Helplessly Hoping

Posted by on Nov 9, 2019

Not so helpless when together They are one person They are two alone They are three together They are for each other Crosby, Stills, and Nash Helplessly Hoping is one of my all-time favorite songs. On their self-titled 1969 album, the words are as beautiful as the melody and harmony that float them into the air, filling my heart with, well, hope. My favorite line is the last, “They are for each other.” The song is a sad one but the thought of hope in all of that hopelessness is still powerful…and necessary. Being for each other is more important to me than I can express. I can’t remember when exactly, but my dad talked with me one day about a collective universe, one in which we all impact each other, intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or not. I was young, in college probably, and it has stuck with me every day since then. It is especially disheartening these days as it seems we are about as far away from that concept as ever. How do we remember to take care of each other in the middle of a culture of growing hate, self as importance, and cut-throat competition? You know, take care of everyone, not just people you consider important. I travel frequently for work and the stress of travel can make people a bit crazy. Since I do it so much, it is rarely stressful for me because of the high degree of familiarity and experience. Airports are confusing, airlines can be cruel, weather is a killer, and airport food is expensive and terrible. Don’t even get me started on the seats at the gate and the bathrooms where you cannot fit yourself and your roller bag in a stall without nearly killing yourself (what thoughtless knucklehead designed those)! And all of that before you even get on a plane, which doesn’t have enough room for anyone or anything, and the expense of “not fitting” is terrible. It stresses people out and costs gobs of energy for everyone. I was flying on a small plane into a small airport the other week and there was a mother traveling with her infant. Because she boarded late, her bag had to go above my seat even though she was sitting several rows ahead of me. When we arrived at the gate, I got her bag down and asked the person...

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Hitting a tipping point

Posted by on Nov 2, 2019

Even her posture was unusual as she walked into the office and sat down. Taking a cue from the energy, which sourced the posture, I sat and waited. “I give up,” she said. The words sort of drifted out of her mouth, barely pushed, barely weighted. The surrender in her being was hard to describe, hard to witness. “We all have a tipping point and it seems I have hit mine,” she continued but then stopped. Too sad to cry, she simply sat and stared at the carpet, looking more lost than I had ever seen her. What pushes us to this kind of point in life? And how do we know when we are getting close? We are a resilient being, human beings, but that can change in an instant. Strangely, whenever I think about the resiliency of people, black and white photos of emaciated, almost to the point of not even looking human, concentration camp victims flash across my mind. I read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, an incredible telling of life in a concentration camp told by a psychiatrist and victim, Frankl. It is not a light read by any means, but there is not one moment of blame or victimhood, just reflection, introspection, a searching for meaning and explanation. He was already at work on how meaning impacts life so his time in the camps provided an incredible and rare view into the human psyche. What it must have taken to be a guard. What it took to be a prisoner. Who survived and why? The why is what Frankl contested to be the reason some survived and some didn’t. Having a purpose, a reason helped people survive the worst conditions possible. A phenomenal thought and theory. But what about those walking around without purpose or meaning, how do they survive? Over the last decade, I have worked a great deal with the conversation of purpose and meaning, so these questions are regular fodder for me. What really brings meaning to life? My patient, the one that has reached her tipping point, has enough meaning in her life for several lives, but yet, she feels defeated, as if it is time to give up. I’m not exactly sure what giving up looks like for her but at least it is not on being alive she assures me. Perhaps she is giving up on the...

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How much do I help?

Posted by on Oct 26, 2019

I admit it, I’m a helper. It is not hard to guess that, especially if you know me. My profession gives it away, too, you know, I’m a shrink. This has been the theme of my life, helping others, and I often wonder how that came to be. I come from a family filled with generosity and lots of doctors. I married a doctor. Personal growth and work on the self were common themes growing up, even in the midst of normal and sometimes not-so-normal family or marital fighting. The Seventies were the decade of increasing awareness and transformation and my parents weren’t “hippies,” but were certainly into discovering the self and that trickles down. The Werner Erhard seminar called “est” was a big part of my childhood and my parents were “est-holes.” While off the beaten path and considered a cult by some, it was a big part of my young life and I have to say, I am grateful for it. My mom led graduate seminars and I remember sitting in the room, watching her command hundreds of minds and souls in awe. She was a conduit for their transformation, and it was amazing to experience. I think those were the best and most powerful years of her life. Watching her made me want to help even more. They say your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness—and this is not just a cliché, it is incredibly true. Every trait we have has two sides to balance, the positive and the negative, and finding this balance is the key. Compassion is one of those traits I have to watch carefully. Some might even call it a bleeding heart. When I lived in Los Angeles, my compassion compelled me to do dog rescue. You can’t drive around LA without seeing a stray dog, at least not when I lived there. I would scoop them up and bring them home and find them homes. All of my friends had one or two dogs because of me, and many helped me foster while finding them homes. I had two dogs of my own, so it was often a big shuffle and disruption. It made me feel great and broke my heart at the same time. Balance. So hard to maintain. And this struggle to keep finding balance continues to this day. I want to help everyone but obviously cannot, so...

