- by Carolyn Bergen
Today is my annual so-low-that-down-is-up day--I blog about it every year (here in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013). The day when we have the least amount of light, and the most amount of darkness. The day that launches a time when the days will only have more light than the day before. More light is coming...just a little bit more each day, but it's going in the right direction. It's a day of strange hope for me.
I love sunshine. It is vital for our mental health--as essential to our bodies as food and water. I love long evenings of light where scenic walks by the river can be enjoyed late into the evening.
The darkness of winter feels dark in every way--a heaviness, almost a sadness envelops as I leave for work before it is fully light, and it is already dusk as I drive towards home at the end of the day.
I love the turning point of today…that there will be more light tomorrow than today, and even more light the day after. The turn of the calendar towards more light has me feeling…well…lighter. :)
However, I am starting to realize that I am developing a reluctant and tentative friendship with the darkness. Well…friendship might be overstating it--though I hope to one day get there.
Let's call it a hesitant and cautious relationship with the dark…even this last statement suggests I have come a long way.
I have this passion for candles. I light them most every day in the winter. I love a candle lit room for visiting or for sitting in the quiet. Truly one of the perks of winter. I don't really light candles so much in summer…cuz they don't really have much of an effect when it is bright out until late into the evening.
And it got me to thinking about how much I like little dancing points of light in the midst of darkness.
Years ago, the first Christmas my family found ourselves down a husband and in-the-house father around, we were left with starkly increased expenses and significantly reduced income. Life was tight. That year, my Junior Tribe Members and I decided to forgo little stocking stuffers and give ourselves an evening of over-the-top fun with a lavishness that we hadn't known for months. We would start with an evening out at a restaurant that might not be super fancy--but it was going to seat us and have us choose our food from a menu they gave us to read. No fast food counter for us that day! Then we'd go to a $2.50 movie and then sledding. The JTM's were young then, but they had heard of the wonders of Starbucks hot chocolate and suggested that would be the perfect way to cap off the evening. Even tho I secretly agreed with them, I suggested that hot chocolate at home would probably be great--decadence balanced with prudence…and understanding JTM's that they were, they agreed.
However, the day before the Christmas Stocking Extravaganza Experience, as it has now come to be known, I got a letter in the mail. The City of Winnipeg returned my parking ticket and my $20.00 cheque for an overdue parking meter a few weeks previous--I had been kept unexpectedly late with a meeting with a colleague at the university. I was guilty--I owed the money--and it was returned. No explanation why. Just the returned cheque.
Do you know what it was like to have $20 show up in our lives that day?
Our joy was a little ridiculous. It was an act of grace in our lives that had us giggle…and then instantly agree that this was divine intervention. We toasted to the experience at Starbucks the next day…it would seem the baby born in Bethlehem knew that a vente Starbucks hot chocolate was just the thing to make an evening perfectly magical.
We just celebrated our 10th annual Christmas Stocking Extravaganza Experience, and every year, we recall the miracle of the Christmas hot chocolate. Every year we cap off the night with the largest hot chocolate, remembering the first hot chocolate a decade ago.
The returned parking ticket and the unwashed cheque--it seemed a miracle at the time…it caught our attention in a dark time…and the beauty of the moment is something that captures our imagination still.
If that happened now--I'm not sure it would have registered on our radar.
The darkness provides for the contrast for a candle kindness.
I love the sun. I truly do…I believe I appreciate it more given the dark winter months than if I lived at the equator.
I imagine I might take the sunshine of the day for granted if it shone 12 hours every day of the year.
There is a special beauty of the sun after a period of darkness.
There is a sunshine in my life that has given my life a special glow in the months of late. A sunshine that takes my breath away and has me blink rapidly in its brightness. A too-good-to-be-true sort of feeling that after years, has me gasping for breath in the new dawn of a special relationship. I feel like I am 17 again. I feel my cheeks ache from smiling. Friends tell me I am a little giddy and I think they see me as sorta goofy about it all.
They may be right.
