Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Coping with Grief and Loss

Loss is a part of life. Over the course of our lives we experience loss of relationships, things, people, and even ways of thinking about the world. In terms of losing people, you may have lost someone as a result of natural causes, disease, homicide, or suicide. We also lose people who are still alive but our relationship with them has ended. The connection may have ended because of simply growing a part, or as a result of a violation of trust, incarceration, infidelity, or those instances when the person does not share the reason for ending the relationship. Besides losing people, we may also experience loss of a job, loss of a pet, loss of safety, loss of health, and loss of financial stability. When we don’t deal with our grief and loss, the hurt feelings can be overwhelming and can result in a number of unhealthy behaviors such as isolating ourselves from others, developing a dependence on substances for escape, or other destructive activities. Loss can also lead to a range of feelings including but not limited to anger, guilt, fear, sadness, and numbness. It is important to face your loss directly and allow yourself to work through it honestly and at your own pace. Here are a few strategies to help you:
1. Consider and celebrate the positive things the person and the relationship brought to your life.
2. Find people with whom you can talk about the person, the relationship, and your loss. You don’t have to deal with it alone.
3. There are different types of loss so seek out more information on the specific type of loss you are experiencing. There are a number of sites on-line as well as self-help books.
4. Develop a ritual - some activity that allows you to remember and honor your memories. Rituals may include silent reflection, playing music, lighting a candle, reading a poem, or going to a place that reminds you of the person.
5. Your faith, spirituality, or religion can often provide insight and affirmation for the grieving process. Consider prayer, reading an inspiring text, or talking with your religious leader as potential sources of support.
6. Most cities have a number of bereavement and loss groups. Getting support from those facing similar experiences can be quite restoring. There are groups for persons who have lost someone due to cancer, addiction, incarceration, and violence. Do some research on-line to find out what groups are occurring in your area.
7. Take care of yourself. Due to the difficult feelings we are experiencing, we sometimes start neglecting ourselves. When you don’t care of yourself, you end up feeling worse. Try to get rest, eat healthy foods, exercise, and avoid holding stress in your body.
8. When grief and sorrow do not go away, it is a good idea to speak with a mental health professional to assist you through the grieving process.
9. Give yourself time and space to grieve in your own way and at your own pace. Everyone responds to loss differently. You may cry often or you may feel the tears will never come. There is not one correct way to grieve. Instead of comparing your process to where someone else may be on the journey, honor yourself by recognizing and honestly expressing your feelings and thoughts.
10. Be aware of the “grief triggers” so you can be prepared. Examine what are the things, situations, dates, or places that remind you of the loss. In this way, you can be more equipped to work through those experiences with compassion and patience.

Remember good grief is honest grief. Be honest with yourself about where you are and where you would like to be. Then recognize that healing is a journey that requires facing our losses and not running from them. Be encouraged by knowing you don’t have to get through this alone. Remind yourself of the good memories as you hold on to the hope that there will be good life moments that you have yet to experience. This awareness will assist you in walking into the next season of your life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Emotionally Abusive Relationships

Sometimes people think as long as a person has not hit you, they have not been abusive. This is far from the truth. Abuse can take many forms including emotional abuse which is sometimes called psychological abuse. We have to take an honest look at our relationships to determine if there is a problem. Emotional abuse is a pattern or systematic way of diminishing or putting a person down. It includes behaviors toward a current or former dating partner that are engaged in as a way to control and maintain power. These behaviors can include degrading, terrorizing, isolating, or exploiting. Other strategies of emotional control and abuse in relationships include threats, humiliation, ridicule, undermining your self esteem, and frequent criticism. Some other indicators that you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship are feeling in fear of your partner, feeling you have to give in to sexual demands to avoid arguments, or feeling trapped in the relationship. Some emotionally abusive partners have a pattern of infidelity, steal money from you, run up your credit, or throw away or destroy your belongings.

If you are in or have been in an emotionally abusive relationship you may notice a number of ways it has affected you. These effects may include anxiety/worry, depression, feeling disconnected from your feelings, difficulty with trust and intimacy, anger, shame, questioning your faith, self-doubt, and post traumatic stress disorder (replaying the incidents in your mind, being on guard, avoidance).
While all relationships have their challenges and require effort to maintain, you have to make a distinction between the routine challenges of relationships and actually being in an abusive relationship. Overall the person you choose to spend your time with should be someone with whom you feel safer and more affirmed. If being with your partner makes you feel disregarded, rejected, unattractive, incompetent, inadequate, or afraid, it’s time to look honestly at the situation.

