This Blog Is About

This blog is about---You! Each and every post is about you. Use it to challenge your usual patterns, as a tool for self-discovery, to stimulate your thinking, to learn about yourself and to answer your questions about others.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tell Me About It

There's an advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, who writes a column in the newspaper that really packs it in.  In a recent column she answered a letter presenting a problematic relative and asking how to handle her.  Ms. Hax managed, in a few paragraphs, to discuss abuse, victims, how these problems become patterns, our feelings toward them and how to deal with a difficult situation with a family member. 
I don't know what her background or training is.  She lists no credentials by her name.  But it is apparent that she either has a solid education in psychology or she really does her homework on each subject she addresses.
The title of the column I am describing was:  She dishes out what she took.
If you enjoy reading about good coping with common life problems, you might take a look at her column; it's called Tell Me About It.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


"Be the change that you want to see in the world."  Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, December 14, 2009

Being Santa

"I always ask, 'If this gift could talk, what would it say?'"
Natalie Lee Gian. LPC
Giving a gift is not such a simple thing.  There is motivation behind it.  Sometimes it may indeed be a simple heartfelt offering, a spontaneous moment of generosity or, a wish to share something you value with a person you care about.
However gifts can also communicate something specific to the recipient:  Expanding on the suggestion of the therapist quoted above, here are some possibilities:  The gift may say to the one receiving it, "I was picked out in a hurry." or  "I'm here to impress you." or  "I was a bargain!".
On the other hand, a gift can say, "I am something you like."  "I was made with love."  "I suit you."

I bet you can come up with  many more. 

Many of us feel  pressured and rushed at  this time of year.  Or, we may feel that at other times too---like wedding season, for example!  The challenge posed here to me and to you is offered here on my post not  to add to the demand.  All paths lead to the Self; it is suggested as another way to self reflect.  Just be honest with yourself--this idea is for you.  It could be interesting to examine your own motivations.  

A final note on the subject of gift-giving:  You may be in a situation where you simply feel obligated to give a gift.  Even then, I believe that if you stop and take a moment to really focus on the person the gift is destined for, you'll feel better about the process.
If it is truly a gift from the heart, inexpensive or extravagant, regardless, I submit that your loving intention will be communicated.

~Most of us feel pleased when we sense that we have been thought about by someone in our lives.~

It is often said, to try to combat the commercialism of Christmas, that the most precious gifts are not 
under the tree.  This can be-- rather than trite, actually true.  
Center yourself, take a long, slow, deep breath and be the gift--the gift of affection for those you celebrate with this holiday season.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Teacher

"...contemplate the fact that a lotus's perfection begins its journey deep within the mud of a pond."
Michael Parkes

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Not Easily Impressed

Is that you?  Is it easy for you to criticize?  Do you often feel skeptical?  Do you pride yourself in being a hard sell, not easily impressed?  There's something to be said for withholding false praise, certainly.  And not being easily swayed may be important when, for example, engaged with a car salesman.  Yes, a little reserve and skepticism are appropriate in some situations.  But, if you are too guarded, you and those closely involved in your life, may miss out.

Nearly everyone can benefit from some encouragement.  It must be sincere but, given that, some sincere praise has the power to lift spirits, to infuse another with energy, and to spur new enthusiasm.  Surely children make good use of encouragement in using it to help them grow, try new things, and develop skills.  But all adults,--- elderly adults, mid-life adults, young adults and teenagers, can all be powered by praise.

You have the ability to assist an elderly person with self-appreciation.  Does that person who is older and more experienced than you are seem wise?  Then why not tell them!  You have the power to improve a friend's mood by telling them what a treasure they are to you.  You can encourage a young child to try a new task by saying, You're catching on!  You can influence an adolescent to make a positive choice by noticing and remarking upon it when they show responsible behavior.
You can do it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Shape Changers

Personal identity and the wish to effect change in another

 Each person is unique and therein lies the joy of learning about someone new, in gaining a deeper understanding of someone familiar, of discovering the propensities of a developing child.  Each of us is a different combination of traits and talents.  Most adults take pride in the qualities they view as being distinct.  Sometimes you hear people making statements describing their own particular qualities---the things they see as making them who they are:  "I am a party girl."  "Bad luck follows me around." "I am a good worker." "My mother said I smiled more than any of her other kids."  "I am a picky eater." It seems like most of us enjoy and appreciate that we have our own unique identity.

And, yet, we often make tremendous effort to change another, to alter their identity.
Today I heard a lot of lamenting about others:  'If only he/she would change, I/we would be happy/our problems would be solved.'  As distressing as it is to focus on the troubling characteristics of someone close to us, it usually seems much, much harder to self-evaluate.

It seems to come more naturally to most people to notice the faults of others and to readily determine how another could improve.  In addition to complaining and evaluating others, it is quite common to blame relationship problems on the other.