But y'know, there's something pretty spectacular about the dawn when you've known a dark night. I think I have an appreciation for all things wonderful that I might not have had before I'd known the darkness. There's a richness and a delight in goodness--where the colours of life and light are perceived brighter and more beautiful than I would otherwise have seen.
So…go ahead and say I'm goofy and giddy…I am, delightedly so. I know the light in a way I could never have known without the darkness--and so I happily own goofiness and giddiness.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I took two afternoons off from work last week, playing hooky to go the malls to shop for Christmas presents. I thought I'd do it during the day when malls were a little emptier, and I'd dedicate the time to wandering around, being open to ideas I hadn't thought of, and making purchases to check off my list.
It was fun. Which is weird for me to say, because I generally avoid shopping. But I was enjoying myself. Shopping at Christmas, imagining my friends and family enjoying my purchases.
When I was talking to Greg Mackling on CJOB680 this week about why we shop, he played this great clip to challenge us all about shopping at Christmas. Kinda makes a person think about the commercialization of the season…
It got me to thinking…why do we shop? I googled the question, and the first article that came up in the internet search, Why we shop: The Neurobiology of Consumption said:
I suppose if I were to narrow it down to the one most important thing, I would say that buying usually involves relationships in one way or another. The motivation for almost everything we buy has something to do with connecting with other human beings. Even when it comes to practical purchases, the particular brand or product we choose relates to our connections with other human beings.Dr. Yarrowauthor of Decoding the new consumer mind
"'Tis better to give than receive" isn't just shtick. It's true. I love wandering through the malls, imagining what it would be like for a Junior Tribe Member to open this, or the laughter that might ensue in a gift exchange when that is revealed.
Shopping for gifts gives us opportunity to delight those we care about. Shopping for food gives us a chance to know we are prepping to feed our families. I choose pea pods over brussel sprouts, rye bread over brown, and strawberries over apples (even tho they cost more)…because of how my family will respond. I like to give them what they like.
Shopping is a form of preparation. Some of you are shopping for cribs and teddy bears for a little one that is coming. Some of you are shopping for rings to pop a special question this Christmas. Some of you are buying legos instead of rattles, or clothing instead of dolls as your children are getting older. Shopping is a way to rehearse and plan and prep for changes that are coming.
Shopping is a way to acknowledge changes and prompt us to integrate the changes in our lives. When we shop, we wrap our heads around new people we are buying for, new stages of the people in our lives, new stages in our lives.
What we wear, listen to, read, and drive all give messages to others about who we are. And in this world of rapid change, and instant messaging, and personal branding, that requires constant shopping to be sending the right messages to those around us…and at Christmas, we may help others modify the messages they send to others by what they wear, read and listen to.
Shopping is great to reduce anxiety. Buy making a purchase with your money, you gain a sense of mastery. (And heck, if you're a Winnipegger, who are known for bargain hunting…if you get something on a good deal, you feel even more powerful!) In a world that often has us showing up when others say, doing stuff others tell us to do, and having relationships on other people's terms, shopping gives us a chance to do it our way.
We don't all live close to family. It's cold outside and going for a walk in the park doesn't work…so we go to the mall and wander around…and shop. Shopping is a social activity. Friends go shopping when they are looking to do something with each other.
We chat with the store staff, and salespeople get to know us to know what we need, what our styles are, and how they can best serve. To be known, to be heard, to be valued--all things that good trained salespeople do--has us feel better.
(Though this is a little tricky, eh? Good salespeople are often naturally this way, and do their jobs cuz they love 'em...let's face it, they are trying to get the sale, and they are also doing it for money--so while it feels good, it has some layers that make it unreliable as a main source of connection)
Finding just the perfect _______ (insert name of miscellaneous item here), especially below the perfect price affects our brain… We get a dopamine rush that gives us a "feel good" feeling that has an addictive quality to it. It's the same reward circuit that is at play with drug use, and binge eating. It has the potential to become a process addiction:
Giving gifts is a way to demonstrate love and affection…to celebrate the connection with others. I have made purchases for family and friends that I'm looking forward to giving. I'm looking forward to them wearing the shirt, or playing the game that I will give. I welcome the opportunity to connect with them in a tangle way.
