The oldest challenge

Photo by Ricardo Moura on Unsplash

“Love is no assignment for cowards” – Ovid

The opening quote was penned by the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso who, these days, is more commonly known as Ovid. He reached high acclaim in his day along with his older contemporaries Virgil and Horace.

Unfortunately, as was known to happen in ancient times, Ovid was exiled to a remote province on the Black Sea, by Caesar Augustus. He was never given any reason and was left there for the rest of his days to speculate on which of his writings was the cause of Caesar’s wrath.

Fortunately, along with other of his writings, this quote survived; indicating that love has been a challenge for the human race for several millennia.

Love, and loving relationships, are well-known to be nothing short of challenging for many. To say that it has been the subject of countless authors, poets, and artists of all kinds, would be a gross understatement. But why does it continue to elude, avoid, and escape far more people than those it has blessed by its presence?

Ovid’s quote provides us no insight; it’s more of a warning than a remedy. But he should not be frowned upon. Far greater minds devoted their lives to finding an answer yet none of them ever provided a surefire elixir for this quandary.

With all due respect to those artists, philosophers, religious leaders, I do not believe there ever will be a magic potion or secret formula which universally will unravel this mystery.

This, however, is not a reason to give up on your own journey.

Love – and especially the kind in intimate relationships – has a different meaning and purpose for each person. Complicating matters more is that no two relationships will experience love in the same way.

Humans are a complicated manifestation of physical parts, emotional feelings and circumstantial events. It only stands to reason that when another complex element such as love is added to the mix, it exponentially confounds the situation.

What may be helpful in finding what works for your particular situation is to determine what love means to you, and just as importantly, what it means for everyone involved.

One of the biggest obstacles many face in understanding and achieving what they perceive as love, is what they are told love is “supposed” to be. Although a good love story portrayed on the big screen can be entertaining and inspiring, some people will attempt to measure their own relationships to these fantasies and when they fall short, believe they’ve failed.

The other trap which ensnares many is they believe having and loving someone will change everything. While good relationships are transformative, it is not the solution in and of itself. Believing that “the right person” is the magic remedy is often more a recipe for failure.

Love, and loving relationships, succeed when they are mutually beneficial. The idea that one person is the catalyst to magically make the relationship work and bring you happiness, will ultimately lead to some kind of difficulty, distrust, or dissenting conclusion. No matter how dynamic a person is, the knight in shining armor is also best left in fairytales.

Ovid stated that one should not be cowardly. But what he also said, which I believe slips past most peoples’ perception, is that it is an “assignment.” Love takes work. And the more importance and meaning a relationship has, the more effort will be required.

All too often, love is portrayed as smooth sailing with no problems whatsoever. While these are the ingredients of a good romance novel, it is hardly the reality. One of my favorite expressions is, “If you are not having problems in your relationship, then there’s a good chance that there’s a problem.”

By no means am I insinuating that love and problems are synonymous; but we are all unique and are bound to have disagreements. If one person always succumbs to the wants and needs of the other, it is not a relationship but more of a boss-employee type situation.

Problems are not a sign of failure; they are an indication of differences. When relationships learn to deal with them, each person gets a greater understanding of the other. Just as we tackle a problem at work and become a better person, the same is true for relationships.

Will there be challenges, sacrifices, mistakes, or arguments? Of course. But those are also opportunities for love to grow. When love is mutual, we want the other person to grow, develop and succeed just as much as we want it for ourselves. Both celebrate the success of each other since it frequently occurs because of the sacrifice of the other.

If I may be so bold as to add to Ovid’s quote, “Love is no assignment for cowards but those who endure will be greatly rewarded.”

In the next few months, I’ll be completing a workbook on toxic relationships: why they occur and how to overcome them. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me directly.

My thanks to Ricardo Moura on Unsplash for the fitting photograph. To read more articles about personal development and emotional healing follow VictoriousStruggle on Facebook and my WordPress blog. Thank you and I look forward to your comments.

