Tag Archives: relationships

Braking Habits

images-7

I have a vivid memory of sitting in a café with a trusted friend, many moons ago, lamenting my then relationship.

I had quite the shopping list. Why couldn’t my ‘other half’ be different? Why couldn’t all my love and input make things ‘better’ for us?  Couldn’t he see how hard I was working to try and help? This particular friend doesn’t cake decorate her words. She’s direct. Focused. She knows how to intercept tears.

Here’s what she said:

“Picture this – two broken down cars parked on the same street. One of them belongs to you and one of them belongs to him. You have all the tools you need to fix your own car, but for some inexplicable reason you are spending all your time attempting to fix him first, even though your own rent-a-wreck won’t start. You are NOT equipped to fix his car – only he can do that! Newsflash – you ARE qualified to work on your own misfires, and if he sees you revving your engine, polishing your rims, changing your oil – there’s a good chance he’ll be inspired to do the same.”

Okay – so I might have embellished her metaphor slightly, but the wisdom remains. At the time, I felt defeated. Why wasn’t I ‘enough’ to tune him up? Surely he wanted to ‘improve’ in order to make me happier?

Before long, I realized my sage confidante was a pretty astute psychological mechanic, and I embarked on a mission to service my own ailing parts, instead of wasting my precious energy using a rusty unsuitable spanner on his.

In essence, I began to be kinder and more attentive to myself, and as a result, less critical towards him. It seems to me, we are often drawn towards being our own worst enemy, rather than our own dear friend.

With this insight, I felt more effective and less of a victim of my circumstances. Bitterness receded and I became easier to relate to, while he, miraculously, began to find it easier to relate.

Not so miraculous really, it makes a lot of sense.

The most effective method of change is modelling the behaviour you hope to see in others.

A very simple example is one that parents encounter frequently. They yell at their kids in a vain attempt to stop their kids from yelling. It never appears obvious at the time, but if we could watch ourselves on video flailing around in these chaotic moments, the picture would be absurdly clear.

Ghandi might not have been berating a six year old or fuming at his partner when he said

Be the change you want to see in the world…

 but the most poignant mantras can be applied in many circumstances.

So if you’re investing all your efforts into solving someone else’s problems with the intent of  increasing their worth, put the brakes on. While you’re at it, listen for a squeak – a sure indication of where your own work needs to begin…

Did this post resonate with you?

WRITING PROMPT: Take ten minutes and jump off from the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world…” what meaning do these words currently hold in your life? OR Write about a relationship where you feel stuck in ‘fixing’ mode. Explore options. How can you take your tools and turn them towards self development?

Leave a Comment

Every Person’s Life

photo-14 copy 3

In 1987 renowned Gestalt psychotherapist, Erving Polster, wrote a book called “Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel”.  In this book he writes:

Stories must not only be told, but also heard. What is said gains value from the listeners understanding…

He goes on to write:

We also use stories to join our lives with those of other people…

I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of the founders of a remarkable and powerful new venture called Narrative 4 begun by writers, artists and educators who are passionate about ‘hearing’ and ‘joining’. Narrative 4 aims to enable teenagers globally to come together to exchange stories as a tool for social change. The exchange is intended to be literal – an ultimate act of reflection. The idea is for the young people to swap stories and then read each other’s stories aloud to one another – to allow words to transcend all differences and thread together human experience.  The stated ethos of Narrative 4 is: 

We believe sharing stories is the key to opening the world. We call it ‘Fearless hope through radical empathy’

I call it inspired.

We all crave an attuned listener. We carry our stories with us deep in our pockets, etched on our hearts, buried in hidden places. Sometimes our stories are legible, easy to read, but sometimes it is as if they are written on the wet wall of a dark cave and we spend years waiting for someone to strike a match.

And when the day finally comes, the sudden exposure can be glaring. The attention can call forth panic, anxiety, shame, trepidation, but ultimately relief. We want to be heard. We need to be seen. And even the small flickering flame from a single match can shed enough light for us to look around and realize that we are not alone with our stories. Sharing our truths is an act of healing.

