Friday, October 31, 2014

Hallowe'en: What costumes and the dead can teach you about life

Getting in touch with your roots at Hallowe'en

Do you have the opportunity to dress in costume this Hallowe'en -- as you distribute candy to trick or treaters, or  attend a party?

It's the perfect time to play a role that can put you in touch with hidden parts of yourself that you'd like to explore.

What part of you did your ex-husband try to bury?  What parts of you did he disapprove of?  Were there things you always wanted to try that your family of origin forbade?

Try out that fantasy career for an evening.  Wonder what it would be like to be a movie star or a princess?  Do you have a hero?  This Hallowe'en you can walk in her or her shoes.

Take this chance to have fun while doing some serious soul searching through role play.  It's not just for kids, you know.

And, it's not just about the costumes.

It's about your ancestors
Hallowe'en, or holy evening, has a long history in Europe, and similar days of ancestor veneration take place in late summer to mid-autumn throughout the world.

Traditionally, this was not only an occasion to pray for the repose of the souls of departed ancestors, but to ask for their help, wisdom, and advice in the daily affairs of the living.

This blog post is the first in a series that will suggest ways to use the key holidays of the fall and winter season in order to build your strength and connection to the best of your roots and life experiences, while planning a brilliant entrance into the new year.  So, look for another installment of this series near Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

Hallowe'en is considered to be the time when the spirits of the dead are closest to Earth, and when our prayers for them can be heard and when we can also ask for their assistance as well.

Even if you don't believe that life, in some form, continues after death, it can strengthen you to remember favorite ancestors, meditate on them, and think how they would advise you when it comes to challenges that you're facing now.

WWGD?  (What would Grandma do?)
As you think back about your female ancestors -- your mom, your aunts, your grandmothers, and your great-grandmothers -- what would they advise you today?

What were their victories in life?  What were their areas of suffering?  What would they like you to do differently so that you can live a happier more fulfilled life than some of them may have had?  How would they advise and encourage you based on the wisdom that they accrued in life?

Are there male ancestors whom you revere?  What would they advise you about your relationships with men?  Would they take your hand and tell you to stop being a pushover?  Or, would they suggest that you tone down anger and attitude and try to show more patience and understanding?

Do you have successful, street-smart, savvy ancestors who could give you spot-on career advice?  What would they say?

Consider taking a little time to sit quietly on Hallowe'en with a journal in your lap, and meditate on those ancestors who are particularly dear to you.  Ask for their guidance, and be ready to write down any insights that come.

And, don't forget to play a little dress up this season -- it may help you to get in touch with some lost parts of yourself that you want back!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Making it safe to feel again

Dr. Brené Brown
Today's post is about the work of Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work -- and the presenter of one of the top 10 most watched Ted talks of all time.

In fact, I'm going to link to all three of her Ted talks (plus a subsequent appearance, post stardom, on Oprah's OWN Network), and hope that you decide to watch them all.

Brown's subject is shame and vulnerability.  Not particularly sexy topics.  Not something you'd think would go viral.  Yet it has.

Shame?  Not my problem.
So, if you're thinking, "Shame?  Not my problem," read on because if feel that your life has recently blown up in your face, chances are that part of the backstory is shame. 

Exactly what is shame, anyway?  According to Brown, it's feelings of "I'm not _____________ enough" (good enough, perfect enough, extraordinary enough), and if these feelings don't change, then your life experiences are likely to prove you right.  (That's my assessment, not Brown's, but stay with me for a moment.)

Brown posits that the one thing that completely unravels connection to others (family, friends, and romantic partners) is shame.  And she draws a distinction between shame and guilt.

Guilt says, "I'm sorry, I made a mistake."
Shame says, "I'm sorry, I am a mistake."

The sense of being inherently flawed in some way "makes it nearly impossible to allow oneself to be vulnerable, and without vulnerability, there is no way to experience deep connection," says Brown.

It's an inside job.
Not only this but, 99% of the time, it's not the outside world that tells us we're inherently flawed.  Insidiously, it's an inside job.  We're the ones who give ourselves shaming internal messages.

But our culture does play a role as well, when it casts vulnerability as weakness.  According to Brown, fear of being out of control of our lives means that:
  • Joy becomes foreboding.  (We want to beat tragedy to the punch.)
  • We don't get excited because we're afraid the thing we're looking forward to won't happen.   It is easier to live a life where the default emotion is disappointment rather than to hope and be disappointed.
  • We use perfection as a shield.  (If I have an absolutely perfect, uncrackable exterior, no one can get me.)
  • We stay so perpetually busy that the sad truth of our lives and its emptiness can't catch up with us. 

Brown found, through 12 years of research on this subject, that there was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging from those who don't.  Those who feel they belong believe they're worthy of love and belonging.  Brown's research also shows that shame is directly correlated with depression, addiction, and anger issues.

