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Hosted by Debbie Mandel, this mind/body wellness show airs every Tuesday evening from 7:00pm to 7:30pm on WGBB 1240AM in Long Island.
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July 27, 2020 Show - Arthur Ciaramicolli, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, a former Harvard Medical School instructor and the author of The Curse of the Capable. Are you constantly achieving to escape your unhappiness?

Intimacy: The Heart of a Meaningful Life


       I have been a practicing clinical psychologist for many years and in that time I have seen clients from many countries and all walks of life. Despite their diverse backgrounds if I were asked what is the one common, elusive aspect of life that all humans, regardless of circumstance long for I would have to say sustained intimacy.

         Most people can create intimacy initially but few are able to sustain rich intimacy with a spouse, friends, children and colleagues that is lasting. Regardless of wealth and professional success in the end if intimacy is missing one’s soul is devoid of the richness intimacy provides. When this occurs it creates a desperate sense, a growing uneasiness inside that prevents calmness and ongoing joy.

     People start to feel more anxious and begin to look for ways to ease the emotional pain caused by the ongoing yearning for love. This state of mind can lead to addictions, depression, anxiety and an ongoing sense that life has lost its meaning.

     I can always discern the quality of a person’s internal life once I understand the degree of intimacy a particular individual has been able to create and foster.  No matter how successful individuals are in other areas of life if intimacy is lacking the spirit of the individual will falter and grow weak over time.

     What are the ways you can begin to foster the kind of closeness you desire?

         First of all remember your self-care is an important factor in your ability to be present. If you’re eating poorly, not exercising, abusing alcohol, and not sleeping adequate hours you are probably not in a position to maintain intimacy. If you’re not feeling alive it is hard to listen to those close to you in a manner that conveys interest, patience and a willingness to go beyond the surface of relating.

         Knowing how to listen and express empathy are also critical keys to fostering closeness. Listening from an empathic position requires a willingness to enter the world of the other person while leaving your own preoccupations, biases, and judgments behind. This ability needs to be practiced and improved regularly. It is an art that makes another person feel heard and deeply understood. It is an ability that allows you to truly understand the heart and soul of the person you love.  It is not enough to understand, you must be willing to put your understanding into action, into words and behaviors. Nothing is more powerful in establishing a close bond as being able to listen and respond in the manner I am describing. I have worked with couples on the brink of divorce and once they have followed this formula over time they often create a degree of sustained intimacy they have never experienced in their lives.

   First you need to take good care of yourself. Secondly this allows you to be in a position to listen and respond on a deeper level that goes beyond the surface to the heart of those you love. In a romantic relationship you also have to develop a mature understanding of sexuality. In the Power of Empathy we stated that “ We touch bodies when we have sex, but we can only touch hearts and souls with empathy guiding the way………what we seek in the sexual experience is not simply the release of tension but the momentary merger of two souls that simultaneously confirms and expands the relationship between us. This is ultimate intimacy, the moment when two hearts and two souls join together as one”.  This experience allows us to feel more affectionate as we age with our changing appearance as we have a deep love for the person, far beyond the surface and deep within the essence of the person before us. 

     This is just a brief overview of how to essentially grow love and intimacy. I welcome your questions and comments as this is a complex process that deserves more space and time.

Where to turn for help!

       In recent weeks I have had several clients ask me what the difference is between executive coaching, psychotherapy, positive psychology coaching, and supportive psychotherapy. In general many people don’t know the difference between coaching and therapy and find it difficult to decide who to call to successfully reach their goals.

     Due to limited space I cannot describe the differences among these modalities in detail but let me outline a few key distinctions that may clarify the direction you might want to pursue.

   Psychotherapy that explores how the past relates to the present is called psychodynamic, basically exploring the cause and effect of life circumstances. Supportive psychotherapy is more present based, does not delve into the past because the client may not be resilient enough to cope with deeper work, or because the individual does not require more than a supportive relationship to attain their desired outcome. Certified coaches and positive psychology coaches’ focus on present issues related to lifestyle, work situations, health, and personal issues with clear strategies to achieve positive results.                                 

Many clinical psychologists use both psychotherapy and coaching modalities. They decide through a comprehensive evaluation which modality is best suited to a client’s needs and capabilities. Several psychotherapeutic methods focus exclusively on the present akin to the present focus of coaching approaches. Certified coaches are also trained to focus on present oriented strategies and are taught to refer clients to licensed mental health clinicians when history seems to interfere with current functioning.

