Aging and Air Heads and personal growth.

Aging and Air Heads: A Tale of Personal Growth

Kids and Candy

My sons are mostly grown now; this year I’ll have three in college. (Gulp).

When they were little, they were adorable. You can ask anyone who knew them. I was the luckiest mom ever. I tried to be a good and honorable one. I strove to feed them well and limit their TV time, read bedtime stories, and give them opportunities to help around the house.

We were happy.

One day, on the way home from karate lessons, they asked if we could stop at a store and buy Air Heads candy. Please! I didn’t believe in feeding my kids candy, at least not often. I had my standards.

I refused.

Time passed

As the weeks went by, the asking turned to begging. I began to consider that maybe I was being rigid. They sensed my hesitation.”Please please please please pleeeaaaase!” they cried. They bounced a little bit in their earnestness. They had been good, and they were so darn cute.

I relented.

We went to Five Below and bought this Holy Grail of candy for the young-elementary set. As we left the store, they tore eagerly into the wrapper and took a bite. My five-year-old waited expectantly. Then his face fell.

“Darn!” he exclaimed, “it didn’t work!”

Work??? What was he expecting? Since I hadn’t seen the commercials, I was stumped. So I asked.

“Well, on TV,” he began to explain, “when you bite into the candy your head gets big and you start to swirl around and go upside down….”

Disappointment

I felt a little bad for him in his disappointment, but mostly was busy trying to look serious, because it was also very funny. I was a little aggravated at the advertising company for making commercials like this for children who believe in the Tooth Fairy.

The kid was disappointed. Weeks of buildup to a magical, mystical event had let him down. Instead of a virtual carnival ride, he was just eating candy. Things could be worse, but they could be better. And he learned a valuable lesson.

A Momma Looked at 40

A decade ago, I was the only woman ever (I imagined) who was eagerly anticipating turning 40. I had an idea of what 40 would mean. I would be really grown. A true adult. Problems solved. Peace and tranquility would abound. I would have everything figured out, be unflappable, serene.

Forty did not turn out as I had expected. My forties brought me two moves, a divorce, and a couple more heartbreaks; a child-centered crisis; the death of my sons’ father; financial worries; peri-menopause. After one of these crises I actually thought to myself, “I’ve seen it all, hurt as much as I could; I really believe nothing can get to me now.” ―I was back to the “magical thinking” of my late 30’s! And, turns out I was wrong.

Pressure to peace

The events of my forties have pushed me and squeezed me. I tried resisting, but resistance, as it happens, is futile. As I look back, it seems that a smile has counterbalanced every tear; for each heartbreak I have experienced something transcendent and beautiful. If I had not suffered, I would not know that grief is the other side of love; that hearts really do mend; that crises pass; that I am never alone; and that things do have a way of working out, if we stay the course.

All the crises, all the pressures I have experienced over the past decade have brought me to a more peaceful place. I will not make the mistake of thinking I am invincible or even unflappable. Who knows what life will bring me next? But I am more resilient and stronger than I was before.

In my forties I have experienced some of the happiest days of my life, and some of the most excruciating.  I giggle when I look back on the past decade. I wasn’t too different from how my son had been all those years ago. I, too, had believed in some magical thinking. For him it was Air Heads; for me it was forty. We were both disappointed. We both learned.

keep love alive

Four things happy couples do to keep love alive

Have you ever wondered what makes some couples happy and successful, while others struggle and often fail? Here are four things that happy couples do to keep love alive!

They focus on the positives

 

In order to have a great relationship, we need to feel safe with our partner. Bringing a “glass is half-full” mindset to our relationship sets up a positive feedback loop: Because we see in our partner more of the good than the bad, we respond to them more positively. This allows our partners to feel happier because they feel safer and more supported. That, in turn, leads to more interactions that are positive.

They make their relationship a priority

In our hectic modern life, many couples struggle to find time to be together. Those who rise to the challenge, however, reap the rewards that come from this closeness. Even when balancing work, kids, household chores, and other responsibilities, happy couples make time for each other. From going to bed at the same time, to putting love-notes in each other’s lunch boxes, to sending messages during the day to let their partners know they are on their minds, to greeting each other with a hug at the end of the workday, happy couples find ways to connect every day.

They act (and speak) with kindness

They know that in order to have a happy relationship, they must be kind to their partner. They do little things with great kindness, even if it’s emptying the dishwasher. They acknowledge the things their partner does for them, and don’t take these things for granted. If they have something important to say, they find ways to say it that considers their partners’ feelings. When the relationship is a priority, being kind to their partner is a priority.

