Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Forgiveness is the letting go of bitterness and resentment resulting from an offense. Most major religions promote the importance of forgiveness. From a mental health perspective, being unable to release negative feelings can result in a sense of despair, rage, powerlessness, and depression. There are a few key points to remember about forgiveness.

First you need to be able to take perspective about the level of the offense. In other words, if everything anyone ever says or does rises to the level of severe offense, you will find yourself constantly angry and bitter. In essence, not everything is drama-worthy. On the other side of this coin are those of us who do not recognize when someone has indeed crossed the line in a significant way. If you constantly ignore offenses and various forms of disrespect, this is also not a good place to be in terms of self care and self respect. You want to get perspective such that you can distinguish serious offenses from more minor offenses.

A second key to forgiveness is recognizing it is a process. Process implies both time and effort. In terms of time, some people jump to quickly say they have forgiven someone when they haven’t given themselves time to process all of their feelings. This may result in forgiveness that is in words alone but the actual bitterness, sadness, and anger are still under the surface waiting to bubble up. It is natural and healthy to experience a range of emotions and it is important to give yourself space to work through those feelings. The working through is the process. In others words, it is not true that time heals all wounds. Time passing alone is not sufficient. If you want to forgive yourself or someone else for an offense you need to actively work toward it in your mind. You need to acknowledge the impact of what occurred and then work to heal those wounds.

A third element to forgiveness is the need to determine when to forget and when to remember. Some people will say if you remember it, you haven’t really forgiven. This is not always the case. One way to determine if you should actively remember it is whether the person has shown evidence of being truly sorry and committed to change. Here is an example. If you were molested as a child, you may have decided for your mental health to forgive or release the bitterness toward the person who molested you. However to pretend it never happen by letting that person watch your children is unhealthy. Likewise if you are in abusive relationship and the person has promised to change but continues to abuse you, you need to remember the pattern of abuse regardless of your decision to forgive. On the other hand, if a friend, family member, or romantic partner has hurt your feelings but has expressed in word and deed regret for their behavior and a commitment to being better, then you may choose to totally release it. Releasing it in this case may include both not dwelling on the past in your mind or continuing to bring up the past to the person who has changed.

The ability to forgive yourself and others is an important spiritual and emotional skill. It can free you from having to harbor resentment and anger. It also shows that you recognize that all of us are imperfect. It is wisdom and compassion that allows us to look at the whole person instead of reducing them to their negative deeds. In the end, it is for you to decide for your safety and growth, when and whom to forgive. For it to truly liberate you, it needs to come from the heart.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Psychology of Clutter

As you prepare to enter into a new season, it is a good time to commit to living a clutter-free life. This can be a challenge to those of us who hold on to things and end up living surrounded by stuff. If we don’t heal our mindset, we can de-clutter today but new piles of stuff will appear tomorrow. So to really have a life change, let’s take a moment to consider the psychology of clutter.

For some of you, the tendency to clutter is based in past experiences of not having your basic needs met. You may have grown up in poverty or you may have been neglected. As a result, you really cherish stuff and end up hoarding things with the fear that one day you may need them. You may feel that you don’t want to throw something out that it is in good condition because that may seem wasteful or unappreciative to you. The beauty of the situation is you appreciate things that many people take for granted. The difficulty is you end up holding on to so much that you don’t have room to live and enjoy your space. Work on trusting that you don’t need to constantly live in preparation for an emergency. Try to live in the present and to see the way your behavior is limiting your present happiness and/or the happiness of those around you. Also consider being willing to bless someone else’s life with the many things that you have. Things that are in good condition but that are not being used are perfect items to donate and share with those who are living with less than you have right now.

There are another group of people who are suffering from depression and low self worth. You literally have difficulty mustering the energy to clean your space. You also may feel some sense of balance that your outside world matches your inner world: turmoil and confusion. You may try to clean up a little for others but don’t value yourself enough to believe you deserve to be in a clean environment for yourself. You rationalize this by saying the mess doesn’t bother you. The reality is your space can affect your mood so continuing to live in clutter is actually supporting your depressed mood. Consider going for counseling to address your underlying issues. In the meantime, try what is called a behavioral approach which means to change my thoughts and feelings I start by changing my behavior. So if you start to clear your space, in the cleansing you may also experience an internal cleansing and renewal.