So, despite the fact that we each find our own distinct persona to be of essential importance, we seem to believe that others could  readily conform to our ideas of how much better it would be if they would change.  It's a kind of blind spot.

The fact is, it is very difficult to change another person without their buy-in.  There are a few things worth a try, such as being an example of a person with the quality you are wishing to see in the other.
Sometimes one person can be a good influence on another. Or, if the problem is interpersonal, you can try changing your part of the pattern---logically, the pattern cannot continue in the same way if part of it is altered.  These are fairly subtle ways of trying to effect change.  A more direct method would be to tell the other how their behavior or habit or characteristic affects you personally.  Also, occasionally you can negotiate an agreement for a behavior change when interacting with you; if you get an agreement, you have accomplished a degree of change.

But, for the most part, you cannot, no matter how much you may wish it, change another by force of will.  Even therapists---and I call myself a change artist---can't change a patient who isn't looking to transform or is, at least, receptive to suggestions for doing things differently or thinking in a new way.

Back to The Man in the Mirror (see earlier post).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Find Me

My practice is located in Pinole, California.  The phone number is, 510 724 4711.  Session fee is $120.  Sessions are 45 to 50 minutes long.  Most patients attend therapy once a week; some come more frequently.  Usually it is once a week and when nearing conclusion, the sessions may drop to once every other week.  Sessions are by appointment only; there are no drop-in office hours.  You are welcome to call me to discuss any questions you may have and the possibility of entering therapy yourself.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The Fountain project is a group of health care providers from various disciplines (dentists, chiropractors, doctors, acupuncturists, and others) who volunteer their time to treat people who have no health care coverage-no insurance and not enough ability to pay for these services.

They currently care for 1000 patients.

Their goal is to be able to treat 6000, the number they estimate will remain uncovered in California even if the President's health care reform initiative
A kind and generous effort.

Left in the Dark?

If you find that you are often 'the last to know' the reason may be your way of receiving information.  
Some people, if they have found, with experience, that a particular person in their life, is rather reactive, will simply not tell that person things.
If you tend to be instantly expressive, it can be delightful when  it's  positive, happy news;  others will truly enjoy imparting good news to you.  They may look forward to your childlike enthusiasm and  they will enjoy your reaction.  On the other hand, if you are easily excited, quick to anger, abrupt, impulsive, many people will choose not to deal with that.
It seems unfair and, yet, I've heard this so often in my office:  "I didn't tell her because I didn't want to hear it." or, "I was afraid of what he'd do if I told him.", or "I knew what she'd say and I just didn't want to go there with her", etc.
A simple lesson:  If you are the expressive, excitable  type, try to learn to choose when and in what circumstances you share your reactions.
Think for just a few seconds before you speak---give yourself a chance to make a choice.
Respond rather than react.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Being a Fly On The Wall

You will probably enjoy the film, This Is It, if:

1.  You would appreciate the chance to have a behind-the scenes look at the creative process.
2.  You are interested in  observing leadership styles.
3.  You've been following the blog posts about empathy.

This film is a study of the creative process.  Here are some of the world's finest artists and technicians, at work and incredibly focused on a joint project.  You can almost see the 'wheels turning' in their minds as they problem solve, experiment and develop the production.  I found that aspect, unexpected, and fascinating.
One could view this movie as an exposition of a particular leadership style.  There is a leadership style that Michael Jackson was using and teaching which is an uncommon one.  It was low-key and always respectful.  While this concert was clearly his vision and he was definitely going to be the star, he also generously wanted the others players to "shine".  Even though he seemed perfectionistic in his attention to detail, he did not  lash out at  others when they didn't meet his standard.  He made corrections kindly and he also tried to elicit their best from the other performers. He tried to reassure them, to calm them, and to offer them meaning for what they were making together.
Also, watching some of the one-on-one  interactions, they seemed to me to be empathy in action.  These people,--- choreographers, musicians, engineers, designers, etc. were all working so closely together, toward a common goal, that they had become very in tune (not to make a pun...) with each other.  In some instances, you could imagine that you saw one person's mind going through each note as a musician played her instrument or each step as a dancer practiced his part.

In addition, if you are not necessarily a Michael Jackson fan, but like to watch wonderful dancing, there is an improvisational dance by M.J. toward the end of the film that is wonderful.
If you go to this  movie, be sure to stay through the credits, there are a few extra bits at the end which most people in the theater where I saw this, missed, because they had already left.

In my view, an unusual and engaging film.