They speak their truth

When they have something important to say, they find a way to say it. This truth-speaking, however, hinges on the glass-is-half-full, relationship-as-priority, speaking-with-kindness principles outlined above. Because when we see our partner as, well, our partner, then we can say what’s on our mind and know that we are in this together, and we will find solutions to our problems together. Of course, every couple will have disagreements. That’s part of life. But while troubled couples become adversaries, happy couples form an alliance. Disagreements are things to work out, not fight about.

Try adding these simple ingredients to your relationship and keep love alive!

Deeply and completely: how to have a healthy marriage that lasts

Deeply and Completely: How to have a healthy marriage that lasts

Deeply and Completely

When researchers look into what makes for effective psychotherapy, they find that the technique matters less than three qualities of the therapist: genuineness, empathy, and unconditional positive regard. When we bring those qualities into the therapy room, our clients are able to begin to accept themselves, and from that place, to gain resilience and find themselves solving their problems, or being less troubled by them. These qualities inform all good relationships, and provide a key to the question, How to have a healthy marriage that lasts.

Genuineness, Empathy, and Unconditional Positive Regard

I wrote recently about attachment style; babies who have secure attachment have moms who are responsive, and demonstrate these same three qualities. The pattern holds for every significant relationship. How much better do we feel when our loved ones are “real” with us, offer us empathy, and love us no matter what?

Interestingly, most of us (except for the narcissists of the world) are kinder to other people than we are to ourselves. But when push gets to shove, we will be as unkind to others as we are to ourselves. When our buttons are pushed, we can get mean. And our romantic relationships, with all their fraught vulnerability, provide us with the best opportunity to have our buttons pushed, and act with unkindness to our partner–the very one whom we promise to love the most.

In order to create truly peaceful and loving relationships, we need to create more peaceful and loving relationship with ourselves. The outer relationship we experience is a reflection of the inner relationship we have within ourselves.

How do we create a more loving relationship with ourselves?

How to have a happy marriage that lasts

We have to start with ourselves. Below are five strategies to help shift our relationship with ourselves. We can use a “top-down” approach, effortfully changing our thinking in order to change our inner workings. There are also “bottom-up” approaches that are geared at shifting the inner processes in order to shift how we think about ourselves. I have found that a blend of these is powerful in creating the changes we seek.

Cognitive approach

A cognitive strategy is to begin by noticing our inner critic and gently redirecting it. We can take the position that it is trying to protect us. We can tell it that we don’t really need that kind of protection. Then we can shift to a more self-accepting interpretation of whatever we were criticizing ourselves us about.

Loving kindness

We can practice a loving-kindness meditation, in which we send ourselves grace despite our faults. This acceptance is predicated on the fundamental understanding that we are all flawed. Loving ourselves anyway gives us space to heal the flaws and to grow.

Mantra-based approach

We can also recite a mantra, “I deeply and completely accept myself in spite of all my flaws and limitations.” Try repeating this three to five times in a row, several times a day.

Energy Psychology

We can amp up the power of the mantra if we add an Energy Psychology meridian stimulating exercise. To do this, simply place your hand over your heart as if saying the Pledge. Where your fingertips fall is generally the area of the neurolymphatic reflex point (which is good to know, and good to massage next time you think you are catching a cold. It also helps rewire our energy feedback system.) Massage this area in a clockwise (as if you were facing yourself) direction while repeating the mantra. Most people I’ve worked with can really feel themselves calm down when they do this.

Meditation

A beautiful, and powerful, meditation is helpful. In this meditation, we send appreciation to each body part, organ, system, limb, face ― all of it. Then we send appreciation to the parts of our consciousness including our inner child, our ego, and even our critic.

We will only be as kind to others as we are to ourselves

The most important thing is to recognize that we will only be as kind to others as we are to ourselves. We are all flawed, and still doing the best we can, even when the result is not very good. This is how we learn and grow. Yet in order to really give and receive unconditional love, we need to practice sending some to ourselves. When we are wondering how to have a healthy marriage that lasts, it is important to remember to start with ourselves.

The results are worth it.

what to do when someone is pushing your buttons

Someone pushing your buttons?

Have you ever wondered what to do when someone is pushing your buttons? Consider thanking them. This is because when someone is pushing our buttons, we are learning where those buttons are. Now we can begin to uninstall them. And in our romantic relationships, this can be a step toward repairing attachment wounds, which I wrote about last week.

Often my clients come into the office very upset because their significant other has said or done something that really angers them. I usually respond with a bright smile saying “wonderful news!” Of course they usually look a little puzzled by my enthusiasm. If it seems surprising to you as well, hear me out. I’ve been exploring this position for many years and find it a key to empowerment, healing, and peaceful relationships.