     In my view there is one major issue that differentiates practitioners and the approaches they use: when to explore the past and when to focus exclusively on the present and future. I have found over the years that clients are often indecisive as to which direction they should pursue. I have interviewed people who think they want coaching when in fact they really need to work out historical hurts that are hampering their current life. On the other hand I have worked with people convinced they need to be-labor the past when they really need to be strategizing on how to establish a healthier lifestyle in the present. Unfortunately if you place yourself in the hands of an inexperienced practitioner you could be headed down the wrong path for a very long time, wasting your resources while experiencing a disappointing outcome.

     So what are the indicators telling you which way to proceed? If you have written a story about yourself that is negative in nature it will dominate your life experience and rob you of ever reaching your potential. If you received an adequate amount of empathy early in life, emerged with a positive story about whom you are and what you are capable of, you don’t need to focus on the past. My golden rule is if the past is interfering with the present it needs attention, if the past is not a factor in terms of current dilemma’s then it is not necessary to focus on history.

   How do you know if the past is interfering in your current life? It is quite difficult to determine alone, as one of my European clients recently remarked, “The camel never sees its own hump”. Ask those close to you if they see a pattern in your behavior. Patterns, good or bad, reveal historical learning’s and certainly reveal the story you have written about yourself over time.

     A client of mine was referred a few months ago by his HR department because he was having difficulty working for a female manager and was not advancing within his department. According to the HR representative his manager is a person who speaks with authority, is known for being a powerful strategist with a no –nonsense approach to those who work for and with her. My client wanted a brief coaching experience to develop better strategies to cope with what he considered her “cold, arrogant and uncaring behavior” as well as his belief that she was limiting his potential. He wanted strategies to address his superior successfully but had little interest in exploring his past or considering how his personal roots may be related to his current perceptions.

    Ultimately he humored me and told me about his family background. His alcoholic mother, an attorney who was noted for being feared in court as well as being feared by her passive husband was the dominant figure in his early childhood. My client grew up feeling anxious in his mother’s presence due to her unyielding perfectionism which was made worse by her lack of affection. My client witnessed his father taking a helpless stance and retreating with obvious dissatisfaction. You get the picture as to how his old story could dominate his current thinking and perceptions. Without re-writing his fictitious account of himself, particularly the chapter that indicated he would be humiliated in the presence of strong woman he would be doomed to continual anxiety and doubt about himself.

     Often there is resistance to exploring the past for fear that one will get lost in an un-ending maze and never emerge with clarity. Conversely there is often fear from those who dwell on the past that they will be expected to change and be held accountable if they move forward. There is a time to encourage people to take action, to develop coping strategies to improve their lives and there is a time to re-visit the past and discover and conquer those aspects of our histories that are inaccurate and holding us in a fixed, unproductive position.

   A seasoned clinician can help you determine the direction that is best for you. Remember, we often want what we don’t need and need what we don’t want. I encourage those of you who realize you’re not reaching the place in life you truly desire to seek consultation in an effort to obtain objective feedback to gain clarity regarding the dynamics that may be holding you back from the happiness and satisfaction you deserve. If I can be of help in your pursuits please feel free to contact me directly.

Image Love

     Performance Addiction is the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving status will secure love, happiness and respect. It is an irrational belief system hardwired early in life and reinforced by cultural expectations, especially American cultural expectations.

     As a result Performance Addicts have great difficulty maintaining intimate relationships. None of us fall in love with a real person initially; we fall in love with an image. In the obsession and compulsion of romantic passion we escape from time, we escape from responsibilities and the binding and blinding effects of sex delude us.

   The binding part is pure physical attraction-lust, raging hormones, and sexual excitement. The blinding component is a screen of illusion obscuring the love object, the partner who is the target of sexual devotion. He or she is not perceived as a real person. The partner is a source of escape and ecstasy, an object of desire. This is what I call Image Love.

                                          Love’s Illusions

     The emotional part of the brain has a powerful influence on relationships. If you have Performance Addiction some of the characteristics that attract you to a person are probably written in stone in your brains emotional center.

    Given the importance of achievement to performance addicts it’s not surprising that sex itself has become a performance issue in many marriages. Expectations of sexual performance are set high. What if you can’t meet those expectations? The problem can often be resolved through understanding your unique belief system. A negative story created early in life can drive performance and create unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.

     Sexual intimacy is an expression of uncritical affection. How can you be uncritical if you are perfecting your own performance while judging and evaluating your partner?

                                      What Is Love Really?

