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The Wrong Reason for Staying Married

The institution of marriage should be intended to enrich our lives. Certainly we might agree that the purpose of marriage ought to be to enhance our life and further our sense of meaning, purpose and gratification. Yet this expectation meets with an incredible rate of disappointment, if not outright failure. Ironically, marriage often becomes the justification for people’s unhappiness.

The fact that more than fifty percent of marriages end in divorce is actually the lesser of the problem. The greater difficulty lies in the fact that the majority of intact marriages are far from joyful. And many people regrettably live out their lives that way.

Remaining in the discontent and lethargy of an unhappy marriage, dulled by the absence of a more hopeful vision, can be downright depressing. And yet, so many people resign themselves to such lives.

Many individuals in such relationships merely give up and don’t work on improving their relations. They stay stuck in their unhappiness due to their fears. Divorce, although tumultuous and potentially scarring, at least provides the possibility of better days. I’m not glibly promoting divorce but suggesting that we do every thing in our power to awaken our relationships and live more meaningfully. Let’s take a deeper look at this dilemma.

The Fear Factor

Fear is the greatest impediment to growth in our lives. Very often, people are literally afraid of sharing their true feelings with their partners. They go silent and angry rather than expose their more vulnerable feelings. The fear may run the gamut: the fear of divorce and its incumbent anxieties or simply the avoidance of coming to terms with a relationship that may be lacking in intimacy, passion or respect. Another poignant fear may simply be the anxiety of being alone and starting life over again..

When you stay married out of fear, the emotional paralysis that pervades further poisons the relationship. Staying together out of resignation – due to fear – results in an enigmatic dilemma. Such people won’t consider divorce, and yet they are convinced that their marriage won’t improve, so they don’t work on the relationship. This is the worst of all possible scenarios.

If you find yourself in this place, it’s essential that you address your fears. The fear of divorce paradoxically eliminates any chance of improvement in the relationship. It produces a state of inertia, and the ensuing stagnation and frustration make mediocre marriages even worse. They become imprisoning.

If we can work through the fears around separation, then we are electing to stay in the marriage not from fear but from choice. This movement begins to unburden the chronic state of unhappiness, and genuine marital therapy may begin. In other words, processing the fear of divorce is not necessarily for the purpose of divorcing; it is for the purpose of clarity. Am I staying married for the wrong reasons?

Fear filters our perceptions and participates in constructing our reality. The ways in which you see your partner are very much informed by your emotions, particularly anger. This anger may have arisen in part because you’re feeling mired in a hopeless relationship.

Getting unstuck permits you to either create a healthier relationship or to move forward. Either choice may be preferable to remaining unhappy without a glimmer of hope. Fear should not be a factor in your choice. Ultimately, the question is how much happiness you feel you deserve. It is not selfish to deserve happiness. In fact, to forgo your own contentment becomes a model of unhealthy self-sacrifice for your children – who will likely suffer in their own self-esteem by having parents who betrayed their own fulfillment.

For the Sake of the Children

One prevailing theme related to fear of divorce is that the act of divorce, in and of itself, will damage the children. People research multiple studies to substantiate this concern. By all means such an upheaval in our children’s lives should not be taken lightly. Divorce needs to be well considered, and navigating the children through this process should be undertaken with insight, reflection and empathy.

Yet, very few people consider the consequences of children growing up in unhappy yet intact homes, as they witness conflicted, unloving and uncooperative parental relations. Children tend to model what they see in their parents’ relations. Certainly, as parents we want better for our kids. Yet, the likelihood is that such children will incline toward similar marriages. Worse still, many parents claim their kids really don’t know anything is wrong with the marriage. The irony is that they will therefore normalize what may be a mediocre, disappointing or conflicted marriage. At least the kids ought to know that the marriage is indeed falling short of the mark. In that way, they can note the failure and aim higher for themselves when they come of age.

The legacy of unhappiness

Is this the legacy we want for our children? To be the best we can be as parents we need to model a level of authenticity in our lives. One in which we face our challenges and struggles and don’t succumb to fear. Isn’t that what we’d want for them? If you choose to stay married, commit to the process and model that commitment for your children. If your marriage precludes the opportunity for happiness, have the courage to face your fears. Let’s not claim that we’re protecting our children by exposing them to unhealthy relations. We need to face our fears, embrace them and choose to stay married from a healthy place of growth and hopefulness, not succumb to the deprivation of a joyless life.