I’ve experienced this firsthand both as a client and a therapist. Every week in my workshop I listen intently as participants grow brave enough to write their stories and offer them up to the group. We are not there to assess or critique or shape or edit. We are there to listen. People come to Write To Be You to be seen and heard, and to see and hear. I am humbled by the courage of my participants and I am witness to the bonds that powerfully and delicately ‘join’ us through story, encouraging self worth, enabling understanding, embracing recovery.

I am often amazed at how few questions people ask in social situations. Is it that we are bound by decorum not wanting to appear nosey? Or is it that so many people are wrapped  tightly in their own inward facing cocoon that it doesn’t occur to them to reach beyond that and explore another’s landscape?

Questions are essential to social interactions, and yet contemporary technology encourages a ‘me’ centred paradigm where our young people are at risk of becoming voyeurs and not listeners. Let’s encourage curiosity in ourselves and younger generations. Next time you meet someone you don’t know, practice drawing out their story. Be interested. See what you can learn about yourself by listening to someone else.

And while you’re at it, please join me in exploring and supporting Narrative 4 as a dedicated group of individuals step up to link our ever divided world. Personal narratives are thirsty for oxygen, buried within us they can fester and wilt. Now more than ever we need to return to the ancient arts and allow them to work their communal magic alongside technology.

It is not only in recent years that the most essential tales told have gone ‘viral’…  the passage and momentum of storytelling has been with us from the beginning of time. We just need to keep breathing fresh air into stale corners and lighting that match in the darkest of caves.

Read about the origins of Narrative 4 by clicking HERE and visit their website HERE

A writing prompt inspired by Narrative 4: Write about discovering a story on the wall of a cave. Who has been there before you? What is the writing on the wall? Imagine you are illuminated by the light of the match. Tell both of your stories. Give yourself permission to write in fragments, dream images, floating words. Feel your way…

Leave a Comment

The Small Print

The US election is breathing heavily. The air is charged. Last week Halloween equalized us… we were all pounding the pavements watching out for our kids and trusting our neighbours to treat them well. This week we are scowling at cars with ‘bad’ bumper stickers and steering clear of houses with the ‘other’ sign perched proudly on their front lawn.

I understand that safety comes in numbers. We look for our ‘likeness’ in others to find protection and common ground. We make assumptions and assessments based on who has checked the same boxes as we have. But boxes can be a burden, especially those that pile high without ever getting the chance to be unpacked.

Democracy is essential but it comes with a list of side effects. Check the small print.

May experience narrow mindedness. Might cause rash generalizations. Beware of jaded judgements. 

If our society continues to rely on categorization to define one another, we are at risk of being stripped of our individuality. Our unique quirks. The ridges on our fingertips that render us particular.

Elections, by their very nature, encourage stark polarization, which as a general rule is best avoided. In my ideal world, a balanced dialogue would take precedent. All politicians would explore vs. explode. Politics would be more like a high school debate club and less like opposing sides at a rivalrous sports event.

Surely we want our younger generations to grow up curious and interested in every dimension of a human being, rather than learning early on how to perilously pigeonhole?

But I guess each of us has a different fantasy of an ‘ideal’ world.

It’s easy to be pulled in by all the ways we are similar – what’s far more challenging is to take time to delineate how we are different, and still remain open to cultivating connection.*

*Some restrictions may apply!

 

How are you bound by the boxes you check? Do you belong to a category that you are tired of being defined by? OR Use the word DIFFERENCE as a springboard and jump from there. Write for ten minutes. I’m here waiting to catch your words…

See you at the polls!

 

Leave a Comment

Behind the Bully

I’ve been reading too many stories about bullying recently. Shocking tales of young people driven to distraction by relentless torment. Heart crushing accounts of teenagers posting videos on YouTube detailing their harassment and hours later taking their own lives.

It’s a sickening and tragic truth.

Bullying has now extended beyond the home and school day and found a toxic and fertile breeding ground on the Internet. This means that perpetrators have access to their victims 24/7 and victims can literally never catch their breath. The Internet, as we all know, is not a cozy corner. It’s a wide-open forum where abusers can roam freely, while those being abused can feel utterly exposed and unprotected.

