Grief

When I’ve previously considered writing a blog post about grief, I felt like letting out a long, slow sigh.  “Grief,” I’d tell myself, “is a topic with such gravity, how can I ever offer anything helpful in the short form of a blog post.”  So, I avoided writing about it at all. None of my blog posts presume…

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Are people good?

Sometimes clients wait until the very last minute of their sessions to ask impossibly complex, even if brilliant, questions. In the last blog post, “What are your ‘givens’?”, I noted Diane asked me, “what is the meaning of life” quite literally as she was walking out the door. To find my answer (yes, I actually…

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Other people, our moral mirrors: Part 2, developing our identity

Many years ago, when half of my clients were teenagers, I would often begin by asking them “What is your main job in your life right now?” Almost always, they would say “to do well in school.”  It was like a script.  They’d probably heard this question from many others—their parents, teachers, school counselors (or in some…

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Racism

“Racism…” he thinks, with a long, drawn-out sigh, filled with dread, despair, confusion, anger, sadness, pain, hopelessness. I am not talking about some hypothetical Man of Color. I am talking about me, when I think about racism, which is often, but probably not often enough. Now that I’ve narrowed it down for you, I will…

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The benefits of limited self-doubt

Self-doubt is one of the most confusing and yet constant feelings we experience. It is everywhere, in nearly everything we do, big and small. Self-doubt is that little voice that says, “are you sure you should…? [have whole milk in your latte], or [text an old romantic partner who’s sent you a seemingly harmless text],…

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Introspection Part 12, Ideals for self-discovery

Some time ago, before writing the last couple of Blog posts on introspection, I had decided that there would be exactly twelve posts in this series. Twelve is such a nice, complete number. There are twelve months in a year. In the Bible, there are the twelve tribes of Israel and Twelve Apostles (okay, now…

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Introspection Part 11, Ambivalence and balance

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass   Having the capacity to hold and experience two opposing or contradictory feelings, thoughts and desires at the same time is human, very human. It is both a blessing and a…

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Introspection Part 10, Avoiding Narcissism

Having spent the last several months writing about “going inside yourself” (introspection), it occurs to me that I should take a breather and answer the question, “is there such a thing as too much introspection?” I want to say “no” because introspection is so much a part of my life as a therapist and a…

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Introspection Part 9, Being interesting

In the last blog post, I described the difference between existence (you as you are right now) and being (you in the process of becoming what you want to be).  Being is preferable.  Being means frequently asking yourself where you are headed in your life, your head, your values and morality.  Being isn’t just about goals, although…

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Introspection Part 8, Self-awareness and being

  “Skynet… becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th.” From the Movie, Terminator II, 1991   I was on a bus at the age of 14, headed toward work. I was looking down at my hands. I was probably bored, and maybe high on something. I started to move my fingers, watching my…

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Introspection Part 7, Intersubjectivity

There’s this scene in the movie The Elephant Man that was transformative for me.  I saw the movie in my late teens.  In the movie, the main guy has a disease which disfigures his whole body, including his face.  In this particular scene, he is running from reporters.  I think he’s in a hospital.  At…

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Introspection Part 6, Self-acceptance

Introspection Part 6, self-acceptance I recently said the following to a client struggling with shame: “The opposite of shame is not pride. The opposite of shame is self-acceptance.” Moving toward self-acceptance requires self-knowledge, which in turn requires introspection. In Part 2 of this series of blog posts on introspection, I attempted to lay out the…

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Introspection Part 5, Your inner narrative

Now that you have some tools for accessing your inner self (See the previous blog post, Introspection Part 4), what are you supposed to do once you are “in there” (looking around within yourself)? Answer: find your “inner narrative”—the story you tell yourself about you and your world. That’s really it. Sounds simple, and it…

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Introspection Part 4, Tools for self-discovery

It occurs to me that in addition to all the negative reasons one might not engage in self-exploration I noted in Part 3 of this series on introspection (fear of emotional pain, family or gender negative messages, avoiding  responsibility), some of us do not engage in self-exploration because we just don’t really know how to do…

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Introspection Part 3, Why do we avoid our inner lives

I hope I made a convincing case in Part 2 of this discussion on introspection—that exploring your inner life has some very tangible (and intrinsic) benefits, including predictability and flexibility (in how you interact with others). I hope I also made it clear that, without introspection, there is really no way for a person to…

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Introspection Part 2, the value of self-discovery

Every once in a while I run into a person who tells me they think introspection and self-awareness are a waste of time. I have even on occasion been told that introspection encourages negative feelings about ourselves, by causing us to dwell on difficult issues. I am almost universally so surprised by these ways of…

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Introspection Part 1, What is introspection?

