MANY KINDS OF TEARS

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Tears are often treated in our culture as something negative.  People often apologize for their tears.  Sometimes people hide their tears, or are embarrassed by them.  And sometimes people are afraid of them, thinking, for example, that if they cry, they might be becoming depressed.  Others, perhaps more so in males and certain cultures, tend to judge tears as a sign of weakness.

Paradoxically, when you think about it, there is nothing strong about being too afraid to feel or show your pain.  It actually takes courage and strength to feel emotional pain, or other intense emotions.  Feeling a range of human emotions is one way of feeling alive.

Tears of despair can be part of depression, or can be a passing experience.  Tears of sadness, grieving the loss of someone or something, are very different than despair.  They are a healthy experience, with no associated false belief.  They are a normal reaction to loss, and loss is a normal part of life for everyone.  This “clean” sadness, and compassion for one’s self or for another, mean that you care a lot.  These are healthy, often healing and beautiful tears.

Another common type of lovely tears are tears of relief.  Relief is a wonderful experience of letting go of fear, worry, and tension.  Relief is a gift to be enjoyed when it comes along.

Tears of joy are also wonderful.  Joy is one of the great experiences of life.

People can be touched or moved to tears by love, whether they’re feeling intense love, or feeling loved.  Is there anything greater than that?  Is there anything wrong with that?

People can also heave tears with hurt, fear, or with anger.

So whether you’re experiencing tears or witnessing them, don’t assume you understand them.  Sometimes our emotional reaction appears before we understand what we are feeling.  So take your time, and be curious, and the understanding will come to you on its own.  Don’t try to figure it out with your thinking, as you might come up with a wrong assumption.

Obviously, there is nothing weak about being human and experiencing the range of human emotions.  Self acceptance with all our emotions is so important and healthy.

It would be a good thing if our culture were more sensitized to tears as part of healthy living.

JUDGMENT: THE GOOD,THE BAD & THE UGLY

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inTo clarify what I am referring to, passing judgment onto someone is to look down on them, seeing them as somehow not okay.  This is obviously different from having “good judgment”.

Also, separating a behavior from the person doing it and seeing the behavior as negative while having compassion for the person, is not judgement.

So for the type of judgment we are talking about, there is actually no good; there is only bad and

Of all the harmful things in the world, one of the worst, I think, is judgement. One of the reasons it is so harmful is because it is everywhere. Wherever there are people, you will find judgement. Another reason is because it is so insidious.

Individuals judge others. Individuals judge themselves. Groups judge others. Races judge each other. Countries judge each other.

And the result is conflict everywhere from an intrapersonal to interpersonal to a global level. There is hatred of one’s self, hatred of other persons, hatred of groups and types of people who are different in different ways, and hatred of nations, resulting in war and bloodshed.

Judgement of one’s self is the root cause of shame, which can lead to a whole host of suffering, including depression, anxiety, isolation, substance abuse, behavioral problems, problems with the law, and suicide.

Judgement is the root cause of all types of discrimination, whether over race, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever.

Judgement is the root cause of exclusion, bullying, and inhumane treatment of others.

Judgement is dangerous because people often feel self-righteous, not realizing that whatever they are judging is not as bad as the judgement itself that they are taking part in.

It is also dangerous because, as we said, it is so ubiquitous and insidious. I have more than once caught myself being judgemental of people because they were so judgemental! Or once a person becomes attuned to how much self-judgement there is, they may fall into the trap of judging themselves for self-judgement.

Feeling judged, whether it is from within or the outside, creates a noxious feeling of feeling unacceptable. That’s why it can lead to a lot of misery. And when people act out of that ungrounded state, it definitely does not bring out the best in them. They may react in some form of anger or violence towards others or themselves, or may withdraw or isolate.

Judgement is a product of the human ego, which is by nature insecure. Looking down upon someone else at an unconscious level makes us feel better about ourselves. The ego is very good at potentially using any difference in order to do this. Because we all have an ego, and are thus all prone to judgement, we need to be on a constant watch for this destructive activity.

