Category: Premarital

Harmonizing Your Emotions & Intentions

As February ends and March begins, you may be considering commitments to positive changes in your life; get more exercise, eat less sugar, have less screen time. With all of these healthy resolutions, another you may consider; reprogramming knee jerk reactions or emotions that set up a negative domino effect on your life. Do you tend to get upset about reoccurring issues? Are there triggers that put a bee in your bonnet, or perhaps family members that seem to have an emotional power over you? If you struggle to keep calm and clear during particular stressors, resetting your emotional reactions can be a way to move your life in a different direction.

Let’s face it, you can have the best intentions to carry through with changing your behavior, but if your emotions are on autopilot (which for many of us they are), it can be a constant battle of wills. What you know to be true may differ greatly from the scenario your emotions are trying to convince you of. For example, your mother or long distant boyfriend calls and you hear irritation in their voice about your upcoming visit. Immediately you assume the person is irritated with you and become defensive. Communication breaks down, feelings are hurt, and you end up feeling terrible about the mix up.

Sound familiar? An effective way to reprogram those automatic emotional reactions is to immediately, think differently about it. Don’t mull it over or stew, begin to implement going within and breathing, relaxing, rather than jumping to conclusions. This takes a lot of practice because the trick is to do this right away while in the midst of the emotional crisis or challenge.

Start with small efforts to change your emotional patterns rather than tackling the deeply embedded ones that typically are related to your childhood. For example, reassure yourself of your abilities to change. Read affirmations on a regular basis. Without making a big announcement, begin to react differently when challenge presents itself, which it will, that is life. Begin to choose to not get hysterical or upset when someone is rude, or cuts you off in line. Remember, you are in control; you don’t have to imitate bad behavior. Rather than gravitating towards the negative behavior, do an about face. Collect yourself, breathe, and walk away.

Begin to be present in your life; this will help with your resolve to reset your emotional responses. Spend time paying attention to the underlying issue you are reacting to. What are the big triggers for you? Feeling powerless, unlovable, frightened? Work on healing those deep-underlying emotions that keep you from reaching your fullest potential. Facing your fears with a counselor, through meditations, and/or spirituality will empower you to be less reactive. Developing emotional courage will reprogram your responses. Emotional courage, like all courage comes with practice and awareness. It doesn’t mean that you will never feel fear.

When you have learned new emotional behaviors, you are ready to tackle those long lasting emotional trigger people, mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, and friends. It will be a leap of faith, but trust your new self to pull through. Go back to the basics, retreat within, breathe, remember that you are not a slave to your emotions; you can choose a different path. Again, remember it is important to immediately turn to the new response, don’t dally, that will give your auto response a chance to kick in. Breathe, recite a positive mantra, refuse to let the old emotional baggage drag you down, let it go.

Living in negative emotions such as fear, jealousy, judgmental attitudes accomplishes nothing but depleting you of your light within. And living on high alert, will eventually lead to physical illness. The brain, the mind, and the heart are all interconnected, one impacts the other. It is possible to reprogram your emotional responses; just like it is possible to learn new things, to open your mind, or to lose weight, it is a choice. Life does not have to be a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. You can choose to liberate yourself through love, presence, and letting go.


Finding Happiness After a Breakup

The ending of a long-term relationship can leave you feeling abandoned, resentful, or angry especially if you were on the receiving end of the breakup.  Breakups can create feelings of rejection and a sense of, humiliation, despair, and despondency, however you don’t have to feel these uncomfortable emotions forever.  There are ways to recover and move on with the your life, despite the breakup, you can find happiness again, give yourself time.

First and foremost, be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to grieve.  Short-cutting the grieving process will only haunt you.  Unresolved grief can cause prolonged depression and/or anger, which can simmer and erupt when you least expect.  Give yourself the chance to feel the pain; ignoring it creates an elephant in the room effect.  Facing painful emotions is like staring down a fear, you need to confront it to overcome it. You have experienced a loss, not just a physical loss also an emotional loss, someone you trusted and love.  Even if you were the one to initiate the breakup, you might still have to work through the grieving process, as you let go of one life preparing for another.

