Emotional Intelligence, Self-Development, Uncategorized

Sometimes when people approach the process of ?trying to get their lives in order?, either as a choice for general improvement or in the aftermath of some kind of major upheaval, they may find themselves flummoxed at the scope of change, and unable to pinpoint a place to start. When clients come into my office for help with this kind of reconstruction work, we often start with the Needs and Wants work discussed in previous posts, so that we know what kinds of needs the client is seeking to address, going forward from this moment in their lives. After we know what port they’re trying to make for, we create a roadmap, something that gives them a framework to approach changing important aspects of their lives by adjusting how they express and boundary the needs and wants attached to those aspect. A roadmap identifies specific goals the individual wants to meet, and a reasonable, realistic plan for attaining them as best they can.

When creating a personal roadmap, these kinds of general goals are a second or third step in the process. They help define things we feel are needful, but they don’t address the very important question, “why?” Why are these kinds of changes necessary? What are they intended to move a person towards? What needs are they intended to meet?

The purpose of a roadmap, generally speaking, is to help define and prioritize meeting an individual’s needs and wants. By defining a high-level need in one’s life, then defining all the intermediary needs that make up that culminating purpose,?then?defining all the goals the individual feels they need to achieve to meet those needs, a person creates a customized list of short-term checklist goals that are congruent both with the larger needs, and the overall purpose. Employing the map analogy to full effect, it’s like charting a high-level, low-detail map of the globe, then zooming in until, at the most detailed level, you have a street map of your own neighbourhood. Each level of the roadmap is designed to refine the goals at that particular level, the needs that goal meets, and/or the actions or changes required to address the needs that meet the goals.

Many people struggle to communicate their own needs, for two main reasons:

  1. They don’t know their own needs, and
  2. They don’t trust that communicating them will get them met.

A roadmap is a tool for?better understanding your own needs. It may be that your needs are not being met because you’re unclear or inconsistent in their presentation, or you frequently downplay their priority when presenting them to others. This exercise is going to be most difficult for people who lack a willingness to be honestly introspective, or who have difficulty finding their own voice in relationships, but if you’re willing to tough it out, you’ll have the start of a improved, more consistent understanding of yourself, and that?can?help ease communicating this material to people around you.

Grab pencil and paper; I’ll wait.

For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll start with a familiar, reasonably common goal. For most people (at least in our own culture) the overall goal in life is?to be happy. If this is true for you, pick up your pencils and write that in the middle at the top of your paper:?“I want to be more consistently happy”. If happiness?isn’t?the be-all and end-all of your life’s purpose, write a more appropriate mission statement – where “appropriate” means “applicable to yourself, personally” – and leave me a comment to tell me what you chose, because I’ll be curious to see how the process works out for other goals. For the purpose of documenting the exercise (and partly because I’ll be using myself as an example), I’m going to continue with increasing happiness?as this particular roadmap’s destination point. As the highest?priority, ?everything else on your roadmap should be pointing at this goal, and giving you something to which you can align your decision processes.

Creating a Personal Mission Statement

When you look at that statement,?“I want to be more consistently happy”, what does that mean to you? When you consider?happiness?in the in the big picture?of your life overall, what contributes to your happiness? For many, if not most, of us, the answer to this question will amount to something that feels like a personal mission?statement, such as “I want to improve the quality of my life such that I am secure, comfortable; my needs are met and I have some degree of luxury”. If this assessment doesn’t fit for you, insert your own mission statement, one that encompasses your highest-priority need(s). Yes, these statements may seem banal and obvious at this stage of the game, but you’d be amazed at how many people have *never* thought to make these intentions for their lives explicit – and not clarifying the overall intent makes it difficult in both the long and short term, to do the evaluative assessments in situ that tell them whether or not they are behaving congruently, moving towards their priority need(s). Remember the Seneca quote from last week: “When you don’t know what port you’re making for, no wind is the right wind.”

Applying the Needs Framework

Now look at that mission statement and ask yourself, what needs must you meet in yourself to achieve your definition happiness, your priority need as you have defined it? These are the overall?life needs?or goals that you will strive to attain over the term of your life, the larger motivators that will help you shape decisions that make you happy, or move you towards your priority need. List everything that comes to mind on a second line under?“I want to be more consistently happy”, in a column of its own.

For myself, this second line contains the following column headers:

  1. Good Physical Health
  2. Good Mental Health
  3. Financial Stability
  4. Strong & Healthy Relationships
  5. Comfortable Home

You can re-arrange the items on this line according to priority, if they are not all valued equally in your personal roadmap. For my roadmap, I?value all five of my entries on this line equally. If any *one* of these items slides sufficiently off-kilter, it will pull all the rest of the items on this line out of balance?fairly quickly.

Next, draw lines on your paper to form columns for each of these secondary-level needs. In this stage of the exercise, I?want to document the?core personal needs, the emotionally-invested requirements you have for each of the categories of life needs defined in the column headings. For some of you, this section may be the most difficult, because it requires you to look inside and become aware of, and give name to, some fairly intimate needs. In many cases, you may not know what some or all of these needs are, and that’s okay?- a roadmap is a lifelong project-in-progress; you can come back and fill in the blanks (or adjust previous content) later as you become more aware of your own?core needs.

Breaking Down the Emotional Needs

The importance of this exercise comes from knowing what sub-level, emotional needs are likely to skew your attempts to meet your high-level life needs. If you find you are consistently not achieving some degree of success with the need identified in the column heading (such as “Financial Stability”), look at the emotional needs you’ve connected with that life need. For example, my map has “Meaningful Work” tied to “Financial Stability”, because when I don’t have work I find meaningful, my own unhappiness jeopardizes my willingness to stay in unsatisfying jobs, which has incredible impact on my financial stability.?Honestly assess whether your emotional requirements are being fulfilled. If what you’ve written on paper here doesn’t feel like it’s?the issue, perhaps there’s another emotional need you haven’t yet identified but are responding to as it goes unmet below surface-level consciousness. Or perhaps one of the needs in another category is sliding, and pulling everything else with it (as when pervasive job dissatisfaction starts to manifest as conflict or struggles in relationships). Knowing the emotional needs as well as the life goals becomes an excellent diagnostic tool when you become frustrated at a perceived lack of progress in any one area, because you can come back to your roadmap for reference to see where an identified, prioritized need is sliding.

Being aware of your emotional needs, and how they map to your life goals and global need, also makes the whole deal a hell of a lot easier to communicate clearly, and with relevant priority, to those people with whom you share your life.

