Appreciating the Emotional Complexity of Mother's Day
Mother's Day is that time of year when we honor and express our gratitude to our moms. It is a time to remember all of the sacrifice and love that was show to us and to shown how much we appreciate it. Cards and flowers, family dinners and trips to nice restaurants are just a few of the ways we try to express our love and gratitude.
That said, it is important to remember that Mother's Day isn't the same for everyone. While joyful gratitude comes naturally for those whose mothers who were loving and who are alive, the experience can quite be different for those whose mothers have died or for those whose mothers were absent, neglectful or abusive. Even those with great moms also have felt emotional wounds which complicate things.
Further, the happy-happy-happy emphasis of the media and the flower and greeting card industry make a it difficult to deal with any feelings that are other than joyful. Indeed, the mother-child relationship, no matter its obvious quality, is an emotionally complicated one. Nonetheless, whatever your situation, or experience with your mom, Mother's Day can be an opportunity to seriously reflect about your life and the help you have received along the way.
For those who have lost their moms, Mother's Day a time of grieving but also a time to look at photos and remember wonderful times and moments and the life lessons learned. For those who didn't have the blessing of a loving mom, it is a time to acknowledge and give thanks for those people, whatever their gender or age or relationship who have loved and supported you through the years. Our families may not have looked like or been a Norman Rockwell painting, but we all have persons who have been there for us and made an important difference in our lives.
Mother's Day, in this larger sense, is about appreciating those who have nurtured us and helped us in growing up and along the way after. May this day be a time for remembering all of the help we have had in our life and for appreciating the importance of nurturing one another throughout life's journey.
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 5 14 2017
Redefining Mental Heatlh: The Struggle to be Reasonable
Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, I have to ask : How mindful are you about mental health ? or, What does it mean to be mentally healthy?
While understanding has grown and attitudes have improved over the years, there are still some misconceptions which linger concerning psychological disorders and emotional health which create confusion and unnecessary fears. One such myth is the notion that those who have emotional problems are “different” from you and me.
Perhaps part of the problem stems from the bifurcated way we have come to think about mental health and mental illness, i.e. that one is either sane or insane (psychotic) . The very fear and stigma of insanity has caused many folks to avoid seeking help or even talking about anything to do with psychological problems. In fact, while there are rare psychotic disorders, most of the folks who suffer from emotional difficulties are quite sane.
New brain research has shown emotional problems are much more fluid than previously recognized and that emotional trauma can disrupt neuro-pathways and interfere with our ability to be logical and use good judgment. These findings have implications for the way we understand and conceptualize psychological disorders. Rather than seeing mental illness in a static way or in either-or terms, a better way to conceptualize and measure mental health is to see it on a continuum which runs from complete rationality on one end of the spectrum to complete irrationality on the other. Mental health and illness, then, may be seen as relative and contextual notions wherein healthier means more rational and ill means less rational.
The advantage of this model is that it recognizes and expresses the important fact that folks who suffer from mental disorders are not a separate or inferior class of people. We all have moments when we may become unreasonable. The key distinction for determining mental health or illness is how much and for how long the irrationality is present and to what degree it interferes with the person's (or another's) life. Indeed, most of us live somewhere on the continuum where no one is completely rational or irrational. Mental health, understood this way, is winning the struggle to be reasonable and resisting the pull of irrationality.
The aim of Mental Health Awareness Month is to increase understanding and discussion as well as to reduce embarrassment, fear and the stigma concerning psychological health and its disorders. Realizing that mental health is goal for which each one of us strives but that no one perfectly achieves expresses the universal challenge all humans face - to be reasonable in our approach to life.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, FEllow A.A.P.C. 5/02/2017
Easter and the Therapeutic Process: The Rest of the Story
Whether you are Christian or not, Easter is the time for hope. Whether one is Christian or not, Easter and spring’s arrival is a time of rebirth. Nature re-awakens from its winter slumber and beautiful flowers adorn the once barren trees. The living floral displays, along with warming temperatures, combine to lift our spirits from the deathly cold of winter. Likewise , one does not have to be Christian to be inspired by Easter’s enduring metaphor: the discovery of new and unexpected life which arises after horrendous pain and loss.