Be kind to yourself, treat yourself like a best friend; remember that you are still here, your wants are important, don’t ignore the need for food, rest, and companionship.  Take it easy, rather than beating yourself up by rehashing old arguments or thinking that you could have saved the relationship if you did this or were more of that. Take some time to nurture yourself, take hot baths, read, play music that makes you happy, buy flowers for your house, set your living space up the way you want it to be.  Foster healing through alternative holistic methods such as massage therapy, Reiki, or Acupuncture, take restorative yoga classes.

Surround yourself with loving positive friends and family, people you can have a laugh or a cry with, people who are there for you without judgment.  Be honest with them about your feelings.  If you live far away from these supportive folks, call them; take a trip and visit if you can.  Be cautious of people who try to take advantage of your vulnerability, you don’t need to beg for attention or affection nor do you need to bargain.  Seek out honest, forthright friends that will hold space for you while you heal. Stay emotionally and physically safe when you are feeling susceptible.  During recovery from a breakup, often people run into the arms of a stranger, just because they don’t want to be alone, be wary of that behavior as it rarely leads to a healthy relationship. Stay single for a bit until you’ve worked through the healing process.

Go out with people that make you laugh, find or foster those platonic relationships that leave you smiling.  Laughter is extremely healing physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It lowers your blood pressure, relieves stress and helps you connect with others.

Move, get out and walk, dance or ride a bike. Physical exercise has a cathartic effect, releasing those endorphins that increase your sense of well-being. Sitting around the house, being sedentary can exacerbate feeling bad about yourself and your life.  Holing up on the couch watching endless Netflix movies will only make you feel stiff and slow your circulation. Getting out and exercising, flushes fresh blood through the body, slows the breathing, and quiets the mind all while keeping your body healthy and improving your self-esteem.

Spend time figuring out what it is you want.  Write down how you want your life to look, don’t censor yourself, write without monitoring what is possible.  Do you crave more time in nature, would you like to allow for more creative time, do you want to travel?  Then go down the list and begin to do some of those activities or at least plan for them.  Always wanted to go to Australia but your partner never did, now is the time to splurge, count your pennies and take the trip.  Begin to rebuild your life the way you want, let go of what was and focus on what is and what can be. Reinvent yourself from the pool of personal passions and desires.  Take dance lessons, or that job in the city; start to say yes to you.

Before long, the misery of the breakup will be behind you.  Celebrate that you have come through the fire, you have not just survived, you are happy and most likely a better more wholesome version of yourself.  Realize that the breakup as painful and awful as it was, taught you something about your resilience, your ability to heal, then open your arms and let happiness back in.


How Anger Destroys Relationships

Think about what happens when you or someone you are in a relationship with gets angry.  Blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, and worst of all, communication comes to a screeching halt. The ability to remain loving and rational leaves on a Lear jet, and when the confrontation is over, the wounds may have caused irreversible damage.  If you or someone you love has an out of control temper, it’s time to talk about it and make real changes that will strengthen the relationship.

Long lasting, sincere, balanced relationships are sustained when anger is kept in its proper place. Let’s face it, we all get annoyed at times, anger is an emotional reaction to what feels like an injustice or hurt. If a partner has betrayed our trust or hurt us, it is natural to feel angry, but not productive to remain in that place.  On the other hand, raging over small incidents such as towels not being folded a particular way or toothpaste caps not on, or losing it when your partner doesn’t like the same music as you—is unhealthy and destructive.

Relationships need to be nurtured with open lines of communication. Too much angst on a daily basis will erode the very fabric that binds you and your partner.  When you are angry, you are not thinking with your rational mind but rather your emotions, and if you don’t step out of the situation to let tempers cool off, you may end up saying hurtful things to your partner.  Regardless if said in a fit of rage, words can damage, degrade, and diminish a relationship to the point of being unsalvageable.

Rather than going down that slippery slope, count to ten, then walk away and simmer down before you speak. Write a letter and get out everything you want to say, uncensored, and then burn it.  If you want positive results, communicate your needs with a cool head rather than a hot temper. The truth is, any satisfaction you get from saying something mean, is temporary.  In the end, the anger subsides, and you’re often left with guilt or shame and sometimes a feeling of emptiness. None of these feelings are constructive to you or your relationship.

Being angry all the time or dealing with someone who is, is exhausting.  All the energy spent on getting fired up or attempting to control it’s effect on you, stifles your ability to achieve, to create, and to love.  If your partner is often mad and blames you for everything under the sun, you may feel as if you are walking on eggshells.  If you are the culprit, you may have a difficult time keeping any lasting relationships and begin to feel misunderstood and alienated.