For myself, mapping emotional needs for my life goals looks like this:

  1. Good physical health: I?need to feel attractive (in my own eyes, at least), and physically capable, strong enough to be (by and large) physically independent.
  2. Good mental health: I?need to feel like I’m doing more than coping from one day to the next, that I’m actively resolving, or at least working on, my own issues.
  3. Financial stability: I?need to feel like I’m responsibly managing my resources so that I?can both cover my basic expenses, and allow for a reasonable degree of discretionary luxury, and am planning adequately for future/retirement necessities.
  4. Strong & healthy relationships: I?need to feel like a respected and respectful equal; I?need to feel desired and desirable; I?need to feel I?am trusted enough to have some degree of decision-making autonomy; I?need to communicate effectively, and be communicated with likewise; I?need to be able to continue with intimate (invested/emotionally engaged), non-primary relationships, both sexual and non-sexual in nature.
  5. Comfortable home: I?need to feel secure in my home; I?need to feel it is a place of peace and comfort. I?*want* to be surrounded by items of beauty and quality; I *want* to be able to have at least adequate space for all my myriad hobbies.

The Action Plan

Now we come to the portion of the exercise with which people have the least amount of difficulty producing, if a harder time maintaining. In this stage, you’re going to list what you’re doing, not doing, and planning to do, to address the emotional needs that drive the life needs that direct you towards your priority need. (Are you seeing how this all starts to hang together now?)

You may have to go to a second sheet of paper somewhere around here; I?often do.

Keeping your *emotional needs* firmly at the forefront of your mind, look at everything you have written in each column, and under that information, I?want you to outline the definitive actions you are doing to meet those needs. Try to word things in the positive if you can; it helps clarify forward focus?when we?define plans by what we’re doing rather than what we’re NOT doing. For example, instead of saying “stop eating junk food”, say instead, “eat more balanced meals, more healthy snacks”. Working in the positive gives you actual goals to move towards; working in the negative declines only a small number of possible options for your actions, which leaves you with unclear goals and a harder time measuring congruency in meeting or moving towards your stated global and personal needs. Think positive!

Next, list the things you aren’t doing but WILL do to help meet that need. These are going to be the larger milestones on your roadmap, goals that may take some work to manage, but real, achievable things you can reach either immediately or with some degree of short- or long-term directed planning.

My milestones-in-progress:

  1. Good Physical Health: a. rebuild spinal integrity as much as possible; b. rebuild general fitness level (aquafit/swimming, cycling); c. moderate food intake to reasonable portion sizes; d. reduce the carbs-content of that intake (not necessarily to Atkins-level, but down); e. eat more home-cooked meals and less fast food & junk.
  2. Good Mental Health: a. continue my own therapy; b. address/resolve known outstanding fears of feeling undervalued or minimized in my intimate relationships; c. continue to practice and evaluate and refine my risk assessment processes.
  3. Financial Stability: a. redo the monthly budgets and see how much money I actually?have?when all the bills and standard personal and professional expenses are paid each month; b. move investment portfolio to a better-managed, higher-yield program; c. determine whether I?can safely increase monthly contributions to that portfolio base, or increase loan payments; d. create list of high-want items, and look at short- and long-term budget options for planned purchasing.
  4. Strong & Healthy Relationships: a. clarify relationship structures?and expectations tied to those structures; b. re-evaluate and clarify any changes to the?Relationship Framework & Needs; c. apply improved tools and techniques as developed via counselling, evaluate and tweak as needed; d. continue to evaluate and improve communications (especially where prioritized needs and wants are concerned); e. invest more time in discovering the things we enjoy doing together
  5. Comfortable Home: a. improve chore and general maintenance schedule; b. ask for more help when necessary; c. check the budget to see if hiring even occasional professional help is possible; d. rearrange space to make sure prioritized activities have priority access.

Evaluating Obstacle Risk

Now we’re getting to the closing sections of the roadmap.

You have now defined, or at least begun sketching in, your needs: global, life, personal. You’ve developed some milestones that set you on the path of meeting those identified needs, achievable goals that are not out of your reach (even if they may take some planning and effort to attain). But any pragmatic planning requires a degree of Risk Evaluation: you have to know what hurdles stand between you and your milestones, what dependencies you must factor in (either things you have to do in a specific order, or factors that may be beyond your control), and your contingency plan for managing your way over those hurdles. You’ll need to know which hurdles can be surpassed in the short term or with relatively minimal effort, and which ones require mini-roadmaps of their own to circumvent.

You can make separate lists of these as needed. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, because this is the stage where it becomes easy to become bogged down in the details, or dismayed by the hurdles. The purpose of this part of the roadmap is awareness, not obsession. You’re not documenting the known hurdles in order to throw them up as excuses to step off the roadmap and slide into despondency – to do so defeats the work and purpose of the roadmap exercise itself. This part of the roadmap simply lists the known challenges, like a topographical map might list mountains (take *THIS* pass through them), or rivers (detour to *THIS* shallow ford), or simply, “Here Be Dragons, avoid at all costs”.

And here we come to what should for all of us be the battle cry for this work: “Don’t let the fact that the work is hard become your excuse for not doing the work”.

I?suspect most people won’t be able to pull a detailed roadmap together in one sitting, certainly not without some degree of mental stressing. It took me several sittings to write?this post, with several revisions over the years since it first appeared, and now multiple attempts to prep it for this release?and the roadmap concept is one I’ve been actively working with now for *years*. I’ve had to go back rooting through some of the more introspective relationship-building posts I’ve written over the years to find places where I’ve already done some of the work, or explained some of the concepts. Trying to distill the process proved to be a hard exercise in and of itself, but?it has proven to be a useful tool for myself and my clients over the years as we try to shape a frame of reference for their self-development.

When we ask question in session like, “What kind of person do you *WANT* to be?”, we have to know as much about the needs their answer is trying to address as we do about the obstacles they perceive getting in their way. Then we figure out what we need to do about the goals of meeting those needs and working around the obstacles. This roadmap is a good way of allowing people a means of thinking about those questions, then measuring their own progress along the route they’ve plotted.

