A Pokémon Ball

Over the weekend, while I was visiting friends in Georgia, I observed the training of a four month old boy. He is loved, loved, loved by his parents. But they have certain ideas about what a child should or shouldn’t do, most of which I don’t agree with.

The first idea is that a child should make his parents happy. A child of this age can do this by smiling and being “good.” This child smiled quite often and also posed for photographs. He was very, very good. He also didn’t cry much at all.

I noticed that whenever he whimpered or started to cry both parents conveyed a sense of alarm. When this happened in the car his mother, who was in the back seat with him, began to entertain him in various ways. She offered him a cloth book to chew. She found a puppet on a string and made him dance while she sang a song.  The boy looked and listened. She sang him songs without the puppet. And when that no longer worked, she shook a container of Tic Tacs so it sounded like a rattle and that held his attention for a long time. Whenever he started to look unhappy, she increased her efforts to stop him from crying.

Observing the repeated interruption of this child’s feelings, and even his attempts to suck his thumb, was a painful experience for me. I am a therapist who works mostly with adults who are struggling to find connection to their true feelings and their inner sense of self, things that I believe were disrupted long ago by being shushed and hushed by their moms and dads, as with this little boy.  

I have a client who could not tell anyone how her older sister teased her mercilessly and dropped hot things on her. I have clients whose mothers denied their sexual abuse. I have clients who were not told the truth about their adoptions yet they sensed something was wrong in the family dynamics. I have clients who were told not to cry when their parents hurt them or not to cry when they felt upset. All these people are now ‘crying’ in my office. Not literally crying, but crying inside because they have lived so long in a life of emotional disconnection. Accessing their childhood experiences now, they discover that their feelings about their experiences were often denied or negated.

Art Linkletter famously wrote a book called Kids Say the Darndest Things. It is a wonderful book, catching children’s take on many situations. Art was able to convey in his light-hearted way how wonderfully perceptive children are. Their wonderful perception, however, is often what is not dealt with when it comes to a child’s real experience in his or her family.

Because I was feeling very upset about the four months old child’s experience, I was tuning in to all the other children’s experiences, as I saw them at the airport. I saw four siblings leashed together walking with their mom. I heard a baby crying loudly and being hushed tensely by his mother. And I saw a three year old boy sitting bored on his mother’s lap as she read messages on her phone.

I could do something about that, I thought! I could play catch with him while his mother read her emails. I jumped up to look for a ball at a store in the airport. I asked and was told there was a store that sold balls.  I walked a long way and, finally, found it. Four types of balls were being sold-two very bouncy and small, one puzzle-like and easy to break apart and one soft and easy to catch. I stood in line to buy the soft ball. I was amazed at the price-$15.00 on sale. It was because, as I was told, it was a Pokémon ball. I bought it and ran back to the boy, who had since disappeared.

So, now I have a Pokémon ball. I will give it to the four month-old when he is bigger. I am sure his parents will roll the ball to him and that this will bring moments of happiness. That is what I can do there.

At home, in my office, I do much more than assuage the pain in people’s lives. I help them become clearer about their inner workings, more articulate in their communication with others and better able to navigate their lives.

If you have thoughts that bother you or difficulties in your relationships, you could avail yourself of my help. We could roll the Pokémon ball back and forth or talk about whatever is on your mind. I invite you to give me a call.

Therapy in the Dark Times

The world has become a scary place and yet it is still so great to be alive. With singers like Ariana Grande singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, there is hope. There is also sadness. Why does it need to be “Somewhere Over the Rainbow?”

It seems to me that somewhere over the rainbow was close to being real right here and now and maybe it still is. The world was moving in the right direction with more caring about the earth’s well- being, as exemplified by the Paris Climate Change Agreement. With Trump’s declaration that he/we/the U.S.A was withdrawing from the agreement, there is both darkness of heart and joy, with the commitments by cities and states across the United States to reduce carbon emissions. There is power in the joining together of hearts, heads and hands.

As a therapist, I hear a dramatic change in the content of my clients’ sessions.  Never before have the issues of the world entered the privacy of the therapy hour to such a degree. There is fear, anger, bewilderment, more anger, despair, determination and facing personal challenges.

Some people wish to hide “from the mess,” as they call it.  Some feel a sense of panic, like the world is going to implode, and feel there is nothing they can do about it.  Others feel despair and anxiety and expect the apocalypse.  

Giving clients a space to talk about the impact of the new administration has been a good and moving experience for me. After having a chance to talk about their anxieties and despair, people are moving in different ways but not sinking into despair.  Some have realized that stepping out to join others with similar concerns would bring connection and new friends.  Some have found that going to rallies allows them to express their anger and despair in productive ways. Some have joined progressive organizations and are doing things they have always wanted to do. And some are cherishing the strength and beauty of life and sharing that with others to imbue the others with a sense of hope in the face of darkness.

