Loving Yourself

Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash

With an abundance of emotions and infinite connotations, love perpetually streams through the minds of artists, philosophers, the religious, the secular, and anyone who has ever allowed this unpredictable sentiment to infiltrate their hearts, has had to struggle with its promises and disappointments. Despite the prodigious amount of examination and scrutiny it has undergone, the most arduous component for many is learning to love oneself.

Last week’s article touched on being able to discern your own personal meanings of love from the ideas and expectations of others’. However, when it comes to loving yourself, this notion can be a stumbling block for many. It may initiate conflicting feelings or worse, a disdain for simply considering self-love requires or deserves any attention at all. It was certainly a belief which crossed my mind countless times.

I don’t believe anyone – no matter how knowledgeable, wise, or devout – could quantify love or put boundaries around it. This one reason alone would suffice to erase any shame one may feel from considering self-love. “When life fails, love prevails” is another appropriate saying encouraging and imploring us to never believe loving ourselves is gratuitous, wrong, or immoral.

Roadblock ahead

The paths leading us to the false beliefs that self-love is bad, typically begin at an early age. Although children don’t appear to be burdened with this thought, they can detect confusing signals confounding them as they grow older. Unfortunately, these warning signs emerge unintentionally and rather frequently in situations where they are supposed to feel safe.

Families and cultural settings, unbeknownst to many, are where children readily develop incorrect perceptions of the value of self-love. Kids, being more perceptive and observant than what most parents realize, can sense arrogant behaviors and resolve not to display those kinds of actions. However, without a healthy example of how self-love should be practiced, they may be in jeopardy of developing a pragmatic road to achieving it.

Ironically, powerful family ties can cloud the concept of self-love by demanding the connection to “family honor” supersede any consideration of loving oneself. Although many families have incredibly strong bonds, it also is capable of becoming fertile soil for cultivating shame and proliferating low self-esteem, damaging some of the members who were sacrificed to maintain that “family honor.”

Another source frequently muddling of self-love is religion. While many religions focus on the righteous cause of serving others, if self-love is never addressed, that may signal a strong implication, through omission, that loving oneself is corrupt and evil.

A healthy dose

Learning to navigate the unfamiliar waters of self-love is a unique journey for everyone. Those who are new to the idea of self-love may have questions regarding how much, how little, how often, or where to start.

These are fair questions, and may have a surprisingly straightforward answer. When you experience love do you ask those same questions? Loving something or someone else simply transpires. It’s not something we always anticipate but we feel it when it is there. In that same manner, we begin with ourselves. However, if shame has afflicted us with worthless or unlovable feelings, we may need to begin first with healing those feelings.

Self-love is not a destination, nor is it a prescription. While it involves practice at first, the goal is for it to become a natural part of everyday existence. Similar in the way we are unaware of how often we breathe, the same is true of self-love. Those times when heavy breathing is necessary – as in exercising or playing a wind instrument – there will likewise be situations when we are aware of self-love to help us through challenging moments.

It should not be a choice between loving someone or ourselves; it is complementary and not a replacement. It expands our capability to love others. If we are deceived by someone taking advantage of our kindness, that does not signify a lack of self-love. We overcome this predicament because of our self-love.

How much time we spend loving ourselves should never be an overwhelming consideration. Although keeping that thought in the back of our minds can be a safeguard, arrogance is never a result of too much self-love. When it reaches the point of self-importance, it is no longer love. Where that line is drawn may be different for each person, but be assured when that line is crossed, it is easily recognized.

I prefer to draw my line closer to erroring on the side of kindness. While this does make me susceptible to be taken advantage of, it’s a risk I’ve chosen to take. This does not condemn you nor deem you as wrong for choosing differently, it is where I have set my bar. I also believe the closer I move that line to kindness, the more self-love I have fostered.

In practice

Explaining how to love yourself is something we discover ourselves. Just as no one has all the answers defining how to love someone else, the same is true with loving yourself. While there are common denominators such as compassion, patience, and generosity, it is up to you to determine your own ideals and values of what it precisely means.

Talking with a counselor is beneficial and will support defining and expanding your definition. Also, communicating with an intimate partner has similar effects and will strengthen your relationship. Self-love exists to enhance our lives, and making it your life’s practice will undeniably improve your ability to love and be loved by others.

If you would like to discuss how to develop your own self-love practice, I have set aside 15-minute time slots for the first 5 people who contact me. Send an email to: john@shamedoctor.com and we’ll coordinate an audio or video session to assist in your journey.

My thanks to Todd Cravens on Unsplash  for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

If there is one topic which connects us all, it would be that of love. It is an ocean of emotions experienced in limitless degrees and levels. We can give it, receive it, lose it, and find it; all within what can seem like a blink of any eye. Yet how can something so universal and instrumental to human existence leave many perplexed in its wake? And why are some so jaded by its effects they choose to nearly obliterate it from their vocabulary?

It’s simple to understand why there are so many struggles, as well as rewards when it comes to love. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has over 13 different entries for its meanings. However, since each person has a slightly different notion of what it means, it is far more likely to produce many more nuances and intensities, adding to the complexities and distinctions of its endless connotations.

Levels of Love

In modern usage, the word “love” is being used more frequently. This is neither a good nor a bad thing. It only means we need to be more aware of those different levels and inferences. When I was a child, I could love a pet, nature, or even sports. The only time I would use the word love toward a human was when it was directed to my immediate family. I was uncomfortable saying it to another human mainly because I maintained a very narrow view of its meaning. It was years later when my stepsons began saying it to me that I began to feel comfortable enough using it with others.

In many ways, love has evolved to take on a broader range of feelings. It can be as subtle as liking something or as intense as intimate passion. Loving some “thing” versus some “one” certainly implies differences in the way we comprehend it. Who doesn’t love a breathtaking view of a beautiful mountain scene or a peaceful lake? Yet the emotional feeling we get from those views is nothing compared to loving our children or even our pets.