Performance addiction can be unrelenting in its demands for comparison, measurement, and competition-and none of these is a component of love. Loving is quite different than being “being in love”. “In love” demands only brief acquaintance to establish emotional connection. Loving derives from sustained intimacy, the prolonged journey of knowing another’s soul. If you have Performance Addiction you may find it very difficult to make the transition from being in love to loving. Whenever you lose faith in the promise of relationships, you are likely to substitute performance measures and become obsessively driven and isolated.

                                     Loving a Real Person

         If you and your spouse/lover were meeting for the first time today, would you choose the same partner again? In other words, given what you know now, when image love is long gone, would you make the same choice? And if not, do you have clear reasons as to why you would make a different choice?

        Your response reveals a great deal about how you feel about yourself and your current relationship. No love relationship is an easy road leading to ever deepening commitment. The level of empathy shared with a spouse tells a great deal about where your relationship has been and is likely headed.

                                       Daring to Meet in the Middle

        Initially we are drawn to each other to make us more complete people. We are attracted to an aspect of the other’s personality that is under-developed in ourselves and very developed in our partner.  As we become more interested in developing the skill we admire we can move past image love. Achieving that balance, as pragmatic and un-romantic as it may seem, just might be the key to lasting love.

      In the final analysis, true love is dependent on our ability to place relationships with those close to us above our quest for image and status.

What is a Spiritual Learner?

What is a Spiritual Learning

 The spiritual learner is someone who realizes there is something beyond ourselves that influences and accounts for life events—an intangible that cannot completely be explained. For many this is the work of God; for others it is the work of the “Universe;” and for others it is simply an undefined spiritual experience. A spiritual learner is a person who takes in information from diverse sources, and in terms of religion, he or she is a person who realizes and accepts that all the major religions have made worthwhile contributions. A spiritual learner is an open-minded person who expects to continue to gain wisdom about the human condition throughout life. He or she expects to revise theories and change perspective as new learning takes place. He or she is not wedded to one way of thinking, one psychology or one religious orientation. This is important to living a balanced, healthy, high-achieving life because we are constantly faced with new situations that require that we adapt and change.  

The perspective of being a spiritual learner can be applied to most aspects of life; any fixed way of thinking and behaving that has rendered an unhealthy outcome should be reevaluated. Individuals of this persuasion are not threatened to reconsider behavioral patterns that have become entrenched but may need adjusting, or may need to be totally abandoned. In my family, for instance, the men were all heavy smokers. It seemed like the thing to do and it seemed perfectly healthy for the World War 11 generation. It was endorsed at the time by many doctors and scientists who were paid by the tobacco industry. As a young child I pleaded with my father to stop smoking, but it was to no avail. I could hear him cough every morning; it just didn’t seem like it was good for him but I had no data to support my argument. Ultimately the habit he had found to be his saving grace in World War II took his life at age 66.

My father was just beginning to turn the corner in his thinking. Of course his severe addiction altered his intention on most occasions, but the day he died he was down from four packs of Chesterfields a day to four cigarettes. He was beginning to employ a spiritual learner perspective to his addiction when time ran out. He was entertaining the possibility that his belief about the innocence of smoking was wrong and he was starting to consider an alternate perspective. He realized that his behavior was robbing his spirit of energy (he was sick more often, had shortness of breath as his body was failing him and his spirit for life was diminishing.) 

           Learning Connects Us!                                                                                                                    

In this regard I believe that part of the appeal of Tibetan Buddhism for Americans is the ongoing efforts of the Dali Lama to learn and integrate new findings. He has often stated that Buddhism is an ancient religion with many ancient texts. Yet he has indicated that the teaching of these texts needs to change according to new knowledge. He has displayed openness to scientific knowledge, particularly the neuroplasicity of the brain. This kind of orientation to life makes our days more interesting, increases energy and allows us to be part of a wider world. We are more connected to an array of individuals and experiences. Spiritual learners are invested in discovering and experiencing whatever enlivens the human spirit in a healthy way.

 Being a spiritual learner naturally gives us the tools to rewrite our story; remember part of the definition is “to learn from all credible sources,” including ourselves. This means we now have an opportunity to take in accurate information about ourselves, our beliefs, our career paths and most importantly, our culture, country, and world. We cannot live free of the curse if we are not concerned with people throughout the world. Personal liberation requires an awareness of the fact that certain societies, cultures, and organizations create systems that enslave others If we are self-absorbed and just tend to those closest to us who are most like us, we create a small non-diverse world which limits our personal and spiritual growth. In essence, the well-being of others is our well-being. There is no separation for the spiritual learner. Our story can now be rewritten because we trust the opinions of others, and in a global sense, we trust that those around the world have important insights and wisdom to contribute.

