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Have a Spirit of Giving to our Haitian Sisters and Brothers

People around the world have joined forces in attempts to help Haitians who are suffering enormous hardship. These are the times when our empathy and compassion drive us to do whatever we can to be of help. I have listened to many people tell me how this experience has made them more grateful and appreciative of the freedoms and good fortune we enjoy in our country.

Suffering unites those of us who are interested in mankind; many people find it unbearable that some individuals have to endure life’s greatest pains while not having the support needed to cope effectively.  Those of good character want to help!

I was watching Haitian children singing in the streets the other day.  As their voices pleaded with God for solace I could see their spirits rise despite the chaos around them. We here in the United States often associate wealth and material possessions with happiness. The Haitian people survive with far less than we do, yet their spirits seem to shine despite the lack of amenities in their lives.

If you seek emotional freedom you must be involved in the social world. To expand our humanity we need to open our eyes, minds and hearts to the inequalities of the world. Personal liberation is brought about, in part, when we are involved with the freedom and equality of all people. I have seen in recent days a renewed sense of calm among many people who were previously troubled by matters of little significance in comparison to what we view daily in Haiti. This tragedy has provided us with an opportunity to examine our lives, question how often we are in service to others, and how our lifestyle is affecting our spirits and the lives of others. Perhaps in the face of mortality we are awakened to what really matters in our lives. We are reminded that we do not have ultimate control; we have this moment to do the right thing for ourselves and others. Our lives are truly unpredictable beyond this moment in time.

If you have found yourself very affected by this tragedy use it as an opportunity.  Try to connect to those who suffer and are in great need of your help. Be more of a giver and become less preoccupied with your own self interests. This new perspective will bring you a sense of freedom that cannot be matched by self preoccupation. In the process of healing broken wings we release our humanity and heal ourselves. Open your heart, help the Haitians, and release the goodness within you.

To find ways you can help follow the Red Cross Tweets @redcross or visit http://www.cnn.com/impact

The Top 10 Ways to Balance Your Success in 2010

  1. Spend less time looking in the mirror and more time improving your character.
  2. Be more focused on being morally correct and less on being politically correct.
  3. Talk less and listen more, suspend your need for recognition and you’ll receive more of what you desire.
  4. Curb your temper, aggression always reveals insecurity, assertion speaks to a desire to resolve difficulties.
  5. Be other focused, give more without calculating your return and rich friendships will follow.
  6. Realize the New Year will bring surprises, something will happen you could never predict, give up the desire to control all outcomes.
  7. Expand your empathy, develop better listening skills and you’ll always attract quality people.
  8. Regularly anticipate what would make those close to you feel special and take action.
  9. Arrogance and entitlement, the “me focus” attitude will leave you alone and in despair.
  10. Always remember that humility and gratitude will bring you respect, love and loyalty from others.

Change Your Story and Balance Your Success in 2010

10 Ways You Can Change Your Story and Balance Your Success in 2010.

  1. We all write a story about ourselves early in life, realize it is always part fiction.
  2. If the mirrors you look into early in life are distorted, so is your view of yourself. Commit to seeing yourself accurately today.
  3. You cannot re-write your story alone; we are all too subjective to obtain a rational view of ourselves.
  4. Choose rational people to help you re-write your story, to find out the truth of who you are today.
  5. Expand your empathic range so that your choice of intimate friends is growth promoting.
  6. Realize that the path to true self knowledge and balance comes from sustained intimate relationships.
  7. We learn the most when we commit our hearts to those around us, playing it safe keeps you static.
  8. Your romantic relationships reveal more about your true story than any other human contact. Love brings our stories front and center.
  9. In order to live a balanced life self care has to be a priority, taking care of oneself is never separate from the care of others. Abuse yourself and you indirectly abuse others.
  10. Intimacy is the greatest predictor of a balanced life; if you don’t how to maintain love you will never overcome the negative story of the past.

