healing from heartbreak

7 Simple Lessons on Happiness from a Defiant Dog Named Ben.

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We can not solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.

Albert Einstein.

Seven Years ago in August, I adopted a rescue puppy named Ben. He turned eight a couple of weeks ago. Not treated well by his first owner, he and his brother were surrendered to a shelter. The original owner reclaimed Ben's brother, leaving Ben alone and feeling abandoned,  when he was first adopted by another.  He had difficulty adjusting to his first adoption and was returned to the shelter the very next day.  I was fortunate enough to adopt him that very next day. Though it's been a tough road at times dealing with his severe separation anxiety and reactive aggressive behavior, he's given me so much joy and I admire his defiance, which is perhaps better called " resilience".  While I could make a list of dozens doggy behavioral lessons on happiness that Mr. Ben has taught me, here are seven simple ones.

 1. Take time each day to play .

Ben Loves to play. Every morning after his walk and breakfast, he searches for a ball for me to throw to him. If he can't find one, he then grabs one of my shoes instead. Catch or catch me if you can has become a big part of our morning routine.

Adults need to be silly, laugh and play. It releases endorphins and actually can help them to be more productive at work and more at ease with others. Woking too hard or always being on the go, stresses the adrenals and leads to anxiety and depression.

2. Take time to rest.

Ben loves to go for walks- short ones though. Once he tires out, he just plops himself under a shady tree.  He has no particular exercise agenda (unlike his owner) and he listens to what his body needs.  When he needs to slow down or stop, he does.

Just as people need to take time to play, they also need to sleep and take time out in their days for rest. Believe it or not, just ten minutes of mediation a day or a fifteen minute power nap can be a wonderful reset for one's mind, body and soul.

3. Ask for what you want.

There's a park that I often take Ben for walks. At the beginning of the loop there’s an inlet to the pond, and oooohhhh how Ben loves to swim. We have a routine when he goes swimming: I throw out a stick for him to fetch – and off he goes…paddling with a mission, head above water and tail wagging the whole time.    Each time we approach the inlet, without fail, Ben runs down the sandy beach, wags his tail and waits. That's his ask.  Ben doesn't assume I know what he wants, (though I do), so he makes sure to ask me each and every time we approach the pond.

When people come to therapy, particularly when they are having difficulty in their relationships, I notice that they often assume the "other" should always be attuned to what they want and deliver on it.  It's an assumption that can cause a lot of strife and disappointment when expectations aren't met. I encourage people to ask from their hearts what it is they want rather than expect the other will just know.

4. When you can't get what you want, find a way to come to terms with it.

There's a rule in my home: if Ben goes in the pond – he then goes in the tub for a bath. This doggy momma doesn't have time for a fluff and buff bath routine every day, so Ben doesn't always get to go for his much coveted swim.   Though he always asks, when I know he’s not going swimming on a particular day,   I say “no” and then keep walking.  He waits for a few seconds with sad eyes hoping I will change my mind, but soon finds a way to let go, and follows me for the rest of his walk.

People can't always get what they want from another. Yet some have a hard time tolerating when things don't go their way.  Certainly one can always ask again from their heart, but if another doesn't want to oblige, it's best to respect theit wish. If the other obliges because they feel guilted or pressured, then resentment will build over time.  

 

5. Make sure your actions match your words and surround yourself with those who do the same.

When I ask Ben if he wants to go for a walk, we take one. When I ask him if he wants to eat, I feed him.  Imagine what it would be like for him if I only followed through on what I said only some of the time? Would he feel loved and secure?

No, he wouldn't.

When someone follows through on what they tell the other they intend to do, it says that they are a person of integrity and that the other matters. It shows that they care. When they don't, the opposite is true on all counts. Now, no one's perfect and life happens. When things get in the way and force a change of plans, explain that to the other and find a way to make it up to them. It feels good to make other's happy and others feel happy and respected when people in their life do the same. It builds trust and deeper intimacy and It's win win.

6. When someone's actions don't match their words,  know it's not about you.

Dogs take everything personally. Their limbic brains are much bigger than their human companions and they don't have a prefrontal cortex that helps them use logic and resort to higher reasoning. One of the reason's Ben has anxiety and PTSD is because he didn't know that his former human had problems and took them out on him.

