copyright 2013 by Jane Reinheimer



Security in Attachments -- or, Who Do You Trust?

Each and every one of us has a hunger to be attached to someone; to have an emotional bond with another person who is really important to us.

This positive and secure bonding is called attachment.

If our attachments are secure, then we have feelings of independence. We have self-confidence and we display positive self-esteem to the world around us.

As high functioning folks we are able to focus our thoughts. We're not going to wander through mental minefields -- flitting from one topic to another.

We're empathic. Being empathic is different from just being able to understand. Empathy is an emotional function. Understanding is an intellectual function.

Empathic people can feel joy -- sorrow and sadness. It isn't about understanding the source of feelings; rather, empathic people will jump into the shadows of sorrow with you, or dance in the sunbeams of your joy.

I well remember when I was doing my clinical supervision, my supervisor warned me if I was getting too close to clients. "Don't get so close. You'll get hurt. You'll burn out." There were other admonishments as well but I don't recall any others. And to tell you the truth, it's advice from him that I chose not to follow. I disagreed with him then, and I still disagree with him. We had long debates about the matter.

I got close to all my clients. I still do. And I answer their "why" questions. In my view, it's one of the reasons they come to see me. I'm not smarter than any one of them. I've just read more books. But it's the knowledge and secrets that are in those books that clients want to know about. They don't have the time in their busy lives to go sit in the library at a university to read. But they most certainly deserve to know. They aren't looking for a therapist who will give them a reading list, or a therapist who will give them xerox copies of journal articles. (That's called bibliotherapy.) They're looking for someone to tell them what the answers are.

What's wrong with that?


I would like to revisit this notion that conflicted couples maintain emotional intimacy through their conflicts. The topic consumed most of the session this morning with a coaching client who lives in the Atlanta area.

One of the functions of conflict is how one person sends a cue to another party about the affirmations they are hoping to get out of the relationship.

Imagine you are traveling down a road and you come to a red light. That red light represents a place where your partner wants you to stop and provide an affirmation. If you blow the red light and just keep on going down the road, the conflict may come up again a little further on, or it may not. At least not for the moment. But you can be sure that if you didn't take the time to stop for the traffic light and get the conflict stuff sorted out with the two of you affirming each other, you're going to hear about it again later.

So what is an affirmation? It's what we say and do that assures partners of their value in the relationship.

If your partner says "You never listen to me," that's about a strong a cue as you can get. It's a flashing red light! And if your comeback sounds something like, "You don't listen to me either," then you've blown through the red light. That's definitely not an affirmation.

But if you say something affirming like, "I'm sorry I frustrate you. I do hear you but I don't always understand what you're trying to tell me. It must be frustrating for you."

Doesn't that sound more like you want to continue the conversation?

In a perfect world, only two viable, wholly mature people get married. Then there's reality. We come into relationships with warts on and we don't particularly like to be reminded that we have these warts. So couples who love each other work hard at communicating their way out of the wrinkly, wart infested skin and do all they can to convince their partners that they value the relationship, the marriage, the life, and most of all, each other.

However, when communication becomes a contest, you're going to run into lots of red lights as you go down the road of your married life.

Burnout vs. Compassion Fatigue

Do you know the difference between compassion fatigue and burnout?

Compassion fatigue, simply stated, is caused by what we do. Ask any caregiver for a person who has Alzheimers, or is terminally ill, and you will find a person at risk of developing compassion fatigue. It may initially rear its ugly head as anger, sadness, prolonged grief, even anxiety and depression. Then the caregiver begins to isolate himself/herself from others. They can become cynical. Irritable.

If the person who is starting to suffer from compassion fatigue, he/she may begin avoiding clients, missing appointments, being late, and lacking motivation.

People who are most vulnerable include police, firemen, emergency workers, therapists, ministers, child welfare workers, and those who work with traumatized people.

Burnout, on the other hand, is caused by where we work. It's a response to unrelenting stress in the workplace. Folks who are burning out feel "stuck." They may feel like they are no longer effective. They become emotionally absent.

People who are demanding, stressful work situations can burn out over time. Expectations are too high. Work schedules are overloaded and unrealistic. Feeling like you're not being treated fairly can push you toward interpersonal conflicts with others.

Both compassion fatigue and burnout victims suffer enormous stress.

Hans Selye, a Canadian endocrinologist, defined stress as anything that forces a person to make an adaptation. If you have to change and adjust to any change in your life, Selye would say you feel stress. He also defined good stress, eustress; and bad stress, distress. Good stress? Sure. Imagine being on your honeymoon again. All of a sudden you are being shadowed by someone who is with you 24 hours a day. You never had anyone around you in such close proximity for 24 hours a day. It requires an adjustment. But in this case, hopefully, love wins out.

Distress is negative, powerful adjustment demands that temporarily threaten to shake us off our moorings. Imagine yourself being stuck out in the middle of nowhere and your car stops. That pesty "check engine light" comes on and your car just dies right on the spot. You can't get your car started either. That's distress.

Of primary importance to remember is that if we want to do a good job of caring for and empathizing with others, we absolutely need to take care of ourselves. Good boundaries help us do just that. 

(NOTE: These are not stories of actual case studies. All names used do not reflect real people.)

Love Isn't Worth Anything Until You Give It Away

I have never understood what people mean when they rationalize a decision to get a divorce with, "I still love you, I'm just not in love with you."