                     A Life of Truth

Spiritual learners rewrite their unsupportive story in on-going fashion. They have developed hope and trust in others and have come to realize that self-learning and learning about the world is endless. It is exciting to have this philosophy in your heart as learning no longer becomes threatening, but rather becomes a constant way of enhancing your sense of self. You become liberated. Open to all those around you, and most importantly you are open to the world at large. You now are a contributor to a better society because you are free to be a genuine participant. No more cover ups; no more need to protect a false story. The greatest feeling is to know the old story is mostly made-up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Rewriting our story is never just about our rearranging our internal view of ourselves. It is also about rearranging all we have learned that is inaccurate. For instance, baby boomers grew up believing German and Japanese people were evil and despicable. Turns out they thought the same of us and the propaganda of all three countries turns out to be false. Today, many young people are growing up thinking Muslims are violent, despicable, evil people. Some Americans pull Muslims out of their cars and beat them. What a horrible travesty; a misinformed manner of promoting violence and maintaining an unsupportive story of ourselves and many others. Cutting off the opportunity for empathic understanding and vital connections. Remember that any distortion of the truth, in us or with others, leads to self and societal destruction.                                                                                                                             Spiritual learners are committed to the truth about themselves, their families, friends and all those who inhabit our world. We are committed to examining every bias in our minds and hearts so that we live in harmony with the truth. If we are in opposition to the truth for fear and other defensive reasons, we are much more prone to developing and maintaining the curse. Why? Because we are then constantly misdirected in terms of how to feel comfortable within ourselves and in the world; we are always hiding behind mythical beliefs about ourselves and others.


Empathy-The Path to Truth and Balance

When I wrote The Power of Empathy I defined empathy as the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. I knew in my heart and through my experience that empathy was and is the key to personal and professional success. I was basing my opinions on my experience as a clinical psychologist and as a husband, dad, friend and community member.

    I knew two things: we are born with this capacity and if not developed it will atrophy like an unused muscle, and I knew from leading group sessions for over 25 years that human beings can be taught how to expand their empathic range in ways that will reap profound benefits.

   In recent years research on empathy has exploded. We now know we have empathy neurons, called mirror neurons.  We know that empathy is the brain’s salve for limiting aggression; it has an inhibitory effect on violence and produces successful negotiation rather than needless confrontation. Research has confirmed that empathy is the key to stopping the bullying in our schools and the terrorism that exists around the world.                                                                                                                                   We know that so called “empathy organizations” like IBM and Harley Davidson grasp opportunities quicker, react to change with less anxiety and they offer their employees a sense of purpose in their work that fuels a positive work environment.

  Our schools are beginning to teach empathy at early ages and the benefits are not only being displayed in increased interpersonal skills, but test scores have been advanced for those young people displaying the highest capacity for empathy.

   Jeremy Rifkin, recently published “The Empathic Civilization”. He extensively reviewed research from biological and cognitive scientists concluding that empathy will likely determine the fate of our species. He encourages readers to contemplate what he considers to be the greatest question of our time: Can we reach global empathy in time to avoid the collapse of civilization and save the earth?

      President Barack Obama has evoked much reaction with his frequent use of the word empathy. As a senator he indicated that John Roberts was deficient in his breath of empathy. Subsequently he indicated the Supreme Court needed a person with empathic depth which led to the nomination of then judge Sonia Sotomayor. It is amazing to me that empathy would not be a characteristic expected of all individuals in positions of authority. How else can we possibly understand, with accuracy, the variables that accompany each significant problem we face?

   Studies after study in schools of business have determined that the main reason for failure in leadership, despite strong technical skills, has been poor interpersonal skills, in particular limited capacity for empathy. These studies have consistently indicated that the trait shared by most successful executives is the ability to “sense other’s needs” and “make others feel heard”. We know from our recent uncovering of Wall Street ethics that empathy is the key to constructive, ethical business practice. Business schools throughout the country are now  integrating ethical, empathic practice in their curriculums.

      The greatest role that empathy plays is to allow us to establish and maintain intimacy in love relationships. Without empathy guiding the way closeness cannot be established and we cannot possibly understand our partner on a deeper level. Empathy leads us from superficial connections to deep, heart-felt relationships that accept the whole person, imperfections and all. That acceptance is both internal and external, for at the same time empathy embraces others it leads us to accept ourselves with all our limitations and shortcomings. Through empathy we learn how to love each other deeply and truly, and we discover why the search for the real person rather than the right person is central to our quest for happiness.