Anger is both learned and innate, and it manifests in different ways and can stem from a variety of causes. How you saw anger management modeled as a child plays a role in how you handle your own anger.   If an abusive parent that modeled chronic anger or fits of rage raised you, you might be imitating that bad behavior as it seems “normal” to you.  Maybe you feel emboldened by anger as it gives you a false sense of control.

The good news is whatever the underlying cause, excessive or explosive anger is treatable. The first step is recognizing and owning up to it, and then through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and/or EMDR, you can learn how to live without anger controlling you.

If you and your partner want to change your patterns, practice using “I” statements rather than shaming and blaming (which fuels anger and defensiveness), “I feel betrayed when you don’t follow through with what we agreed upon.”  Try being empathetic to your partner. Empathy helps us understand the why behind another’s emotions—that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate bad behavior. Compassion provides valuable insight that can help you understand your partner, which in turn gives you the ability to respond less defensively as you realize it’s not about you. Count to twenty-five, breath, exercise, go for a walk—do whatever it takes to cool off and let your anger dissipate before you speak. Perhaps making an appointment with your partner to discuss the issue the next day at a specific time would be best as this will give you both time to cool down.

When you both feel ready, touch each other—give a hug, make-love, kiss, hold hands, reconnecting physically, is healing.  Practice not flying off that proverbial handle, cultivate patience and eventually you will be able to respond rather than react.

 


How to Live With a Narcissist

Does your partners’ every conversation revolve around her/himself, or do they chronically take credit for things they had nothing to do with?  You may be living with a person who has a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People with NPD build a fantastical overinflated image of themselves from which they navigate their lives.  They have a heightened sense of superiority and self-importance. People often describe a narcissist as pompous, arrogant, manipulative, and cocky. Yet, a narcissist can lure you in with their grandiose fantasies and charm.  Needless to say, it is challenging to create healthy intimate relationships with those who have NPD, but not impossible.

People suffering with NPD are often unconscious to, and want to avoid their buried feelings of insecurity, which is the root cause of their narcissistic behavior. They do this by creating delusions of grandeur in order to mask their feelings of inadequacy. Despite their inner hidden feelings of shame and of not being enough, their attitudes and conduct do not get a pass; they are responsible for them.  One of the first things you can do is identify behavior that is not conducive to a healthy relationship. Because narcissists lack empathy for others, it is difficult for them to listen. It is hard for them to sympathize with the pain and suffering of others, you included. Rather than explaining bad behavior away, it is essential to set and stand up for your boundaries and needs.

Once you have established boundaries, guard them closely for the narcissist is used to being the one in control and will rebel.  They are extremely resistant to change. They may even resort to name calling or rage, walk away and stand your ground. Don’t tolerate abusive language or behavior, there is never a good excuse for it.  It is not normal or okay for a partner to dominate and demand constant attention and admiration.  Nor is normal for a partner to be overly critical while at the same time never being able to admit their own faults or misconduct. You can alter your response to these narcissistic behaviors by establishing very clear boundaries that you adhere to out of respect for yourself. Write them down and then begin to implement them. Eventually like a well-tended garden, your efforts will yield resolve and self-confidence and perhaps a more balanced relationship.  

Separate reality and fiction.  People with NPD have a tendency to blame their partners for anything that goes wrong and for any of their shortcomings. They distort the truth.  Remember, narcissists often try to defend their inflated self-image and will lie when they deem fit to keep it propped up. They tend to feel entitled to whatever it is they want and when it does not happen, they often lash out and condemn you.  Redirect the truth by pointing out simple realities and facts in a way that does not shame the narcissist. Role model what it looks like to admit failures, pointing out the lessons that can be learned, but don’t expect the narcissist to have an immediate about face.  It will take time and consistency for them to realize that they can safely let go of having to be right all of the time. That in our failures we learn to stretch and evolve into a fuller human being.

In order to preserve your own self-worth while living with a narcissist, it is essential to deflect any projection of who you are as a person.  In other words, a narcissist may make belittling comments slowing chipping away at your self-esteem. “Oh you are so lazy, you’re lucky you have me, no one else would want you. If it wasn’t for you, I would be further along in my career.”  You get the point. Feed your self-esteem by spending time with others that are positive and uplifting. Validate yourself by living the life that you want, follow your dreams and passions. Equally important is to let go of the false stories in your head that the narcissist may have planted.  By knowing who you are as a person, it’s much easier to redirect undeserved blame.

