Was Robin Williams a Coward?

Robin Williams Like everyone else, I was stunned to hear the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. Although I had known of his struggle with depression for many years, I was deeply saddened to learn that his suffering was so intense, that he actually took his own life.

As I read the reactions to the news of Williams’ death, I was dismayed by some of the harsh comments along the lines of: “How could he do something so selfish and leave his family to suffer? What a coward!” Although I became very angry reading these responses, I thought about it for a while and realized that the average person has no idea what severe depression is like, and certainly has even less understanding of suicide.

So, here’s my attempt to educate those of you who think Robin Williams “took the easy way out” and should be loathed for doing so. Yes, suicide ends suffering for the person who is depressed and leaves others with emotional pain. Sure, we wish he had not done this. Yes, we are all experiencing a loss. But please understand this: the decision to end your life does not come from a place of rational decision-making. A person who decides to end their life is not making a list of their options and then casually choosing “suicide” like some selection off a menu. The choice to end your life comes from a place of extremely deep pain, the kind that is so dark that you literally can’t see any other way out in that moment.

We can all judge Robin Williams and say that he was a “coward” or “should have gotten more help” or “should have thought about his wife and kids,” but that isn’t what this story is about. It’s not about courage or treatment options or how much you love your kids. It’s about vulnerability, suffering, deep despair, hopelessness, and being truly convinced that you will never find your way out of the pain.

No matter how well we think we know someone, none of us can ever fully understand another person’s experience. Everybody keeps parts of themselves hidden, sometimes out of fear of how others will react, and sometimes to protect loved ones. As we walk around our lives, there are always people in our midst that carry invisible emotional pain. In fact, you might be one of them. So, I urge you to be more compassionate and do as the quote says: “Be kind,” understanding fully that, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

RIP Robin Williams. Wishing peace to your loved ones.

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Make the Ordinary Come Alive

boy hugging puppy quote

Do not ask your children

to strive for extraordinary lives.

Such striving may seem admirable,

but it is a way of foolishness.

Help them instead to find wonder

and the marvel of an ordinary life.

Show them the joy of tasting

tomatoes, apples, and pears.

Show them how to cry

when pets and people die.

Show them the infinite pleasure

in the touch of a hand.

And make the ordinary come alive for them.

The extraordinary will take care of itself.

William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching

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Have You Lost Your ESSENCE?

Daniel Siegel MDI recently attended a conference featuring Daniel Siegel, MD, one of the founders of the field of interpersonal neurobiology. One of the topics of discussion was a review of the neurological changes in the adolescent brain and the four extraordinary features that emerge as a result. Dr. Siegel believes these qualities are the ESSENCE of cultivating vitality and maintaining optimal brain health throughout the lifespan. As you read, ask yourself if these factors are still present in your life:

ES: Adolescents have an Emotional Spark which is the source of their tremendous passion about life. No doubt, at an extreme, this spark can also show up as moodiness and intense emotionality.

SE: The natural drive toward Social Engagement leads teens to turn more toward their peers. Although they may be vulnerable to peer pressure, adolescents also deeply understand the centrality of supportive relationships to our well-being.

N: Teens seek Novelty which allows for more courageous exploration of the world. The downside, of course, is the risk to personal safety that sometimes comes with being in unfamiliar territory.

CE: The Creative Exploration of adolescence allows for innovation and pushing against the status quo. When your mind can imagine possibility, true change is more likely to happen.  Too much challenging of the status quo can, however, be stressful.

To learn more about the adolescent brain and it’s potential, I highly recommend Daniel Siegel’s insightful book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.

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Go (Old, Boring) Spurs Go!

The San Antonio Spurs are leading 3-1 in the NBA Finals, well-poised to win their 5th NBA championship since 1999. Ironically, this team has a reputation for being “boring.” And now, with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in their late 30’s, and Coach Gregg Popovich being 65, they are also known as “old and boring!” How could this be? How could one of the greatest basketball players of all time and a team that has won numerous championships be considered boring?

Unfortunately, what leads to excellence as an athlete and what makes you a media darling are entirely different things. According to sports psychologists, to be truly great, teams and players must possess the following attributes:

  1. A strong work ethic: Diligently working to improve skills.
  2. A sense of humility: Having a true respect for opponents, understanding that you are not the only one with talent.
  3. A love of pressure: An ability to focus, and even be excited, when the stakes are high.
  4. Self-motivation: A drive to meet your own personal standards for success.
  5. Selflessness: The capacity to put the team above your ego is the most important quality.

Notice that being controversial, self-centered, or unprofessional are not on the list. Yet, the media often finds these types of individuals most exciting and gives too much attention to athletes who make headlines for distasteful, sometimes illegal, behavior. From that angle, thank goodness the Spurs disappoint.