   Research on parenting styles has consistently revealed that parents who listen and interact with their children from an empathic perspective raise children who are happier, more secure and who are able to make relationships of diversity with relative ease. These children are likely to become leaders who others seek out as they become noted for having an even handed way of dealing with people. They become better decision makers and better negotiators’.

 Empathy, in essence, is the key to a balanced life filled with love, healthy accomplishment and a strong relationship to community and the world at large.

Empathy in Action - Erinn Phelan’s Selfless Act

We read about the poor character of celebrities every day but acts like Erinn Phelan’s attempt to save the life of her college roommate are buried in pages far from the headlines.

Erinn is a Brown graduate who had found her ideal job after graduation last summer working for Mayor Bloomberg in his new volunteerism initiative.

As Erinn and her college roommate Alma Guerrero crossed a street in Brooklyn this past Sunday they were hit by a car that didn’t stop. Erinn attempted to push Alma out of the way of the oncoming car, an act of spontaneous empathy of the highest regard. Now Erinn sits in a hospital room, unresponsive and reportedly has been declared brain dead. Alma, her roommate of three years, suffered a broken collarbone and will be able to continue her Brown medical school education as soon as she heals.

Erinn has been described by educators, friends and relatives as a selfless person who gave of herself without reserve. Recently research on the effects of the media has indicated that people pay attention to the novel aspects of behavior, murder, rape, and terrorism but not to the everyday activities that most of us experience but are not thought to be headline worthy.  Acts of empathy, other than the momentous efforts of those like Mother Teresa, will seldom be brought to our attention so we tend to think these compassionate moments in time do not regularly occur.

We know that human beings will go to all ends to attach meaning to their lives and justify their existence. Many people attempt to do so through achievements, social status and by obtaining the “perfect” love relationship. These methods often fail to sustain worth as they are narrow goals, motivated by the wrong reasons, which cannot bear the weight of upholding anyone’s sense of self. When we base our identity on giving service to family and society we are more likely to be able to face life’s uncertainties without damaging our worth. If we buy into singular, self serving goals to sustain ourselves we are often in emotional jeopardy. Giving, as Erinn Phelan exemplified, creates a feeling of goodness within that cannot be matched by pursuits that are motivated by self serving attempts to elevate self worth.

Jeremy Rifken, in his bestselling book, The Empathic Civilization, describes our current times as the Age of Empathy. He has noted in his extensive research that young people are far more likely to behave in ways that foster cooperation over competition, as they are more acceptant of diversity and more attuned to the international climate than any previous generation. In my own experience I often notice that younger individuals seem far less influenced by ethnic, religious, or sexual preferences. They seem to relate to the person rather than the resume. Our daughter Alaina, a kindergarten teacher, has children in her class of diverse ethnic and religious origins who hardly recognize differences in skin color or customs.  They do recognize however, children who are easiest to get along with and those who seem to sense the needs of others. She has often commented to me that the children with the highest developed capacity for empathy seem to thrive and enjoy the learning process more than children that seem to be self absorbed. Even at these young ages we observe the importance of “getting along” and being able to enter the world of another. We understand the benefits of developing a personality in service to others, and ultimately in service to mankind.

We honor the life of Errin Phelan when we place empathy at the heart of our existence. Only then can we live a life with lasting meaning and sustainable worth.

Top 10 Ways to Deal with Bad Behavior

  1. Don’t personalize rude behavior. It’s unlikely to be about you, even though it’s directed at you.
  2. Be aware that rude behavior comes from various sources (sleep deprivation, depression, stress, illness, insecurity, etc.).
  3. Respond with calmness rather than behavior that escalates rude behavior.
  4. “An eye for an eye” is a poor approach; don’t turn another’s insecurity into your own.
  5. Self-righteous behavior only reflects poorly on you; don’t use the opportunity to demean another.
  6. Try to address the underlying cause of the behavior. (“I can see you are very stressed. Maybe I could help if you tell me what’s bothering you.”)
  7. When necessary, set limits tactfully and assertively, not aggressively.
  8. If the conversation remains irrational, know when to quit.
  9. Don’t assume rudeness is a permanent part of someone’s personality. It is a pattern of rudeness (not one mishap) that determines character.
  10. In the end, always let empathy — the ability to read others accurately — be your guide in understanding rudeness, knowing how to respond to a rude individual and knowing when to leave the scene.