The Antidote

 When we are grounded and know that we are okay, acceptable, and loveable, just as we are, we no longer need to judge. We can notice things and behaviors that we don’t prefer, but we can keep those separate from the people involved. Where appropriate, we can feel compassion for the people rather than judgement. We can enjoy feeling the reality of our equality with others, not needing to feel the inferiority nor the superiority of the ego.

I believe that the world is full of well-meaning people. Yet what a mess we have made of things! The reason, in my opinion, is that there is too much ego and thus judgement operating. If everyone only stopped being as concerned with others’ wrongs, and really focused instead on trying to keep themselves as free of judgement as possible, the world could be a much better place.

Common wise aphorisms expressing the same sentiment:

Live and let live.

Vive les differences.

From the Bible: Take the log from your own eye before you worry about the speck in your brother’s eye

So humbly practice compassion for yourself and for others, and enjoy feeling the truth of your equality with everyone. Nobody is perfect, including you, and that is okay.

 

 

THE PERFECT HOST IN THE PERFECT HOUSE

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Imagine a beautiful spacious house, full of lovely comfortable furniture, cozy warm soft blankets, beautiful flowers and plants, and a lot of sunshine.  The owner of this amazing place is a wonderful host, full of interest in you, curiosity, understanding, love and compassion.  He wants to welcome every single part of you with open arms.  He wants to get to know every part of you.  Use plenty of room even for parts of you that feel opposite of each other, parts that are in conflict, parts that want opposite things. He does not know how to judge.  There is understanding and compassion for the part that is angry and part that is guilty about the anger .  There is understanding and compassion for the self-judgement, and for the judgment about the self-judgement.  He understands that you have always been doing your best all things considered, even when your best has not been very good.  In his compassionate arms on the cozy furniture, all wounded parts can be transformed and healed.  The unconditional love, acceptance, and compassion of this wonderful host and house act like magic.

Knowing that this place is available,the vulnerable parts can emerge gradually from your subconscious to be welcomed home and healed.  Every human being has parts, whether conscious or not, who feel things like fear, hurt, anger, and shame.  Everyone has parts that feel unloveable, not good enough, powerless, and so on.  Healing of vulnerable parts allows you to become increasingly aware of very positive aspects of yourself: of love, wisdom, joy, strength, compassion etc.  These are also welcomed into the house with love, honoring, and celebration.

Can you feel the sense of space and safety here?  One patient, who has major issues with her body, reported seeing herself walk very comfortably naked, in every sense, in this house.

This host and house is a representation of your calm nonjudgemental attention, which is also referred to as mindfulness.  As you may have gathered, it can be perceived as divine in nature.

Why not make a habit of spending time in your amazing healing house, enjoying the transformation of yourself and your life as you do so?

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COMPASSION & SELF-PITY

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I find that some people resist feeling any compassion or sadness for themselves, because they don’t want to fall into “self-pity” or feeling sorry for themselves.

There is a very big difference between the two, with compassion being very healthy and healing, while self-pity is unhealthy and can keep you stuck.

So what is the difference?

Compassion for one’s self, or for another, is simply sadness for one’s suffering, and it comes out of caring about one’s self or the other. When we focus on past suffering, our compassion is saying that we matter and our past suffering matters. It is healing in that it affirms the truth that we are loveable, which is one of the common feelings that was missing that we are grieving. Thus it helps replace false core beliefs about the self with true ones, and helps us heal old wounds. With compassion, or “clean” sadness untainted with other feelings, there is no associated false belief, and thus no tension in the body. There may be a heaviness in the chest. Compassion tends to have a soft tender quality in its bodily felt sense. We are often left with a peaceful feeling afterwards. There may also be a feeling of release. With compassion, we are not comparing our suffering with anyone else’s. We are knowing that it was undeserved. We are aware that everyone suffers, and that it is part of life. The suffering is not perceived as a punishment. We know that we can learn from it.

