An important part of psychological well-being is healthy self-soothing. Being able to calm yourself down is important. When someone feels too much anger, he may yell, curse, or hit someone else. Acting out our emotions destructively is one consequence of poor emotional regulation. Another way of dealing with painful emotions is to try to numb ourselves with alcohol or other drugs. Many problems result from our inability to regulate our feelings well.
When we are born, we rely on our mother (or primary caregivers) to calm down. Our brain is designed to rely on interactions with others to find balance and adjust to surrounding circumstances. Early in life, infants need connections to caregivers in order to develop healthy brain function. The interactions between the child and parent enable the child to achieve balance or regulation within her own mind. Interactions with caregivers allow the child’s brain to develop the structures necessary to move from emotional regulation with a parent to more independent forms of emotional regulation.
When children who are infants, toddlers, and preschoolers experience healthy emotional regulation in their relationships with their mom, they become school children who are seen by peers and teachers as likeable. These children also perform well in school, show good social skills, and act in ways that build their relationships with others. But children with poor emotion socialization have difficulty in peer relationships, have trouble in school, and are at risk for emotional problems such as anxiety and depression during their childhood. These effects persist into adulthood.
Children need environments, like home and school, where they can be emotionally expressive. Children need parents who express their emotions, but do not overwhelm their children. A mother’s emotions have a powerful influence on her child’s emotional development. Children benefit when mothers talk about their own emotions. When their children are emotional, mothers who avoid yelling and punishing and provide positive responses to their children, enable their children understand their emotions better. Children also need their emotions to be accepted. When children are raised in an environment where they learn to explore their own emotions, and they learn to make connections between their emotional experience and events they see. They are able to understand their emotions in various situations.
After they reach school age, children who assess and process emotional information will in turn respond more appropriately to others and have skills that promote their own emotion self-soothing. The more emotional intelligence that children have, the greater their empathy they have with peers. These children also behave in ways that promote relationships, and they are more popular. The children who can identify their emotions and who self-sooth them well are seen as more likable and more prosocial in relationships with their peers. These early emotional experiences are a foundation for emotional intelligence.
When we are feeling highly emotional, we are in a state of emotional imbalance. An event with the people or events around us can trigger an emotional reaction. These emotional reactions are made more likely by past experiences that created vulnerabilities within the individual. These vulnerabilities are embedded in our memory and directly influence our thoughts, feelings, and choices.
Our emotions and affect influence what we see and hear. Our perceptions can be changed by the affect being experienced by the perceiver. “An affect oriented clinician can help a client more accurately perceive his environments by teaching him (Affect Management Skills Training) AMST skills to regulate his affect,” writes Dr. John Omaha.
The development of affect regulation, enables the emergence of a strong sense of self. When one has poor sense of self, he will not be able to self-soothe well. An adult with a strong sense of self is able to manage disturbing events and respond quickly to stressful demands. She will be able to remain self-aware during a disturbing event. This optimally functioning adult will be flexible, highly skillful, and self-aware in the area of emotions and affect. She will genuinely and with authority increase positive emotions, like joy, and calm negative emotions, like shame. This has been called a self-reflective function. Self-soothing with be accomplished by making use of inner images of safety, soothing, validation, and affirmation. The optimally functioning adult will not use alcohol, other drugs, food, sex, relationship, or work to numb out emotions. They will manifest vitality and will pursue the goals she sets for herself with energy and persistence. Please watch this video and learn about healthy emotional regulation from Dr. John Omaha:
“Food is the most powerful drug you will ever take,” writes Barry Sears.
We are effected greatly by the food we eat. I think there are many variations in how each person’s body metabolizes food. Learning which foods specifically work well with your body is essential. Every cell in your body makes themselves new every 5 months, including your brain cells. When we eat a healthful food, our body is able to function better. What we eat makes a big difference in how we feel.
Our cells are not determined by their genes, because genes are only a blueprint. What directs the cellular development are the signals sent to our cells with what we drink, eat, think, and feel. The science of Epigenetics researches how our genes are influenced by our choices.
Anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, poor attention, and worry can be effected by food. Many people who are depressed overeat or eat too little. Skipping breakfast can lead to low energy in the morning. Eating a big meal can make one tired, ready for a nap.
