About wellpsych

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, life coach, facilitator and speaker dedicated to helping people transform their lives and live with joy, integrity and peace. For additional information about my work and experience, click on the "About" tab.

Life Giving Love

bimba“What if everything you know about love is wrong?” asks Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, and author of Love 2.0, Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, doesn’t want to rain on your Valentine’s Day parade. Nor do I. But like Fredrickson, I’d like to upgrade your definition of love, especially if you’re feeling heartbroken or lonely, discouraged or in despair.

To begin with, let’s consider the rapture of “romantic love”. Most people I know (or see as a therapist) want to experience this exquisite kind of love. It’s understandable. Romantic love feels insanely delicious. Pleasure hormones surge when we fall head-over-heals. Dopamine pulses through our bodies, producing ecstatic feelings. Norepinephrine, like adrenaline, revs up our heart rate and makes our palms sweat.

This chemical process convinces us that we must have romance in our life to feel alive. The highs are just too good to think otherwise; at least that’s what our body says. And according to science, this makes perfect sense, given that the chemical high of love is the exact same chemical process that takes place with addiction.

But what if romantic love is just a daydream for you right now? Or what if you’re feeling brokenhearted after a break-up or in an age-old marriage that doesn’t cause your heart to melt like it did long ago? Should you turn to drugs and alcohol to get a quick fix, have an elicit affair to spice things up, or hook up on Tinder for a meaningless tryst? Hell no! You know you’re better than that. So what can you do that is emotionally healthy?

Connect with a caring person who wants to truly connect with you. Infuse your interaction with warmth and openness. Look at each other; really see each other. Feel each others’ presence and then notice the positive feelings that begin to arise.

PBcover_tiltedThis experience, what Barbara Fredrickson defines as Love 2.0, is a connection characterized by a flood of positive emotions that you share with another person – any person – friend or lover, sibling or spouse, child or parent who cares for you and you for them. Dr. Fredrickson’s research has shown that we experience “micro-moments of positivity” that ooze life-giving love hormones when we invest in each others’ well being and extend mutual care. But here’s the catch: we have to connect in person. Phone calls or Skype won’t do it; nor will Tinder or text messages. Feelings don’t compute in technology. The magic only happens when we meet face-to-face.

Grant it, Love 2.0 is less potent or alluring than rapturous kind of love, yet the chemicals that our bodies produce are exactly the same as what you get when you “fall”. So what do you have to lose by upgrading to 2.0? The whoa-is-me attitude. A burden of grief. Complaints and compromises that keep you stuck in misery. And think what you’ll gain. Happiness. Health. Vitality. And a really cool vibe that just might get you noticed by an extra-special someone who might one day be your Valentine 🙂 So give it a try, why don’t you? To learn more, check out Chapter I from Love 2.0.

 

 

 

 

Dogged Humor

During a recent therapy session, I asked a client what made him laugh. “My kitty!” he beamed. “Ah yes,” I a97dd50e3b659423d0a7a5d04bbab79dchuckled, remembering a video he once showed me of his adorable cat. It was great to see my client light up; truly satisfying to watch his stress melt away.

Cats (and dogs) are masters at striking our funny bones, but more than that, they actually help us reduce stress, fight depression, curb anxiety, and lessen the risk of heart disease. Studies prove it. Now I don’t want the cats to feel slighted in any way, but I have to tell you, the dogs even have a special health report published by Harvard Medical School — Get Healthy, Get a Dog. (Did I just hear a cat hiss? Yikes!)

Now even if the cats don’t like it, you’ve got to watch this YouTube. The dogs are such a motley crew, determined to make us laugh. They’re definitely not dignified like the cat at the head of the table. (Have I redeemed myself, kitties?) I hope this video brings a smile to your face and maybe a chuckle or two. Happy Holidays!

P.S. I’m not endorsing the pet food, just the video and maybe a trip to the pound 🙂

Mindful Awareness

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.11540542764659807lzC75Ir8c

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all,

even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house,

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He (she) may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whomever comes, because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

Entertain depression? Welcome in a dark thought or shameful feeling? You might be thinking, “Hell no! I’m not spending time with a ‘crowd of sorrows.’” But tell me, what good does it do to push them away or shame them into hiding? The odds are, they’re coming back, and next time, they might loom ever larger.

Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, foretold a great truth that today’s neuropsychiatrists are proving empirically: accepting our thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgment can increase psychological well-being. Now I’m not equating “acceptance” with resignation. That would be called hopelessness. Instead, I’m referring to what scientists and sages describe as “mindful awareness”.

Mindful awareness, according to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), is defined as paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. When we practice mindful awareness, we simply notice whatever arises in our bodies and minds, pleasant or unpleasant, without getting carried away or controlled by the experience. We have a thought; we don’t become our thoughts. We feel our feelings, but we’re not swept away by them. We learn to be with whatever shows up in the here and now instead of worrying about tomorrow or dwelling on yesterday.

I could go on with my thoughts on the subject, but I’d rather you spend 10-minutes learning more from a master, a former monk who puts an entertaining spin on the subject. And when you’re done watching this terrific TedTalk, considering downloading the app, Headspace, to help you deal with that crowd of sorrows or embrace unexpected joy.

Possessed by a Plan

Everyone h670px-Knock-out-Someone-in-One-Punch-Step-3-Version-3as a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Mike Tyson

A part of me is embarrassed to write this post, but if Mike Tyson can concede defeat, so can I. Here goes.

Last March, I came down with a terrible flu. Sick for weeks, I spent most of my time laid up on my 20-year-old sofa staring at 4 walls of dull paint, a pet-stained carpet, and a 60-year-old end table I inherited from my folks. Not only did my body ache, my heart and soul ached too. I had way too much time to wallow in self-pity, alone at home, thinking about losses I’d endured over the past few years. I felt lonely and deeply sad.

I needed something to take my mind off my misery, something to breathe new life back into my ailing room. Aha! I squeaked out of my phlegm-filled lungs. I know what I’ll do once I’m well. I’ll buy a new sofa. Yes! Freshen things up a bit. Right? You don’t know me very well, do you? Keep reading. The plot thickens.

My mind went to work planning and plodding, and before I knew it, I wasn’t just shopping for a sofa. I was redecorating my entire condo. Yep! A major do-over was underway. I imagined transitioning from traditional to contemporary and from cream and tan to gold and grey. Pinterest became my new best friend. I surfed online ad nauseam, not only for the perfect sofa, but for the perfect rug, tables, lamps, and artwork too. As soon as I was up and at ‘em, I got busy scouring every furniture store in town.

I felt possessed by a trio of interior design demons: Pearl Perfectionist, Pedro Planner, and the most controlling of all, Theodore Thrifty (who was dead set on staying within budget). They insidiously snuck into my consciousness, quietly taking over without me even realizing it, that is, until exhaustion set in. They wore me down with their obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I know they were only trying to help, but geez-Louise! After awhile, the search got old. Still, I couldn’t stop them.

I desperately needed help (from real people who lived outside my head;-) Enter Mr. Friendly-Furniture-Guy and Mrs. Upright-Upholstery-Maven. When I entered their family owned furniture store, it felt like I’d entered a time warp, like the small town where I was born and raised. The Mr. and Mrs. were extremely kind and caring. I felt so well-tended to, unlike when I was sorrowfully sick months before. In a flash, my demons vanished. Instead I heard, “They’re so attentive to my needs. I think I’ll buy a sofa from them.” So I did.

After waiting 6 weeks for a custom sofa, delivery day arrived. The delivery men carried in my new grey sofa (paid-in-full/no return). They put it in its place. BAM! Something was terribly wrong. It didn’t fit the room. I sat down. BAM! It didn’t fit me. I felt uncomfortable, not at all like I remembered. A one-two punch hit me hard. I was flattened.

Despite their good intentions, my interior design demons failed me, and now, to add insult to injury, they berated me. Once again, I needed help to make them go away. I picked up the phone and dialed my sister (my ‘one and only’ rock who lives far away). Only then did the floodgates let loose. Only then, with the support of someone I deeply trusted, did I realize that instead of buying a comfortable sofa, I bought comfort. I bought caring. I bought community.

