Posts Tagged With: ghosts

Day 3039: Personal growth

Every day, no matter what this blog is about, I categorize it as “Personal growth” in the settings (which appear at the end of each post).

Do you see personal growth in today’s images?

I don’t know if the Daily Bitch would agree with this, but I believe that personal growth is mutual — if we witness somebody else’s personal growth, we personally grow too.

Yesterday, in therapy with someone who struggles with confrontation (and dealing effectively with confrontation is part of everyone’s personal growth), I mentioned how David Letterman used to make difficult phone calls for studio audience members.

Do you see personal growth in this 1995 David Letterman segment I was able to find on YouTube?

Here’s something that Pat Metheny (who was sitting in with Dave’s band that night and who has helped me with my personal growth for decades) was playing with his group in 1995:

If you make a comment, that might help everybody’s personal growth.

Gratitude is part of personal growth, so thanks to everyone who accompanies me on this blogging journey, including YOU.

Categories: group therapy, personal growth, photojournalism, Psychotherapy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Day 246: Good news

Yesterday, I saw my Best Friend Forever, Jeanette, who lives far away, but who was in town this weekend. (That’s another reason I was so lucky yesterday.)

Jeanette and I exchanged a lot of good news and swapped some recent lessons we’ve been learning, including the following:

  1. If you catch yourself  having an old, outmoded thought that no longer helps you, you can “put a period on it” (which reminds me of Beyoncé telling somebody to “put a ring on it,” although it’s actually the opposite.)
  2. Technology can suddenly decide that it knows what you need better than you do, resulting in some temporarily confusing results (e.g., sorting certain e-mails into certain folders, so that you stop seeing them).
  3. If  somebody warns you about danger (or otherwise gives you advice about what you should or shouldn’t do), that doesn’t mean they think you’re stupid, incompetent, childish, or otherwise incapable of taking care of yourself.  They’re letting you know, in their own way, that they care about you.
  4. If somebody you love lives far away from you, you can still connect with them through many different technologies and services, ranging from Facetime to Amtrak.
  5. Ghosts don’t exist, but even if they did exist, they’re probably not evil ghosts, but even if there are evil ghosts, they’re too busy with other things to bother with you, and even if they did bother with you, enough friendly ghosts have passed on, too, who will protect you.
  6. If you make a mistake — such as accidentally parking in a handicapped parking spot in an unfamiliar location — this does not mean that you are evil, even if you have this sitting on your dashboard:Image


Thanks to Jeanette,  Beyoncé, ghosts, ducks, and technology, and to you, also, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Day 137: Ghosts and Bravery

When I was a little kid, I was afraid of ghosts.

I remember, very vividly, sitting stock-still, wide awake — when my mother, father, and sister were all asleep — listening for ghosts.

The ghosts that I was listening for —  among all the noises one hears in the middle of the night — were malevolent.  I feared they meant my family — and me — harm.

(By the way, I had no idea what I was going to write about when I woke up this morning. However, I know I’m writing about the “right thing” now.  How do I know that?  I’m crying,  and I don’t know where this post is going. )

I would sit up in my bed for — how long? It felt like hours, listening for these malevolent ghosts during the night.

Over the years, I’ve talked about these memories with a therapist or two.  I’ve been puzzled by why I was doing that, as a child.

I remember a therapist or two saying, “That sounds like you believed that you and your family were in danger, and you wanted to protect them.”

I remember thinking, in response to these therapists  (and I’m still thinking now): “That’s weird. Why did I think we were in danger?  And why did I think that I — a little girl who was sick a lot, during that time — had the power to protect us? Who did I think I was?  And who did I think was endangering us?”

Again, I’m crying, so I think I’m “on to something” right now.

And I’m not sure what it is, but I’ll do my best to get closer to something helpful, before I end this post, drive my son to school, and go on into work.

The thought, “Who do you think you are?” is one that comes into my mind whenever I think I’m too powerful.  It’s a painful thought, because it’s associated with shame.

Another thing that’s striking me, right now, is how brave and caring I apparently was, as a little kid.  I’ve never had that thought before today, as I’m writing this post for you.