Emotional Intelligence, Self-Development, Uncategorized

I know I promised last week that we’d get to roadmaps this week, but it occurs to me we may need to delve first into how to develop a framework understanding of our own needs and wants. In the course of my own early counselling sessions as a client, I framed in what I consider to be my five cornerstone principles of a good relationship (be it a friendship, a professional relationship, an intimate, emotionally-invested partnership, etc.). These principles represent a framework on which I later hung the needs and wants I identified as important to my ability and willingness to engage in relationships. This particular structure has subsequently become an intrinsic piece of the work I do with my own clients engaging in self-discovery. Most clients come into therapy looking to change or improve some aspect of themselves, and especially with couples I often hear statements like, ?We want to improve our communications, and our intimacy.?

That’s all well and good, say I, but what do these words actually mean? What do they look like when they are being adequately addressed? What does it look like when they’re not? So we start with what I think of as big umbrella words, words that cover a lot of terrain and (frequently, as we discover) mean different things to different people. When we start with the big words, we can begin to drill down into expectations and values attached to those umbrella words, and often find a host of more detailed needs and wants lurking in the shade underneath. Sometimes it takes a therapist to figure out how to extract the name of the need from the broader discussion around these frameworks, but often we can get to them on our own by breaking down the umbrella-level lexicon with two particular questions: What’s important about [principle] to you? What need(s) do those important factors meet for you?

Note: Bear in mind, what I identified as foundational for myself may not look the same for everyone; for example, someone coming out of very different life experiences may identify ?Safety? as a cornerstone principle. For some, the ambiguous term ?intimacy? might be at the top of their list, if they feel they need those needs met first and foremost before committing to emotional engagement and investment. My personal list below also makes the implicit assumption that basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, employment, income, etc., are already being addressed and met. In the case where any of these baseline safety needs are NOT being met, we often must address those first; if you know your Maslow hierarchy of needs, you’ll know that an individual cannot proceed to self-actualization work (which is largely what I write about) while their basic existence is uncertain or threatened.

Most of the list below falls under the Maslow category of Love/Belonging or Actualization.

My five principles are: communication, consideration, responsibility, availability, and collaboration.?Using this 5-point structure, I am now going to attempt the death-defying feat of mapping these five cornerstone principles to a host of specific relationship needs. As this remains an organic work-in-progress for myself, some of these principles and needs remain general, and deliberately so; I also didn’t want to get distracted by the trap of trying to define my needs as they might pertain to *specific* relationships.

Principle: Communication

Needs: create time and space to talk and listen; create a shared lexicon of important terms; be willing to inform each other when needs/wants/expectations/plans/etc change, and stay present to create a solution (see Availability); question for clarity and understanding when one of us doesn’t understand something;?don’t make assumptions or draw conclusion in the absence of information/answers from the other party–if the only reason you don’t know something for sure is because *you* failed to ask the questions, the responsibility for those possibly erroneous conclusions is all yours.

Principle: Consideration

Needs: treat me as you want me to treat you (compassion); take those wants/needs/expectations of mine that you are aware of into consideration before making or acting on a decision that affects me or us, and let me know when your decided outcome runs contrary to what you know of my stance; be respectful of how you represent me to other people (whether I’m present or not); be supportive when I’m stressing; don’t deliberately risk the physical or emotional health and stability of the relationship (this is a catch-all for many things, best translated as, “Think many times before you introduce anything with a potentially negative influence or impact to our relationship”; tell me respectfully and in a timely manner if I’m being inconsiderate of you and your needs/wants/etc.; understand (and help me understand) that we are two distinct entities with two distinct purposes, two distinct perspectives, two distinct drives, two distinct methods of interacting with our respective worlds; help find a means of making those differences work for us, rather than drive us apart.

Principle: Responsibility

Needs: be willing to recognize, understand, and accept ownership for your actions, and the consequences thereof; don’t expect me to solve all your problems for you (trust that while I’m here to help, I am not your personal Quixotic hero, nor do I expect you to be mine); drive the process for resolving any issues you bring up that require such action (I don’t read minds, so if you have a need or expectation that isn’t met, it’s your responsibility to make that known to me, not mine to guess) – WHO HAS THE NEED, DRIVES THE SOLUTION; help me avoid known patterns like passive-aggressive ?blamestorming? and skittering away from tense topics, and be cool when I call your patterns to attention in return; don’t assume that because I’ve asked for your input, that I’m expecting you to solve all my problems for me: DON’T OWN MY SHIT, DON’T EXPECT ME TO OWN YOURS.

[A recurring lessons originally phrased by a good friend as, “Don’t be complicit in your own subjugation”, also falls into this area of responsibility and owning your own actions, but as it wasn’t really something I could tie to a specific relationship *need*, per se, I didn’t initially include it. Maybe for future blog fodder, I might ponder a list of ?lessons learned? that have been important steps on the path to that fifth Maslow tier of self-actualization– but not today.]

Principle: Availabilty

Needs: stay present when we’re talking about serious stuff, or, if you can’t stay present, tell me that you can’t (and preferably why), and let me know when you *will* be available; make time for me in your life, in your social circles and activities (let me discover and decide for myself which ones I’ll join you in, and which I won’t); make time for a physical relationship (sex, snuggles, touches, showers, play, whatever); provide timely information about your schedule so we can make joint or solo plans accordingly; be honest about your interest in any plans that come up (if you think you’re going to hate it, we can almost always find ways around requiring your attendance)

Principle: Collaboration

Needs: jointly establish mutual/shared goals and plans for achieving those goals; communicate interest and desire for collaborative projects (generally and specifically), along with identified degree of prioritization; be honest about your interest in collaborations, and communicate any influencing factors you are aware of that will impact joint efforts; if I explicitly ask for help with a challenge, work with me to determine what kind of help I’m asking for, and determining what kind of solution/resolution process I’m seeing help with; be willing to bounce ideas around together without assuming there’s any pressure on you personally to come up with the Ultimate Right Answer To Fix Everything.


Intrepid readers may note, “Intimacy” is not listed here as one of my foundational principles. For myself, I find intimacy is a reasonably natural by-product of these needs being met effectively within relationship. Intimacy is a willingness to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is something that develops in an environment where people feel safe and respected. If meeting these needs results in my feeling securely attached, then increased vulnerability and intimacy are the result, rather than needing to be a core principle themselves. If intimacy is NOT present in my relationships, however, you can be sure I’ll take that as a barometric measurement that one or more core needs are not being adequately addressed.

This list doesn’t even begin to cover my wants, because for many of us, “wants” are things that can change on an almost hourly basis some days. I have learned a few very important lessons about wants, though: first, if there’s something I want, I stand a better chance of getting it if I *ask* for it directly, rather than hint about it or approach the topic obliquely – or worse, say nothing and just assume people will figure me out. Just because something is a high-priority want in my mind, doesn’t mean that want will be clear and prioritized for anyone outside my own head. If it’s important, ask explicitly.