This is because we learn to shift our perspective to “if somebody’s pushing my buttons, it’s only because I have buttons to push.” The buttons belong to us, not them; they show us where we are vulnerable and need some TLC. When we take responsibility for doing our own work, instead of putting the responsibility on our partners, we ave something we can actually work with.

The crux of this perspective is that we are only reactive when we are triggered in areas of our own vulnerability. For example, when I was younger, I was vulnerable about my ability as a writer. I had often been told that I was a good writer, and so I had some ego and self-esteem issues that were tied up with my identity as a writer. If I ever got negative feedback on an article that I wrote, it was very threatening to my sense of self. It would upset me, and I sometimes got mad at the messenger. As I’ve gotten older, I’m less threatened about those abilities, so I’m less vulnerable. When I get negative feedback on an article, I’m interested in understanding and learning from the perspective of the person who is giving their feedback, and it doesn’t upset me. That’s progress!

The pattern evolves

A client of mine recently spoke about how he was upset because his wife was frustrated with him for double booking himself. This was, in fact, a pretty regular occurrence. With his ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) tendencies, he really needed to rely on a calendar system but had not developed the habit of doing it. This left him at risk for missing appointments, double booking himself, and running late. He felt really vulnerable about this. Over the years, he had internalized and honed a lot of negative self talk about the pattern. And so when his wife rolled her eyes and got frustrated because of the inconvenience that his lack of organization caused her, he was particularly offended.

The pattern evolved: She would comment or criticize. He would become extremely defensive. This left him feeling exceptionally criticized. He could not hear her, or have empathy with her position.  As he became involved in his own story of negative self talk, low self-esteem in this area, and generally feeling bad about his organizational skills. Their conflict escalated, leaving them both feeling hurt, angry, and distant.

Shift happens

When he explained the situation to me, he was more focused on his wife’s affect, how critical she was, how short tempered she was, and how mean she was. And I asked him to take a step back and look beneath the surface anger. The old saying goes, when one finger is pointing out three more pointing back; I ask him to reflect on how her criticism met his own internal dialogue to create his vulnerability.

He thought about it for a moment. Then he began to reflect on how he felt about running late, missing things, and double booking himself. It turns out that his wife was not the first person to criticize him for that pattern. He didn’t like that quality in himself.

I worked with this client on shifting his own self concept around double booking and other time-management problems. We did some energy psychology practices to shift him out of a state of self-criticism into one of self-acceptance. Interestingly, from that place he was able to implement some changes that work to correct the behavior.

Of course, once he had lightened up on his self-criticism, he had more empathy for his wife. He was less hurt and angered by her criticism, and had more understanding and compassion for her frustration. This helped the couple to de-escalate their tension, and allowed them to interact with each other in a more compassionate, present, and a loving way.

What to do when someone is pushing your buttons

It is, in fact, the same in almost any situation. If someone is “making you mad“, it is only because you are vulnerable about the thing that they are pointing out to you. In this way, they are acting as your mirror. Your self-criticism is like fog on the mirror. It distorts the image that is being reflected back to you.

By the same token, when somebody is “pushing your buttons“, they are providing you with excellent information about yourself. You can shift your focus from the other person and what you perceive as their wrongdoing, and turn instead toward yourself. When you find yourself feeling upset, you can ask yourself “What is my vulnerability here? Why does this upset me? What pattern, set up in my past, is being activated now? What’s going on beneath the surface?”

So the next time that somebody is pushing our buttons, let’s try to remember to turn our attention within. Let’s remember to ask ourselves, “What is my vulnerability here?” And then from that place provide ourselves with self-love and self compassion, and thus create the ground for harmonious relationships.

Until that time, we can thank our partners for pushing our buttons. Because after all, they are simply letting us know that we have buttons to uninstall.

Photo by Tiago Felipe Ferreira on Unsplash

The role of attachment in marriage

I am noticing a trend: more people seem to be reading and commenting on my articles about healing from a breakup than the ones on improving our relationships. In many ways this makes sense; crisis brings us to search for help and for answers. After all, this is how we grow. But it is also a concern. Our divorce rates continue to hover around the 50% mark, and the rates are even higher for second marriages. Clearly, many couples are in pre-divorce crisis. Unfortunately, they are not taking proactive steps to get out of the crisis, at least not before it is too late. Many probably don’t recognize how bad things are. Like frogs in a pot of hot water, they are getting cooked without realizing it. Understanding attachment in marriage and romantic relationships may help us to reverse this trend.