The Session: Part 2

Dr. E, as his patients called him, had an usually challenging time keeping focused on what his client was saying. After practicing 27 years, he knew how to concentrate; but not five mintues earlier, he’d had the kind of awakening himself, which he’d seen countless times before with his own clients.

“I’ve finally gotten to experience what I’ve seen numerous times in my clients,” he kept repeating in his head. “But I gotta focus. Mark is about to have a breakthrough himself.”

“Excuse me, Mark,” Dr. E interrupted. “What was the first thing you told me this session” he inquired?

“I’m a horrible son,” Mark responded.

“Precisely,” Dr. E confirmed. “And I want you to be completely honest with me, Mark. If you were to call your mother on the phone right this moment, do you think she would agree with you”?

“No” Mark said with great hesitation.

“So why then are you a horrible son,” Dr. E demanded.

“I told you once, Doc. Please don’t make me say it again,” Mark pleaded.

“Okay,” Dr. E agreed, “But if all the reasons you gave me aren’t enough to convince your mother, then why doesn’t she think you’re a horrible son too”?

This question puzzled Mark. He hadn’t thought about it that way before. After a brief pause, he came up with the best answer he knew, “I really don’t know, Doc.”

“Fair enough” Dr. E concluded. “So could you go up to your mother and give her the same reasons you gave me why you’re a horrible son and convince her you really are that bad?

“No I couldn’t” Mark mumbled after bowing his head.

“Is it fair to say that even if you did go up to her and give her those reasons, she would, in some ways, forgive you for those mistakes”?

Mark hesitated again, “Yes” he finally muttered.

“Then why is it okay for her to forgive you but it’s not okay for you to forgive yourself”?

Mark raised his head with a puzzled look in his eyes. “What do you mean, Doc? Forgive myself”, he asked? “Why would I do that” he smirked?

“Why would you not,” Dr. E demanded. “Why shouldn’t you,” he said even louder. “No one, not me, not your mother, thinks you’re a horrible son. Your wife doesn’t think so and your kids don’t think you’re a horrible father so who’s the only one that thinks you’re a horrible son”?

“Me, I guess,” Mark said softly.

“That’s right” Doc quickly replied. “And basically, it’s not true, is it?” Dr. E demanded.

Mark sat in silence but shook his head in agreement.

“And since it’s not true, it’s basically a lie,” Dr. E continued. “You’ve told yourself over and over again until you’ve finally believed this lie, right”?

There was a long pause, “Don’t shake your head,” Dr. E ordered. “I want to hear you this time”!

“Yes sir,” Mark reluctantly said with his head bowed, trying to hide the sniveling.

Dr. E’s voice immediately softened and continued in a calm and convincing manner, “This is precisely what you forgive yourself for, Mark. Forgive yourself for believing the lie you repeated to yourself so many times.”

Mark’s head slowly raised. At first there was a look of bewilderment in his eyes but it was soon replaced by a slow-swelling tear. He began to rock back and forth in his chair and the very same angst he showed at the beginning of the session ironically signified a feeling – an awareness – which he’d previously never experienced.

“I get it Doc,” Mark uttered through the sniffing and quick, short breaths. “Wow” he shouted, “I see what you mean Doc,” he continued. “It feels amazing. It’s incredible”.

Mark’s body nearly trembled and he stopped caring about trying to hide his tears. “When I forgave myself, it was like someone took a rock off my chest,” and he burst into uncontrollable tears.

As hard as he tried, Dr. E couldn’t hold his tears back either. Mark told him he needed a hug and Dr. E quickly obliged.

After a few minutes, Mark composed himself and the first thing he said was, “You know, Doc, moments after I forgave myself, I asked myself ‘why did I continue to think I was a horrible son’ and the answer came to me. It was so much easier to excuse myself for making those mistakes. I could just keep telling myself I was a horrible son so then the mistakes were easier to live with. At least I thought it was easier”.

“But now I realize,” Mark continued, “That it really wasn’t easier, it was just an excuse. All that talk about shame finally hit home. I finally got it, Doc. It’s all starting to make sense,” Mark concluded leaving a big smile on his face.