Tim Duncan, known as “The Big Fundamental,” has a consistently quiet, understated style, never seeking attention or glory, despite being one of the best basketball players in NBA history. His professionalism, solid work ethic, and lack of ego have earned him the respect of his teammates and fans and kept him at the top of his game, even at the age of 38.

Coach Gregg Popovich has been pivotal in pulling together a diverse team of players who strive for excellence in their sport and are able to put the team’s interests ahead of their own. In fact, the Spurs “Big 3” of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker have made significant sacrifices to stay with Coach Pop and the Spurs their entire career.

Hard work, being humble, and winning by coming together as a real team should…I’ll go for boring any day!

Go Spurs Go! And enjoy this awesome video fitting of this first-class team:

 

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Turning People into Trees

woods

 

When you go out in the woods and you look at trees,
you see all these different trees.
And some of them are bent, and some of them
are straight, and some of them are evergreens,
and some of them are whatever.
And you look at the tree and you allow it.
You appreciate it.

You see why it is the way it is.
You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough
light, and so it turned that way.
And you don’t get all emotional about it.
You just allow it.
You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans,
you lose all that.
And you are constantly saying,
” You are too this, or I am too this. ”
That judging mind comes in.

And so I practice turning people into trees:
Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

– Ram Dass

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The Problem with Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting“Helicopter parenting” has become a familiar term, referring to the tendency of parents to “hover” over their children, micromanaging every aspect of their lives in order to “help” them succeed.

Some degree of “hovering” is necessary, especially when children are very young. You really do need to monitor them to keep them safe.  The problem I see is that parents often don’t know when or how it’s appropriate to pull back from this style of interaction.

When you are always pointing out how children can do better or constantly helping them make choices about every little thing, you are essentially teaching them that they don’t have the capacity to successfully engage in these activities themselves. The result:  Children who don’t develop confidence in their own ability to deal with life.  They essentially step into a passive stance, always looking outward for answers, and never developing deep trust in themselves.

Struggle, pain, frustration, mistakes, confusion…these are not considered to be positives in American society.  Yet, it is precisely through facing adversity that a person develops self-confidence, a sense of competence, and true feelings of self-worth.  As much as it feels kind to protect children from experiences that may cause them distress, in reality we are robbing them of the opportunity to struggle, overcome, and learn they can really handle what life throws at them.

Our job as parents is to be tuned in, but that does not necessarily mean being intrusive.  Sometimes, “tuning in” means understanding that it’s time for us to pull back and give our children space to struggle (within their capacity, of course).  If you can truly allow this process, you’ll be giving your kids the best chance of becoming strong, competent, vibrant human beings who have the courage and skills to face life.

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Mommy Not So Dearest

How could you not love your mother?  Shouldn’t you want to be close to her?  Isn’t it bad to want her out of your life?

So many of my clients struggle when it is the person who is “supposed” to love them the most that actually fails them.  Mothers have traditionally been revered by most cultures for their supposedly loving, gentle, and sacrificing nature.  If you happen to have a mother like this, that is absolutely wonderful because such a connection will definitely help you in life. What if you don’t have this advantage?  Then the challenge may, in fact, turn from embracing your mother , as the culture suggests, to thriving in spite of her harmful presence.

There is a prevalent cultural myth that the people with whom we share a genetic link (our “blood”) are the ones with whom we form the strongest bonds.  So, since your mother actually carried you and brought you into this world, she should have the strongest attachment to you, right?  The reality is that having a biological relationship with someone is a starting point for a potential connection, but is never a guarantee that the bond will be a strong or healthy one.  In fact, sometimes our strongest bond are with those who do not share any of our genetic heritage at all, such as a spouse, adopted child, friends, or even pets.

Whom you love and who loves you comes down to the day-to-day interactions you have with that person, independent of the formal role they play in your life.  Do they help you when you are in need?  Do they respond in a caring manner when you are hurting?  Do they value, respect, and support you?  Are they a psychologically healthy person?

In reality, if your mother consistently relates in a loving manner, you will develop a positive connection with her.  If she treats you terribly, you may still want her love, but the bond will be damaged by her behavior.  The conflict between the cultural message that says you should love your mother and the difficulty in loving someone who repeatedly hurts you can lead to tremendous guilt and shame.  The thought that you may even need to distance yourself from your mother to keep yourself emotionally healthy can seem unfathomable.  And yet, relationships can be extremely complex.  Sometimes we get love from the ones who are supposed to love us.  Other times, that affection comes from people we never dreamed would mean so much to us.

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