Sugar can give one a temporary high with an increase in blood sugar, but then can lead to a drop in blood sugar. This crash in blood sugar can leave one feeling tired. Research indicates that foods high in sugar have the same effects as addictive drugs, like cocaine or heroin.
Inflammation is a physical condition that can lead to heart disease and complications from aging. Foods high in sugar, refined flour, processed foods, trans fats and saturated fats can lead to inflammation. “To treat depression, we must learn how to get rid of causes of inflammation and restore the normal immune balance through our food and nutrients, as well as our exercise, sleep, and stress management habits,” writes Dr. Hyman.
Do you know that you have a gut-brain with more neurotransmitters and serotonin than in the brain located in your head? “Over the years I have seen emotional, psychiatric, and behavioral symptoms triggered by problems in the gut,” writes Dr. Mark Hyman. Our gut-brain is the enteric nervous system (ENS). The bugs who live in your gut are more important in determining your health than your DNA fingerprint, writes Dr. David Relman. Foods low in fiber, high in sugar, processed, and lacking nutrients as well as a high calorie diet cause all the wrong bacteria to grow in our gut. Resolving these issues can have a profound effect on your mental and physical health.
Many of us suffer quietly with anxiety and depression. These mental health problems touch many of our family or friends. Dr. Mark Hyman writes, “Our broken brains cause many problems – anxiety, depression, bipolar disease, personality disorders, eating disorders, addictions, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, (autistic disorders) … learning difficulties, and dyslexia. Many psychiatrists and neurologists wouldn’t qualify these problems as treatable diseases.”
Daniel Amen writes that “a therapist told us this story at a recent lecture:
‘I’m glad you mentioned sugar. I used to be a very angry person; sometimes I would even scare my family. It made me feel terrible. I took anger management classes, but they didn’t even seem to help. When I eliminated sugar from my diet, I noticed an almost immediate reduction in outbursts, plus I had better energy, lost weight, and was much more focused.’”
There is hope. We can change a great deal with good information and our willingness to do what it takes to be healthy and whole. Please watch this video with Elizabeth Schindler and learn about Primary Food:
I went to a workshop in the late 1990s with Deborah Bloch. We were learning about career counseling. Deborah had us take out a piece of butcher paper about as high as the length of my arm and as wide as three lengths of my arm. We folded it into three square sections. On the first section to the far left, Deborah asked us to draw with crayons: our life as it is right now. We took about 15 minutes to do this.
Then, on the section to the far right, she had us draw: our life as we want to look in 5 years. In the middle section, Deborah said to write down all the barriers, keeping me from the life I desired. I later added to the middle section all the ways that I could imagine that would enable me to overcome the barriers to the future life that I desired.
I have done this exercise several times since. I used collage a few times. The advantage of collage is that I can find images instead of drawing them. I do not need to paint them or use crayons to express my images. I just look in magazines, old calendars, catalogues, or newspapers. Whether you decide to draw, paint, or use collage, it is very helpful to put your ideas in a concrete form. This process has been very helpful in remembering what my goals are through the confusion and chaos of modern life. As I look back on my drawing and collages, I am surprised by how they have been manifested.
Yet life is much deeper than financial or career success. For we can possess all the gold in the world and still feel miserable. Mathew Fox writes that “True joy is an inside thing. Joy does not come from the outside. True joy is therefore non-addictive. Joy is what happens when we join with the powers of the universe again. To do this we must prepare ourselves, we must be willing to let go and let joy happen. We must let go of dictating what our joy will be (for example, ‘when I get this pay raise,’ or ‘find this boyfriend’ or ‘buy this car’). Desire has a place in our lives, but joy is deeper than desire. It will not be dictated to. It will not be bought and paid for.”
We may be too rational in America. We may miss the joy of embracing the mystery and beauty of life. Art gives us an opportunity to welcome the colorful images and subtle joy of a soulful life. M.C. Richards writes that “by example and practice, I try to teach that creativity is built in – like the sun – it shines in everything we do – look!”