"I have no idea what that means," I'd say. Can you tell me what you mean?

There never has been an answer. It's one of those trite little sayings, I suspect, that got inserted into a soap opera dialogue somewhere and it sounded descriptive.

To me, it sounds like the mortar that holds brick walls together. Those pesty little walls that can signal the death ring of a once starry-eyed relationship.

Truth is, people build walls to keep threats over there. But walls can also be an obstacle just to see how another person wants to get near you. They can be walls you put up to see how badly you want what's on the other side, too.

Rather than welcoming the love of the person you have engaged in a relationship with, instead this wall has become an obstacle course of bargaining power.

And like an employment contract between management and employee representatives, the wall can represent not bargaining in good faith.

Oh, for sure, there are times when the safety of a boundary is warranted. That's certainly true when there's abuse involved. Or addictions. Or adultery.

But in the ordinary course, the walls are generally nowhere to be seen when you are introduced to someone new. As you get to know this new person, feelings of safety gradually come into a relationship.

Then there's the give and take and friendship starts to bloom. Liking someone special turns to loving someone special.

Loving is sharing ourselves with someone who, in turn, loves us. The wall is not there. Both persons in the relationship enjoy the freedom of going back and forth, in and out of each other's heart.

So what happens when you close your heart and put up a "Do Not Enter" sign? And how did you quietly build a wall when no one was looking?

What happens to those fulfilling days of courtship when you promised each other to always be open to solving problems together no matter what?

Relationships require several things from each partner.

One is to give your love freely to your partner. Love isn't supposed to be locked up in a safe treasure chest. It isn't love unless you're sharing it.

Each and every day brings a new challenge to find something new to love about your partner. It is this love going back and forth between you that will keep love alive in your relationship. And this love fosters feelings of forgiveness. Then you can live in a life without borders (walls).

What I have come to conclude over the years is that when someone says, "I'm just not in love with someone" probably means they they have given up on the relationship. For whatever the reason is, that person has quit the relationship and locked up the love.

But the brick walls? If you want your relationship to last, get rid of them. There are no tests that can prove love exists. Walls have no place in a loving, meaningful relationship. It interferes with sharing love.

Walls cheapen the beauty of love which is a sharing, participating event. Love isn't a spectator sport to see if someone can tear down your wall. If you built the wall, it's your responsibility to bring it down.

Brick walls are for demo kits for children.

Love is for sharing.

Loving relationships are for mature grownups, not children.

Forgiveness -- What It Is; What It Isn't

Every once in  while I like to bring up the subject of forgiveness again. It's always good to have this thought refreshed from time to time.

We had quite a discussion about forgiveness in our Adult Discussion Group during the Sundy School hour at church yesterday.

One of the things we do know about the willingness to forgive is tht people who feel loved find it easier to choose to be forgiving. Perhaps that's why Jesus says to love others as we love ourselves. This thought is the forerunning of his compelling us to forgive others, as God has forgiven us.

In fact, for those of us who practice our Christian faith, we find very clear instructions from Jesus Christ himself in Matthew 6:15:
If you do not forgive men their sin, your Father will not forgive your sins.

That fifteen word verse from Matthew takes care of any "yes, buts..." that you can throw on your heart if it's inflamed by the pains of old hurts.

There are no exceptions to any reason you could possibly come up with as to why you might even think of indulging yourself with thoughts of revenge or nursing a grudge.

It's like burying the hatchet but leaving the handle sticking up out of the dirt, as Pastor Renser said yesterday.

Clients would often tell me that they couldn't forgive and forget. Or they never had learned to forgive.

No, you don't learn to forgive.

Forgiveness is something you choose to do. It's not something you learn to do. After all, God chooses to forgive you. So what makes you think you might have the right to withhold forgiveness from others?

Paul says in Ephesians 4:32:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.

Besides, the person you may have ill will against is also a child of God. Aren't you going to be surprised when you meet this person in heaven?

And since God is watching all of us down here on Earth, we'd better be making good choices in how we live our lives.

Odd that we wouldn't dare contaminate our bodies by smoking. We make all sorts of good choices to keep toxic stuff our of our physical bodies. Likewise, take great care to keep toxic stuff away from your soul.

Choosing not to forgive is toxic. It's far worse than lighting a cigarette. It's tampering with the very part of you that's going to carry you into your next life after your leave this one behind.

Forgiving doesn't mean you have to invite someone over for dinner or add that person to your Christmas card list. It doesn't mean you have to subject yourself to being the victim of a bully's abuse either.

But choosing to forgive is good for your soul. It will help your spiritual life grow and deepen with new meanings because the voice act of forgiving will draw you closer to a smiling God who whispers to you, "Very good. I knew you could do it. I'm so proud of you."

Choose life. Choose love. Choose to forgive. It's your soul that's a terrible thing to waste.

Add Story #3

Bullying Isn't Always About the Playground!

Brenda was a peppy people-pleaser. She put her high-spirited best face on when she went out in public. Even when she'd go out to lunch with a brood of friends, Brenda was the peacemaker who kept any ill wind off the face of the waters.

When she came to see me, she sounded more like a victim, especially to one person in particular -- Suzanne.

Brenda's description of Suzanne began with the usual accolades of how hard Suzanne worked, how fearful Suzanne was of being alone, how her temperament could change if caught off guard, and how she usually challenged most of Brenda's opinions.