With self-pity, however, people often feel like they are victims. Without necessarily thinking these thoughts at a conscious level, they often feel that they have been specifically chosen to suffer the most. They may believe that they are being punished because they are bad, or wonder what they have done to deserve it. This keeps them stuck in feeling unworthy, and expecting things to continue to go badly. It may be accompanied by cynicism and/or hopelessness. With self-pity, there is contraction in the body. People tend to focus mainly on their own suffering, and are either emotionally unaware or minimizing of others’ suffering. Rather than being soft and tender, it has a bitter flavor. The suffering feels meaningless.

Just like self-pity tends to have decreased self-worth with it, so pity toward another tends to connote a looking down on them. This is in contrast with compassion, which is from an equal stance, and feels more connected. |

So invite compassion for yourself and others without fear, and avoid self pity, feeling like a victim, and pity for others. The world is not against you or anyone, though things can get pretty rough at times.

DAMAGE CONTROL IN RELATIONSHIPS

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This is a simple way of preventing escalation when there is conflict in relationships. This is very important in order to protect the individuals and the relationship.

In each person is a part that is calm, grounded, reasonable, mature, and constructive. When this part is present and available in each individual, communication can go well and even difficult situations and issues can be resolved. This calm part can be empathetic, can acknowledge things and apologize, can express its feelings calmly, make requests, and offer creative solutions. This is the best part of each person, and has access to these important communication skills.

Unfortunately, inside each person is also a part that is not calm or grounded, but rather can be angry, hurt, hurtful, jealous, suspicious, spiteful ,mean, fearful, secretive, guarded and. This insecure part is referred to by some as the ego. When these parts are present, a lot of hurt can and does occur to both parties involved, and to the relationship. The dynamic can escalate to being abusive, with raised voices, hurtful things being said that are not meant, name-calling, swearing, and sometimes things get physical. Hurtful things that are said and done cannot be undone or erased from people’s memory. The best that can happen is apologies and repair. These unpleasant interactions leave each person hurt and angry, leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth, create distance in the relationship, and erode at the health of the relationship and the loving feelings in it. From this place, it then takes more effort for individuals to try to bring more closeness and repair to the relationship.

Like a garden that is overrun by weeds, a relationship that is subjected to a lot of these negative interactions has little chance to flourish and thrive. Much better to prevent all that damage and hurt to the relationship and to each of the individuals, preventing the need for repair, and allowing all three (the two individuals and the relationship) to flourish. This can be achieved with an active dynamic called disengagement.

It can be used in any relationship: marriage, partners, parent and offspring, siblings, friendships etc.

How to disengage is simple, though people can find it challenging to do, for reasons that will be discussed a bit later. People just need to be aware of when they feel that the communication is not going well, and it doesn’t feel likely that it can be put back on track. One needs to pay attention to their feelings of frustration and anger, and notice the other person’s emotional state. In other words, one is monitoring which part of them and the other is there in the room, the calm grounded part or the ungrounded part. Obviously, if one is very angry, one should not initiate a communication with the other at that time. Instead, one needs to calm down and choose how to communicate effectively.

One should calmly suggest a disengagement.   This can be done in many ways. For example, one could say something like: “I am upset. It’s best if we don’t talk now.” “I don’t feel this is going very well right now. I’d like to talk later”; “Let’s talk later about this”; “How about we talk later?”; “I think we should disengage now”;“I feel myself getting upset-I need a time-out”.   Really the ways to handle this in a non- blameful and inviting manner are many. |Another option is to not speak but rather use a Time-out hand signal signal (one hand held horizontally above the other held vertically) in order to avoid saying anything angrily.

It is important to not point the finger at the other and say things like “You are too angry-I can’t talk to you.”

Disengaging calmly can be challenging when one is upset. If one disengages earlier rather than later before things have had a chance to deteriorate, that helps. Don’t be too hard on yourselves if at first you are not skillful in your disengagement. Disengaging at all when it’s needed is better than not disengaging. Then you can practice over time trying to do it skillfully.

Often, the individuals need some physical space to cool off. Sometimes, it is sufficient just to drop that particular topic of conversation, and switch to something that is not emotionally charged.