Second, it’s OK to take risks with wants. Wants are (almost) never going to be deal-breakers in a relationship, because if they are, then chances are *very* high you’re dealing with a mislabeled or misunderstood need. Therefore, ask for everything – you never know what you *can* have, until you ask for it. By the same token, however ? and I cannot stress how critical this understanding will be ? don’t *expect* that just because you’ve asked for something that you’re now entitled to have what you’ve asked for, because sooner or later, someone’s going to say No. In the vein of not counting chickens before hatching, don’t get emotionally invested in your wants until you’ve got the *thing* in your hands (metaphorically or literally), because again, sooner or later you won’t get what you want. And if you’re even moderately invested in getting that want met, it’s going to feel like a crushing defeat. Anticipate, sure – but don’t expect. There’s a whole other topic around wants & needs and outcome attachment, but I’m now getting several weeks worth of blog topics ahead of myself.

Next week we’ll finally get to looking at how to work all of this into an actual roadmap, I promise (assuming I don’t remember any other process steps between here and there…)

Emotional Intelligence, Self-Development

Something that comes up a LOT with both my individual and couple clients tends to be a sometimes-surprising lack of self-awareness around our own needs and wants. I suspect this tendency to not know, or not admit, to what we need and want comes from a couple of different places, starting with cultural messaging around how “wanting things” = “being selfish”, and reinforced by a million small disappointments throughout life that inevitably instill in us a message that there’s no point in wanting what we want because “we’re only going to be disappointed anyway”, either by not achieving what we want, or by achieving it and finding out it’s not what we thought it would be (see an earlier post on achieving our dreams). I used to think that women are doubly-hampered in that many of us are culturally-conditioned on the basis of gender to be silent, or to be nurturers putting other people’s needs ahead of our own. I don’t think it’s so obviously-gender-biased a phenomenon any more, however. I see an increasing number of men in my office who are, for many similar reasons, also adopting the kind of care-giver roles that have kept them so reactively bound to meeting a partner’s needs that these men haven’t had any more time to observe and develop their own needs than many women have.

This kind of cultural messaging is something we internalize from an early age, starting from the first time we as toddlers throw a tempter-tantrum in the toy aisle and get told we can’t have what we want. Maybe we grow up in financially-constrained environments where we can’t have what we want for economic reasons. The lucky and privileged ones grow up in environments where they learn they can have what they want without potentially asking for it at all. Many of us get into relationships as young (or even older) adults in which we attempt to attune to what our partners want so quickly that we put our own self-identifying desires on hold to be everything (or even just something) to our partners, risking a situation in which we create a pattern of back-burnering our own needs for so long that we forget we even have them. A long-time friend of mine refered to this many years ago as “becoming complicit in our own subjugation” — complictly enabling someone else’s needs to take such priority over our own for so long that we create a significant disturbance in the Force when one day those needs begin to reassert themselves.

For the purposes of perhaps gross-oversimplification, I define needs and wants as different things based on our abilities to flex where and how these needs are met, especially in relationship, and even *whether* these needs are addressed in specific relationships. In my lexicon, needs are generally the deal-breaker, gotta-have-them requirements one identifies as crucial foundations for secure attachment, for feeling content over the longer terms, for feeling like there is room to flourish and grow. Some of these may be tied to a basic Maslovian structure of needs, and some of them may be refinements of concepts like social belonging, esteem, or self-actualization. Wants, then, are those “nice to have” elements on which we are likely to be more willing to alter our expectations, or even voluntarily sacrifice them outright. (Note: Needs and wants are inherently different from values we hold, but for many people are intrinsically tied to those internal values. We’ll explore that idea in more depth in a futre post as well.)

There are two recurring issues I see time and again in the counselling office:
(1) people don’t know how to identify their own wants and needs at all, or
(2) people can’t tell the difference between needs and wants because they have allowed their needs to have as much of a transient nature and permeable boundaries as their wants have.

It’s a remarkably telling moment when I ask someone, “What exactly are your *needs* in this relationship?”, and receive back a blank stare. It’s common that people can tell me what they DON’T want to have happening (usually the exact set of factors that drive them to seek therapy in the first place). While defining by negative space is a good place to start, it doesn’t tell us much about what they know in a more positive way what needs they are driving toward. A Roman philosopher, Seneca the Younger, wrote, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” Most of us can tell when our needs are not being met, and if we’re happy in a situation, we simply assume that our needs for that situation ARE being met. But ask someone to identify WHAT needs are being met, and we’re most commonly met with silence. When we don’t know what needs we’re trying to meet in relationship, how do we know for sure when those needs are adequately met? Equally important, if we don’t know what needs we require to have met in relationship, how do we explicitly negotiate those needs with our partners such that our partners can explicitly consent to be part of the need-meeting process, or adequately negotiate what they *can* be available for??

(The topic of consent in relationships is a whole other ball of fish I’ll be writing about in a near-future blog post; stay tuned.)

At the very least, defining by negative space gives us a place to start by providing quick and convenient opposites we can use as a basis for explorations. If I know I don’t want sarcasm and mockery from a partner (for example), what would the opposite of that look like in my worldview, and do I want that instead? Or do I want something *like* that, but different? How would I describe or label that adjacent idea?

Sometimes it’s easier to step away from the framework of known don’t-wants (it can be difficult to convince people to let go of their anger over finally acknowledging their disappointments and frustrations) and challenge people to think in blue-sky terms about what they DO want. I like to refer to this process as “reinventing Self 2.0”. It’s largely predicated on one deceptively-simple question: “What kind of person do you CHOOSE to be?”, because when people can articulate the kind of person they wish they could be, they are often unconsciously speaking to their own internal needs; this gives us a very strong place to start a discussion about what gets in the way of meeting those needs, and how do we tackle those obstructions both real and perceived? It also sneakily inserts the concept of agency, based in the power of self-directed choice, into the lexicon of someone who may have a history of subsuming their own relational needs, resulting in an additional layer of disempowerment or disenfranchisement within their relationships.

Next week, I’ll offer some suggestions on how to build a “road map” to provide some direction when refining our self-knowledge about needs and wants, both in terms of building a lexicon and in terms of uncovering obstacles. Until then, consider the question of “WHAT KIND OF PERSON DO YOU choose to be?”, as a way of opening the internal exploration around identifying the kinds of needs that being that sort of person would meet for you.