However, we all fall into the trap of "How much do I need to spend on ____?" so it's "enough" (but not "too much"!)
There are folks who feel like they can neglect important relationships with time and energy--and make up for the disengagement with a great, expensive blingy gift that in intended to make up for all the hours of overtime.
Other folks fear that they don't have enough to offer the relationship, and doubt their own value…and so providing an extravagant gift can help cement the relationship to make up for their own perceived lack of value. That feeling of not being worthy of love and belonging can overtake us all--and it's tempting to double the value of a gift to make up the difference.
there is often multiple nuanced layers with combined reasons for shopping that include multiple factors listed above, and quite possibly more that I haven't listed.
There is NO parking available at the mall near my house this week…the malls are packed with folks making purchases. I'd invite you to be mindful of the social relationship of shopping, and to lean into the surface and underlying motives behind your shopping to allow you to make the best purchases in ways that align with your values, and open spaces for difficult conversations if you are shopping for reasons that actually don't align with your values or your budget.
- by Carolyn Bergen
And when it's too much, it's not a good thing, because it's too much.
Let me explain.
- by Carolyn Bergen
- by Carolyn Bergen
I'm still chuckling at myself for what happened before I learned self compassion. Sometimes, the most powerful lessons aren't learned at the course, but in the course of life.
I registered for the workshop hosted by the Compassion Project, Klinik, and the Manitoba Trauma Information and Education Resource Center that featured Dr. Kristin Neff that was happening in March 2013. I'd spent time on Kristin's website describing self compassion in the past months, and registered immediately when I heard she was coming. I viewed her TEDx talk a few times to become familiar with some of her most basic principles to really prepare me to get the most out of the two day workshop.
I got some information earlier in the week of the workshop about what to expect...and it said to wear comfortable clothes and to bring a mat.
I love learning...but I like to learn with my head when I'm around other people...and I like to do my heart learning on my own, or with a few safe and trusted folk. I am a contemplative type, and have deliberate contemplative practices that I find deeply meaningful and significant, but I'm not a regular yoga/meditation type.
The idea of the mat suggested we would be doing exercise/meditations that would explore our inner world, have us practice self compassion at the workshop, and just, generally, have unknown degrees of vulnerability. I mean, it would only make sense that a workshop on self-compassion would include elements of experiencing, practicing and exploring self-compassion...but, gosh, that didn't mean I was gonna like it!
So...I was nervous...and the therapists at the office that week chuckled at my anxiety as I gnashed my teeth and complained about the need for a mat, when all I really wanted to do was use pen and paper to take notes.
On my way home from work the day before the course, I decided I would be proactive and head into my vulnerability head on. Though the info sheet said there would be a limited number of mats available, folks were encouraged to bring their own. I told myself I would purchase a mat...ostensibly to make the mats they had available for others as an act of generosity...but in actuality, I was armoring up against my vulnerability. I was gonna saunter in there like a pro, with a mat under my arm like it belonged there.
Just before heading to the store, I looked once more at the instructions...what I remembered as saying "yoga mat" actually said, "meditation mat and cushion". I googled that, to make sure that yoga mats and meditation mats are the same thing.
They. So. Aren't.
I felt the warm rush of heat crawl up my neck and fill my cheeks as I sat there, humiiliated. I had very nearly prepared myself incorrectly...I had very nearly purchased a yoga mat when what was called for was a meditation mat...much rounder and fluffier and very different.
I had a chorus of lines rushing through my head:
But then, I began berating myself for having the audacity to go to a workshop on self compassion, believing firmly already in its value, and using the approach with clients and at this moment, being spectacularly unsuccessful in being able to use it effectively for myself.
With this, the intensity of self criticism ratcheted up exponentially. (Even as another part of me could see how I was quite over the top on my reaction).
And then, all of a sudden, somehow in one corner of my brain…and it slowly started to spread over the rest of my noggin...I remembered...
I hadn't taken the workshop yet.