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What do you do when you start to fail?

Posted by on Oct 19, 2019

What do you do when you start to fail? Do you even notice your failure? Does the word “failure” make you wince, avoid, look elsewhere, or feel badly? We have an incredibly weak relationship to failure in our culture…I almost said, “these days,” but the truth is, I haven’t seen a powerful one yet. Sure, some people are better at failure than others and some people talk a big game, but overall, we are weak. Is that a cultural and ingrained or naturally something we avoid? Who knows, but we should have the ability to rise above a feeling like that in order to become better at something. I have managed a small staff at my horse farm for almost twenty years. The age group ranges from late teens to early thirties, with an average around 21 years old. It is a job category that is problematic and difficult to fill and even more difficult to retain. The pay sucks, quite frankly, and the work can be hard: a perfect combination. It is not the easiest career choice and must be accompanied by a strong connection to purpose to survive. What we have noticed over two decades of more failure than success in the staffing world, is that three months is about the time when the issue of failure starts to creep and create a tipping point for someone new. Longer than a diet but still short. The first week is a blur and filled with, “we don’t do that here” comments more than I’d like to admit. Every facility has its “way” and the only way to figure that out is to do it wrong. We try to prepare people for that. As the dust begins to settle and the newness starts to feel less new, routine takes form to give some relief to the stress of not knowing what the heck to do next. Everyone is on their best behavior at first, well, most everyone, bosses included. When the energy is filled with survival and anxiety, it is easy to keep that up…but not for long. It is after a combination of fatigue and a tiny bit of security develop that people start to relax and let a more honest view of the self begin to emerge. The problem is that they don’t always know they are starting to let the real self show. It is a...

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Communication 201

Posted by on Oct 12, 2019

Hmm, just how DO I communicate? This was the last paragraph from last week’s blog: This is Part I because there is a lot to talk about here. So, my suggestion for you is to examine your communication this week. Homework is my favorite part of therapy and where most of the work gets done. You can talk with your therapist for an hour a week or read this blog for a few minutes a week, but then what do you do the rest of the time? You don’t have to work on it every minute of every day, but if you touched on it daily, imagine the growth that would be possible. See if you can tune into your thoughts during those important conversations or relationships. What do you think? Is it rational or reactive? Is it supportive or defensive? What are you looking for from your other, goodness or badness? How do you frame your view of them? What evidence are you using to come to your conclusion? I don’t know about you, but I have never had an important conversation where I didn’t learn something I absolutely didn’t know about that person. When I take the time to ask and listen, Mette will say something of value, something that reveals a thought or feeling I wasn’t seeing or hearing, and it softens me immediately. We fight out of reflex. Communication is the salve. See what you can see and hear this week and we’ll talk about it more next week. If you were a client and we had ended our last session as I ended the blog, I would ask, “So, how did it go? What did you notice about your communication?” And then, I would wait. Sometimes there will be a long pause and sometimes there will be so much to say, it will flow right out. Usually, spending a week in observation or self-awareness doesn’t come together until you talk about it. I love the saying, “thinking out loud,” because so many insights don’t become visible until you start to talk about it. I guess it is a stream of consciousness exercise of sorts, allowing thoughts to come to the surface and hear what they sound like out loud. There is a lot to manage during a conversation. If we think a thought each second, then we have a lot of thoughts when we...

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Communication, 101 (part I)

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019

How do you communicate? Who taught you to communicate? Not talk, which was most likely your parents, but communicate. There is a difference between the two, an enormous difference, and I think it is under-estimated, under-appreciated, and under-taught. I read an aphorism once that said, “Anything can be resolved in communication.” I must have been twelve. It was a small, green booklet that had dozens of aphorisms from Werner Erhard but that is the only one I remember. It has stuck with me all these years and I have said it more times than I could count when trying to help people find resolution. As a psychologist, helping people communicate is most of my job. We just don’t know how; we were never taught how to communicate in a productive or powerful way, and so we struggle along, talking, but not communicating. I have a wonderful client (I say that about all of my clients), and she is struggling with communication in an important relationship. She is smart, funny, clever, college educated, travelled, insightful, talented, successful, and a good person. She is the kind of person you would want in your tribe or at the very least, your office. Let’s call her Joan. Joan is in her early forties, Caucasian, an amateur equestrian, and divorced. She has sort of embarked on a new relationship, the first one after her divorce, and in an effort to do things better the second time around, is trying to figure out how to have better communication. As I watch her struggle, my own struggles become more and more obvious. I wonder if other shrinks feel this way, a short step ahead of the client, enough to help but requiring work to stay out in front. I love the way the people I work with push me to work on myself constantly. With each moment I help, I learn. I always feel a little funny taking their money… Joan needed to ask a difficult question with a potentially deal-breaking answer. On the surface, it was possible to wonder if she had been betrayed. But the surface rarely tells the whole story and sometimes even confuses us even more. Asking the difficult question had become unavoidable because now that it had become a question, it would fester until it was either answered or it ultimately wrecked the relationship. You can only sweep so much under...

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