Realize the narcissist’s blame is not really about you at all, it’s about their protecting the image of themselves.  As tough as it is to take unwarranted criticism, remember that you have nothing to do with it. If you imagine holding up a mirror, know that the narcissist is really talking about himself or herself.

Denying the bad behavior of a narcissist will not make it go away.  Ask yourself if being in the relationship is what you really want. If you want to keep this person in your life, start by gently beginning to speak out against their behavior.  Stay focused on how the behavior makes you feel.  Narcissist want admirers, railing over all of their faults and poor conduct will unnerve them.  A kind and gentle approach will have a more powerful and positive impact.

Take time to construct real answers to questions such as how will you enforce your boundaries.  What has not worked in the past? Look at the balance of power in your relationship, how will that be impacted?  What do you want from the relationship? Is your love real or are you in the relationship for other reasons? Sincere reflecting will help you create a realistic plan for the changes you want to make. Be patient with yourself.  Cultivate wholesome relationships with friends (outside of the narcissist’s inner circle) where there is a true ebb and flow of give and take. Notice how that feels.

Narcissists can change, if they want to. They can learn to listen, to follow through with their promises, and to be more engaged with your needs and desires. It would be unhealthy for you to live your life waiting for this if the person suffering from NPD has no interest in working on their behaviors with a psychotherapist or couples counselor.   

Ultimately, deciding how much of your time and energy you want to spend in/on this relationship is paramount. Search within yourself so that you live a happy joyful life.


Speaking Truth in Our Relationships

When I work with couples, I always advocate for one thing consistently – always stay honest with one another. Regardless of the problem you’re experiencing in your relationship, it can likely be traced back to a moment when you weren’t entirely truthful either with yourself or your partner. It’s easy to want to hide our truth sometimes. We may be afraid of rejection. We may be afraid of hurting our partner. We may be afraid that our truth is selfish, or negative in some way.

But the honest truth is that hiding how you feel or what you think from your partner does far more harm than good. If you hide your truth, you may experience feelings of resentment. And from their perspective, they may experience resentment, as well.

I believe that honesty is the best policy – whether that’s in your romantic relationship, with family, with friends, or with colleagues. Expressing how you feel and what you think helps to open up a productive dialogue. You may be surprised to find the listening party is incredibly receptive – maybe they’ve been feeling the same way or having similar thoughts. You may be equally surprised to find that they disagree with you – but are willing to openly discuss the disagreement.

The more open you are about your experience and your truth, the less likely negative interactions are. Your openness draws in openness. Your energy attracts similar energy. If you are open and honest and someone disagrees with you, there may be a moment of tension. But by accepting their honesty in kind, you move forward in productivity and understanding rather than in negativity and bitterness.

Of course, there are ways to ineffectively communicate your truth. You may be feeling negative emotions – like anger or sadness. These may lead to you lashing out and being brutally honest in a way that’s intended to hurt or offend your partner. It’s important to understand that speaking your truth comes from a place of self-respect and of respecting others – not from a place of anger, fear, or desire to be hurtful. If your words are rooted in good intentions, they will likely be received as such.

Communicating honestly and openly by speaking your truth can lead to great things within your relationship. You will find yourself being more open to hearing the truth of your partner. You will find that your partner truly hears you and empathizes with your experience. Most importantly, you will no longer feel a masked bitterness within your relationship that results from you (and your partner) not being honest with one another (or yourselves) when resolving conflict.

Speaking Truth in Our Relationships was originally published on Bridge of Life


Validate, Empathize and Acknowledge Your Partner’s Experience

It’s not uncommon to have a disagreement in your relationship. It’s to be expected. Any time two unique people with differing backgrounds, priorities, and emotional attachments come together to try and make a decision or work to improve their relationship they’re bound to clash every once in awhile. That being said, there are ways that you can disagree – even when emotions are running high – that keep communication lines open and maintain your relationship as a safe space for one another. There is no one-size-fits-all plan for solving relationship arguments or disagreements, but there is one step that you can take to help ease tensions and improve communication to reach an effective resolution to you and your partner’s problem.

Acknowledge, Validate and Empathize with your partner.