At a ceremony today in Fresno, California, celebrating the addition of veterans' names to the Wall of Honor, the main speaker expressed gratitude. He talked about the "luck of the draw" in being fortunate enough to have been born in the United States.  He was lucky enough not have have begun his life in a country of poverty or oppression.  He looked to be in his late 50's, so this is a long-standing fact.  But today, at this Veteran's Day event, he expressed his gratitude that he is fortunate enough to be an American.
There are fads in the world of psychology.  For awhile, doing so-called gratitude lists has been a popular suggestion.  However, some have taken this idea seriously enough to conduct research and have found there to be, it turns out, a beneficial effect.  In addition, in practice, trying it myself and observing the results with others, I can see that it is helpful.
  It is usually suggested as a mood elevator or stabilizer.  Not that this, in itself, can control one's state of mind.  But, it's worth adding to your box of tricks.  If you remember in the post, Wise Words, I quoted a client as stating her belief that we each create, to a large extent our own happiness.  It often seems easier to look outwardly for solutions, for getting fixed, or, for an emotional boost.  However, it will be more enduring and reliable if you develop some ways to support your mood yourself.

  The standard suggestion with the gratitude list is that each night , before you go to bed, you write a short list of things that you are genuinely grateful for.  The items on the list can be new, have a long history, be permanent or transient.  These can be grand changes that have manifested in your life, but they can also be the simplest of things.  For example, I am grateful that I have a comfortable mattress to sleep on, or I am grateful I didn't get loaded up with too much work today, I am grateful that the dentist didn't find any cavities in  my teeth,---I am grateful to have a dentist!   ~ Anything. ~                                                                                    
  Besides the pleasure that your brain experiences as you create this list, it also has a relaxing effect for some people.
  Try it.  See what you can come up with that is good in your life, in you, or in those around you.

What happened when you made your gratitude list?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


I invite you to become a Follower of my blog.  It's easy to do.  You can choose to  have your picture posted or not.  You also choose to keep it "private" if you like.  If you select the other option which is "public", when a reader clicks on your link, all sites you follow will be listed---it's a way that you can promote blogs you believe in or, just share something you like with others.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Making Hard Choices

"I have to take care of my own things before I can help anyone else."
He isn't the first one to say this.  But my client was entering the office
just at the point of receiving a call from his  s.o., crying on the phone.
He was clearly concerned.  I said, " seem pre-occupied, do you want to call her back right now?"
He answered, as written above.
We proceeded and he called her back, immediately, at the conclusion of our session.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Re-visiting The Night of Light

Here are two snapshots of art on exhibit at the art festival in Toronto, Canada posted earlier.
The inflated rabbit is by Jeff Koons and the dress tent is by Adrienne Pao and Robin Lasser. 
The event is annual, the entire city is full of art exhibits, indoors and out, some very large,
and goes on all night.

Re. On the Fit

"A man should first direct himself in the way he should go.  Only then should he instruct others.-Buddha"

By Buddhism: Your Daily Meditation,

More On Empathy

Here is a quote from one of the books I recommended to you; it's about self-understanding as well as, empathy;

"In addition to choosing different information, we each have access to different information.  For example, others have access to information about themselves that we don't.  They know the constraints they are under; we don't.  They know their hopes, dreams, and fears; we don't.  We act as if we've got access to all the important information there is to know about them, but we don't.  Their internal experience is far more complex than we imagine."

Difficult Conversations by D. Stone, B. Patton, and S. Heen

Another look at How's the Fit, June, 2009 Post

A man was journeying up a mountain.
He looked around and saw others going
A different way, even
A different direction.

"Fools!" he thought, "They are going the
Wrong way."

The man kept journeying until,
Years later, he reached the top---
It was a very high mountain.
And then, he saw
Those other Fools
They were on top of the mountain too.

Author Unknown

Monday, October 26, 2009

Depression Prevention

Sometimes the origin is in an early time of life; how we can understand this (in oneself) and possibly prevent it in others.

 A man talked to me today about his inability to motivate himself, specifically, in pursuit of his own interests.  He is willing to do for others and will find the energy to pitch in when presented with a need.  He loves "...being Julie's husband..." is very happy "...being Christopher's dad" but, "...there's a piece missing."
Sean is a responsible man who meets his obligations and tries always to not bother others or infringe on anyone else's activities.  He is noticeably intelligent and has some talents.  He has some wonderful character qualities, such as loyalty and tolerance.
His problem is with himself; he not only doesn't know what he would like to do and what  he wants, but does not even know what he likes.  At one point, he  described an absence of conflict:  How to find time to devote to a favorite hobby, resolving a dilemma about taking money from the family budget for an after-market addition to his vehicle---these kinds of things, some examples of common choice points, simply do not come up for him.  He knows that people struggle with these things (conflict between wish and obligation or, even conflict between two wishes) because he has noticed others debating these issues within themselves.
Can you imagine this?  If you are always chomping at the bit  to get to your next project or feeling frustrated because you can't find enough time for the avocations that interest you, or the opportunity to research an intriguing question eludes you, Sean's difficulty may seem odd.  As a matter of fact, I have seen a number of people, over the years, bring up the complaint that they don't know what they want.
How does this happen?  What do you think?   How does a person find themselves in this condition?