Before today, whenever I’ve thought about that little girl, sitting up in bed, scared of ghosts, wanting to protect her family, these were the thoughts:

 How weird you were. That doesn’t make sense.  What were you thinking?  

But I’m seeing and telling the story, very differently, today.

Here’s something else that is helping me do that.

Yesterday, at work, I had the privilege of facilitating a group where one of the members — a beautiful, intelligent, passionate, caring, emotional woman, who had experienced painful experiences, illnesses, and set-backs in her life — talked about (1) things that made her anxious and (2) ways she “beat herself up.”  Eventually, she told us about some scary experiences she had, as a kid.  And the group, spontaneously and authentically,  told her how much they supported and admired her.

And I wrote the word “bravery” on the white board I have in my office. And I invited everybody in that group yesterday — each of them people who had dealt with crippling anxiety at some point in their lives — to think about how they could see themselves as having been brave in the midst of fear.

In the group, I said something to the beautiful, passionate, crying woman — who had taken the risk of revealing painful memories of her childhood to people she had only met a few times previously.   “I can’t imagine a more vivid picture of bravery than the one you painted for us today. A little girl standing —  scared but unmoving —  between a violent person and a beloved family member.”

And I wasn’t sure whether that was the right thing to say, because I wasn’t sure how she would hear it or take it in.  (But based on what I saw in the faces of all the group members, yesterday,  it looked like it was okay.)

I realize — as I am writing this blog post to you —  I am telling myself the same exact thing I was trying to communicate to that beautiful, passionate, feeling-filled woman yesterday.

I’m picturing my 10-year-old self, frozen with fear at night, listening for malevolent forces in my home, not sure what I might do, but fixated on protecting my family, who were unaware of danger, sleeping peacefully.

And, right now I’m letting in, for myself, what I said to that woman in group yesterday.

I couldn’t imagine a more vivid picture of bravery than that: a little girl, scared and unmoving, trying to protect family members she loved from harm.

I have some surprising new thoughts, this morning:

  • Maybe ghosts do exist in some way. And maybe, just like  “clichés” tell us, they are related to the spirits of people who have passed on from this world.
  • Maybe there are signals, to us, in this world, to help keep us on the “right” track. (And here’s some current “proof” and data for THAT. This beautiful creature, who lives with us, and likes to sit on laps, laptops, and other things,  just improved this post with an editing change:Image.)
  • Maybe, just maybe, ever since I was a little kid,  I’ve been a person who passionately wishes to do well in this world.
  • And maybe part of what I was trying to protect my family from were my own “bad feelings” that I  must have had as a kid (but don’t remember feeling).  That is, maybe I was trying to protect myself and them from the rage and fear that any young kid would have naturally felt — having to leave my family and stay in a place (the hospital) filled with pain and people who appeared not to care about me at all.

Phew!  This was a surprising post. (And I’m not sure if it all makes sense.)

But it felt so important, as I was writing it, that I ended up not driving my son to school this morning — he walked instead. (That, however, resulted in my son and I exchanging many “gifts” before he left,  including both of us — in our own ways — expressing love and trying several new things.)

But now it’s time for me to conclude, this morning.

Thanks for reading, and for taking whatever you need from this, wherever you are.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Day 96: What was that last post about, anyway?

(This post is dedicated to my friend Jeanette, because it’s her birthday today.)

Man, I have been so burnt at work lately, that when I got home last night, I just wanted to do a short and pithy post, and then start some serious weekend chilling.

So the plan was: Post, then coast.

But I wanted to post something that felt important to me. And the phrase “We are neither as unimportant or important as we fear” — or some variation thereof — is one that has been haunting me, in a good way, for about a year.

(I don’t like the idea of being “haunted,” usually. For years and years, I was afraid of ghosts, until my bf cured me of that by saying this to me one day: “Ann. You realize that there are no ghosts, don’t you?”)

Last year, when I was working on a book, the phrase “You are neither as important or unimportant as you fear”  popped into my head. I made it the title of a chapter, which I started writing and stopped writing last year. And I’m not happy with that chapter.  I don’t think I’ve explained that phrase well enough, or even embellished my attempts at explaining it with particularly engaging or useful examples.

Hmmmm. I’m realizing something right now. Self judgment seems to be in the house,  in a more powerful way than usual.

