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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The Goose Story


The Goose StoryThis fall when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying alone in “V” formation, you might be interested to know what science has discovered about why they fly that way.

It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following.

By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to do it alone, and quickly gets into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.

 If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are going.

When the lead goose gets tired, he or she rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.

It pays to take turns doing hard jobs, whether it’s people or geese flying south.

The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

What do we say when we honk from behind?

Finally, when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gun shots and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him.

They stay with him until he is either able to fly or until he is dead, and they then launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with the group.

 If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

~ Source Unknown

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Every person reading this post has faced some hardship  in life such as rejection, divorce, unemployment, death of a loved one,  loneliness, or an illness.  When life puts you in touch with your tremendous vulnerability, it is natural to experience fear and to have a sense of trepidation as you move forward.  After all, you understand clearly that simply living your life exposes you to risk.

Persistent fear is insidious and raises self-doubt, slowly seeping away your courage and shrinking your ability to fully engage life.  Left unchecked, fear can hold you hostage, convincing you not to take any risks because something bad might happen.

Should you succumb to the fear and stay safe, or find the courage to take another risk?  To me, the answer to this question depends on your answer to two others:

1.  Is it really safer not to take risks?  Think of the life experiences you miss when fear is in the driver’s seat of your life.

2.  Do you trust your ability to handle whatever life has in store for you?  Look back at what you have already survived, and reflect on what that tells you about your capacity to handle adversity.

Although risk can certainly be managed to some degree, there is no way to remove fear. Courage is the willingness to keep walking on life’s journey, even while fear lurks in the shadows.  Courage is ultimately about placing confidence in your capacity to persist in the face of whatever your life may have in store for you.

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It Is Always Now

In the following video, author Sam Harris, highlights the importance of embracing our mortality so we can shift our focus to what matters most–NOW.

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The Paradox of Choice

Do you every feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices you make on a daily basis?  You are not the only one.  In the following TED talk, psychologist Barry Schwartz discusses how choices can sometimes lead to paralysis, not freedom.  Dr. Schwartz is also author of the book, The Paradox of Choice.

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Why Me?

sad web largeSince I work with people facing life’s hardships, it is not unusual for me to hear the question, “Why me?” when a death, injury, or tragedy happens.  In fact, when I was a psychologist on a rehabilitation medicine floor where people were admitted after serious accidents or sudden life-changing medical events, this question was constantly being asked.

After all, if you are a 19-years-old who just broke his neck after diving into a swimming pool, you really might wonder, “Why me?”  Similarly, if you are driving down the highway and your car is hit by a drunk driver, killing one of your children, you might rightfully ask, “Why me?”  Or, if you have always been conscientious about your health and then suddenly have a stroke, you might also feel compelled to ask, “Why me?”

What I have learned is that none of us is immune to the sorrows and tragedies of life.  At some point, every single one of us sustains loss and experiences suffering.  Following such an event, we often have a strong need to make sense of what has happened, so we ask, “Why me?”  Sometimes we assume the answer is linked to our goodness or badness:  “I got hurt because I was being really mean to my mom.”  The minute you understand that “good” people suffer as well, it’s harder to automatically connect tragedy or hardship to your own behavior.

The reality is that we are living beings, and as such, we are vulnerable.  We are part of nature, but sometimes forget that although nature is beautiful, it can also be extremely brutal.  Joy, sorrow, success, disappointment, blessing, or hardship–these are all an integral part of life’s complex tapestry.  We are challenged to humbly understand and accept the reality that we sometimes have little control over what happens in our lives.

So, perhaps the question each one us really needs to contemplate is: “Why NOT me?”

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The Gift of Forgiveness

It is impossible to get through life without being hurt by somebody. All of us know how painful it is to be the target of gossip, lies, or thoughtless remarks. Some have even been wounded by infidelity, abuse, or an unhappy marriage. When the emotional pain runs deep, some people respond by hanging onto the hurt and building a wall around themselves to keep from ever being hurt again. That is certainly one way to respond in such a situation. Another alternative is to find a way to move beyond the pain you currently feel by exploring forgiveness.