Vampire in daylight
Brown offers a bunch of suggestions on how to move from shame to worthiness.  Here are a few that I felt were worth repeating:
  • Have the courage to be imperfect.  Be willing to let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are.  (My addition to this thought:  It takes so much time and effort to create and maintain the facade of perfection that there's not much time for anything else -- like relaxation, pleasure, or joy.)
  • Be kind to yourself first, and then be kind to others.  (I say:  Convince yourself of your inherent worth by treating yourself as if you're worthy and valuable.  It's a process.  The more you do it, the more you'll believe it.)
  • Embrace vulnerability.  Come to believe that your imperfections and vulnerability are what make you beautiful.  Brown gives a few examples of vulnerability:  the willingness to say I love you first, the willingness to do something that offers no guarantee, the willingness to breathe through uncomfortable situations. 
  • My take:  Especially after divorce, we try to protect ourselves and shield ourselves from further trauma, but part of recovery is accepting that, no matter what we do, we are vulnerable.  So let's unlink vulnerability = tragedy.  You've just survived one of life's worst events.  You survived it!  You're still here!  And, if you've learned and become wiser from the experience, you can protect yourself through wiser choices.  So you don't have to protect yourself by shutting down.
  • Brown says that shame grows through secrecy, silence, and judgment.  The objective is not to be perfect and bullet-proof.  I say:  Practice sharing with a friend the emotions or experiences that you feel are too shameful to express.  Let the shameful feelings see the light of day.  Just like a vampire in daylight, you can see these painful emotions lose their hold on you.
Watch Brown's talks to hear lots more about this -- including the confessions of her own panic attacks and emotional breakdowns.  And how her own from-the-stage confessions didn't destroy her career as she had feared, but blasted her into bestselling-author, Oprah-guesting stardom.

Here's her TedX talk (Kansas City) on "The price of vulnerability":

Here's her subsequent TedX talk (Houston) on "The power of vulnerability":

And, here's her Ted talk (Long Beach) two years later, in which she gets vulnerable herself about how she feared her Houston Ted talk would destroy her academic career:

And, finally, the no-longer-playing-small, newly glamorous Dr. Brown appears on Oprah in 2013:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Go meet some facebook friends (especially the ones you don't even know)

Awhile ago, I happened upon the blog of author ArLynn Presser, a romance novelist (and former lawyer) with anxiety disorder who decided to embark on a yearlong project to meet every one of her then 335 facebook friends in order to stretch her boundaries (which, at that time, were the four walls of her home).  

Delving a little deeper, I found Presser's intriguing Wikipedia bio:  "Presser was born on July 23, 1960 to Justin and Aleta Leiber, who later put her up for adoption before divorcing. Presser was adopted by Donald and Judy Patrick of Western Springs and given the name Lynn Melody Patrick. She left the Patrick family when she was 15 and became a ward of the DuPage County Juvenile Justice agency. Presser did not finish high school but graduated from the Northwestern University School of Law in 1985. She married Stephen B. Presser and had two sons together before divorcing in 2010."

So, at the time she began her Face to Facebook project, she had just become a divorcée.  Curiouser and curiouser.

Today, a couple of years after her project ended, guess what?  She's now up to 5,000 facebook friends, and you can see glamorous photos of her on her facebook page

In my opinion, Presser's get-out-of-the-house project was a brilliant way to become a dynamic divorcée.   So, here's her Face to Facebook blog from the very beginning for your perusal.  I have to confess that I haven't read it all, but it strikes me that her life got a lot bigger and more colorful during her year of self-enforced tête-à-têtes all over the world, and she continues her blog to this day. 

Need another reason to reach out and touch someone?  Watch this video to find out how checking in with folks you barely know, or haven't contacted in a long time can pay big rewards -- personally or professionally.  Don't let the fact that this video comes from Inc. magazine's Idea Lab make you click away.  It is worth the view.  In spades.

Hope you'll be inspired and think about whom you'd like to be back in touch with . . . or meet for the first time.  If a 50-year-old with anxiety disorder can do it, you can, too!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Moscow, Belgium: When you need a film that commiserates with you . . .

This weekend's suggested movie viewing is Moscow, Belgium, the 2008 film by director Christophe Van Rompaey.

If you're tired of a string of lackluster dates, this film will convince you that your experiences are not really thaaaat bad.

The film is billed as a comedy, but it's more a drama with touching comedic elements.  Set in Belgium, in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Ghent, we follow the life of 41-year-old, yet-to-be-divorced Matty, as she works at her dead-end job, goes about raising her three children, and begins a relationship with a truck driver, despite herself.

A phenomenal character study of a single, midlife mom.  Without the Cinderella ending.  Very much worth the viewing, and you may see parts of yourself in Barbara Sarafian's portrayal of the leading character.  Sometimes it's much easier to see yourself outside of yourself, in someone else.

Here's the New York Times review.  And, here's a Netflix link to the film.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Least pain = Most gain

For most of their lives, most of my clients (I really want to say all of my clients) have been over-working, over-giving, and over-functioning for others.  And, they wonder why no one has loved them as much as they have loved others.

They get into a habit, that often started in childhood, of trying to earn everything -- the hard way.  It's a value in our culture. 

"There's no free lunch."
"The best lessons are learned the hard way."
"Success is 99% perspiration."

This week's post will be brief.  I want you to test these kinds of assumptions by taking a look at any single goal you may have at this moment, and looking for the easiest possible way to achieve it.  What are the simplest, baby steps you could take to get closer?  Is there an easy way to solve the whole problem, but you couldn't see it because you expect the road to be long and hard?

Ask yourself:  "If this were easy, how would I do it?"

And, "Is there someone close to me who might give me advice on how I'm making this unnecessarily hard?"  (Tip:  Ask someone whose life is in balance, and has plenty of time to enjoy the good things in life.  Don't know anyone like this?  Then it's time to make new friends.  Or maybe take a radical approach to making new friends.  Or, join a Meetup group in your area -- but, make sure it's positive and fun, not a divorce recovery group where everyone complains about how awful life is in general and their exes in particular.)

Explore how you can find ways to "take the easy way out."  How can you turn the least pain into the most gain, in any area of your life?  Need help?  I'm always here. 

And, please comment on your experiences with this little exercise : ) .