My great wish is that people will learn to recognize the signs of distress and take active, collaborative action to heal their relationships. I understand that breakups can provide tremendous opportunities for growth and expansion, and I personally do not regret the breakups I have had, because I can see how much I gained from them. But I also know that relationships can be healed, and we actually know how to do it. So with that in mind, I share some advice for couples whose relationships are in distress, in order to help you understand what went wrong, and then how to get back on track.

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Attachment in marriage and romantic relationships: Where did the love go?

Last week I wrote about the principle that the partner in our life is a reflection of the one in our mind. I described how, when we allow ourselves to focus on our partner’s challenging qualities, we will more readily see him or her in a negative light, react to the negative charge, and create a vicious cycle in which we experience a continual deterioration of our love bond. On the other hand, when we practice thinking of our partner’s good qualities, we will see more of those good qualities; we therefore react to those good qualities, and this sets up a “virtuous cycle” in which we experience more of those good qualities in our lives.

If this sounds good in principle but you found yourself asking, “what if my partner is a jerk?” take a breath. It probably has to do with attachment, and wounds to your love bond. Learning how attachment affects our relationships gives us a map of the relationship terrain, and a better sense of where we are and how we got here.

Attachment and love bonds

Much of our current understanding of what goes wrong in adult relationships is grounded in the research on attachment in childhood. For several decades now, psychologists, therapists and educators have understood the bond between children and their primary attachment figures ― usually their mothers.

The Strange Situation

Mary Ainsworth conducted the iconic “Strange Situation” experiments in order to study mother-baby attachment. In this simple experiment, a researcher would follow the mother-baby dyad and note how often the mom responded to her baby’s needs and bids for connection. Then, mom and baby would go to an empty playroom; the mother would leave; and then the mother would return. How the baby reacted to mom’s departure and return was remarkably consistent among groups with similar bonding: secure, anxious, and avoidant.

Secure attachment

Babies of attentive, responsive moms tended to be happy, adventuresome explorers of the playroom. When mom left the room, the baby would cry in distress. Modern versions of the experiment use physiological measures to measure heart rate and sweat. These babies experienced increased heart rate, and they started to sweat. When mom would return, baby would allow her to console them. They would calm down, and go back to happily playing. These babies have developed a secure attachment system. They grow up expecting to love and be loved, to have their needs met, and to be comfortable asking for those needs to be met.

Anxious attachment

Babies of unpredictable moms tend to become anxious. They were less willing to explore the playroom, preferring to stay close to mom’s side though they were not interacting with her. When mom would leave the room, they become quite distressed; but when mom would return, these babies would have a hard time calming down. They are developing an anxious attachment system. They often grow up to carry this attachment anxiety into their adult relationships. They feel insecure in love and are never quite certain that they can trust that their partner really loves them and is really going to be there for them.

Avoidant attachment

Babies of unresponsive, aloof moms tend to be aloof themselves. Their primary attachment figure, mom, seems uninterested in forming a close bond to them, and these babies get it; they seem to shut down their drive for closeness and connection. In the Strange Situation, they venture forth and play in the playroom, and appear to be unconcerned when mom leaves them alone. But their affect belies their physiology. When mom leaves the room, baby’s hearts are beating faster and they also start to sweat. When mom returns to the room, their vital stats eventually return to baseline, but they act as if they couldn’t care less. They are developing an avoidant attachment system. They tend to grow up to be avoidant in love; they feel suffocated by a partner who seeks emotional connection and continually engage in distancing behaviors, keeping themselves familiarly aloof.

It has always struck me as sad that parenting mores have probably contributed to the problems of attachment. Many people are still afraid that if they pick up a crying baby, they will “spoil” it, yet exactly the opposite is true. Babies need to be picked up when they cry; they need to feel safe, secure, and well taken-care-of in order to develop secure attachment systems.

Attachment in adulthood

When we are grown, our primary attachment figure is no longer our mother, but our partner. We have a strong drive to form close emotional bonds. However, in our frenetic-paced, time-strapped, isolated culture, the best place to have those needs met is in our romantic relationships.

Research shows that people who have happy marriages are far better off than those in difficult marriages are. Single people are better off than people in difficult marriages are, but not as well off as those in happy marriages. Happily married people not only have the economic benefits that often accompany a two-earner family. They are happier, and they even have physiological advantages. They get sick less often, recover faster, and may even experience less pain.

Attachment in marriage and romantic relationships

The payoffs for connection are great, and the drive for connection exists despite our American cultural myth of independence. We have bought in to the idea that we are supposed to be able to do everything on our own. To have needs is often equated with being needy, and we are not supposed to be needy.