There are numerous ways to express these feelings, and “love” happens to be a popular choice for many. Even social media has made it convenient to use this word with contriving different colored hearts, heart-eyes, and kissing-gesture emojis.

Although one could believe this dilutes love’s definition, the argument can also be made it broadens its meaning. Whatever your outlook, it is important to understand the context in which it’s being used.

Most people inherently understand how the word love is being applied in casual conversation. The trouble begins when it is ambiguous or confusing ways. And because of love’s volatility, we often are afraid to ask for clarification.

Love’s Context

Misinterpretation happens when we insert our own definition of love into the context in which we are hearing it. When others use it with a slightly different inference, we can easily make an incorrect assumption and misconstrue what is being said.

Ironically, this causes more confusion in the most intimate of our relationships. However, one characteristic of strong relationships is the ability to get a better understanding and clarity during your conversations.

Since the word “love” is becoming more prevalent in every form of communication, it’s vital we can discern those distinctions both when it’s directed at us or when using it toward others.

The Undertow

Unfortunately, many have had experiences with love which have polluted and all but ruined their desire to love anymore. Perhaps everyone has suffered an experience where love let them down or worse, nearly drowned them. While some were able to rebound from their misfortune, others were hurt so badly they questioned whether they would ever want to attempt it again.

It is horrible how some have used love as a tool to batter and abuse others. This was never its intended purpose, and I can certainly sympathize with those who feel they were defeated by it.

If you have come close to giving up on love or are about to abandon it, my plea is you’ll listen carefully to what I’m about to say.

One of the basic principles of love is trust. Every relationship, no matter how brief or long, survives and thrives because of mutual trust. Conversely, most broken hearts are caused because that trust was broken.

In order to love again, there are 2 concepts you must be willing to accept. The first is you must be willing to trust again, and the second is the consenting to the possibility that trust may once more be damaged. These are extremely tough decisions. No one savors the excruciating pain from broken trust but it’s the peril associated any time we agree to trust.

Relationships, no matter how long or strong, consent to that risk every day. There always exists the possibility of one person no longer being in that relationship. Although it may not be a trust issue, it could be a tragic event or heartbreaking diagnosis which results in this unpredictable change. Regardless, that does not prohibit the relationship from happening, and if you’ve had trust issues, it will be something you’ll need to overcome.

Having trust in someone requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Your heart will be susceptible to being hurt. It’s the inescapable gamble paired with trust. It is not a given your trust will be damaged and the longer your trust builds the less likely it will occur, but the probability of it ending still exists and there is no eluding it.

Fortunately, there is an antidote when love’s trust is broken. It’s not a complete cure, but it will help you heal from the hurt and provide the courage needed to trust and love again.

Surprisingly, it’s the one aspect of love we have not covered and that is loving yourself. Loving yourself develops a sense of self-compassion and dignity. Although a broken heart will always be painful, nonetheless, self-love elevates your confidence and can help restore the wound left in your heart.

Next week, we’ll delve more into self-love and other aspects of love which will help navigate this perplexing and most vital emotion.

My thanks to by Quino Al on Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

The road ahead

The photo above reminds me of the highway between Los Angeles, California and Las Vegas, Nevada. During the past 30 years I’ve traveled that road over 100 times. On many occasions, there was a fleeting impulse to veer off one of those solitary exits and follow that road to its end, perhaps being even more defiant and swerving off road for a more exciting adventure. But I haven’t, and chances are I never will. There is little doubt, however, the next time I make that trip, a similar urge will occur.

I don’t begrudge the fact I’ve never attempted it. It’s a silly fantasy which only happens while on that drive. There’s no undying need to venture out and more importantly, I’m not well-equipped nor trained to grapple with disaster in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes though, life’s journey steers us in unknown directions and we are confronted with a possibility of facing this metaphorical offramp leading to what appears to be in the middle of nowhere. How do we approach these difficult and puzzling paths? Furthermore, why does such a predicament happen when we’ve worked so hard to plan each step of our journey to avoid it?

Step one

According to estimates from the Population Reference Bureau, approximately 107 billion people have lived on the earth throughout its history. This means there have been 107 billion different life’s journeys. But out of all these journeys, the most important is the one on which you travel.

The expression, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” has been cited for over 6 centuries. However, this term never examines what happens after that first step and for the next 2 million steps needed before reaching that one thousandth mile.

There is no road map designed exclusively for you. While there are sources available written specifically to help guide you, the best cartographer to map out your own journey is you.

There are many elements influencing our journey’s course and direction. From birth, our environment and circumstances play a huge role on how it begins. Individual personalities likewise help forge that trail. Where many stagger and misstep is in the ability to maneuver the frequent barriers and obstacles impeding their progress.

Often, we look for inspiration from others by reading or listening to their accounts on how they overcame and conquered their hurdles. While they can be truly inspiring, the difficulty arises when we wholeheartedly believe our journey should mirror theirs. We are not that person, and using this reasoning will likely result in self-imposed barricades which are the most difficult to defeat.

Some personalities thrive when being pushed to their limits. Alternatively, others use a more calm, contemplative approach. The emotional “firing up” creates the opposite effect and they deliberately stop in their paths.

An exit strategy

Some exit signs along highways prove to be quite helpful. When our vehicle is running low on fuel, offramps with fueling stations provide the necessary energy to keep us going.

During life’s journey, periodically a symbolic refueling encourages and motivates us to keep on an optimistic trajectory. Sometimes this is done with aid of coaches, trainers, therapists, clergy, or consultants in every imaginable field. They are trained to help you figure out what deficiencies need work and which strengths can become stronger.

When searching for a coach, especially in the area of personal development, look for someone whose goal is to guide you rather than dictate what your issues are. They often have set strategies and are rigid in their approach. This puts the emphasis on their plan instead of focusing on you.

While working with clients, my goal is to empower them to find their own answers and not prescribe or impose what I have deemed is best. Even if I were to believe I’ve fully uncovered all of their issues, it has no impact or meaning unless they can discover it for themselves.

