The Gentle Self A blog for gentle, introverted people. 2016-08-21T23:39:07Z Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[The Honesty of the Downton Abbey Clan]]> 2016-03-23T20:04:54Z 2016-03-23T20:04:54Z Downton Abbey, il viaggio per scoprire i luoghi della fiction tv di successo

I have been wondering about why I have been so obsessed with Downton Abbey. Sure, there is the constant upheaval of intense emotions, the love and hate, the innuendo, the costumes, the ever evolving and passing of relationships, and all the exotics of a period drama.

But there’s also the bluntness of how the characters speak to each other that fascinates me. There is Lady Mary’s constant taunting of her sister Edith. And of course the rivalry between the dowager and her son’s American wife. But even when there isn’t an ongoing personal conflict between two people at play, no one seems to have too much trouble to let the world know how they really feel.

I was stunned by the exchange between Lady Edith and her future mother-in-law in the final episode, after the bride-to-be had revealed that her child was conceived out of wedlock. After some back and forth, the matron finally heaped praise on Edith, calling her “unimpeachably honest”. When Edith responds, slightly worried, “And you’re not just saying these things to avoid a quarrel with Berti?” (her son), the elder lady soberly answers “Well that’s part of it”. Let’s not make reassurance a goal here.

Earlier in the same episode we were confronted with another example of brutal honesty. Thomas Barrow, the formerly evil footman, who after his suicide attempt seemed cleansed from all viciousness, is announcing his departure. Miss Patmore, the formidable cook, comments wrily : “I don’t know if you’re a good thing or a bad thing, Mister Barrow”. That is a pretty unempathic thing to say to someone who had recently tried to kill himself. Yet, it may be understandable, coming from someone who has put up with Barrow’s misdeeds for years.

The point is, there is a freshness and a relief in witnessing such candor, when the culture we live in is often telling us to be diplomatic, and cautious of hurting someone’s feelings. The truth is that we often hide our actual beliefs for fear of conflict, of being exposed, of getting hurt oneself, or because we don’t want to deal with the reaction to our words.

There is a widespread “massaging of the truth”, as Mike Robbins describes it in his TED talk “The Power of Authenticity”. It’s not lying, as he ponders, but a chronic withholding of real feelings.

Conflict avoidance seems to be rampant in this day and age. Conflict is something dreadful, a painful occurrence, a sign that there’s something wrong with a situation or a relationship.

Most of the time, the person that is being evaded can actually tell that there may be a discrepancy between what is said and what is really the case. Our facial expressions betray us, and generate confusion and possibly even distrust.

What we are unwittingly communicating to someone who we are inauthentic with is either that we don’t trust them with our truth, or that we have to protect them from our reality because they won’t be able to take it.

So what happens if someone feels that they need to be protected from your real thoughts? They start to question their own resilience. “Well, maybe I really am not strong enough to face the music. I must be quite fragile.”

Inadvertently, we create more insecurity, more doubt, less robust relationships. Authenticity doesn’t have to mean being rude. It simply means being real.

Carl Rogers, the famous American psychologist, made “congruence” or genuineness one of the most important elements of being a well integrated person. In his view, no feeling was to be banished. Whether a person felt afraid or silly or angry – if they could be ok with whatever they felt, that is what congruence means. “The crucial point is that there would be no barriers, no inhibitions, which would prevent the full experiencing of whatever was present”, Rogers wrote.

Which brings us back to Downton Abbey and the dowager, alias Maggie Smith, who so fittingly commented on what an English happy ending looks like: “There’s a lot of risk, but with any luck they’ll be happy enough.” So real.



Viaggio Routard via Compfight

Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[When Your Spouse Is Depressed]]> 2016-03-19T01:41:23Z 2016-03-14T21:58:58Z
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    Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[When Happiness Becomes Exhausting]]> 2016-03-03T19:50:33Z 2016-03-03T19:50:33Z SeriousI felt nothing but utter euphoria. I was gunning my little car up the New Jersey turnpike, passing elegant cars and sluggish trucks. I was elated.