It seems to me that our role as therapists is to hear and hold the despair that so many people are experiencing. It is up to them how they want to respond. Having a place to talk freely, without others’ interference, is the gift we can offer.

A Time of Mourning

For many people, and all the people I know, we are in a time of mourning. Our feelings of security, our hope in the future, and our confidence that life was moving in a good direction have all disappeared with the results of this election night.

Now, we are all wondering, what do we do? And, how will life be? What will it be like for us? And what will it be like for the millions of people whose lives were already difficult socially, financially or otherwise? And, where will things go for the planet, for our mother earth, who is already so taxed?

There is so much to worry about and so many unknowns.

It feels to me that we have gone back to the Dark Ages whose main characteristics were intellectual darkness and barbarity. Intellectual darkness seems very apt to me and I believe to countless others.

So, what do we do? We have not lost our intelligence, our perceptiveness, our ability to love. Nor have we lost our ability to listen and seek to understand.

I believe what we need to do first and foremost is offer groups for people to talk and to not be alone with their anxiety and depression.

We need to reach out to the people, animals and plants we already love and love them more!

We need to reach out to people we don’t know and let them tell us about their lives. We need to learn to love them, like in the old South Pacific song, “Getting to know you, getting to feel free and easy.” It takes time to know and love another person, but we can all do that. If we reach beyond our comfortable connections, and enter the world of “people different from ourselves” we can create protection and affirmation for those whose lives are more at risk in this country.

There are political things we can do, from working to end the Electoral College to supporting Standing Rock.

With words, with listening, with dancing, with laughter, with tears, we need to live our lives as fully as possible. Staying connected and putting your heart where your mind is at are important ways to contradict the depression and hopelessness of these times.

A gathering for support and dialogue will be held on December 3rd, 3-5 pm at my house. Donations are welcome, but not mandatory. A portion of the donations will be given to Standing Rock. Please reach out by phone (215-317-8855) or e-mail (claudialistens@gmail.com) for more information.

Staying Sane Over the Holidays

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza…and New Year’s — How do we stay sane?

Strategies:

1. Ask for help: This is probably one of the best ways to stay sane. You may have been raised with the idea that it is best to do everything yourself, that you are the best person to do it all, and, you have to do it perfectly.

Well…These ideas are not necessarily accurate. Doing everything yourself is stressful, often overwhelming and usually does not create good feelings toward other people. So, this year, one way to make the holidays less stressful and more fun is to ask for help. There are other people in your life-partners, friends, siblings, parents, even children and they can all help. Ask them and remember that they will probably feel happier for being asked and getting a chance to be involved!

2. Be realMaybe this time of year would be a great time to start owning up to your true energy and your true needs. Being honest with others and telling them that you can only do “so much” might bring you greater closeness with the people you love.  It will give you a sense of relief. Instead of performing and communicating a false “Everything is well” message, you’ll be sharing your truth. That brings breathing room and also invites other people to share their needs as well

3. Listen to your bodyOur bodies tell us what is going on with us. So, listen. What message is your body giving you? Is it saying, “I can’t do this anymore? I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I need a nap. I need a break. I need to go for a walk in the woods. I need acupuncture, etc.” Rather than pushing through, listen to the message your body is giving you and do what your body is telling you to do. Taking care of your body will give you more energy. And, it will help you to feel emotionally recharged as well!

As the mother of a three year old, I was often exhausted. I learned to tell my daughter that she could play quietly beside me while I took a nap. I always felt better afterwards and had more energy to give to her and whatever else I had to do.

4. Take care of yourself: continue to eat!  Remember: our bodies need to be fed. Don’t stop eating from feeling too busy. Food helps us to stay centered, energized, and nourished.

5. Say yes to yourself: This year my sister and mother surprised the rest of us with their plans for the Christmas season. They were going on a weeklong meditation retreat. This information was a bit of a shock for the rest of us. But, soon, we created other plans. It freed all of us up. So, if not this year, maybe next year, you can say ‘Yes” to a dream of yours. Maybe you can go on a trip to Paris (my dream) or stay local for the holidays or anything else that appeals to you for the holiday season.

Tuning-In

This morning I overhead a little boy say, “I’m tired,” and he lifted his arms up to be picked up. He was with his mom and their dog out for a walk in the woods, as was I.

His mom replied that he had had a good night’s sleep and he could not be tired.

I passed them and she turned to me and said that he could not be tired as he had had a good night’s sleep. I responded by saying that perhaps he needed a bit of love, a hug, to encourage him to walk, and continued on my way.

However, this short interaction stuck with me. I thought more about it and thought: I think the mother wants him to learn to be strong and independent; that’s why she wants him to walk.

I ran into them again and talked more with her. She told me that she gave him a hug after I had spoken and now he was happy and motivated to run along the creek. “Maybe,” I thought, “the hug was what gave him the energy and maybe the creek was exciting enough that he got over feeling tired.”