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Celebrity Divorce Creates Anxiety in Shaky Marriages

The heralded splits of Tiger and Elin, John and Kate have made many marriages wrought with conflict seem in doubt of surviving. Try to remember that celebrity marriages are no different than yours, we all tend to fall in love (the easy phase) with an idealized view of our partner. It is exciting, changes our neurochemistry, and lifts our spirits tremendously in the early going.

The early phase, which I call Image Love, is partly based on our longings at the time. Most often these longings represent insecurities in ourselves we unconsciously hope to resolve through our new found love. Of course, as time progresses disappointment can set in as we discover the real person in front of us. He or she can’t possibly make up for our past hurts and doubts. Some couples don’t realize this is happening and they think they have fallen out of love. Not realizing this phase is the juncture of where true, mature love begins.

If we have the courage to take responsibility for our own shortcomings we can begin the process of healing and changing. If we blame our partner we find ourselves disillusioned and extremely discouraged. Our eyes start to drift to the next new love that can solve our life long problems.

My wife and I are in our 30th year of marriage. We have had our ups and downs and have had major disagreements over time. As the initial “falling in love” phase slipped away and the real relationship began we struggled to a degree as all couples do. The early physical attraction and ability to connect verbally was our beginning foundation but not enough to make for a sound, resilient love.

What happened over time that made the relationship as powerful as it is today? Falling in love progressed over time to loving each other’s character; the person deep within was discovered and revealed. I can remember seeing my wife care for my dying mother, caring for our very ill oldest daughter, delivering her mother’s eulogy with grace and wisdom, loving my dad as he became depressed after my mother’s death. I have watched her sing to her father in a nursing home, as he lies motionless and unresponsive. I marvel as I view her excitement for our adult daughter’s careers, her unselfish love for them along with the inordinate interest she takes in all aspects of their lives. Her support and belief in me has always been a constant. Even the care and love she has shown to our puppies is unselfish and devoted.

When my mother died my dad said her funeral was like the “league of nations”. People of all religions, races and ethnic backgrounds attended. My wife is the same way, she makes friends from all walks of life and she loves diversity. She abhors prejudice and bias and is deeply affected by human beings mistreating others. She can sense arrogance and opportunism miles away.

At this moment she is planning for Christmas day, my favorite day of the year because she makes it a wondrous experience. I share all of these experiences to say that my love for her is greater than ever, not because we agree on every major point, we do not. Not because she is idealizing and adoring of me, she is not. Not because she needs me, she does not. But my love has grown to its depth because of who she is, her essential character.

If you’re going to work through difficulties in your relationship you must develop love for each other’s character, the essential person deep within. It is always revealed at the most difficult times, not the days at the beach.

Don’t be threatened by hearing of the stars marital demise, even though the pundits spin stories daily we have few actual facts about their lives. Don’t be threatened if there are days when you question whether you made the wrong decision. It is normal to have doubts. It is also critical to express your dissatisfaction, to address conflict directly, with tact and empathy for your partner. When we love with all our hearts we get hurt, it is often not intentional. Try not to personalize every hurtful encounter, try to understand the perspective of your partner. And most importantly work hard to identify the areas of difficulty you brought into the marriage. He or she is not responsible for your past, but if you take responsibility for your own shortcomings your spouse is more likely to help you work through your sensitivities.

Always remember marriage is more work in the beginning and more joy as years go by. As understanding of yourself and your spouse is increased your relationship can become a great friendship and one that many will admire. A wonderful benefit for your efforts is that your children will have a model for love and conflict resolution that will guide them in their relationships throughout their lives.

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The Recent Fall of Professional Athletes

Andre Agasssi’s open admissions, Tiger’s transgressions and now the tragic death of pro football player Chris Henry have rocked the sports world. We in America tend to idealize are sports hero’s and assign them personal attributes that have nothing to do with their athletic prowess.