    I had just ended an argument with a colleague that had been dragging on for months. For a long time I tried to be diplomatic. Then I attempted silent tolerating. Finally I got into a shouting match about the point I was trying to make – the details are unimportant. That’s when I got through. It felt like when I got mad and started yelling I was finally heard.

    As soon as I got home, I crashed. I felt so depleted like I had run a marathon.

    Strong emotions – and that includes euphoria – can be just as exhausting as physical exertion. When the body pumps adrenaline in high amounts through our veins, it first generates that rush of energy. But after the emotional intensity has subsided, we crash.

    It doesn’t matter if we feel fear or anger, ecstasy or excitement – as soon as our system is confronted with strong emotions, the body’s energy resources become depleted.

    According to research by psychologists Emma Seppala and Jeanne Tsai of Stanford University, Americans are conditioned to seek happiness by chasing the experience of strong positive emotions. We crave that fist-pumping success or a butterflies-in-your-stomach romantic feeling and equate it with happiness. Many of us don’t even think of simple contentment or plain calm as happiness.

    We crave intensity, and some of us go that route even when it comes to negative emotions. Who doesn’t know of a couple that rather fights than tolerates ongoing boredom. Who hasn’t experienced that gut wrenching pain of heartbreak that is devastating and yet the yearning makes us feel so alive.

    In our extroverted culture, low intensity personalities are often undervalued. Leaders must be charismatic and outspoken rather than mellow and deliberate. Our idea of fun more often entails high drama sports and amusement park rides than enjoying the sight of a beautiful waterfall or playing a game of cards.

    Yet at the same time stress and tiredness are ubiquitous phenomena, and that’s not only due to being overworked, but also to being constantly overstimulated. No wonder our children are suffering from ADD. Slowing down and smelling the roses isn’t on top of our To-Do-lists – not just because we don’t have the time, but because it seems to provide too little in return.

    Many Asian cultures have long prized the importance of serenity and calmness. The quieter elements of nature are cherished just as much as the exuberance of human experience. In Japan, the budding cherry blossoms in the spring have been an occasion of wonder and celebration for centuries. In Southeast Asia, the water festival is an integral part of the new year’s festivities. People in countries like Myanmar, Thailand and parts of China splash water on each other to wash away the sorrows of the past and to welcome a new year.

    The good news is that Americans are becoming more and more open to Eastern values. We are moving gradually towards a healthier and saner definition of happiness.

    Science is the vehicle of communicating that slowing down is good for the heart and that a walk in the woods is just as therapeutic as popping a Xanax. It’s not only Power Yoga and Hot Yoga that’s cool at the gym, but restorative poses and gentle flow are just as beneficial. Meditation has entered the mainstream, and everyone knows that deep breathing exercises are a sure remedy against panic and anxiety.

    True happiness arises when we feel replenished rather than exhausted once the thrill of excitement has vanished. “We often are tempted to take striking and energetic actions, but they tend to collapse when we cannot sustain the vigorous effort” advises the I-Ching. “More enduring accomplishments are won through gentle but ceaseless penetration, like that of a soft wind blowing steadily in he same direction.”

    Happiness too is won by soft but steady efforts. We cannot force it, but we can continuously move towards a gentler and more loving pace of living life.



    Creative Commons License mbtphoto (away a lot) via Compfight


    Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[Donald Trump’s Unenlightened Embrace of Anger Or How To Deal With Rage Productively]]> 2016-01-29T22:38:13Z 2016-01-29T22:38:13Z "Don't get cute with me!"

    Anger is a difficult emotion. Sometimes even mental health professionals don’t know what to do with it. Is it ok to let a person just vent? Or work towards suppressing it? Are there better ways to manage anger?

    Donald Trump has long tapped into using anger as a means to get votes. “I will gladly accept the mantle of anger”, he said in the most recent Republican debate, and the way it is phrased somehow makes it sound noble.

