe it to your doctor; however, your doctor better know details about human anatomy and system functions in order to treat you.  Emotions generally fall into four categories: joy, anger, sadness and fear.  Notice guilt isn’t one of them, nor is shame, the paralyzing cousin of guilt.  The common denominator of emotions and most states of being is they are all centered in your brain.  Each is a result of thoughts.  The thoughts are generally a reaction to an outside stimulus, either in the moment or any amount of time later.
Guilt is a function of our brain when we have done something wrong or something we perceive is wrong.  This function helps shape us to move toward the common good rather than just benefitting ourselves.  Guilt is imperative for the health of a community.  A person with Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopath) sees himself as above the law in all respects. He does not feel guilt or remorse for his actions.  Without guilt, we have an ‘It’s all about me” attitude.  Every person has this attitude some of the time but those with Antisocial Personality Disorder have it in nearly all circumstances.  This can be taught or it can be a malfunction of the brain; some people with Antisocial Personality Disorder are a result of their environment, some are a result of DNA and some are a result of a combination of both.
Guilt is often misunderstood.  Some see it as bad, but it’s not.  No more than the emotions of anger, sadness or fear.  These functions of our brain help us live in community in a healthy way through being authentic and connecting with others.  When we eliminate any one of them, we damage ourselves and healthy interactions.  The movie, Inside Out portrayed this beautifully.
Your first action is to notice your guilt.  Ask yourself some questions about it.  What did I do that I am feeling guilty?  What is the standard by which I am measuring my actions?  Does this system make sense – is it in the best interest of both myself and the common good? What if someone else is telling you that you did something wrong, but you don’t see it that way?  Find out what that person’s reasoning is.  Is it for both the good of you and the common good or is it some arbitrary set of rules that don’t make any sense?
Next week I’ll continue this series with how to process your guilt in a healthy way that leads to restoration.