Either way, when a parent determines whether someone is tired or not, hungry or not, etc. they are overriding their child’s experience rather than tuning in and hearing what their child is saying.

What if this mother had lifted her son up and carried him for a while? What if she said to him then, honestly, that she was tired? Would she not be teaching him many good things?  Such as: his feelings and his experience count; that it is okay to say how you feel and get your needs meet; that it is not necessary for you to override your own feelings.

If this happened, wouldn’t a lot of people be happier because they would trust their own inner voice, their own inner message system?

Try for a day. Take your child’s feelings and go from there. Or, take your own feelings and let them lead you. You may be surprised how much easier life is when you start from the inside out.

Turn Around

Unnoticed

I was away from my neighborhood for three weeks, and was now being back, but without my beloved dog, Willie, who had died in my absence.  I noticed that no one said “Hello” or “Welcome back” nor did anyone ask me, “Where is Willie?”

Astonished

I was astounded. For twelve years, Willie and I walked up and down our street and around the corner two or three times a day. I wondered, “Did no one notice the lack of him?” “Did no one notice that I wasn’t out and about as much?” What was going on?

Testing the Waters

I couldn’t fathom the lack of interest. I decided to “test” the waters and connect to my neighbors and see what happened. So, on Sunday, I crossed the street to offer two pieces of kielbasa to two neighbors with dogs, thinking that their dogs might enjoy the treat. I offered them the meat and they politely declined. They told me that their dogs’ stomachs were too sensitive for such a treat. Nothing more happened between us, leaving me hurt and bewildered.

Worry and Wonder

I began to worry and wonder. Had I done something to cause a rift in my relationship with my neighbors? But, mainly, I was incredulous that none of my neighbors had asked after Willie nor had they said “Welcome home” to me.

My husband’s Suggestion

I talked with my husband about my perturbed thoughts and feelings. He suggested that I talk with the one neighbor for whom I had the most expectations.

Glummer and Glummer

So, there I was, outside, cutting the hedge (being a good neighbor) when she came out of her house. I had been feeling glummer and glummer, to the point where I was not sure I could do my job as a therapist because my own heart was too heavy. I decided to see if she was free to talk for a few minutes and she said “Yes.”

Connecting

I started to talk. Tears welled up because I felt so bad about the lack of human connection on my block and now I was connecting and someone was listening with empathy and caring. My sadness was, at this point, not so much about the loss of Willie but about the lack of caring and connection with my neighbors.

The Mailman, too

I tried to tell my neighbor this, but she mostly heard the loss of Willie. In either case, she was so empathetic that I felt much better. She listened to me, talked with me and hugged me. She asked if she could tell other neighbors. Later that day the mailman expressed sympathy for my loss and some neighbors dropped off a nice note, so I knew she had shared my news. And, she came by with flowers and a note! I felt so loved…me, who had felt alone and ostracized in the earlier part of the day.

Turn Around

This certainly taught me something. It is better to be a bit vulnerable and share one’s experience than to continue to hold one’s feelings in and slowly sink into depression. I keep learning this. I encourage you to take courage in your hands and speak up, without attacking, about what is on your mind. You may be, as I was, surprised by the positive outcome of your communication.

On Getting What You Want

As I walked my dog down the street, three neighbors converged and started talking about a book club. One yelled across the street, suggesting a particular title for the next meeting. I listened to this exchange, continued walking, and noticed that my head hung low. I started wondering, ‘Why wasn’t I a part of this book club?’ These types of thoughts, questions and self-criticisms arose in my head.

Was it because I was older? But K. was older than the other two. Was it because my child no longer lived at home? But, no, K did not have children. Was it because I was Jewish? (This fear came from years of feeling different because I was different (Jewish)).  Was it because I wanted to be connected and my desire was received too strongly?

I felt like running back to them and asking them why I had been left out. I wanted to understand what I had done to alienate them from me.

Despite this pull to both inquire and confront, I walked on. I evaluated which of the neighbors felt the most comfortable to approach. I decided on C.  She seemed genuinely friendly to me and we had little history of anything potentially complicated.

I walked down the next street. Lo and behold, C. was driving past me. There was a red light and I decided to seize the moment! I quickened my pace, got to her car, and said to her, “I’d love to be part of the book club.”

She smiled and said, “That would be great! I’ll let you know when the next book club is.”

There was no judgment, no questioning of my place in the neighborhood in my approach.

I breathed a happy sigh and continued on my way. Now my thoughts were positive and affirming. I had not attacked anyone nor had I conveyed my own self-criticism; I had gotten what I wanted by expressing my interest in a positive and open way. I recognized that this is something we all can do. Say what we want, straightforwardly. How can you find ways to say what you want, in an open and non-judgmental way?