Obstacles

In many cases, the biggest obstacle we have to overcome is ourselves. More specifically, the negative and limiting beliefs we have come to believe are the truths about who we are.  Again, use discretion when being inspired by others. Perhaps their story felt incredibly similar but yours had a different and much less successful outcome. Comparing yourself initiates doubt, disappointment, and shame. These are all hazardous roadblocks which we ourselves have placed in our own way. It’s important to glean inspiration and some of their valuable techniques to propel you to success while not allowing your insecurities or self-criticism impede your progress.

One of the most valuable lessons along this journey is gaining better self-understanding. Developing a greater awareness of who we are allows us to forge a better and clearer path moving forward. Truthfully, greater self-awareness may be our journey’s ultimate goal.

The one common element in all our journeys is they cross paths and are integrated with those around us. While we strive to fashion our own distinctive journey, it is vital we support, care, and have concern for the success of others. Anyone believing their path rides independent and high above everyone else, supports their thoroughfare with pillars of arrogance and deceit. Those whose goal is to make it to the top with blatant disregard for how they treated others, are blinded by their own conceit. Eventually their bridge, which was built on false beliefs of superiority and entitlement, will come crashing down under the weight of their own delusions and selfish ambitions.

Some journeys will inevitably rise above others. But when they are grateful and passionate about helping others succeed, they will be appreciated for their successes and honored for their dedication to making this world a better place.

Every journey is unique. No matter who has helped guide us along the way, our choices are what ultimately lead us to the final destination.

My thanks to Jakub Gorajek for the amazing photograph and I look forward to your comments.

The roller coaster

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

As a child, I was not fond of roller coasters and it took nearly seventeen years before mustering enough courage to give it a go. Perhaps my stomach was averse to the steep slopes, constant twisting, and furious turns, leaving it on the verge of regurgitation rather than invigoration. This was not my idea of having fun by any means.

But it would be difficult to find a better analogy for how most of our emotions have been happening these past several months. This last week was a particularly fitting example for me. The emotional highs and lows haunted me with the expectations of riding a roller coaster at night.

As I now reflect on the week’s events, there was nothing unusually traumatic which should have triggered such diverse and opposing feelings, and after a little time has passed, it seems trivial and almost pitiful to have allowed them to overwhelm me; especially since many others are facing much more tumultuous circumstances than I.

Hang on for the ride

Typically – well, at least pre-COVID times – lines for roller coaster were long and slow. Anxious riders eagerly awaited their turns and when it finally came time to board and buckle in, their hearts began pounding as they slowly trekked up the long incline to begin their breathtaking excursion.

After all the twists, turns, and upside-down moments of their adrenaline-charged ride, the reactions could be as different and varied as the number of people on board. Some were extremely exhilarated and rushed to do it again while others wished it would have ended after the first loop. But no matter which feeling each rider encountered, the ride always came to an end.

The E-Ticket Ride

In the days before amusement parks utilized unlimited passes, riding the attractions required purchasing tickets and the cost for those various tickets was based on how exhilarating the ride was. Disneyland graded their tickets with the letter designations A through E; the E-tickets being the most sensational. The expression an “E-Ticket ride” was born from those green coupons and each time I hear it, I can’t help but smile.

The Matterhorn was one of those rides for which I never used my E-tickets. Even the slightest thought of being forced on that ride would set the butterflies in my stomach on a hurried frenzy. As an adult, I finally overcame my fear of that once-ominous attraction, but admittedly, it still is not my preferred form of a fun time.

The ride begins

Interestingly, our emotional roller coasters sometimes evoke similar perceptions as those we experience at amusement parks. While some may enjoy the crazy twists and turns, others would prefer to sit them out. We seldom have the option to disembark from our figurative roller coaster. In fact, we rarely have the option to choose which ride we’d like to experience. The only choice is to hang on and ride it out – or that may be what is often perceived to be the only choice.

We must learn how to more than just survive these troubling conditions, but indeed thrive during these difficult and turbulent times.

Keep in mind all our experiences differ and extenuating circumstances may require the aid of a trained professional, but the best time to take action is when the bumpy moments begin. Our emotions can run fast and high; in a matter of minutes, they may demonstrate completely opposite extremes.

An effective way to help curb your emotional episode is to do your best to take a deep breath and try to remain calm. Next, attempt to observe it and watch it unfold, asking yourself why these feelings are unfolding in this way and at this moment. The worst thought or reaction you can have is telling yourself you are wrong for experiencing the feelings the way you currently are. This kind of demeaning self-talk is damaging and is merely shame trying to entrap you in a broken place.

Sometimes I’ll say to myself or even out loud, “I’m feeling awful right now and I’m okay with feeling this way”. Allowing and accepting this unwanted frame of mind as well as acknowledging it and understanding you are not a terrible person for having these feelings, has the power to diminish and weaken its hold and influence over you.

Undergoing awful feelings is not something people prefer nor gleefully choose, but everyone encounters them. No one is immune. Yours are not an anomaly and you should not torture yourself for suffering through them. Being aware these types of moods are not exclusively yours will alleviate the shame which habitually accompanies these destructive emotions.

The one expression I often hear when it comes to defeating these kinds of situations, is “letting it go.” While I would never disagree with this advice, some have difficulty comprehending what that precisely means or how to implement it. If our emotions were something we physically carried, letting it go would be as simple as dropping it or throwing it in a trash can.

Letting something go emotionally is more about self-perception and the awareness that our actions did not provoke these negative consequences. When we do become aware of our uninvited emotional state and realize we are not terrible people for experiencing it, this is a helpful step toward “letting it go.”

Remember also there is a strong possibility if others were in your shoes, they would be experiencing similar moods. Realizing both your current state is normal and not uncharacteristic, you can now consider forgiving yourself for having those emotions in the first place. Say to yourself or even out loud, “I forgive you for feeling this way.” The self-forgiveness will metaphorically allow you to take your hand off the emotionally damaging bag and discard it.