I was going to go to learn about these principles. I always get nervous before going to a two day event where i don't know if I will know anybody there, and interaction with others will be a part of the experience...who will I sit with, will it be ok, will they like me, will they think I'm good enough, etc. etc...and the anxiety was coming out over this ridiculous mat. This was shame having a party inside of Carolyn.
Like many, I'm a wee bit (OK, maybe a lot) of a perfectionist. Like all, I struggle with shame...the feeling of not being worthy of love and belonging. And like usual, I was expecting myself to be really excellent at it, right away...even before I'd gone to the workshop.
And at this realization, I found myself able to soothe myself with understanding and compassion and loving kindness...I didn't have to be good at this yet. I could go as someone who had something to learn. It was OK to have room to grow at this...and suddenly I saw this silver lining...it was going to be money well spent because I just showed myself how I really needed to learn this stuff for myself, not only to use with my clients! :)
I can't say I wasn't still a little nervous and apprehensive about the whole thing that evening. I was, but I showed up the next morning. It was great. I learned a lot. Met some great people and had some fabulous conversation in our groups exploring our experience. A fantastic experience.
...and to my surprise, I discovered something that really tickled my sense of humour, and will be a lifelong lesson in gentle with myself and not making critical assumptions...a few people brought "meditation mats" but many, many more brought the good old conventional yoga mats...the kind I was convinced would have been utterly humiliating for me to have brought in.
Thanx Kristin, for your compassionate style of teaching us self compassion. For a really quick grasp of the concepts of self-compassion, take a peek at the video:
One of the things that came through so powerfully to me is that self compassion isn't selfish, but rather sets a person up to be much more able to open up their heart to others in ways that are life giving to those around. When we are in a good place, we are able to be more fully present and compassionate to those around us. As a member of a family, or a local and world wide community, it behooves us to be self compassionate to be better able to connect with those around us.
Is there room in your life to practice a l'il self-compassion?
I thought so. Give it a go?
- by Carolyn Bergen
For many years, I taught students at the School of Occupational Therapy at the University of Manitoba. I loved the teaching and discussions…the marking and administration--not so much! :)
One of my favourite courses to teach was "Advanced Communication Skills"…given the finite amount of hours I had to teach content, we decided I would focus on "Evocative Empathy", with the help of University of Manitoba's David Martin's textbook.
This wasn't so much head learning as heart learning…
Initially, it would drive the students a little squirrelly as I prohibited them from asking questions in order to get to know someone. Rather I had them work to emotionally connect with what a person was telling them, and then communicate their understanding of what they had deeply heard.
These students were so used to asking questions to get to the bottom of things. But the thing is, when you ask a person a question, you get an answer from their head. When you hear what is behind what they just said, and you gently let the other person know all of what you just heard, you touch their heart.
It is powerful stuff.
Imagine you are working with a patient to teach them how to put their shirt on after they have had a stroke and one side of their body isn't working. The patient says: "I've done this for 80 years without even thinking about it, and now it takes me 15 minutes and a bunch of help to put this stupid shirt on."
What would you say?
So…the students would find is SOOO hard at first to communicate in a way that just noticed and was present with the other person's (unspoken but present) experience. It would leave them tongue tied and frustrated, unable to speak fluently in sentences. Competent, caring, and experienced folks almost unable to speak.
Then, they would start to get the hang of it…and would use it incessantly and always--often in a teasing and exaggerated way:
By the end of the 11 weeks of the course, as we sat in a circle reflecting on the learning of the previous weeks, the students weren't laughing anymore. They were sobered.
They told stories like this:
One year, a student named learning evocative empathy as a “superpower”. She realized the incredible ability this way of relating others had--empathy is able to sway conversations, elicit cooperation, and evoke people to disclose parts of themselves that they rarely allowed others to see.
The student acknowledged that this superpower could be used for “good and evil” (as all superpowers can be).
The students would talk about how they were more likely to be able to return an item to a store when they used gentle empathy with the store clerk first. Their children were more likely to clean their rooms, and their parents more likely to overlook these busy students’ neglect of household chores when the students would switch to being empathic rather than argumentative.