Easter is also the perfect time for a pastoral counselor to talk about how psychotherapy shares Christianity’s optimism toward healing and transformation. Indeed, the joy of Easter shares the same optimism and conviction upon which the psychotherapeutic process rests. The good news for those who seek emotional and relational healing is that the pain of anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, relational strife, addiction and other psychological disorders is not permanent and that one can be made whole again to live a new and more meaningful life.
For those who are struggling, however, the good news of Easter is difficult to believe. Some churches have simply moved too quickly from Jesus’s personal suffering on Good Friday to the jubilation of Easter Sunday. In so doing they have glossed over the pain of the in- between Saturday, the day after Jesus’ death when the disciples were overwhelmed with despair and grief.
Sadly, I think the importance and meaning of the darkness and pain suffered by the disciples on that forgotten Saturday has been neglected by many. Ironically, it is that dreadful Saturday (metaphorically speaking) where many of us live. If faith or therapy is to be meaningful and transforming, it must include and learn from the pain, as well as the joy, of this timeless story.
One of the distinguishing aspects of Pastoral Counseling from other types of therapy is that it understands that being with and learning from a person’s pain is central to the healing process. Pain and death , rather than absurdities to be avoided, are elements which belong in the overall pattern and inform the ultimate meaning of a person’s life.
That said, it is obvious that an authentic experience of Easter is complex. It means that, in order to get to the joyous celebration of new life and meaning, one must first, must accept and work through the pain and grief inflicted by loss and death.
Another striking similarity between the Easter’s message and psychotherapy, is its dynamic process. It is also important to understand that neither the restoration of faith, after having lost it, nor emotional healing is a one- time event. The cross and resurrection are metaphors for life’s ongoing process of loss and recovery. These religious symbols express the mysterious dynamic of losing and regaining, our sense of hope and trust in God’s ultimate purpose in life. Likewise, with emotional healing, the overcoming of psychological wounds is a time of boundless joy but it is a joy which has learned from past trauma and which provides lessons for coping with future hardships and trials.
Happy Easter, everyone ! May this day be a moment spiritual reflection and healing for you and yours.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.
Judgers and Perceivers:
In coming to Jugders (Js) and Perceivers (Ps) we have arrived at the fourth axis on which the Meyers-Briggs personality grid is built and it is one of the most difficult style contrasts to resolve interpersonally.
Js, like Ts, believe that there is only one correct way to proceed in any given situation and are quick to act. Ps, on the other hand, look at a situation from different angles and perspectives and need more time to reflect on how to proceed. Ps believe that what is right varies depending on the perspective one has and depending upon where one stands to view it. Thus, Js tend to have more problems getting along in situations where there are many different cultures or perspectives represented.
Js ,like Ts, have trouble reflecting or condidering other points of view when they are clear what the right course is. They believe that the truth or what is right is absolute and does not depend on context or cultural norms.
Ps, on th other hand, often have trouble making decisions because they can become paralyzed with the different ways to understand a situation. In society we need a balance between those who can be decisve and those who are reflective.
Interpersonally, Js and Ps often hook up and their peronality differneces can be a source of considerable strife and irritation.
It is important for the P in the relationship to be assertive and set clear boundaries which the J must learn to respect. The P needs to communicate that his/her point of view must be honored equally with the Js and taken into full account along with the J's when decisions are made.
As with all personality type differences, it is very important andhelpful for Js and Ps to be aware of each other's distinctions which can serve as a starting point for understanding problems and finding workable solutions. With practice the clashes between personality styles can be reduced and mutual understanding and respect can be attained.
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 4 2 2017
Communication Tip # 6 : Understanding the Differences between Thinkers and Feelers
In continuing our theme of improving communication skills, we come to the third axis of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator scheme: Thinking (T) and Feeling (F). T/F is the only indicator in which gender seems to be determinative. 75% of men are Ts and 75% of women are Fs.
