By: Lianne Johnson, LPC
By Jonathan Hart, LPC
I have just returned from a very nice, relaxing vacation. We were quite thoroughly “off the grid”: away from cities, away from crowds, away from cell phone signal, internet, and even electricity. It was refreshing … after about a day and a half of electronics withdrawal.
When I’m not on vacation, I depend a great deal on my phone. All my appointments are stored there in my schedule, along with contact information and a glut of other data that is fairly important. I take a great many phone calls, texts, and e-mails about business and clients. It has become a (bad) habit to give my attention to the thing whenever it blings, dings, beeps, or whistles. When it does not do so for more than an hour or two, I find myself compulsively looking at it to see if I missed something.
Out in the woods, I found myself repeatedly grasping my pocket where my phone usually resides and, finding nothing there, experiencing a brief moment of panic: “Where did I leave it? Did I lose it?” Then I remembered that it was turned off and stowed in the glove box alongside the other useless stuff: the owner’s guide for my truck, 27 maps for places we weren’t, and a stick and a half of year-old gum.
Even on the third day, my wife and I found ourselves in information withdrawal: what was the weather going to be today, and how would that influence our decisions on activities and preparations? We needed to know!! We never did find out, and –gasp– we survived unharmed.
A mentor of mine told me once: “Always, Always, Always take a vacation every year. Make the time.” Especially in the helping professions, but in all walks of life, rest and self-care is critically important. In the military they call it “P.M.”: Preventive Maintenance. It means stopping before things break in order to keep them from breaking. It means taking the truck, gun, or equipment out of use and circulation for a period of time, doing without it, in order to keep it functioning optimally.
Many of us are bad at PM for our hearts and souls. We usually wait until we feel bad or until something in our world “breaks” before we stop to rest. This is a mistake. We run ourselves into the ground and we cease to function well, serving poorly, working poorly, and living poorly.
How long has it been since you went off the grid (whatever that looks like in your world)? How long since you stopped and took care of your heart and mind and soul? Do something that relaxes, refreshes, recharges you. Get out of your routine for a while. You’ll know you are starting to do it when you have those moments where you wonder what has fallen apart that you could have taken care of or prevented. When you get to that point, don’t stop. Take another day.
Or two. It will keep.
Let it go. Go on.
Perfecting Ourselves to Death: The Pursuit of Excellence and the Perils of Perfectionism by Richard Winter
- driven perfectionism: works harder to close the gap
- defeated perfectionist: gives up the fight
- healthy perfectionist: able to live in the tension
by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
This humorous clip is obviously an example of very poor therapy that is unlikely to be helpful. People are just too complex for such a simplistic and one-dimensional approach. I certainly hope that you do not have anyone in your life who interacts with you in such a way. But how many of us have internalized this ungracious and callous voice? How often do we grant ourselves little patience and understanding in the midst of our circumstances and our attempts to change? Oftentimes, we are the harshest critic of our progress or our performance.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
In order to experience life more richly and more fully, you must become a student of your own heart and mind. Many of us walk through life working very hard to feel happy and to not feel sad. It is a human instinct. When we feel happy, we accept it as normal and good. When we feel pain or sorrow, we try to avoid it, snuff it, or overcome it because on some level we believe that it is not normal and therefore it is bad. There is little examination of how joy or sorrow take shape in our own hearts. This leads us to a blandness of experience that we find acceptable only because we have not tasted the richness that is possible.
Let me explain. When we feel sadness, our first instinct is often to try to get happy. It seems foolish to allow the sadness to stay. If we can’t “get happy”, we wonder what is wrong with us… which leads to more sadness, and even to shame. We try to anesthetize the pain with all kinds of things, from shopping to substances to adrenaline rushes. Somehow the sadness flattens all of these eventually. Our attempts to feel better are not what they cracked up to be. We need something different, something more authentic.
What if, instead of running from the sadness we acknowledge it and not only allow it to stay, but poke at it, study it? What if we learn what it is really about, how it works, why it is there? This is not an attempt to make it better. Rather it is an attempt to know it more fully, to give it room to exist.
“Why on earth would I do that?!” you might ask. The answer is simple: sadness is normal. If you have lost your job or a loved one, had a friend move away, had a car crash, or had a child move on to college, the sadness you feel is supposed to be there. It is a normal emotional response to loss. If you fight it, you will lose.
Rather than fighting it, I suggest making friends with it. Observe and experience your feelings at the same time. Get to know it. Learn how it works in you. Allow it to be present, and actually feel it for a change.
Do not only do this with sadness. Do this with joy and contentment and peace as well. Instead of just rolling past it, pause and examine it. Feel it more fully. Know why it is there and how it comes to be. Pick apart why the joke was funny to you, explore the layers of irony or innuendo.
In short, become a student of your own heart. Don’t measure yourself against others’ reactions or patterns: they are not you. Be yourself, and be yourself more fully. Stop striving for the illusion of perpetual happiness, and strive to know the full range of human experience on a deeper level.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
SPOILER ALERT: for those who haven’t read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series, there may be plot spoilers in the following paragraphs, though I will try hard not to reveal too much.
My wife and I were discussing some of our thoughts about how the books The Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay ended, and how they served to wrap up their respective series. We were thoroughly disappointed in each and for similar reasons. The core of our disappointment was the principle of “putting a bow on ugly”.