It simple yet many couples don’t do this. When you’re arguing with your partner or with anyone in general, you may feel defensive. You may feel angry or hurt. Maybe you feel that your feelings aren’t being heard. You are completely entitled to these feelings. You’re always entitled to your feelings and I encourage all of my clients to fully acknowledge and accept what they’re feeling – whether it’s positive or negative – before choosing to focus on the moment and what is best for that situation. However, while you are entitled to these unpleasant feelings that are a result of an argument, your partner is likely experiencing many of those same feelings. They, like you, are entitled to their feelings, as well.

When you’re trying to work through a problem as a unit, it can help to acknowledge and validate your partner. Acknowledge and validate their experience. You may not agree, and I’m not implying that in order to make up agreement is necessary – it often isn’t, and it’s unreasonable to force any parties to agree to something they inherently disagree with. Acknowledging and agreeing with your partner without validation and empathy will not make the problem go away.

An Exercise in Validation and Empathy

Validating and empathizing with them is sometimes as simple as saying, “I see and understand what you’re feeling, it makes sense to me and if I were in your shoes I might feel the same way.”

It may be saying, “I hear what you are saying, it makes sense to me and I imagine that if I were in your shoes I would feel hurt.”

This relates to a process I encourage – the mirroring exercise. The mirroring exercise works like this:

Sender: Speak slowly about a given topic, using short sentences.

Receiver: Repeats back to sender everything that is being said, word-for-word.

Maintain eye contact at all times.

Receiver: May hold up a hand to signal to the sender that they’re moving too fast.

When the sender is finished speaking…

Receiver validates and empathizes by saying: I hear what you are saying and it makes sense to me. If I were in your shoes I might feel the same way (list the emotions they’ve expressed to you). Did I get that correct? Did I miss anything?

During this exercise, partners aren’t permitted to ask each other questions about their feelings or distract from what their partner is sending. Partners will likely feel uncomfortable. That’s normal! The point of this is to practice daily, for about 20 minutes (10 minutes each) to regularly validate and empathize with your partner.

By acknowledging your partner’s experience – their emotions, thoughts, and reactions – you open the door to allowing your relationship to remain a source of comfort despite the disagreement you’re having. Empathizing with your partner by saying “ If I were in your shoes I also might be feeling the way you are feeling” will help you and your partner to connect. Opening that connection can help you move forward in a safe space with love.


“You Complete Me” ???

We’ve all heard the saying, “You complete me.” We may have even said it ourselves when we meet a significant other who feels like they just click into our lives like a missing puzzle piece. People who use this phrase feel like their partner is the missing component of their lives they never knew they needed. Their lives feel happier, healthier, and more fulfilling with their partner – so, naturally, they believe that their partner has completed their life. This thought pattern is accepted, and often encouraged in the media. The idea that you aren’t complete until you’ve found love or committed to a serious relationship is perpetuated as a societal norm.

Wanting to find love and maintain a happy, healthy relationship is positive. As humans, we are born to interact and connect with others on that deeper emotional level. However, the concept that your significant other completes you isn’t necessarily healthy. First, let’s look at the pressure that puts on a potential romantic partner.

While a partner may feel cherished at the thought of being your other half, or that you view them in that light, it can also cause some stress or anxiety that you didn’t intend. Being tasked with completing somebody is no small thing. It means you are relying on them to somehow make up for your mistakes or flaws. It means that it’s their job to better you and push you to be your very best, shining self. This is probably not what you meant when you thought or voiced that they completed you. You probably just wanted to say something sweet! Still, keeping in mind that your words have a deeper meaning and a greater impact than you realize is important.

Second, let’s look at how this phrase reflects onto you. You do not need another human or a relationship to complete you. On your own, you are an amazing, beautiful, independent being. You have hobbies, interests, goals, dreams, and desires. You have a favorite restaurant on the corner, a group of friends and family members who you enjoy spending time with, and a book club you joined last year. You are constantly growing, each day, just through the small experiences that you live through. You make choices, you make mistakes, and you have exciting success stories.

Having a partner may fulfill a goal, desire, interest, or dream you have. Having a healthy, loving romantic relationship may make you feel content, happy, and like you’re having more success stories than mistakes. But that does not mean this wonderful person in your life completes you. You are not half of a person, you are whole and you are unique. When you start viewing your partner as just that – a partner – instead of the other half of yourself, you give both of you permission to be fully who you are and to fully love and appreciate every aspect of each other. Together, you create something exciting and new that involves both of you.