    The most unproductive way to look at anger is blame. It’s other people – the government, immigrants, refugees – who are at fault for our economic and financial woes. It’s the Chinese, the Europeans, the Mexicans who are responsible.

    Pointing the finger at others fuels more anger, because there is little we can do about other people. Most of the time, we are not in control of what they do. And that makes it even more infuriating. Blaming others is the most certain way to get caught up in an obsessive spiral of rage and fear.

    We can’t control others. All we can do is look at ourselves.

    So why is it that we are so angry? The anger behind the surge in discontent is loss. Loss of control. Loss of privilege. Loss of security. Loss of a sense of fairness, of opportunity, financial stability, of a certain and predictable future.

    What’s underneath the “mantle of anger” is pain. Sadness about all the losses we have to endure every day. Fear of what there is to come. Shame about our own failures.

    Nobody wants to feel pain. We rather get mad.

    Rage is maybe the most common form of self protection. It’s a shield that prevents us from feeling crappy. It’s a lot more empowering, even fun, to get angry at someone else than to dissolve into a heap of tears. It makes us feel more in control, like we have a sense of agency.

    So rather than helping us to accept the losses we have to endure, and find solutions to the problems that really can be fixed, our presidential candidates – first and foremost Donald Trump – choose to keep us stuck in a spiral of hatred, blame and anger.

    It is the most unenlightened way to deal – or rather not deal with the challenges we are facing.

    Of course, there is also righteous anger. When injustice is being done, and all reasoning falls on deaf ears. Righteous anger has a place in the public discourse in order to draw attention to what is wrong. Once attention is gained, the only way forward is to let go of destructive emotions and come up with solutions.

    We have yet to reach this point.


    Wen Nag (aliasgrace) via Compfight

    Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[Three Ways To Prevent Conflict Around The Thanksgiving Table]]> 2015-11-22T16:00:26Z 2015-11-22T16:00:26Z Cornucopia

    Most of us have been there: You’re sitting down to enjoy a nice piece of turkey, and uncle Tom (or aunt Cathy) starts ranting. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about Donald Trump, your children’s education, or the way your hair looks with these new highlights.

    The important thing is that you feel put upon – regardless of whether they bring up politics or attack you in some way. And even though it feels extremely triggering to have to listen to them – this is also what puts you in the driver’s seat: It’s not about them – it’s about you staying in control of your own reactions.

    So before you start rolling your eyes or think about fighting back, take a moment and look inside.

    1. Take a sip of water, take a breath and ask yourself: Why am I so bothered by their BS?

    Does their opinion really matter to you? Do you see their comments as the ultimate truth rather than a projection of their anxieties?

    Most of the time, criticism is nothing but a hidden form of blaming someone else for one’s own insecurities. The definition of blame is the need to discharge pain or discomfort onto someone else. If uncle Tom asks about why you don’t have a girlfriend, it probably means that he is unhappy with his own relationships. If aunt Cathy criticizes your dress, she most likely isn’t crazy about her own appearance.

    Holiday conversations are filled with projections. And projections are nothing but pointing the finger at someone else, so they don’t have to look at their own insecurities. Don’t get roped into their drama, and remind yourself that there’s nothing wrong with you.

    2. Remember your allies and take control

    If you anticipate uncomfortable conversations think about a couple of topics you want to discuss. Ponder who at the table might feel the same way you do. Group dynamics are all about alliances. Maybe your dad is just as tired of his brother’s rants as you are.

    Intervene and distract at the first sign of annoyance. Don’t let it get out of hand. Get up from your seat to draw attention to you. Walk over to you father and show him a picture of your toddler’s Halloween dress, or a funny YouTube video. Involve your allies in a conversation about what they used to do as kids at Halloween. Group conversations flow with what people really want to talk about. And that’s usually not some crazy relative, but events and people who are close to their heart.

    3. Validate

    If you have the nerve (and you might not) to take aunt Cathy on, try to validate her experience. Notorious critics tend to soften as soon as they are shown compassion, especially if what they are used to is opposition.

