I heard that before

“Advice worth hearing one time is always worth repeating.”

One of the most cathartic moments I’ve ever experienced was the day I fondly refer to as my Independence Day. It was February 22, 2013. Dr. Smith and I had been discussing the idea of shame and its damaging effects. It wasn’t the first time he had mentioned it. In fact, we had discussed it on several prior occasions; and 2 weeks earlier, I had even written a poem which touched on that subject.

But for some reason on this particular day, it just clicked! The clarity finally came through as though someone pulled blinders from my eyes and plugs out of my ears.

As a parent, I often hoped for moments like these when I could convey wise counsel to my boys. As a son, however, there were times when I came home to tell my mom about some lesson I learned only to see her bewildered, and reminding me she had said something similar on many occasions.

As a coach, these kinds of moments are ones for which I yearn; when my client’s eyes light up after hearing prudent or astute advice. It’s an experience which not many others can surpass.

But events like these rarely happen according to plan. Why they do unfold in unpredictable ways involve a variety of reasons. One could argue that people don’t truly hear things until they are ready to receive them. It’s also probable that a familiar voice, such as a parent, friend, or coworker, borders on the verge of monotony rendering it less effective than a stranger’s voice.

There are as many reasons why our words don’t always have the impact we wish they’d have, but no matter who, how, or when words of wisdom are spoken, the most important outcome is that someone is motivated in a positive and productive way.

It’s difficult to imagine any great orator not wanting to dazzle the audience with a speech that flows like a calm river yet strikes the hearts of listeners as the crash of a tympani during a Beethoven Scherzo.

Nonetheless, the one thing we can never force is an aha moment for someone else. In fact, we cannot always control our own moments of illumination. I had one of those just the other day.

A good friend of mine has told me this story a couple of times but the other day I finally realized its impact. Several years ago, she flew to visit her family. Arriving late to depart from the airport, she was advised to carry her bag directly to the gate and check it there to avoid missing the flight. Unfortunately, she was also led to believe the gate was just up the escalator but ended up carrying her wheel-less bag across the entire terminal.

This would have been a grueling task for anyone but her luggage weighed several times more than what doctors had warned her to carry due to some previous injuries. Needless to say, the pain was excruciating and the flight was no relief from the agony.

After landing at her destination, her brother met her at the airport and asked her why she looked so miserable.

“Because I had to carry this bag across through the whole airport,” she quickly exclaimed.

“Why didn’t you check it or have a Skycap do it for you”? he replied. “You know, no one is standing there applauding you for carrying your own baggage.”

This was the fourth or fifth time I had been told this story to me, but it was the first time its meaning was revealed.

“No one is standing there applauding you for carrying your baggage.” Those words struck me not just like a mallet on a tympani but like the crash of the orchestra during Haydn’s Surprise Symphony.

Each one of us has loads of baggage and some have sadly carried it far too long. There are times when we might think it’s too much for one person or wonder why someone isn’t helping.

“Isn’t it obvious that I’m struggling,” yet there is no ovation when we finally let it go. There is no award. No memento or medal of distinction for what we thought was a selfless act. On the other hand, there are lots of people staring at us who are perplexed by our actions.

“Baggage” can be a number of things but it basically represents our past struggles; many of which are caused by the damaging thoughts we’ve come to accept about who we are. Sometimes it’s carried so long that it appears to actually be a part of who we are.

The problem with figurative baggage is that getting rid of it is not as effortless as removing your grip from the handle. It’s not as simple as setting it down or handing it to someone else. Telling people to “let it go” has to be some of the worst advice you could offer. Of course that is the appropriate action but I believe if most people really knew how to let it go, they would.

Next week, we’ll cover a few ways of letting that baggage go. However, if you’re ready to let yours go now and would rather not wait, feel free to message me.

I’d like to thank Kayvan Mazhar for the beautiful picture and if you haven’t heard Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, listen to the second movement and you’ll get a glimpse of how powerful this story was to me.