It was that last trait that put me on alert. Everything else sounded much like the sleep deprived young career woman trying to juggle too many balls in the air.

"By challenging, do you mean disagreeableness?"

"Yes. Yes, you could say that. She sometimes argues about the most inconsequential things. And only my point of view. It's hard not to take it personally. Maybe it's just me."

"But you don't seem unreasonable, Brenda."

"I try not to be. I truly do. But I find myself needing longer and longer periods of time in between contacts with her. Besides, she only has time for our girl time if her husband is out of town or not available. She's usually too busy for us."

"Hmmm," I thought. "Permission from husband to go out with the girls?"

We know that contradictory disagreeableness is hostile. That research has been done many times over. And it's possible that Suzanne was misreading Brenda's congeniality as passiveness. That could explain why only Brenda was Suzanne's target.

"Do you feel like you're being bullied?"

"Kind of. But I thought bullies were just kids on the playground."

"That's true. But little bullies grown up to be big bullies. And they can be women bullies too. How would you describe a bully?"

"Violent, for starters."

"Violence wears many faces. Violence is a hostile act but that hostility can be there under the surface for a long, long time. Just parboiling quietly. Hostile people have an uncanny knock for domineering others."

"I know a lot of domineering people," Brenda said. "Are you saying they're bullies?"

"Not unless they try to box you in and badger you into doing something you really don't want to do. We all know people who disagree with our point of view. For the most part, it's not a big deal. That is, until the campaign begins to try to force you to change against your will. Then it could make you feel like you're being intimidated. It could be that your easygoing nature is being perceived as a passive person who's not going to be resistant."

"So what can I do?"

"Stand your ground. You don't have to give in all the time. Especially when you'd really rather not go along with something. Look, I'm not saying your friend is a bully, but what I am hearing is that you feel like you're being pushed, or victimized to some degree. You've just defined bullying. It could well be that it's a long-standing communication style that she's found successful over the years."

"I have an opportunity coming up. There's a group of us who are supposed to be going to the city for lunch and then the art institute for the afternoon. It's an easy two-hour drive but Suzanne is on a campaign to stay overnight at one of the most expensive hotels and dinner at an expensive gourmet restaurant. Both are way too expensive for me right now. I really am watching my money these days and can't really afford the added expense of the hotel and dinner."

Brenda was about to take a big bite out of the assertiveness apple. She would not be the same again.

Assertiveness works if Brenda tells Suzanne why she is not in favor of the overnight. Brenda could well assert her emotional strength so that Suzanne doesn't mistake her affability with an imbalance of power. It's important that Brenda tells Suzanne that she doesn't want to spend the extra money at this point. She shouldn't make up a story about having to go to the doctor or having an unexpected appointment at school about one of the kiddos or any number of other excuses that aren't true.

Brenda discovered that any form of bullying involves aggressive behaviors that are unwanted and negative. This definitely includes being forced to do something you don't want to do.

Remember that bullies continue their aggressive behavior because it is reinforced behavior. There are psychological rewards for continuing the bullying behavior. The payoff is generally a feeling of power. The good news is that it will extinguish fairly rapidly once the rewards are removed.

Bullying in adults is more common than you might imagine. In the case above, Suzanne's friends often said, "Oh, that's just Suzanne. You know how she is." In that case, bullying gets discounted.

But in the case of children, it's perhaps more serious. Bullying generally happens at school where children should feel safe.

Children develop depressions and anxieties, maybe even health problems. They may complain of tummy aches that signal anxieties. They may get poor grades because they are so emotionally scattered by fear that they can't concentrate.

If you are a parent whose child is being bullied, then you have a responsibility to become a strong advocate for your child's safety.

Meet with the teacher and principal at school. If you do not get the response of safety guarantees, then write a letter to the school district's superintendent showing a copy to the school district's attorney. These people should be listed by name and it may take you fifteen minutes on the telephone to get the information by phone. But do it! Then mail the letters. The letters should go through the U.S. mail and you should have a little note at the end of your letter that says you mailed the letters through the mail on whatever date you mailed them and from which mailbox or post office you mail them from, with one ounce (amount) of postage on the envelope.

Add Story #2 -- Adjusting to the Changes of Life

Hans Selye was the guru who devoted his professional career to studying stress and the effects it has on a person's life.

He didn't start out as a stressologist. Rather, he was a Canadian endocrinologist who, while working in his lab one afternoon, went to give one of his cute little white lab rats a shot. I think it may have been a hormone, if memory serves me right.

But the rat was clever. Very clever indeed. When Hans opened the door to Mr. Rat's condo, out jumped the little four-legged creature. Mr. Rat quickly found a safe place hiding behind a file cabinet. To this day, whenever I think of Hans Selye, I have this vision of him, broom in hand, trying to sweep the rat out from behind the file cabinet. Selye got the rat and quickly realized that the poor little thing's heart was going about 90 miles per hour.

Apparently the rat didn't like needles anymore than I do, but bloodwork was drawn and to make a long story short, Selye discovered that there's a chemistry to the condition of stress. And Selye said that anything that causes us to make any kind of adjustment in our lives is defined as stress.

Selye went on to identify three kinds of stress.