How to Handle the Complexities of Grief

Parents throughout the world can understand the anger and grief displayed this week by Leonard Gengel, father of 20 year old Britney Gengel who is still missing in Haiti.  Not only is his loss devastating to the core of his being but he was mistakenly told she was found due to faulty intelligence. Leonard and his wife are beside themselves with grief and frustration as are many other families with love ones in Haiti. Of course Haitians themselves are stricken with overwhelming grief as their families are torn apart with no clear hope of a better tomorrow.

How does one cope with such agonizing grief? Is it even possible to overcome such emotional pain?

This morning one of my clients seemed on edge in a group coaching session. He is a mild mannered person, has wonderful character and is always reaching out to help others in group and in his life. Today he related in an uncharacteristic manner as he expressed anger toward me and immediately I thought something must be hurting him that he was not disclosing. As he went on to complain about certain aspects of his life it was obvious that these irritations were not enough to significantly change his typical temperament. Another group member commented, “I think what’s really bothering you is your still grieving your mother’s death, after all it has only been a few months”. At that moment my client began to tear and he began to talk of how he felt seeing his mother wither away to nothing, while she experienced inordinate pain. “I can’t get the images of her suffering out of my mind, I was so angry at being so dam helpless”.

As the session progressed other members shared similar reactions to deaths or losses they had experienced. One member talked of how his sister recently went to his father’s grave and screamed at him for not taking care of himself, he talked of how her anger seems to grow and grow every week. “I thought it was a good thing, getting all this anger out, right Dr. C?”

It is normal to feel anger when we fear losing someone we love or in fact do loose that person. Leonard Gengel’s anger is understandable to anyone who loves their children, just as it understandable that my client’s sister is angered by a father who drank himself to death. We are angered by our helplessness, by our lack of control and by our inability to change a horrendous outcome into something positive.

If embellished too long anger however can be a defense against acknowledging and working through more fundamental feelings. It is also dangerous as it stresses our physiology to an unhealthy point where it can cause heart disease and other life threatening illnesses. It is a natural first reaction, certainly one in Mr. Gengel’s case that can propel him into action until he obtains the answers he and his wife deserve.

Grief is not comfortable for anyone. We all would rather avoid it and the conflicts in our lives if we could. Some people believe if they avoid and turn away it will go away. Don’t fool yourself, it will not. Avoidance may bring you relief temporarily, but the emotions associated with conflict will come out sideways if not expressed directly. When they do emerge indirectly we end up arguing about the toothpaste being squeezed out of the wrong end, and those close to us begin to think we’re being irrational, stubborn and close minded. We are dismissed because the focus of our anger seems irrelevant and superficial.

My client’s irritation with me and earlier with his wife was an excellent example of this kind of avoidance. Why did he choose this direction? Well I don’t think it was a conscious thought, but somewhere within him he felt out of control, helpless, anxious and scared. Expressing anger over minor issues probably gave him a sense of control and relief for a few, brief minutes. Knowing his character I knew he would apologize after our session ended and he did. I told him I took no offense. I knew he was suffering and I told him it’s normal to express frustration  to those we trust when were overwhelmed. He began to tear, lowered his head and thanked me graciously.

If those close to you are grieving give them a little space, don’t be overly sensitive if their mood is off. When one party is in grief and the other is not there it is a relational mis-match for a time. My client’s wife cannot experience the death of his mother the way he does. If he is more aware of his mood going forward, explaining at times that his thoughts of his mother’s illness are haunting him, his mood will likely be more understandable to her. Consequently he is less likely to need to choose a non-related outlet.

What happened in our group session this morning is what needs to happen in anyone’s life if they are going to grieve constructively and overcome the effects of traumatic loss. If you are in the role of the helper expressing understanding, empathy, compassion, tolerance and having the ability to look beyond the surface are essentials to guiding the tormented person to health. If you are the person grieving  you are likely to find yourself experiencing the gamut of feelings, expect your mood to fluctuate and try your very best to not spend time on small irritations, it is a sign that more important concerns are being avoided. When we lose all control we naturally look to things we can control to escape our feelings of helplessness. Acceptance of our limitations is a key part of grieving and in many ways a key aspect to healthy living .We don’t get to choose how people live, we can’t control natural disasters or chronic illness but we can develop the tools that allow us to cope with as much resiliency as possible.

We grieve because we have loved deeply. We recover through love as well. The love of those who care enough about us to tolerate our fluctuating moods allows us to heal the wounds of a broken heart.

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