    If you’re involved in an ongoing toxic battle about politics, try a general statement like “it really is a shame what’s going on there” and don’t engage further. If you can’t hear the constant complaints about (fill in the blank) anymore, say “this really seems to get to you” and quickly change the topic.

    When you change your perspective, from seeing an annoying person to looking at a human being who has gone through pain and disappointment everything opens. Your uncle may be bitter at times, but he has also been through a lot and he did the best he could. Your aunt may resort to criticism, but she has probably had her fair share of just that in her own life, and tried to rise above her own family legacy.

    Nobody is perfect, but we can acknowledge that people want to grow and evolve. Even a Thanksgiving grinch.

    Foto: versageek via Compfight

    Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[The Upside of Ambivalence & How to Deal With It]]> 2015-11-17T03:24:57Z 2015-11-16T22:01:02Z Divided, We Stand 

    Many people struggle with ambivalence: Is the man I’m going out with the right person for me? Should I change this job that provides a good salary but doesn’t challenge me? Was my coworker out of line when she questioned me, or am I too sensitive?

    Ambivalence can be paralyzing. Swaying back and forth between two or more points of view is natural, but when it goes on for too long it inhibits our ability to make decisions. The worst case is to get stuck with no way out, and others end up calling the shots.

    But ambivalence doesn’t have to be painful. So often we beat ourselves up for being unable to reach a conclusion. And once our inner critic is firmly in charge, all of our energy goes to trying to resolve the inner conflict, and things get even harder.

    Slow down. There is something to be said about that in-between state, right before we hone in on a final course of action. It’s the place of free flowing exploration, when the pressure to act is suspended, and we can simply enjoy the possibilities that are available to us. It’s important to acknowledge that we have choices. We are in control of deciding which path to take.

    Ambivalence can help us mature. It presents an opportunity for growth and change because it involves coming to terms with the rich complexity of experience that we are privy to. As soon as you are able to imagine the possibilities you have at your fingertips, the process becomes expansive and limitless. Rather than avoiding certain scenarios, your fantasies can carry you to a place of peace and tranquility. And it is just this tranquility that will work to your advantage when the time to make a decision comes. That’s when ambivalence feels expansive, and can be a powerful part of our emotional and intellectual process.

    Ambivalence is human. President Obama reflected on this while campaigning for office. “There is a certain ambivalence in my character that I like about myself,” he was quoted in Newsweek. “It’s part of what makes me a good writer. It’s not necessarily useful in a presidential campaign.”

    If you can embrace your ambivalence it will work with you. If you chastise yourself for it, everything contracts, and the perception that your choices are limited will prevail. The more we learn to tolerate ambivalence and just leave ourselves alone, the more naturally we will come to decide on a course of action, because it will also make it easier to accept if we make the wrong decision.

    If you get stuck in your ambivalence, try to befriend it. Give it a shape and a persona. Maybe it feels like a formless blab, or a menacing ghoul. Try to look at your ambivalence as if it were a friend who has your best interest in mind. Imagine it telling you to take your time to be sure you have considered all options. Be understanding with the part of yourself that hesitates. Of course it is hard to exclude so many seemingly good (or bad) options. Life often moves fast, faster than we want it to. Tip your hat to your ambivalence, because it is trying to spare you from disappointment. When you feel more positive about its role, express your gratitude to the imaginary persona you have created and do some self exploration.

    What’s behind the hesitation?

    1. Pleasing others

    If you find yourself ambivalent, because you don’t want to disappoint another person, you are not alone. We depend on our social connections and have to navigate their needs versus our own carefully. But if you find yourself chronically in the situation that your own needs go unanswered, you may be out of touch with your own wants and desires. If you’re paralyzed by always thinking of other people first, pause, and refocus on yourself. You have every right to prioritize your own happiness.

    1. Fear of failure

    Examine the part of you that is afraid to fail. Ambivalence is good for a while, but at some point we have to jump in and take the risk. It’s important to face the possibility that you might make the wrong decision. You may change your mind. You may regret it. Nobody can save you from making mistakes. But mistakes teach us the best lessons we have to learn about life. And you will always move past your mistakes. Life flows. Nothing ever stays the same. Including when we mess up.