Hanging on to emotional baggage frequently comes into play from uncertainty and a need for answers which may never be possible to find. Continually searching for why something occurred will have a greater impact on not allowing you to let it go and can be the reason you are unable to do so. However, we can always forgive ourselves for believing we did something to create the anxiety or we are somehow unworthy of anything better.

There is still plenty of uncertainty facing us and the end of this roller coaster continues beyond our line of sight. But this is no reason to constantly be tossed and turned at the whim of any obstacle in our path. Begin today to do your best to negate life’s challenges and learn to overcome them with some simple techniques. If you have any questions, you are always welcome to leave your thoughts below or reach me directly at: john@shamedoctor.com

My thanks to Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.

Uncomfortable times

From the moment of conception, our bodies begin to grow, and according to some scientists, 80% of our height is based on our genetic makeup. The remaining 20% of what determines our stature is affected by nutrition, medical conditions, and other environmental factors. Generally, people grow until the age of 18 and remain that height until the aging process begins to intervene.

Thankfully, our emotional growth is not limited to the same time constraints to which our bodies must abide. There is nothing to stop us from developing mentally, psychologically, or spiritually other than our own lack of interest or concern. We can choose the rate at which we grow as well as the amount. With this being the case, why would it not be in everyone’s best interest to make personal growth one of life’s greatest priorities?

A growing need

When I was a child, on every birthday for both me and my siblings, my mother memorialized it by penciling a line on a designated door jamb. Through the years, it was a thrill to see how those marks got higher indicating our growth. These marks were a visual proof all of us were getting taller and there was no denying its occurrence. However, personal growth does not always provide evidence and without any certain confirmation, some may question if their progress ever occurred.

Fortunately, there are several ways to evaluate personal development, and recognizing them can further increase your ability to grow.

One of the most unforgettable sentences I ever read in a book was this: “We grow when we get out of our comfort zone.” At first, I was taken aback by this statement, and for a few days, ran different scenarios through my head hoping to disprove those words. Eventually, I could only amend the statement to say “we grow best when we are out of our comfort zone” because the one exception I could find was when others validate our growth. Validation increases self-confidence substantially enhancing and complementing our growth.

Stepping outside of where our comforts lie can be extremely difficult. While some enjoy and even thrive on nerve-racking situations, many, including myself, would prefer to avoid confrontation and keep the peace as best as possible. Realizing how critical getting outside my comfort zone was to personal development, forced me to push back against the anguish knowing it was ultimately for my own good.

It would be nice if we could gain awareness while remaining in a comfortable place, but when you really think about it, most of our growth occurs while discovering something erroneous or incorrect about our beliefs or behaviors. Because our natural inclinations are to believe we are doing what is right, when something or someone points out our faulty actions or viewpoints, the awareness can be exceedingly “uncomfortable” to admit.

The remedy for these discomforting feelings is to embrace them and recognize what they are truly signifying is growth.

Transforming flaws

Overcoming shame was the biggest hurdle I had to surmount to propel my personal growth. At one point, my own shame not only impeded my development, I had no indication it was truly an issue. Feelings of unworthiness had been such a part of my self-identity it felt normal to put myself down and discount any compliments or positive comments hurled in my direction. So how does one take this kind of self-destructive attitude and conquer it? By taking that weakness and turning it into a strength. Allow me to explain.

For decades of my life, it was easy to look down on myself. In a warped and negative reinforcement kind of way, my own demeaning outlook of myself could essentially feel comforting. Overcoming that now means during times of introspection, it’s relatively easy to judge my actions may possibly be incorrect, making change a much easier possibility.

What is different now is I do not allow those feelings to devastate me and linger as shame. I no longer deem myself as unworthy, disgraceful, and unchangeable, and see these flaws and fixable. The once overwhelming and debilitating feelings of shame have now been transformed into tools of greater self-awareness and instruments of better understanding.

Always keep in mind personal growth is a distinct journey for each person. We all have our own mistakes and idiosyncrasies which continually need revision and improvement.

In most cases, stepping outside of our comfort zone uncovers traits which will likely expose selfish or self-serving attitudes, or conversely, highlight self-destructive or damaging tendencies.

Keeping balance

Achieving growth does not dictate all your beliefs require change or a little “tweaking.” It’s important to maintain certain values which we hold dear. Ideals which are held in such high regard we are willing to sacrifice nearly anything for them. Nonetheless, if there is a hint of consideration to reflect upon them, typically this will only strengthen our resolve and urgency to protect them.

I believe most of these kinds of values reflect our character and actions toward others, not our own advancement. No one will ever convince me principles such as honesty, integrity, and kindness, need to be rethought. Generosity and good intentions should only change if it means they become stronger and more prevalent in your daily life.

Personal growth shines a light in dark areas of our lives revealing questionable behavior toward others or against ourselves. It is completely normal to feel uneasy after becoming aware of these issues and realizing change must happen. Unfortunately, some will respond by immediately searching for excuses why such behaviors are appropriate and succumb to those justifications, only making it easier to repeat in the future.

It’s not easy

Developing as a human is difficult. Thankfully, this difficulty is a sign of our progress. As much as we’d prefer to be someplace else, learning to embrace these moments of change and welcome them as personal growth will remind us of our progress and how we overcame those situations formerly thought of as trying and vexing.

Getting out of our comfort zone is not the only way we can grow but it certainly is an effective means to enhance and accelerate it. Even when it reveals things about us we never previously imagined, accepting it as a positive step will encourage us on this lifelong journey.

My thanks to by Spencer Backman on Unsplash for the beautiful photograph and I look forward to your comments.

The measure of kindness

Photo by Sebastian Latorre on Unsplash

The current pandemic has awakened many people to topics on which previously they paid little or no attention. Rethinking priorities and contemplating our own purpose has been a positive side effect from these difficult times. Since many of us are living in closed quarters with a select group of people, the ability to be kind has been thrusted to the top of that list.