There was an awareness that they could elicit behavior that they wouldn’t otherwise get from someone when they profoundly listened and communicated that understanding.
There was also an awareness that it made sense to use their newfound emotional intelligence judiciously.
It is said that Martin Luther King had a high degree of emotional intelligence…his “I have a dream” speech was masterfully delivered so that it gives me the shivers to listen to it decades later. He understood what moved people. He understood how to speak to people’s hearts as well as their heads.
It is also said that Adolf Hitler had a high degree of emotional intelligence. He learned how to sway behavior. He studied videos to perfect hand gestures and voice intonation…he pulled people into his vision in ways that had them act fundamentally against the core of what they believed, of what we as humans intuitively know to be right and just and good…he got German soldiers believing outrageous ideas and doing heinous acts by seductively convincing them to believe things that we can now hardly wrap our heads around.
It is worth developing an ability to be deeply empathic, to be able to be fully present with oneself, and to regulate one’s own body and emotions…all of these skills enhance connection with others significantly.
But like any other powerful tool, emotional intelligence can be used to build up or tear down, elevate or disintegrate another, deeply empower or wildly manipulate the other.
How will you use your power of emotional intelligence?
- by Carolyn Bergen
I remember at a baby shower a while back, there was a game that was essentially the "maternity olympics"…there were prizes for the biggest baby, the most over due, and so on. When the "longest labor" event arose, I won. Hands down.
When I was six and a half months pregnant with my youngest Junior Tribe Member (JTM), I began early labor. Through the wonders of modern medicine, the contractions went from three minutes apart to intermittent--as long as I didn't nothing. As soon as I moved around even a small amount, they would act up again. I was in labor for 6 weeks, on bed rest between home and hospital to postpone the birth of the little guy as long as possible.
Problem was that I had a busy and active household, including a 20 month old JTM that never slowed down. What to do? He needed to be chased after, and I needed to not be off the couch.
There was a delightful woman in my church, who I will forever consider my guardian angel. She would phone each Sunday and ask, "Whaddaya need this week?"
And she would invite me to let her know which days I needed someone for childcare and when we needed meals, and she would ask someone to come clean my house. Numerous folks understood and knew my predicament and had offered to assist. She would call those who were wanting to help and let them know when and how to help.
When my baby was born weeks later and needed only 10 days in hospital, it felt as though the community had birthed him. The support and help of the community prolonged my pregnancy enough that the complications were minimal. He was alive and healthy because the community surrounded us with care--the help was literally life-giving.
I will remain forever grateful…and forever open to supplying meals to young moms who need meals as a way of paying it forward. As a way of acknowledging my gratitude for the help.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I wrote recently about the disintegration of my marriage 10 years ago…watching the one I love become increasingly distant as he disappeared into a new life away from me.
One of the things I dreaded about his departure was the effect of this on my Junior Tribe Members. Y'see, I've worked with people for years, and have heard many stories of pain from folks whose parents divorced when they were kids. I desperately did not want my children to feel this pain.
But they watched out the window as he drove away, and we all cried together. And despite the fact that he came by the next day to take them out for a bit, and they have seen him regularly since…they still didn't have their dad at home the way it once had been. The house was quieter, and they missed the routine of having him in their lives in what had been a normal and constant way.
It busted me up a bunch to see them lonely for him, and missing the life we had…and to know there was nothing I could do to make it better. We spent the summer that year hanging out together…me and the JTM's…as much as we could. We played tennis, rode bikes, made forts, slept cosily in the forts, ripped up paper when they were angry.
I couldn't make it better, and that hurt.
All I could do was be with them as we all hurt.
It didn't feel like much. But it was all I had.
As parents who love our kids, and want the best for them, I often hear us telling each other: "I just want my child to be safe and happy". We place as priority number 1 in our lives the task of creating happy and healthy children. We do whatever it takes to help them develop proficiency in three instruments, two languages, and four sports. We work to provide innovative play dates with scintillating friends, top educational opportunities and cutting edge electronics.