I have not had any personal contact with any of these athletes so please appreciate I am generalizing to make a point of how we tend to idealize performance and extend its meaning, especially performance in the world of celebebrities.

Many in our culture are afflicted with what I call Performance Addiction – the belief that perfecting appearance and attaining status will win love and respect. This belief system is hardwired early in life and reinforced by our culture, one that places enormous value on achievement, if not over-achievement.

We then mistakenly feel surprised when we realize those who are able to perform on the highest levels, achieve what few only dream of, are not particularly balanced and may have a fragile sense of self.

It seems impossible that such high achievers can be so troubled internally and ultimately turn to drugs, sexual addictions and impulsive behavior. We have bought into the common belief that if you achieve and perform with excellence everything else will fall into place.

I have worked with professional athletes, media celebrities, lawyers, doctors and Ph.D. scientists who didn’t know the first thing of how to establish and maintain an intimate relationship. Although they excel in a narrow aspect of their worlds it certainly doesn’t mean they possess the interpersonal abilities necessary for personal success. They often choose love partners who idealize them for their notoriety and status rather than who they are, a superficial love based on the exterior social self. This tendency completely underestimates the necessary interior character qualities that deepen love.

I never met Chris Henry but his death is yet another example of a young life ended due to apparent love gone badly. From this point on in your life work hard to discover the interpersonal abilities you need to acquire and foster what we all want- lasting love based on who we are not just on what we do. In the weeks to follow I will do my best to highlight the skills necessary for personal and professional success that are tested and true, not based on surface talents that will not allow you to experience the depth of true love.

We are met to love and connect, when it happens and endures it allows us to go out into the world and achieve for the right reasons, our potential is unleashed as we feel the support of those who truly know us and value our character. Were free to achieve without the obsessive fear of failure, if we don’t meet our expectations we still have the love in our life because it’s not based solely on what we do. This is truly a liberating experience!

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The Amazing Power of Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experience of another. In my 30 years of clinical experience, I have learned that empathy is unquestionably the most important capacity for a successful personal and professional life. It facilitates all day-to-day encounters. Empathy is also essential to creating real intimacy and satisfying long term relationships.

Sympathy and empathy are often confused. Sympathy is an involuntary feeling-the passive experience of attempting to console in a general sense.

Empathy is an active process in which you try to learn all you can about another person rather than having only a superficial awareness.

We all have an innate capacity for empathy. When we are not treated with empathy, the capacity atrophies, like a muscle that is not used. When we are treated with empathy, our unique personality honored, we learn to be empathic; the muscle increases in mass and strength.

Here are some guidelines to develop empathy:

Ask open ended questions.

Closed-ended questions limit or manipulate the other person’s answer, automatically introducing a power play. The respondent can choose submissive agreement, combative reaction or sullen refusal to play along.

For example, the closed-ended solution: “Do you think my solution is unreasonable?’ might be answered with “I guess not” or “Yes, as usual” or even stony silence. Whatever the reply, the interaction creates a winner and a loser. There can be no common ground or genuine exchange of information.

The open-ended question, in contrast, “How do you see a solution shaping up?” conveys respect for another’s opinions. It initiates a dialogue that can lead to real communication and understanding.

Slow down.

Easing the pace allows volatile emotions to be tempered with thoughtful reflection. We can then grasp the whole picture, not just a narrow, unconstructive focus.

Avoid snap judgments.

It is natural to categorize behaviors based on our own past experiences. But people constantly change.

Don’t jump to conclusions about anyone’s current mental or emotional state, no matter who you have encountered with similar features or mannerisms.

Obstacles to Empathy

Accusations such as “You always react that way” or “I can read you like a book.” Such statements are a turnoff to others and can block you from discovering the truth.

Pay attention to your body. Our nervous systems talk to each other; some researchers define empathy as a nervous system state which tends to stimulate that of another person. When a mother plays with an infant, their hearts beat in time. When one person raises his voice, the other’s heartbeat speeds up.