    1. Fear of missing out

    This fear often goes back to losses earlier in life. If you at one time felt chronically excluded by others, you will try to avoid feeling left out ever again. It’s important to mourn these losses so you can move past feeling bereft in situations that may have nothing to do with your past, but end up holding you back.


    Image: Gary Tanner via Compfight

    Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[Use Rituals To Improve Your Relationship]]> 2015-06-17T20:34:07Z 2015-06-17T20:34:07Z shutterstock_34411321So much of relationship is about routine and safety. When two people know what to expect when they’re coming home to their parters, they feel safe and secure. Connection comes easier than when there is instability or unpredictability. According to Stan Tatkin, author of “Wired for Love”, Partnership is home.

    In his eyes, the two participants in a couple are in each other’s care. It is their job and obligation to keep in mind what the other person needs. “You can and should be your partner’s best antidepressant and anti anxiety agent”, he writes.

    According to Stan Tatkin, research has shown that couples who have different rhythms, like one being a night owl and the other an early riser, experience more instability in their relationship. Couples who go to bed and get up at different times tend to argue more than others.

    He recommends that couples make an effort to get up and retire at the same time. This way is is easier to create rituals, such as reading to each other before turning off the lights, cuddling, praying together or talking about their day. In the morning, partners can enjoy breakfast or work out together. Some couples make the effort to simply gaze into each others eyes before they go to sleep or after waking. Prolonged eye gazing is said to increase the emotional bond between just about any two people who engage in it.

    Any kind of separation, whether it’s going to work, taking a trip apart or sleeping through the night requires a “landing” – a brief period of time where the partners reconnect. If the wife comes home from a trip and the husband just grabs her bags at the airport and rushes to the car, chances are that there will be an argument on their trip home. If they take the time to reconnect, simply by paying attention to each other, or having a friendly conversation, harmony is established immediately.

    Paying attention to your spouse is one of the great gifts you can give to each other. “Listening is an act of love” as they say. That’s especially important if you think you’ve heard all your partners’ stories before.


    Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[Saving A Marriage in Eight Minutes?]]> 2015-04-13T20:26:45Z 2015-04-13T20:26:45Z I never really liked Tony Robbins very much. The popular self help guru likes to hear himself talk and promises people the world. That is what I thought maybe ten years ago, when I first encountered some of his shows. Ever since I didn’t give him a chance to win me over. None at all. Until last week, when a trusted colleague recommended to have a look at this video. If you’ve ever had doubts about your relationship, take eight minutes out of your day and watch it. I promise, it is worth it.

    What Robbins does here by means of some impressive wizardry is to make a young man, who is frustrated with his marriage and his wife, step into his parnters’ shoes. He validates his point of view, and then turns the focus around and makes him think about how his wife might feel. Robbins makes optimal use of having a large audience that will side with what he skillfully makes out to be the right way to approach the matter. It’s an educational tale of how relationship works. If you can give to the other what is needed, the world will be at your fingertips. Ironically, that is exactly what I used to criticize about the guy. I guess I’ve changed my perspective somewhat. Years and years of self inquiry will do that for you.

    If you’ve watched the first video, you might have seen the one that followed. It’s a clip of Robbins and his wife, Sage, selling people some kind of love & passion DVD. The couple was man and woman enough not to edit a very telling moment at about 2.50 minutes, when they disclose a dynamic that they’ve been struggling with – his hyperactive personality that seems to demand all her time and energy, or as she puts it “me, begging for sleep and food”. They frame the issue around the need for humor – as in, this is what we’ve been struggling with for 12 years, but we’ve learned to make light of it. If this is going down between the two of them as all fun and joy, I’d suspect it’s not always the case. At least it’s not in most relationships.

