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Be the Light

The world seems to be a scary place right now. All the predictions about climate change are coming true. There is the war in Ukraine, several African countries, the Middle East, and the threat of war in Asia. There is gang violence the equivalent of war in Central America, Haiti, and countless other countries including the United States. There are animals facing extinction. Environmental disasters, starvation, and disease are all killing people. We have such extreme polarization in our political parties that the promise of our nation seems immobilized.

And none of this is new. Homo sapiens appeared about 315,000 years ago, with some references stating that modern humans popped up about 200,000 years ago. That is us, humans, with a prefrontal cortex, or thinking brain. Our limbic system, or emotional brain, is about 250 million years old. Our reptilian brain, which governs body functions, is even older.

What this means is that although we have had the ability to think and reason and make rational decisions, we often have not. We have used our smart brains to create technological advances that have harmed our environment. We have used our smart brains to create better ways to kill each other in war. We have not often used our smart brains to live comfortably in harmony with nature and each other. We have not often used our brains to improve our lives in fun and positive ways.

You may argue that we have, indeed, used our brains productively and I will argue back that, although we have done a lot and have demonstrated the capacity to make positive progress, we have been severely impeded by aggression, greed, and general lack of Connection that has led us to the problems I stated in the first paragraph.

What gives me hope is when I look at the big picture. We have survived catastrophic events, whether of our own making or not. Almost all of the animals alive today were not here before the last ice age or the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. We have created amazing innovations that enhance our lives, like the computer on which I’m typing this article and the internet where I looked up homo sapiens evolution.

I look at our political history and see that corruption and greed have always been present and yet we have moments in time when heroes rise up and remind us that there is a better way to live, that we can be more evolved and loving, and that we can truly Connect.

In every generation there are such leaders and role models. There are individuals who hold up a torch for us to follow and who show us who we can be. These are the lights in dark times, the lights when we feel hopeless or despairing, the lights that guide us towards the vision of our best selves.

We can all be a light in the darkness, every day in many ways. Find a way and Be the Light.

Yours in Light,

The Paradox of Vulnerability

What is vulnerability?

Some will say it is opening one’s innermost self with the accompanying possibility of being hurt.

Some will compare it to a dog rolling over on its back and leaving itself vulnerable to attack.

Some will say that it’s exposing one’s secrets and therefore the ultimate intimate act of trust.

Vulnerability may be voluntary or imposed. When it’s the latter, trust may or may not be a factor. Soldiers whose commanding officer orders them to expose themselves to the enemy are making themselves vulnerable, but their sense of that is dependent on the trust they have in that commander and their own ability to defend themselves.

When couples meet and begin sharing their lives, their experiences, and their bodies with each other, there are degrees of vulnerability. Some will say that full vulnerability is the ultimate state of Connection.

So where is the paradox?

That sense of trust is paradoxical. I can share a secret part of myself with my partner and trust that he will not use it to hurt me. Many people suffer with the betrayal of a partner who did, in fact, hurt them.

But here is the real paradox: If I am totally good with myself - with who I am, with what I’ve done in my life – then I can’t be hurt. Therefore, I can reveal my true self, my innermost being, and no one can hurt me with it.

If I have done my own therapy, healed my shame and regrets, forgiven myself and others, then I can’t be hurt. If I am living as a person completely congruent with my values, then you can’t hurt me.

I don’t have to trust that you will not hurt me. I also will not attract someone capable of deliberately trying to hurt me. The issue of trust evaporates.

That is the paradox of vulnerability.

Be In Light,

Let Pain Be Your Guide

I had hip replacement surgery almost 3 months ago and recovery has been a journey that I’m still on. While in physical therapy, I asked my PT, Emily, how far I could push the limits of my flexibility. She replied, “Let pain be your guide.”

That really got me thinking about other kinds of pain. As a psychotherapist, I work with emotional pain every day. As a sex therapist, I often address physical pain that is generally connected to traumatic pain. While I don’t want people to suffer and my job is seen as one that eliminates pain, that is not always the case. Addicts, for example, use substances and behaviors addictively in their desire to numb or eradicate the pain of disconnection, which has its roots in childhood events from which they internalized messages of being worthless, not good enough, or being unlovable. I utilize Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy to alleviate the original pain, but then I help them realize that they don’t need to escape from pain. They can bear it and even embrace it since it is part of the human experience. Numbing out means denying other emotions, not just painful ones. Love, joy, and gratitude are emotions worth experiencing and so worth the times of sadness and loss.

For some people, pain can be a trial they want to win. They want to prove that they are strong, hardy, and stoic. Instead of escaping pain, they want to push through it. But both emotional and physical pain, is telling us something is wrong. When you power through the pain, you can do more damage and you also turn your energy inwards as you focus on bearing the pain and disconnecting from your mind’s and body’s needs and from anything and anyone around you.