A friend recently read my book, Firewalking on Jupiter. He liked it. He thought it was useful in a variety of ways. He thought the book did a pretty good job of explaining how to address different issues you might need to address depending on who you are and what you discover about yourself—things like…

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Hypervigilance

I am always thrilled when a client brings an insight to me that reflects an understanding of their issues at a fairly deep level, especially when they are able to use language they find helpful to explain how they use their insights to address their own difficulties. So, please, if you are either a client…

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When does a healthy feeling become unhealthy?

A client struggles with self-doubt. Don’t we all. Yes. Of course we do. In this case, though, the self-doubts were emotionally devastating for her. She asked, “how do I get rid of it, this self-doubt?” Fair question, in light of her present difficulties with it. I pointed out that, like all feelings, self-doubt is a…

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Moral Conviction

Where does moral conviction originate? Does it come from within? Is it instilled in us from something external? How does it arise? Do we need to pay attention to it, foster it, grow it, encourage it, for it to gain strength? Or, does it exist of its own accord, making itself known when the time…

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Getting unstuck

Being stuck in your life is nearly always the result of making a decision to do nothing to change your circumstances. I say “nearly always” only to account for those very rare situations in which you are really completely unable to change anything about your current status (like, say, you’ve been in a car accident…

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Grace and post-victim status

In my most recent blog post, I charted some of the course of moving into and then out of the victim role as an essential and healthy process for dealing with trauma. I wrote this in part due to a conversation I had with a few therapy colleagues at a conference about trauma and healing.…

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Being a victim

When is a victim truly a victim, as opposed to when someone merely thinks they are a victim? Why do we question this? Probably because, often enough, we hear someone claiming “victim” status when they may not actually be a victim at all. Their justification for claiming “victim” status comes through blaming someone or something…

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Coasting

“You can only coast in one direction.” In case the meaning of this statement doesn’t sink in right away, take a moment and think about it. Imagine you’re on a bicycle. You’ve stopped pedaling. You’re coasting. This won’t last long unless you are going down, only down. Going straight or uphill, you’ll stop coasting pretty…

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Defining Morality

In a recent blog post I discussed the process of “Defiant Morality” leaving for another blog the related process of “Defining Morality,” which will be the topic of this blog post. Defining Morality might be described as the opposite side of the spectrum from Defiant Morality. Defining Morality is this: “in any given situation, do…

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Defiant Morality

I have for some time been considering how to approach more directly my thoughts on morality—on what is “good” and “bad” when it comes to human decisions, including their behavior, beliefs, attitudes, and judgments. I have wanted to write about this topic directly, but have hesitated. The problem has been that is in my nature…

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Pride

People fear pride, which is weird, and a bummer. Pride is good. It even seems a little sad when someone tells me they fear letting themselves feel pride. Pride is simply a way of telling ourselves we have done something worth doing, and maybe we have even done it well. So why do we fear…

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Judgments

We all say we don’t like to be judged by others, and yet, let’s face it, we all judge others. Does this make us hypocrites? Not necessarily. It depends on what you judge and how you use judgments. There are a couple of different ways to judge and to be judged. There are also different…

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Responsibility and blame

Desire for personal growth, and the kind of change that comes with it, is usually driven by a recognition that things as they are now are somehow unsatisfactory, problematic, or just more difficult than we want them to be. Somewhere there is a situation that needs changing, a problem to be resolved, a challenge to…

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Empathy

Empathy is a very important part of my role as a therapist. Without it, the therapy relationship would feel and even be, robotic, mechanistic. What makes therapy human, connected, real, interesting and therefore valuable to the client (and me) is my ability and willingness to try to imagine what it would be like to be…

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Goal-setting by imagining being “there”

Setting goals is something is an important and early part of the therapy process.  As part of the goal-setting process, I ask questions like these: “How will you know when you are ready to be done in therapy?” “How will things be different in your life?”  “How will you feel about the problems that brought…

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The Power of Tenacity

A search for the definition of the word “tenacity” first brings up “stubbornness.”  It works for a starter—except we think of stubborn as a mostly negative trait and I want to write about the positive aspect of tenacity. Sometimes, though, there is also strength in stubbornness. While on a walk a few years ago with…

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Personal Heroes

This is a modified version of a chapter in the book I wrote about my childhood. The book is called, “Twelfth Child.”  It is not published, but now and then I use parts of it when I speak and bits and pieces of it have shown up here as part of blogs and in other…

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How important is your past in therapy?

Clients are often (justifiably) concerned about getting stuck or dwelling on their past for months or years as part of the therapy process. Sometimes clients have a concern that therapy might encourage them to rely on their past as “an excuse” for whatever their issues might be in their current lives (“I can’t get my…

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What is “mental health,” Part 1

During my first session with clients, I often suggest to them that while they are thinking about which therapist might be a good fit for them, they ask themselves this question, “how does this therapist define what constitutes ‘mental health’?”  I wonder to myself, if asked that question during an initial session or phone call…

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