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Entries from July 2007

When Expectations & Beliefs Collide

When working with clients, I find that there’s one lowest common denominator to many of the struggles they are experiencing. Yet, oftentimes, connecting to that underlying influencer is not a short, direct route. Rather it’s a meandering discovery that conjures up past memories, reflections, disbelief, fear, intrigue and a host of other reactions that seem almost nonsensical. Sometimes, it feels like a complete waste of time to even look for a “cause” of some struggle when forgetting about it provides the greatest sense of relief. That is, if you can forget about it. Usually, it teases and cajoles you into waking up. That unsettled, discontented feeling lingers no matter how much joy surrounds you, no matter how fast you run, no matter how many distractions and self-indulgences you seek.

It’s complex and unnerving, so how could I dare suggest something as simple as a lowest common denominator? What is it?? My experience (personal and professional) reveals that a conflict between one’s expectations and one’s belief system lies at the heart of most struggles. Ahh, but it’s not that simple. We are born into this world and our respective cultures inheriting years (centuries of generations) of conditioning to believe and behave in a million ways we’ve never examined. We may feel liberal on the surface but find we have deep-seated, culturally-enforced rigid beliefs that create the struggle.

Think about how you view struggling. Deep down, do you believe that struggling (or suffering) makes you a better person? For example, do you expect not to suffer but inwardly believe that you need to suffer in order to be loved, saved, and okay with yourself? How about love. Do you expect love but inadvertently inhibit it by taking it for granted or demanding something of it? Work? Do you expect to see yourself as separate from your work while allowing it to actually define your identity (feeling shame if it’s not good enough or proud if it brings you lots of wealth)? These questions and many more begin to identify your surface self and your unconscious “conditioned” self. Aligning the two creates congruence and harmony. So, perhaps you can allow the struggles to provide you the opportunity to learn about those underlying conflicts.

While you’re at it, try reading some inspirational and thought-provoking novels that reinforce some of the joys and struggles, hope and fears you’re experiencing along your journey. Check out authors like, best-selling and award-winning Paulo Coelho or Mitch Albom.


Options for Life after Retirement

Have you ever looked up the definition for retirement? It says withdraw. Retire also means to strike out. Sounds so final...like death itself. Perhaps that's why estimates from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) show that only 29% of employees have an Individualized Retirement Account (IRA). Who wants to save for a potentially meaningless period in one's life--especially if it involves a nursing home down the road? This is not a slight against nursing homes, but it is an opportunity to share about a possible alternative.

New Hampshire-based Extended Family is a refreshing and hope-filled solution that promotes people living in their own home. They serve as a kind of agent, or concierge, to your needs. For a relatively small membership fee, members have access to 24-hour nursing care and access to the Extended Family network of services, which include a range of health care practitioners, counselors, dieticians, yoga and exercise instructors, drivers, gardeners, housekeepers, catering or a personal chef, and even handymen and carpenters that can retrofit your home to adapt to your personal needs.

What fascinated me most about this alternative was learning about the "Nursing Home Paradox" from company founder and registered nurse, Barbara Trimble. Apparently, the leading causes for entering a nursing home in the first place are from falls and medication misuse. Yet, the top two incidents among nursing homes are falls & medication errors. In addition, research shows that people live longer, healthier, happier lives when they get to stay at home. (Much of the research I have read in family therapy and counseling echoes these same findings.) Armed with this information and a fresher holistic approach to life care, Barbara Trimble and executive vice president Bern Terry along with the rest of the Extended Family team strive to give their clients the dignity, respect and care all people deserve.

Think you have to move to New Hampshire to receive these services and retire gracefully? No. They're expanding through franchises. To learn more or find out if an Extended Family is opening in your area, click here for contact information.


When Sacrificing for Career & Children Hurts

When reading the news, I can always count on seeing a story that revisits some enduring debate. What diet is truly healthy? How much television is okay for children? Should Mom or Dad quit their jobs and stay home to raise the kids? The latest instigator to the last question is Leslie Bennetts, author of "The Feminine Mistake."

Bennetts asserts that leaving your job (regardless of gender) may hurt your career in the long run...and thus your family. One of the increasingly common scenarios she points to is when a middle-aged stay-at-home woman (or man) finds herself (or himself) divorced and suffering from decreased income potential that tends to result from a career hiatus taken to raise the kids.

What's interesting (and less discussed) is the parallel situation when a man (or woman) has dedicated his/her career to a company (sacrificing time with family, taking on health risks from chronic stress, making necessary moves for the job, etc.) and then gets laid off. A similar shock-grief-identity crisis takes place that can also impact income potential.

The reality is that men and women in both scenarios are dealing with valid dependency and identity issues that are made worse by their sacrifices. The real solution is getting congruent with one's values, having a sense of self that's outside of marriage, career and parenthood, and then making an investment of time and energy in each aspect of one's life--self, family, career, community...and spirit. My personal view is that it's a human mistake when any of these areas in our lives are sacrificed. We are role models for our children and what are we ultimately teaching them when we perpetuate the work OR family myth? It's about both work AND family (with self in tact). Perhaps more workplaces would provide better flex time if we, as a culture, embraced a commitment to work AND family AND self and stopped expecting the old paradigm of one breadwinner and one caretaker.


In Memory of Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson passed away this afternoon. Dubbed the Environmental First Lady who also contributed to the passage of the Beautification Act of 1965, she was quoted for saying "Become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid." Another famous quote is "Children are apt to live up to what you believe of them."

Inspiring words. Peace, Gratitude and Respect, Lady Bird...