Often, without even realizing it, we distract ourselves from feeling sad by over-planning or consuming. We get busy doing to escape our loneliness. Our inner-demons take over without our awareness. They don’t mean us harm. They want to keep us from hurting. But instead of freeing us from our emotional pain, they perpetuate age-old patterns that keep us from getting the help we truly need.

I’m not discounting these voices completely. At times they serve us well (Pearl Perfectionist is at work right now editing this post.) But when we’re sick, or scared, or lonely, or sad, they’re not the ones to turn to. That’s when we need comfort and caring from people we trust. That’s when I need more than my one and only who lives far away. I need community.

Speaking of community, I’ve turned an expensive life lesson into a meaningful gift. I’ve donated my new grey sofa to The Furniture Bank, a non-profit that collects gently used furniture from the community, giving it to individuals and families moving out of homelessness or fleeing domestic violence. A “perfect plan”, now wouldn’t you say?

P.S. I just bought a comfortable cream sofa that goes with everything I already have (minus the pet stained carpet). I’m quite pleased with my choice and so is Theodore Thrifty. 😉

Milestones & Moms

By now, you’ve likely seen the movie, Boyhood, the award-winning film that captures a boy’s evolution from age 6 to 18. Brutally honest and exquisitely filmed, I’m intrigued by Mason’s transitions from one stage of development to the next, but not as much as that of his mother’s. Her milestones are less predictable, more clearly defined by choice and circumstance, aclker-clipart1nd as she ages, endings appear to be more predominant than beginnings.

The end feels unbearable as Mason packs up for college. She laments through her tears, My life is just going to go like that…the milestones…getting married, having kids, the time we thought you were dyslexic, getting divorced, teaching you to ride a bike, getting my masters, getting divorced again, sending Samantha off to college. And then comes the roaring crescendo, You know what’s next. It’s my f***ing funeral!

I laugh through my tears as Mason retorts, Aren’t you jumping ahead by about 40 years or something? Mason, despite his youthful wisdom, can’t feel the depth of his mother’s loss. He’s at the beginning, alive with possibilities. Death is all she sees.

I know this feeling well and so do my clients. Endings leave us hopeless, uncertain, and confused. We have no sense of the future. We only see the void. The ending doesn’t have to be a specific, external change such as death, divorce, or a child leaving the nest. It could be letting go of a hope or dream, or relinquishing a well-worn identity.

The WayIn the film, Mason’s mom isn’t merely saying goodbye to her child. Certainly, that’s hard enough. But at a deeper level, she’s relinquishing a way of life and her primary role as mother. William Bridges, author of The Way of Transition, describes this shift as a “developmental transition”, an inner unfolding of those aspects of ourselves that are built right into who we are and how we are made. Developmental transitions most often occur when we move from one stage of life to the next (adolescence, mid-life), but they also arise when the life we are living no longer makes sense or doesn’t fulfill us anymore.

No matter the catalyst, external change or internal rumblings, transitions have the power to transform us, that is, if we live for a time in limbo instead of latching onto someone or something to avoid feeling disoriented, fearful, frustrated, lonely, or lost. Bridges dissuades us, as do I, from creating a “replacement reality” before we’ve experienced the “neutral zone,a confusing state in which we feel as though our life has broken apart or gone dead; a period where nothing feels solid and everything feels up for grabs. Sure, it’s an uncomfortable place of uncertainty, but I know without a doubt, it’s a place where beginnings take root.

I know because I’ve been “there” many times throughout my life, and despite my impatience, I’ve lingered awhile rather than latching on. My most significant transition occurred when I was 41-years old. An internal rumbling was driving me mad. I hated my job in corporate and no longer liked where I lived. But despite my unhappiness, I knew that changing jobs or moving wasn’t the answer — not yet. My soul needed a change. So I waited. I watched for signs. I prayed and listened to my intuition. Then one day, after a year in limbo, I picked up a book titled Gutsy Women: Travel Tips & Wisdom for the Road. From that day forward, my life would never be the same.