Emotional Intelligence, Self-Development, Uncategorized

No-one who has seen any rendition of “Les Miserables” ever forgets the moment when one of the main characters stands atop the barricades waving the French flag as a symbol of defiant defense against the encroaching regular militia intent to tear the revolutionaries apart. Signalling our entrenched defense of a position is as much an act of rebellion or revolution as it is an act of fear or of outright war. This is as true in emotional conflict as it is in any more overt armed conflict.

People take positions or stances for a variety of reasons. For example, Virginia Satir defines four coping or “survival stances”, methods of establishing some kind of emotional equilibrium based on a set of “rules” that govern the association between (generally low) self-esteem, triggers, emotional reactions, and behavioural responses. Specifically, she writes,

“The four survival states… originate from a state of low self-esteem and imbalance, in which people give their power to someone or something else. People adopt survival stances to protect their self worth against verbal and non-verbal, perceived and presumed threats.” (Satir, The Satir Model, pg 31)

The four stances Satir identifies are the Blaming stance, the Placating stance, the Super-Reasonable stance, and the Irrelevant stance. And because people tend to adopt such stances or positions as survival mechanisms in situations where the attendant behaviours for each stance provide a barricade protecting us from those perceived threats, we can, over time, emotionally invest in our stances very heavily. If we come to believe that maintaining these stances will keep us safe, hen any perceived threat will be defended against, sometimes with subversion and sometimes with tactical precision and military-grade offence. When we’re significantly invested in defending those stances to the point where we have no openness or tolerance for any threat against them, we are considered to be entrenched. We become entrenched in a variety of ways; it generally indicates there is no resiliency for change, no way to integrate or even consider differing or opposing viewpoints. We become heavily invested in our perspectives or views of reality, even if they are (at least to external perspectives) distorted or dysfunctional perspectives. We cannot afford to be wrong, so we will defend the barricades we build around our entrenched positions until we (metaphorically) die through convincing and conversion, or exhausted capitulation.

Last week’s blog post looked at gaslighting as a form of deliberate manipulation in the context of abusive relationships. It’s important to note that gaslighting sometimes also occurs as a consequence of entrenched individuals defending their defensive barricades. Most of us have probably uttered phrases, in jest or in seriousness, along the lines of, “You’re crazy!” or “You’re nuts, that’s not how it happened!”. It doesn’t happen out of manipulative maliciousness in many cases; it can also happen as a result of entrenchment defending its own invested worldview against the perceived threat of a different view. We can become dismissive of other perspectives, or possibly even contemptuous — remember, contempt is one of John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — simply because we don’t want to manage the internal upheaval that comes of having our entrenched beliefs, or entrenched narratives around our self-esteem, challenged by external, presumed-hostile forces intent on (presumably) destroying those beliefs. It’s often easier for people to repel the attack on our position than it is to self-regulate our inner turmoil.

And that’s the primary difference between two types of gaslighting: one is an active manipulation with intent to manage or force compliance from Other, the other is a way or repelling perceived threats as a defense of the Self. To the outside perspectives, it’s true that the effect may appear similar and the felt impact will be similarly painful. No-one likes being dismissed or diminutized, especially by someone close to us. But there are advantages in differentiating intent when it comes time to decode and deconstruct the defensive mechanisms when we get to working with this kind of challenge in the counselling room. In order to encourage entrenched perspectives to lower the barricades (or at least lower their defensive intolerance), we have to consider what it is they are protecting behind the barricades; what are they so afraid of? Roger Fisher and William Ury, authors of the classic handbook on negotiation, Getting to Yes, state from the outset in their works that arguing over *positions* is the most ineffective way of achieving a favourable resolution to any kind of negotiating or potentially challenging engagement:

“Whether a negotiation concerns a contract, a family quarrel, or a peace settlement among nations, people routinely engage in positional bargaining. Each side takes a position, argues for it, and makes concessions to reach a compromise. [..] When negotiators bargain over positions, they tend to lock themselves into those positions. The more you clarify your position and defend it against attack, the more committed you become to it. The more you try to convince the other side of the impossibility of changing your opening position, the more difficult it becomes to do so. Your ego becomes identified with your position. You now have a new interest in “saving face” ? in reconciling future action with past positions ? making it less and less likely that any agreement will wisely reconcile the parties’ original interests.” (Fisher & Ury, pgs. 7-8)

This is an excellent summary of entrenchment, and why it is so difficult to “win” confrontations or conflict with entrenched parties. We see this in the counselling room all the time. When the arguments become less about achieving a collaborative solution or even compromise than they are about “being right” or “saving face”, then we’re facing an entrenched adversary who will likely do everything they can to save their position. Learning what lies at the emotional centre of the defended position is a key part of a resolution process, because it’s sometimes not going to be obvious from the defensive strategies lobbed out by those behind the barricade. As we often say in relational therapy, “The thing that we’re fighting about may not actually be the thing that we’re fighting about” — the WORDS of the argument may be about leaving socks on the bedroom floor for the eighth time this week, but the FORCE of the argument is ACTUALLY about not feeling heard and respected; the entrenchment, the emotional investment in one’s stance in the argument, results from feeling hurt, or needing to be right.

These kinds of emotional entrenchment conflicts are an excellent place for emotionally-focused therapy to introduce way of opening up defensive stances between couples especially, of exploring the underlying narratives tied to esteem-based interpretations that keep getting in the way of partners hearing each other. When these kinds of issues come into the office with individual clients, sometimes we can apply a more narrative exploration to clarify why a person continues to emotionally invest in a particular survival stance, even to the potential or ongoing detriment of their current relationships. We’re constantly looking for ways to increase the native sense of emotional safety and bolstered self-esteem, as a way of introducing more resiliency to how we face challenges to our worldviews and our sense of Self. There are ways to increase one’s flexibility and adaptability in the face of differing perspectives that does not mean “we were wrong” or that we somehow cease to exist if we drop an invested stance.

Sometimes it takes time and work to build security that makes that kind of resiliency possible, though; it’s more than simply “wearing each other down” in the way the French militia and the Revolutionaries in “Les Mis” wore each other down through frequent battles. It’s about learning about the underpinnings of each other’s stances, understanding why they are important to us, and working that into collaborative discussion strategies that build tolerance. We can’t stand on the barricades and wave the revolutionary flag forever; sometimes we just need help to dig ourselves out of our own entrenchments.