The problem with this is that it is simply not how human beings operate. We all have needs for love and belonging. In modern America, we are disconnected from extended family. Indeed, we are disconnected from our community in any meaningful way. Maybe it’s because we work so much; maybe because we watch so much TV. At any rate, we are a singularly lonely collective. Our romantic partner offers our best hope to have our love and belonging needs met.

But not if we see him or her as a jerk. And when we have been hurt, it is easy to see our partner in just that way. We unconsciously build up walls to “protect” ourselves from our primary attachment figure in an attempt to prevent further hurt. It is important to understand that the “hurt” that causes the breach does not even have to be a big, dramatic hurt. Little unanswered attempts to connect can lead to the same problem as big breaches of trust. Luckily, when we understand that that is what is going on, we are able to take a step toward cultivating a connected, loving partnership. When we have that, we are also able to reap all the many rewards that come with it.

In another article, I will discuss how to shift from blame and criticism, to love and acceptance. Until then, take heart, and keep taking some slow deep breaths….

with our thoughts we create our marriage

With our thoughts we create our …marriages

My client was angry with his wife. He thought she was being a drama queen; she was too emotional; she cried too much. Under his frustration lay a sinking feeling of rejection. His old story of not being good enough was getting activated. He was frustrated.

He was also determined. This man loves his wife and family. He wanted to know: how can I improve my marriage?

The one you experience is the one you are thinking about

I asked him to tell me some of the things he liked about his wife. He was a bit surprised but gamely listed them. Once he started, the descriptions started to flow: she is a great mom, very loving, fun to be with, great sense of humor, smart, pretty, sexy, and on and on.

His whole affect noticeably changed. His eyes softened. He smiled. He wasn’t mad.

And then I shared with him a secret, which I am now sharing with you:

The partner you experience is the one you are thinking about.

This makes sense when we pause to reflect on it. If you practice seeing all of someone’s flaws, you will see a person who has all those flaws. But if you practice seeing their good qualities, that is the person you will see. We are more likely to notice the things we are thinking about.

Once something gets our attention, we notice it more readily.

He was skeptical, but open to hearing me out. I asked him about the last time he bought a car. “Do you remember how you noticed all the cars that were just like the one you bought?”  He laughed his affirmation. Like most of my clients, he could relate.

I explained that marriage is kinda like this. Once something gets our attention, we notice it more readily. We experience more of what we pay attention to.

We create a feedback loop; it can be a vicious or a virtuous cycle. Whether it is vicious or virtuous is really up to us.

So if we want to experience a peaceful, loving relationship, that is the one we need to think about when we are thinking about our relationship.

How we see them determines how we respond

This is partly because when we are focusing on our partners’ great qualities we react differently to our partners. We feel more relaxed and at ease with them, and are less likely to feel hurt or aggravated. We will give them the benefit of the doubt. With our sunny, “glass is half full” perspective, we notice the good stuff and more easily let the other stuff go.

A vicious or a virtuous cycle

Imagine that your partner has decided to surprise you by reorganizing the kitchen pantry “for you.” You are coming home from the gym, tired and hungry. The kitchen is a mess; stuff is everywhere; you can’t even see the counter, let alone reach the sink.

If you have been rehearsing stories of how aggravating and annoying your partner is, you will likely be irritated at the chaos. You might roll your eyes, you may criticize. I hope you won’t yell, but if you are not careful, it might come to that. Instead of getting food, you are getting mad… And your partner was trying to do something nice!

Now, if you have been thinking kind and gentle thoughts about your partner, remembering that he or she is a good person who loves and supports you, you will react differently. As hungry and tired as you are, you will be more likely to see the mess as a work in progress and an act of service. You might smile. You may even offer to help. And you probably will eat sooner than the irritated person, who probably got sidetracked in an argument.

The spouse in your mind

The relationship you experience is the one you think about. The spouse you have in your life is a reflection of the one you have in your mind.

Want a happy relationship? Practice thinking of it, remembering the good times. Want a loving partner? Practice thinking about your partner that way.

After all, we are all flawed humans doing our best to get by. When we can offer love, in spite of all of our partner’s faults and limitations, we have an answer to the question: how can I improve my marriage?

And — I was right!

My talk with my client impacted him. I write this because several weeks after our talk, he told me that I was right. He had had time to observe the way he thought about his wife impacted his marriage. Sure enough, he found that the wife he had was the one he was thinking about.