Thinkers are concerned with being accurate and getting things right. The facts are their first priority and, thus, Ts are not afraid to debate or argue point which which they feel is important .
Feelers , on the other hand are empathic and are sensative to the impact of a statement or position has on others. Their concern is for the feeings of others and that folks can get along.
Communication conflicts can arise between Ts and Fs when their primary perspectives and concerns are not up front and visible. It is important the Ts understand that Fs have a different value system and the Fs understand the same. Specifically, it is important that Ts and Fs understand the difference they each place on the two issues of factual accuracy and maintaining social harmony.
For example , at a party two guys may get into it over who was a better ball player and argue strenuously, while all the while, their wives may be rolling their eyes, concerned that their debate may spoil the party for everyone else.
Sometimes accuracy is absolutely necessary and sometimes it is not. Good communicators are able to discuss the relative significance and what is most needed in the moment , i.e. either struggling over a point to be right or letting it go to get along.
Frustrating conflicts are more easily resolved when the underlying conflict between a T's and and F's perspective is acknowledged and understood. It is important that each perspective be respected before a calming solution can be found.
Rev. Michael Heath LMHC, Fellow A..A.P.C. 3/19/2017
With acknowledgement to www.marissabaker.wordpres.com for image.
Communication tip #5 : Understanding iNtuitive and Sensate Personality Differences
Another common communication snag results from personality-style clashes which Myers – Briggs classifies as iNtuitives (N) and Sensors (S). Briefly, Intuitives are folks who think in abstractions and generalities and anticipate and plan for the future. They see patterns and like to connect the dots. On the other hand, Sensing individuals are keenly perceptive and detail oriented. They are focused on immediate and present experience. As we have written before, neither style is better than the other. We needs both qualities in our society but Ns do suffer more from anxiety and Ss from depression.
It is important to understand how these two perspectives interface because, when these different styles are not appreciated or recognized, their clashing can lead to misunderstandings and interpersonal conflict . Fortunately, there are some helpful tips that can prevent unnecessary frustration. Here are a few examples of common N/S misunderstandings:
1. Ns love to look ahead and plan. They anticipate and get excited at the thought of experiencing the future – like an upcoming vacation. They pack well in advance and think about the smallest detail of a trip.
On the other hand, Ss are in the moment and take in the details of experience. They go with the flow and let experience come to them. These variances can result in relational misunderstandings. For example, a hubby who is an N and has been planning a trip for weeks may become discouraged because wifey, who is an S, does not seem to show the same level of enthusiasm or excitement as he does toward their getaway.
The problem is not that she doesn’t care but that her perceptional set doesn’t allow her to experience the anticipated event in advance. Solution : Be aware that we do not all experience life in the same way and don’t assume that one’s level of immediate enthusiasm is an accurate reading of how much your partner will enjoy your trip. Adjust your expectations accordingly to fit your partner’s personality style.
2. In caring about particulars , Ss are interested in concrete facts and details while Ns are concerned more about the overall conclusion. This difference about what is important can lead to frustration and conflict.
Many years ago, after a 20 minute phone conversation with an old friend, my wife, who exhibits S tendencies, asked me , “How was Craig?” - To which I answered, “Fine.” My wife took offense and felt that I was putting her off and was unwilling to talk to her about what was said during our phone call.
From my point of view, my response reflected what I thought. There was no illness or difficulties shared. Everything was fine. Nonetheless my wife wanted details and wanted them now. To avoid future misunderstandings, I learned to remember that particulars were important to her and did not make the same mistake a second time.
Not assuming that you and your partner or workmate or boss think the same way and taking time to understand how they perceive life events can go a long way towards avoiding misunderstanding and conflicts in everyday life.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 3/4/2017
Communication Tip # 4: Understanding the differences between Extroverts and Introverts
A common communication problem arises when an unaware extrovert talks to an unaware introvert. Neuro-science has revealed that there are organic differences in the way information is processed in the brain which can result in communication problems and misunderstandings. (See illustration above.)