The Harry Potter series ended with an epilogue titled “19 years later”, that (we felt) too neatly and agreeably attempted to wrap up all the threads from the series. The fact that Harry named a child after the person who most utterly despised him and treated him viciously even behind closed doors was just too much. I can see coming to respect him, but one simply does not name a child after an abuser of this magnitude. All the ugliness seemed to have inexplicably vanished.
The Hunger Games series tried to do the same thing, though the attempt at closure was somewhat better. The author at least attempted to acknowledge that ugly existed in the post-story world, but it was still resolved too simplistically and without the flesh to make it believable for me.
Hollywood and fiction train us to expect that all the loose ends can be resolved, that resolution equals “happily ever after” or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. They train us to need things to work out that way. This is most plainly true in the (despicable and utterly useless) genre known as “Romantic Comedy”. I cannot say more without using profanity.
Think of the sense of disappointment or unease when you watch a movie in which resolution is not clean or neat. We recently watched the movie Moneyball, which does not conclude with a “Hollywood Ending”. I can only say that the events depicted happened within the recent lifetimes of many, and as such could not be modified to fit the pattern described above. I feel that if they were more ancient history they would likely have been changed into something completely victorious.
This is fine, and even necessary (to a degree) for celluloid. The unfortunate side effect is that because reality is very much different, many people are left with a sense of disappointment and even despair when real life does not work that way. The truth is that human beings are generally a broken, selfish lot that is capable of both great goodness and great evil, often within a single breath.
The fact is that intimacy, real relationship, and engaging responsibly with another human being is often like a wrestling match. The very best relationship in the world experiences conflict and disagreement, hurt and offense, misunderstanding and tension on an ongoing basis. The couple who tells you that “never a harsh word is spoken” is either whitewashing, outright lying, or they are not experiencing real, deep intimacy.
If you are going to really do deep, intimate relationship with another person, you’d better know how to fight. I don’t mean knowing how to eviscerate your opponent in the shortest period of time. I mean knowing how to hold in tension the following two truths: 1. This other person and I are on the same side, and 2. There is pain and friction between us.
When I talk about knowing how to fight, I mean knowing how to understand and express my own feelings and thoughts in a way that does not accuse or attack the other, even when it is plainly and wholly their fault. I mean learning how to uphold their honor and dignity while feeling the painfully powerful desire to rip their eyes out. I mean knowing how to view conflict as a necessary part of doing relationship, and not as a threat to relationship.
It is often one of the hardest lessons to learn in relationship that resolution is not about coming to agreement, but rather it is about coming to a deeper understanding of the other person, and thereby learning how to craft a unique relationship between the two of you. No part of that process is clean, neat, or simple. It is ugly, and to expect or demand otherwise only leads to disappointment. You can put a bow on it if you like, but that doesn’t make it easier to look at. It takes patience, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. When you’ve come to the other side of it, it will still be ugly, but there is a beauty in what has been created by moving through it that will last a lifetime.
By Jonathan Hart, LPC
I work with a lot of couples, and one thing I notice a lot of is Expectations. I think this is a simple fact of being human. We place a lot of expectations in the people around us. The closer they are, the more we expect of them. Most of the arguments I hear (and honestly, most of the arguments I start myself) begin the same way: “You always…” or “You never…”. Loosely translated, what this usually works out to is something like this: “You don’t do what I want/hope/expect you to do. I have the right to expect that you will do this. My expectations are disappointed.”
Naturally when someone hears a statement like this, the human response is a defensive counterattack. “Oh Yeah? Well, YOU always…” and it only goes down hill from there. A good rule of thumb is to listen for the words “Always” and “Never”. Often, those words are code for the expectations that we have, and that we feel our partner is not meeting.
It is a natural pattern to look at everything our partner is supposed to be doing and highlight where they are dropping the ball. But what if we turned this pattern on its head? What if we were able to shift our focus away from the places our partner is disappointing us and look instead at how we can help them be everything they were made to be? To organize our efforts at encouraging and building them up instead of encouraging them to build us up?
I am not suggesting that we should simply try to do everything our partner tells us to do. That would be about as much fun as boot camp. That only feeds the conflict monster. I am suggesting that we work toward helping them be more emphatically themselves, rather than trying to shape them into who we want them to be.
This requires listening to and learning about who they are, who they want to be, their hopes and dreams, desires and fears. It requires starting at the bottom, working to understand what makes them tick and why they do things the way they do rather than trying to convince them that the way they are doing it is wrong. It requires placing yourself in the position of learner rather than expert. We are asking the question, “How can I help you reach your dreams and goals?” rather than “What have you done for me lately?”
This is not mindless subservience. Sometimes helping someone be better at being themselves can include challenge. It can include confronting hurtful and destructive patterns. It can include stretching and pushing someone we care about outside their customary limits. And again, these things must be done in a spirit, not of reshaping them into our own image of what they should be, but of helping them sharpen and explore their own potential. I am talking about placing yourself at the service of your partner.
There is a lot more to this idea than there is space to explore it here. Consider this a teaser, food for thought. I am asking you to simply consider what it might be like to “through love, serve one another”.