I suspect that in most cases, the seeds for this problem are sown early.  This particular individual, who has been told that he was a sensitive child, was oppressed during childhood.  Neglected.  His basic needs were met, but there was not only little or no attention paid to him emotionally.  He was also discouraged from even asking for what he might want.  The adults in his family found a child asking them for things to be an interference with their conduct of their own lives. There was no adult in his young life who had the capacity to mentor him.  No one was able to pay enough attention to notice what he was drawn to nor to listen to what he expressed an interest in.

As an adult, now with the chance to do the things he likes, he doesn't know where to begin.

If you are a parent, or the relative of a young child, it seems to me that a wonderful gift you can offer is to attend to the child and their unique attributes.  If the child shows  an interest in something, anything, from rock collecting, to pirates, to ballet, try to help the child develop that interest.  You could be contributing something so very important to that person's future; as a result, you will never be forgotten (an adult will one day have fond memories of you), and---you could be saving someone from a future of feeling lost like Sean does.
Did some kind adult help you as a child?  Have you paid attention to a child in your life?  

For Fun

                    To make you think or to generate a lively conversation or, possibly to make use of in 'small talk' social situations:  The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, PhD.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Co-ownership or Silent Partner

Today one of my patients put forward the possibility that there may be two kinds of people: One kind knows what they want and are intent on going after it.  They see their partner as someone who can help them in their quest.  The goal is clear.  The partner is expected to cooperate or, at least, that is the hope.  For some, the partner is even selected because of being seen as able to facilitate movement toward the goal.

The other kind says:  "What do you want?"  "What do you think?"  This person is in a joint venture, wants to consult with their partner and looks for an outcome that is the result of planning together.  In fact, the planning  is experienced as an enjoyable part of the process.
This one may not have the drive and clarity of the first but they have a real wish to know their partners ideas and wishes.  Their life together will, it is hoped, be a cooperative venture.

My patient is currently in a relationship with someone she describes as being like the first person described above.  She was comparing this experience to a former relationship with someone of the second type.

Her concluding comment on this topic was that perhaps she could benefit by developing more of the former attitude herself as she sees herself as always helping and supporting her partner's projects.  Sometimes one senses an underdeveloped quality of their own as being more active in another and that becomes attractive.

What do you like?  Are you attracted to the focused type with definite ideas about how life should be?  Or do you seek a partner who likes to make decisions that have been mutually decided upon?  Do you like to be asked your opinion?  Or do you enjoy an adventuresome, active individualist?

Do you see yourself in either of these categories?  Or, perhaps as a person with some of each?  Would you like to be more one way than the other?  Just something to think about.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Delivery

How communication style can make all the difference.

 It's all in the delivery!
You can say very hard things, problematic things, controversial things, to most people without stirring up rancor  if your tone of voice is agreeable.  If your demeanor, that is, your tone of voice, your body language, your volume, and your movements are not aggressive, you are much less likely to provoke a defensive reaction.  Without defensiveness on the part of the other person, you are more likely to be heard.

A side note: Some people have a habit of not listening well to others and reduce their attention to the meta massage and what they determine to be, the main point.  This person scans, rather than attending to detail.  In this situation, what I am proposing might play an even more significant part in the communication process.

(The meta-message refers to the general, overall message, the larger outline, the impression.)

It is an almost stunning experience when you first begin tying this; talk to your friend, or relative, or co-worker about something which you had apprehension about saying.  Your calm, low-key delivery may allow the other person to receive information that you thought would not be possible.

There is a catch:  You can't fake it.  It's remarkable how these automatic feelers we all  have will pick up insincerity.  So, before you go to deliver your difficult message, you have to stop and sort yourself out.  If you are going to have a peaceful tone of voice, you have to be peaceful inside yourself.  Give yourself a chance at success by calming yourself, centering yourself, forming a non-aggressive presentation, and maybe even visualizing the exchange going smoothly.

A book on this subject, Difficult Conversations, how to discuss what matters most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen came highly recommended to me by an esteemed colleague (Ellen Zuker, PhD, psychologist).  So I am passing this on to you although I usually will only recommend books I have read myself.  On that note, a related book is Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand, women and men in conversation.  She is a socio-linguist who did an anthropological study of the differences in the way that women and men use language and communicate.  I think of this as the more scholarly version of the very popular Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a practical guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationship by John Gray, PhD.  I liked his ideas too and many of my clients found his book very readable.  His is one of the few so-called self-help books that I have found to be popular with men.
Most people take in the so-called meta-message.  They tune into the larger picture; they look for cues and clues as to what the speaker is trying to convey.  And they react to what they sense.  If your approach is amenable or low-key or even, let's just say, courteous, you have a better chance of being heard.  I discovered this myself, just by trying it.  And I have observed it in couples counseling and had it reported to me by individual patients again and again.  So, while ideas like this can never be guaranteed, it's worth a try.
Give the gentle delivery a chance.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Some people are fascinated by what's next.  the new, the novel, is what captures their attention.  It isn't that they don't like traditions---but they are looking forward to the next holiday, not pondering the last one.  These types often have an intuitive sense of what the future holds and are quick to identify trends.

