Sunday, August 28, 2011

When Is Grief Over?

When grief hits you,it hits hard,and it feels like it will last forever.Whether it's the loss of a loved one through death,or the end of a love relationship,grief is an equal opportunity emotion that each of us experience during our lifetime.Grief changes you.

Having grieved a relationship with someone you loved dearly makes a person more tender,more appreciative of the sweet and happy moments,and more aware of the fleeting nature of time.It makes you keenly aware to not let your love go unexpressed.It reminds all of us to stay in the present as much as we can.

Over twenty years ago,I worked with hundreds of bereaved people when I interned at the Counseling Department at a large hospital here in Orange County,California.I got to experience walking beside many individuals as they took their journey through loss.It was an honor to do so. I still feel privileged today to walk beside my counseling clients as they grow through loss.Grief experiences can be very individual,like your fingerprint.There are,however,some things that can be generalized about living through loss.

The amount of grief you feel is in direct proportion to the amount of attachment you felt for that person.Losing a young child,for example,is extremely difficult because a parent and a young child have identities that still are intertwined.This is why one person can lose a sister,for instance,and it will have very little impact because they were not close,while it could be a profound loss for someone else who was quite attached to their sister.

The nature of the loss also impacts the intensity of the loss that is experienced.A sudden death or end to a relationship carries more shock,while a loss after an extended illness or years of fighting before a marital separation,allow for anticipatory grief.Expected loss is still difficult,you just have warning that it is coming,and hopefully have time to express yourself to the loved one you are losing.

Normal grief hits in waves.You can cry and fall apart when you see something or hear a song that reminds you of the beloved.Afterwards the tears pass.It helps to know that you are not depressed,or going crazy.This is grief.Grief does not normally impact self-esteem,like depression does.Remember,tears are good.That's why I have boxes of kleenex on every table in my counseling office;tears heal.

Your family and cultural background also impact the way you experience grief.Certain cultural groups,like Asians and Germans,for example generally show less emotion,and this is true for grief expression as well.Their experience is just as profound,but may be experienced more internally.In contrast,other cultural backgrounds may make the expression of grief more emotive,such as with Hispanics.Your cultural and religious faith may also guide and help direct some tasks of mourning,such as holding a wake,visitation at a funeral home,or the Jewish tradition of placing the grave marker a year after the death.Rituals are helpful with the mourning process.

Any unfinished business in the relationship also will impact grief.Death or divorce mean the end for whatever hopes you had for getting your needs met by that individual,so if it never met your needs some personal counseling may be in order to sort out your complicated feelings about the loss.Then you can heal and go on and pursue happiness afterwards.

When is grief finished? It's a wonderful question. There are subtle changes that over time begin to help you realize you are healing.You begin to enjoy things and people again.Your energy returns.(Grief is hard work for your body and spirit.)You find yourself smiling again.Over time,the healthy resolution of grief involves removing the emotional energy that was invested in the relationship with your loved one,and reapplying that energy in another place in your life.It's been said that grief and loss cause us to break a little,and that's where the light gets in.Loss provides the bittersweet contrast that makes the good times even more precious.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Manning Up: Book Review

How come men are getting weaker,and women are getting stronger? Why are people of both genders in a new prolonged pre-adulthood into their mid to late 20's and even beyond into their 30's? What caused these social changes,and what are we to do about it? This is the focus of an interesting new book,"Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys"(Basic Books,2011).

The writer,Kay Hymowitz,is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute,and has written several other books on American culture,family,and childhood,as well as numerous articles.Hymowitz does a superb job in this book of laying out the various economic,demogrraphic,cultural,and psychological factors that have contributed and lead us to these societal and developmental changes.

So why are men getting weaker?Industrialization and urbanization are factors that make warrior qualities more irrelevant.As women get more educated(and there are currently far greater numbers in undergradute,graduate,Ph.D and professional school),and more opportunity to work,it is no longer a male domain.Even Time magazine this past spring had a cover story on the "Beached white male",whose skills and and power are less valued in the workplace.