When I write or have a conversation, I am being creative. The way I communicate is unique – unlike anyone else. When I love I am being creative. When I cook, I am being creative. All our relationships are creative. It is an art to start and to build a meaningful bond with another human being. Our lives are creative journeys. The question is do we realize it.
Art gives us practice at being creative. We get to see our drawing, our painting, or our collage that is a result of our creativity. It serves us well to learn how to be creative in soulful ways. In this video, Sue Renfrew, M.A., shows us how to do collage. Get our your paper, scissors, glue, magazines, catalogues, calendars, strings, cloth, feathers, and anything else that strikes your fancy. Please watch this video and join in the joy of creation.
Career development is a significant aspect of human life. Our career development begins at an early age with imagination and play. As we grow, hopefully we are learning the skills to do work that we love most. Career Development is defined as the lifelong process of managing your work experience or your employee’s work experience within or between organizations.
In 1988 when I graduated from San Jose State University in San Jose, California, USA, I wanted to earn a living as a writer. I needed to get a job, so I chose another interest area in which to develop skills. I had my Bachelor of Arts Degree with Great Distinction in Political Science. I enjoyed the subject of politics, so I worked on for a political campaign in the summer and fall of 1988. I quickly learned that working in politics was incongruent with my values. I wanted to change the world, making it a better place. Manipulating people to vote for my candidate seemed to just be adding to the poor state of the world. I was interested in collaborating with people in community to build a just world.
In order to earn a living, I began working in government – the County Assessor’s Office, Registrar of Voters, Family Court, the Department of Drugs and Alcohol, and the county hospital (Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital Services). These government agencies had cultures that were different than my values. It was difficult for me to work in these organizations. In 1991, I decided to apply to graduate school in Counseling Psychology. I had read many books about psychology and attended lectures so I knew that counseling was an area of interest.
I had been so self-conscious about my anxiety that I feared taking a psychology class as an undergraduate student in college. It was a courageous choice for me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling at Santa Clara University. It was a terrifying gauntlet to face my fears about how I appeared to others. Even though I had spent 5 years in psychotherapy and worked hard to become healthy, I feared that I was too flawed psychologically to ever be an effective marriage counselor. What I came to believe was that in order to be effective as a counselor, I needed to be objective – not perfect psychologically. I also learned that my challenges can give me empathy for the challenges of my clients.
After I graduated from Santa Clara University with my Master’s Degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling, I went to work at the publisher of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator as a corporate trainer. I began teaching a psychology course at Heald Colleges and continued to work as a counseling intern at Almaden Valley Counseling Service. I was making much more money that I ever had. I was very busy working about 50 hours a week as well as commuting to 5 locations. At Consulting Psychology Press, I was advising psychiatrists, psychologists, corporate trainers, and career counselors from all over the world on leadership development, team building, and career development. I was enjoying doing my Work – my Soul Work.
Over time and with patience, I was able to develop my skills in areas congruent with my personality, interests, and values. It made all the difference. Even though I had my challenges and complaints, I was able to do work that was meaningful and satisfying. When we are able to build skills directly related to our Soul Work, we feel differently about our work. With a direction to our career path, we add meaning to our work. We are not just getting a paycheck, but getting paid to learn things our Soul longs to gain. And even after doing counseling for over 20 years, I am still learning everyday how to get better.
When you are out of work or seeking to move to a new employer, it is critical to know more about yourself than you know about the job market. Most people who are making a change in their job think that searching online for jobs listed, reading and responding to classified ads, taking various types of career tests, or talking to a career consultant of some sort will help them find a job. Yet in reality, these actions are helpful only if you invest the time and energy to learn about yourself and develop a plan for your career. Most people buying a car or home invest a substantial amount of time. Isn’t the work you will be doing for years just as important?
If you have interest in career development for yourself or others, please read “What Color is Your Parachute” from Richard Nelson Bolles. The work you put into building the skills to do work congruent with who you are will bring you a higher quality of life and satisfaction.
Career Development is also important for managers. Please watch this video by Bob Epperly on Career Development and its role in managing employees:
“The ego is the seat of consciousness and if consciousness creates the world, the ego is doing God’s creative work in its effort to realize itself through the way of individuation” Edward Edinger.