Here's where humans have dogs beat. Yes, it hurts when people don't do as they said they would and sometimes, one may never know the reason why they didn't. Learning not to personalize  others behavior and lack of follow through can help build one's self esteem. It can also create enough space for one to calmly ask the other what happened rather than react harshly -which will only shame or push the other away. If necessary, not personalizing an other's behavior can then make it easier to walk away from those who's actions consistently don't match their words .

7. Above all else: "To thy own self be true." 

Dogs are incapable of being inauthentic. They show us who they are all the time. Their sometimes bad behavior also lends a clue as to what happened to them. When a stranger approaches Ben and he feels uncomfortable, he growls and barks. He can't pretend he feels what he doesn't and he won't warm up to someone until he feels safe, secure and happy with that person.

This lesson is much harder for humans. It's not easy to live authentically as choosing to do so may  mean letting others down. A mentor once told me that at some point in the life span, everyone must choose between the following seemingly impossible dilemma, which boils down to this: "If I choose what others want for me, I betray myself and if I choose what I want for myself, then I betray others." 

While there are those who believe it's "nobler to suffer", I believe Shakespeare's Polonius had this one right. To thy own self be true. The human heart is filled with wisdom and when one follows it, they follow the ultimate lesson on human happiness- which in the long run, has a positive trickle down effect on those around them.  The same holds true for when they don't. When people follow their hearts and learn to disappoint others in a compassionate and loving way, it actually IS in everyone's best interest because it allows them to do the sameInauthentic living never amounts to genuine happiness.

So there it is, seven simple lessons on happiness.  

The irony is, none of those lessons are easy.

 Most have to make time to play and they often don't believe there's enough time in the day to do that.

Most need to take time to rest and they are worried that they won't get everything they need to get done if they do.

Many need to learn to ask from their hearts what they want and accept that sometimes they can't alway get it. This requires the courage to be vulnerable and grieve the disappointment.

While most want to have their actions meet their words, sometimes they can't and then they  avoid explaining to the other the real reason they didn't. This avoidance only leads to hurt, distrust and more avoidance: not down the path of happiness. It's also hard not to take another's lack of followthrough personally, because it really does hurt.

Yet, when people master the last lesson: To thy own self be true- the hardest lesson of all, all the other lessons fall right into place. If they consistently practice lessons one through six, then lesson seven becomes easier too.

When all of these lessons get practiced consistently, then one can truly say that "life is good!"



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7 Simple Ways to "Shape-Shift" Your Life When You Feel Down for the Count.

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible ”  -Audrey Hepburn

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible

-Audrey Hepburn

 

Albert Einstein shamelessly stated, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” A renegade physicist most known for his equation E=MC2, he believed that energy could not be created nor destroyed, “ just changed from one form to another.” His ideas spoke to the heart of the culturally diverse and timeless fascination of “Shape Shifting”.

“Shape-Shifting” means “the ability of a being or creature to completely transform its physical form or shape.”*  A common  theme in ancient mythology and shamanism, it involves a magical transformation from one state to another -often from human to animal.  In the modern era, “Shape Shifting” has become a widely used metaphor for variety of genres.

 

Sports is one such genre. Remember the  Boston Bruins 2011 playoff series ? Fans road the rollercoaster of constant come from behind wins (accompanied by Jack Edward’s historic commentary) from the quarter finals in Montreal all the way to Lord Stanley's Cup in Vancouver.  The B’s “shape shifted” again and again until they emerged victorious. Then there was Malcolm Butler’s against all odds and ergonomics game winning  interception in Super Bowl XLIX .  With :26 seconds left in the game and Marshawn Lynch inches from the end zone, Seattle Seahawk players and fans began celebrating the seemingly inevitable game winning touchdown.  The Patriots  then “shape shifted” and dashed the Seahawks’ hopes.  In 2017 they did it again. Down 23-3 in the third, the Falcons smelled victory.  Tom Brady marched down the field and showed the world once again, that miracles do happen- sometimes.  What seemed fated to be an epic loss “shape shifted” into  one of the most legendary Super Bowl victories to date.  

“Shape shifting” happens in psychotherapy too -though in this genre,  most  keep bragging rights to themselves.  People come to therapy when they feel down for the count and desperately seek to transform their lives.  While therapy may not be for everyone, almost everyone has found themselves at some point in time in dire need of change. If you can relate to that sentiment, then here are seven simple “shape shifting”  techniques you can practice on your own to begin turning  your life around.

