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.