Consider past experiences and the current circumstance. Strong emotions often emanate from previous, still-unresolved conflicts. Difficult conditions can also affect behavior. Ask yourself: Am I reacting only to the receptionist’s unfriendly manner or to her strong resemblance to a cold, critical figure from the past.

Is the receptionist curt because she dislikes you or because her demanding boss always overbooks?

Let the story unfold. Of all the skills involved in empathy, listening requires the most concentration. It also rewards you with more productive conversations and greater knowledge. Think how much more open and cooperative you feel when you are truly heard rather than cut off or thoughtlessly categorized.

Strategies for better listening

Become all ears. Letting your mind wander, rehearsing your own words or mentally arguing deafens you to what is being said.

Remain unbiased. We all have stereotypes that interfere with our judgment. The most important “truth” is what you hear in the current moment.

Physical health.

Remember moments of empathic connection reduce tension, lesson release of stress hormones, reduce blood pressure and most importantly widen the lens we see the world with. We ultimately realize we are all more alike than we are different.

Healing from an Affair

Contrary to what many believe recovering from an affair can actually make a marriage stronger. It is unquestionably a devastating experience that takes much time and work to overcome but I have witnessed several marriages that have reached a deeper level of love when both parties learn a great deal from the pain caused by infidelity.

Of course this positive outcome does not always occur. If the individual who has had the affair is not deeply regretful and willing to have the courage to absorb the anger, frustration and pain of his or her spouse there is little hope for resolution. A poor outcome is quite likely when the cheater continues to blame his or her spouse. Let’s face it, there is no excuse. Many people are miserable in their marriages and they seek help, they tell their spouse how unhappy they are and they open the door to doing the work necessary to form a deeper bond.

We all become disappointed in our long term relationships at times, it is perfectly natural. In our fast paced lives we often take each other for granted, store resentments and then if we don’t know how to communicate directly and honestly we find ourselves drifting into despair.

I had a wonderful experience with a couple earlier this year after an affair. The husband, a very successful businessman, was over-worked, stressed to the limit, feeling unappreciated by his wife and children and one night, late in the office he and his administrative aid ended up kissing. From there an affair began that had an anti-depressant effect on his mood, he was feeling younger, more desired, and of course she listened to his woos about his marriage with undivided attention. Eventually her husband, feeling suspicious of her late work hours, checked her phone messages and was able to retrieve text messages that were filled with sexual talk and love statements. Everything unraveled thereafter and when I met my patient he was living in a hotel feeling confused, sexually attached to his young lover but feeling tremendous disappointment in himself for his actions. He didn’t know if he loved his wife, he felt so much excitement with the younger woman and could not resist talking to her regardless of the fact that his business and marriage were failing.

Even though he is quite bright his ability to express directly was very limited. He could manage work conflicts but when it came to expressing his deeper feelings to his wife, friends, children he felt very inept. He grew up in a home where achievement was a stringent requirement. His father, a surgeon, and his mother, a divorce attorney, showed little warmth to their children or to each other. When his father died he felt little emotion, his mother did not shed a tear and re-married 12 months later.

As we returned to what I call the scene of the crime we discovered how distorted his views were of success and in particular of intimacy. He learned early that to gain love you must achieve at all costs. He was worn out, somewhat depressed with his existence despite his affluence and he found a way to stimulate himself out of the monotony of his life through the affair.

We tend to reenact the roles we saw in our parents marriages without much awareness. If we received little empathy growing up we don’t really know how to share with others in a deeper, more meaningful way. My patient longed for closeness but if it didn’t come easily he retreated into work, never letting his wife in, or allowing her to understand his disappointment. His views of mature intimacy were extremely limited. Most importantly he began to realize how he over-rated his closeness to his lover; the excitement of new sex gave him relief in an addictive fashion. It wasn’t based on truly knowing another person.