Self-Development, self-perception

Personal disclosure time: I’ll be 50 on my next birthday in a few weeks. Given the massive upheavals in my own personal and professional lives as I crossed that invisible threshold into “middle age”, I’ve felt fairly attuned to the cultural narratives we have around the “mid-life crisis” and the weighty expectations for “achieving dreams”, for better and for worse. I may not have acquired the jaunty red sports car as part of my transition, but when I replaced my beloved but aging Elantra last fall, I admit I *did* go out of my way to ensure my next vehicle was red. I’m still waiting for the equally-sporty blonde to show up in my life, though.

I had a realization this past week, along the lines of achieving dreams, that I have finally achieved the dream I set for myself ten years ago when I set out on the path to become a full-time, self-supporting therapist “eventually”. In doing so, I also confronted the fact that, having now achieved my dreams (dreams I didn’t even know I really had a decade ago), I was suddenly facing a gap where the driving ambition of my life has firmly resided for the last decade. It was like popping the hood on my shiny new(ish) car and finding the entire engine block had disappeared overnight. Lemme tell you, when one is talking about the subject of “the dreams that drive us”, it’s actually a terrifying thing to recognize you’ve hit the achievement milestone and the rest of your future ahead lies under a thick and obscure fog that spells out, “So now what??”

Something I was reading recently really drove home the power these Dreams can have on us. David Wexler (2004), quoting earlier research from Levinson (1978), writes,

Levinson’s research (1978) identifies a crucial aspect of […] adult development called the Dream. If you […] have lived through young adulthood with a vision of how your life should be, then you have been guided by the Dream. This stage of adult life is dominated by a push toward productivity.

This sense of purpose, while very challenging and often difficult to fulfill, is very organizing. You are guided by clear goals and themes. The obstacles are tangible, the achievements (for the most part) measurable.

The increasing awareness of your ticking clock at midlife, however, often causes the values that governed this Dream stage to lose their hold over the order of things. Two types of disorientation and disillusionment can occur.

[…] The first type of crisis strikes when you wake up one day and realize that the Dream is not going to happen. You face the often sobering realization that what you see is what you get. […] You may fear that there is nothing to look forward to except for a slow deterioration and narrowed possibilities.

[…]The second type of crisis affects you if you have achieved your dream–but suddenly find it meaningless. It does not fulfill you: “So what? Now I am successful. I don’t feel any happier.” (pgs. 76-77)

My own recent epiphany was closer to the second option than the first, not so much because the achievement had lost meaning (don’t get me wrong, I love the work that I do, and expect to keep finding the meaning in it until I’m too old to keep doing the work) as because I am definitely at that “So what now?” stage. I also came face to face with recognizing that achieving Dreams of this magnitude are also a profound privilege; not everyone gets to reach these kinds of pinnacle in spite of all their efforts, and there are a lot of bitter and disappointed people in the world who judge themselves harshly for that perception of failure. Admittedly, I often look at my choice to toss my IT career out the window in favour of grad school and a slow career change path as the start of my actual mid-life crisis. I had hit the wall in a hard way in my job of the time, and realized it was never going to go anywhere, and that even changing jobs and companies was simply going to be a case of “same shit, different basket”… and I was done with that basket (or so I thought, but that’s another story entirely). So I *get* both sides of the “ticking clock” that Wexler describes above.

These kinds of discussions are starting to come up in my client work more directly now, or maybe this is just the attunement I spoke of earlier. Sometimes it’s a client (or a client’s spouse) talking about a midlife affair; often it’s a midlife recognition of dissatisfaction and a sense of stagnation. Often it’s a question that preoccupies people to the point of distress: “I did everything my family/culture/society at large expected of me as an adult, what am I not happy? Why do I feel so restless??” The restlessness becomes a kind of emotional agitation much of the time, manifesting as depression as the disillusionment takes hold, or sometimes coming out as a kind of generalized anger at the world (or partners/families) as a sense of failure or profound disappointment turns outward rather than reflectively inward.

Sometimes we can achieve a Dream as a plateau and find there are a whole raft of new Dreams that we can now set from there; and sometimes we hit the plateau and it’s all we can do to lie there gasping for breath before we can even roll over and notice there’s more to see from here. Sometimes we hit a plateau and see nothing but fog. And sometimes those plateaus never happen. The paths forward all seem to involve the same piece of work: reorientation, and (if necessary) redefinition. Wexler refers to the need to “regain vitality” (pg. 77) as a critical response to this state of Dream recognition (fulfilled or unfulfilled), and the need most people will have to both look inward at the initial signs of distress, and making smart choices about what we do in response to identifying a state of even mild distress. Midlife affairs are a common response to seeking revitalization, for example, but often involve a lack of awareness about the internal distress, and certainly point to making choices that might be incongruent with previously-stated personal values. This is a great example of learning to differentiate between the feelings we have, and the actions we CHOOSE to engage in reaction or response to them.

I don’t yet know what the path off my own current plateau looks like, so I empathize completely with my fellow human beings stuck in the same place. Right now I’m still lying on the rocks trying to catch my breath. I’m aware there’s a vista to appreciate now that I’m here, but I’m also aware I can’t stay here forever; I’ve never been much of one for choosing stagnation. I just need some time to figure out next steps so that I can make smart choices, and as I figure that process, I’m trusting that it will help clarify how to have similar conversations with people around me on their own plateaus.

Self-Development, self-perception, Uncategorized

A client last week reminded me of an incredibly important tool that I was first introduced to during my internship and have since internalized but not in this kind of codified reference package.

Unhelpful thinking styles, or inferential distortions as they are also called, are thought patterns that have the potential to cause negative emotions and behaviors. People who suffer with social anxiety disorder (SAD) often exhibit these negative thought patterns.

One of the goals of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is to identify unhelpful thinking styles and modify the thinking process. As part of CBT, the feelings that result from these thinking styles are examined.

There’s also a very handy reference worksheet for these ten concepts you can download and post in your office, home, classroom, or anywhere you want to be aware of your own or others’ ways of interacting with you and their own world.

Article links, Emotional Intelligence, Self-Development

Still tackling the backlog clearance; there may be a long slog of what we used to call “link sausage” posts that are less about original content on my part and more about sharing interesting or thought-provoking (or maybe even useful) resources for people interested in noodling about on their own psychological or emotional development.