This is not a new landscape, but it is one where new avenues appear daily. Adults provide the tools to build unpoliced neighbourhoods, and then we allow our children to access all areas. When disaster strikes, which it inevitably will, we hold up our hands and ask “How did that happen?”

This is how it happens.

We are not born bullies. I do believe that we are born with personalities, with predilections, with potential, but the path those elements take is shaped by our environment.

We learn behaviours as we grow.

As children we consciously and unconsciously model the adults who punctuate our days. If those adults move through the world expressing intolerance and distaste for difference, then why should we be expected to do otherwise? If those adults do not show us kindness, compassion, understanding and love, then how can we develop those qualities in ourselves?

Children who experience attacking parents and frequent battlegrounds in their formative years become adept at creating defense strategies.

They harden their tenderness.They mimic. They armour. They collect an arsenal of emotional artillery and choose to either withdraw and baton down the hatches, or fight back.

If they can’t fight back at home for fear of retaliation, they fight back out in the world. They fire rounds of harassment on someone’s Facebook page. They empower themselves by bullying others. They target weakness in their peers, which in reality is a reflection of the weakness they feel within.

The perpetrator more often than not has lived as a victim. And so the cycle continues….

Why has it become so difficult to break this cycle? Because the ‘bully’  has been internalized. It’s an effort to show genuine kindness and compassion to another human being if we can’t even show it to ourselves.

And in order to harbour self-compassion, we need to have been taught how to do so in our youth. We commonly learn ways to be ‘hard on ourselves’  but being ‘soft’ doesn’t garner equal attention.

Emotional Literacy should be a compulsory class in all National Curriculums, in all schools, and then maybe we can start raising a generation of children who will blossom into parents capable of making these vital connections… capable of breaking the cycle.

Sadly it’s evident  that society’s bullying mentality isn’t going away anytime soon, but if continued dialogue can save even one child or one teenager from the fate of becoming either the victim or the perpetrator – or both – then surely it’s worth persisting?

Write about bullying. What are your thoughts on this post? Were you bullied as a child or teenager? Do you have a story to tell? Are you a bully to yourself? Let’s open up the dialogue…

Share in the comments…

Leave a Comment

“Who Still Serves Consomme?”

Last week I wrote about holding onto conflicted feelings and my best friend, Karen, shared this beautiful response:

I just spent two hours ripping through dusty boxes from a storage unit that we finally emptied after ignoring it for seven years. I came across some treasures. The kind you love, but you can also live without, and even totally forget ever existed. I found my children’s tiny hand prints dipped in paint and made to look like turkeys for thanksgiving day. I wanted to keep them and throw them out all at the same time. Same with my grandmother’s china. What will I ever do with eight gold plated consomme bowls and matching saucers? Who still serves consomme? I wanted to smash them to the ground at the same time I was holding them gently up to the light appreciating their delicate craftsmanship. If all this had burned in a fire I would have been better off. Now I’m having to decided where it all goes. Recycling, the shredder, the thrift store, my already full kitchen shelves? Or worse, back in the box to live in our basement.

My favorite line in her response was “Who still serves consomme?”

It struck me as so funny and so accurate. I have actually also been sifting through ‘old stuff’ recently in an attempt to liberate some space in my garage. I stumbled across a once precious journal, tied tightly with bright coloured ribbons – a silver unicorn dancing on the cover. The pages were heavy with heartache. The pain of trying to fit in. The blinding intensity of middle school and high school friendships. The longing for the life I felt I ‘should’ be living. Excruciating analysis both of myself and every person around me (perhaps a precursor to the psychotherapy route I would choose as an adult!)

Scattered amongst the words were concert ticket stubs and carefully transcribed lyrics.  From that tender age, I found empathy in music and I found release in writing. That hasn’t changed about me. But many other things have, and as I flicked through my journal, I understood on a deep level that it was time to let it go… or in Karen’s words, who still serves consomme?

Research has proven that writing down our emotions can be hugely cathartic. But the act alone can be enough. Revisiting those feelings repeatedly in the future or exposing those feelings unintentionally to people they might wound or confuse isn’t useful. 