In comedienne Julie Klausner's book,"I Don't Care About Your Band",she details successive relationships in her 20's with men who had a man-child psychology.We see a lot of self absorbtion now of men in their 20's and 30's more interested in play than growing up and taking responsibility.Sometimes parents and partners allow men to stay children.

A media culture and movies that perpetuate the little kid in a man's body are also an influence.Think of the character Seth Rogen played in last years' film, Knocked Up,or many of the movie roles played by Will Ferrell,Adam Sandler,Owen Wilson,Jim Carrey and Vince Vaughn. They are all extremely funny,but not exactly the kind of masculine we saw in The grapes of Wrath,or It's a Wonderful Life.Lots of commitment phobic,eternal child self-indulgence.

Media images impact men and women in their 20's and 30's.Television shows like Friends,Two and A Half Men,Sex and The City,amd many others glamorize a single lifestyle that goes on far longer than it did for people in our $0's or older.My own parents were married at 19,and started a family at 22.There wasn't a lot of goofing off scheduled for the 20's then.

The current generation of 20 and 30-somethings had different parenting.Parents were in hyper-gear taking them to lessons,sports,art class,music theatre and more.Everyone got a trophy.This is a generation of young adults often with very elevated expectations about living your passion,lifestyle needs,and pursuing your dream job.I don't think our grandparents were worried about that during the Great Depression.Sometimes middle-aged boomer parents enable,enmesh and coddle their offspring,and become codependent in enabling a prolonged adolesence and helping adult offspring launch into adult lives.

Hymowitz's book,"Manning Up"does a great job at providing data on how contraception and the women's rights movement of the 60's and 70's has impacted age of marriage,careers,and gender roles. Some of the expanded opportunities for women are great.Some of the impact on men is mixed.We still want men who are not wimps or eternal children.We want men who MAN UP.I often think of this as I guide young women in counseling,making sure they choose someone they can respect, so that they are not the 'better man' in the relationship.

Becoming an adult requires manning up--or its equivalent for women--- and living independently,paying your own bills,and having all of the self-esteem and self- respect that comes with it.It means having the resolve and the commitment to work a job and not quit it til you have another.It means pursuing your dreams,but working 3 or 4 part-time jobs to support yourself while you do it.It is having the maturity to see that your work,while it's important,isn't everything.One also has to build a life,not be narcissistic, and care about and commit to other people.I heartily recommend this book to you.It will make you think about how our culture is changing,and what you want to do about it in your little corner of the world.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How to Invite Your Partner (or Another Family Member) to Counseling

One question I often get asked by my clients,and proepective clients,is "How do I get my husband/wife/partner/family member to join me?" It's important the way you approach this one.

If you have already begun counseling on your own,it may be appropriate to think about getting a referral to a neutral therapist,who has no prior history with either of you,or at least discuss that as an option with your therapist and with the family member you want to do some joint counseling with.If the three of you decide to go ahead and do the joint counseling together,you will all need to make sure that the person who joins you feels comfotable,and can have a voice in the counseling,too.

How do you ask someone to join you for joint counseling? You invite them! Let them know how important they are to you,and that you want the relationship to be at its very best.While you can work on the relationship with them on your own, you can let them know that it would be incredibly helpful for them to give direct feedback about the relationship with you to you and the therapist.I like to imagine what each relationship could be like if both partners took 150% responsible for the relationship.

You want to make it safe for your partner or loved one to enter a new situation,like starting conjoint counseling.Don't berate them. Encourage them to be a part of making things better between you.Ask for their help and input.We are all somewhat unaware of how we come across in our most intimate relationships.The other person holds a great deal of useful information about how it is to be in relationship with you.Choosing a therapist with a warm,active,and solution-oriented style can help make it easier to get started,too.