A bunch of baloney

Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash

“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” – Steven Covey

Perception is often the greatest influence which creates dramatic differences in opinions, understandings, and beliefs. Was there a time when you witnessed a particular event and the person standing next to you drew an opposite conclusion?

Even the methods we use to form our ideals vary according to our life’s experiences.

Each time I publish an article, my objective is to present a topic in a manner which evokes and impels readers to examine the subject in ways they’ve previously never pondered. The biggest challenge I face is not being able to determine the different perspectives each reader has – which is one element I’ll never be able to control.

However, any time I personally reflect on the subject of perception, there is a personal story which always comes to mind.

In the seventh grade, I had a friend named Joe. One school night he invited me to stay at his home. The next morning, his mother made me a sack lunch to take to school. The featured item was a baloney sandwich. I was no stranger to this fare; my mother frequently included it as the main staple in my brown bag.

When I got home that afternoon, I told my mother, “Wow, Joe’s mom makes the best baloney sandwiches”!

“She does”? My mother inquired. “What does she put in them”?

“Baloney and mustard” I responded.

Needless to say my mother was perplexed. Not only were those ingredients included in her version, she used Oscar Mayer brand “bologna” on mine. She even went above and beyond the “best baloney sandwich,” by dressing it up with American cheese and lettuce.

I don’t recall the rest of our conversation from that day, but my mother and I constantly reminisce and laugh at that moment. How could something with less substance outdo what my mom had been making for years?

Once again, perception takes center stage. What influenced my preteen palette was my mom had been making these sandwiches virtually the same way for years. Devouring one with a different kind of bread, a Dejon-style mustard, and not the “same ol’ ” baloney was more of a welcome variation rather than an award-winning creation. The flavors blended in a way which my taste buds were not expecting and that little surprise gave Joe’s mom the advantage. Undoubtedly, had I continued with her version, my mother’s would have regained the crown.

The way we perceive things is vital to shaping every element of our life.

While the above statement may seem exceedingly obvious, I believe many really don’t give it the consideration it deserves. Seeing things from our own perspective has become second nature. We’ve always looked at things from our own viewpoint and, unlike baloney, other’s rarely taste better.

We’ve grown accustomed to our particular brand of baloney-sandwich-style perception and typically take a pass when anyone else’s “brand” tries to make its way onto ours. The methods we’ve used to establish and deduce discernment have served us well and it would take a lot of convincing to incorporate something new.

I don’t dismiss the idea that seeing another person’s perspective is easy. In some ways, it’s impossible to fully perceive other’s points of view. It would be insensitive and arrogant if I were to claim I completely understand what anyone has gone through, much less someone with a different gender, race, or even generation.

However, I can do my best to become aware of their viewpoints. Although I may never fully realize the depth of their challenges, I can certainly do my best to understand their efforts and better empathize with their struggles.

Thankfully, it’s not necessary to walk in someone else’s footsteps in order to be empathetic to their challenges. Neither is it a requirement to suffer what they’ve endured to offer help and hope. But how we begin to better understand those difficulties is first to carefully listen.

As the opening quote stated, reflecting back to others that we are listening is like emotional oxygen. When someone believes you care about their situation, it invigorates and encourages them to be earnest and truthful. Paying attention not only helps you with your understanding of their issues, it also inspires better communication and outcome for both of you.

The catalyst for strife and division lies in our own ego. The moment someone assumes their baloney is the best or maybe the only kind which ought to be served, immediately perpetrates division and sets the stage for an unsuccessful outcome.

Perhaps defending our brand of baloney is something in our DNA; or at least deep in our psyche. When I read a disagreeing comment on my articles, I do become defensive. However, I’ve also taught myself to stop and not completely dismiss that idea until I’ve had time to digest it. As much as I’d always like to be edifying and correct, if I do not allow myself to experience another point of view, the only thing I may end up writing would be a bunch of baloney.

This week, you’re bound to come across different perspectives; some which may directly impact you. Do your best to really listen and show them you are concerned. Put aside ego and see how well you can oxygenate the conversation and inspire a common good for all.

