[ted id=1669] International author, therapist, and speaker Esther Perel always offer a diverse perspective on relationships, sex, and "erotic intelligence" so I was excited to see her featured on the Ted website. Her Ted Talk, entitled "Esther Perel: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship," offers a short refresher course on the origins of relationships, attraction, and our evolution into 21st Century monogamy. I highly recommend Esther Perel's material, including her book, "Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence."
If you are not in a relationship, Valentine's Day can be a constant reminder of how everyone else is in love, therefore you should be too. For those of you who are nauseated by the explosive pink decor and continuous cycle of flower deliveries, perhaps this video can serve as a reminder that even those in relationships work to maintain physical and emotional connection, attraction, and sustained interest in one another. Revel in the fact that the vast majority of people (coupled, single, men, women, straight, gay, old, young...) will end up in the same place tonight: watching t.v. in their pajamas and eating candy. Also, remember that tomorrow is February 15th a.k.a. not Valentine's Day :)
Take good care.
And thanks, Esther! www.estherperel.com
Let me just start by saying I'm a HUGE fan of listening instead of reading if I have the choice. I love podcasts, audio-books, music, and I probably chose a career that requires listening because it's how I prefer to spend my days. Don't get me wrong; reading is very important and is a daily requirement for most of us. But if reading is not your preferred style of learning, it can be taxing and limiting... a daily strain on your patience and capacity for engagement. I received messages through high school and college that listening instead of reading is "lazy" or even "cheating," (just a small contributing factor to my academic shame spiral/temporary drop out) but I later realized that my learning style and way of being engaged with material is different than others. What a concept!
Some love to create, some love to watch a creation. Some listen, talk, or feel with their hands. Some love history or biology or astronomy or numbers. I love to listen. Particularly, I love to listen to people talk about things that are essential to their existence. I love to listen to and try to grasp people's most important, sacred, and human experiences. And I love to be in touch with my own human experience.
While writing this, I'm reminded of times when I was a teen or in my early twenties and someone much older and seemingly wiser would ask me a terrifying, daunting question about my "life goals," "career interests," or "hobbies." (No wonder we feel such pressure to do something grand at such a young age.) When I was a child, I said, "veterinarian and animals." Then at some point in my early teens I picked up on the idea that being a lawyer was an acceptable answer. Leading up to my shame spiral/temporary college drop out/academic hiatus, I collapsed under the idea that I didn't know. I had NO idea where I fit into this life, career, hobby, goal-oriented world. I felt worthless and confused. In reality, my passion/career/goal/hobby didn't fit into one of the common categories. I felt as though there was something wrong with me until I realized that I could make my own category. This process was not without many doubts, breakdowns, and wondering if I was “crazy”, but it led me to my pot of gold.
Looking back, I wonder what those caring, well-meaning adults would have said if I answered their questions of grandeur with a frank demeanor and straight face, 'I want to engage with people by listening, talking, and connecting on an emotional level in order to heal wounds, create shared human experiences, and feel inspired along-side others on a daily basis.'
It's a funny thought but the absolute truth. I can track it all the way back to my childhood - a path I have been following without even knowing. I simply had no way of explaining at the time. I'm surprised, however, that even now it is not often well-received or understood by the casual, polite yet invasive party conversationalist. "What do you do?" can turn into a lengthy discussion or a very short one. This is not meant to be judgmental or downplay the importance of a variety of interests, passions, careers, and life goals, but rather to highlight the difficulty of feeling like an outsider, especially in our younger, most formative years to the more common life passions and career goals.
I can say with qualitative certainty that even those who fit into one box (career: engineer), do not fit into others (passion: unknown). It can also go something like this: 'Goal/passion/spirituality/meaning/purpose: to make art. Career: ohmygawdimsuchafailure!!! Shame spiral!!' Or, 'Goal: find a partner who loves me. Objectives: overcome terror of being loved, improve self-esteem, find passion in life, heal old wounds. Hobbies: therapy and books about self-esteem that I hide in a newspaper when in public.' These can all be very legitimate, difficult, and growth-producing scenarios with support and the knowledge that you are good, just as you are, without accomplishing any goals or figuring anything out.
A final piece of advice that I learned from a pre-school teacher years ago. She asked her class on a daily basis, "what do you LOVE?" They would talk about the things they love, in the moment, with no consequences or right answers. I try to ask young people (myself included) variations of this question: What do you LOVE? What does it mean to love someone or something? How does it feel to love? What does love sound like? What does love look like? If love were a poem or book, what would it say?
If you are wondering what I listen to or how I get it, I'll try to share more often. I use Audible.com to buy audio-books and it has an iphone and Android app so you can take it on a walk or in the car. Currently listening to Brené Brown's third book, "Daring Greatly" which can be accompanied with the Daring Greatly podcast in which Brené Brown answers questions about the book from readers/listeners. I use the Downcast app for podcasts. Current favorite: "Stuff You Missed in History Class" with Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty (one of many fascinating HowStuffWorks.com podcasts).