For example, when an extrovert, who typically not only loves to talk but also learns through conversation, talks to an introvert, who does not like to talk and learns by mulling things over in his/her mind privately, s/he can flood the introvert with too much information. The person who is being overstimulated can come across as disinterested or not paying attention or even irritated when, in fact, his/her circuits are simply overloaded.
Fortunately, there are some simple tips to overcome this processing mismatch which help avoid confusion and conflicts.
1) Be aware of differences. Not everyone thinks or processes like you do.
2) Know what you are. Are you more Extroverted or Introverted ?
3) If you are an Extrovert and are having problems with someone who may be introverted --
Be considerate and think or write about what you want to say before actually saying it. If the communication is important you may want to send a written summary of your thoughts to the other person in advance so that they may have time to process and digest the message.
4) If you are an Introvert -
Be aware of becoming overwhelmed before you reach your limit and let the other person know that you need a break to think things over before continuing.
With a little practice, assertiveness and consideration, you will find that folks with whom you used to have difficulty communicating are no longer a problem. Knowing your own information-processing style and respecting folks whose style is different than yours can go along way to improving the way we talk with one another and get along.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC , Fellow A.A.P.C. 2 21 2017
Aristophanes’ Myth of Androgyne and the Soulful Meanings of Love
As Valentine’s Day approaches, our thoughts turn to love. Of course there are many kinds of love : The love of a parent for a child or a child for a parent; the love between brothers and sisters ; the love for family and friends. Romantic love, however, is the most mysterious of all. It is complex and made up of many parts.
The Greeks understood love (eros) as a passionate feeling and sensational impulse for sexual union. Christians spoke of a selfless love for others (agape) While we often think of love in terms of positive or passionate feelings, there is another kind of love which goes beyond the altruistic or sensual realms. Aristotle likened this transcendent dimension to one soul which inhabits two bodies. Aristophanes tells a story of androgyne in Plato’s Symposium which explains the soul’s deep longing for union. http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/sym.htm
According to Aristophanes, originally there were three kinds of people: men women and men-women. (androgyne). The shape of the androgynous people (Pictured above) was curious. Each person had two faces, four arms and four legs and two sets of genitals. As the story goes, as punishment for their rebellion, Zeus ordered that the androgynous people be split in two. As a result, the soul of androgynous person experienced a terrible loss and sought to reunite with his lost half to become whole again. This longing for a missing part and to be whole again expresses the deep longing of romantic love.
The notion of a primal separation is central to our understanding of human nature in the Judeo- Christian and Islamic thinking. Specifically, the metaphor is about humans being separated from God’s love. This dilemma is conveyed in the Garden of Eden myth. Adam and Eve being driven from the garden and away from God’s grace provides the context for Christian redemption which is the healing of the rift between human kind and God. God’s love makes this reunion possible. Much like Aristophanes’ understanding, the Biblical notion of love is not a sexual feeling or passion but a force for primordial reunion.
While modern culture is pretty much bereft of either Greek mythology or even Old Testament notions of estrangement, we still find vestiges of these ancient myths. Although we still use the word androgyny, it has nothing to do Aristophanes’ third sex. It has come to mean an appearance which combines both male and female characteristics or is gender ambiguous. Nonetheless, we hear echoes from the past in romantic clichés such as “you complete me” or when one spouse refers to the other as his/her “other half”.
Likewise, the Valentine’s Day heart, is much more than a catchy logo. The universal symbol for love expresses emotion. Love is not a rational experience. It is not a thing of logical deduction. Love is a feeling which transcends thought and as springs from the depths of one’s soul.