“Now I don’t have any excuses do I Doc”? Mark emphatically stated.

“What do you mean,” Dr. E asked?

“I know now what emotional healing feels like and now it’s time for me to grow as a human being. I don’t have any more excuses to be the same ol’ Mark. I can’t be the same person stuck with the same problems. I have no other choice but to become a better version of myself,” Mark concluded.

“Precisely,” Doc agreed. But give yourself a little time to savor and celebrate this day. So many people go through life without having this realization but you did it, my friend. You did it,” Doc exclaimed.

“Take this moment and honor it as a significant step – a breakthrough if you will – and give yourself some credit. There will be some challenges ahead that will possibly make you question your progress so always remember this moment and hold on to its meaning.”

On the drive home, Mark could not wipe the smile from his face nor the joy he felt. At one point, he had to put on his sunglasses to hide the tears from anyone looking into his car. He knew this would be a session he would never forget.

Read about the first part of Mark’s session by clicking here. Self-forgiveness is often the first step in emotional healing; however, it’s important to understand exactly why and for what we are forgiving ourselves. If you or someone you know are unclear about this process, I am available to help.

My thanks to Roberto Nickson on Unsplash for photo and I look forward to your comments.

The Session

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area – Las Vegas, Nevada

The session was scheduled to begin at 4 pm. The therapist, whose clients call him Dr. E, arrived early in preparation. Three minutes before start time, there was a knock at the door and before Dr. E could get up, the door opened. The client, Mark, took his seat and stared motionless for a few minutes. Dr. E began to get concerned then Mark bowed his head into his hands resting on his lap.

“I’m a horrible son,” he shouted while keeping his head bowed.

Dr. E waited a few moments; then softly and kindly asked, “Why would you say that”?

This question pained Mark even more and he quickly sat up. With tears in his eyes, he opened his mouth trying to speak but there was only the sound of a high-pitched, falsetto squeal. It went on for an uncomfortable amount of time, then suddenly, he took a deep breath through his sniffling nose and cried, “Twenty years ago, when my father was on his death bed, I promised him that I would take care of Mom and I’ve completely failed.” Then Mark continued his wails and gasps with more tears.

“Mark,” Dr. E objected. “That’s not true in the least. In the last twenty years, you married a woman with 3 kids, managed to keep a roof over their heads, put them through college, and have survived a devastating job loss. I’m sure your mother is quite proud of you.”

“Sure Doc,” Mark responded angrily. I promised my father I’d take care of her and what have I done? I haven’t been able to give her anything. In fact, I owe her $10,000.00. Sounds like a pretty big fat fail job to me”!

Mark’s head returned to his lap and his torso bobbed up and down in rhythm with his crying.

“You know Mark,” Dr. E said assuredly. “I know you’ve gone over to her house and helped her out with all kinds of chores. Remember that time you fixed her leaky faucet? She was ready to sell the house”!

“You’ve had her at your home dozens of times and your stepchildren call her grandma. I’d be willing to bet that she doesn’t feel that way about you,” Dr. E concluded.

Mark sat up but couldn’t look at Dr. E with tears in his eyes.

“Let me ask you a question, Mark. For one moment, pretend that a close friend of yours is relaying this story to you. You know he’s done countless kind things for his mother yet he’s always felt it’s never been good enough. What would you tell him”?

Abruptly, Mark stopped crying and switched his gaze towards Dr. E. Now Doc’s eyes were the ones tearing up and this worried, Mark. Thinking quickly, Mark said, “I’d tell him he wasn’t a failure in the least, Dr. E. I’d tell my friend that he’s awesome and he needs to know that.”

Dr. E raised his right hand and placed the heal of his hand on his forehead. With a few tears now in his eyes, he simultaneously cracked a tiny smile. Mark was dumbfounded and asked, “Are you Okay”?

Dr. E smiled broader and softly uttered, “For the first time in my 27 years of practice, I’ve finally felt, on a personal level, what I’ve been trying to teach all of my patients. I’ve finally experienced the emotional healing which I’ve been teaching all these years.”