I’ve had clients who bring that way of being into their sex lives. When intercourse is painful, they endure it in an effort to make it go away or in the hope it will get better. This not a good idea! Continuing what you want to be an experience of pleasure and intimacy, when that experience is painful, only sets up the anticipation of pain with each subsequent sexual event and the pain intensifies. Our genitals speak for our limbic systems – the part of our brains associated with pleasure, emotion, and memory. If our genitals are in pain, then we need to listen to what they are telling us.

Pain has a message for us. We need to pay attention to it and honor our bodies, our psyches, and communicate with our partners honestly. Pain is a common denominator among all living things and when we allow it, we can transform pain into Connection.

Be In Light,

The Paradox of Power

The secret to happiness lies within the Serenity Prayer, in that it helps us to understand that the only thing we are able to control in life is our own thinking. When we can truly grasp and then accept this premise, we gain awareness of our true power within all relationships – personal, business, community, and spiritual.

It is by trying to control anything outside ourselves that we experience frustration and misery, so why do we try?

As children, we take in messages about ourselves, often unspoken or indirect, that form the filter for our adult lives. The most common of these messages are “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not important,” “I’m worthless,” “I’m a failure,” or “I’m a bad person.”

Our caregivers are usually not trying to give us these messages. They often believe that they are acting in a beneficial way, as when a parent tells the child that he needs to bring that “B” up to an “A” on his report card. The parent thinks that he is being encouraging, but the child only hears he’s not good enough, or one of those other negative messages, and so develops a personal template of either not even trying or of trying really hard but never being satisfied. (Think CEOs, actors, and political figures, for example.)

The original messages were created internally from eternal circumstances, but lead to trying to control the external in an attempt to change the internal belief. In so doing, we remain disconnected from others because if we let anyone get too close, they will see that we’re not good enough and reject us. In our attempts to control the people and events around us, we further disconnect ourselves since we cannot be Connected when we are above or below someone else.

Therein lie the seeds of addiction.

The enduring, underlying pain of disconnection can be alleviated through addictive thoughts and behavior. When we obsess about something and compulsively act out in spite of negative consequences - be it drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, sexual activity, or food – we discover a relief of pain and can pretend we are in control. It is, of course, an illusion, and when it wears off, we need more and more to get the same effect – relief of pain masquerading as pleasure and covering up that emptiness of the soul.

When we come to the realization that our lives are out of control and that nothing external can change our internal belief system, we can take the first steps to recovery. We can begin to recognize and heal the underlying trauma from childhood, we can make a decision to Connect no matter how scary that might be, and we can choose to live in the moment and give up control to our Higher Power, whatever that may be to each of us. When we let go of trying to control people, places and things, and accept that all we can really change is our own thoughts about the world around us, we can have true power.

The Serenity Prayer:

God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
the Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Be Connected
Be in Light,

Trying to Fix It

First rule of therapy: Don’t give advice.

Therapy is about facilitating a person finding their own answers. It’s about helping them remove obstacles to happiness and contentment. It’s about offering options relevant to the situation without making it about right and wrong.

That being said, the reality is that we therapists often offer advice just like everyone else, and it’s often misplaced.

For instance, I was recently feeling quite low due to being in pain from a tooth infection and surgery recovery. I was miserable and my dear friend, also a therapist, told me to look at a TikTok video she had just posted on how to feel better. I did look at it and I did NOT feel better. She’s my friend, though, so I texted her that what I really needed was a hug and the virtual hug she sent me did make me feel better.

Pain and emotion are in our limbic systems. Thinking and rationality are in the prefrontal cortex. When someone is conveying verbal information, it does not make it to the limbic system. In fact, when the limbic system is activated by emotion, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex’s ability to think. A hug goes directly to the limbic system to help calm us and allow thinking to come back online (see My Pocket Therapist: 12 Tools for Living in Connection for more information about the brain and how it affects our behavior).

So, what makes it so hard to not give advice? Well, when we care about someone, we feel Connected to them (with a capital C from Addict America: The Lost Connection). When we are Connected, we feel their pain, so wanting them to feel better is also about wanting to feel better ourselves. But feeling better is not easy nor even possible sometimes. What we need to offer is empathy – sharing their pain but not getting lost in it. Be with them without needing to fix it.

Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered Therapy, which is the foundation for almost all therapists, promotes genuineness, acceptance, and unconditional positive regard. These qualities are incredibly healing without any other interventions. Without them, other interventions are less effective.

So the next time someone you care about is hurting, offer them a hug, hold their hand, and just be with them. Listen without giving advice, be available to give them what they say they need, and don’t try to fix it!

Be Connected
Be in Light,



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