One key rule to be agreed up on ahead of time is that either individual can suggest disengagement, and the other person needs to go along with it, whether they agree that it’s a good idea or not, because one may perceive risk while another doesn’t, and we want to play it safe for damage control. One is not allowed to follow the other from room to room, refusing to disengage. If this unfortunate situation does occur, the one who feels the need for disengagement should unilaterally disengage . For example, if someone is out of control and won’t stop, one can hang up or leave the house. Again, one should aim at avoiding expressions of anger during disengagement, either verbal or nonverbal.

Disengagement should not be used to avoid communicating at all about things that need to be dealt with.

You want to ACT out of CHOICE, not REACT out of anger like a robot whose button got pushed, then later regret it. This requires being calm, so it can be true choice.

In the time after disengaging, individuals should work to calm themselves, and when grounded, prepare themselves for a constructive communication about the topic by imagining being the other person, and reflecting on what one can offer by way of empathy, acknowledgement, apology, and constructive solutions. . Research has shown that it commonly takes a minimum of 20 minutes for people to calm down, and sometimes much longer. It is important to be very honest with one’s self about whether one is truly grounded enough and ready to re-engage in a helpful manner or not. Because of a desire to re-engage, it is common to underestimate the amount of resudual upset present, or how easily it can increase with bringing up the topic again.  Also, it is important to read the other individual, and avoid suggesting re-engaging on the topic if he/she does not seem ready. It is always good to ask if the other individual is ready or needs more time.   If the decision is made to re-engage, and things start to go off the rails again, it is best to disengage again, regardless of how many times this has recurred. One must remember that the upset will very likely prevent resolution, and will very likely cause damage that we want to prevent. The fastest way to resolve things is to disengage as many times as necessary and communicate only when resolution is actually possible.

Often, after disengagement and calming, what seemed so important and urgent doesn’t even feel that it needs any revisiting, being seen as minor, and knowing that the other person cares and just forgot, and, was tired, and so on. Other times, it is a topic that is important to communicate about. Sometimes it is such a difficult topic for people that they need the help of a therapist to address it constructively and safely.

Disengagement is distinct from withdrawal, and it is important to differentiate between the two. Withdrawal is passive but hostile, such as when one walks off while the other is talking. It is distancing and angering, and it is very important to avoid it. Disengaging, on the other hand, is code for “I love you too much to risk hurting you, I love myself too much to risk getting hurt, and I care too much about our relationship to risk it being hurt, and I feel it’s too risky to talk now”. It is best if both parties know all about disengagement, so that one understands this and doesn’t misperceive it as withdrawal, and so either party can initiate it. However, prior agreement is not essential; if done skilfully one can use it with others who don’t know about it as well.

It is much better to end a toxic discussion as early as possible, rather than waiting until after damage has already been done. Be on the lookout for the feeling that things are not going well. People do not need to feel bad about needing to disengage. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with them or their relationship. We are all human, and we all have triggers.

Picture a vulnerable little chick who is precious and worthy of protection. This chick is each of the individuals involved and the relationship itself. There is a terrible storm, with high winds and big balls of hail, capable of really badly hurting the chick. This is the fighting, which is so hurtful and toxic.

Disengaging is putting a roof and a wall around the precious chick to protect it from the storm.

Obstacles to successful disengagement

Sometimes one feels a sense of urgency in communicating or resolving an issue. The vast majority of the time, there IS no urgency, and one needs to remind that the sense of urgency is not trustworthy. Also, one needs to remember that the fastest way to resolve it is to disengage and talk when resolution is possible, because resolution is not possible with the ungrounded parts present. Only damage will occur.

At times, the ungrounded “ego” wants to fight and win. It might want to hurt out of its anger, or might need to prove that it’s right, or have an urgent need to defend. The important thing to remember is that because the state of the relationship affects one’s happiness, a “win” is in fact a “lose”. The only real winning will be a win-win: the kind of mutual respect that results when difficult issues are constructively addressed, and that is only possible when both parties are grounded. The problem with anger is that it can be thought of as a boomerang. You toss it out, and it turns around and hits you in the face, so you end up getting hurt. When you behave angrily at someone, you are very likely to get either anger or withdrawal back, both of which are hurtful and distancing.