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Living a Fear-Less Life

 

fearFear is a universal experience for virtually all of us. Perhaps there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as the Dalai Lama, but for the rest of us it’s part of life. The goal of living without any fear might be desirable, but somewhat naïve. What we should aim for is to reduce fear to its rightful place. Constant apprehension shouldn’t be a burden that we carry with us, day in and day out — moment in and moment out. So when I use the word fear-less I’m not proposing a life without fear, as that may be a stretch. But I am advocating living with less fear.

 

There are appropriate fears that are a warning signal that we are at risk and there’s something we need to pay attention to. If the road you’re driving on becomes icy, you want to be cautious. But you certainly don’t want to freeze up – as the road beneath you did. If you’re having chest pains it makes sense to seek assistance. If you’ve noticed you’ve gained weight and aren’t exercising, rather than fretting about your health, do something about it. If you’re noticing that your child isn’t thriving and feel afraid that there’s something wrong, seek help. You can choose not to let fear consume you.

 

There are some fears that go unspoken yet are common. One of three people will be eventually be diagnosed with cancer. Do many people feel apprehensive about this? Of course they do. That makes sense, but to carry a sense of dread around with you gets in your way of living well. Fears run a very wide range from apprehension about losing your job to not having enough savings to retire. From not be loved to having your lover leave you. From thinking others don’t like you to worrying about what you say and how you’ll be judged.

 

Changing your relationship with fear

For those who experience such excessive fears, there is a way out. Rather than focusing on the fear, look at your relationship with the worry. Fear, self-doubt and insecurity are not uncommon. But when you take these concerns and elevate them to the bull’s eye of your attention, you’re in trouble. You need to change your relationship with the fear. What do I mean by this curious statement?

 

Some people have a very strong affinity for fear; they actually seek it out. Their thoughts become habituated to looking for and focusing on what distresses them. So their minds develop a fixation as they paradoxically search for what causes them disharmony.When our thoughts perpetually attach to fear, it’s like carrying a lightening rod in a thunderstorm. What we look for we find. Anxiety is the consequence of our thoughts’ addictive relationship with fear.

 

 Fear doesn’t have a grip on you, but you have a grip on fear

The more you resist and try to ward off your fear, the larger it becomes. Think of it in the following way: What we resist we make more formidable. Imagine putting your arms out at full length in front of you as you try to hold back the fear. The irony is we actually embolden fear by trying to ward it off. Fear gets stronger when you resist it. Changing your relationship with fear means welcoming it in. Say to whatever is alarming you, “Come on in and let me have a look at you.” When we do this the fear tends to dissipate. Fear doesn’t have a grip on you, but you have a grip on fear. Loosen the grip. When you can see your relationship with the fear, you don’t have to become the fear.

In my next post I’ll be discussing how the need for certainty and our resistance to uncertainty contributes to our fears and anxiety.

 

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Why Acting Strong is Actually Weak

authenticityarmourA troubling theme that I come across in my work as a therapist — and in my observation of people in general — is the belief that we should always act strong and hide our insecurities and fears. The damage perpetrated by this “common wisdom” is incalculable. It decimates true self-esteem and damages our relationships.

Acting strong is acting. When we act or pretend to be different than who we truly are, we abandon our real self by putting on a mask. We do this in an attempt to control what we hope others will think of us. So we manipulate and camouflage our self as we seek the approval of others, or at the least try to avoid their disapproval. This sets up our primary betrayal of our genuine self.

Authentic self-esteem is derived from our relationship with our own self. If we contort our personality to seek recognition or approval from others we’re pursuing what I call other-esteem. This is other-esteem because it doesn’t come from within, but is sought from outside of us. We’re trying to feel better about ourselves by being disingenuous. How do you think that’s going to work out? The more we do this, the further we move from genuine self-esteem. This is the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be embracing our vulnerability.