He practiced thinking about her wonderful qualities. When he slipped back into his old pattern and started mentally complaining, he remembered that he wanted to experience a kind and loving wife, so he shifted his thoughts to focus on the good stuff. Inevitably, she seemed less dramatic, he felt more supported.

Many months later, they are happy and loving, and getting along really well!

tips for going through a divorce

Seven tips for going through a divorce

Half of marriages end in divorce, and most relationships do not end in marriage; we Americans stand a good chance of getting our hearts broken. We place a high value on romantic partnership, and we have significant expectations of what that romance is supposed to be. When our relationship falls short, it is easy to feel hopeless, helpless, guilty, and a whole range of big uncomfortable emotions.

And just when we are feeling our worst, we need to have our wits about us as we figure out how to divide the spoils of our life together and ensure that we are making choices that are just and equitable. When kids are involved, the stakes are even higher; we have to be on point. That can be very, extremely, intensely challenging.

Here are seven tips for going through a divorce to help guide you through the process.

1. Be sure that you are sure

If you are the one seeking a divorce, make sure you are sure. Often the “leaning out” partner has made their partner into a “bad guy” and may fail to recognize their own contribution to the problem. Search your heart. See how you may be contributing to the problem. Then choose.

2. Get a therapist

I am a therapist, so this may sound a bit self-serving, but hear me out. Divorce hurts, and you are going to be in pain for a while. Having a therapist gives you a time and place to process all of that emotion. So do it soon. You have a lot of important decisions looming ahead of you, and you need to have your head on as straight as you can as soon as possible in order to do this well. Often people rely on their divorce attorney or family and friends for counseling. This is not a good idea for several reasons:

  1. Divorce attorneys are not therapists, so going to them for “therapy” is not the best use of your time.
  2. Your divorce attorney charges many times higher an hourly rate than a therapist; using them for “therapy” is not the best use of your dollar.
  3. Your family and friends can’t (and won’t) be objective. While they may offer sympathy and even advice, therapy offers something much more helpful.

3. Consider a divorce coach

Consider hiring a divorce coach. Divorce coaches are experts at navigating the morass of divorce. You can think of them as a sort of doula for divorce. In the labor and delivery room, when doulas are present, births go better: fewer forceps and suction cups, less anesthesia. It’s the same with coaches in a divorce: lower legal fees, fewer complications, less medication 🙂 . In the Main Line area, Sheila Brennan is a great choice.

4. Put your kids first

And don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Letting your narcissistic ex, for example, “run over” you for the sake of your kids is not bad or weak; it is probably your best strategy. Your kids can’t be your therapist, and they need to believe in their other parent. In every situation, in choosing every action, think of the path of least pain and greatest harmony for your kids. Let that be your guiding light.

5. Get your finances in order

And talk to a financial advisor right away to start making a plan for yourself. Talk to that person again when the divorce has settled. Women are still in particular danger on the financial front following divorce. Take financial care of yourself now, and you will thank yourself later.

6. Let it go

We all know someone who never got over their divorce. They continue to be angry and bitter for years. This is not a healthy way to show up in your life, and cuts you off from the joy of living. Things happen; we can learn and grow from them, like these people did. This is your chance.

7. Forgive yourself

You are not a failure, and you are lovable. With time and attention, and not being the person in #6, you will heal. I promise you, honestly, you will look back on this time and kinda sorta remember how much it hurt…but it won’t hurt anymore. You won’t even remember 95% of the stuff you are upset about right now. The anger and the pain fade away. It gets better.

Key to understanding and healing trauma. Photo by Katy Belcher on Unsplash

You are an energy field: a key to understanding and healing trauma

“Everything is energy” is an aphorism; what does this mean, practically, for you, for us, and for our emotional and physical wellbeing? The body is an energy field. You are an energy field. This holds the key to understanding our experience, and the key to understanding and healing trauma.

The good.

Most of your charge seems to come from the heart, which generates 60 to 1000 times more energy than the brain. The magnetic field of the heart, measured by a cardio magnetogram, extends about 12 ft around the body. An interesting study by the Institute of HeartMath showed that when a person was thinking loving thoughts about another, the heart rhythm of the “thinker” showed up in the brainwaves of the “thought of.” In another study, when two people consciously focus on thinking positive thoughts about each other, their heart rhythms synchronize. And the same magic happens with our pets. For example, a study found the heart rhythms of a boy and his dog synchronized when they were together. You can read about these studies here.

So we see that our loving thoughts affect others, and we connect to each other in subtle, energetic ways which have real impacts. But what happens when there is a disruption in our energy field?

The bad and the ugly.