“Your story,” Dr. E. continued, “Is just about the same as mine. I’ve never told you this but like you, I have 3 stepchildren and have always felt I haven’t measured up as a son. When I asked you what would you tell your friend, it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

“I was no different from you, Dr. E. remarked, “And there was no way I could continue to practice as a therapist if I could not listen to and heed my own advice.”

For the rest of the time, Dr. E and Mark shared stories, laughed, cried, and discussed how they both felt their emotional healing got a huge boost that day.

Telling others your deepest and most embarrassing secrets is helpful but there are other aspects of how and why emotional healing occurs. This is perhaps my personal favorite topic to discuss and I’m always interested in the experiences of others as well as the approach to how it’s done.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you approached your own healing or while working with others. Next week’s article we will discuss ways of how this happened not only for both Mark and Dr. E. but what the similarities are in many of these kinds of journeys. Until then, I look forward to your comments.

What could be worse?

Photo by Jasper Boer on Unsplash

“The purpose of learning from ones mistakes is to change future behaviors.”

It’s bad enough when we’ve discovered that our actions led to a wrong choice, poor decision or damaging mistake. Depending on who and what were involved, those mishaps can lead to all types of embarrassing situations and feelings. Is there anything worse than realizing when something like this happens?

Suffering the consequences of our own mistakes is bad enough but when others are put in harm’s way because of it, that frequently magnifies the pain we’re already experiencing.

What could be more troublesome than enduring fallout from a mistake or bad choice? Most people are remorseful even when their slightest action causes others discomfort. Typically, the discomfort we experience is in direct proportion to the harm that was done. Hopefully, there’s an opportunity to atone or at least compensate them for their loss, yet that doesn’t always cause us to be free from the emotional pain.

Believe it or not, there is still something worse; at least when it comes to the realm of emotional healing. What I’ve discovered, not only in my own journey but also from working with many clients, is that there is something more detrimental than making a mistake or suffering from the devastating feelings it leaves behind. That is continuing to “beat ourselves up” for making the mistake in the first place.

The initial mistake can evoke several mixed emotions; however, people tend to compound that error by unduly criticizing themselves. How often have you blundered and then continued demanding of yourself why you weren’t smart enough – or any other demeaning term – to figure that out? Occasionally, the slightest of slipups induces the harshest of self-criticisms because we thought that issue would never become an obstacle again.

It’s important – especially if we are on a journey of emotional healing – not to be excessively disparaging of the mistakes we’ve made. Keep in mind these errors have already occurred and there’s no going back in time. They should be looked upon now as lessons. Having an inflammatory outlook causes you to focus on the wrong aspect of this experience.

Incredibly, the way we react to these situations is frequently a learned behavior.

Much of what influences our reactions is based on cultural, environmental, and/or religious upbringings. The self-degradation is often intended to be a sign of humility and meekness. We want others to “see” how sorry we are for this mistake. Although it is important we do own up to them, the key is realizing it ourselves, and not that others understand we have.

There are countless reasons why our reactions to mistakes can end up in an overly profuse amount of self-deprecation, but generally, most boil down to one reason: shame.

Understanding shame – and the difference between guilt and shame – is one of the first constructs I teach my clients. Shame, as it pertains to us individually, is the negative things we’ve come to learn about who we were and are. When our reactions to a mistake cause us to excessively degrade and demean ourselves, it’s plain to see how this all points to shame.

Processing mistakes as guilt rather than shame helps us make these moments become lessons and not obstructions. Guilt, when understood in context, can be a moral compass of sorts. Having awful feelings because we made a wrong choice or decision is quite different from beating ourselves up for being too dumb (or any other derrogatory term). Recalling how badly we felt in that moment will help amend future behavior when we find ourselves in a similar predicament.

This week pay close attention to your reactions to bad choices or mistakes you’ve made. Is your inclination to put yourself down, get angry with yourself, or complain about your shortcomings? It’s not for me to tell you that it is shame, but understanding your reaction will be a good way to gain insight into yourself. It just might change your future behaviors for the good.

My thanks to Jasper Boer on Unsplash for the wonderful photo and I look forward you your comments.