We hate to see our children become disappointed, and so we go to bat for them with a teacher who seemingly marks unfairly. We avoid having our children's spirits crushed so we ensure that there will be a place on the team before the tryout even happens. We work to keep our children happy by taking them out to the amusement park right after the loss of the big game so they won't feel it.
We pay their fines, do their chores, run interference with authority--all in the endeavour to keep them out of distress--happy.
And in so doing, we prevent them from engaging in the struggle of life that is so necessary as part of being a successful adult. (And often, we do it because we as parents feel like lousy parents when our children are engaging in struggle…and so it protects us from our own painful feelings of inadequacy as parents)
Think for yourself…go back to a time when you learned something really important. When you discovered a strength you didn't know you had. When you were genuinely proud of your own accomplishment. When was that? Think for a moment…come up with a time in your life like that.
Almost certainly, that growth, discovery of strength and pride came out of a time borne of struggle.
It is in struggle that we learn and grow and gain wisdom. Perseverance comes out of the grind…the long haul that seems discouraging, endless…and definitely not "happy".
We as parents need to challenge ourselves about what "good" and "successful" parenting is…for some of us, we only feel successful as parents when our children feel coddled, supported, and safe. There is a powerful pull to have them feel "special" without doing anything to earn it.
Now, I believe each child merits a strong sense of being loved. Absolutely. And a powerful feeling of belonging. But when you make a big deal out of a child putting his plate in the dishwasher as proof of how special and gifted and hardworking that child is, there is no where to go--because in life, an adult needs to have the ability to clean up the whole table and kitchen after supper. Children can become dependent on external feedback to feel good about themselves…and parents begin to pump up their tires with very little accomplishment.
We as parents hate it when our children are upset…and often turn it on ourselves as a sign of our own inadequate parenting when a child is frustrated. It's not easy to watch our children struggle…and yet that is what successful parenting requires.
Parents raise children who will be able to handle the inevitable challenges and difficulties of life, to enable them to struggle through the inevitable frustrations of a lousy boss, unexpected bills, and the grind of showing up at an entry level job day after day. Success comes after perseverance as an adult…and too often children learn that by doing an hour or two of chores, they can earn an Xbox, and they can be surprised at how real life doesn't get them promoted just because they'd like to be in charge.
So…how do I love my JTM's with a fierce mama bear love that only wants the best for them? How do I do right by them in a complicated world of technology that teaches that instantaneous is the norm? How do I help them understand that inevitable slow and painful growth is valuable and significant in a world that values all things instant? How do I be an effective parent when everything in me says to make their childhood pain free and
This is a video that has a lot to say, even in the first 2 minutes and 43 seconds…it can challenge--and revolutionalize your parenting--teaching our children how to sit in the dark--as an important life skill that is our responsibility as parents to teach:
Letting them fall, fail and fear is the way to love my kids…
It's no fun watching a child cry out in pain from a fall. No fun at all.
But the valuable part of falling is learning. Learning that some things aren't a good idea…because to do them hurts! It is pain that teaches us that skateboarding without elbow pads isn't such a good idea…and protective gear is worn…and in years in the future…that same kid wears his seat belt regularly as a new driver.
Falling hurts, but it doesn't kill us. I remember falling off my bike as a kid…I remember hitting a tree riding down the Elmwood sidewalk. I remember the scrape on my belly from the handle bar when I hit it. I remember how it hurt…but I also remember that I healed. And I remember how hard it was--but how worthwhile it was--to get back on the bike. I became a proficient bike rider in my early elementary school years even tho I fell.
It was important for me to realize that I could get back on the bike, even after I fell.
Kids need to know that falling hurts. The pain of it can make a person wiser to avoid such nasty pain in the future. A kid also needs to know that even when falling hurts, it might be hard, but it is worthwhile to face that which has created the fall…and to conquer it.
There's no feeling like being able to get back on the bike and ride it.
Failing sucks. Quite simply.
No one likes to fail.
And failing hurts. Failing feels like…well…it feels like failure.
And when a person fails, it can feel like a person is a failure, rather than having failed at something.
Failure is a valuable learning tool.