We all have some rudimentary sense of what kindness is when seeing or experiencing it. However, some people have a broader scope for the minimum requirements of what is labeled an act of kindness. It is my wish for all to continually expand our own definition and make it our life’s goal to perpetually enlarge it until our last breath.

Imagine a world where this was the primary objective; everyone’s intention would be to treat others with more consideration and generosity. In the blink of an eye, this world would be compelled to be a much better place.

When to be kind

Someone very dear to me once said, “When in doubt, error on the side of kindness.” This really struck a chord deep in my soul. Until then, I had considered myself thoughtful and caring of others. But the idea of kindness as a default action had never been my personal modus operandi. Admittedly, I’ve not had a perfect record, but there were many times it altered my behavior, even when the final outcome would not be in my favor.

It is understandable if one finds fault with this seemingly self-damaging proclamation. No one deliberately wants to cause themselves harm or maltreatment, and this is typically why several people hold to a system where conditions need to lean in their favor or at the minimum, what they perceive as equitable. Now, imagine a world where this rationale is the norm; one in which people negotiate with individuals knowing full well their intentions are to tip the scales in their favor. This can only be the foundation for mistrust, leading to an environment of suspicion, skepticism, and uncertainty.

Perhaps the biggest fear many need to overcome is the idea that kindness is a sign of weakness. There is no statement further from the truth! On the contrary, it takes more strength and self-discipline to show restraint and be kind than it does to rant and display rude and boorish behaviors.

Some people proudly claim they respect others for saying what’s on their minds with no reservations. But those who feel free to express themselves without hesitation often expose their own selfish and arrogant attitudes, revealing their lack of any consideration or concern for anyone else.

I’ll go one step further and say that the lack of one’s own ability to be kind toward others is more a measurement of a selfish heart and in direct proportion to living a conceited and self-centered existence.

In no way am I suggesting you let the decision to be kind make you a human punching bag, nor continually should you allow others to take advantage of your generosity. What I am suggesting is we all reflect on our ability to be thoughtful, empathetic, and understanding toward people in general. Does the idea of being kind to others make you feel squirmish or distressed? If it is difficult for you to grasp this concept, you may want to look deep within yourself and ask why.

The effects of kindness

I would be remiss to say being kind always ends in accolades. Truthfully and on most occasions, you may find yourself on the proverbial short end of the stick. But true acts of kindness impact the heart in ways most individuals who’ve given it may never realize the powerful impression it made.

Sometimes those who receive it may not immediately show signs of gratitude because they were caught off guard or too ashamed to say anything. Nonetheless, the kindness you bestowed very well may inspire them to pay it forward exponentially.

The reason I’ve chosen to error on the side of kindness is not for any gain or good karma. It is simply because I believe it is the right thing to do. If our benevolent actions were done to get something in return, how is that an act of kindness? There is no notable philosopher who taught otherwise. The “Golden Rule” demonstrably implies it and every prominent religious figure both preached and lived it.

At times, it’s prudent we use caution with our kind deeds. There are those who will unfortunately take advantage of anyone’s thoughtfulness and compassion. These people, however, quickly expose their selfish motives and pitiful lack of concern for anything or anyone else. Their idea of “kindness” is explicitly based on a quid pro quo basis and getting something in return is the only reason they would conceive of attempting it.

This kind of reasoning is not kindness but an effort to cover up their own feelings of inadequacy and failures. It is also veiled with a delusional fear believing others are out to get what they have; duping themselves into deeming these actions are preventative and not acts of greed or gain as others so clearly identify them.

Creating a habit of kindness

Kindness can be considered a type of mental muscle. The more it is used, the stronger it becomes and is more prudently applied. As with any positive trait we endeavor to make part of our character, it’s a choice combined with focused attention to achieve it. For some, it may happen more naturally, while others, who were perhaps brought up in an environment where kindness was shunned, will demand more effort from themselves.

There is not one right answer for using kindness in every circumstance. You may even find yourself being upset for missing an opportunity to be kind. These are all learning conditions. Do not allow the lack of kindness in one situation to make you feel ashamed. Kindness is something on which we all can improve.  The key is having it become part of your being and philosophy of living.

There are many qualities which positively impact those around you and kindness is just one of them. Molding it into a part of your character enhances you and the way others perceive you. It will also create a legacy far beyond your sphere of influence and has the power to impact the world for future generations.

My thanks to Sebastian Latorre  for the wonderful photo and I look forward to your comments.

The Art of Caring

Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Caring is a word described on many levels and with varying intensities. At a personal level, we can care for a loved one; on a universal level, we can care for humankind. While there are numerous degrees for caring to be demonstrated, it is unquestionably a trait we long to see in each and every one we know. Is it possible one can exude too much of this highly prized attribute and jeopardize the good of its original intention?

A continual inspiration throughout these treacherous times has been hearing stories of people displaying compassion and concern for those in need. Whether it has been a tragic end to a coronavirus victim or unwarranted destruction under the guise of a protest, many thoughtful individuals have exceeded the limits of kindheartedness and elevated its definition to new heights.

Currently, if there is one quality from which this world would greatly benefit, caring would most definitely be at the top of that list.

It does not, nor should not, require an international emergency for anyone to convey such an encouraging characteristic. There are no restrictions relegated to its impact and no special circumstances limiting its engagement. Nothing can stop a heart from caring save the person in whom that heart resides.

When someone shows us unexpected kindness, it brightens our day and increases our trust in the bestower of it and possibly, a little more in overall humanity. If there were a contest to come up with a word which might contradict “too much of a good thing,” caring would be a great candidate to win the trophy.

When is caring too much?

Let me reiterate, I would never mandate any limitation to acts of caring. It is quite underutilized in today’s society. However, as with other qualities, in some circumstances, an overabundance of it may prove to be detrimental.