Life is too short to be in relationships that aren't highly functioning.We wouldn't usually do our own brain surgery,cut our own hair,or repair our own car.Enlisting a relationship expert,a marriage and family therapist,to coach you and your loved one can make a huge difference in just a few seassions.A recent study showed 85% of our happiness comes from our close relationships.Why wouln't you get a tune-up so you deal with conflict well,encourage and enjoy each other?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Getting In The Driver's Seat In your Life

I recently read business coach Brian Tracy's new book,"No Excuses". It was a great reminder about how wonderful it is to be a person, or be around people, who have an internal locus of control.It's like you are in the driver's seat in the car that represents your life.People who have an external locus of control are in the passenger seat in their car.

Your choice of language often is a revealing source of information about where you are seated in your life. People with an internal locus of control use language that is positive,action and future oriented,and they own their own choices and consequences.They speak about "I want","I choose",or "I don't want".They try to see their own part to any difficult relationship or situation,and endeavor to change it.

People with an external locus of control use language that reflects victim status.They complain,blame, and whine,rather than solving problems and moving along.They might say "I have to",or"I should".These individuals blame others for their disappointments.They focus on the past,regrets, and unfairness. The truth is that life is unfair,and bad things do happen to good people.As I coach my clients,it is important to grieve losses and sort out painful things that happen,but not to take up permanent residency in that neighborhood.People in this passenger seat in life blame others and avoid using their own personal power to enact change or have a good life,anyway.

Notice this week if you can discipline yourself to use language that reflects that you are sitting in your own driver's seat in your car.Take responsibility.Blame noone.Solve problems.Make a plan and take an action step to deal with a relationship you are hurting about,or a situation you don't like.Watch what happens,and feel the good self-esteem that comes from driving your own car!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

When All the News Is Negative---How to Cope

When I was working out on the treadmill at the gym early this morning,I was watching the news.It was overwhelming,scary,and upsetting.The stock market had its' worst day since 2008.Our U.S. government credit rating got reduced to an AA+.US Navy seals were tragically killed trying to rescue other soldiers in Afghanistan.London is ablaze and looting is widespread. Amy Winehouse dies at 27.It's hard to keep your spirits up.

How do we keep all this sadness from engulfing us and making it want to pull the covers up over our head and stay in bed? Here are some strategies for not getting immobilized by the downbeat flood of information:

1.Set boundaries.Turn off the news.Read it in the morning,and put it away.Never listen to the news last thing before bed,as it will make your sleep more less tranquil.Keep a bedtime for the computer and cell phone as well,several hours before yours.

2.Make a list of things and people you are grateful for,either daily or weekly.

3.Get outside.Research shows us that most urban dwellers are nature deprived,and getting outside to connect with nature,go for a walk,notice trees and animals ,or watch for signs of the season changing, will help your mind relax. Breathe deeply.Take in the fresh air and breathe out any tension or worry.

4.Seek spiritual solace.Pray,or do whatever you do or go wherever you go to feel closer to God.

5.Exercise.Get active,and as much as you need to,in order to get the worry out of your body,and preferably early in the day.Exercising is activating for your brain and body,so close to bedtime isn't good.

6.Help someone.Some of these worries are huge,and taking action locally to do something for an older person,a child,or someone in worse circumstances than you will put things in proper perspective.Action is ALWAYS better than angsting,which is passive and fruitless.Feeding the homeless with an organization I'm involved in with my 17 year-old daughter really helps us as much or more than it helps them.

Hang in there.Tough things pass.Take an active role in not taking every negative thing that occurs in the news enter the core of your being.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life Lessons from Frank Lloyd Wright

While I was in Chicago this past week,I had the opportunity to visit and take an architectual tour of Frank lloyd Wright's home in Spring Valley,Wisconsin, which he called Taliesin.The home is on a protected space of 600 acres of low,rolling hills overlooking a beautiful river.The word Taliesin comes from his Welsh family background,and it means brow of the hill,descibing how the home creates a brow on the edge of the hills.This place is also still the home base for the Frank Lloyd Wright Fellowship,where advanced architecture students still compete to come and live here to learn about his style of architecture.

