Why We Need Each Other — Part 1

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In a culture that values independence, self-reliance, and the Almighty Individual, we are easily seduced into believing that we can — and ought to —  grow and heal on our own.  One of the ways this shows up in therapy is when clients state emphatically that “You can’t love someone else until you love yourself.”

Hmmm.  Is that true?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the impulse behind this beloved bit of pop psychology.  Often it is uttered by people who have realized that they have been looking to others to fill a longstanding feeling of emptiness, of unworthiness.  They notice that going into relationship from this sense of lacking creates an undue demand on their partners (or friends, or family members), and the relationships either don’t last or are fraught with conflict.  They notice that they don’t regard themselves with kindness and they sense that moving into relationship from a place of loving self-worth might yield an altogether different kind of relationship.

By questioning this beloved aphorism, I don’t mean to suggest that it’s altogether false.  I’m just not convinced that it’s the whole picture.  While I believe that it can be helpful to a point, I think the bigger picture of growth and healing requires a more nuanced and paradoxical container.  Because while we may love more fully and freely when we have a sense of our own inherent worth and lovability, we learn how to love ourselves in the context relationship.  Our foundational sense of self (from which blooms self-love) develops through our earliest relationships; when our brains are not yet differentiated enough to even know that we are discrete entities, we are learning about our value, lovability, and worth from our families, friends, teachers, and environment.  However we feel about ourselves as adults is a reflection of accumulated relationships and experiences (as well as our adult capacity for self-awareness).  While personal effort and self-reflection are invaluable in the process of claiming our wholeness, so too are relationships with other people who reflect our basic goodness.  Our sense of self is more of a conversation than a static quality: my relationships inform my sense of self, and my sense of self informs my relationships.

For some people, the work lay more in learning to how hold for themselves the healthy reflection of worth that is conveyed to them by life and loved ones.  For others, the work may be in finding people who are able to offer this form of loving reflection.  Regardless, this is not work that needs to be done alone, in isolation, when one is “ready.”  Rather it can be supported in the laboratory of authentic human relationship.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

The Butterfly Effect

Nothing Changes

It can be really difficult to make changes in our lives.  There are so many things that fill our days and demand our attention: from family to friends to work to the many varied mundane activities required to sustain a life (buying groceries . . . paying bills . . . ).  In the midst of such swirl, the idea of making a change for our own personal development can seem indulgent if not impossible.  Often clients come to me in a state of deep dissatisfaction with their lives, yet when we turn our attention to what changes the client can make in order to move in the direction of happiness, out comes the laundry list of reasons why change is impossible.

Here’s the inconvenient reality:  nothing changes if nothing changes.  But reality always comes with a bright side, and the good news is that small changes can have an enormous impact.  Ever hear of the Butterfly Effect?  This is the mathematical theory that small differences in an initial event can have significantly magnified effects on a later outcome (e.g., a butterfly flapping its wings can impact weather conditions just enough to impact the trajectory of a hurricane that emerges weeks later).

Or try this on.  Imagine you are standing on top of the Earth, walking in very a specific direction.  If you were to simply alter your line of direction by a fraction of an inch, eventually — if you keep walking — you will end up in an entirely different place.

In other words, one small change now can result in big results over time.  Whether it’s taking a few moments each day to sit quietly, or keeping a gratitude journal, or learning to notice whenever you are being unkind toward yourself, or riding your bike to work one day a week — the small thing you do today turns out to be not so small after all.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MA, NCC, LPCC, is a Nationally Certified Counselor trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

Mindful-this: Stepping into Will

When you know what you are doing

Once we have decided that something in our lives is calling us to change, we must develop a capacity for awareness. I write a lot about mindfulness in these postcards, not because it is a popular buzz word in the field of psychotherapy, but because mindfulness is being demonstrated over and over by neuroscience as a fundamental factor in altering the mind, and by extension, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change, until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” — R. D. Laing

The best first step one can make in developing the will is to engage a mindfulness practice.  This does not have to be a “Big Deal.”  Start with 5 minutes, ideally in the morning (our will diminishes as we grow tired), before your day gets underway (and everything else becomes More Important).  Simply sit quietly and notice.  Notice any sounds outside of the room. Notice any sounds inside the room.  Notice your skin and where your body makes contact with the air.  Notice any sensations in your body.  Notice the kinds of thoughts you are having (this is different from thinking . . . you are not engaging the thoughts, you are witnessing them).  Notice it all with an attitude of kindness.  If kindness is not possible, simply notice that.

The idea is to begin to exercise the muscle of awareness.  It is only with this capacity in place ~ the capacity to notice what we are already doing, what is already happening ~ that we can create the space to try something different.

This postcard is the second in a series on Engaging the Will. 