As humans, we want what’s best for those we love. Especially as parents, we strive to give our children the best – or at least what we believe to be the best for them. Although our goal is to raise them to be responsible, productive, and caring people, we aren’t always aware of the optimal paths to reach these results. Complicating matters, our own children can react differently to the ways we show our thoughtfulness, requiring different approaches to achieve the same outcome.

Sometimes our busy schedules dictate to us the “most effective course of action,” and we yield to whatever our fast-paced lives decree; while all along, hoping some magic spell summoned by our love will turn things out “the way they’re supposed to be.”

Another common justification for “over caring” is not wanting your child to fail. Disappointment on a child’s face often hurts more than seeing our own failures. Consequently, we pave their perceived unachievable road for them hoping it will give them a sense of accomplishment.

This kind of unintentional yet highly detrimental endeavor occurs outside of parent/child (or mentor/protégé) relationships as well. It happens among couples, friends, coworkers, or between any two people who truly care about each other. The measure of what increases the chances of over caring, ironically, are the more we care about a person, the likelier we are to ignore the tendency to flood them with unhelpful or destructive actions. Perhaps there is no greater paradox than our own ability to love inducing and motivating us to provide toxic levels of caring.

A remedy

When caring reaches harmful levels, it no longer is about benefiting others but has altered into something different; something perhaps more closely aligned with avoidance or incredulity. It doesn’t want to face the possibility of discomfort, embarrassment, or a letdown. The concern once felt for the other person, now seeks to avoid the oncoming catastrophe destined to occur if the same path is being traveled.

No matter what the nature of any relationship is, caring cannot be used to eliminate disaster. We must rely on the trust and character building the relationship developed to help that person overcome any obstacles – all while remembering the possibility of failure remains inevitable. While it’s not a requisite, we can never assume more “caring” will fix the problem and may eventually initiate the opposite effect.

There is an antidote for relationships devolving to this low point. It requires close scrutiny from each person involved. Both the receiver and the giver are guilty of conduct contributing to its demise and changes are needed from both if there is any hope to reestablish a caring relationship.

Unfortunately, the person who made the mistake is often seen as the only one at fault and all blame should fall squarely on their shoulders. Why should the person whose only aim was to stop that person from making a mistake, be responsible for any culpability?

This one-sided belief is one of the most difficult situations to remedy. The “over giver” will refuse to look at or acknowledge any wrongdoing, nearly ruining any chance of healing the relationship. But as with all attempts at self-growth and personal development, we must look at ourselves and become mindful of the changes we must make to overcome our own faults and weaknesses.

There will never be too much caring in the world, and nothing will cause it to go out of style. The key to maintaining the full effect of its positive actions is to remain aware of the original objectives and realize the boundaries exist only to support those virtuous intentions.

My thanks to Maria Teneva on Unsplash for the fitting picture. If you or someone you know is undergoing a similar difficulty, please feel free to reach out to me on this website or email me: john@shamedoctor.com. My goal is to guide you on a journey to renew your relationship no matter what condition it currently resides.

A Balancing Act

An expression frequently uttered by many in today’s society, is: “Life is about balance.” While I couldn’t agree more, this statement leaves much open for interpretation. Life, as we all can attest to, can be chaotic, complex, and confusing; consequently, where does the idea of balance fit in to our daily lives? Is “living a balanced life” a matter of practicality, spirituality, or is it merely a clever-sounding catchphrase quickly digested like so many other sayings pontificated in the world of self-help?

When I was a child, I was fascinated by tightrope walkers. High up and accompanied solely by their balancing pole, they cautiously began their terrifying trek along that thin wire. In the beginning, they may have faltered or stumbled, intensifying the crowds’ suspense and nearly audibilizing pounding hearts of the onlookers. However, what began as a mortifying journey soon transformed into a thrilling spectacle of leaps and other acts of seemingly death-defying prowess, proving their ability to balance physically was one of epic proportion.

Perhaps what made it more enthralling was as a child, the many attempts to mimic them – although at a much safer level and using a two by four instead of a rope – I rarely made it past 4 or 5 steps. It wasn’t until much later when I discovered the balancing pole was an important part in keeping their balance.

Understandably, balance is key to a tightrope walker’s survival. Likewise, there are other professions which demand an acute ability to maintain balance, but the physical aspect of balance is not the only area in our lives where it is needed.

The balancing act begins

Living balanced is something typically not planned or woven into our daily lives. It is often low on our priority list because there is no urgency forcing us to make it more of a habit. Our schedules are dictated by hectic realities and responsibilities which often take precedence over tasks we deem inconsequential at that moment.

It would be frivolous and arrogant of me to assume I have the formula for anyone wanting to live a life fully in balance. But rather than reflecting on how this works individually, let’s focus on how living a balanced life with those around us is just as important as living it on an individual basis.

When we consider this kind of balance on a truly profound level, it forces us to think about why our interactions and dealings with society are vital to us all.

The world was not created strictly for our own benefit and a balanced life never consists of merely considering what works best for us. There is no job description where the single person with whom you interact or transact is yourself. We all are dependent in one way or another on human interaction and connection.

Becoming aware of how integral this kind of balance is to our daily life is essentially the beginning of our “balancing act.” Furthermore, when we earnestly endeavor to better communicate and cooperate with others, this effort functions as our “balancing pole” living a better “balancing act.”

Unfortunately, navigating our daily responsibilities is not always conducive to constructive interactions and communications with others. It often requires a definitive choice to accept and stay committed to living in a fair and equitable way towards our fellow human beings. Fortunately, when we struggle through these efforts, it progresses into a natural and habitual part of daily life. It inspires and fosters within us a need for equality and fairness. We cannot live in a self-centered world while exercising to live a balanced life.

The rewards of balanced living

When we strive toward balanced living, life is experienced on a much greater level than what money offers. We positively impact the world around us by instinctively promoting kindness and caring. We become more thoughtful and less self-consumed. We stay true to our word and personal integrity is a far greater prize than any paycheck could ever represent.