The other type feel deeply about what has happened in the past.  For them, it is important to remember, and a pleasure to review, enjoyable events of the recent or far past.  Memories carry meaning and contribute to bonds with others.

Both of these types can change in therapy.  The path each takes may look a little different but the benefit is still there for both types.

Some people find making the transitions that life always demands, to be quite a challenge; others maneuver them quite readily.  I am convinced that there is a genetic component to this tendency since we can see it in babies.  Some stay calmer as they are moved to a different environment or a different person enters the scene and some show distress the minute the current flow is interrupted.  Parents who notice can help the first type to learn to entertain themselves and help the second type to stay centered in the face of change.

Autumn is a transitional time offered by nature.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Night of Light

If you are in the area, this promises to be a wonderful event.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"I've Lost 38 pounds..."

How you can surprise yourself when working in therapy.

 "I've lost 38 pounds since I began seeing you!"  I heard this on Friday from a patient who's been attending weekly therapy sessions for a few years.  What's noteworthy about this happy report from her is that this was not the reason she entered therapy.  And this happens, more or less with most people.  That is, while they are focusing on one problem, another begins to change.  It's the magic of therapy.
Or, as a chiropractor once joked to me, "The hip bone's connected to the leg bone...", etc.  We are not a number of separate pieces enclosed in a container.  Not only do various parts of the body affect each other (in health or illness), not only is the body connected to the brain, but the various aspects of our psyches are interconnected also.
This woman came to therapy with a laundry list of complicated family problems in her immediate and extended family.  We've worked a lot on sorting out that laundry!  Also, we've begun looking at her own patterns of reaction to some of her long-standing interpersonal issues.
 As we continued on, at one point, we decided to make health a part of our focus.  For awhile, she had me check in regularly with her on her food choices, exercise routine and specific-to-her, medical concerns.  She began occasional meetings with a personal trainer.  So, some of this work is pretty close to the subject of 'dieting' but we never embarked on that kind of a program for her.  The weight loss occurred naturally; it is an outcome of the therapy we never aimed for.
It is a healthy change, in her case, because  her weight was over 200 pounds and she has high blood pressure.
But there are examples like this occurring all the time in therapy.  A man came in because of depression, never mentioned his fear of heights and one day, climbed a ladder and discovered---no fear!
A woman entered therapy over the loss of a relationship and, after 5 years in treatment---looking at many aspects of her present and past life during that time---found that a series of experiences she had as an adolescent were at the level of trauma.  These were events she had always shrugged off as, "...just something that happened." only to find that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She is still in therapy, finding it beneficial at 7 years.

How much a person opens up to themselves, how much they value the work of therapy and, to an extent, how long they stay in the process affect how much this magic happens.  But I think it happens, to some degree in nearly every case:  Some people have a more discrete expectation when they enter therapy; they may have an acute problem and just want some objective feedback.  Or they subscribe to the idea that two heads are better than one; they just want someone outside of their personal sphere to help them think things through.  Even in that situation, there will be some experience of relief or psychological nourishment, just in having the opportunity to be heard out.
At each session, a therapist puts the outside world out, sets aside their own issues and pays thorough attention to the patient before them.  A therapist puts a lot of energy into focusing on a person who
participates weekly for an extended period of time.  So, we may sometimes, out of all that listening and observing, think of these extenuating aspects to the person or their life even if they don't. But, not always.
So, sometimes, we are both surprised.
That, I think, is the magic of therapy.

Have you surprised yourself in your therapy?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

From The Outside In

In a wish to grow, to develop, or to change, it is possible to work from the inside out or from the outside in. If we change our behaviors (outer), it effects our feelings (inner). If we change our mind about how we've been viewing something (inner), it will probably change what we do (outer). And, of course, it's possible to put effort in both directions.
Often, just following a new understanding of a conundrum they've been struggling with, a patient will say: "So now, what do I do about it?" They haven't realized yet that change will emerge naturally out of their new perspective. Insight leads to change.
Here's a woman who works from the outside to help people feel better about themselves. She writes: "The essence of authenticity is to live according to your own internal voice...Your appearance can enhance your sense of energy, vitality and vigor." That was written by Deborah Francesconi, R.N, (a former psychiatric nurse, now an aesthetic nurse specialist). In a nutshell, she says here what I have proposed in this entry.
She currently has a very practical list of how to take good care of your skin (for adult women and men too-children's care would be different). Putting a little attention on self-care contributes to our self-esteem. Here is her website:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saying A Lot With A Little

And, a third: "I have been turning myself into a pretzel trying to stay married to her."