Wright is the best known American architect of the 20th century,and founded the idea of organic architecture,involving the inclusion of nature,light,and natural elements in his homes and buildings in an innovative way that had never been done before. Wright disdained the "boxes" that most architects constructed for people to live and work in.

Wright was a self-made man,incredibly visionary and talented.He didn't finish college,and often lied about his education,training,and his age,making himself two years younger as he got older.His commission of Fallingwater,an exquisite home built interlaced and sort of spilling down a waterfall in Bear Run,Pennsylvania,had engineering issues,but was selected years after Wright's death in 1959 as the most important American building of the twentieth century by a society of American architects.

Wright changed the way people think about living and work space,realizing that people have a deep need to bring in light,art, and nature into their everyday lives.He was years ahead on understanding how disconnection from nature becomes a problem in modern life.Even now,in 2011,mental health experts are considering creating a new mental health diagnosis in urban life for a future version of our diagnostic manual,the DSM-IV,tenatively called Nature Deficit Disorder.

While brilliant in some areas,Wright had some flat sides.His personal life was a mess.In Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Ada Huxtable's biography,"Frank Lloyd Wright:A Life",she explains how compicated it was. Wright fathered 8 children,but said he had NO fathering instinct,and physically and emotionally abandoned at least 7 of them.This was strickingly similar to Wright's father departing after his parent's divorce and having no contact with him after leaving.

Wright was raised by his emotionally unstable mother and her family.He never attended his father's funeral,but is known to have visited his grave a number of times alone over the years.In his own writings,Wright described the architect swallowing his father role. Life lesson:horrible plan,and very damaging to the chidren all their lives to have him physically and emotionally absent.Divorced fathers are still very much needed in their children's lives.No other man ever takes your unique place in your children's lives.Judith Wallerstein,Ph.D.,and her researchers for the center for the Family in Transition in Mill Valley,California have done 50 year longitudinal studies following the children of divorced families,and abandonment by father after divorce is about the WORST possible outcome of divorce.

Wright's relationship with his mother was peculiar as well.She doted an him and enabled his poor choices while ignoring or even being abusive of his sisters and step-siblings.He didn't bother to attend her funeral either,but she gave him the land for Taliesin,where he had grown up.Her large portrait is nearby his desk,over the fireplace in the office he worked from at Taliesin.They seemed to have an odd, love-hate dynamic between them.

Wright married 3 times,and left his first wife in tremendous scandal reported in Chicago newspapers in 1911.He left his first wife and children in financially dire circumstances to have a long-term love affair with trhe also married wife of one of his clients.She left her husband and small children to run away with Wright to Europe.Wright's mother forgave all his blind spots,and helped finance the building of Taliesin for Wright and his lover to live in,outside the public view of living in Chicago.Wright begrudgingly let his mother live with him both in Chicago,and later in Taliesin,since he had huge financial problems,creditors calling,and bankruptcy concerns,and she contributed land and resources.Life lessons:special relationships where you remain financially dependent on a parent are not healthy,and it is important for parents NOT to feed a child's narcissism or sense of entitlement.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an incredibly inspired and talented architect,and changed architecture with his ability to literally look outside the box.In his personal life,Wright's oversized ego and concern for image made him unwise in his personal relationships,and irresponsibe with his finances.He was a terrible father and husband,and used young architects to his own advantage.Frank Lloyd Wright was a fascinating study of a man who was enviable in his talent,vision,and energy to reinvent himself,but with incredible deficits in relationships,and gaps in his practical skills,honesty,and ability to spiritually mature across his lifetime to mentor others.It is intriguing to me that someone who could be so in touch with nature and the essential needs of the human spirit for beauty could have flat sides in the critical areas of parenting,life balance,being financially grounded,and living with integrity and honesty in close relationships.