Living balanced with others also supports living balanced on a personal level. It helps us distinguish what is truly important and takes our focus away from the frivolous and mundane things for which we previously had given too much prominence.

Living in balance with one another never allows the scales to tip unfairly. It doesn’t blind us nor make us naïve when injustice occurs. Although it is not a remedy for perfect decision making and does not crown us with flawless judgment, it will compel us to act when we do perceive inequality and discrimination.

In today’s climate of protestation against injustice and racial inequality, what we very well may be experiencing are the consequences of societies efforts to sustain an out-of-balance scale toward those who have been habitually oppressed and scorned for their lifestyle choices. It is the aftermath of purposeful manipulation by those in power to advance their arrogant causes knowing full well their efforts will produce extreme pain and sorrow on many while having no effect on their cold hearts. What they fail to realize is the harder they push to instill their selfish views, the more they expose their despicably self-serving ideologies.

Living a life of balance is first a choice. It is accepting that you as an individual are part of and connected to something greater than yourself. While you can still strive to become the best version of you, there is now a realization of a cause far outweighing any personal ambitions and leaving this world a better place for your existence is the true legacy of a balanced life.

We may not believe our actions can change the world but when we live in balance with one another, we influence it on a much greater scale than we could have ever imagined.

My thanks to Vicky Sim on Unsplash for the fitting picture and I look forward to your comments. If you have any more questions about how emotional healing will help you thrive, please feel free to contact me at: jdunia@gcegroup.net

Everything changes

Photo by Ana Martinuzzi on Unsplash

As the midpoint of the year 2020 fast approaches, it has unquestionably provided us with more twists and turns than even the best psychic could have predicted. During this time, most people were forced to make adjustments and for some, those changes were drastic indeed. The old adage, “the only constant in life is change,” has presented itself in an extremely uncanny manner.

What may be one of the most unnerving aspects is anxiously anticipating how life will emerge once some semblance of normalcy returns. The thought of not knowing how or when this will transpire magnifies the unease in society and hopefully will not spark other tumultuous or unforeseen events.

If there is one thought on which we can all agree, it would be that there is an inevitable change coming to all our lives.

Realizing, “the only constant is change” doesn’t require a scientific mind nor does it take years of wisdom to formulate. Undoubtedly, our earliest ancestors, and every generation since, believed a similar philosophical thought.

The first person attributed to making this claim was the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Nearly 2500 years ago, he was born into a wealthy family but forsook his fortune and went to live in the mountains where he observed nature and spent much of his time reflecting on those observations. He noticed how objects in nature and that, “Cold things grow hot, the hot cools, the wet dries, the parched moistens,” determining everything in nature is in a perpetual state of flux. He eventually concluded Nature itself, is change.

Time for a change

As we currently observe things changing around us, it’s up to each one of us to adapt to those changes to our best ability. However, what is more important than adapting to these external events is remembering the changes we as humans constantly undergo. Do they help us to become more thoughtful, kinder, and compassionate? Or are these turbulent times excuse not to put in the effort for self-improvement?

The global situations for the most part, are out of your control. Being vigilant is certainly wise, but the final outcome will not be determined solely on what is best for your growth. Consequently, it’s vital to keep in mind positive, individual progress will help you get through this pandemic in the best possible way.

Whether or not we want it, change on a personal level is inevitable. Let’s take a cue from Heraclitus and look at nature. A pool of stagnant water will eventually decay and become useless to anything but decay and deterioration. Is it an unfair comparison to make a similar assessment about an individual who claims change is not a vital part of life?

Change can be hard

Change for some, is a difficult task. Not only does it require an honest self-assessment, it also demands we recognize there is something mistaken in our thinking or judgement. No one wants to readily admit they were wrong. People don’t plan celebrations honoring your errors or misjudgments. It’s a natural inclination to hold fast to our philosophical viewpoints and defend our intelligence. It’s also a natural inclination to defend ourselves when others seemingly attack us for how we think.

We’ve all felt that little rush of adrenaline in this situation. It’s a biological trigger based on our “fight or flight” response. But this kind of reaction doesn’t mean our original assertions were correct. The key is to observe our defensive reply while it’s happening and not allow it to provoke emotions which cloud our judgment or blind us from our own flaws.

Although there are countless ways our faults can be pointed out to us, frequently the main culprit for a harsh retaliation and swift denial, is our own fragile ego. When someone points out a deficiency in our reasoning, we believe it may negatively impact the way we wish others to perceive us. Or it may also skew the image in which we would like to perceive – or perhaps more correctly deceive – ourselves.

I am not suggesting we start volunteering for others to come forward and castigate us with their judgments on how wrong we are. Nor am I suggesting every time we are criticized the other person is right. It is about not fearing the perception we were or are wrong. If we are truly a person who continually strives to be the best version of ourselves, we are not incumbered by the possibility of having faults or being incorrect.

A key ingredient for change

Positive change first occurs because we need it. However, there is usually something which triggers the necessity for change. This happens naturally when we choose to be vulnerable. Vulnerability allows us to become aware of our weaknesses and flaws as well as encouraging us to transform them. Being vulnerable also initiates more self-awareness which is the catalyst for improving other admirable attributes. It is the foundation for integrity and empathy. As we strive to increase these positive traits, it also helps influence others to work toward those very same goals.

Society needs to change the way it perceives vulnerability. Thankfully, more people are realizing being vulnerable exhibits a true inner strength rather than the perpetuated lie which traditionally taught it was only seen among the weak, submissive, and miserable.

Final changes

Predicting how the world around us will change is nearly impossible. Too many scenarios are possible even for how life will exist in our own communities. Instead of putting ourselves through this mentally treacherous maze of circumstances, let’s focus on how to make the changes well within our own grasp.

Our own ability to change will always be a work in progress. However, unlike nature, sometimes we need to fight against natural inclinations and do what may not feel normal. Thankfully, the more open we are to positive change and work toward that end, the easier it becomes to transform ourselves and become an example for others to follow.