Wise Words

                    A second quote from a patient: "We make our own happiness."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Feeling Well

If you are interested in learning more about The Feldenkrais method, as mentioned in the entry titled, Not A Know-It-All, Lauren McLeod (teacher) recently introduced me to a nice book on the subject titled, Move Into Life by Anat Baniel.
I am just learning the ropes of blogging and ran into trouble when I tried to put a link for you to Lauren's website. However, you can easily find her yourself by searching her name. And, of course, there are many other teachers of this method for renewing your physical vitality.
Please share any book titles you know that might help us to learn about this subject.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Rhetorical Question

Posed by one of my patients recently, it occurred to me that this could function as a highlight or exclamation point for part of the entry, The Geography of Friendships. The question was: "Who would you choose to be isolated on an island with? Forever."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not a Know-It -All

Tonight I am writing about the value of curiosity. Curiosity, it seems to me, has a lot of practical value. One that comes to mind is in reference to the blog I wrote on the difficulties of and the value of, shy people  ~True interest in other individuals can decrease some of the awkwardness a shy person may feel in a social situation with new people. The really reticent shy person need not necessarily even come up with a lot of questions when using this asset in a social setting. If there is a real interest in learning about another person, the shy person will listen with sincere attention; this is usually experienced as such a refreshing change that the other person will happily offer some personal information and, thus, the two are visiting!
~Curiosity is a wonderful attitude for a parent to have toward their child. How fortunate would a child be who had parents who would look for their child's unique talents, who would be alert to what absorbs their child's interests, who would just sometimes wonder, who is this person, who is my child becoming. It's just an attitude on the part of a parent that allows and encourages more individual development. It is a different approach for a parent to take from the position of feeling charged with the job of molding a child.
~The Feldenkrais Method teaches us to be curious about how our bodies work, all human bodies as well as the idiosyncrasies of our own particular body. It seems to me to be a good idea to pay some attention to this in light of the fact that we take care of our own health most of the time, most of our lives.
~Curiosity provokes you to pursue an answer, to seek information, and to learn. The more you know, usually the better your decision-making process. My Dad had a technique for getting the job done. When I had a paper to write for school, he told me to do all my prep work, reading, research, whatever I needed to do, then 'sleep on it' and write it the next day. This taught me to trust my own mental process. But the interest in finding out something about the subject has to be there first!
~Curiosity can be the antidote to rage. If you have an on-going difficulty with someone in your life, I suggest getting curious about that person. Start wondering. You might even ask out loud sometime, why would you say that? Or just ponder (instead of mentally listing and re-listing your resentments) what the thing is about, from that person's point of view...It is possible to shift out of bitterness and into an inquiring state of mind (better for you).
And finally, for now, back to M.J.'s "Man in the Mirror", curiosity about yourself---why did I do that? How did I say such a thing? Where was I coming from when I made that choice?  When did I start this as a habit? What are my values?---is one of the paths to self-understanding and personal growth.
I certainly would not want to see a therapist who thought they knew it all before I walked in the door. And, I find that my own interest in finding out about, trying to understand, my patient's unique perspective is what leads me to give good attention.
 Sometimes asking beats telling.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Man In The Mirror

Michael Jackson, a controversial figure to be sure, gave us this song. Here was a person who spent his life reviled by some and adored by others, ridiculed in the media and worshipped by his fans. And, yet despite that massive and constant distraction, was able to generate this idea:
...If you want the world to be a better place
Take a look at yourself and, change...
This is a poem, if you will,about introspection and responsibility. It directs us, admonishes us, to be accountable. To whom? To ourselves. Did Michael Jackson, the quintessential public figure, heed his own advice? The answer to that is private, as is your own answer to that question. Whether or not you take a look at the man in the mirror,that is, whether you self-reflect or not, is your own business. It is a choice.
There are people who choose to go through life, unaware. they would rather not self-observe, question their own behavior, wonder---"What makes me tick?" This is, as a matter of fact, most people. Once adulthood is achieved, and basic needs are met, their choice is to be comfortable. They'd like to do things that are familiar and at which they are already competent. Awkward,unusual,challenging experiences are left behind-in childhood and adolescence.

Scott Peck wrote about the unusual individual who pursues new practices and wishes to be self-informed in his book, The Road Less Traveled (a best-seller) and so did Abraham Maslow in his books and research on "the self-actualizing person". Those who choose the lesser traveled road toward becoming self-aware may commit to this path early on as a life-long pursuit. Others come to it later---sometimes as a result of a life-crisis which may force a re-evaluation.
Some of the people who present themselves as patients in a therapy office are on this path.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Take a Look


Circumspect, thoughtful, and reserved might be other words to describe what might usually be called "shy" as in a shy person or shy behavior.