The first he called eustress. This is a good kind of stress. Going on your honeymoon brought about a condition of eustress. Very pleasant circumstances but a big adjustment. All of a sudden two people who had never lived together are now confined to a small hotel room, or suite. And they shadow each other. I mean, every time you turn around there's this other person about two feet behind you. Or closer. Honeymoons usually take care of those eustress situations because honeymooners can't get enough of each other anyway. That's why they come back home absolutely exhausted. And for years they will look back fondly on those glorious days of their honeymoon when they ate, drank and slept each other. That's eustress. Stress because an adjustment is demanded.

Then there's distress. That's the kind of stress we usually think about when we think of stress. But distress carries a tremendous amount of pressure to adjust. That could be from anything to losing a job or a mate or a house. It might even show itself with our honeymooning couple when they get back home and eventually want a little privacy.

The third is just called stress. We go through our daily lives experiencing some kind of stress. Not a big deal, but adjustments are needed.. It might be something relatively simple like getting dinner on the table so that all the food is hot at the same time. To the newlywed, that could be a tall order. I mean, nobody likes cold potatoes and hot meatloaf.

Or maybe there's the stressful moments when budgets have to be balanced. That's when you find out you have more month left than money. Stress.

When people aren't able to copy with their stressors, we say they suffer an adjustment reaction. It isn't so much the stress that is the problem, but rather, our inability to make adjustments that resolve the stressors. Life has to balance out and get back on track.

My story today is a good example of how important it is to communicate with the right person when there's a problem. This is a story about Jill and how her stress gave way quickly to distress.

The story also involves Jill's eleven year old son, Andy.

Andy and his very best friend Steve had decided to have a sleepover at Andy's house. Since Andy was an only child, all this sleepover business was a new experience for Jill. She wanted to get it right so she talked it over with her husband Ralph. Everything was okay. On Friday night, Steve showed up at their front door, sleeping bag in hand. Steve's mom dropped him off and drove away, never taking the cell phone out of her ear.

But that was okay. It was only Friday night and they were all going out for pizza. Then came nighty-night time. Two giggle little boys were having the time of their life. Pancakes for breakfast the next morning for a couple of sleepy heads. Lunch came and went. Dinnertime was rapidly approaching for Saturday. No problem. What's another little mouth to feed?

But Jill was wondering where Steve's mother was. She offered to call her. Steve explained that he had already talked to his mom and she was on her way.

"Good enough," thought Jill.

Dinner came and went. And hour after dinner passed. Steve tried to call his mom again but there was no answer on her cell phone.

Finally, about nine o'clock, Steve's mother showed up, blasted the horn in the driveway which was the signal for Steve to dash out the door and hop into the van. Not a thank you for a pleasant sleepover, or the pizza, or the dinner on Saturday.

When Jill came in for her appointment on Monday afternoon, she was still seething over this whole episode.

"Why does this always happen to me?" she lamented.

"Can you tell me what your expectations were?" I asked.

"Sure. Steve just asked if he could sleep over. I thought he'd get picked up the next morning. Before lunch for sure."

"Had you talked with Steve's mother about these expectations?"

"No. It just seemed like the courteous thing to do. I mean I never offered to have Steve stay over all day."

"It's a boundary thing, don't you think?"

"Everything seems to be a boundary issue with me."

"Clearly defined boundaries come from having expectations spelled out. Steve's mother clearly took advantage of your generosity. No doubt about that. And the sleepover was arranged between two eleven year old boys, not the adults in charge of their lives. To be sure, Steve's mother behaved irresponsibly. Especially since the two of you hardly know each other."

"I don't know her at all."

"It will be a sore point between you and your son's best little friend unless you can bring some resolution to the issue. What do you think you could do to bring that about?"

"I could call her and give her a piece of my mind."


"I could refuse to let Andy have anything to do with Steve."


"I could spell out my expectations more clearly the next time Steve wants to stay over.'

"What would happen if Steve invited Andy to sleep over at his house next time?"

"I hadn't thought of that. I'm still too angry at Steve's mother."

"Children need their exciting little social lives. Would you really want your son and his best friend not to have a friendship because you're angry at Steve's mother?"

"No. But I think until I get to know Steve's mother, I'm going to limit any sleepovers to our house. And next time, I'll talk to Steve's mother and get a specific time when I can expect her to pick up her son."

"Clearly there are trust issues here and boundary issues. Not to mention anger. You're still trying to make sense out why Steve's mother didn't have a specific time to pick him up. What was her name? I'm sure it isn't 'Steve's mom.'"

"I don't even know that."

"That might be question #1. And she ought to give you her cell phone number. Look, some wise old philosopher once said that we can put up with any what if we just know the why. You're a reasonable person and I have no doubt that if there had been an emergency, you would have been more than willing to keep Steve for the entire day, even perhaps his staying over Saturday night. But no emergency was conveyed to you. In fact, nothing was conveyed to you. His mother just kind of aimlessly kept you dangling with providing your good hospitality for her son. In the future, what would you do differently?"

"I would get a lot more information from her. Sleepovers shouldn't be arranged by children. That's why they have adults in their lives. That's my job and it's Steve's parents' job. His mother and I both have to take some responsibility for the lapse in boundaries. This time."

"Fortunately, there was no harm done. And the blessing that you get out of the situation is the lessons learned."

Adjustments are made when the boundary entanglements in our lives get resolved.