Things I often tackle with clients trying to observe and manage or change their own behavioural patterns, include looking at how we resort to short-term hits of happiness (“hedonic pleasures”, but I’ll get more into hedonia in a later post) in lieu of ? sometimes to the complete disadvantage of ? longer term, bigger-picture desires or goals. When this becomes a self-destructive pattern, as with addictions and pursuit of addictive highs in any form, narcotic, alcoholic, process-oriented, then we have to dig deeper into figuring out the underlying triggers to those cycles. People are so adept at masking their own unhappinesses, however, that this becomes a significant body of the work that some people are facing when trying to make improvements in themselves and their lives.

Two links that help shed a little light on these patterns, the first from AMerican Scholar:

Certainly, our march from one level of gratification to the next has imposed huge costs?most recently in a credit binge that nearly sank the global economy. But the issue here isn?t only one of overindulgence or a wayward consumer culture. Even as the economy slowly recovers, many people still feel out of balance and unsteady. It?s as if the quest for constant, seamless self-expression has become so deeply embedded that, according to social scientists like Robert Putnam, it is undermining the essential structures of everyday life. In everything from relationships to politics to business, the emerging norms and expectations of our self-centered culture are making it steadily harder to behave in thoughtful, civic, social ways. We struggle to make lasting commitments. We?re uncomfortable with people or ideas that don?t relate directly and immediately to us. Empathy weakens, and with it, our confidence in the idea, essential to a working democracy, that we have anything in common.

The second article, from Forbes, looks at how people become detached in their own lives, in ways that leave long- and short-term emotional voids that we all move instinctively to fill… but when moving unconsciously, we get trapped in short-term fills rather than long-term solutions (the other articles linked by the author at the top of this one are also definitely worth the read):

In this series of articles, I?ve covered hallmarks of highly respected achievers, ten reasons why we fail, and reasons why some of us love what we do. Now I?m going to veer a bit existential and examine eight reasons why so many of us feel lost in our lives, with a few suggestions peppered in along the way to help get our oars back into the water.

Article links, Self-Development

I’m pretty sure anyone who has been in the workforce long enough has heard the old adage, “A cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind; the empty desk is a sign of…?”

Television shows like “Hoarders” have shed an unsympathetic light on people who run the gamut from being poor housekeepers to having outright mental illnesses, and made a lot of people whose housekeeping skills slide during anxious or depressive cycles become increasingly ashamed of the state of their living spaces. I have had clients for whom the struggle to maintain a reasonable grasp on their living conditions is a repeating (sometimes constant) source of tension, so over the years I’ve collected a number of resources that help supplement the work we do in session around unravelling the internal stories these clients tell themselves about chaos and control.

Most people who deal with these kinds of issues have heard of Fly Lady, which is half environmental-management programming, half social networking and support. I used the program myself in its early incarnation, and I still adhere to the “ten minutes a day” approach to tidying and putting things away… most days, at least. I certainly got much better at managing my space when I moved the counselling office into the house; having clients walk through your living space makes it *really* imperative you don’t have a dazzling array of laundry and dishes and cat hair visible on the transit path. (Clients coming to a home office are a pretty forgiving lot, by and large, but all the same: if I want my clients to treat this as a professional space, I kind of have to lead the way in treating it that way myself.)

Not too long ago, a friend who had given up on Fly Lady when it started getting “too commercial” pointed me at a different site with a similar mandate, and much stronger language appealing to a different sense of humour, and sensibility in general: Unf*&k Your Habitat. I don’t mind the language, personally, and I find the slightly-edgier, less-hand-holdy-cutesy tone that was more pervasive on Fly Lady works for me. It’s a little more like being motivated to work by my Mom as I remember from childhood years, than my gentle and slightly-batty Auntie. It won’t be to everyone’s taste.

I’ve also been a longtime fan of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits for suggestions on how to approach decluttering and environmental maintenance; for example, this recent Quickstart Guide to decluttering a home is a great example of a simple, low-pressure way to rethink our attachments to our Stuff. Dig through the archive; there’s plenty more where that comes from.

This morning a friend sent me this link, about how clutter in our closets may reflect our thinking styles on other fronts as well:

Many powerful emotions are lurking amid stuff we keep. Whether it’s piles of unread newspapers, clothes that don’t fit, outdated electronics, even empty margarine tubs, the things we accumulate reflect some of our deepest thoughts and feelings.

Now there’s growing recognition among professional organizers that to come to grips with their clutter, clients need to understand why they save what they save, or things will inevitably pile up again. In some cases, therapists are working along with organizers to help clients confront their psychological demons.

Another recent article that touches on the related issue of motivation provides some useful scientific (or at least, plausibly-scientific; this *is* the INternet after all, and I take all such claims with a huge grain of salt these days. It’s essentially a link-bin for the supporting articles, but it’s worth the time to sift through most of them, especially the concepts of using optimism ? often explored in client sessions as finding ways to change the internal narratives, or the client’s internal perspectives on how and why things happen as they do ? and progress, or new metrics for measuring change, however incremental, toward a goal.

There are a lot of resources, and a lot of research, being done into how people approach their environments in conscious and unconscious reflection of their own internal states. It’s rarely as simple as the “cluttered desk/cluttered mind” scenario, but it’s all far more interconnected than we think, and disorganized thinking affects all of us to one degree or another, at one time or another. Being able to help people both find better solutions to the household clutter issue, and find ways of challenging or adapting the internal mental processes, is a part of what psychotherapy can do.

Article links, Emotional Intelligence, Self-Development

It’s a bit of a truism: the turning of the seasons usually means as much a degree of mental house-cleaning as actual house-cleaning, as noted by the pervasive increase in client intake requests that tend to happen once the weather turns. It’s a little later this year, completely in sync with the delayed onset of (slightly) warmer weather. Glad to see people are using spring and “new beginnings” for cleaning out some internal cobwebs!

I’ve got this vague notion of trying to clear out a backlog of useful and relevant article links that I collect from professional and social media networks. I may not always get the time to add my own comments on why a particular article seems like a useful one to share, but anything that’s not self-explanatory in that regard is a great invitation and opportunity for the gentle curiosity I work to develop in my clients, and lead-ins for conversation and dialog. Shake off those gloomy, overlong-winter habits and open up some discussions! 🙂

First up, a core component in learning to work more effectively with emotions, is developing better understanding around the differences between feelings and facts. Our brains *want* us to believe that emotions, especially strong ones, are actual mental events that demand action, but in truth, they’re internal provocations that, with mindfulness, can have different outcomes than habitual patterns demand. Learning to distinguish “what we feel” from “what we do” is a really useful, powerful tool for re-establishing trust not just between partners, but within ourselves, and improving communications as we learn to express more clearly what we feel, and what we perceive about ourselves within the moment of that feeling (our thoughts)… then decide on a course of action that is more in keeping with what we know or learn about our own needs. I will have more thoughts on this later in specific regards to a workshop I just attended on anger, and how this distinction becomes *really* important when dealing with particularly strong emotions.