  1. Ask yourself the following question: If anything were possible and nothing mattered, what does my heart long to be, do or have?  The sky's the limit, so be brave. Right now this secret desire gets to live privately and safely within the walls of your imagination. No one has to know about it, except you. Feel what happens in your body when you do this. Compare that “in the body feeling” with your feelings towards your  current situation or  whatever it is you think you should  be do or have. Notice the contrast. Without thinking, kinesthetically feel which thought or idea makes your heart lift.

  2. Focus on what does lift your heart,  imagining yourself being, doing or having it.  Sense and   feel what happens in your body.

  3. Allow the parts of you that tell you why you can’t or shouldn’t be, do or have this to come forward. Sense and feel them in your body.

  4. Send all those naysayer parts of you lots of compassion. Contrary to what many people say, pushing aside or ignoring fears doesn’t work. Those parts of you have important messages and concerns that need to heard. They have good intentions and are trying to protect you from deeper held beliefs and fears in your inner system.  Listen to all their concerns and  then channell Aaron Rodgers’ invitation for relaxation towards them all.

  5.  Allow the deeper fears to emerge in their own time and way. (If this becomes overwhelming, than you may want to consider psychotherapy.) Listen with compassion to all your pain - every last drop of it-and allow it to dissipate.

  6.  Shift your focus back again to what makes your heart happy and feel what happens again in your body.   

  7. Wait and Listen. Allow yourself to be guided by your heart’s intuition and follow its lead by taking whatever inspired actions it asks of you.

Practice this simple technique three minutes a day, three times a day for three weeks, three months or three years and watch your life begin to transform. You CAN “shape shift” anything in your life IF it’s what your  heart truly  desires. If it’s not, then It won’t happen no matter how hard you try. Trust that your heart has an inner wisdom in wanting what it wants -whatever that may be.

While Shakespeare’s Hamlet tormented over “Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and many have followed in suite, I believe there’s a better way. What lifts your heart- at least the essences of it- IS what you are supposed to be, do or have. When you surrender to that and set your intention to allow for what you really want to flow into your life -you will discover some really good news. What makes you happy- when pursued in a kind, compassionate and loving way- is  always in the best interest of the greater good.  

Why not give it a try and see what happens? .

You never know what dreams may come.

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Are You in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship? Tips to Help You Understand What Implicit Contract you May Have Signed.

“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”- Carly Simon

 

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Narcissistic abuse has become a hot talking point these days.


 If you follow social media, particularly Facebook, you may find many articles about this such as “ How to spot a narcissist” , “gas lighting” ( a manipulative technique where someone tries to tell you that you are crazy and are imagining their abuse rather than take any responsibility for it) and even “10 signs that your partner is a psychopath”.  While these essays do have some meat to them and offer sound advice on self care, trusting your instincts and maintaining no contact once you end the relationship, they don’t get to the heart of the matter, which is why people get ensnarled in these relationships in the first place.

“Karen” had been in therapy with me for two years. Her husband “Jack” who was once the love of her life, had for many years now, been showing her his darker side. He often neglected her, raged at her when he was upset and seldom showed any genuine interest in Karen’s wants and needs. When she would withdraw her attention from him and begin to contemplate leaving the relationship, he would then change his tune and start following through on the many promises he made to her. This in turn, offered her some intermittent moments of hope and happiness and she would re-engage with him. Yet once she did, little by little he would switch back to his old behaviors. After a while, she would then start to withdraw again and he would then start to pursue her again.  He offered her just enough of what she needed to get her hooked into riding the rollercoaster of his moods and maltreatment, yet again.  This was their relational contract.  

The contract didn’t start out that way though and generally speaking, in this kind of relationship, they never do.  Karen told me that she and Jack were once very much in love. “We had a chemistry like no other” and “he always felt like my soulmate” she would say, which I am sure is all true. This kind of chemistry however, allowed for the classic “bait and switch” where overtime, and unbeknownst to her, she came to implicitly agree to be in a connection with him that ultimately, was all about him.  Never did she imagine herself to be sounding board for his dreams and disappointments and a psychic punching bag for his rage.  Always trying to fix him or "therapize" him, she lived with chronic knots in her stomach.  Obsessed with how to get things back to the way they used to be, she came to therapy after her friends and family expressed concerns on how her self confidence and joie de vivre seemed lost.  She agreed that it was.

So how did this implicit contract get signed?