Add Story #1 -- Hanging On By A Thread  -- Jeff was a high school senior. Suicidal. Still in the psych ward at Memorial Hospital. High risk. Statistics say males have a higher rate of suicide completion. The social worker was calling.

Would I be willing to work with Jeff? My first inclination was to say no, but thanks for calling. But I could hear Jeff in the background, "Tell her I need to see her. I know she can help me."

Highly unusual. Where was the social worker? In his room? In her office? And why was she calling me within earshot of Jeff?

"Look," I said. "As long as he's within earshot, let me speak with him."

The next voice belonged to this young man. "Will you at least give me a chance at counseling?" he asked.

Suicidal people can be very good at holding onto the advantage in their game plan. I didn't know if he was going for a change in his game plan and wanted to get out of the hospital so that he could try to commit suicide again, or if he had scared himself enough to never want to go to the edge of his despair.

He told me his father had very good insurance. I told him that didn't matter. "I am not concerned about your financial abilities or your insurance coverage. What I am concerned about is that you are safe. If I agree to work with you, are you going to come for appointments at least twice a week for three months?"

"I'll do anything you ask," he said.

"I'm going to have you sign a contract with me that you'll do exactly that."

"I'll do it," he said.

"Then come on in. The sooner we get started, the better off you'll be. You have a big tear in your soul that needs mending as soon as possible."

"When do we start?" he asked.

"As soon as you can get here. I'm giving you the crisis appointment that I reserve every day for railroaders."

Then his voice cracked, "No one ever told me that before."

"Told you what?"

"That they want me to be safe."

Jeff never missed his appointments. Not for the entire year that he worked through his counseling needs.

At first he thought most of his misfortunes lay at his parent's feet, or rather their divorce which wreaked havoc on his young life. But as he explored that possibility, he realized that the divorce happened when he was fifteen years old. He was only seventeen now. But the divorce had been in the works in the family since he ws about ten, he said. he remembered the shouting matches between his mom and dad. The loud, lumbering arguments that strangled the logic of his young mind. Arguments that were never reconciled.

"And then my family died," he said. "It was as if my parents took a stick of dynamite and blew it apart. It just was no more. Not even little ashes of dust and memories."

Then he wanted to know, "Does love really die?"

"Not all that easily," I told him. "You have to really beat it to death. And mind you, both people in the marriage take their separate pot shots at it. It's never one person's fault."

"Well, I'm never going to get married," he said.

"I hope that isn't true. I hope you meet someone someday who satisfied all the love you've ever yearned for."

Then he told me about his stepmother. Young, lustlocked into her good looks. Drawn to this handsome football-player of a stepson. Jeff's dad was a fireman. Gone for 48 hours at a time at the firehouse. Step-mom could find a lot of things for Jeff to do during those absences. Ringaling beckoning. His mother was seldom home and when she was, she was mostly drunk. At least at his step-mom's, he knew he'd get a nice dinner.

Now Jeff didn't know where to turn. Neither place offered him solace.

"I never knew what a teddy was until my dad married Beatrice," he said.

If I were a horse my ears would have stood up. I asked Jeff, "So are we talking about a giant lapse in her moral judgment, sexual molestation, or out-and-out sexual abuse?"

He didn't know the difference. I explained. It turned out to be a lapse in judgment. "But I was horribly aroused," he said.

"I'm not surprised. Can you talk with your father about it?"

"No. She told me if I did, she'd just deny it. Unfortunately they've caught me in some lies before when I was younger, so I feel trapped."

"Can I talk with your dad?"

"No. Please don't. It would just make more trouble."

The reality of the situation is that Family Services can't handle all the abuse cases involving kids much younger than Jeff. They lacked the resources to do anything about a young male over the age of 17 being chased around by a horny stepmother. It appeared to be another instance of a minor having to act like the adult.

I also wondered if that whole thought was not part of the vision playing through Jeff's head as he stood on the sawhorse in his mom's garage that afternoon with a rope tied around his neck.

It would be months later before Jeff would muster up the courage to tell his father that he did not want to come ot his house unless Dad was home. "But why?" his father asked.

The shouting matches started again. This time it was his father and a woman not his mother. This time, Jeff left the house in the middle of the night with the shout following him out the door, "If you leave, don't ever come back."

Jeff left. I found him the next morning in the parking lot at my office. Bleary eyed and heartbroken. Trying to make sense of what was happening in his life. But first I had to lower the volume of screaming in my own head.

Pathology outshouts logic. Pathology demands clinical distance. Otherwise, I'd never be able to hear Jeff. And when I can't hear, I can't listen. Jeff needed for me ot hear him but more importantly, he needed for me to listen to his story about the previous evening.

But logic trumps pathology. I sat very still, listening to him. He attached to me like a rudderless ship looking for an anchor. I became his anchor. This was a direction changer fr his life. He had taken the fork in the road that would carry him away from all the pathology of pain he had experienced in his young life.

And what happened to Jeff?

Happily his "woe is me" attitude and fears that he would never amount to anything gave way to at least entertaining the notion that he ought to go to college. Bright he was and a talented football player too.

Before his graduation, he learned that he had been scouted during the football season. He now had letters from two colleges offering him full rides for four years.

After graduation he left counseling, fractured but well on the way toward healing.

And then I told him my Greek philosophy story about how a cracked vase never breaks.

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because a valuable vase that has a tiny little crack in it is put in a place where it will not be vulnerable. It's put in a place where it will always be protected from falling to the floor where it would surely break."