What do I mean by vulnerable? For me the word vulnerable doesn’t elicit weakness, but openness. Don’t construe vulnerable to mean fragile. As humans we all experience vulnerable feelings like insecurity, doubt and fear. In moderation these are common emotions. But due to our misinformed cultural meta-narrative that demands the appearance of strength we decide to hide these feelings from one another. So we live out our lives falsely thinking that our shortcomings or self-doubts are unique to us. The sad irony is that those same individuals whose opinions we are so worried about are very likely doing the same thing. So the vast majority of people are disempowering themselves, thinking that others are more confident and secure. This tragic myth terribly limits our lives. On another note, the more you can embrace your insecurities, the sooner you’ll move past them. Hiding them cements them into your being whereas allowing them to surface tends to dissipate what you’ve been trying to hide.

Hiding our true self from others makes is what makes us fragile. Being yourself makes you strong. When I encourage this transition people may ask, “but what will they think of me?” How will I be seen? This is a common concern for people who grapple with revealing their genuine self. I’d offer that I want to be seen — as I truly am — as my authentic self. This is the path to a powerful self-esteem.

When we accept our vulnerability we have nothing to hide from others and this in turn makes us genuinely powerful. The key to a resilient self-esteem is found by embracing your vulnerability – your fears and insecurities. In doing so, you liberate yourself from setting up others as your judge, as you have nothing to hide. You must embrace your vulnerability to attain inner strength.

Who is my judge? Why is it more important to us what someone else thinks of us than what we think of ourselves? When we subordinate our self worth by setting up another person as our judge, we perpetuate emotional abuse on ourselves. Other people aren’t your judge so why appoint them that power? Everyone has opinions for sure, but to elevate someone’s opinions to the power of a judgment is both irrational and without merit. What you’re doing is judging yourself and then projecting that power of judgment on to someone else. I’m found of saying that the only person who has the right to literally judge me wears a long black robe and presides in a courthouse.

For relationships to thrive we must experience emotional intimacy. What I mean by this term is a transparent and safe sharing of our feelings. When we obscure feelings that we think will be criticized or scrutinized we block emotional intimacy.

We all just want to be loved, but to be loved you need to be lovable. Most of us struggle in actually being lovable. When you need to act strong you’ve erected a defensive wall that doesn’t allow others in. You become impenetrable and therefore, unlovable. Vulnerability – openness — is most often seen as lovable. In my work with couples and families, when someone expresses their softer vulnerable feelings, others not only listen, they care.

Isn’t it insane that we hide the very qualities that could have us feel validated, affirmed and loved? Embracing rather than hiding from our vulnerability makes us authentic and powerful. It suggests that we accept and value ourselves as we are, without fear of what we think others may think of us. We’ve been clearly playing from the wrong game plan.

My forthcoming book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love (Fall 2017, Sounds True) will provide more detail on this subject. Please enjoy many other similar posts on this topic found here on this blog.

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Raising Resilient Children

Resilient ChildAs parents, no matter how devoted and nurturing we may be, our children often struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and a host of other challenges. Some of these disturbances are simply life experiences that they may regrettably have to experience. Our goal is to feel confident that they will overcome these obstacles and that our kids will even grow stronger for that success. To achieve that end, we need to provide them with the skills to be resilient, to bounce back from these assaults on their wellbeing and ultimately to thrive in their lives. We can provide them with the foundation to do so if we rethink our relationship with them. If our best intentions are not producing the expected results, we need to examine our operating beliefs. We may be playing from the wrong game plan.

We’re typically comfortable sharing our strengths, values, and ideals with our offspring. We assume that doing so will enable them to follow our guidance and propel them in the right direction. But the tendency for many parents is to openly share their positive attributes but withhold the personal history of their life’s struggles and upsets. We may say that they don’t want to burden our children with our problems – past or present. Or we simply don’t want to present ourselves in a way that is inconsistent with what we try to model. Ironically, when we share only the good with our children, we deprive them of a realistic expectation and preparation for what likely lies ahead.

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Rethinking Anxiety

rethinking anxietyWhen a dysfunction such as anxiety – or depression, for that matter – becomes so commonplace, we must turn to our culture, which is our aggregate way of living, and examine how and why it’s producing such distress. Those suffering from anxiety are often simply mirroring an overwrought, anxiety-laden way of living. Turning the victim into the problem makes no sense at all. Such a preponderance of people suffering in this way must be a reflection of the effects of enduring an incongruous, if not insane, way of living, fostered by our prevailing worldview. In effect, the way that we are living produces this tragic result.