Defining Forgiveness
Forgiveness is making a personal choice to leave behind the feelings of anger, bitterness, or resentment you may feel because someone hurt you. You forgive for your OWN sake, not necessarily for the sake of the person who wounded you.

It is ironic that as long as your negative feelings go unresolved, you stay emotionally connected to the person who hurt you and they continue to have power over your life. Forgiveness is like choosing to open the cage door, so that your hurt does not imprison you forever. When you forgive, you free yourself from burdensome feelings that make it difficult for you to move forward in your life.

  • Forgiveness does NOT mean that you forget what the other person did to you.  Especially when you are deeply hurt, you should not forget. Instead, sift through what happened and learn from the experience.
  • Forgiveness does NOT mean that you condone what the person did to you. You are not saying that you believe the other person was right or that you excuse their behavior.
  • Forgiveness also does NOT mean that you want to continue a relationship with that person. You can forgive someone AND choose to never have any contact with them again.

Forgiveness is completely a choice you make. You have the power to decide whether you want to forgive someone or not. No one can force you to do either.

The Process Of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a process. Depending on your situation, that process can take a long time or it can be relatively quick. For example, forgiving your best friend for saying something mean to you may not take as long as forgiving someone who has been severely abusive to you. Below are some ideas for facilitating the process of forgiveness:

  1. It is important to start by being honest with yourself about how injured you feel. If you cannot acknowledge the emotional impact a situation had on you, it will prolong the pain.
  2. Find some way to express your feelings in a constructive manner. You may choose to talk to a friend, a therapist, or to even God. Typically, talking to someone who can be supportive and neutral helps you get clearer about your situation and identify the emotional wounds that need healing.
  3. If you were abused in some way and the person who hurt you still poses some physical or emotional threat, be sure to take steps to protect yourself from future harm.
  4. At some point, you will fully understand that you are paying a heavy price for hanging onto feelings of hurt or anger. You may then become motivated to do what you can to stop hurting. Rise to that challenge.
  5. Attempt to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. That point of view may not be rational or emotionally healthy by your standards, but taking the perspective of the other person moves you out of the role of victim and restores your power. Sometimes compassion can develop for the other person when you take this step. You may see their weaknesses, true intentions, or the complexity of the situation for the first time.
  6. Think about any responsibility you have in the situation that transpired and forgive yourself. If you also hurt the other person, remember that you did not intend to do so and would have made a different choice if you could “rewind the clock.”
  7. If it is relevant, think about a time when that person forgave you and how much gratitude or relief you felt. Consider giving this same gift back.
  8. Write down what specifically the other person did to harm you. As objectively as possible, state what actually happened, so that you can concretely identify what needs to be forgiven. Did they make a hurtful comment? Did they lie to you? Perhaps, they damaged something meaningful to you?
  9. Write a letter to the person who hurt you. Express all of your positive and negative feelings. Describe positive aspects of your relationship with the other person and express forgiveness for the hurtful behaviors. Be aware, that you may experience many different emotions as you engage in this task. You may feel tearful, angry, or even resentful as you revisit the hurt. NOTE: You do not need to mail this letter!
  10. Make the forgiveness tangible. At this point you may choose to mail the letter you wrote. You may also choose to destroy the letter if you no longer want to have a relationship with the person. Sometimes telling a trusted friend what you are doing can make the experience feel more “real” and bring closure.

The process of forgiveness can really challenge you to grow as a person. When done properly, it can be a liberating and empowering experience that allows you to regain emotional freedom and a sense of well-being. Remember that you do have a choice about whether you live your life with bitterness or resentment. You CAN choose to let down those walls and embrace life to its fullest.

NOTE:  This post is a reprint from Healthful Changes: Proven Strategies for Taking Charge of Your Life available free at:

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