There is another mindset around clutter which is a lack of responsibility. Some of us are just waiting for someone else to do it. You may have grown up in an environment where things were always done for you by parents, siblings, or housekeepers. As a result, it never occurs to you to cleanse and organize your space yourself. You see the piles growing but unconsciously or consciously you hope someone will come and just take care of it: the pile of dishes, the pile of clothes, and the pile of papers just keep mounting. The truth is you are an adult and need to take responsibility for your space. You have two options. You need to do it or if you can afford to you need to pay for someone to help you do it. If you pay for help, you still need to take responsibility for keeping up with your space in the in between time so that you are not living in clutter and filth.

Heal your mind and cleanse your space. You deserve a fresh start and there’s no better time than the present.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Addressing Addiction

There are many forms of addiction. Some of you may be addicted to alcohol or other drugs, while others may be addicted to shopping, sex, pornography, gambling, cutting, compulsive exercise, internet use, or overeating. Addictions are largely a symptom of an underlying issue. They are a compulsion to do a particular activity even though it has negative consequences for you, physically, mentally, socially, and/or financially. We use our addictions to cope with pain, disappointment, anger, depression, fear, and insecurity. To address our addictions, we have to be honest with ourselves about what we are medicating. What are we trying to numb, forget, or erase with our behaviors? When we really look at it, we will discover not only what we’ve been trying to cover up with our addictions but we will also discover that the addiction has not helped us. Using substances to distract us from the substance of the problem is never successful in the long run. It is a temporary fix and often our tolerance increases so we need more and more to try to give us a glimpse of peace. We begin to drink more, smoke more, hook up more, shop more, gossip more, eat more, all in an attempt to escape. But as the saying goes, wherever you go, there you are. We cannot escape ourselves so it is better in the long run to face ourselves and confront the issues that are under the covers.

To address addictions, we have to first acknowledge that the behavior is unhealthy. Take responsibility for the ways you have used substances, food, credit cards, or casual sexual encounters in a manner that does not serve you or benefit you. We cannot heal what we do not acknowledge. By stopping the denial, we interrupt the silence and shame and gain the courage to face our issues.

The next thing you need to do is get around supportive people. This may be family, friends, therapists, sponsors, an AA group, or your faith community. You need to surround yourself with people who are supportive of the changes you are trying to make. When we are constantly with people that encourage unhealthy behaviors, it is hard to make a change. These also need to be people you can truly be honest with and accountable to for the decisions you make. Resist the shame and stigma that often keeps people from seeking professional help. Addictions are a major challenge and you deserve the support you need to heal and empower yourself.

Another key to addressing addictions is replacing the addictive behavior with a positive coping strategy. The way you are currently coping is not good for you. You need to try other strategies such as talking to someone you trust, meditation, prayer, healthy amounts of exercise, problem solving, relaxation, and engaging in activities/hobbies that boost your self esteem. Develop an action plan of activities you will do both when you are feeling stressed and as a prevention tool to improve your mood before negative things occur.

A final important key is the use of positive self-talk. Often we give ourselves self-defeating messages such as, “I am a bad person. It’s too late for me. I’m stuck. Nothing is going to work for me. I’m hopeless.” These statements increase our feelings of guilt, shame, and despair. You have to begin to challenge those thoughts when they come up. Everyone may have a negative thought pop up from time to time but you can decide how you respond to it. Instead of feeding it and freely accepting it, challenge it. There is more to you that the addiction. With support, your life can improve. Your life and health are worth fighting for so be encouraged and begin to address your addictions today.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Value of Volunteerism

Being selfish and overly self-centered can result in a very limited view of life. It can create a narrow view of the world and a sense of emptiness. A part of discovering your purpose is found in being generous – giving of yourself, your skills, and your resources to benefit the larger society, the world beyond your living room. Volunteerism can have real mental health benefits.

Volunteerism can give you a sense of purpose, meaning, and significant impact. Sometimes we get caught in a limited routine of simply working a job for money to pay bills. In essence, for greater meaning we need to contribute to something of greater significance. By giving to help humanity, cleaning up community, and preserving the environment, you can get in touch with your connection to the world around you.

Volunteerism can also increase your sense of self efficacy which is simply your ability to make a difference. Some people see problems around them and choose to close their eyes, surrendering to a sense of powerlessness. By taking action, you empower yourself with the knowledge that no matter how small, your life and decisions can make a difference.

Volunteerism can also increase a sense of community. A part of depression is a sense of isolation or disconnection. By volunteering with a community, national, or international organization, you can awaken within yourself a sense of community that stretches across people of all walks of life.

Finally and most importantly it is important to know that although some people may have less than you materially, they may also have more than you in spirit, heart, and even wisdom. As we give to others we also receive. You may receive a refreshing way of looking at life, at seeing the importance of gratitude, and at surviving adversity.

To make a difference in the world and within yourself, consider becoming a volunteer. In giving you will receive.