That last paragraph reminded me of how I was last night, when I was in the “Coast” portion of the “Post, then coast” plan. I was talking to my bf at dinner, thinking about my experiences at work, considering stories to tell him, and having these kinds of thoughts:

“I could tell him this story. Nope. Don’t know how to make that interesting and engaging. How about this thing that happened? Nope. Don’t know how to tell it well. That other thing that happened with so-and-so? Nah. Don’t know how to shape that story, either.”

I told my bf last night about how I was struggling with this, as I tried to tell him one story, feeling frustrated with  how inadequately I was telling that one, too. I had so much trouble last night, translating my experience — which had felt interesting and important while I was living it — into a story that somebody else could appreciate and understand.

And that struggle can relate to any kind of communication, can’t it?  Whether we’re blogging, writing a book, talking to somebody (whether we’re in the role of friend, family member, acquaintance, or professional) — how do we translate our inner experience into something of value, that can be received and understood by the other person?  It takes effort, doesn’t it?

So, lately, I haven’t been feeling like I have the wherewithal, the energy, or the skill to shape my experiences into interesting stories. And sharing stories is so vital — as a way to grow personally and to connect with others.

I wrote about this importance of telling and sharing stories, in another chapter from that book — one that I’m satisfied enough with, thank goodness!– called, “You Might as Well be The Hero of Your Own Story” (posted here),  While that chapter includes the pain of not feeling like the hero of your own story, I don’t think I included anything about that other kind of pain — when you struggle in the shaping and sharing of your stories.

Well, I’m realizing that I’m engaging in several cognitive distortions right now, including this one:

All-or-Nothing thinking (also known as “Black-and-White thinking”).
Things are either all good or all bad, people are either perfect or failures, something new will either fix everything or be worthless. There is no middle ground; we place people and situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray, or allowing for complexities.  Watch out for absolute words like “always”, “never,” “totally,” etc. as indications of this kind of distortion.

I’m engaging in All-or-Nothing thinking when I’m thinking that either I can or cannot tell stories.  I’m engaging in All-or-Nothing thinking when  I’m deciding that the stories– or the chapter I’ve written —  are either good enough to share or they are not.  This kind of All-or-Nothing judging about the stories I have to tell — what I want to communicate — is getting in the way of my trying to connect and to share what’s important to me.

So I’m going to try challenge this distortion, right now,  by sharing that Not-Good-Enough chapter —  which I wrote about a year ago.  I’m going to copy it from my Google Document  — suppressing urges to re-write and also losing my investment in the outcome (that is, what you might think about it).

Feel free to read this,  skim it, or skip it entirely (past the copyright symbol), to a birthday greeting to my friend, Jeanette.

Another F***ing Opportunity for Growth:

You are neither as important or as unimportant as you fear

When I was in Social Work school, I went to a presentation about suicide prevention. One of the presenters, who had years of experience working at a crisis prevention center said to the audience of students, “During an initial assessment, you might worry about asking if somebody is suicidal, for fear of making them feel worse. Don’t worry so much about saying the wrong thing! Believe me, you’re not going to have that much of an impact on somebody in crisis. You’re not that important.”

After the presentation, I was walking out with one of my classmates. She had an expression on her face which I’d seen before on fellow students (and in the mirror). With an I’m-so-exhausted-trying to learn-something-that-is-so-hard-and-pays-so-little look, she said, “If I’m not going to be important to patients, why the hell am I doing this?” I could see her point, as well as what the presenter was trying to tell us. I thought for a minute and told her this: This is the way I look at it. Every connection is important.”

What I might have said — instead — is the title of this chapter: We are neither as unimportant or as important as we fear.

In doing group work, I constantly encounter people underestimating and overestimating their impact on others, and I see how this gets in the way of their engaging completely and authentically with each other.

Here’s an important aspect of group therapy work: People usually replicate in a therapy group how they feel and act with other people in their lives. The group becomes kind of a microcosm, a more controlled sampling of how people are interpersonally. Because most of us, at times, feel like we don’t matter to others, naturally a member of a group will feel unimportant at times.