If you are currently in an abusive relationship, you need to think seriously about ways to get out and get some help. You don’t have to handle it alone. Break the silence and shame and talk to someone. If their response is not supportive, talk to someone else. Love should not be a cover for fear and disrespect. You deserve better. The abuse needs to stop or you need to find a way to get out. Either way, the healing process will take some time. Give yourself space to heal because the wounds inflicted by those we love often hurt the deepest. Whatever you decide, remember you deserve a life free of abuse.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love in Action: Keeping the Romance Alive

Love is an action word. When we feel love, we act on it. There should be some evidence that how we say we feel is a reality. Love is enduring, considerate, tender affection for another person. There are various ways we can demonstrate our love. The following are some tips to keep in mind.

1. When you love someone, you show that you know them and what is important to them. I actually listen and observe so I can understand their feelings, views, and values. This also means I don’t give them gifts based on what I want but instead I give things that they will actually enjoy. It also means that at times I do things that I know they would appreciate without them having to ask.

2. When you love someone, you inspire the best in them instead of the worse. While you want to be comfortable with one another, there is an issue if we treat everyone else better than we treat each other. This applies to the way we speak to each other and the actions that we consider acceptable.

3. When you love someone, you don’t need a special occasion to show it. Birthdays, Christmas, and Valentine’s Days are nice opportunities to show how you care, but there is nothing better than a surprise show of affection that is not tied to any particular day or event.

4. When you love someone, there is no room in your relationship for fear, intimidation, threats, or games. You respect them and yourself enough to make the safety and health of the relationship a top priority.

5. When you love someone, you communicate your feelings and thoughts. Intimacy includes the mental, emotional, and spiritual. Until you open up to a person, you have not truly gotten to a place of full love.

6. When you love someone, you look for ways to affirm and encourage them and not demean them. When you ridicule and humiliate the person you are with, this is not a manifestation of love but emotional brokenness.

7. When you love someone and they do not want to be with you, you love them enough to let them go.

8. When you love someone from a pure place, you have to also love yourself. You recognize that you both have much to offer and both benefit from the relationship. The mindset that one person is upgrading the other or the belief that one person is lucky to be chosen by the other are both set-ups for imbalance and disrespect. See value in yourself and in the other person.

In this season, when so much attention is being given to love, make sure you have the real thing. Don’t confuse love with lust or love with control. So much more is available but it takes effort to find love and to keep it alive. It’s worth the investment!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Positive Thinking

We have to look honestly at the messages we tell ourselves. Our thoughts affect our feelings and our behaviors. Our lives are shaped not just by our experiences but how we think about our experiences. Negative self talk includes such statements as, “I’m stupid. I’m ugly. I can’t. No one will ever love me or understand me or respect me.” All of these messages set us up for what is called a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” These type of prophecies or predication have power because I believe certain things about myself and then I make choices that lead to these things being confirmed. For example, the belief that I am stupid can manifest in my never going to class, sitting in classes where self doubt and anxiety make it difficult for me to pay attention, or instead of studying I find myself sitting for hours daydreaming about how horrible it will be when I fail. It is not difficult to see how these thoughts and behaviors lead to more failure and therefore confirm my belief that I am stupid. In order to experience life differently, we have to start in the thought realm. We have to challenge the myths we have come to believe about ourselves.

Let’s consider another example. When I believe I am ugly I may do a number of things that either keep positive attention away or that draw negative attention. I may hide myself with too many layers of make-up. I may hide myself by always keeping my hair in my face. I may always shrink in a crowd and go right to the back corner and wonder why no one ever approaches me. On the other hand to compensate for my belief that I am ugly I may offer myself sexually to anyone and everyone or I may drink heavily when I go out or I may respond with bitterness and distrust when people do approach me or I may constantly talk in a very loud voice as I try to get people to pay attention to me. All of these things started with my belief in my unworthiness. On the other hand, we have all seen examples of people who we found attractive not because they look objectively like a super model but because of their confidence or other aspects of them that shine. While it is true that the media promotes a very narrow idea of who qualifies as beautiful, we each have to decide how much we are going to believe in their standards. This belief has a ripple effect on our lives.

So what can we do?
1. Challenge the negative beliefs you hold about yourself and begin to make an effort to see the positive.
2. Allow yourself to consider your strengths, your gifts, and your abilities.
3. Avoid circumstances and people that promote negative ideas about you.
4. Get in more positive settings and around more positive people. One positive friend is much better than a whole group of “friends” who always bring you down.
5. Fake it until you make it. Even though you may still have doubt, connect with the part of you that believes it is possible that there is goodness, beauty, wisdom, and strength within you.
6. If you have tried this and not met success, you may want to consider counseling. Many people have found it helpful to get support as they work to transform their thinking.

Overall remember there is power in the messages you tell yourself so strive to think of yourself with compassion and self-love.