Jeff learned to take care of the valuable vase that represented his life. He learned that he would have to protect himself from breaking.

Introduction to

Hearing and listening. Many people think they are synonyms of one another. Not so. There's a fine line that separates the two.

Hearing, for instance, is the ability to repeat word for word what was said to you.

Listening, on the other hand, means trying to figure out what someone means by what they say.

And so begins my story of The Listener. Not so much the counselor. Although you'll get the idea that this is what I do. And not so much the idea of being a coach, although I do that too.

But what I do primarily is listen to other people's stories. Very early on when I started this practice of counseling, I learned that people are trying so hard to make sense out of what's happening in their world. Or if it was something that happened long ago, then how did that make sense. Or did it? Some people get stuck way back there, bogged down in the pain of their anguish, sometimes even making an idol of their pain and suffering. 

Often people say things they'd actually like to say to someone else. They set up mazes of logic that are fragile. The walls of these mazes fall down when the "making sense of things" falls apart.

You're going to meet a whole cast of characters who are trying to make sense and who are in a current survival mode. Just being. That's sometimes the best they can do. And for the time they are searching, that's plenty good enough.

The characters I'm going to introduce you to come from all walks of life. You won't get to know their entire stories. Just the parts they are willing to share. These stories are usually the ones that have "success" stamped all over them. These are the stories that pave the way back to their emotional well being. Although these stories are fictionalized version of real life, these folks want to share them. Each of us can learn from others.

Stories come from everywhere. If we would all just be better listeners, we could hear the stories people want to share. There's nothing magic about being a good listener. Being a good friend and opening your heart will go a long way towards listening better. We connect better. We give people access to ourselves more freely.

These are not client stories. Rather, these are people stories. Fictionalized people. People who deserve to be honored by being listened to. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (sometimes called "winter blues")
from November 28, 2008 blog


November 28 --

Today I'm going to put on my mental health counseling hat and talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder. That's mainly because I promised my clients I'd write an article about this annual nuisance.

Two things happen about this time every year. Well, actually, three things if you count the shopping madness that brings the stampede of shoppers to malls and stores on the day after Thanksgiving.
The other two -- one is the end of the hurricane season earlier this month.
The other is seasonal affective disorder, or SAD for short. SAD is real. It sometimes progresses to a deeper depression.

SAD should not be confused with "cabin fever" or "winter blahs."
Here are symptoms of SAD:

Depression when fall and/or winter arrive.
The suspicion here is that the overcast skies of fall and winter keep the light from coming through he cloud cover. We feel better on bright, sunny days. In recent years there has been an interest in the research about the importance of full spectrum light that plays a part with SAD.

I recommend to my clients that they get full spectrum lights to use during the winter months. I believe Sylvania makes a "daylight" bulb. Put these bulbs in your reading lamps and desk lamps and you'll be amazed at how you start to feel more pep. You can also get full spectrum fluourescent lights to put overhead.

If using the reading light bulbs, you need to remember that the bulbs have to be no further than four feet from you. Farther than that, the effectiveness reduces. That's not the case for the overhead tubes that are full spectrum.

I always used the full spectrum fluorescent lights in the counseling office in Tinley Park. I remember reading years ago about a psychiatrist in London who used light therapy only to treat her depressed patients. 

I have full spectrum lights in the floor lamps, reading lamps and desk lamps. In addition to helping my own mild SAD, the plants love it. In less than a day, my little green friends are turning toward the lights. I get a tremendous boost because I embroider in the evenings. Reflected light off the page of a book, or the embroidery project I'm working on is 80% efficient. I don't think it's a good idea to sit and look into the light though.
2. Lack of energy.
This kind of goes hand in hand with the lack of activities. We run around a lot in warmer weather. It's just nice being outside in the warm sunshine whether we're walking or gardening or any other favorite past time. But when cold weather comes, we seem to reduce our physical activities and start to gain weight. Then we go on diets and that reduces the amount of calories we take in. Just remember -- calories are fuel. Our bodies need fuel to run on. If you find yourself getting a bid pudgier this time of year, try to find some kind of physical activity to keep you going through the winter months. As boring as it is, walking around the mall works. Even if it does make you feel like a gerbil. Just go for a couple of miles and you'll feel lots better.

3. Decreased interest in work or significant activities.

You might have to put your thinking cap on for this one. Is your interest really and suddenly on the decrease, or does it just seem that way because the mild depression of SAD weaves a path of negativity through your psyche?

We know from tons of research that depressed people evaluate things that are going on in their lives far more negatively than non-depressed people. So it could just be that in the summer months, you were having more fun out of life because this SAD thing wasn't going on.

Maybe you were doing the exact thing last summer but just felt different about it. And now that the blue skies have disappeared, along with the bright sunshine, it seems like they took our happy days with them.

The truth is, we need winter hobbies. We need something to do that gives us fun and pleasure. Crossword puzzles work. So do Find-A-Words. And jigsaw puzzles. Even when we were little children, I can remember my mom getting the card table out right after Christmas for working a jigsaw puzzle. It was a great after-school activity, even if my two little brothers hid a piece so they could put the last piece in.