Sometimes these “less-than” feelings can result in a member leaving the group. Or sometimes a member can leave for other reasons. But here’s something I see constantly: Members, when they leave, often believe they won’t be missed. They will choose to leave without saying goodbye. (Even though I will use all possible powers of persuasion to ask them to come and say goodbye. See “Goodbyes are important”.)  No matter what the absent member thinks, the group misses them, every time. The person leaves a hole. And the person has left, so they don’t know. We can’t tell them!

I try to communicate this to group members.  I sometimes let people know after a first meeting, “You are already important to the group, whether or not you believe that.” Also before a person starts participating in  a group, I ask him or her to agree to this: “When you are finished with group, please come to a final meeting to say goodbye, honoring your and the group’s importance.”

Conversely, people can overvalue their own impact on others, and walk on eggshells, for fear of hurting the other person. We can fear that we have the power to create great harm, just by saying the wrong thing. Or if we make a mistake, we can believe that we’ve hurt a person more than we have. We can feel guilt about our imperfections and what we have or haven’t done, and withdraw from people.

That was what that crisis team presenter, at the beginning of this chapter, was trying to tell me and my fellow students. Your words don’t have that much power. You don’t have to always say the right thing. Other people aren’t as fragile — as damaged by your mistakes — as you might fear. People are resilient, and they have others in their lives to temper any effect you might have. Think about all the times people have hurt your feelings or said the wrong thing! You’ve survived all of these.

Again, I see this fear of importance — of the ability to harm others — in groups. People new to group work often constrict and edit themselves, for fear of saying “the wrong thing.” They may squelch any “negative” feelings (like impatience, anger, or uneasiness) they experience towards somebody else, for fear of insulting that person. And if they do say something — often inadvertently — that hurts somebody else, they take that as proof that they were right to be careful. Maybe they should be even more careful from now on! This can put a real crimp in honest, authentic communication.

So here’s something I tell people in group, all the time: You are responsible ONLY for your own feelings and actions. Even though what you say or do will have an effect on others, you are not responsible for what other people feel, say, or do. While this may sound like I’m saying, “Go ahead and be mean to each other! It doesn’t matter!” that’s not it. What I am saying is this: we can only control ourselves, not others. And if we’re too careful about hurting other people (which usually involves mind-reading, anyway), we run the risk of being inauthentic, as well as building up resentments towards others.

I also see this issue of importance play out in people’s experience of self-consciousness. I’m on kind of a rampage about self-consciousness these days, because I see it wreaking negative effects on me and some people I love. I see self-consciousness (a particular kind of self-judgment, I suppose) making people “play small”, “lay low,” and restrict their actions, for fear of how things might appear or look.

When we’re adolescents, and our self-consciousness is in full bloom, we might hear this from other people:

“Don’t worry so much about what other people think. You’re not that important to them. They’re hardly noticing you.”

But that doesn’t feel so good, does it? I mean, we want to be noticed, don’t we? We want to matter!

But then, we might feel shame about wanting to be noticed and feel like a fool for thinking that maybe we mattered to other people. Being noticed is probably better than being invisible, isn’t it?

I think about this when I’m walking around, singing out loud  (something I love to do and which I’ve been indulging in more lately).  When I’m challenging my own self-consciousness, it helps me to think about the title of this chapter.  People may notice me when I’m doing something that looks goofy. They may think, “That’s weird.” They may glance, judge, and then instantly forget about it. They may not notice me at all.   Knowing I’m not as important or unimportant as I fear,  frees me up to sing out loud, walking around in the world, without caring what others think.

So figuring out our own importance to others is complicated, difficult to know (because we’re not mind readers), and seemingly endless. It can engage shame, self-consciousness, narcissism, hopes, and fear.

But it’s neither as important or as unimportant as we fear.

©  2013 Ann Koplow

Phew!  I’m glad I posted that here.  That helped me, for sure.

Now for the birthday greeting to my friend Jeanette.  This is a YouTube video of a Pat Metheny song that we’ve both loved for years —  “Are You Going With Me?”   (in a version that’s relatively new to us).

Dear Jeanette,

Thank you for answering the question “Are you going with me?”  with a  “Yes!” for all these years.

Love,  Ann

And dear reader?

Thanks for going with me here, too.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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