The quality of our life is largely dependent on the health of our ego. If our ego is healthy, we will be flexible, strong, compassionate, aware and constructive. Having a healthy ego takes effort; we need to choose to do the work to grow up and mature.
My ego has two basic powers. The first power of the ego is observation, and the second power is choice. These are the two main functions of our minds: to monitor and modify.
What is an ego? When I look out from my eyes and see the world, I am aware of myself and the world. In some ways, it feels no different from when I was 7 years of age. I have a continuity of my sense of identity as an individual. I call this part of myself “I” or “me,” and I am referring to my ego. My ego is the part of me that is aware or conscious.
There are factors which help strengthen the ego: balancing one’s brain, regulating one’s feelings, reclaiming one’s projections, and engaging in self-care. These skills helps one see the world more clearly and make life giving choices. When my brain is balanced, I am able to use both sides of my brain. My left brain is about logic, facts, and time. My right brain is involved with relationships, emotions, and spatial relationships. When the sides of my brain are balanced and connected, I have access to both brain hemispheres when observing the world and making choices.
When I am able to calm myself down, I am able to see more objectively. When I calm myself down, I am not overwhelmed with emotions. As I am able to remain more neutral, my choices are more reflective of the facts of the situation.
A projection is something that interferes with my ability to see clearly. My projections are when I see parts of myself in others. A teenager is having a projection, when he idealizes an athlete or rock star. He is seeing his potential strength and creativity in another person. When he is able to see these projections and reclaim them, he is empowered. He does this by doing the work to develop his skills in music and sports. As he gains mastery in himself, he has more objectivity and confidence. He feels empowered, because he sees himself as he is. He can see his internal power.
When I take care of my needs for sleep, healthful food, exercise, and time with emotionally supportive family and friends, I feel calmer and see more objectively.
When I have a working ego, I am willing to do the work of an adult. I take the steps to keep my ego strong and healthy as an adult. I get 8-10 hours of sleep, eat healthful foods, take time to exercise my body, and talk with empathic friends and family. I also play and have fun. A working ego also implies a willingness to make difficult choices that support the vitality of my life and the lives of others.
An unhealthy ego is an ego that is weak. When an ego is not strong, it attempts to be the only center of the person. When our ego is weak, our energy alternates between thinking we are greater than we are (inflation) and thinking we are less than we are (deflation). It is like a balloon being too full or flat. We are most effective when we see ourselves and the world as we are – no more, no less.
It is possible to wield great power as a president of a company, the leader of a country, or a religious leader, and to still remain quite unconscious. Sadly, this is more often true than not. It is possible to be a leader who manages things and people with great authority and precision and still not be awake. If one does not have the interest or take the time to think introspectively – to examine oneself – then it is impossible to be conscious.
Our ego is formed when we are young. As young baby, our ego begins by being uninformed. We are totally dependent on our parents for survival. We are unable to see ourselves as separate from our mother. Over time, we begin to see that we are separate from our mother and by crying or smiling our mother responds by feeding us, changing us, holding us, or smiling at us. As we gain strength, we become more aware of how we can influence our own life. Our powers of awareness and choice are born in this way.
As we mature in healthy ways, we are able to see that we are not the center of the world. We are aware of the impact of our choices on our family and friends. We are able to consider others and the world as a whole when we make decisions. Some of us consider our Soul and God in our decision making. Possessing a healthy developing ego, we are able to be flexible with others socially. We can choose to love.
Please watch this video by Judith Peterson on the value of a working ego:
Sometimes change can come by surprise. We can unexpectedly find that we experience a profound and lasting change. This phenomenon was studied by Dr. William Miller and Janet C’de Baca. They called these experiences, quantum change. The term quantum change is both from the expression quantum leap and the unpredictability inherent in quantum mechanics. In some ways, this quantum change is hard to clarify.
Yet here are the common elements that they found by interviewing many people who experienced this rapid type of change. A quantum change is a memorable experience where the details stand out in the mind of the person who experiences it; they remember it well. The experience is almost always perceived as positive and beneficial. It is pleasant, if not joyful. Quantum change is surprising – not something that we make happen. Quantum changes are permanent transformations, “a one-way door which there is no going back,” write Dr. William Miller and Janet C’de Baca.
One Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge is drawn into events beyond his control behind the locked doors of his home. In the story by Charles Dickens, the character Scrooge believes that something extraordinary is happening to him. It is surprising. These events effect Mr. Scrooge internally – not external, real events. Even though the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are disturbing to Scrooge, he has a sense that there is loving kindness behind these mysterious events. Scrooge is a profoundly changed man after this quantum change.
People’s religious or spiritual backgrounds influence the way one interprets quantum change. The study by Dr. William Miller and Janet C’de Baca interviewed people from a variety of religious backgrounds as well as those not affiliated with any religion and non-believers. About one third of the time, the person experiencing the quantum change prays when it happens. For some of these people, it was the first prayer they had offered in years or even ever at all. The single most common act that came before the quantum change was prayer.
The most common people who experience quantum change are desperately unhappy for a significant period of time and see no way out through their own actions. Please watch this video by Judith Peterson, LMFT about using sacred images when we are in crisis:
“There are two kinds of people in this world; those that enter a room and turn the television set on, and those that enter a room and turn the television set off,” says the character Raymond Shaw in the movie, “The Manchurian Candidate.”
There are people who wish to sell us things. Advertisers want us to buy cheeseburgers or shampoo. Leaders, like principals and bosses, hope we buy the idea that following all the rules is important and makes us a good student or employee. Politicians want us to believe that voting for them will make life better for ourself, our family, and our community. Effective leaders are good at using special ideas, called memes.
Memes are ideas that infect our minds like a virus. A virus works by entering another person (or a computer) and making copies. Even though a meme acts like a virus in our mind, a meme is not always a bad thing. It depends on what the idea is about. Richard Brodie writes: “a meme is a thought, belief, or attitude in your mind that can be spread to and from other people’s minds.”
A fad like wearing a beard or using Instagram is due to memes. This is a meme: “Instagram is the way to connect online that gets me more friends.” Another meme is: “Men who wear beards attract sex partners.” Do you believe these memes as true? Where do these memes come from?
Before seven years old, we take in the memes of our parents, neighbors, schools, and culture. We are programmed like a computer with these memes. I can believe that “I am intelligent” or “I am stupid.” Either one of these beliefs effects my performance at school or work.
The patterns in our brains evolved over millions of years. If we look at archeological sites, we can see that our environment changed very little over most of the time. Only in the most recent time, our environment started changing so fast that our daily routines changed in a single lifetime. Memes supported our lives for millions of years in a world that changed very slowly.
We live in a world today that is changing very rapidly. Think how much smartphones have changed our lives. I no longer use a telephone book to find contact information. I receive and send text and emails that travel all over the world in an instant. We have a tremendous mismatch between the writing of our prehistoric brains and the complex opportunities and challenges of modern life.
Advertisers, politicians, and sale people use memes to influence us. We can be programmed like a computer, metaphorically. Our minds are programmed by using repetition. Commercials repeat the same idea over and over. We are also programmed by confusing us with conflicting information. I remember a vacuum salesman at my childhood home. He was talking so fast, explaining about the monthly payments. I just wanted him to leave and stop pressuring my father. Salespeople can talk so fast that you feel trapped. We may feel the only ways out of a painful sales pitch is by being rude or is to buy something. Another method of creating a meme is by attaching the idea to food, sex, or danger of some kind. The most powerful memes are linked to sex, food, and danger, such as a way to protect your children.
Too often, sex sells Budweiser or Nacho Cheese Doritos. We are being manipulated by smartphones, television, malls, and cruise ships. The price may be right, but what is the cost. I sit for a timeshare presentation to receive my blanket and my bottle of tequila. I am on vacation for a limited time, but I am spending my time listening to a salesperson talk as fast as he can to manipulate me into buying a timeshare. I feel trapped. People often take the bait and buy the timeshare. Often, this is a poor financial decision.
Life can feel overwhelming. We can make ourselves depressed with our beliefs. Our thoughts have a significant influence over our mood. Our worldview has a big impact on the quality of our life. Please watch this video and learn to think about depression differently:
One of the most difficult experiences of my life has been depression. I can remember being depressed back when I was 13 years old. When I was in the 8th grade, I remember walking around the grass field at Roger’s Junior High in West San Jose, California, USA. It was a very painful time. My whole body felt heavy, hard to move. I felt tired. My head was light, and I was confused. My eyes were blurry. I hurt all over.