Not surprisingly, physical and emotional disruptions will follow. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was conducted by Kaiser Health and the CDC. It examined the childhood traumas of 17,000 (mostly white, middle- and upper-middle class, college educated) people. Researchers found a big correlation between traumas and both mental health and physical health issues. In fact, people who scored 4 or more on the ACE quiz are several times more likely to develop chronic disease and depression. They are ten times more likely to commit suicide. (If you are interested in taking the ACE quiz, you can do so here.)

When we talk about traumatic experiences, it is important to note that it is not only the big traumas, such as the ones measured on the ACE study, which stay with us. Even small “traumas”, like being laughed at by our classmates or yelled at by our parents, can have a lasting impact. When situations similar to the original trauma come up, it is easy for us to resonate with and even re-experience the trauma.

Key to understanding and healing trauma

Knowing that childhood traumas, and indeed all traumatic experiences, seem to become trapped in the body leads us to an important question: What can we do about it?

Thankfully we have tools to heal. But the way to heal is not based on insight, understanding, or figuring things out.  This is because the rational mind is not where trauma exists. Trauma is emotional/energetic, so effective therapies need to work on the emotional/energetic levels. Peter Levine discusses this concept in this video.

Energy psychology techniques are a group of therapies which includes the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Thought Field Therapy (TFT), the Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT), and the Emotion Code/Body Code. Each of these approaches utilize the meridian system to release energy blockages caused by traumatic experiences: tapping or holding meridian points (EFT, TFT, TAT) or tracing the Governing Vessel (Emotion/Body Code). Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), and its offshoot, EMDR, use eye patterns and imagery to release trauma. In every case, the focus is not on understanding what happened, but on getting to the emotional/energetic pattern that we need to release in order for us to heal.

A case in point

I was working with a client who has a high ACE score – he experienced a lot of trauma when he was growing up. Several months ago, he came to session extremely upset. He had recovered a memory of a particularly ugly, traumatic incident from his childhood. We used an EFT protocol to heal the trauma impact from this memory. Understand and heal trauma

At the beginning of our session, I asked him to rate his experience on a 0-10 scale, and it was “more than a 10.” By the end of the hour, he was able to recall what had happened without feeling upset. When I asked him to rate the incident on the same 0-10 scale, it was a 0. He and I were both grateful for this amazing tool of healing.

A few months later, he came to session upset about other things. I asked him how he felt about the incident. He stopped and looked surprised for a moment, and then replied that he had not even thought about it. Interestingly, he still felt calm and detached when he remembered it.

He, and many others, still have a lot of trauma to resolve. But they can, and I am determined to help. Not just working with my clients, but spreading the word about the impact of trauma and ways to work through it. We, I, you are an energy field: a key to understanding and healing trauma.

We have ways to heal. People need to know this stuff.

Photo from Sundance UT, healing trauma and finding peace

Healing Trauma

Many of my clients have experienced trauma, whether it is losing a loved one, getting divorced, or being diagnosed with a serious illness. Traumatic experiences are part-and-parcel of our human experience. They can be the defining moments of our lives, and how we deal with them – or don’t – has a tremendous impact on what happens next. We used to think that PTSD was “incurable;” now we know that healing trauma is possible, and relatively straightforward.

Short term and long term impacts

In the short term, surviving a traumatic experience changes how we see ourselves. We are not as safe, and the world is not as trustworthy, as before, leaving us feeling powerless, isolated, and afraid. The haunting memories of trauma can come up unbidden and disturb our peace, leaving us to wonder if we will ever be at ease.

The longer term impact of a trauma is determined by how significant the trauma was, how many stressors and traumas we have previously experienced, and whether we have resources to help us release the trauma.

Hot memories

There is some evidence that small pieces of a traumatic episode live in our memory in a “hot”, emotion-laden way; they have split off from the rest of the trauma story. These pieces of trauma memory are the grist for flashbacks and re-experiencing. Knitting the hot pieces back into the story as a whole seems to cool them down and helps reduce flashbacks and other trauma responses.

Wishing we could forget

Most people who have experienced trauma try to forget that it ever happened. The problem is that trying to forget is ineffective; forgetting is impossible. Fortunately, there are some very effective techniques to help with healing trauma. They all involve purposefully remembering the traumatic incident in detail from beginning to end.

Here are some strategies that are effective in healing from trauma:

The first three strategies are out-of-the-box approaches to healing trauma that are gaining traction. I have used them in practice and my clients are finding them to be super helpful:

Narrative exposure therapy

NETis a storytelling technique that was created to help people in war-torn countries recover from trauma. In this simple approach, people tell their trauma story in detail, over and over again, until they can tell the story without feeling upset. When I use a version of this with my clients, they become calm and the memory loses its “hotness,” usually in one sitting.