Taming Anger

Do you find yourself feeling increasingly resentful or filled with frustration over little incidents, like someone bumping into your grocery cart? Do you secretly fear that the simmering rage within is driving a wedge between your relationships and sabotaging your self-esteem?   Anger, obviously, is a human reaction with a unique purpose in life, but when it dominates all other emotions, it tarnishes our mind, body and spirit.  Overzealous chronic anger colors the way we live and influences our choices, negatively. How can you tame the anger beast and put it in check?

Let go of lingering resentment over something or someone in your past.  Resentment enslaves us to the insult of what someone did or did not do to us, it handcuffs our being to negative hurtful feelings.  Psychology Today used the quote; “Living with resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other guy to get sick.”  Rather than ruminating on the injury, divert your thoughts to pleasant, joyful memories. Mindfully disengage from poring over polluted judgements that over time grow large and cloud your vision.  Avoid looking through old photos that stir up negative reminders.

Be kind to yourself. Set aside time to nurture yourself, this is not being selfish. Quite the contrary, it is giving permission to love yourself. Rather than routinely ignoring your needs, indulge a bit.  Take time to exercise, to luxuriate in a bath or to close your eyes for a twenty-minute nap when you’re tired. Listen to your physical, mental, and spiritual cues

Allow yourself time to simmer down.  When your temper flares, use breathing to diffuse the fire and take a walk, whenever possible. Physiologically it takes twenty minutes to an hour for the fight or flight hormones to dissipate so give yourself time to flush them out.

Recognize what infuriates you and consider if the reason that these behaviors infuriate you is that you act in similar ways; and are unconsciously pretending that you don’t. Perhaps by owning these behaviors your reaction will be defused; allowing you to have compassion and empathy towards others that display those behaviors. Surround yourself with positive people, their energy will permeate your sense of well-being and improve your overall moods. Sleep enough so that you feel rested, as a lack of sleep can cause tempers to flare.  Fluctuating blood sugar levels can also set us on edge.  If you suffer from hypoglycemia, eat small meals throughout the day. Exercise is excellent for stabilizing your moods so get enough to work off pent up frustration. Our bodies were meant to move, when we sit too long too often, it can affect how we feel.

Laugh more, nothing like a little dose of funny to turn an angry frown into a smile.  When we find humor in life and don’t take everything as if it is a personal affront, our lives are more satisfying.  Try letting go, seek hilarity and enjoy a big belly laugh.  Watch a comedian or hang out more with friends who like to laugh. It has been proven that people with a sense of humor, heal faster and are happier.

Cultivating healthy alternatives to anger has the power to uplift your life.  Not that you’ll never get angry, but you’ll be the one in charge, to dictate when to call it quits, rather than the anger, resentment, or frustration being the boss.  We all get miffed at times, when a toe gets stubbed or when we experience a serious slight, but we do have the choice to react with a clear head, to breathe, and to move on.


Return to Love Again & Again

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The Beatles popularized the phrase, “All you need is love” and to some this may sound trite or over simplified, but it is based literally on ancient philosophical truths. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, Darkness cannot drive out darknessonly light can do thatHate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Do you ever feel overwhelmed navigating through a world that sometimes feels hollow and made of steel emotionally? How do you cultivate love when confronted with bigotry and misogyny or any other misguided negative attitude? Returning to the essence of love within you will stave off the blues and keep your heart healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

How do we define love? There are a plethora of loves; love of country, love of an activity, love for yourself or a friend, love of family, love between two partners. In other words, what type of love are we talking about here? Philosophical love, love that transcends the limitations of our inner and outer worlds. Love that acknowledges others and never acquiesces to hatred. My grandmother used to say, “Never say never.” And she was right, there are travesties that are so appalling, it is easy for the seed of hate to flourish. Yet, even then, if you are consumed with hatred, like a small grass fire gone awry, the consequences are devastating.