4. Increased appetite with weight gain.

This is where you have to decide whether you're eating because you're hungry or because you're bored. If you're really, truly hungry, then plain old saltines will do just fine. If you're bored, then you want something specific, like comfort food. Pizza works. Chocolates are better. Chocolate covered cherries are getting pretty close to heavenly. There was even a candy store in the mall in Orland Park that had sugar-free chocolate covered cherries.

The secret to keeping yourself from gaining weight is to make sure you don't consume more than you use up during a 24-hour period.

Here's a web site that tells you how many calories you use during different activities:

5. Carbohydrate cravings.

Well, of course, you're going to crave carbohydrates. That's the area of the food pyramid where all the good stuff is hiding. I mean, there's no comparison between chocolate covered cherries or a Snickers candy bar and celery stuffed with cream cheese.

These carb cravings could also be a way of self-medicating a low level depression. We know that the refined white sugars provide a slight serotonin boost. That's not even a suggestion to go carb up. You're better off, truthfully, to get some healthy snacks, like peanuts or other high protein into your body. The proteins will stay with you longer than simple carbs.

6. Increased sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.

C'mon sleepy head. Get out of that bed. You know you're going to feel guilty if you stay in bed until two in the afternoon. You laying there burning daylight!

The world runs on daylight hours. So haul yourself into the bathroom and run a washcloth under the warm water and rinse your face off. Then stay up for just 20 minutes. If you feel like going back to bed after that, then go ahead. But if you've revived yourself even slightly, then go sit down and make a list of a few things you'd like to get done today.

Just don't put "climbing Mt. Everest" on the list or something else that you know you can't or won't be able to do. This is a list that's going to give your day a little structure. Making an agenda type list is something that will keep you out of the throes of even a mild depression.

7. Social withdrawal.

I don't know what kind of friends you have but if you don't want to be around them, you can give yourself permission to live in a psychological cave. But is it really fun in there? Looks kind of dark and forbidding, if you ask me. Too many shadows. And besides, I thought you didn't like spiders. Spiders love covers, so come on out here and get back in the real world where nice people live.

8. Afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration.

After you rule out a chronic fatigue syndrome, this afternoon slump may be your way of mimicking your Mediterranean friends. However, they take naps in the afternoon because it's the heat of the day. And it's too hot to work outside when it's 105 degrees. Besides, unless you're a total nincompoop, you can't take a nap at 3:30 if you get up at 2:00 pm.

True, if you're seriously depressed, you can. But SAD is not a severe depression. It's a mild one. Very treatable with cognitive self-messaging that acts like a "kick yourself in the butt to get your lungs going."

So if you're going to lay there and are waiting until you like the idea of getting out of bed, then I have news for you.

Changing behavior will change attitudes.

It doesn't work the other way around. If you're waiting until you change your attitude, it's going to be a long, long wait.

9. Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement.

Eat a cheese stick.

On a cracker.

With a jalapeno slice. There, I just made myself the perfect snack.

Seriously, I have battled the depression that comes from grief of losing my mother, father, step-dad, two brothers, one sister, most of my aunts and uncles, one cousin, and a ton of friends.

I thank God every day that I have Quint in my life and I pray for his health. I thank God that I have a few really close friends and a lot of other good friends who are in my comfort zone.

I am also reminded that this is life, not heaven. And because it's not heaven, I have to let things go when people do mean things. This is called tolerance. 

The more tolerance you have, the more resilient you are.

When you think of psychological resilience, it's easier to liken it to physical resilience. You know how it is when you're walking really briskly. Or running. Then when you stop to let the rest of your body catch up to you, you breath deeply. Heave ho! And then your heart slows back down to normal. How long does it take to get back to "normal" when you're no longer afraid that your heart or lungs are going to burst? Well, the quicker you can get back to normal, the more physical resilience you have.

Same is true of psychological resilience. When something happens to you that you really don't like, how long does it take you to let it go? If you're a resilient person, then you will be able to do this in pretty quick order. If you have no tolerance, or resilience, then the intolerance and anger will eat away at you until it consumes you.

Have you noticed that a lot of this list of symptoms have to do with keeping our body's chemical balance? I mean, there's that big deal about the carbs, and sleeping too much and lethargy and slumpiness.

Our brain is just a big bucket of fat cells and electrical current going back and forth between cells at about 270 miles an hour. If that chemical balance gets even a little bit upset and out of balance, we need help to get it restored.

That's when you call your doctor and say, "I don't feel like myself." -- This is an interesting article that discusses research from Biological Psychogy. New research says that bullies enjoy watching their victims squirm in discomfort; that they are quite purposely in causing pain and suffering.

What do we mean by emotional cutoff? According to Dr. Murray Bowen, the ground-breaking guru on family systems theory, this is a powerful psychological device which helps people reduce anxieties. These anxieties are usually centered around old hurts and deep pains that have occurred in the family. What the individual does is simply move away. Kind of "get out of Dodge." Sometimes we call this the "geographical cure." Emotional cutoffs involve moving away from the family and not going back. Well, sometimes it's just not possible to move away so what the person then does is avoid sensitive issues. When someone does bring up an uncomfortable topic at a family gathering, there's a quick change of subject or some other way to divert attention away from the uncomfortable. The ability to cutoff may, in fact, lessen anxieties but at the expense of contaminating other relationships. This is especially true when stress begins to chip away and erode relationships. The best bet and most effective way to reduce anxieties is to soften the intensity of discomfort with some emotional contact, however small. (See this article for more detail:


If you thought it was important to pick your battles carefully, then I have another clue for you. It's just as important to pick your friends carefully. Good friends build you. They don't suck all your emotional energy out of your body. We all know people like that. We dread seeing them come toward us. We avoid answering the phone when the caller ID says they're calling. Self-preservation of a sort takes over and we avoid these people. Instead, focus on people who make you feel special. Cultivate friendships with people who treat you like a special person. Leave the other people alone. They'll find someone else to bleed out. Miserable people usually find each other. They'll focus on their negativity and commiserate with one another all day long. But you don't have to participate. There are a lot of bright, sunny people who have warm dispositions out there. Go find them.