Unmasking the truth

“We can never fully hide who we are behind a mask.”

Last week’s article underscored the belief that at times, wearing a mask allows us to break out of our shell and exhibit an unrestrained side we normally wouldn’t want others to see. Interestingly, a few comments pointed out that on occasion, some use masks as a crutch or even worse, how masks can evoke a dark side in others. While there are harmful or negative metaphors which certainly can be associated with wearing them, the article’s intention was to raise awareness that some of us should embrace these masked talents and allow them to shine.

Too often, we are confounded by our own inhibitions and insecurities, leading us to make excuses for reasons to remain in the shadows or behind the mask.

Self-doubt is likely the most common reason for underachievement and disappointment in our capabilities. All too often, we perceive ourselves as ordinary, average, or unexceptional, and any recognizable talent we may demonstrate is something everyone else undoubtedly can do with remarkable ease. This one thought alone is the biggest lie we could ever say to that person staring back at us in the mirror.

When others we know undergo a lack of self-confidence, we’ll attempt to encourage them by saying that everyone is unique and has particular talents. However, the moment we experience a similar struggle, those very same words which rolled off our tongue, never afford us that same inspiration.

Why is it so easy to recognize talents, gifts, and skills in others yet so easily dismiss them in ourselves?

While there are myriad explanations why we act this way, basically, 99% of them boil down to shame – that is to say the negative things we’ve come to believe about who we were and are. From a very early age, we get bombarded with others saying hurtful, damaging, or destructive things to us. In addition, when we’re told those things by people we love and trust, it intensifies those words – and feelings – even more.

One way to overcome these negative beliefs we hold about ourselves, is to “unmask” these untruths we’ve been told, and begin to view ourselves with a different, more positive perspective. Hold fast to the knowledge that everyone is unique. And that “everyone” includes you!

If only the remedy were as easy as taking off a mask, that would speed up achieving more self-esteem. However, there is one key ingredient which will help you in your battle to defeat shame. For most of your life, you’ve most likely believed you were many of those untruths told to you, and because it has been a part of your thinking for that long, it has become habitual or even worse, factual.

But it is not! Learning to change these kinds of thoughts about ourselves doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of practice. It’s also helpful to remember that when you do slip up, forgive yourself for not remembering to have confidence. Similar to anything which we strive to improve, it takes preparation, practice, and dedication to accomplish. Is there anything as important as self-esteem and confidence?

This week, see if you can catch yourself in moments of self-doubt or insecurity and tell yourself you’re not really that person. It can begin a whole new chapter in your life’s purpose. I look forward to your comments.

The Masquerade

Photo by Thomas Ploch on Unsplash

“Donning a mask may unleash some unforeseen talents.”

Although “All Hallows Eve” – later shortened to Halloween – is not celebrated worldwide, many do enjoy dressing up in costumes and becoming a different version of themselves. It often liberates and provides many a sense of encouragement allowing them the freedom to do things they normally wouldn’t consider doing merely wearing their “everyday” clothing. It can turn shyness into audacity and apprehension into action. This transformation is often the polar opposite from what we’d normally expect from that person.

Oddly enough, adorning a costume and exuding conduct different from our normal behavior frequently requires no apology, and that is how it ought to be. It’s not too dissimilar from going to a concert and being the entertainer rather than being the one who is entertained. At times, others are amazed by this duality and it may even expose a few hidden talents.

However, once we step back into the clothing to which we are accustomed, so do the predictable actions return that others are used to expecting. We hesitate or may never dream of doing those very same actions we do behind that mask because it might create some very uncomfortable feelings.

Perhaps there are countless reasons why a few threads and some face paint can completely transform our personalities and inspire us to do things we’ve never dreamed of. But if that transformation is constructive, positive, and/or beneficial to us, why not cultivate it into who we are?

It may be a challenge to pinpoint the reasons why these costumes open up a whole new side of our personalities, but regarding the reasons why we clam up once we return to normalcy, are pretty clear.