A surprisingly high number of people would, if honest, describe themselves as shy. Certainly many of us feel shy at times. In the Western Culture this is usually experienced as problematic. Why is that?
Partly because we are a culture that values extroversion. If you are invited to a party and you don't want to go, it requires that you have an excuse. The best excuse is another social event that you are already obligated to.
The common question preluding an invitation, "What are you doing Friday?" feels a little uncomfortable. If you don't have something already scheduled, are you going to be suddenly stuck doing something you don't want to do? What if you wanted to spend Friday puttering around in your yard and relaxing alone in the evening? Might be difficult to say that to someone who is asking for your company. If you say you choose to spend that time alone rather than with this friend or friends, they might be insulted.

There are cultures that value introversion--some Eastern Cultures, for example. I once saw a Japanese documentary about a woman who was a cancer patient. The doctors in the hospital where she was being cared for had to hold a big meeting about her. She was causing a problem: She was going around the hospital, engaging other patients in conversations. Worse yet, she was sharing her diagnosis and her experience with it and asking the other patients what they were hospitalized for, how they were feeling and so forth.
It occurred to me that in America, this story would be the exact opposite.
We do seem to consider an ill person quietly spending time alone as isolating themselves. A person alone, for example, dining out alone, can be cause for concern.

Carl Jung, one of our wonderful theorists in psychology coined these terms, introversion and extroversion,which are now in common usage. But, they have taken on a flavor which he did not intend. To describe someone as an extrovert is usually complimentary and introversion is often equated with depression. Actually, what these terms refer to is how an individual is stimulated and relaxed. Introverts receive much stimulation from inside. That is, they can be excited, interested, entertained by their own thoughts and solo activities. It is relaxing for an introverted type to have time to themselves. Extroverts get restless with too much time alone and thrive on outside stimulation from other people or exciting events. Their thinking is stimulated by others and they enjoy solving problems with others. Relaxation for an extrovert is a party.
It would be a mistake to assume that introverts are always quiet; an introverted person can have excellent social skills. One misconception is that extroverts are always noisy or talkative or just out-there. However, there are all kinds of extroverts, including Reticent Extroverts. They still prefer the outside stimulation but may be shy.

Many ideas have been written about how to combat shyness; they are probably well-known to you, the reader (such as, make the other person talk about themselves or, if you have to do a presentation, imagine everyone in the audience in their underwear, etc.). Of course, these notions pre-suppose that shyness is viewed as a problem.
As the human genome continues to be researched and understood, we will undoubtedly find some combinations of genes that create a predilection for shyness. Hopefully, we will move toward realizing that this is just a variation of part of a personality type. It's not bad or good. It's one way to be. That's all.
My thought is, if you feel shy, don't let it stop you from doing what you want to do. Just do it in a shy way. A shy person in our sometimes frenetic social world can be refreshing. Shyness can be charming. Shy people balance flaming socialites.
We need both in the world, the warmth of the socially comfortable and the calm of the quietly shy.

When I began graduate school,it was some years after I had finished college. I felt very unsure about whether or not I would be able to succeed. When I began, I found myself in small seminar settings where class discussion was an expectation. At first, I couldn't participate. My silence made me more and more uncomfortable. So, I had to deal with my shyness. I decided finally, that at the next class I went to and every new class I took, I would say something, anything, right away. It worked. It 'broke the ice' for me. However, my voice was quiet and I certainly was not entertaining or dominating. In other words, I did it in a shy way.
Carl Jung thought that we came into the world with these tendencies, toward extroversion or introversion and that we were roughly divided by half and half. He presented these two ways of being as natural and equal.
Do you know a shy person who brings value into your life?

A Suggestion:

In Berkeley, California there is a place called the Center for the Development of Peace and Well-Being. Their very worthwhile publication is titled, Greater Good. You might like to visit their website. It is:
My opinion: This is a non-moralistic, scientific, compassionate effort to make a positive contribution.
These people are on a quest for kindness and on a mission to figure out how we can all be better-ourselves and, to one another.
The genuine article.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Geography of Your Friendships

"A man's growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends."  Ralph Waldo Emerson
 Each of your relationships has a different degree of importance to you. Some may be almost equal, some may be quite different and yet, still, both valuable. An interesting exercise is to create a diagram of you in your relationships: You do this by drawing on a piece of paper concentric circles with a space in-between each circle, like a target. In the center circle goes your name. In the space between the line surrounding your name and the next circle goes the people closest to you in your life---your 'inner-circle'. The next person or people can go on the next line or in the next section. Some lines may have more than one name on them, and the circle design allows for that. As you continue, you will eventually get to those on the outermost circle who would be called acquaintances.
This is about the relationships; the question to ask yourself to determine who goes where is: How important is this relationship to me? Of course, you must listen to your true inner response for this diagram to be useful. Some of your answers will be obvious, some may surprise you.
When you finish, you will have a sort of map of yourself in relationship to others at this moment in time. Of course this picture evolves over time, for all of us. Or, once you have the picture, you may have some thoughts about purposely changing how this is working in your life.