I would rather have my child hit the ditch at 30 km an hour while a teenager in my care, than hit a brick wall at 100 km an hour as an adult.
- by Sabrina Friesen
I am grateful. I have colleagues that I work with daily in our offices that I respect and admire. They wow me with their insights and wisdom. If you could hear our walls talk, you would hear stories of wonder--the work with the therapists do with our clients is incredible.
Sabrina Friesen is one of these wise and wonderful colleagues of mine. I am fortunate to know and work with her…and she shares with us here on the blog today...
Our house had recently been under the weather. Like reaaalllly under the weather. I don’t even want to add up the number of visits to the doctor we have collectively had in the past three weeks. I’m not sure about you, but when people don’t feel well here there are a few things that happen:
On a particularly gnarly Saturday a little bit ago, with the one then-healthy member of our family shipped off with friends and the two boys happily watching sports, I set myself up in our dark basement with tea and tissues and hours of Call the Midwife on Netflix to keep me company in between the coughs. I can’t remember the last time I sat for hours (and hours, and hours) and just watched a show. It was kind of magical.
For those of you who aren’t fans, I don’t blame you. It’s about midwives (and babies) and they say things like placenta. It’s definitely not a show for everyone. But this period drama about a nurses’ station run by nuns and staffed by midwives in the East End of London, England in the 1950’s is quite captivating for me at least. It’s a show about people, social classes, community, and life and death and what it means to intersect in the lives of others.
What can I say, I’m a therapist – I am all about people and their stories.
In the final episode I watched, one particular scene stood out to me. A midwife, Nurse Noakes, who was pregnant and ready to pop with her own wee one at any time was sitting with Fred, the handyman at the nurses’ station. Fred was holding his own brand new granddaughter, whom the nurse had just helped deliver. As he held this wee bundle and caressed her teeny tiny baby feet, he said to Nurse Noakes:
grew up in me barefeet. My dad
spent more on beer than he did on shoe leather. I used to think, ‘When I have kids I’m going to give them shoes, hot dinners, a happy
home. And I managed all
three. ‘Till Hilter
intervened. When the bomb dropped
I wasn’t there.
And that’s what makes you a parent, Nurse Noakes. Proximity. You can’t sell that in the shops.”
Merriam Webster defines proximity as the state of being near.
It’s a word I use in session with clients when we’re talking about relationships. I hold my two hands up in the air, thumbs and fingers together – with fingers pointing towards each other as if they wanted to kiss. It’s my (very poor) visual of two people engaged and looking at each other. This closeness, with fingers representing faces, is a relationship ideal.
This is the kind of connection we so often long for in relationship.
But unfortunately for us, relationships are often fraught with disappointment, frustration, and hurt feelings. What happens to those two hands that are close and pointed at each other is that somewhere along the line, one person gets hurt.
Maybe it’s a parent who is hurt that their kid lied to them again, so we emotionally (and sometimes physically) turn away and become cold and distant. We’ve turned the back of our head to them, and the proximity and accessibility we once shared is now gone. Imagine the two hands that were once pointed towards each other now far apart, with one turned away. The other looks on, seeing only the butt of the person they love and want to reach.
Maybe it’s a ‘joke’ that your husband told at your expense at the latest work function that got under your skin. That pain might lead you to give him the cold shoulder, maybe move over on the couch, or turn over in bed when he puts his hand on your back and wants to draw near.
Maybe a friend hasn’t responded to the email you sent her last week, or the phone call from yesterday, and you feel like you’re the only one putting in work. So you exclude her from the girls’ night text and plan a fun night without her, maybe even ignoring a call as you’re getting ready to head out for the evening.
I think that handyman Fred is really on to something here with this whole proximity business.
What does it mean to be accessible to someone else? What does it mean to exist in the state of being near?
I can tell you what it isn’t.
Proximity is not staying close enough so someone can step on you again, and again, and again. It’s not becoming a doormat who never leaves, or taking another blow to your confidence so someone else can feel important. Proximity doesn’t mean staying so close when it doesn’t feel good.
I don’t think a lot of us like to feel alone.