My revelations were written for no one else to see. That journal was my private refuge, and leaving it lurking around in my garage for my children to discover one day felt like a betrayal to my middle school self. That book served a purpose at a certain time in my life, but that purpose has long since expired.

So I photographed a few key pages. I kissed the cover.  And I set that unicorn free!

The next morning I thought I might regret this brazen act of pack rat defiance.

But I didn’t.

I have been writing profusely since I could use a pen. I have written journals and letters and cards and fiction and poetry and short stories and articles and blogs and essays and a dissertation and a novel. I hope to write thousands of more words to come – but do I need to preserve every one of those words?

No.

Sometimes there can be tremendous value in the process taking precedent over the product.

If you want to explore the subject of ‘letting go’ further, please visit a fellow writer and blogger, Erin Kurup, at her site remadebyhand.com – she is an inspiring role model!

Are you a word hoarder?! If so, I am giving you permission to divest yourself of some of those words which might be weighing you down. I’m guessing this is a controversial topic! But why not give it a try? Create a ritual. Tear up an old journal, school essay or half baked short story. This non attachment will also help you tackle the editing process. OR try writing something now that you never want anyone to see, ever, and then delete it immediately or burn it. Notice how you feel…

Report back, and in the meantime – thoughts on this post? I’m curious to know where you stand?

Leave a Comment

Singing in the Street

It was a rare occasion to be collected from school by my father. My sister and I had a half day. My dad picked us up and took us out to lunch. I might have been ten. I don’t remember the food we ate. I do remember he bought me a white bird that looked strangely real. It had glass eyes and wings made from silky soft feathers. I ran my fingers endlessly over those wings, imagining it had landed on my window sill to speak a special language, only to me.

My father held my hand as we walked through the West End of London and he sang out loud. My sister and I hit the back of his coat and begged him to stop. He took us later that day to see Flash Gordon in the Odeon cinema on the Edgware Road. Besides us, there were probably only fifteen people in the cinema. I was mesmerized by the adventure on the screen.  Neon lycra, laser guns and the Crash(!) Boom (!) Pow(!) of a boy’s world that had remained elusive to me being the youngest of three girls. My dad wasn’t so mesmerized. He fell asleep. Head lolling forward. Loud snores erupting in bursts. I tried to jostle his arm to wake him up. It didn’t happen. He just wasn’t that riveted by the Saviour of the Universe.

Parents are embarrassing. It’s not my opinion.  It’s a well documented fact.

My Dad was embarrassing but he was MY embarrassing… if he hadn’t sang in the street or snored in the cinema, I might not be recalling the tender details of that afternoon. If he had been dull or bland, twenty years after his death, it would be harder to conjure up the moments that make me smile on father’s day.

My mother was enormously embarrassing too. She collected us from school wearing an impossibly fluffy orange fur coat, flared jeans and owl round sunglasses. Today she might get splattered in red paint, but in 1978 she was the epitome of cool. She was the true manifestation of a yummy mummy, and totally immune to the glares of other more reserved mums, piling kids in the backs of station wagons, heading for Hampshire to their weekend retreats. My parent’s were city rebels. My mum drove a two door silver Mustang with black leather seats, and a perfect white stain on the vinyl roof, imprinted by my vanilla ice cream cone. I’d stand behind the driving seat and hold onto the smell in her hair. Estee Lauder Youth Dew. She made being a grown-up look so very fun and easy. But she was still embarrassing. She was a mother after all – it was part of her job description.

When I became a grown-up, I realized that life wasn’t nearly as breezy or fun as my mother had made it seem.

Perhaps that’s when I started singing in the street.

I might not have fur or glamour on my side, but I have found my own unique methods to ensure my children cringe. And on the days I don’t successfully humiliate them, my husband manages to pick up my slack. Somehow I am reassured by this cycle of life. Like the secret language I shared with my white bird… each family has their own code to interpret. And while back in the seventies I flinched  at my parent’s eccentricities, I grin fondly at the recollections now.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Take a moment and recall some of your own parents’ embarrassing highlights! For some of us this can tip from humour into shame… notice your feelings. See what emotions surface as you begin to write. When I wrote my piece, I felt very sentimental.  Has time smoothed away the creases or does the memory still make your toes curl?!