It is essential to address the underlying causes and not simply suppress the symptoms. The difficulty is that in our quick fix mentality, we believe that if we can quiet the symptoms, all is well. This may benefit the pharmaceutical-psychiatry industry, but not those so afflicted. We must come to see anxiety not as the enemy but as an expression of our struggle in adapting to a way of living that actually imperils us. From this vantage, anxiety is paradoxically sensible as we are reacting to conditions that are toxic. The anxiety can be seem similarly to a fever, which is simply a call to attention that all is not well. So the irony is that by medicating our symptoms away, we ensure continued suffering, for the struggle is never resolved toward a breakthrough; it is merely placated.

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Low Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis

low self esteem

According to the National Institute of Health, one in every two Americans will ultimately be diagnosed with some form of mental illness. What’s behind this staggering rate of malaise? Aside from the psychiatric/pharmaceutical collusion that tends to overly pathologize normal life challenges and transmute them into mental illness, I’d offer that the primary culprit is low self-esteem. Yet the DSM – the psychiatric bible for diagnosis – offers no diagnosis of self-esteem. My experience informs me that marginal self-worth manifests through an array of dysfunction, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, ADHD, codependence, failed relationships and, even more tragically, lives lived out in mediocrity.

We focus on the more specific diagnosable illnesses that result from marginal self-worth because we have medications that treat them, notwithstanding their questionable results. But there is no pill to offer someone with low self-worth, so there’s no revenue to be generated. Moreover, as a culture, our intellectual proclivity is to focus on the symptom and disregard the underlying and perhaps complex circumstances that contribute to the devolving of a human life. This is due to our drive to over simplify and seek quick solutions to the very complex tapestry of a human life.

 

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Is Our Society Manufacturing Depressed People?

An Epidemic of Depression

Our society is in the throes of a virtual epidemic of depression. The numbers are quite staggering. More than twenty percent of the American population will experience at least one episode of what we refer to as clinical depression. We need to look deeper into this phenomenon to understand it and overcome it. My contention is, firstly, that our cultural values and memes induce us to live in ways that are, indeed, depressing. Secondly, much of what we refer to as clinical depression is inaccurate. Most depression is situational. The symptoms of depression are often due to depressing circumstances, not disease. In other words, under certain circumstances, it makes sense to be depressed.

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Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Crises come into our lives, no matter how we may try to avoid them. They are troubling, unwanted experiences or events that take us out way out of our comfort zone. Typically, crises result in some type of loss. The very nature of crisis is antithetical to our core values of certainty and predictability as they vanish in an instant.

We desperately try to restore order to our lives, as chaos seems to prevail. Yet, if we learn to reframe how we see crisis, we might actually take advantage of it. There is the potential for alchemy as the crisis unfolds into a gain, provided we learn to stop resisting the unwanted change.

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Breaking Free from Your Comfort Zone

Our Most Intimate Relationship

The most intimate relationship we will have in our lives is not with our parents, our spouses, our children or closest friends. It is with our thoughts. They are our constant companions. Our thoughts will impact our lives far more than any relationship. In fact, they will greatly impact those relations. The quality and nature of what our thoughts tell us will largely script the experience of our lives. Learning to break free from the confines of old thought is the key to personal growth.

Thoughts can either be our supportive allies or our critical antagonists.  They are the very filters through which we experience our lives. A particular thought – embedded as part of a larger belief – can either imprison or liberate us. Our thoughts very much tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies.

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What Is a Mistake?

My previous post, “The Problem with Perfection,” unraveled some of the mythology and beliefs about notions of perfection that limit and impede many people’s lives. They come from misinformed beliefs that detour, if not ruin lives. The concept of mistakes is the next step in our consideration of a life well lived.

The anxiety about making mistakes is very much rooted in the old paradigm of being as opposed to becoming. This worldview has us see ourselves as fixed and static, not as flowing and changing. This perspective roots us in the fear of making mistakes. The process of becoming is forgiving. In the flow of becoming we are no longer mired in the hardship of fear, insecurity or the notions of mistakes.

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