More specifically, I don’t think we
like it when someone we value and depend on all of a sudden disappears on us –
be it physically or emotionally (or both). This can be
excruciating, and leaves us thinking all sorts of nasty thoughts about how
they must not love us, how we’re not enough, and how we did it wrong again. Or maybe you get vindictive, dreaming up ways to stick it to
them so they can pay for how badly they hurt you when they left you there all alone.
Sometimes my pre-schooler gets under my skin. We are a lot alike in our propensity towards intensity and we get into these seasons where we trigger each other to no end. Now I love this kid with some ferocious mama love, and I adore the intensity of joy and delight and celebration this little brings into our family.
But sometimes I get so mad that I can’t be in the same room as her. I could storm out and slam the door, ignore her, and take a moment to calm down. That could work. But it feels kinda yucky leaving her there, not knowing where I went or what happened.
I am all too aware that she might come to think that, “when I don’t act the way she wants – my mom can’t be with me.” And that thought nearly breaks my heart, because it has way less to do with her attitude and way more to do with my hurt feelings and sense of inadequacy as a parent.
Instead of pulling away and
disappearing on her, my typical response (when I don’t absolutely lose my
marbles and go into loud-mama mode, because, folks, that happens too!) is to let
her know that I’m feeling frustrated and need a time out. Then I lock myself in my bathroom for a
few moments and hope to goodness she doesn’t come hunting me down, because that
just might push me over the edge.
When feelings are hurt, what does it look like to take a few steps back? Imagine the kissy fingers are now not so close. Maybe an arm-width’s apart even, but the “faces” are still pointed at each other. They know where the other is. It’s distant, but they can find each other, and if both take steps – they are steps toward each other instead of away from each other.
What do you do when you see someone’s behind? Do you run towards them and chase them
down? Do you turn away too? Do you stand still and wait for them to
What about when your feelings are hurt, what does that look like? Who sees your backside and loses sight of you?
I wonder, what does it look like to back up from someone you love but to still remain proximate? How do you deal with the inevitable bumps and bruises that come with being close, but stay accessible to those you love?
Maybe we’re going through all the right motions, and doing the right things. Maybe we’re fighting like cats and dogs and are on the brink of calling it quits. If handyman Fred is as wise as I think he is, he’d probably say neither of that really matters, so long as we can see each other.
- by Carolyn Bergen
One of my favourite things that happens in therapy is this:
I love those times when folks come in and give the other credit for the shifts towards warmth and connection in their relationship.
A couple comes in for an initial session. There is tension between them. They are fighting. They have forgotten how to be friends…they have forgotten they are friends. They begin with the complaints…He works too hard. She complains too much. yada yada
As the session progresses, we continue talking…and I'll ask them what they are looking for in counselling. And one of them will develop a far off look and want the way it used to be…when they were friends, and laughed, and were supportive, and had each others back, and gave each other the benefit of the doubt.
And I'll ask more about that. And they'll tell me about how they have been with each other in better days…and they will recall the friendship, and the support. And they tell me, in any one of a 1000 different ways of the story of love in their lives. And it might have laughter, or tears, or be a little crusty around the edges, but we take a look at "the big picture"
And then I'll tell them that I can work with them on this. That it doesn't have to be this way. That I want to work with them on this, and we will work to get them to where they want to be.
Next, he comes in…and he tells me things are much better between them…and he's not actually sure why, but she sure is a lot easier to get along with. She's softer and kinder and he so appreciates the way she has been with him…it makes it warmer at home and he's relaxing.
Next, she comes in…and she tells me that something happened to him after the first session--not exactly sure what, but he's more patient, and he's tried harder to let her know what's happening…and the way he has changed makes her feel different in the relationship.
In celebration of So-Low-Down-is-Up day…Yep…read on!
Why do we shop? A hilarious 1 minute video and 7 reasons why we shop (hint: it's cuz we are created for connection)
Prioritizing the Important over the Urgent…does your life get a l'il hectic with busy-ness and then you feel out of control and are frazzled around your family and they catch the fallout, when what you really want is goodness for them and that's why you're so very busy in the first place?