The Greeks, who defined six different kinds of love, called this universal love Agape. Eventually Agape was translated in Latin to caritas, which became the origin of the word charity. In the Theravada Buddhist tradition this is called mettā or “universal loving kindness” All spiritual traditions and practices address this type of love. How do you apply this kind of love to your everyday life without feeling fake or put on? Like most things, it takes conscious practice and willingness to journey inward. You don’t need to conform to any one particular spirituality, in fact, I urge you to explore: “It is proper for you to doubt .. do not go upon report .. do not go upon tradition..do not go upon hearsay.” (Buddha, Kalama Sutra).   In other words, it’s essential to survey and study that which resonates with you. There is a banquet of philosophies on love to choose from. Find quotes that speak to your heart, keep them close to you when you need a little bolster.

Practical ways to develop a loving heart is to learn about yourself and others. The more we know and love ourselves the easier it is to open a closed fist and to reach out. For example, if I am in a grumpy mood one day and someone does a kind deed, opens a door for me, this will soften my edge. This act of loving kindness then has a ripple effect spreading out into the world. One person, you, us, can make a difference. We all have the capacity to allow love to grow our empathy for others. We may be unable to reach everyone, but like that old Chinese proverb says, “you climb a mountain one step at a time.” It has been physiologically proven that putting on a smile, when you’re feeling unhappy, changes the chemistry of your blood; all of the stress hormones drop. One simple practice can change a negative into a positive and that positive fosters love.

You may never know the impact your love and generosity has on the world. I once heard a tale about a Holy man who lived in a very small village. He asked God why he couldn’t be moved to bigger more prominent place where his work could touch thousands more than this small community he was stuck in as the spiritual leader. But alas, the man carried on his good deeds for years and eventually died, never having been relocated from his village. When he met the Sustainer he asked why this was? Then, he was shown all of the people he inadvertently helped and how they went on to help others and so on. This story stuck with me. It reflects that part of us that wants to be recognized and rewarded. It reminds me that an act of love, kindness or generosity by definition expects no reward. The act is the reward.

Stories such as those remind us over and over that the power of love can impact our world. Love guides us during duress; it is a road map that can lead us to safe shores when we feel lost or confused. That we do have a choice and that our chosen weapon to dissolve hatred is loving kindness.

 


On Being Single during the Holidays

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The holidays, while they may bring joy, also bring certain people who we do not see much other times of the year. Those relatives, acquaintances and sometimes friends who ask the inevitable question, “Why isn’t a nice girl like you married?” – or some variant of that inquiry.

You are good with yourself and you know it. You like yourself, you like your independence. But sometimes deep inside you may wonder the same thing. Every Holiday Season is another marker of the passage of time. “Will it ever happen?” you ask yourself. Innocent questions by often loving and well meaning relatives make us wonder the same thing. “Why am I alone?” and with that question comes doubts. “Maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I will never meet the right person.” The most important thing is to keep this thought from running rampant in your head.

The fact is you may not find the “right” person, at this moment in time. The “right” person may be in your life now, but you have to see him through a different lens, perhaps you can become more open to meeting people who may not look on the outside the way you had envisioned them. Perhaps, like my friend Lori, you will meet your soul mate when you are 47 after completing your PhD and working for years at a successful career.

Or, you could be a Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, Coco Chanel, Clara Barton, Mary Cassatt, Luisa May Alcott, DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin, or Queen Latifah … to name just a few strong, talented women who have made their mark on the world living as independent, fulfilled, single women.

We really can choose the way we perceive our lives, and our perception changes the way the world around us reacts to us. Many people are unhappily married – many have wonderful relationships, just as there are many folks who are happily single and others unhappily single. One thing we can control is choosing to be happy, regardless of our relationship status.

Being single during the holidays, you join the majority of the population of the United States. In 2014, 50.2% of the population 16 and older were single as compared with 37.4% in 1976. You are not alone!

How can you shake those single holiday blues?

  • Say yes to every invitation! Even if you stay for 30 minutes, get moving and get out. You never know whom you will meet. It could be a guy, it could be a new best friend, a lead on a cool apartment or job for the New Year.
  • Whether serving meals at a shelter or collecting used coats among friends and coworkers for the needy, or helping your next-door neighbor shovel his walk, you can make a difference. Look around, you will see opportunities large and small. Do something … even if it’s just sharing a smile.
  • Contact old friends or reach out to someone new. Sharing a cup of coffee or glass of wine is a great way to feel socially connected.

Whether the questions about your relationship status from that friend or relative is “well meaning” or not, if you don’t want to share, switch the topic of conversation back to them. Everyone likes to talk about themselves … now is the time to capitalize on that!