Neurolinguistic Programming’s Trauma Cure

The NLP trauma cure involves some form of watching the memory as if it were a movie, starting before the trauma and ending after the trauma, in fast-forward and rewind. They way that I use it in my practice includes adding a funny element to the memory. This is a brief technique, and my clients find it super helpful. Clients might start out being barely able to tell me what happened, and end up smiling about it. And that is something to smile about!

Meridian Tapping Therapies

Techniques like EFT help to put the trauma highlights into a cool context. In EFT, we tap on meridian points while talking about our emotion. (To learn more about EFT, check out my posts here.) Clients start by telling their story, and as soon as they get to a hot spot, we stop and tap. They move on to tell the next part of the story, and again we tap when they get to a hot spot. I always ask my clients to rate their trauma on a 10-scale, and even if they start out by saying, “it’s a 100”, by the end of our session, they are usually at a “0.”

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: A mainstream approach to healing trauma

The CBT approach to healing from trauma is similar to the narrative exposure therapy described above. With CBT, you the story to a compassionate listener, starting at the beginning and ending at the end. It is an evidence-based approach to treating trauma.

Many paths, same mountain

There are many effective approaches to healing trauma, and they are so simple and effective, it is a real shame that people continue to suffer. Together, maybe we can create a shift. If you know of someone who is suffering, please tell them that help is available. There is a database of EFT and energy psychology practitioners here; there is a list of NLP practitioners here; and Psychology Today has a list of practitioners that is searchable by type of therapy and issues addressed.

Healing trauma is possible. Let’s spread the word.

photo of bridge, showing get over your ex and get on with your life

How to get over your ex and get on with your life

The painful experience of a breakup can stick with us, preventing us from showing up fully for our lives and creating a great life that we can be excited about. There are a couple of patterns that we can get stuck in: We can find ourselves pining after our ex, idealizing our past relationship and believing that this person was perfect for us. Alternatively, we can believe they were the worst, and hold on to resentment for what they did to us. Neither of these patterns allows us to be present. Fortunately, you can learn to get over your ex and get on with your life.

Keeping the old flame alive

Guy (names are changed for privacy) was convinced that Laura was the only woman for him. He had never really fallen in love before, he was ready to have a “real” relationship, and he felt like she was the perfect person for him to share life with. When Laura broke up with him, she broke his heart. For weeks that turned into months, his friends noticed that he was struggling, and they were surprised, as they had never seen him so vulnerable. His first instinct was to try to win her back. They faltered for a few more months, but finally it became clear that they were not going to make it. He suffered, and then he realized he had two choices: hang on to idealizing Laura, living in the past; or let her go, realize that their relationships was not as perfect as he wanted to believe, and move forward with his life. He finally chose the second option. He started going out with friends, then started dating, and in about six months he was ready to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.

Holding on to a hot coal

Grace was so angry with her ex; she felt betrayed and was sure that she would never forgive him. He had cheated on her and broken up their family. She told him that she would hate him till the day she died, and she meant it. When she ran into him at their children’s sporting events, she gave him dirty looks, barely spoke to him, and made it clear to everyone who saw them that she despised him. Her children couldn’t help but notice, either.

None of this made the situation easier or healthier for anyone involved ― especially the children. Grace didn’t care. Finally she realized that she was stuck in the past, and that this was not serving her. She realized that her children were hurting because of her animosity toward their dad. Grace understood that she would never be able to open up to a new love if she held on to this anger. Buddha said that holding on to anger is like holding onto a hot coal: we are the one getting burned. Grace understood this, and chose to let her anger, and her ex, go.

Cultivate the opposite

Yoga sutra book 2, sutra 33 tells us that when a negative thought is present, we should cultivate its opposite. Guy and Grace both chose to recognize their negative thoughts and to replace them with the opposite. Guy reframed his experience, practicing telling himself that Laura was not perfect for him. If he wanted a relationship, he would certainly find another love. Grace practiced telling herself that while her ex’s actions were hurtful and destructive, she choose to let it go anyway. She chose to leave the past in the past, and allow herself to be happy for what she had. This created the opening for new love.

During the first months after a loss, it is perfectly healthy and normal to feel the full range of feelings: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression. For more on the stages of grief after a breakup, read my last post here. Eventually we need to get to the place of acceptance. This allows us to show up in a big way in our lives, be fully present with the people we love, and make the contributions we are here to make.

Breakups hurt. They also make us stronger, if we let them. You can get through it!