But for now, I share this article as a starting point for your own mental noodlings and discussions!

Self-Development

Something a friend wrote recently sparked a thought that is the tip of a larger iceberg on the topic of the difference between?feelings and thoughts (specifically, value judgments).

This post is entirely predicated on a statement about “feeling unworthy”; “unworthy”, and worth in general, is a value judgment, which puts it in the Thought category because it comes as part of a deeply-unconscious-but-process-driven experience of defining value. My teachers have taught me that processes like this frequently gets mistaken for feelings because they happen at such an unconscious level that we forget they ARE processes, but they actually occur somewhere far higher up the cerebral chain than feelings. The mistaken attribution makes it much harder to get to them, however, to name the actual feelings and give them safe space to just exist before we examine and/or release them.

Value judgments of worth (or unworthiness in this case) generally correlate to a feeling of shame, specifically. It’s different from person to person, but that’s the most common associated feeling; “When I believe I am found to be unworthy by myself or others, what I feel is ________”. A friend reframed that as, “more like an intuitive process pulling together non-consciously collected data and slapping logic to explain the shame feeling as a more distant and vague sense of unworth”, which is a reasonably astute way of describing the process. I’m a firm believer that “intuition” is just “deep processing we don’t know that we do”; I’m not sure “logic” applies, beyond a certain point, or perhaps it is generally “flawed logic”, the kind children create self-defensively as part of their emotional development when they have to process, internalize, make sense of emotionally-impacting events in their lives that may be beyond their ability to otherwise cope ? the kind that leads to broken or errant narratives that we build on all our lives.

“Shame” is such a big and monstrous feeling that as children AND as adults, we do everything we can to escape it, so we bury it and mislabel it and pretend it’s all kinds of other things. The same friend posited it as a “social tether”, “the bit of deep programming that tells us when we’re in danger of losing the safety of the community by breaking our part of our contract with it”. I think that’s just one piece of it; that it’s nothing so simple (and yes, “simple” is perhaps the wrong word there). Most of the approaches I’ve had to the topic of shame come roundabout from the world of addictions, but in its own way, clinging to the broken narratives to avoid the direct experience of shame is also a kind of addiction, like armor we never take off (if we change the narrative, we’re vulnerable, and that Just Cannot Be Allowed).

Complicating the issue of exploring shame is the fact that we use the word, but we all apply different nuances to it. And the closer we come to the actual experience, frequently the stronger the sense of needing to avoid or deflect the emotional impact altogether. It’s the child’s resistance to going into the darkened attic or basement or bedroom closet: Here There Be Monsters, and we *definitely* don’t want to go in there. That sense of slipping and sliding off the things I’m trying to observe is one with which I am frightfully well acquainted, as it’s where the origins of my personal Weasel Dance are rooted. I would do ANYTHING to avoid feeling shame, or feeling shamed (depending on whether I was applying the value judgement to myself, or perceiving it as being applied to me by external sources), and this has led over the years to some absolutely BRILLIANT bullshit tactics in deflection and diversion while I frantically dance to avoid looking at or naming the elephant in the room, which was (is) generally something associated with feeling shame or ashamed about something I want or have done.

That Weasel Dance is friggin’ exhausting.

One of the things I have learned only recently is that the more we struggle against something, the stronger it becomes. Force applied to force, isn’t just force doubled; there’s an exponential increase that has some complex mathematical formula I can’t remember, but I remember the “physics of increasing application” part well enough. That’s why the whole point of meditation is to not struggle against the thoughts that intrude, but just to let them be, then gently guide focus and breath back to stillness. There are entire streams of martial arts that stem from the idea of using an opponent’s force against them without exerting your own in opposition, and guiding their momentum past us safely to pull the opponent off balance and into us. It’s the same with these kinds of emotional internal struggles. We can apply force to force, or we can be still and use the momentum of the reactivity to draw the Thing at the other end of that reaction close enough to observe it, without putting ourselves off balance and at risk.

Anger, for example, is energetic force. A common response to feeling shame is to get angry, possibly to the point of aggression; shame reduces us, but anger makes us (temporarily, at least) feel big, powerful. We resist, and perhaps even drive back the Thing at the other end of that perceived value judgment for a little while, but in truth the emotional tinder is still in us all the time and while we’ve expended a lot of emotional energy, while we’ve destabilized the apple cart in whatever relationship housing the current emotional upheaval, we haven’t necessarily addressed that tinder that can be so easily sparked.

Until we recognize and understand the components of the bomb, we cannot understand how best to diffuse it effectively.

My friend Alf tells an amusing anecdote that, while appearing unrelated, is entirely related: Twice while visiting a friend in northern Ontario, he got tagged by highway OPP late at night, doing egregious speeds along the highway. The second time he was stopped, he asked the cop in humour why they spend their nights out in the wilds like that, just waiting for him. The cop smiled, then explained, “We’re saving lives, for real. If you hit a deer at 80kph, you have an excellent chance of walking away with nothing but some damage to the front of your car and probably a window replacement. If you hit a deer at 120kph or above, odds are good we’ll be scraping your remains off the next two kilometers of highway, because the impact will kill you.”

The more force you apply…

This all ties back to yesterday’s post about breathing, and emptying hands. There are a lot of images of breathing into hands that I find useful and evocative, from breathing warmth onto them, to breathing or blowing things out of them; blowing onto the dandelion head held in my fingers releases the fliers into the sky and freedom. Breath is both what fills and what empties. Breathing enables us to take the pause that pulls us back from the brink of picking up a weapon-of-choice and applying force where force is perceived; our reactivity to feeling shame, for example. The physical signals are the clue that something is amiss, and the cue to make a conscious choice rather than an escape into unconscious, reflexive, self-defensive reaction. We don’t want to, but to allow for change and growth, we probably have to.

It does get easier with practice, and it’s okay to ask for help. If this work was easy, everyone would be wearing saffron robes and eating granola.

One day at a time, one breath at a time; one foot in front of the other.