Sometimes, people believe that they need to be angry and loud in order to get heard. Nothing is further from the truth. When there is a lot of anger, people often shut down or put up a wall, and are relatively unable to hear what is being said. Or they focus on how they are being spoken to, and lose the content of your message. People are far more likely to really hear you and respond favourably if you are calm, kind and respectful, and you can be assertive without being aggressive.

Though it is very simple, I have seen disengagement make a profound difference in relationships, allowing people to feel more positively and loving towards each other, feeling more connected to each other, and appearing more attractive to each other. When disengagement followed by subsequent re-engagement at a better time is first used in a relationship, people can report that they feel that the person that they are in relationship with is much more reasonable than they had thought. This is because they are now only experiencing the reasonable part while being protected from the less reasonable part.   With the protection from storms, relationships have a chance to “spiral upwards”, with more healthy interactions building upon each other.

Conversely, not disengaging when it’s needed leads to a “spiralling downwards”, with negativity having a tendency to lead to more negativity.

So protect yourself, those you care about, and the relationships you’re in by doing your very best to disengage soon enough as skillfully as possible ie without anger. You will get better with practice.

The Case for Compassion vs. Judgement

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Every day, all of us humans encounter feelings, thoughts, and behaviour- in ourselves and others- that we consider less than ideal.  It is very easy to judge ourselves and others, and as a result, judgement happens all the time.  The toll it takes is high:  self-judgement can lead to guilt, shame, hopelessness, depression, anxiety, and maladaptive behaviour.  Judgement of others can lead to hurt, anger, conflict, and broken relationships.

Conversely, compassion for self and others feels far better, peaceful instead of tense, makes for more harmony in relationships, and as I will further explain, is always the appropriate response.

The insecure part of a person, or ego as it’s called by some, likes to judge.  It needs to feel either superior or inferior, not feeling comfortable with the truth of one’s equality.  Judging another elevates it by looking down on someone else.  This protects it from feelings of inferiority, which are usually at an unconscious level.   Judging one’s self reinforces feelings of inferiority and lack of acceptability.   From a secure position of feeling loveable and acceptable with all of one’s limitations, one can be humble and honest, and feel neither superior nor inferior.  One can have compassion for one’s own and others’ failings as there is no need to judge.

The compassion is towards the person for feeling a negative feeling, and possibly acting out of it. I am not saying that the feeling is grounded or trustworthy, or that the behaviour is acceptable.  Instead,  I am separating the person from the feeling and behaviour, and saying that the person couldn’t help feeling that way and was doing his or her best given everything, such as his circumstances, the resources available at the time, his past,  her genes etc.  It is very important to remember that having compassion for someone does not need to interfere with having healthy boundaries, which are vital in relationships.  One can still, for example, have consequences for certain behaviour.  Also, one may choose to no longer associate with someone and still have compassion for him/her.

Imagine with me, please, a shop with various feelings on the shelves, and a person who is feeling fine and free to choose whatever he wants.  Would anyone who is feeling fine choose a negative feeling, such as fear, anger, hurt, jealousy, confusion, hopelessness or apathy?  Of course not.  Everyone who is feeling fine and therefore truly free to choose, would prefer positive feelings to negative ones, as they are more pleasant to experience.  So when we realize that the negative feelings are not chosen, but just “jump into the cart” – people just find themselves feeling upset, we can see that people deserve compassion, not judgement, for being upset.  In other words, they can’t help it.  This does not mean, of course, that nothing can be done.  They can learn better ways of coping.  It’s just that until they’re learned, they are not yet learned.

Now imagine a hypothetical person who never got upset.  Would this person ever choose to behave badly?  Why would they?  Or imagine a person who is feeling fine as above with a shopping cart in a shop of behaviours.  Would he choose a negative behaviour?  No!  There would be no reason to.  What I am saying is that people behave badly out of some negative feeling or feelings that they did not choose to feel.  For example, a child might lie out of fear of getting into trouble.   The child is not evil; he did not choose to be afraid.  He couldn’t help it, so he deserves compassion.   This does NOT make the lying okay or acceptable.  At the same time, he needs to take responsibility for his behaviour. He needs a little discussion about the importance of honesty and trust, reassurance that he is still loved, request for an apology if one was not spontaneously given, and perhaps a consequence.