A new chapter was about to begin. It was titled, “World Traveler.” Now I had a purpose that needed fulfilling. Now the time was right to quit my job and sell my condo. Of course I saw my therapist before I made major changes. I wanted her assurance that I wasn’t going crazy, but deep down inside I knew what she’d say. GO!

On May 14, 1998, I left the life I’d been living behind and ventured into a brand new reality, traveling to 19 countries in 4 months with only a backpack and a good pair of walking shoes. The memories still fill my soul. I was transformed by my experience in ways I never could have imagined. Not only was I brought back to life, I was empowered to write the next chapter of my life once returning home. That chapter was titled, “Entrepreneur.”

My experience of saying goodbye was unlike Mason’s mom; it was much more like Mason’s. Minutes before I was ready to leave for the airport, my mother called me into the kitchen. There was something in her hand, but I couldn’t see what it was. She pulled me close and draped a St. Christopher medal around my neck. Her voice cracked as she spoke these words, “A memento of your father to keep you safe.” When she broke from our embrace, the light caught her eyes. She was fighting back tears. I’m sure the dam broke as soon as I walked out the door. Thankfully, I left something behind to comfort her in her sadness–my dog, Brandie. Surprisingly, my mother offered to take care of her despite never having a dog of her own. Title Mom’s new chapter, “Dog Sitter.”

A mother’s role will change throughout her life, but her significance will never fade. On Mother’s Day 2015, let’s acknowledge all the milestones our mothers helped us achieve, but in addition, let’s encourage our moms to create new milestones solely for themselves. After all, they’ve earned it!

“You Complete Me” or Do You?

Sappy doesn’t come close to describing this famed scene from the movie, Jerry Maguire, yet screenwriter, Cameron Crowe, draws us in, capturing the magnetic, head-over-heals, “You-Make-Me-Feel-Brand-New” kind of love. We all know that romantic love is just a phase that comes and goes. Robert A. Johnson, Ph.D., Jungian analyst and author of We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love describes it well…

This [romantic love] is a psychological phenomenon that is very specific. When we are “in love” we believe we have found the ultimate meaning of life, revealed in another human being. We feel we are finally completed, that we have found the missing parts of ourselves. Life suddenly seems to have a wholeness, a superhuman intensity that lifts us high above the ordinary plain of existence. The psychological package includes an unconscious demand that our lover or spouse always provide us with this feeling of ecstasy and intensity.

If only our lover would meet our unconscious demands forever. Blissful! If only they’d read our minds and always conform to our deepest desires. Heavenly! But wait. If this ecstatic experience was never-ending, then falling in love wouldn’t feel so special or be so purposeful.

You see, romantic love IS a path to completion, but not in a Jerry-Maguire-kind-of-way. Johnson describes romantic love as the mask behind which a powerful array of new possibilities hide, possibilities waiting to be integrated into conscious. When we allow our lover to see behind our mask, to see all of who we are in an authentic, non-defensive way, we create the possibility to heal old wounds and develop more of who we truly are. But we must choose this path, for it doesn’t appear naturally. Naturally, we veer in the direction of habitual patterns of thought, feeling, and action, but with help from a trusted lover, we can see all of who we are, most especially the parts we’ve been too afraid to face (including painful emotions, obsessive thoughts, or addictive behaviors).

Author Gary Zukov describes this life-changing union as a Spiritual Partnership, a relationship that is substantive and meaningful, one created through shared commitment, courage, compassion, and conscious communication and action. Creating this type of loving exchange isn’t easy, but it is incredibly worthwhile. According to Zukov, it requires you to choose words and deeds, moment by moment, that will create joyful and constructive consequences even when painful or violent emotions roar through you.

This partnership isn’t about someone making you feel brand you, it’s about YOU re-making yourself brand new with the help of someone who, as John Legend sings, loves all of you. (You’ve got to watch this beautiful music video! No harm in treasuring romantic love, even if it does wear off over time).

To learn more about the benefits of creating this powerful connection, read a free bonus chapter of Zukov’s book, Spiritual Partnership: The Journey to Authentic Power, or review his Spiritual Partnership Guidelines.

Wishing you an authentically loving Valentine’s weekend.