Karen grew up in a disorganized household.  Her father, who adored her, traveled for work so he wasn’t around much of the time and her mother, who was a trauma survivor herself, would often rage at Karen when she was a little girl. Karen shared with me her memory of her mother screaming at her for some unknown reason as she didn’t remember doing anything “wrong”.  Her mother’s affect was so intense that Karen remembered wanting to faint in an attempt to get her to stop her and to win back her mother’s love.  “I just wanted her to hold me” she said as she wept silent tears.

As a four year old, Karen did not know how to stand up for herself or even run away. Those are not skills that any small child has. Instead, she developed a belief that it was her job to take care of her mother’s emotional needs. By doing this job which was necessary for her own sense of survival, she denied her own feelings and burdens of fright, anger, loneliness and abandonment that arose during and after one of her mother’s tirades. When she was older and did try to protect herself, her actions were then met with more rage and more neglect.  In many ways, her relational wings were clipped.

So how did this type of trauma manifest in Karen’s intrapsychic system? First, she developed both a panic and fainting disorder as her fight/ flight response lived in constant overdrive for many years.  Second, she found herself in a string of bad relationships, until she met her husband, so she thought.

A couple of days before a session I had with Karen, I learned that a former client I treated for many years when working at a methadone clinic, had overdosed and died. He too grew up in an extremely disorganized household. He was from Medford, Ma or as many homegrown “bean towners” prefer to say: “Medfa”.  A talented artist who dropped out of school because of drugs, he knew how to stand his ground and he never back down from a fight, even when he probably should have.  Unlike karen, who didn’t know what to say when her husband mistreated her,  my former client had just the perfect vernacular of hysterically funny and vulgar push back lines for when someone mistreated him.

He was on my mind during a session with Karen which ended up being a turning point in the therapy. She was trying to find a way to stand up for herself in anticipation of her husband’s next outburst.  I began to tune out as she practiced and played with polite niceties such as “when you do that, I feel….(blah blah blah)”.  Then suddenly, I got hijacked by intense countertransference and interrupted her. I said, just as my former client would have, “No, the next time he acts out, you tell him to go choke on a big fat D**k!”

Silence filled the room.  

Then a spontaneous eruption of laughter between the two of us took up the space and remained there for the rest of the session.

My former client would have been very proud. Karen took his lead and said something to that nature to her husband a few day later when he started up again.  It worked.  Stunned by both her words and assertiveness, he apologized and told her that she was right, he did need to go back to therapy.

Whether or not Karen’s husband can earnestly engage in treatment and learn to become more relational remains to be seen. His declaration could be yet another bait and switch move where he offers her just enough of something that appeases her so that she will get back on the rollercoaster with him, because he can’t tolerate losing her. In narcissistic alliances however, the loss has little to do with the loss of the actual person. It’s more about the loss of an object that supplies the other with a drug like fix.  If a person does leave the alliance, the other may quickly find another empathic partner who will take the previous one’s place.

These alliances are not always so black and white though.  There often can be a continuum of relationality that some people have.  He or she may both genuinely care for the other and see them as an object at the same time.  This is when it gets really confusing. Depending upon where the person is on the narcissistic continuum will have much to do with whether or not this relational dynamic can change. That is why therapy is a must to survive something of this nature.

If Karen and Jack do end up entering couples counseling, which they will need to should they want to remain in the relationship, they may be in constant contract negotiations for a long time.

Yet there’s a creative genius behind Karen’s relational patterns. The four year old parts of her (frightened, angry, lonely and abandoned)  that got pushed aside when dealing with her mother’s abuse for years kept desperately trying to find ways to have their story seen and heard by none other than Karen.  One of their tactics was to find just the perfect partner to contract with who will help them re enact their story.  They are the parts of her and of you for that matter if you can relate to Karen’s story, who signed the invisible implicit contract in the first place.

The good news is, once you see what these parts are up to, you can then take a front row seat to their show, just as Karen did.  With a little curiosity and a lot of compassion that allows these injured parts to grieve and heal in their own time and space, you will be able to rip up that contract and get off the rollercoaster for good.  And if you start to waffle when your partner makes desperate attempts to lure you back in, try imagining yourself saying the crass words of my former client: “Go suck on a big fat d**k”. Allow that energy to fill your body with courage. Next take a long slow deep breath, find some stillness and pause. Then, calmly look your partner in the eye and say these two words.

Good bye.

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Finding Hope after heartbreak hacks

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Not only can you survive co-dependency and abuse, you can learn how to thrive in your life because of it.