“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” -Lois Lowry, author of The Giver
Today is the annual celebration of Memorial Day in the United States, a tradition that began after the Civil War to honor those who lost their lives in battle. The day has always been meaningful to me because my father was a Marine who fought in the South Pacific in World War II. Although my father survived, many of his generation did not. The day brought back memories as long as he lived.
Americans have been involved in many battlegrounds since that time. We have over 23 million living veterans of past wars, many still suffering from both physical and psychological wounds, and 1 1/2 million still deployed around the world. When you add to these numbers all of the loved ones whose lives have also been affected–parents, siblings, grandparents, spouses, children–the magnitude is overwhelming.
Time magazine’s startling cover of a slender, attractive young mother boldly breastfeeding her 3-year-old son has everyone talking. Not only because of the provocative visual image but because the article is entitled, “Are You Mom Enough?”
Talk about using provocation as a way to get attention. Numerous blogs instantly popped up on the web about how Time‘s bold move proves that printed media can still grab the public’s attention. But at what cost to mothers and soon to be mothers? Do we, as women, need to question our adequacy and compare ourselves to other women any more than we already do?
As a woman, a mother and a family therapist, I was disturbed by the message this article conveyed, at least by the cover.
In a country deeply divided into red states and blue states, President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage will no doubt become a political hot potato. In the meantime, the psychological and emotional impact of politics on the actual lives of families will get drowned out in the rhetoric of opposing sides.
As psychotherapists working with couples and families from diverse backgrounds, we know first hand how differences about things like religion, politics, values and behaviors can either damage or strengthen relationships. Which way it goes depends on several crucial variables.
First, can family members listen with an open mind to the experiences of loved ones even when they can’t agree? Second, can they develop empathy for the pain of another? Third, are the individuals open to new information and education?
“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”– Dr. Viktor Frankl
There are a lot of excellent self-help books out there these days. So many, in fact, that it is often difficult to figure out which one or another might be helpful to suggest when someone you love is suffering. I recently came across an unusual book, written not by a psychotherapist or neuroscientist, but by an MBA from Stanford who founded the second largest boutique hotel company in America.
This book will appeal to twenty and thirty-something dot-commers, men who like the short version, engineer-types of any age and gender, and all the other anti-touchy-feely folks you know who need some help wading through painful emotions (even if they don’t think so).
The story behind this book is compelling. Chip Conley was a powerful CEO in Silicon Valley who appeared to have it all. Then the bubble burst in the economy and Conley lost five colleagues and friends to suicide in a few short years. In 2008, without warning and for no apparent medical reason, his heart stopped. This got his attention in a big way, and he began to seek out answers about how to alleviate his suffering from the field of psychology.