My thanks to Ana Martinuzzi on Unsplash for the beautiful photograph and I look forward to your thoughts.

If you would like individual help in your own journey for positive change, click here to contact me directly or for more information, email me at john@shamedoctor.com.

Levels of Healing

Photo by Claire Nolan onUnsplash

Few bright spots have emerged since our world became overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and now, this latest outcry against social injustice follows in its wake. If there is one upside to the current global chaos, it is the magnified discussion on the subject of healing. In the past, I’ve focused mainly on individual emotional healing and how it empowers us to make a difference in ourselves and in the community around us.

However, at this time, both physical and emotional healing are not only vital but need to be intertwined because working in conjunction with one another is what is necessary to launch global healing on a scale never before seen in the history of this planet.

Intertwining two kinds of healing

Many survivors of the novel coronavirus have healed physically but may still hold residual psychological trauma to deal with as well. Others, whose loved ones could not escape its merciless grip, are now left with what can feel like an impossibly overwhelming struggle to heal from the emotional damage sustained by their losses. While many have suffered devastatingly, COVID-19 has cost everyone something and will require some amount of healing.

No matter the type of injury, no matter how it was inflicted, no matter if it was undeserved, unjust, or unfair; every wound ultimately needs to be healed!

The first of many levels

Injuries occurring to people, animals, or property, are visible and an understanding of what needs to be remedied is generally evident. Overcoming the emotional damage is more elusive however, and not as easy to recognize. (I’ve written several articles on individual emotional healing and rather than recapping those ideas here, I’ve listed a few links at the end of the article for those wishing to read more on this subject.)

These tense times have taken a toll on many kinds of relationships. Whether it is an intimate or business partner, family or friend, neighbor or colleague; the unprecedented emotional strain brought on by stressful conditions has unquestionably weakened important connections. These will require healing.

Let’s begin

In order for relationships to begin the healing process, the first step is that both parties must want to continue and be willing to resolve the issues which originally damaged it. No relationship can remain whole if only one person works for it to succeed.

Next, it will require each person to look deep within themselves and ask how their actions may have contributed to the relationship’s strain, and what changes must be made to restore and help it prosper. For many, this step is the most difficult part.

It may sound a bit presumptive and some who have crossed this bridge before may object and declare they were not the ones whose actions betrayed or destroyed the relationship. So why should the onus be on them?

While this is a typical response, that question would be better understood with the guidance of a capable therapist or counselor. Nevertheless, for any relationship to rekindle its spark, it requires personal introspection and a strong mindset from both parties, along with a commitment to work it out. There needs to be forgiveness – of your partner and for yourself – for healing to occur.

Otherwise, it is impossible for any partnership to heal. If the perception from one person in the relationship is that the other one needs to make all the changes, then they have clearly chosen not to continue in this relationship.

More complications

When relationships start to include more people, it also makes for additional complications while trying to resolve issues. Families are the perfect example of that platform because when an argument ensues, there are multiple viewpoints and opinions which all need to be taken into consideration. Normally, parents do their utmost to quell the situation in restoring peace. However, if they do not take the time to listen to the grievances of their children, reconciling –  as well as healing from these disputes –  may never occur in a healthy and appropriate manner.

If a parent or a partner takes the approach of, “I am the authority and it has to be my way,” it’s a perspective that does nothing for resolving the crisis. It may subdue the rebellion, but it also can put fear and misunderstanding into the child’s mind. This lack of comprehension doesn’t promote healing and may eventually backfire, inciting a drastically different outcome because imparting cooperation and instilling love is what ultimately creates a well-rounded individual who can handle conflict.

One trap most parents have difficulty overcoming is dealing with their older children as adults. Complications magnify as children grow up, but they just want to live in a place where their voice is heard. And this can be a major reason why many families do not heal and are torn apart rather than grow in their love for each other.

Branching out

But when relationships extend beyond our own families such as in our neighborhoods, businesses, churches (and other religious affiliations), it requires a more tolerant approach. While some of the opportunities for healing in these groups are similar to the family structure, conflict will mandate listening to opposing viewpoints with an open mind, because these opinions should not be dismissed as trivial or unimportant.

Perhaps the biggest difference from personal and family relationships as compared to those at the community level, is that there is no option of discontinuing or walking away. Sure, we can always choose not to speak to a family member or end a marriage in divorce, but these choices are not available to people charged with the responsibility of public welfare.

Community leaders must diligently be on the lookout for inequities and injustices. Any favors or advantages doled out become a doorway to dishonesty and corruption. There is no quicker way to metaphorically peel a scab from an unhealed wound than by blatant favoritism, promoting discrimination, or authoritarianism.

Healing a nation

As it pertains to healing, a country is remarkably similar to a city only with an exponentially larger population. And perhaps what may be a fundamental quality required of a leader, is the ability to listen.

Many esteemed leaders who’ve held positions in various fields such as the military, industry, government, or religion, are touting the importance that listening holds in effective leadership. Some advocate it is perhaps the most important quality for one to possess.

Listening is also completely aligned with the concept of a nation healing. A leader cannot simply demand that healing occur. Emancipation should not transpire by a heavy-handed sword. Any leader who only rewards those yielding to his every whim will undoubtedly lead his people deeper into strife and further away from any prospect of healing.

Leadership is a difficult task and the answers are not spelled out in any book, but true leadership rises out of strife. It holds the hands of the oppressed and soothes the sores of the weary. The more compassion a leader exudes, the more healed the nation becomes. The more a leader strives to listen to its afflicted, the faster the wounds will fade from its dark memory.

We need healing and we need it on many levels. Although healing may have never been something which was high on your priority list, it must now become your focus.

My thanks to Photo by Claire Nolan on Unsplash for the wonderful photo and I look forward to your comments.

For those wishing to read more about individual emotional healing, here are links to some of my previous articles:

What does it mean to heal?

Healing on a greater scale

Continued healing