The first reason is that many of us are conditioned to embrace “normal” and discard change. Comfort lies where things remain the same or change happens at a snail’s pace. However, one of the greatest lessons to learn is that we grow best when we get outside of our comfort zone. Another way of looking at it is conformity often constrains or restrains growth.

The second reason would be a lack of self-confidence. Inexplicably, just a little bit of anonymity can provide the courage to step out of that comfort zone and afford us with an assurance that we can do it; even if that mask isn’t really concealing our whole identity. Logically, this makes no sense yet undoubtedly, it happens countless times especially around this time of year.

It shouldn’t be difficult to imagine having the courage to do the very same things that we’ve done while hiding behind a mask. After all, we are the same person. Although masks can and do act as support, think of them more as training wheels on a bicycle. There are times when we need a push or even a gentle shove and it’s a great feeling to know that support is with you. All of this culminates in raising our self-esteem, adding to our confidence, and even opening some doors we never dreamed were possible.

This week look for occasions when that mask can be removed and a bold, confident person seizes you and your actions. Find those situations and step out of that comfort zone transforming you into a powerful and empowered person.

My thanks to Photo by Thomas Ploch on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

Bad for Business

“The bottom line for business is that integrity is not always good for the bottom line.”

When writing about the virtues of integrity, a huge dilemma is that its definition, quite often, is distinctly unique to each individual. Two different and principled people can possess completely contradictory opinions on a subject yet both provide compelling arguments for each ones’ point of view. However, what has been very disturbing is seeing the lack of integrity which so-called “smart” businesspeople are demonstrating. It’s as though they realize owning integrity has damaging effects to their profit margins.

I have nothing against ingenuity, inventiveness, or entrepreneurship; nor is there is anything wrong in wanting to earn lots of money. Where the problem lies is when a business venture leads one to overlook the value of integrity for the sake of earning an extra buck. Most often, that kind of opportunism leads to unwarranted damage and harm to many unsuspecting and undeserving people.

It seems to be a growing trend in business to give customers less while charging them more. This isn’t simply a result of inflation but rather an intrinsic part of the corporate mindset to appease the shareholders in the name of profit and not for the purpose of good business practices and principles.

Affordable housing isn’t just an issue in the larger metropolitan cities on this planet; it has reached the level of a global crisis in the developed world. Likewise, healthcare for many, at least in the US, consumes a greater percentage of the family’s income than actual food does.

Why is this happening at this point in time? Is it some unforeseen phenomenon or unexplainable event?

I believe the reason for this is precisely because providing goods or services at a fair and decent price is no longer the business plan. Instead, the trend in commerce is now turning every possible occasion into outlandish opportunities for profit while deeming integrity more of a liability than an asset.

Why can’t commerce be more centered around integrity? Why can’t products be produced and sold at a fair but profitable margin? There have been a barrage of posts alluding to increasing customer service, creating a more productive work environment, and treating employees with courtesy and higher regard. But the corporate mentality seems to be leaning toward the welfare of the shareholders rather than those actually producing what the company sells. Business models are more focused on destroying competition through nefarious means – stifling competition, immorally fixing prices, and having absolutely no concern for the destruction left in their wake.

It’s time we value business leaders for their integrity and not for their ruthless potential for opportunism. Leaders in all sectors of business need to stand out with sincerity, honesty, and integrity; outstanding behavior is what ought to be commended and extolled. Conduct which ascribes values of trustworthiness and fairness should be the ones which get the acclaim and actions clearly displaying that revenue generation is the end which justifies the means, ought to be shunned and discredited.

It’s also no less important for those among the ranks to pursue these same ideals. It will take a concerted effort and although mistakes will happen, we learn from those opportunities and inspire others to do the same.

It’s nearly impossible to live in a world without business and it’s also vital to make a profit. But it’s not impossible to intertwine integrity in a company’s business plan. If not being an opportunist and not taking advantage of others for the purpose of generating maximum profits makes one a bad businessperson, then by all means, I want to be known as “Bad for Business”.

My thanks to Chris Charles of Unsplash for the beautiful picture. I look forward to your comments.