Humor Counseling Break...

It's the end of the day on a Tuesday. I'm feeling a bit restless...you know that feeling where you just need a little break? Then I thought of my blog. Maybe I'd write something for it. Hmm, but what to write? One can only take so much seriousness. I sigh and then pick up the little gag gift on my desk that my dear friend gave me last year. It's a Therapist in a Box kit by Lou Harry. (Side note: I'm amazed by the number of serious "Therapist in a Box" sets that I just found when looking up a link for Mr. Harry's joke set!) While it's not as funny as a great comedy show, the kit gave me a few smiles. Please enjoy...

First, there are a handful of cards marked "Therapeutic Words of Wisdom" that contain various humorous quotes by notable people. My favorite one is from the father of psychoanalysis himself, Sigmund Freud: "The aim of psychoanalysis is to relieve people of their neurotic unhappiness so that they can be normally unhappy."

The kit also contains a little squishy chair and timer that snugly fits in the chair (replacement for therapist) and a 32-page therapy guide. One section (chapter 5) is on Selecting a Therapist. It reads:

"Things you should ask a potential therapist: How much is this going to cost me? (If you've found your psychiatrist through a coupon ad in your local Penny Saver, consider another doctor)...Was anyone in your family a real doctor? (This will test his or her ability to stay calm even when being insulted.)...Where did you go to school? (If the academy in question contains words like "Tech," "Alternative," "Free," or "Guam," then this isn't the doc for you.)"

I chuckled. It was cute, but in Guam's defense, I have to say that Guam has a great (and accredited) University, so please overlook his joke about that. I actually have family that attended and teach at the school. Poor Guam...it always gets teased. (If you have any questions about my credentials, see the About section.) :)


Finding Meaning through Erikson's Life Stages

The meaning of life is a giant topic--one that has preoccupied theologians, philosophers, scholars, and humankind throughout time. All kinds of theories have been posited, but have you ever noticed that your own personal viewpoint has changed over the years? For instance, your 5 year-old self might have said that the meaning of life is about learning the alphabet in order to have recess while your 19 year-old self may have suggested that meaning is about finding love. Whatever the answers, it does seem to change over one's lifetime. That's why Erik H. Erickson was pretty brilliant when he suggested in the late 1950's that people experience specific "psychosocial stages" during their life. Some of these stages borrow (but slightly differ) from Sigmund Freud, while others are added to address all of one's living years. Many lifestage theories have come about since Erikson, but you'll find strong similarities. This post is dedicated to Erikson and remembers his original stages. Take a look at them and think about how they match up to your life experiences.

0-18 months
Trust vs. Mistrust

Does infant have enough loving and nurturing to develop a sense of trust or does infant become distrustful when not consistently nurtured or heard? According to John Bowlby's Attachment Theory, this is where a secure, avoidant or anxious attachment comes into play.

18 months-2 or 3 years
Autonomy vs. Shame or Doubt

This is where the child begins to recognize their independence. A parent's reaction to this stage can create feelings of autonomy and self-esteem or, it is suggested, that an over-bearing and punishing parent can make child feel doubt, shame and lead to lower self-esteem throughout life.

2 or 3-6 years
Initiative vs. Guilt

This is an extension of the previous stage where a child recognizes independence and takes initiative through individual acts. Child begins to develop a sense of responsibility over their own actions. Again, it is suggested that a parent's reaction will result in a child feeling guilty about this expression of independence or validated to take initiative.

6-11 years
Industry vs. Inferiority

Typically, a child at age 4 will begin to play with (interactively) other children. Similarly this stage involves a child developing a sense of self-worth via interactions with peers. In addition, teachers and the educational environment play a critical role in helping the child to feel encouraged and industrious or insecure and inferior.

11 years-teen years
Identity vs. Identity Diffusion

Not surprisingly, this is the most well-known stage of identity development. The teenager develops an identity by literally trying out different "selves" and finding one that fits. Peers, role models and social pressure play a part in this developmental stage.

Late Teen-Early Adulthood
Intimacy vs. Isolation

The preoccupation with this stage is developing close relationships and achieving intimacy. Think marriage, partnership, family, religious commitment, career achievement...and fear of being isolated and not obtaining goals.

Middle Adulthood
Generativity vs. Self-Absorbtion

Assuming intimacy has been achieved, generativity now takes hold. How can one give back to their community and feel their contributions are worthwhile? The other side of the struggle is that one does not give back and remains self-absorbed.

Late Adulthood-End of Life
Integrity vs. Despair

This last stage is about looking back at one's life, facing death and overcoming despair. Integrity is about integrating the experiences of one's life and finding a sense of satisfaction and meaning.



July 4 Striving

The United States Independence Day (July 4th) is almost here. It is a day that celebrates independent statehood. A day for celebrating the achievement of democracy and freedom—freedoms that are sometimes taken for granted. But rather than just remembering the day as a great victory, I think of it as a day of striving. A day that serves as a reminder and challenge to continually reach toward a better civilization, like one does when stretching toward the stars in the sky. For instance, you may recall that when the U.S. Declaration of Independence declared certain truths as “self-evident, that all men are created equal,” women and African-Americans were not “equal” with white men. Yet, determination and striving for “equality for all” resulted in Constitutional amendments and a broader understanding of “human” equality. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Racism and discrimination are rampant, entrenched and even stealth in the most liberal. So, when you look at the fireworks this holiday (or any evening you look at the stars), think about ways you can strive for human equality and better relationships in your life, family, workplace, community, and even around the globe…