My thanks to Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

Oh what a feeling

It’s little things which often unwittingly confound or stifle us.

Any time I’m working with my clients, there is one phrase which quickly draws my attention. Although its first impression saddens me, it immediately turns into a great segue and opportunity for a client breakthrough.

It is possible this phrase, or ones with similar meanings, is uttered with such regularity that it goes unnoticed by many, escaping the recognition of its potential to create damage. Expressing this common sentiment potentially can disable us, makes us feel “stuck,” or leave us in an ominous downward spiral.

The statement is: “I feel bad and I know I shouldn’t feel this way.”

There are several variations to this expression and some of those include: “I really feel dumb for feeling this way,” or “My friend (or someone else whom I trust) said I shouldn’t feel that way.” Any and every rendition, however, points to the conclusion that even though I feel poorly in some way, I am in the wrong for experiencing them.

While there may be some occasions where this is emotionally acceptable, generally this sentence leaves you with a more confused mindset and further from personal growth.

It’s helpful first not to look at the action but rather the intention behind the act. Frequently, our motives and thoughts were done in hopes of a constructive outcome. However, our planning, reasoning, or methods may have unwillingly manifested the opposite result.

How could something like this not create sad, despondent, or sorrowful feelings?

It’s perfectly okay to have those feelings. Although we may despise the fact we are currently suffering them, there is nothing wrong in and of itself to have or experience them.

Learn to transform these unwanted emotions into a catalyst for change.

One of the remedies for overcoming these situations begins with understanding the difference between guilt and shame. Many times, guilt can be a moral compass of sorts. When we make a mistake or a bad choice, the painful, lingering thoughts can help remind us of our mistake and change future behaviors by reviewing our processes and learning from errors and oversights.

On the other hand, shame not only wants us to feel badly, it tells us we must, and we couldn’t have done anything differently because we don’t have the ability to do any better.

Not only do we feel bad, but we feel badly about feeling bad!

Unfortunately, many cultural norms adhere to this philosophy; warning or even threatening punishment should we not feel bad in these types of circumstances. This kind of obligatory conditioning is a major deterrent to our own personal development and self-understanding. These feelings are perfectly normal and not an indication something additional is wrong.

The issue becomes multiplied when others we trust think they are trying to help us by telling us we shouldn’t feel that way. It’s difficult enough experiencing those uninvited feelings. We don’t need the incident to be compounded by adding shame into the mix.

The mistake was made. The wrong choice, confusion, or whatever situation occurred will not be undone by our contrite reactions. My suggestion is to experience those unwanted feelings and perhaps even embrace them. Recall how dreadful they made you feel so the next time a similar instance occurs, it will alter your thinking and actions to better improve your odds against repeating the same mistakes.

Telling ourselves “we shouldn’t be feeling this way” accentuates the problem and is another great example of how damaging shame can be. Do you recall the last time you felt badly about feeling bad? Was there shame accompanying those thoughts?

It’s highly probable because this kind of reasoning is precisely how our own shame wants us to react. Our natural inclination is to feel disappointment when we make a mistake. Shame now takes this natural emotion and tells us we’re wrong for feeling that way. It’s the perfect environment for shame to thrive.

The good news is that once you become aware these types of feelings are natural and normal, emotional healing and self-growth occur more easily. The undesirable feelings will pass because: 1) it initiates a type of self-forgiveness by acknowledging the mistake; 2) gives you an awareness of your apologetic and remorseful attitude; 3) sparks a willingness to do better. Your intentions didn’t cause the mistake; it was in the performance and you are determined to improve.

This week, when you or someone you know are in a similar predicament, remember that it’s not wrong to feel bad. Acknowledge the original intent wasn’t the cause and you will strive to do better. Do what you can to stop the little things from becoming the bigger issue.

My thanks to Karsten Würth on Unsplash for the beautiful picture and I look forward to your comments.

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.