Be brave, feel free… share your words. Your stories are a gift to me and all the Write To Be You readers… thank you!

If you are subscribed via email please do not reply to the email (I won’t receive it) Click HERE to comment on the site, or click HERE to comment on FB, or email me by clicking HERE. Lot’s of options! I want to hear from you!

 

Leave a Comment

Face to Facebook

Ever since I was young, I was drawn towards a few very close friendships…choosing intimacy and emotional connection over flittering throngs of social butterflies. But still those butterflies’ shimmering wings attracted my attention.

Recently on Facebook a girl from my graduating high school class created a ‘closed’ group for the class of 1987. In high school I always felt like I was on the outside of something seductive. Looking versus living. When I requested to be added to this group, I found myself flooded with outdated emotions. Some of the women had posted old photos. Raucous, toga clad  fifteen year old girls, draped over one another effortlessly, linked by confident smiles and the effervescent air of popularity. I am sure were I to come face to face with these women now, we could converse easily about our jobs and families, maybe even our pets.

But coming face to Facebook with them distracted me.

I felt unsettled. Awkward. Envious. All the unpalatable feelings that had smeared much of my adolescence with a bitter icing.

Past emotional states have ways of re-establishing rule when you least expect them to. They can materialize like invisible obstacles daring you not to trip. Taunting you not to fall.

Photograph by Chris Blakeley

But fall I did. I was thinking about these high school girls and the isolation I used to feel when I was walking Lilly (my dog) this week. I was deep in thought, composing the opening sentence to my next hopefully riveting post. I saw a man up ahead, walking slowly, chatting on his phone. I decide to pick up my pace and sprint by him so he wouldn’t slow me down. I felt like pushing forward. Forging ahead. I wanted to run those high school days right out of my mind. As I was just about to pass him, I tripped on that damned invisible obstacle. I flew. Dramatically. Unexpectedly. Magnificently. I landed in a heap at the feet of this poor unsuspecting dog walker. I smashed my knee. I lay nose down in all my vulnerability. Defeated. Ridiculous. I felt fifteen again.

He was very gracious. He waited while I collected my thoughts and my diginity. He tried not to express his own shock as I counted the animated birds gathering in a halo above my head. He told me his name and shook my hand and eventually I hobbled home. I’m waiting for him to add me as a friend on Facebook.

So I didn’t have to write my post this week because my post wrote me. And that’s what happens sometimes. We lose control of something we think we have all the power over. We get hijacked by old experiences. Stale emotional states try to convince us that they are still in date. And it’s hard to STOP them.

The trick, I have decided, is learning how to avoid swallowing feelings that have long since expired. How to stay standing tall. Or if, like me, you can’t help but fall, how to pick yourself up and courageously limp away.

Take ten minutes and write about high school or secondary school. Compare your perspective then and now. Do you have some feelings that are past their expiration date which need to be cleared from your cupboard?! Share in the comments!

PS. It has come to my attention that some of you who are subscribed via email are replying directly to the emails you receive. Unfortunately that is a NO REPLY email address and I do not receive those responses. If you want to respond, please leave a comment by visiting the site directly, or you can reach me at [email protected]  Thank you!

 

Leave a Comment

Unpacking

Photograh by Mr Woodnz

My family and I moved from London to Los Angeles almost exactly two years ago. While packing up our lives, I found myself unpacking a plethora of feelings related to change, loss, endings, beginnings, doubt.  I was showered in sadness. I cried so often that looking back it’s hard to believe through those tears I managed to cope with all the practical tasks. I was a soggy mess. Our boxes arrived in Los Angeles stained with my teardrops – a reminder of my emotional confetti.

Moving is incredibly challenging and as human beings we are frequently confronting displacement and relocation in various guises. Moving house. Moving country. Moving school.  Moving jobs. Moving relationships. Many people package up their feelings about these ‘moves’ along with their external belongings. Sadness gets taped up. Fear gets shoved in a side pocket. Anxiety gets filed away in a folder titled ‘UNHELPFUL’. And we forge ahead, still in possession of these feelings, but desperately hoping that concealing them will make them less potent.

