Archives for May, 2012
Anger is often seen as a destructive force. But it may be just as harmful when it is chronically suppressed. We all get mad at times. It can be righteous anger, like when someone hurts us. Or it can be overly exaggerated, like when we throw a fit about the slightest mishap. Whatever the source, anger is most constructively dealt with in relationships when it is communicated immediately and without false intentions. When we allow anger to build up over days and weeks and years without addressing it, it either goes inside and becomes destructive this way, or it leads to uncontrollable blowups that usually come at the wrong time. Sometimes our anger is irrational. Then we have to deal with that. But it tends to fester when it's not voiced at all.
Many of us carry a burden that consumes a lot of energy: we feel responsible for the happiness of others, even when it's not our job to worry about that. The phenomenon comes in many shapes, and often goes back to early childhood experiences and the role we played in the family. One of my clients, let's call her Rose, became aware of her own dynamic after a visit with her mother, who she hadn't seen in many years. She was the oldest child in the family and wasn't just expected to take care of her younger brothers when she got older, she was also the designated person to sooth her mother, who constantly worried about the two boys and how they would make their way. Later in life, Rose got used to taking responsibility for her siblings' monetary problems, since they seemed incapable of holding a job and planning for their own financial security. Her brothers' inability to take care of themselves became a heavy burden, and it took years for her to develop the courage to end their emotional and financial dependency of her. But the same kind of burden can arise even in families where one child was rejected and seemingly released of the responsibility to please one or both parents.
Lots of people are starting to feel overwhelmed by a leisurely activity they used to enjoy tremendously: social networking sites. The first major complaint is the time that is sucked away by facebooking, tweeting and the like. With smart phones and other mobile devices, the Facebook or Twitter app is a constant presence. Whenever there is time to kill, people like to go online and check what’s new with their friends. The time spent online sometimes even becomes an obstacle to real life friendships. Already exhausted and depleted by too much computer usage, some internet users don’t have the energy to then call a friend and talk to a real person.
Alcoholics Anonymous utilize the infamous term of the "higher power," which is ordinarily meant to describe God. Lots of people feel that there isn't one. How would a God who dwells somewhere outside of our existence allow all these terrible things, that humankind is afflicted by, to happen? But there is an alternative concept to the divine that cannot be found in the bible: It is the extraordinary inside of us. When I read a post on Christina Stapleton's blog today, it struck me that she speaks not of a, but of "my higher power." Her higher power is hers. I don't know what it means to her, but if it ever was separate from her own being, it sounds to me like it has at some point become a part of herself.
Finding one's own truth and expressing it is the most important path to heal damaged self-esteem, and to live a meaningful life. We all are such phonies - from time to time. We compliment the neighbor on their new flower bed, even though we find it hideous. We agree with a new boss, although he has no idea what he's talking about. We lend support to a desperate friend, when we know that all that can be done is to accept the loss. So many of us have learned how to please others and don't even know what our own stance looks like. Or worse, we know exactly what is looks like and can't find the courage or the heart to be sincere about it. We so often want to protect another person from hurt that we start bending our own convictions. Honesty does not have to be brutal. It can be spoken earnestly and with warmth, without giving in to anger or inflicting needless pain.
Many times we are so hung up on what we are lacking, or what we can't have, that we completely disregard the power we already have. Especially in intimate relationships. In my psychotherapy practice, I have worked with a number of couples where this discrepancy in perception becomes quickly obvious. One partner will feel "steamrolled" or overpowered by the other, especially during fights. The curious thing is that very often neither partner feels particularly powerful. They actually feel quite the opposite; at a loss for how to bring their message across. Both partners feel that they aren't being heard, and often feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the onslaught of blame or demands from the other side. We might feel powerless in the face of stubborn resistance, but underestimate that our own demands may come across as equally forceful and hard to be met.
Beauty, said the late the Irish writer and poet John O'Donohue, is the place inside of us that is not wounded. That is free and expansive and unburdened by the sorrow we carry around from our past. "Your identity is not equivalent to your biography," is his message. There is a place is all of us "where there is still a sureness in you, where there's a seamlessness in you and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you." I love this image of a place of peace that lies within all of us. We don't have to go and find it somewhere else. We don't have to pay hundreds of dollars to visit a wellness resort or buy happiness by going on a shopping spree. We don't have to look to someone else to give us something we think we need. We already have it. We just don't pay attention to it.