Over time he felt less and less attachment to her as he and his wife discussed openly the disappointments they had in each other and with my help, we discovered the negative stories about themselves that both brought into the marriage. They gradually increased their understanding of each other’s histories, their empathy for each other grew and at the same time their feelings of love were uncovered and deepened. She still has a long way to go before she regains the trust she previously had but the process is evolving.

Today my client participates in one of my group coaching sessions; he is most respected by members as a person who tries valiantly to understand others and himself. An experience he had never witnessed in his own home. He has apologized to his children and he has become an emotionally involved dad rather than a dad always trying to motivate his children to achieve more and more. His wife recently commented that he is actually fun, not as serious and intense as in the past. He is no longer exclusively pre-occupied with achieving and performing to win love. He has learned that the most important ability for sustained success in love and in work is to be able to employ empathy to listen and understand others. In the process we learn more and more about ourselves. So today a man who sought a secret affair for solace can’t wait to go home, play with his children and actually give his wife a real, passionate kiss rather than the perfunctory peck he gave in previous years.

He is liberated internally by increasing his ability to relate assertively, even when he is about to express dissatisfaction. We all need to continually practice expressing when we are in conflict, if we don’t the emotions won’t go away, they come out sideways. Thus the formula for being vulnerable to an affair.

If you would like to share your story comment below.

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Why People Cheat

The most common reason people cheat is due to an inability to deal with conflict directly. We all, in long term relationships, have disappointments. When we fall in love we are uplifted by the enormous emotional high of feel good neurochemicals. Without realizing we tend to think this feeling will last forever. We often believe we have found the answer to all our past hurts, doubts and insecurities. As time goes the initial “fall in love” phase fades and we are faced with a real person before us. For individuals who still struggle with their sense of self they can experience a profound sense of disappointment.

Very capable people suffer from this dilemma, just because a person excels in the work world does not mean she or he does not suffer from a fragile sense of self. Many people hide their vulnerabilities through achievement. Always looking for the approval of others and not knowing how to address the real time conflicts that exist in on-going relationship for all of us.

Individuals who never learned to express disappointment will tend to act out their feelings in some indirect fashion. Some work too much, others drink too much, some become passive-aggressive and yes others find themselves attracted to the next person who offers them an opportunity to re-gain the high of early love. This quest becomes a desperate attempt to get a special feeling; ultimately the specialness fades as it not based on truly being known. True love of depth is based on loving another’s character, imperfections and all.

In early relationships sex can be binding and blinding. We lose our perspective for a time until the anti-depressant effect of the sexual attachment wears off. Then the individual has to start all over again, thus the motivation for multiple affairs. It becomes a desperate attempt to feel good, in essence to compensate for the many years of not feeling good enough. And remember the most accomplished people fall into this trap. Bill Clinton and Monica were an excellent example. Achievement can consistently mask vulnerability; the initial high of an affair puts salve on a person’s self doubt and in the process becomes addictive.

What are the mechanisms to protect yourself from these kinds of temptations? Acknowledge your self- doubt, commit to working on changing the negative story of the past. Share your concerns with your loved one, be honest with her or him and begin working on changing your internal view of yourself through the help of those close to you. If you don’t make much headway over time consult a mental health professional, group programs are particularly effective in helping to re-write the fictitious novel you wrote earlier in life. In the final analysis you have to learn to express in assertive, tactful ways when you’re troubled. As you engage others in authentic ways you have the opportunity to learn about yourself and those you love. The other option is to remain closed in your old view of yourself which will promote the likelihood of seeking high’s through superficial sexual relating.

