Letting in the Light
“I’m so exhausted!” Emily sighed as she slumped into the rocking chair. “The store is driving me crazy!” Congenial and generally upbeat, Emily juggles complex roles as manager of a profitable men’s clothing franchise: engaging saleswoman, savvy boss and compassionate housemother for her “kids” as she calls her staff. Emily handles the pressures with genuine warmth and contagious wit. Despite changing business requirements and the kids’ idiosyncratic quirks, Emily remains surprisingly happy in her job, often affirming, “My job is fun. It makes me feel really good.” Yet, on this vibrantly sunny summer day, something was different. The energy with which Emily entered the room was visibly and palpably low, as if a cloud had blocked the light that had been beaming through the window. With a wan twinkle at the edges of her usually lively eyes, Emily recounted the latest list of stressors involving inventory, customers and the kids.
Over Coming the Obstacles to Self-Compassion
To start, I think it’s useful to understand what compassion is and what it is not. My working definition of compassion represents tender, empathic, and caring sentiments. It involves loving feelings that emerge when an injury (physical, emotional, or spiritual) is recognized and nurtured. Compassion is bringing a concerned, reinforcing spirit in the presence of wounding.
Curiosity is one way out of Stuckness
One of the top complaints I hear from people who come into my office is “I’m stuck.” What they are saying without realizing it is that they’re stuck in repeating scenes with repetitive themes in their lives, either with the same or different people, over and over again.
The Shattered Oak: An Author’s Reflection
My mother’s life was not easy. She dealt with and battled domestic violence, child abuse, suicide, and eventually mental illness. She was affected by and surrounded by the nature of mankind’s cruelty. And yet, she gave my siblings and I her gift of strength. In writing The Shattered Oak, I came to terms with her thought process and experienced her level of bravery and reliance. I finally comprehended her intense strength, courage, and determination by acknowledging her survivor skills and her deep love of faith that provided her comfort that she was never alone.
A Somatic Strategy for the Holiday Season
Our ideas of how the holidays should go can be a sticky combination of tradition, experience, marketing, and . . . fiction. Year after year I see my clients reflect the stresses of the season as old issues surface and old patterns take hold. Just around the corner from Halloween, the body starts to brace for the inevitable and resiliency disappears. Conflicting feelings of anticipation and anxiety show up in the body as a tangle of shoulder-neck-jaw tension, low back pain, random injuries, and general uptightness. In order to extend the good work beyond our ninety- minute session, I’ve developed a simple somatic strategy to change the holiday dynamic.
Somatic Relief for The Blues
Walking over to my chair, cell phone in hand, Bev exclaimed (the tone of her voice implying the answer was a given to her upcoming question), “Aren’t these pictures beautiful? Here, look at this one—I took it from the old Fort. Can you spot the house in the background across the inlet? That’s where my father would put the boat in the water to take us up the coast. Those were good times.” Bev’s photographs, composites of her beloved seas and shorelines along Maine’s southern and mid-coast, comprise a visual memorial to the beaches and bays that provided a measure of playfulness and serenity within the more chronic and painful vagaries of her childhood and adolescence.
The Pandemic, Zoom and Polyvagal Theory
I recently saw a pre-publication version of an editorial by Stephen Porges, “The COVID-19 Pandemic is a Paradoxical Challenge to Our Nervous System: A Polyvagal Perspective.” In it he says, “The pandemic impacts on our biological imperative to connect.” Polyvagal theory says that as mammals we need to connect to co-regulate. In fact, we use the minimal cues that come from the face and the tone of voice of each other to co-regulate our nervous systems. These cues let us know we are safe. The problem is that during the pandemic, we are being given the imperative that we need to stay away from each other in order to be safe.
Truly Mindful Coloring
From an expanded sense of creativity, I suggest that all psychotherapists, whether engaged in somatic work or in traditional talk therapy, are simultaneously artists, and that all effective psychotherapy is co-creative by its very nature. The art of psychotherapy is in the precise timing and subtle choices of what gets said or how touch is delivered. From the perceptual side, psychotherapists pick up on tiny cues that allow synchronous rhythms of body, mind, heart and soul. Likewise, it is a creative act to encourage, inspire, and welcome in emergent products from the relational unconscious, such as images, symbols, metaphors, or dreams that guide, light, or unblock the path forward.
Somatic Wisdom: Your Heart Knows Your True Self
“Well, it’s done!” Bonnie said with a sideways glance, her eyes not quite meeting mine. A twist of her lips said, I survived, but barely. Bonnie had come to see me shortly after A.H., her high school sweetheart and husband of more than a decade, told her he was moving out of their condo; he didn’t love her anymore. Within the throes of this shock and the stress of reordering her once familiar and stable life through a mediation process, Bonnie had been emotionally floundering. “I didn’t lose it in the mediator’s office,” she said, recounting the ordeal. “But I’ve been crying ever since I left. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that now we are legally separated.” She settled into the soft couch across from me, and reached for the box of tissues. “This has made my back ache worse; my whole body feels like it’s in a vice. And on top of that he’s not responding to any of my texts!”
Connecting to Your Body for Wisdom
I have been with my partner for a few years and have grown to feel comfortable and welcome within the family. Until one morning that is, when I saw they had made plans for a family outing without including me in the decision-making process. No one asked for my opinion, my insights, my thoughts, nothing. I felt ignored, shut out, rejected. I felt like an outcast. These feelings, based on how I interpreted their actions, shocked my system. I doubted myself and how I experienced my relationships with these individuals. I tried to figure out why. I wondered, was I enough as a person to deserve feeling accepted by them in the past or was I wrong assuming they liked me and that I was accepted by them. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn’t have a chance to fully process my experience in the moment. I had to pause to deal with other interactions happening around me. I managed to push the feelings of rejection down to look at later. Still in a bit of shock, I directed my attention to other things. Then, as life happens, I got distracted. I went about my day wondering why I felt cranky. There was no cheering myself up nor figuring out why I felt out of sorts; the reasons escaped me though the feelings entrapped me. I had pushed that painful moment down so far, I forgot about my pain. Yet I was cranky enough that even though my mind had dismissed the precipitating event, my body clung to the results. I wanted to be cheerful but there was no way to free myself from this cranky fog.