Later, I would again suffer from depression, and I have learned much about depression over the years. When I feel any depressed feelings now, I am highly motivated to feel better as soon as possible. I really hate depression. I do whatever it takes to feel better. Some people describe depression as being numb. Dr. David Hawkins writes that if we live long enough, most of us experience depression at some time in our life. It could be minor, as in regret, or major, as in mourning a death or losing something considered valuable.
Depression is a disorder of mood and bonding. It is a disorder related to our current relationships. One can withdraw socially at any stage of life due to poor bonding with parents as a child and poor social skills. If we have a marriage or another intimate relationship with poor communication and bonding, we can experience depression. Living in a family that is highly dysfunctional with violence or substance abuse can contribute to depression. Working in a job that is a poor fit in terms of interests, personality, or values can contribute to depression. Dealing with additional life stressors can trigger a depressive episode, like divorce, death, financial losses, and health problems.
In Los Gatos, California, psychiatrist and Stanford University medical school professor, Saad A. Shakir, MD, sees patients at his clinic. He said that depression is one of the chief reasons that people go to see a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or a counselor. Clients make it into therapy often long after the depression began. Over time, depression progresses into a phase that makes it much more difficult to ignore, because the depressive symptoms are affecting one’s marriage or work.
With treatment, often a person’s mood elevates and they feel some relief. But patients are often discharged from counseling without achieving sustained relief from the symptoms of low energy, sadness, troubled sleep, disrupted eating, poor concentration, and feelings of worthlessness consistently and for a long time, called Sustainable Remission from depression.
Dr. Shakir states that few patients receive adequate treatment for depression. Inadequately treated depression may get worse over time and may be associated with negative changes in the physical brain and how the brain works. Fortunately, the mind can change the brain. The brain has neuroplasticity. Our thoughts and feelings change our physical brain.
The Work Health Organization and the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatment assert that it is important for mental health professionals to competently assess and treat depressive and anxiety disorders to full remission. In the Australian and New Zealand clinical guidelines it states that “the aim of treatment is to achieve and maintain remission.”
It is possible to experience vitality after having experienced depression. Recovery from depression is important in our health, relationships, and career. If one is willing to do the healthy work of depression much is possible. Please watch this video on being proactive in recovery from depressive symptoms:
Depression is complicated. It is dominated by sadness or low energy. We may lose interest in what was once important to us. These symptoms can have various origins. Depression is overdetermined, meaning there are biological, psychological, social, and spiritual dynamics.
It is possible to see depression when looking at a brain scan. It is clearly a biological phenomenon. Not only our genes play a role, but sleep, food, and exercise also affect depression. We may be predisposed to depression, because our parents or grandparents suffered from depression and carried the genes. Yet research from the science of Epigenetics dramatically changes assumptions about depression.
Epigenetics literally means above the gene. The main idea is that the surface area of a cell determines the health of the cell, not the gene. The gene is merely a blue print for the cell. The signals that the cell receives at the surface area of the cell determines whether a cell thrives. If the cell is in a toxic environment, then the cell will respond defensively. If the cell is in a nourishing environment, the cell will grow and thrive. The signals that the surface area of the cell receives are thoughts, feelings, food, and drink.
Dr. Richard Davidson says that “there is no more effective way to produce localized and specific changes in the brain than behavioral or mental interventions. Behavioral or mental interventions can produce more specific biological changes than any currently known biological method that is known – medication for example.” Taking medication effects the entire body, not just the small areas of the brain related to depression. We are given a long list of side effects, when the pharmacist hands us medication for depression.
Our thoughts, feelings, and behavior affect our depression. If I am self-critical in a destructive way, this can magnify depression. It is important to change our thoughts. Sixty-five percent of our thoughts are redundant and negative. We need to change our thinking at the subconscious level to move toward health and freedom – full remission of depression.