Be charming. People will be drawn to you if you develop some way to be charming. Ever notice that charming people are those people who are focused on other people? They are quick to point out positive attributes in others. When you meet someone today, say something nice about them to them. For instance, if you're getting on an elevator and run into a co-worker, you might say something to a guy, "I like that tie." I like to compliment people. They put time and effort in getting ready to meet the public so why not reward that? As opposed to someone who walks through their days with what I call "bed hair." What can you say complimentary about that? Not much, but maybe the person has a nice smile or a pleasant tone of voice. Or you might say, "I admire your always being on time," or "I can always depend on you to have your projects done on time." Look for something nice to say to people you meet. People will find you charming. Do you have to be charming? No, you can go through life being a sour puss that people don't want to be around. How much fun is that? Charming people, on the other hand, get farther and have more friends.


People become addicted to their work. We tease them a bit and call them workaholics, but the truth of the matter is, work addicts throw so much passion into their work that they have little left over for loved ones. Or loved ones believe they are just getting the crumbs, and not the good parts of the addicted person. If you're a work addict, try to ease up a bit. Consider the very real possibility that you've allowed a work addiction to grow because it has become the bedrock of your identity. Developing a good workable identity is one of the chores of adolescence. By the end of adolescence, you ought to have your identity pretty much the way you want yourself to be. If you don't, then there's a strong likelihood that you'll become a workaholic. Then your job or career becomes your identity. This can be grievous if you're married. Work really hard at getting home for dinner. Good job security says there will be something to do at work when you get in tomorrow. So don't try to do it all everyday before you leave. Recharge your vitality -- go home and play. Your spouse deserves nothing less. There are sad disappointments in store for people who think they can put their lives on hold.


Repeat after me: Disagreeable people are angry, hostile people. Believe it or not there are people who will disagree with you no matter what you say or which position you take. They're hostile people. And they advertise their hostilities just by opening their mouths! There would always be at least one when I was teaching psychology at Joliet Junior College and Moraine Valley College. They were the students who thought they knew everything there was to know about Freudian theory (in a Psych 101 course). They were the students who countered much of the lesson plan. Disagreeable people frequently act out their own personal delusions and are not about to be swayed with facts, so don't bother trying to convince them of factual material. They're still busy working out something buried down in their psyche. It's where they got stuck in development. Oh, and by the way, they'll bait you and they try to take hostages.


Have you ever had a general nagging sense of something just not quite right -- but couldn't put your finger on the source of your discomfort? If that's the case, then you are describing anxiety. When you try to explain to a person who's experiencing anxieties, the first reaction is generally "I'm not afraid of anything." But anxieties are incomplete fears. You get all the feelings of discomfort. But what you don't get is the identity of what may be bothering you. When these fears get disguised and hidden away deep in the pockets of memory of our psyche, then we have to go find the source of all that bother. It may well take some rummaging around before you find out exactly what this discomfort is all about, but the peace of mind that follows is well worth it.

So what can you do? If you have the time, inclination and motivation, journaling is very helpful. But in order for it to be journaling and not just a "dear diary" entry, there is an important difference. In order for journaling to be therapeutic, two elements are necessary: 1) a minimum of 45 minutes ought to be set aside on a daily basis for you to explore your thoughts, and 2) focus on positive solutions. It's true that as you focus on positive thoughts, little negative ones will worm their way to the surface of your consciousness. They're like little boogey men coming to the surface. Let them. These thoughts are very tenacious. As they become "visible" to your conscious mind's "naked eye," then take a look at them.

In a way, you could say that the focus on positive thoughts is a way to bait the negativity out of the dark corners. So if you're only writing for twenty minutes or so, it's not going to happen. But after about 45 minutes, you'll be amazed at how your writing changes, qualitatively. Just keep journaling until you feel like you've explored your thoughts to their fullest. When you put your pen down, you ought to feel more at ease. Next day, do it again. And keep doing it until Anxinosaurusrex quits bothering you.


Figure out what's really important to you. That's what you want to keep in your life. Don't go squandering all that emotional energy fretting about what could never be. About what happened years ago. Unfortuntely the world is filled up with people who make mistakes. It's a big mistake to think that they make their mistakes on purpose. Especially if they hurt your feelings. Sometimes life just happens and as much as we try to, we really don't have all that much control over what other people do. Maybe they're just big babies and want to suck you into the swirling waters of their own mental chaos. Rise above all that. You'll be happier.  


Life coaching sessions are available by appointment. For information on how to schedule, give me a call at 217-690-8870.

Also, to order reprints for Adolescence, Adjustments, or Resilience send $2.00 and a one ounce stamp for each to me at 1201 So. 2nd St., Effingham, IL 62401. (United States mail only)