    All couples struggle with one or several core issues that will go away only with time and patience. Most people will struggle with these core issues for years. But if you keep at it and are willing to see your partner’s perspective, you can arrive at a place where you can make fun of it all. That doesn’t mean that all arguments will cease. They may still flare up during a time of stress or hardship. But if you can learn to let go even the most persistent conflicts can be overcome. And not just in celebrity couples.


    Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[Five Dating Tips for Introverts]]> 2015-04-04T23:03:30Z 2015-04-04T23:00:42Z The Introvert

    1. Fess up. Don’t pretend to be a social butterfly. There is nothing wrong with being introverted. Tell your date if you are someone who seeks friendship first or needs time to fall in love. You may scare away a few flakes, and instead attract people who will really appreciate you.

    2. Meet at places where you feel confortable. If you don’t like loud bars, don’t go there. Often introverts are also pleasers, and they will do what they think is asked of them even if they suffer. Find a place that makes you feel comfortable: a laid back coffeeshop perhaps, or a park. Take your date out for a walk with your dog. You’ll have an ally who will be there for you whatever happens.

    3. Avoid smooth talkers. In a relationship, you need to be heard. If your date won’t allow you to get a word in edgewise,  it’s not the right person for you.

    4. Look for subtle connections. Sometimes we get so flooded by first impressions and things to look out for, it’s difficult to just feel what it’s like to sit with this person. Do you like being there? Or does it feel crowded, overwhelming, or make you nervous? Make sure you actually enjoy hanging out with your date.

    5. Beware of takers. Introverts are often givers. We listen, pay attention, and want to be there for the other. Make sure you get to be on the receiving end of the equation. If you have to ask repeatetly for romantic gestures or to be included, this is what you sign up for down the road.


    Glenn via Compfight

    Gerti Schoen, MA, LP <![CDATA[Sometimes I Get Depressed]]> 2015-03-13T22:15:58Z 2015-03-13T22:15:58Z The Thinker in the Dark - A5

    I consider myself a content person. I have a lot. I give a lot. I receive a lot. And yet, sometimes I get depressed.

    Sometimes I don’t even know why. I check if there is a full moon, and there isn’t. I ponder what may have gone wrong throughout the day or the week, and there’s nothing.

    For the longest time I have searched inside myself why I got depressed. Often it’s some residue of childhood wounds. Being left alone, neglected, yelled at – whatever. It’s part of being human. Everybody feels this way some time.

    Often I tell myself to snap out of it. That others have real reasons to be depressed about, and may not even be depressed in the first place. Usually, that doesn’t help. It just makes me feel worse about myself.

    But a couple of days ago, I seemed to start to understand what the purpose of this could be. Sadness is a universal feeling. Sadness is grief, sadness is loss, sadness is loneliness. No one is exempt from that.

    Knowing that every single person on this planet knows sadness is a unifying and transformative thought. It creates compassion for others, and for oneself. There’s nothing wrong with being depressed sometimes, because it is the very definition of being human.

    It doesn’t matter if there is a palpable reason or if it’s buried deep inside of you. Just knowing that it serves to understand one another better lifts me out of the muck of the heaviness a little.

    Richard Rohr in his brilliance has given us another explanation for sadness: As soon as we start to do some soul searching (and if you hang around on Psych Central, you are one of us), we start to meet our shadow selves: those parts of us that had to accommodate and bend into a pretzel for the sake of others and our own survival. We created a false self that was made for the sake of others, but denies the existence of the real self.

    So as soon as we start dealing with our authentic selves, the false self feels threatened and eventually gets depressed, because it knows that its game is over. “A certain degree of such necessary sadness is important to feel, to accept and to face” writes Rohr. “People who have never had no inner struggles are invariably both superficial and uninteresting.”  How comforting!

    Of course, we do have to make the distinction between necessary suffering and a form of depression that is more a symptom of not facing ones shadow self. Lots of people go through the world never dealing with their issues and their losses and they will inadvertently get depressed because they never dare to confront their demons. This form of depression is a signal to deal with what has never been dealt with sufficiently.


    Hartwig HKD via Compfight