Having compassion for someone who has wronged you makes it easier to forgive them. 

Some very basic neuroanatomy sheds light on the same topic.  Very simplistically, the brain is made up of three parts that have evolved over time.  The most primitive is the “reptilian brain” or brainstem, which is concerned with basic physical survival.  In us, it controls breathing, our hearts beating etc. The lizard is not concerned with much beyond physical survival.   The next most evolved part of our brain is the limbic brain, which a dog would also have. It is responsible for the well-known fight or flight response, and therefore is also about survival, as there are many negative emotions, such as worthlessness, that feel very threatening and thus emotionally unsurvivable.  So when we are functioning out of these two parts of the brain, it is about survival, and therefore not a choice.  Often unconscious defence mechanisms automatically and immediately kick in to protect us, such as denial, defensiveness etc. without our conscious awareness or approval.  This is because whether we survive or not is not an option, and our subconscious is designed to protect us in an urgent manner.  The experience is that there is no time for the luxury of reflecting and choosing how to act.  This is why people often react badly in the immediacy of a situation, then later upon reflection, when calm, regret their reaction, and are able to apologize and respond in a constructive way.  This brings us to the third and most evolved part of our brain, the cerebral cortex.  From here, we are calm, can reflect, and truly choose.  From here, people do not feel a sense of threat to their survival, and they make better choices.  From the first two less evolved parts of the brain, however, there is at some level a sense of threat to survival, and so people react unfavourably from a no-choice place.  Of course, when there is an actual threat to survival, such as walking across the street with a car speeding towards you, or having a grizzly charge you, operating out of fear from the limbic system is adaptive.  The fear is appropriate because there is real danger.  This is in contrast to the usual situation of misperceived threat when there is none, leading to maladaptive responses, such as anxiety and anger.

The other suggestion that I am making, which goes along with the above, is that people are always doing their best.  Why would anyone out of choice choose to do less than his or her best?  Even if someone is sitting in front of his exam paper without even looking at it because of his profound sense of hopelessness and futility, I would say that given how he feels, which he is not choosing; he is doing his best.  Alternatively, imagine someone who has a severe depression and struggles to get out of bed in the morning.  On Tuesday, he tries hard to get out of bed, but is unsuccessful.  On Wednesday, he again struggles, but somehow manages to get out of bed.  What I am suggesting is that things were not identical on the two mornings, whether the difference, which may not be apparent to an observer, or even to him, was within him, his environment, or both.  It’s these subtle differences that allowed him to succeed on the second day.  If he could have succeeded on the Tuesday, he would have.  I am saying that given a person’s genetics, past,  circumstances, feelings, beliefs, and the resources that he or she has available at any particular time, he or she is always doing his/her best.  One needs to recognize that sometimes one’s best is very bad indeed.  When one adopts the viewpoint that people are always doing their best, one feels compassion instead of judgement towards oneself and others.  It makes sense, as well as makes for less suffering.  It works. 

It is easy to judge when one doesn’t understand.  It’s useful to wonder what someone might have been feeling to explain that behaviour.  Understanding tends to lead to compassion to replace the judgement.  And even when one doesn’t understand, one can assume that there was some reason(s), and there were some negative feelings involved.

Who are we to judge, when we ourselves are far from perfect?  One is reminded of the wise advice:   take the log out of your own eye instead of worrying about the speck in your neighbour’s.  After all, there is enough to keep us busy when we focus on our own feelings and behaviour, and they are the only things that are within our control.  And there is the old story of the stoning of a prostitute, where the challenge for  anyone who was “without sin” to cast the first stone was met by silence.   Of course, nobody stepped up to throw a stone.  Nobody is perfect.

The good news is that people can change, mature, and heal.  They can operate more out of their cerebral cortex and less out of survival mode than they used to.  Their best can become better.  This is the journey that we are all on, aiming for these positive changes.  Learning and practicing being more compassionate and less judgemental of ourselves and others is one way in which we can grow.

And when you catch yourself judging yourself or another, be compassionate to yourself about that!  We’re just human!