In searching for inspiration this morning, I stumbled upon a quote by Maya Angelou, one of my personal heroes. In an effort to "throw something back," I've shared it today. This is my reminder that nothing is permanent, to live with an open heart and an open mind, to hug someone every day, and to treat others and myself with kindness and compassion.
“I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life. I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life." I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one. I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I've learned that I still have a lot to learn. I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
One of the most common questions asked in therapy is, "why should I be sad when I can be happy?" There are variations to this question like, "why would I want to focus on my difficult past when I can move forward and not be in pain?" Or, "I don't want to suffer anymore. I came to relieve my pain, not feel it all over again."
I empathize deeply with the idea that revisiting painful memories, events, and feelings can be overwhelming and seems an undue punishment on the path to healing. However, I also know that the healing process rarely takes place without returning to the old (or fresh) wounds in order to tend to them. As a therapist, I try to create an emotionally safe environment in which people can explore their feelings and leave knowing that they are cared for and perhaps even feeling better. This Pollyanna version of therapy occurs occasionally, but the reality is that emotions are messy, complex, and can be very overwhelming. Sometimes digging up hard feelings can make things worse before they get better. The process of unearthing pain and fear is courageous and facing an unknown process like therapy, while life-enhancing, is hard work.
One of my favorite authors/researchers/story tellers, Brené Brown, discusses the importance of dealing with "the things that get in the way of joy, meaning, and connection" in her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection, which I highly recommend to everyone reading this post. Brené Brown is a fellow social worker (LMSW, PhD) who studies people and their experiences with shame, vulnerability, courage, and worthiness. Her thorough, evidence-based approach to the study of shame and other human emotions allows me to unequivocally recommend her work as an unbiased clinician. My status as a total Brené-Brown-ophile lends me to speak from a vulnerable, human place of admiration and to share that her work has changed my life, my work, and my connections with the people I love. If Brené Brown were Elvis, I would be the screaming, crying teenager watching her TED Talks. The following quotation caught my attention while reading The Gifts of Imperfection:
"If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way - especially shame, fear, and vulnerability."
We have to talk about, process, feel, and share the things that get in the way of worthiness, connection, and happiness in order to define, look for, and live a life or worthiness, connection, and happiness. Brené (yes, we're on a first name basis) would call this way of living "wholehearted" and others may call it conscious, purposeful, connected, or self-aware. Whatever you call it, the sentiment is the same: in order to experience joy and have meaningful relationships we must sort through the pain, hurt, and fear.
You are not alone if this sounds like a daunting, horrifying, or completely foreign concept. I too was among the horrified before finding the safety, patience, and motivation to endure this process. A good therapist was instrumental in this process for me - the safety of a warm, non-judgmental person who was dedicated to my care was extremely powerful through some of my most difficult growth. In fact, it is what drew me into the field of psychotherapy and guides me in my practice of empathy, compassion, and gentle exploration with my own clients. Pretty powerful stuff.
After reading that paragraph you may be thinking, "ahem. I don't want to BE a therapist. Why, again, would any NORMAL person want to go through pain, terror, and negative feelings?" I get it. What makes it worth it? And furthermore, why do we need someone else to witness, support, and be there for us through the vulnerable, life-altering process of healing? This is my best shot at answering that question:
People are not emotionally wounded alone, they are wounded by and among other people. The most powerful way to heal wounds is by vulnerably, bravely sharing the pain with another person(s) and receiving a corrective, kind response like empathy, compassion, protection, and care.You may find something more powerful than pain after experiencing it, knowing it, and moving through it. Over time, you may find that pain is no longer terrifying, but tolerable after working your emotional muscles. You may find that you are your own courageous, badass, superhero. You might, at last, love yourself not despite imperfection, but because of imperfection. You might find that you are good enough, just the way you are.
Take care of yourselves and others.
Visit Brené Brown's blog to learn more about vulnerability, courage, and wholehearted living: www.ordinarycourage.com
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden.
I became an official Brene Brown fan when she bravely addressed the seemingly "non-scientific" subject of vulnerability using evidence-based research and her own personal experience during the 2011 Ted Talks with "The Power of Vulnerability." My appreciation for her has only intensified since the release of "Listening to Shame" and her further insight into our cultural norms surrounding shame and the necessity of addressing this topic.
A great book for those of you who are looking for ways to be a better parent or working out
your feelings about the ways in which you were parented.
Susan Forward painstakingly explains how parents' actions and words shape a child's life. This book can be incredibly helpful for someone trying to understand their actions or feelings about themselves.
I highly recommend it to all who are searching for self-esteem and for any parent.