In England we call this a ‘Stiff Upper Lip’. But isn’t it true that we have all seen that ‘rigid’ lip wreak havoc in many ways, in many countries, translated into many languages?

Repressing profound emotional states can have major repercussions. Feelings that have been filed away, unprocessed, have ways of finding the oxygen they need. They follow us through life, festering, waiting to leak out like toxic fumes or explode into billowing clouds of anger. Or simply collapse, leaving us in fragile heaps.

I know from experience that people are afraid of revealing too much emotion. Keeping it safely hidden away feels so much tidier. But release can take different shapes for different people. You don’t have to have a personality transplant. Find ways to gently tap into your feelings if they have been locked up for a while. Choose a friend who you trust. Consider talking to a counsellor or a therapist. Buy yourself a notebook and begin to write or draw. Creative expression is boundless and free and is available to everyone. But firstly, you must be willing to explore.

Two years on I feel more lucid and centered. I’m rediscovering a sense of being ‘placed’ internally and externally. Facing, rather than avoiding my grief about leaving, has helped me to arrive in each day, to stay authentic, and to feel empowered by my emotions, instead of endowing them all the power to overthrow me.

How does this post resonate with you? Write about a significant ‘move’ in your life and explore the feelings around it. Write for ten minutes. Time yourself. Share any thoughts or responses in the comments.

 

Leave a Comment

Ready, Steady Write # 14

Photograph by Matthew Bietz (Creative Commons)

It’s said that elephants never forget…
Share some words inspired by this image
or
Simply share an unforgettable moment from your life

We each have our own unique story to tell
 Sometimes in can be conveyed in less words than we imagine

Find them…
Leave a Comment

Hold Me Now

Some mornings my daughter feels wobbly, and separating from me and the comforts of home is suddenly daunting. On those days, I promise to send her mind mail. The thought of an invisible envelope arriving in her head in the hours to come, full of Mummy love and swirly hugs and kisses, calms her considerably. In that moment I am reassuring her that I will keep her in my thoughts. Warmly. Securely. I might not be able to place my hand on her shoulder, or stroke her hair, but I can ‘hold’ her in a different way.

Being held in mind is a vital psychological component to all attachment relationships.


Genuinely holding someone in your mind spins delicate, transparent threads of intimacy across even the widest gaps, deepening confidence and trust.

Psychotherapists and others working in the healing professions have learnt to understand the potency of holding clients in mind between sessions. During the days that bridge our meetings, I make a point of remembering words written by my group, creating a special ‘holding’ space for them in my thoughts.

Energetically, we feel the difference. When I was a lovesick teenager waiting a whole summer for the boy I was besotted by to send a letter across an ocean, the disappointment ran achingly deep. Not only because I felt rejected, but more accurately because I felt completely forgotten. I knew he was not cradling me anywhere in his heart. It was as if I had evaporated.

Maintaining relationships can at times feel overwhelming… despite technology providing so many more opportunities to do so.  Ironically, finding ways to feel truly ‘connected’ to others can remain elusive.

Begin by hosting a quiet gathering in your mind. Be choiceful about who you invite in. Offer them something sweet (the best part is you can do all of this lying down on the sofa with your feet up and your eyes closed!) Put the Beach Boys on your i-pod dock, look around the room, make eye contact with all your guests and open your arms for hugs. Once you begin to send out the Good Vibrations, I believe you are more susceptible to accepting them back in return.

This exercise might lead to a phone call. A spontaneous text. An overdue email. Even a quick ‘like’ on Facebook of a post you appreciated but passed by. Who knows, it might even lead to writing a real letter with a real pen and real paper. But ultimately, what it will achieve is not so precise, not so easily pinned down.  It is an unspoken gesture. A feathery kiss blown to an unaware recipient. A silent murmur of friendship and love.

A powerful affirmation of emotional bonds.

Write for Ten Minutes using the title of this post as a prompt – Hold Me Now. Don’t edit, just let the words and feelings rise to the surface.
I am always here… holding this space… waiting to listen… willing to hear whatever you need to write.
Share in the comments…

Leave a Comment
Page 1 of 212