It seems that we have a choice about whom we allow into our life or, if that doesn't seem to be completely the case for you, at least, there is always a choice about the degree of importance that you, yourself, assign to any particular relationship. It is my contention that we ought to seek out and nurture relationships with others who are encouraging to us, who, perhaps embody a quality that we find lacking in ourselves, or who in some way represent a positive force in our own life experience.
Have you ever lost a friend because one of you moved or some other happenstance occurred, and, surprisingly, found life was better without that individual's presence? Or that you felt relieved? Sometimes we fall into relationships out of convenience or propinquity or because that person pursued us. It is interesting to note when that happens.

Psychological theory tells us, however, that most of the time, we will naturally choose friends or become close with relatives, or partner in our work lives with others, who are functioning at about our own developmental level. We are usually attracted to people who are our equals and relationships with others who are more 'needy' or more defensive fall away naturally. But it is possible to do this with awareness.

As a child, if you were fortunate enough to have thoughtful parents, they did this for you. Most parents encourage their kids to be pals with other children whom they deem to be a 'good influence'. Part of being an adult is to be a good parent to yourself.
Wouldn't it be self-loving to seek out others who raise our spirits? Or who challenge us intellectually or athletically? Or who seem to draw the best out in us? It may sound too calculating to have your thinking cap on when you are making decisions about friends. But, I think that this process is going on anyway. Why not do it consciously?

Did you do this exercise?  Let us know what you found out.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How's The Fit?

Is happiness a fleeting feeling for you or are you profoundly satisfied with your life---or somewhere in-between?
Try on this idea for size: Your life should fit you like a glove.
Comfortable, not too big, not too limiting---there should be some wiggle room and you are able to function well in it.

The many people I've come to know in my office have convinced me that we are each unique. Yes, of course there are commonalities---that helps us to join clubs, form social groups, and understand each other. But, nonetheless, although most of the problems people present to me are the same ones; the way the individual sees it and the resolution are always one-of-a-kind.
Forget about lumping people together or, certainly, viewing yourself as part of a generality; you are the only one of you. So! What do you need, for this life to fit?

Make an attempt to stand outside of yourself and view your life objectively. Maybe there's too much of something (work? obligated time? drinking?) or not enough (fun with friends, independence, creative outlet). Possibly you live in a place that doesn't express who you are. Maybe you live in an area where you feel like an outsider or, fortunately, you live in a place that feels like home.
Let's consider work for a moment: What are you good at? Some people are quite conceptual in their thinking style---if you are and you can use that in your job (professor, custom car painter, landscape architect) , you will feel satisfied. Some people are able to fit things together, finish the puzzle, find the one thing that's wrong or missing or, just what's needed to add the finishing touch (mechanic, artist, housekeeper). If you have this natural ability to see and deal well with details you will feel effective in a job that uses that skill.
How about your social life: Not enough or, overwhelming or, just right in the amount but the wrong people or activities? Friday night is an automatic high for some people; it is the beginning of a social whirl--- happy and relaxed going from one event to another---a party here, a concert there---and interacting with people, a lot. Others can hardly wait for the weekend to get some 'time to themselves'. Down-time means time alone, curled up with a good book, or taking off on a long, meditative run.
Interests: Do you pursue the things you are truly interested in? A relative of mine has a long-standing and deeply-held interest in trains. He has spent every bit of time he can get off from work researching and reading, about trains--- history, current routes, the future of this form of transportation and so on. His vacations are spent riding each train trip that exists. He will continue until he has ridden them all, in this country and in other parts of the world. Why? He is fascinated.
I have a neighbor who has a garden so beautiful it is a surprise to see. She spends plenty of time there, tending it, developing it, designing it. She gives magnificent bouquets to the people in her life. They are usually astonished, always pleased. She seems to lose herself in that garden.
She is in her joy.
So, there are 2 simple examples of individuals differentiating themselves.
My message to you, my reader: Strive to thrive.

Friday, June 26, 2009

This blog is about

As a psychotherapist, in full-time private practice, my thoughts are stimulated, my heart is touched, new ideas are generated; I am learning, wondering, and reflecting as a result of my days spent engaged with my patients as they talk with me about the most personal and most perplexing aspects of their lives.
Sitting in my office, the world comes in and informs me; I learn of things I would have never suspected. This part might be interesting to you, the reader.
My greatest ambition for this blog, however, is that your intuition will be triggered, your feelings may come into focus, that you will expand, grow, or think something new. I hope it will contribute to the efforts of individuals who are trying to become better at being themselves.

Note: While descriptive examples may sometimes be given, anonymity, privacy and confidentiality of my patients, past and present will always be maintained.

Other times, I will simply be discussing concepts that are evolving out of my work.

Serious and honest responses to my offerings will be welcome and appreciated.