Handling Grief During the Holidays

Handling Grief

As we age we accumulate losses in our lives. This time of year often brings back memories of those important people we have lost through death, breakups, divorce and distance. One of my patients just told me she misses her mother terribly at this time of year. “She made Christmas so special and it has never seemed the same”. She went on tell me she should get over this sadness or she’ll become depressed. “After all my Mom has been gone a long time, I don’t want to get depressed so maybe I should just put her out of my mind”.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that experiencing sadness causes depression or a down mood. The opposite is actually true. Experiencing sadness, connecting this emotion to thoughts of the person missed allows us to place our history in perspective. We can then move on with vitality and enjoy the present holiday. Sadness has been called the vitamin of growth; it slows our thinking to allow for reflection and gives us the opportunity to share with those close to us our past hurts. We can then place these emotions where they belong.

If we internalize, as my patient is suggesting, we often don’t realize how much psychic energy it takes to keep our emotions and thoughts to ourselves. Emotions shared with those who employ empathy to understand our experience is a relief and in many ways can liberate us from our sorrows

Try not to view sadness as a detriment to your health but rather as a cue to slow down, listen to your thoughts, express to those close to you so you can regain energy in the process. Allowing yourself to be understood and cared for by those who are truly interested in your welfare is a means of sharing the burden of loss. In the process you will likely feel touched by the love that exists in your life currently.

Remember it takes courage to be vulnerable but those of us who have inhabited the earth for a time realize it is strength of the greatest magnitude, an ability that frees us emotionally to be present with those we love throughout the holidays.

Killings at Fort Hood, Causes Unknown

Fort Hood Murder

The horrendous killings at Fort Hood have caused much speculation among talk show hosts, print media and the experts interviewed to provide answers to the puzzle regarding these horrendous acts.

Did the psychiatrist act because he is a Muslim? Or because he was overwhelmed caring for the men and women whose souls were ravaged by war? Where his actions due to a brain tumor or some other unknown physical cause? Could he have been psychotic and was hearing voices telling him to kill?

The answer to the above questions, although all have been implied recently, is we don’t know. We don’t have the facts and despite this reality many continue to act as if we do.

Did you know that recent scientific evidence has indicated that 41% of all people between the ages of 12 and 19 will die from the N1H1 flu in the next two years? Did you know that if people who contract the flu in those age ranges don’t die they have a 78% chance of irreversible heart damage?

Did you know that the information in the previous paragraph is completely false? If you were tempted for a moment to believe what you were reading you were not using your God given capacity for empathy.

Empathy, the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another, is based on objective truth. The most critical means of expanding and employing empathy is to slow down, discern the facts and don’t get caught up in the emotion of what your hearing or reading. Great negotiators employ empathy to read others accurately; they seldom react quickly or impulsively. Couples who get along well, even in the midst of differing opinions on important subjects, slow down, and employ empathy as a means of understanding the others point of view.

I am encouraging you to employ empathy in accessing the Fort Hood situation. Notice I have not used the psychiatrists name in this blog. I have done so purposely because there is a more important issue at stake than his actions as an individual. Killings like this have unfortunately happened before. It is our understanding, ability to identify and treat men who kill innocent victims that is even more important than this individual. You help our society in this cause when you are one of the individuals that react objectively with reason and the intent to correct the problem. Rather than accentuating the hatred we all have been exposed to lately.

I can assure you of a few findings so far. This is not a Muslim problem. Could it be fueled by fundamentalism, of course? But fundamentalism exists in all the major religions and the majority of Muslims would never consider committing such atrocities. Could it be his profession? Possibly but unlikely as many mental health workers counsel veterans and they as a group do not commit homicide. Other possibilities are unclear. I encourage you, in the face of these uncertainties, to continue to develop your empathic range to protect yourself and others from untruths. Being part of a group mentality that wants answers immediately and yet hardly considers the consequence of impulsive judgment continues the trend toward conclusions based on emotion and prejudicial thinking. Being a thoughtful, compassionate person requires patience, tolerance and a commitment to discerning the truth regardless of time and energy expended. Truth seekers have far fewer regrets than those who live with unearned certainty about the human condition.

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