Rafia Rebeck, MA, NCC, LPCC, is a Nationally Certified Counselor trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

Where’s the Way to the Will?

Ready to Change

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”  This sentiment was perhaps crafted to inspire positivity and stick-to-itiveness in the face of challenging circumstances.  If the will is “the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action,” then the task, according to this platitude, is apparently simple: know your goal, intend it, act on it, and all will be well.

But if the will is the initiating force, where’s the way to the will?  Is the will an inborn quality, or is it a trait we can develop?  If you don’t naturally feel the force of will, how do you then find the will to develop it?

The first step is simply identifying that you want to engage your will.  For some people, this may be as simple as deciding:  “I have a goal that I want to accomplish, but I’m having difficulty taking the steps to get there.”  For others, it may require some inquiry into what they want from life. It may require nudging from friends, family, counselors, or colleagues who see, or are impacted by, their loved one’s stagnation.  For others still, it may require unpleasant circumstances that illuminate the limitations of not engaging the will:  “I’m suffering.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know what I want.  But something has to change.”

Ultimately, this seed of the will ~ the will to engage the will ~ reflects an internal readiness for change, and emerges on its own when the individual is ripe for it.  There is no forcing it into being.  There is only nurturing the conditions ~ warmth, encouragement, awareness, lovingkindness ~ that will awaken the seed to begin to crack open.

This postcard is the first in a series on Engaging the Will.  

Light bright, light bright

baby shine light

It’s that time of year. We sit in reflection of the year gone by.  We imagine ways to shape the year to come.  We shine a light on our own beings with the innocence and wide eyes of our own child selves.  We make resolutions. We are resolute ~ “admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.”  The days are waxing. The light is increasing. And in this moment everything feels so . . . hopeful.  Our intentions are so very, very pure.

But what happens next month, or next week, or tomorrow, or even (as a friend of mine experienced) 11 hours later (8 of which were sleeping) ~ after defining our new selves so admirably, so purposefully, so determinedly, so unwaveringly ~ what happens when . . . *gulp* . . . we fail?  How do we meet our own precious humanness? Is there shame? Anger? Disappointment? Self-aggression?  Or is there possibly, even in the midst of a swirl of negativity, is there the sweet, tiny voice of compassion?  Is there a whisper of our basic human goodness? A reminder that we weren’t really all that broken to begin with? A remembering that even with all of the _______ that we wish we weren’t, and even without all of the _______ that we wish we were, that we are still and always inherently lovable?  Is there . . . ?  Maybe . . . ?  And how can you tune into the light that is already in you ~ the one that requires no resolutions to shine ~ the one that your child self lived unabashedly, unwaveringly, without resolutions ~ how can you tune into that place of inner brightness and find out?

Letting Go of Your Agenda

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I recently attended a workshop where I deepened in my understanding of the importance of nonviolence in therapy by experiencing its opposite. A facilitator without any training in human psychology or therapeutic ethics, who has positioned himself to train healers in how to work with grief, approached his “client” (a volunteer from among the workshop’s participants) from a place of arrogance and control.  He was the Healer, she was the Broken One.  When the client answered his questions about a very personal and tender life experience, he called her answers “trite” and probed until he got the responses he wanted.  When she objected to his use of a sexist construct in how he was framing her experience, he stated that her “resistance” was evidence that he had chosen the right words, that her being triggered was proof of his theorem.  When tears welled in her eyes, he failed to tend to her immediate experience and instead spoke to the other workshop participants about how “someone who is not ready for healing cannot be healed.”  He completely ignored his seat of positional power and failed to tend to the human being in his care.  She and I found the courage to walk out together, fully aware that our unwillingness to accept this aggression would stand as further proof of our “emotional instability” and “lack of openness to let go.”

“Violence in therapy is not just deliberate, physical harm.  It is a failure to accept the whole person who is client, a person with his own story, her own ideas, images, needs, wishes, capacities, pace.  Violence is being too much stuck in yourself and your own agenda to really be healing for another.”  ~Ron Kurtz

Nonviolence in the practice of psychotherapy is an attitude held by the therapist that sustainable progress cannot come from force, that the subtle tendencies of our hearts and minds are too intelligent, too complex, too agile to yield to the imposition of someone else’s agenda (in this case, the therapist’s).  It is sitting with patience, reverence, and curiosity in the presence of one who may appear shelled-up or guarded but who undoubtedly is a harbinger of great wisdom.

It is my great sadness that such abuses of power and violations of human integrity occur within the field of psychotherapy.  It is my prayer that all beings find the courage and strength to see through such mechanisms of control, to trust their own inner guidance, and to find helpers on the path who respect their dignity and inherent intelligence.