While it is not popular, to think of oneself as incomplete or as needing another person to be fulfilled, there is, nonetheless, a primal loneliness which overshadows our defiant attempts to assert our individual independence and autonomy. At some deeper level, we celebrate Valentine’s Day as both an affirmation of our need for love and the overwhelming joy finding it brings. I hope for your Valentines’ Day to be a celebration of the gift of love.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow, A.A.P.C. 2 3 2017
The Myth of "Holding on to" the Past
It's the new year and many of you would like to leave the old year behind. Some may be frustrated that it is hard to "let go". One common cliche that I'm sure that you've seen or heard before is the one posted above. And it's true that you can't move on in life until are freed from the weight of the past. However, the idea that progress is restrained or blocked because we "hold on to" the past is not only misleading but is also fundamentally mistaken about the psychology of grieving and loss. A better way to understand our stuckness is that the grief we experience after a loss has a hold on us. Or, even better, that the light, the hope, which lets us see and believe in the positive things in our life has gone out.
Recent developments in neuro-science have helped us to better understand how it is we become trapped in the darkness of the past and unable to see our way forward. Serious loss, whether it comes in the form of a death of a relationship, a job or physical health, to name but a few kinds of bereavement , is traumatic to our brain. It temporarily causes the connection between our perceptions and our neo-cortex (the human part of our brain) to be disrupted and leaves us to navigate life with pre-human part of our brain called the amygdale.
While the neo-cortex is able to evaluate incoming perceptional data and put it into a reasonable context, the amygdale operates within a panic mode which is only able to determine if one should attack or run away. Life lived under the control of the amygdale is terror-filled and hopeless. Gradually (and the time needed varies dramatically from individual to individual) the connection to the neo-cortex is reestablished and the ability to reason and experience hope and purpose are restored.
Remaining physically active, journaling , psychotherapy, medication are some of the ways that speed recovery but, again, it is very important for the grieving person to have the support of understanding and accepting friends and family who realize that it is not the person's fault or the lack of desire which is responsible for the delay of recovery to happen. Grieving in most cases is a very slow process and is frustrating not only to the person who is going through it but also for those who care about and love the individual.
Patience is the primary virtue to exhibit with someone who is grieving. Being around someone who is stuck in the pain of loss is difficult but it is important for us to deal with and process our frustrations apart from the griever. Blaming or suggesting that the person in grief should just "get over it" as the radio host Dr. Laura used to do is not only insensitive but is essentially counter-productive.
When a person can accept that emotional losses take time to heal just as physical injuries do, and when they cannot be weighed down by self-criticism that they "don't want" to move on, the process of regaining the experience of hope is accelerated and time needed to get back to normal is shortened.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 1 15 2017
Being Reasonable about New Year's Resolutions:
Understanding your Reluctance to Change.
Happy New Year !
As we start the new year, many will feel the pressure to make and keep resolutions. While wanting to make changes and make improvements is a good thing, it can become a source of stress if change is not approached realistically.
The crucial factor in keeping and following through on commitments to change is whether the change is wanted or not. Promising to do something that you feel you must do but don't want to lowers you statistical odds of succeeding.
For example, if you doctor tells you that you must lose weight but you really aren't ready to give up on the sweets or the high carbs in your diet or you hate to exercise, then the likely hood of you being able to motivate yourself sufficiently to do what is needed is low.
Even when "most" of you wants to make to change, the parts that are resistant to doing it can cause big trouble. Rather than trying to push throuhg or ignore the relutance, it is best to try to understand why part of you doesn't want to make the effort and keep your resolution.
Here is the secret that many folks don't understand: We don't give up on resolutions because we are lazy or stupid. We fail to succeed because important obstacles or problems caused by the proposed changes have not been resolved. It is important to remember that your objections to change are legitimate and need to be adequately addressed.
For example, if you eat or smoke when you are nervous and you want to go on a diet or quit smoking , the the problem of what you will do to reduce your anxiety remains. Successful weight loss and smoking cessation, for example, usually happen when alternative stress relieving strategies are found and mastered.
Improving yourself is good but being kind to yourself is important as well. Before you make or agree to a new year's resoution, hve a plan , think about and try out the new measures that will replace what you are giving up . Good Luck !
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 1 2 2017