With depression, one is avoiding emotions that seem overwhelming or unaware. Learning to regulate our emotions and affect enables us to feel safe expressing our emotions in a healthy way. Resolving trauma can make a big difference, enabling us to feel peaceful and energized.
Our relationships can also effect depression. Depressed people can isolate themselves and then are deprived of the energy that comes from human interaction. Our beliefs and our values can lead us to be depressed. Please watch this video on symptoms that can be related to depression:
In 1981, my father asked me to meet him at Baskin Robbins ice cream store, near my mom’s apartment where I lived. He bought me ice cream, probably a Banana Royale with Pistachio ice cream, hot fudge, and bananas and whip cream. As I ate my ice cream, my dad told me he had cancer. I was on 18 years old and did not expect such adult news. A few days later, I was playing football with friends. I began talking with my friend Chris about traveling to Los Angeles to see the Monday Night game preseason game between New England and Los Angeles Rams. By 7:00pm, we were at the airport and waiting for our airplane. We checked into the Newporter, a resort, in Orange County. I let my sadness carry me all the way to Southern California. I remembered in the middle of the trip that my father was having exploratory surgery. I called home and heard he was ok.
When the doctors at Kaiser Permanente hospital surgically opened up my father’s body, they could see that cancer was riddled throughout his lymphatic system. His doctors simply closed up the incision and told my father that had six months to live. I cherish the time I had to spend with him until his death on June 10, 1984.
I had four people close to me die from April 1984 until August 1985. My response to all of these tragedies was to avoid my sadness. Later in my life, I had to learn to do the work of grief. Sadness has an important function in the grieving process. Grief turns us inward. We can lose energy, concentration, experience sleep changes, lose motivation and experience changes in our appetite.
Grief not only has to do with death, but also with the ending of relationships of all kinds, including marriages. Daniel Goleman writes, “The main purpose for sadness is to help adjust to a significant loss, such as the death of someone close or a major disappointment. Sadness brings a drop in energy and enthusiasm for life’s activities, particular diversions and pleasures, and, as it deepens and approaches depression, slows the body’s metabolism. This loss of energy may well have kept saddened – and vulnerable – early humans close to home, where they were safer.”
Whenever you love someone and you are no longer able to spend time with them, you naturally feel pain. Yet there is a difference between the pain as a result of loss and the suffering as a result of false beliefs and avoidance. David Kessler said, “One of the biggest problems is that you might try to push aside or ignore your feelings. You judge them as too little or too much. You carry a lot of bottled up emotions, and anger is often one that is suppressed. In order for it to heal, however, it must be released. We’re not speaking only about anger associated with death, but about anytime we feel anger. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the renowned grief expert who identified the Five Stages of Grief, said we could feel anger, let it pass through us, and be done with it in a few minutes. She went on to say that any anger we feel over 15 minutes is old anger.”
What is the journey to healthy grief and eventually to resolution? I have learned to lean into the sadness as well as other emotions. By acknowledging and consciously experiencing the sadness, we can let go. Our loses need to be integrated psychologically. Grief enables us to update our consciousness with reality. The current loss reveals other losses – not integrated – that lie beneath. Grieving can take time. Eventually, we can remember the wonderful parts of the past and not experience the pain. Janet Childs who works for the Centre for Living with Dying, in Santa Clara, California, USA, said “grieving is like the ocean tides. The grief can come and go. Some days can be harder than others.”
We all experience grief differently. When I am grieving, it really helps to let myself be. I like to pay attention to my body and follow my inclinations. When I am able to minimize my obligations, I am free to follow my inclinations. As long as it is not self-destructive, I indulge myself. If I am tired, I sleep. If I am hungry, I eat. If I just stare off into space, it is ok.
Having empathic and accepting people to listen are invaluable. It helps to have a few good listeners – too not overburden any one person.
During a loss, We may discover that our thoughts are negative. When we break up a relationship, we may think “I will always be alone.” “Why do bad things always happen to me?”
Sadness can be subtle. It is very important and its power as well as the power of all other emotions should not be underestimated. Daniel Goleman writes that sadness is “grief, sorrow, cheerlessness, gloom, melancholy, self-pity, loneliness, dejection, despair, and when pathological, severe depression.” Please watch this video on how to cope when things fall apart: