Posts Tagged With: Narrative Therapy

Day 312: Exceptions

When I started this blog, at the beginning of this year, I set a structure for it, as expressed in my About page:

This blog is part of my creative process.

It’s also a way to work on my  growing acceptance and appreciation of life, and to share and develop some of the wisdom I’ve been slowly accumulating. My commitment is to start on January 1, 2013 and to blog once daily, throughout 2013.

So I made a commitment to blog once daily.

A commitment  I have kept, all year.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I decided to blog twice, because I wanted to send out a targeted message — a message to people who receive emails whenever I publish.

You see, I recently started sending myself email messages of my own posts. As a result, after I published yesterday’s post — which had some cool video clips of dances —  I got some important, new information. The emailed version of that post, which I received, did not include any of those videos.

So I was presented with a problem. And when my mind perceives a problem, it really goes to town!  Here are some of the thoughts I had:

Hmm.  The email I received had no video clips.  That’s too bad!  I assume that other people who get emails of my posts didn’t get those clips, either. I really like those clips.  Maybe other people wouldn’t like them, though!  Maybe people get annoyed when I include video clips!  Who wants to play a video clip when they’re reading a blog?  I do, dammit!  And I at least want to give people the choice to play those clips if they want to. I wonder if people who get the emailed posts know that they can easily go to WordPress and see the entire post, just by clicking on the name of the post?  Geesh!  What should I do about this? People who get emailed posts are only a portion of my reading audience.  Shall I send them each an email?  Nahhh. That would take too long. Hey!  Why don’t I just send out another post?  That’s not the best way to reach a portion of an audience — because there are lots of people it won’t apply to — but why not?  What’s the worst that could happen?  The people who it doesn’t apply to can just ignore it. Maybe it will confuse some people, but so what? Of course, I’ll be blogging twice, and I committed to blogging once. Arrghhh!

I tell you, my mind is one scary place to visit sometimes.  All those thoughts!  All that back-and-forth action, about one simple, relatively unimportant issue.

Although, in defense of me, some of that frenzied thought action was due to this:  Commitments ARE very important to me. I like to stick to commitments. I think it’s an excellent way to live.

But it’s also important to prioritize and let go of perfectionism, when it comes to commitments.  While I try very hard to keep ALL commitments and promises, that’s pretty darn impossible, isn’t it?  Some commitments are definitely more important than others.

For example, it’s okay to break a social commitment, every once in a while, to take care of myself. Yes, it is.

Ann!  Are you listening?

(That’s something I have trouble remembering.)

Some might say that breaking commitments is a “slippery slope.”  That is, once you start going back on promises, you’ll end up breaking lots of them.

To me, right now, that sounds like All-or-Nothing thinking. And Labeling, too. (See here for a list of those and other cognitive distortions.)   That is, either I have to be 100% about commitments or … I’ll turn into a  Dirty, Rotten Promise-Breaker.

I’m not a Promise-Breaker, people!  I can declare that now, even though I “broke” a commitment yesterday.


Yesterday, after I had all those thoughts, in italics above, about that Momentous Breach of Commitment, I had this, more helpful thought:

If I make an exception and post twice, that will be a great opportunity to write about the helpful side of exceptions.

Exceptions are an important concept in Narrative Therapy (which I’ve written about previously this year — like here —  because it’s one of my favorite ways of working with people).

Here’s what Narrative Therapy says about Exceptions:

  1. People tend to tell certain types of stories about themselves.
  2. Some of those stories are “stuck”, unhelpful, negative, and limiting.
  3. Whenever people tell negative stories about themselves, they are ignoring exceptions to that fixed story.

So, when people tell me stories about how incompetent, inadequate, lazy, worthless, etc. they are, I pull for the exceptions to those stories. I ask questions,  to invite the times, the actions, the moments that don’t fit those negative self-judgments.

And those exceptions are ALWAYS there.  Always.

Sometimes, it takes some digging, to discover them.


But there’s no better buried treasure, I believe.

Now that I’ve inserted an image in this post, let’s see what Google Images has for us, today, regarding “exceptions”.

Here we go!


Thanks to James Thurber, SQL Soldier (for the buried treasure image), exception-makers,  kind commitment-breakers, and to you, especially, for visiting today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Day 186: Watch out

I have a large collection of unusual and inexpensive watches. I started this collection over 35 years ago.

The collection got much larger when eBay came along — when it became much easier to find watches that fit my Collecting Criteria.

The number of watches I collected got a little scary. Actually, the number didn’t scare me, but I noticed that people had a reaction to that number — which looked a little like fear but might have just been surprise — when I would ask them to guess:

How many watches do you think I have?

People would always guess much lower than the actual number, even though I would explain — just as I did above — that I liked to collect these and that they were very accessible through eBay.

Collecting these watches definitely met some sort of need. I guess any kind of collecting behavior can seem like a compulsion. It didn’t feel like a compulsion; but I did spend a fair amount of time looking for watches, deciding about them, and adding new ones to my collection. It was fun.

Was it a habit? An addiction?

I’m reminded of a joke:

I may be addicted to drinking brake fluid, but I can stop at any time.

I kept collecting watches, for many years, growing my collection. And I did have Too Many watches to keep track of, to wear, and — especially — to keep supplied with fresh batteries.

But it was an enjoyable and harmless distraction, and I had some very cool watches. So I kept collecting.

Except one day, I stopped.

I stopped after I had a dream. In that dream, I was wearing a watch and the watch turned into a cardiac pacemaker.

And I woke up from that dream and said, “Duh.”

“Duh,” as in, “Wow. That makes a lot of sense.”

Here’s why:

I got my first cardiac pacemaker implanted when I was 10 years old. I had no choice over the matter. I will be dependent upon a pacemaker until I die. I have no control over all that.

I can tell the story of Ann and Her Pacemaker in lots of different ways.

Triumphant: I am the longest surviving person in the world with a pacemaker!*

Painful: I wasn’t prepared very well, before I got my first pacemaker at age 10. I spent a lot of time — some of it alone and scared — in the hospital.

The stories we tell can be a way of getting control over things.

Collecting watches was another way, for me.

Pacemakers and watches have a lot in common. They both are man-made devices that people wear. They are devices designed to measure and mark time, in an important way. As a matter of fact, all the pacemakers I got, until I was well into my 30’s, had a fixed rate. That is, they would produce the same number of beats per minute, every minute, until they ran down. The main difference between those pacemakers and a watch: my pacemakers were set for 70 beats for minute, instead of 60.

Anyway, once I realized WHY I was collecting watches — in a new and deeper way — I stopped needing to collect them. I’ve bought a watch or two since then, but very rarely.

I mean, I have enough watches, people.

Before I end this post, I wanted to share one of my favorite watches with you:


I got this watch on eBay, many years ago, when it came up in my saved search “unusual watches.”

This watch was developed by a woman who worked with kids who had cancer. In the eBay listing, she told the story of how she was working with a little boy who was having trouble expressing his fear of dealing with the diagnosis and the necessary procedures. On an impulse, she drew the picture of the character, whom she dubbed, “Scared Guy.” Scared Guy helped the little boy talk about his fear.

She later turned “Scared Guy” into a charitable enterprise, and she created and offered merchandise — including watches — using that character she drew for the little boy. The proceeds either went to supporting cancer research or other aspects of work with children who had cancer — I can’t remember, exactly.

I would give you more details about “Scared Guy ™” but I can’t find anything listed on the internet this morning. I do have the original watch box somewhere, which would tell me more, but I’m not looking for that right now.

I don’t have the time.

I have to get ready to go into the hospital, where I work.

And, I confess, I’m kind of a Scared Guy, today.

Why? There will be very few people around today, at the hospital where I work, because it’s the day after the July 4th holiday. I’m the only one there who has certain responsibilities. I may need to do some difficult and new things.

It’s a little too close, for comfort, to the old story I tell about my childhood, where I’m in a hospital, feeling alone, lost, and confused.

However, there are lots of differences today.

For one, I’ll be wearing that watch.

Thanks for being here, and reading, today.

* In 2014, I found out that I am NOT the longest surviving person in the world with a pacemaker.  See this post for more about that.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Day 146: To boldly go where no Ann has gone before

My son, my bf, and I saw the new movie “Star Trek Into Darkness” last night. (I originally thought there MUST be a punctuation mark in that title — perhaps a “:” or a “,” or even a “.” But no. Nada.)

My son had one major question after the movie: “Why was it called ‘Into Darkness?'”

I said, “Maybe because of the way the movie was lit?”  Now that might sound like I was being all snark-y and Film School-y (and I did go to Film School, when I was in my 30’s), but I thought the movie was fine.

Regular readers of my blog may know that I love Star Trek, The Original Series (or TOS,  an acronym which is NOT immediately obvious to me, whenever it pops up). Even if readers don’t know of my feelings about TOS (The Original Series, for those of you who couldn’t hold on to that non-intuitive acronym even for a moment, like me), they may remember that I have written several posts referencing that TV show (here, here, and here).

I’ve used Star Trek (I’m dumping the whole TOS acronym for the rest of this post, people) in this blog, mostly to illustrate an experience I’ve been having, during this Year of Living Non-Judgmentally:

Accelerated Learning,

as illustrated by this Star Trek “villain” (played by Gary Lockwood):

gary-lockwood (1)

who became too smart and powerful, too fast, (with too shiny eyeballs), for his own good.

I just re-read that first post about Accelerated Learning, and you know what?  There’s a lot of Good Stuff in that post, to the extent that I thought, “I wonder if I have anything else to teach them?” (or more to the point, anything else to blog about, for the rest of the year.)

(I’m actually not worried about that, in the moment, although I AM feeling a wee bit … conceited, right now, having essentially “bragged” about how helpful I think that post might be, as well as having put myself in the role of “teacher.”)  (Okay, I’m letting go of any guilt about THAT, right now.)


Another thing I’ve been experiencing, this year, is a LOT of Synchronicity.

Here’s a definition of synchronicity:

syn·chro·nic·i·ty  (sngkr-ns-t, sn-)
n. pl. syn·chro·nic·i·ties
1. the quality or fact of being synchronous.
2. the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung.

Note the reference to Carl Jung, who is one of my Therapy Heroes.  (Another Therapy Hero was the gentle and wonderful Michael White, from Narrative Therapy.)

(Note also that the first definition, above, is essentially useless, as it refers to another form of the same word.)

Something else to note: another word for the concept of synchronicity is “coincidence.”

Here’s something I’ve noticed. I get really excited about coincidences, and not everybody does. 

Sometimes I think: there are two kinds of people in this world. People who get excited about coincidences and people who don’t.

Sometime I think:  there are two kinds of people in this world. People who think there are two kinds of people in this world and people who don’t.

So where was I, before all those digressions in parentheses AND italics?

Oh, yes.  Star Trek.  And Synchronicity.

So, right around the time that I was blogging so much about the shiny-eyeballed, scarily-smart Gary Lockwood character from Star Trek, rumors were swirling around the internet about the new Star Trek Movie, to be released in May.

And one of the rumors I read was this:

The villain in the new Star Trek Movie will be some version of the Gary Lockwood character in The Original Series.

I thought, “Wow!  How cool is that?  I’ll have to tell my dear readers about THAT little piece of synchronicity!”  Then, that turned out to be an old, outdated rumor.  Oh, well.

But, here was a “true rumor”:  the villain was going to be played by THIS guy:


Benedict Cumberbatch.  Who is known, these days, for playing somebody else: another hero, who is important to me.

Sherlock Holmes.

I remember, when I was about 13 years old, spending one whole summer reading this book:


I spent an entire summer reading this book, not because I was a slow reader (I wasn’t), but because there was SO MUCH information in this book.  Yes, people, there’s a reason why the word “ANNOTATED” is the biggest word in that title.  OMG.

But I loved reading  every word, every minute detail, as I made my way through these wonderful stories, starring the World’s Greatest Detective.

Why is Sherlock Holmes one of my heroes?

  • He is really smart.
  • He pays attention, all the time.
  • He doesn’t care what other people think about him.
  • He takes in all the details of all his senses, to solve problems.

It’s occurring to me, for the first time, that Sherlock Holmes is somebody who is REALLY mindful, in each moment.

Now I understand, in a new way, why he’s one of my heroes.

Thanks for reading, everybody!  (And I’m wondering about YOUR thoughts — regarding heroes, villains, synchronicity, Star Trek,  punctuation, or anything else you got out of this post.)

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

Day 122: Progress Report

Here’s a list of some areas where I’ve been making some real progress:

1. Setting priorities.

I’ve been including taking care of myself as an important consideration, when I’m deciding on my next choice, next step,  or next decision (especially when I’m overwhelmed).

Also, I am letting go of some anxiety and fear of consequences when I’m making choices (for example, “If I make this decision, what if it’s the WRONG one?).  That  helps me think more clearly and make more balanced decisions.

2. Being present in the moment.

Letting go of anxiety regarding fear of consequences (see directly above) is helping with that, too. What’s also helping?  The fact that it is so friggin’ beautiful outside right now …


… as Spring has sprung in  Boston.

3. Realizing I have “all the time I need.”  

This really helps me, when I’m overwhelmed. I’ve been having some trouble sleeping lately, so it  is especially helping  me to take my time, be careful, and think. I notice that when I take my time, I get as much done as when I’m rushing (and I make fewer mistakes).

4. Sleeping.

Yes, I see progress there, too. For example, I’ve been falling asleep more easily.  My sleep challenge, lately, has been waking up in the middle of the night, and having trouble getting back to sleep. Last night, though, I did some things differently.  When I woke up (probably around 4 AM), I:

  1. did NOT look at the clock,
  2. noticed my thoughts about what I might blog about today,  but let them go, and
  3. noticed my fears about possible disconnects with people, but let them go, and
  4.  noticed my guilt about things I haven’t gotten done, but let them go.

5. Writing.

Doing this daily blog has helped improve my writing.  Also, it’s helped me tell my story in a “better” (more healing, more clearly, more nuanced, more balanced) way.

6. Self-consciousness.

I’m not as concerned, lately, about what other people think, especially when I’m doing “weird” things, like walking down the street, listening to music and singing. What does “weird” mean to me?  Well, I don’t see too many other people walking and singing out loud.  However — here’s a thought — when I do see other people doing that — I like it!

What’s help me reduce self-consciousness?  Thoughts like that one I just had, above, plus:

  1. Letting go of mind-reading (I don’t know what other people are really thinking)
  2. Realizing that I am neither as important nor as unimportant as I fear (most people aren’t noticing)
  3. Realizing if my worst fear is true (that other people think I’m weird) … SO WHAT?

6. Mistakes.

When I realize that I’ve made a mistake, especially one  that might

  1.  cause a disconnect with somebody else or
  2.  “get me into trouble” (especially at work) ….

… I STILL get a sinking feeling and panic a little. But that panic has been passing more quickly.

Also, I’ve been able to say helpful things to myself quickly, such as

  1. “it’s probably not as bad as you fear,”
  2. “you can probably repair this”, or
  3.  (once a week or so) “SO WHAT?”

Okay, that’s the end of my progress report, for today.

In the therapy groups I do — if it’s appropriate, comfortable, and the group wants to do it — we applaud when somebody reports progress (or doing something new).

applause, please

Are there areas for improvement?  Oh my goodness, yes.  And, originally, when I first start writing this post, I wanted to highlight those.  However, since that list would include

  1. giving myself more credit for what I am doing (rather than focusing on what I’m NOT doing) and
  2. feeling good about my accomplishments (without thinking I’m being too self-absorbed or conceited),

I’m going to bring this post to an end.

If  you want to read more about cognitive distortions, like mind-reading, check this out.

If you want more information about ways to challenge these distortions (including the “So what?” method), see here.

And, as always, thanks for reading, everybody.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Day 105: Everything makes sense on some level(s)

This seems like an important topic to me.

It really helps me to remember that everything makes sense on some level. (This seems to help other people, too.)

It’s something that I tend to forget, though.

It’s something that I keep re-learning, in new ways, as I grow.  (See this post, which people really seem to like, about re-learning things as we move through life.)

I want to start writing about this topic, in a new way, today.  I want to start telling the story differently.  (See this post, which people seem to like even more than the other one I just mentioned, about the importance of how we tell stories.)

I want to give myself room to write about this briefly — to start the conversation with you.  Because that’s another important lesson I’ve learned — it’s really valuable just to connect authentically, even for a few moments,  and start a conversation with somebody.

Really Brief Digression about the Presentation I Started Giving Last Week

At the end of the presentation I gave — called “The Power of Groups” (which is really about connecting effectively with patients, no matter where —  a medical resident put this beautifully. He said,  “What I learned today was that it’s a great start just to (1) validate a patient and (2) give them some next steps.”  (It made me so happy, that he (re-)learned that.)

End of Brief Digression

So, this is how I want to begin the conversation about this topic today.  I want to start listing things that freak me out — things that make me “too anxious,” and which can make me almost unbearably anxious when I’m under stress.

Today, I just want to name these things (thus reducing their power) and give a little bit of data about them, to start proving that they make sense on some level(s).

I am also going to divide the data into different types:  Reasons That I Share With Others (which help me feel connected to other people) and Reasons That Can Make Me Feel Different (and therefore alone).  This is something I notice all the time, in my work as a group therapist — people connect — and heal — when they realize they are not alone with feelings and experiences. At the same time, they can disconnect about things they feel alone about (and shame about).

Another thing I’ve been learning lately:  the things that make me feel alone and different might not be as isolating as I think.  So I’m going to address that in this list, too.

One More Digression (to stall and also — I hope — to be helpful)

Before I launch into this  list , which feels new, and therefore scary (see here for a fun post about that) (and yes, I am stalling — or “procrastinating” — by throwing in lots of links, because I’m anxious about writing this),  I just wanted to let you know that Naming Things and Gathering Data are #1 and #2 on  This List of Coping Strategies  — even if I don’t call them that on the list.

End of Last Digression

Okay!  Deep breath …..

Things That Freak Me Out “Too Much

# 1 : Giving a presentation freaks me out.

Why this makes sense to most people:

The top two fears of people are public speaking and death.  (See this post for more about that, plus a quote from Jerry Seinfeld.)

Why this makes sense to (only) me:

Because, when I was in college, right before I graduated, the administration decided to give English Majors an Oral Exam (as a way to reduce grade inflation).  The board of professors who gave me that exam were very tough (I experienced them as shaming and humiliating).  I started out gamely, but things they said, (like “You are about to graduate from THIS SCHOOL and you don’t know THAT??”) made me so anxious, that I kept doing worse and worse.  I felt like I was freezing and my brain slowed down, and I remembered less and less. I left the room and burst into tears.  I knew I had screwed up.  When I told a friend how I had done, he said to me, “Oh, Ann. You always think you’ve screwed up.  I know one of the professors who was there. I’ll ask him.” And I remember my friend’s face when he said to me, “I spoke to him. You were right. You failed the exam.”  And I still graduated, with honors, but at  a (much) lower level.

Why that story of mine isn’t so different from lots of other stories:

Many people have had experiences of feeling humiliated while they were speaking in front of others.

#2:  When things don’t work the way I expect them to (especially technology), I freak out.

Why this makes sense to most people:

Lots of reasons: It’s frustrating when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to!  Most of us are trying to do too much with too little, and if things don’t work correctly, we feel like we don’t have time to spare to correct for that.   Some of us, who are older, feel like we can’t keep up with all the changes in technology (computers, cell phones, etc.). Even low-tech devices (like food processors, which freak me out) require a learning curve to use smoothly.

Why this makes sense to (only) me:

I am dependent upon a technological device — a cardiac pacemaker — to help me survive.  When man-made devices fail, that reminds me (on a subconscious level, usually) that my pacemaker can fail, too. (And I had several pacemakers that didn’t work so well , when both I and pacemaker technology were very young.)

Why this story of mine isn’t so different from lots of other stories:

Hmmm. I’m not sure about this one.  Maybe … lots of people feel REALLY dependent upon technology these days.

#3.  People not telling me the truth freaks me out.

Why this makes sense to most people:

Nobody likes being lied to. It can feel like a betrayal.

Why this makes sense to (only) me:

When  I was a kid in the hospital, and had gotten my first pacemaker, nobody prepared me for what it was going to look like in my body. (It was big and it stuck out under my skin, A LOT.) When I first saw it and asked what it was, a nurse — who was the only person there while I asked — lied to me about it.  She said it was just my hip, swollen from the surgery.  (By the way, this was the story that I didn’t feel ready to tell while I was writing this post.)

Why that story of mine isn’t so different from lots of other stories:

Lots of people have been lied to — when they were small, vulnerable, and powerless –  by those who were supposed to be taking care of them (and protecting them).

Oh.  I guess this is going to be a short list this morning.

It’s a beginning list, isn’t it?

And, you know what? I just told a story — that’s really important to me —  in a new way.  In a short way. In a contained way.  In a way to honor my difference and uniqueness, but also to connect with others.

And I feel better. I feel like I changed something here.

So that concludes our post for today, ladies and gentlemen.

I hope this post made sense (to you).  It made lots of sense to me.

Thank you, so much, for reading today.

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

Day 62: Self Disclosure

Self disclosure — what I reveal about myself — is something I think about a lot, in my work as a group and individual psychotherapist and, now, here in the blogosphere.

Some people who comment to me about this blog have said, “You are so brave, revealing so much of yourself!” I don’t feel brave about what I am writing here. As I’ve said in several other posts, I choose what to write here based on What Will Help Me To Write, in the moment. One might call that selfishness, not bravery.

At the same time,  I recognize that it does take courage for people to expose themselves — because exposure increases vulnerability.

And I do feel fear, at times, after I launch a post into the Blogosphere with the “Publish” button. Sometimes, before clicking that Blue Square of Publishing, I hesitate. And after the launch, several fearful questions can arise — ones that I witness people experiencing in group therapy — such as, Did I reveal too much? Have I put myself in some danger now? Will I lose some people? Will I get hurt? Will I hurt others?

In my work, I am not a “blank slate” kind of therapist. My style is to self disclose, in a thoughtful way. I do let people know what I’m thinking, authentically, usually focusing on their issues — on their journey. When I self-disclose as a therapist, I often ask myself this question first, “Who is this for?” and I let the answer, “For the other person” help guide my choices in self-disclosure.

But the truth is that the answer to that question, “Who is this for?” isn’t a simple one, because any self-disclosure I do is also for … me.

I also guide and limit my self-disclosures as a therapist in another way. I don’t tell people personal details about myself and my life outside of my work. I reveal “existential” information about myself — that is, how I experience and deal with primal, human issues, like dealing with loss, self-doubt, fear, the need to connect with others, and so on.

And I have heard from many clients, patients, and group members — people I’ve worked with in different ways — that the way I self-disclose has been very helpful for them.

But my self-disclosure as a therapist is something I have some fears about, because there are no clear rules. Or — especially in the Earlier Days of Psychotherapy — the Rules of Self-Disclosure can be very rigid, like “Thou Shalt Reveal NOTHING!” And psychotherapy is not a science, folks, as much as some practitioners may want to think that it is, or believe that it’s getting closer to a science. So, to a certain extent, those of us in the Therapy Biz are all making this up as we go along. (Mind-Reading Moment: I’m imagining other therapists reading this paragraph and getting angry.) (Catastrophizing Moment: I’m imagining losing credibility in the Therapy Biz because of what I’m writing here.)

Phew! As usual, catching myself Mind Reading, Catastrophizing, or engaging in any other cognitive distortion — like I just did in that last paragraph —  helps me to let go of fear. And I feel better!

So where was I?

Here’s some self disclosure.  When I ask myself  “So where was I?” I am really asking, what did I want to communicate here?  That is, What was my wish, my intent for this communication?  Because that guides what I choose to write, even if I “veer off” along the way with extraneous thoughts.

Here’s some more self disclosure. I am a lot more forgiving of other people’s imperfections or humanity than I am of my own.  People I witness often apologize to me about their asides, their digressions — how they get “waylaid” when they are telling a story, by “extraneous” thoughts.  When they apologize, I often say, completely authentically — “That’s the way people tell stories.”

But yet, I have trouble forgiving that humanity — that we are not perfect, linear story tellers — in myself.

Which reminds me of  one of the Antidotes (to Cognitive Distortions) I’ve been collecting:

  • The “Double-Standard” Method. Instead of judging yourself harshly, talk to yourself as compassionately as you might to a friend with a similar problem. Also, ask yourself, “How would I react if somebody else did this?”

So, to go back to that “Where was I?” question — What was it I wanted to reveal here today?  What did I think would help me to write?  Which also includes this:  What did I feel a yearning to communicate to you, my reader, today?

Here are  some things I wanted to self-disclose today:

I wanted to let you know about other important members of My Team (people who help me survive in this world by giving me personal or practical support). The team members I wanted to tell you about today include Bob and Laurie, who work at the Pacemaker Clinic, where I go for periodic check-ups.


I wanted to let you know that I’ve felt connected to Bob for several years, and that I appreciate, so much, how he treats me with respect.

I  also wanted to let you know that, until Thursday (when I took this picture),  I feared working with Laurie, because I did not feel connected with her. Because her style is so different from mine, I projected judgment onto her, and mind-read that she was thinking negative things about me, like “This woman is  a pain-in-the-neck patient.”  “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

I wanted to let you know something else about Laurie and my encounter with her on Thursday: I expected to work with another person at the clinic that day, named Melanie, whom I’ve known, trusted, and pretty-much-loved for over 20 years, and when Laurie came to get me for my test,  I knew that I was showing my disappointment.  As Laurie was putting the electrodes on me for my pacemaker test (which, honestly, has scared me for each of the hundreds of times I’ve had those tests before), I felt so lousy — with disappointment, anger, fear, and disconnection —  that I decided to do something new and be authentic with her. So I said, ” Laurie.  I don’t feel a connection to you. I wanted to let you know that.  I also wanted to say something, that feels important, to myself and to you, right now.  It used to be important to me, when I was a kid, to feel connected to everybody who treated me medically.  But I’m not a kid any more. I don’t need that connection with everybody who treats me.”

I don’t know if Laurie understood everything I was saying to her, but she was authentic with me, too. She told me, in her own words, “I know you don’t feel connected to me. I know you feel much more connected to the other people here.  That’s why I offered you the chance to wait for Bob to be available. Not everybody feels connected to everybody else.  Some people feel connected to me, others don’t.”

And that exchange with Laurie was one of the best things that happened to me that day.

It was also great to see Bob after my test (which showed that everything was working great, by the way) and to blab with him a mile-a-minute about birthdays, vacations, What’s Going On With My Pacemaker, etc. etc.

And when I asked if I could take a picture of both Laurie and Bob and put them in my blog, they both seemed pleased to oblige.

I also wanted to tell you that after I took this picture of Laurie and Bob, I met with Dr. Mark Estes, who is one of  two Crack Cardiologists on my team.

The Lead Cardiologist on My Team is Dr. Deeb Salem, whom I’ve been working with for over 30 years and who I pretty-much-adore, because he, from the moment I met him — when I was interviewing cardiologists after I decided to leave Children’s Hospital, where I had been treated from birth —  showed me how smart he was and also treated me with respect. He let me know that he would treat me as a partner and an equal if we worked together.

And — like they did in my first encounter with my mechanic, Mark —  all my Trust Indicators came up green when I first met Dr Salem.  And Dr. Salem has been incredible — the most appreciated Medical Team Member I could ever imagine — ever since.

But I wanted to tell you, today, about Dr. Estes.  Dr. Estes — because his style is different from mine — is also somebody with whom I’ve Mind Read in the past. That is, I’ve projected judgment onto him, specifically fearing that he might experience me as a pain-in-the-neck patient.  And this is totally unfair to Dr. Estes, which I’ve known before, but which hit me with a burst of new understanding on Thursday, when he sat down and talked to me for about fifteen minutes after my pacemaker test with Laurie.

Dr. Estes is a very smart, very well-respected pacemaker specialist. He is also kind, thoughtful, and — above all — a very modest guy. As he self-disclosed to me on Thursday, “It’s my Quaker background.”  He did not want me to take a picture of him and feature him in a blog post because, as he said in his own words,  I don’t want to do anything that seems like self-promotion.

Dr. Estes also let me know, in new ways on Thursday — which I was able to take in because of the work I’ve been doing on self-acceptance — that he really appreciates me as a patient. He acknowledged that other doctors might find me a handful, because — as he said in his own words — I’m intelligent, I ask lots of questions, and I am complicated medically — but he said this to me, very clearly, on Thursday: I really enjoy working with you, Ann, exactly how you are.

And those encounters I had at The Pacemaker Clinic on Thursday felt so important to me, so liberating, so moving, that I walked away from that appointment, with tears in my eyes.

And I have tears in my eyes, now, dear reader.

Okay.  My work here is done today.

Thank you so much for witnessing, as I self-disclose along this always surprising, team-supported journey.

P.S.  I don’t think I will hesitate much before pressing “Publish” today.

P.P.S. Which is amazing!

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Day 60: Why I’m not listening to the news these days

I used to listen to the news on the radio.

I’ve stopped.

The stories on the news are boring. They’re repetitive.They’re polarized into black and white, with no interesting grays.

The stories on the news have poor character development. People seem simple, reduced to quick definitions. Any shadings seem suspect and facile, provided by others with agendas.

The stories on the news focus on catastrophes. They predict the future and speculate what others are thinking. I hear blaming, all the time. And comparisons. Labeling. Shoulds.  Negative filtering. (The News: a festival of cognitive distortions.)

I can’t listen to news stories any more. I can’t bear the emptiness I find there.

The stories on the news seem arid and soulless, especially compared to the stories I am hearing people tell these days. I get to hear stories that are full-bodied, nuanced, and complex. I am riveted. I believe these stories. I care how they turn out.

The stories I’m choosing to witness these days speak to me of hope, not dread or emptiness.  Whether I encounter them in person or on the blogosphere, these stories are about expansion, not restriction.

I wonder if I’ll ever listen to the news again?

Thanks for reading this story, today.

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Day 57: My Team (Position, Mechanic)

One of my favorite concepts from  Narrative Therapy is The Personal Team.  I love asking people questions about their team, like “Who is on your team?” “Is this person really on your team?”  “Who might you add to your team?”

The more conventional term for Personal Team is “support system,” defined by  Merriam-Webster as “a network of people who provide an individual with practical or emotional support.”

I am happy to report that I’ve got a great Mechanic on my team these days.  For a long time, I’ve believed that Mechanic is one of THE critical team positions (if you have a car).  (Another critical team position —  for me — is Hair Stylist, but that’s another topic.)

Here’s my Mechanic:


This is Mark Jamieson. I first drove into his establishment — P & M Service Center, in Belmont —  about a year ago, looking for a new mechanic. When I first talked to Mark, my Trust Indicators all came up green.  And all my dealings with Mark and his service station have been consistently positive since.

Yesterday, after he did my yearly automobile inspection, I asked Mark if I could put him in this blog. He then told me some great stories, some of which I’ll include here.

When Mark was 12, he decided he wanted to start a business fixing lawn mowers, because he enjoyed doing mechanical things like that.  He asked his father (whom Mark describes as  “not mechanical at all”) to lend him $2 so he could advertise his lawn-mower repair abilities in the local paper.   And he got responses, really quickly.

Mark’s first customer — whom he remembers vividly —  asked Mark how much he would charge to fix his lawn mower. Mark, who hadn’t thought about money at all, took a wild guess and said, “50 cents?”  The customer replied, “No!  You have to charge more! You have to charge what your services are worth!” That customer suggested that Mark  charge $2, so he was able to pay his father back the loan immediately.

Very soon, lots of lawn mowers — and snow blowers, too — showed up on Mark’s front lawn. Mark fixed lots of lawn mowers and snow blowers  for a whole year (until his mother had had it with the mowers and blowers parked on the lawn).

When Mark was 19, on 12/1/1978, he bought the service establishment which is now P & M — where I happily bring my car.

As Mark told me stories about his work history, what kept coming through were lots of qualities I admire, including his continuing interest and pride in his work,  as well as an adherence to personal and professional values.

For example, Mark told me that he can tell, very quickly, when he meets a new customer, whether this is going to be a good match.  In Mark’s words, “everybody has to be comfortable.”  And if there isn’t that mutual comfort and satisfaction with the business relationship,  Mark says, “I don’t need everybody’s business.”  If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. (I told Mark I could relate to what he was saying.)

Before I left, Mark wanted to tell me this last story:

When Mark was  19 — his first year owning the service station — a new customer brought in a 1974 Ford Maverick. The Maverick owner told Mark that the car wouldn’t start and that it obviously needed a new starter. When Mark started to explain to this customer his usual plan — to check out the car and diagnose what was wrong with it — the guy got irate and said, “Hey!  I know what it needs!  The starter is broken!  Just do what I’m telling you and put in a new one!”   So Mark and his team put in a new starter, just as this guy had insisted. When this guy returned to pick up his car and tried to start the car, nothing happened.  The guy was very angry.  Mark told him, “Yes. It won’t start. That’s because you wouldn’t let us find out what was wrong with it  and fix it.”

I loved the way Mark told this story; I only hope I captured a flavor of how much fun he had telling me this.

Mark also told me yesterday, “I’m not a big Internet user”, but he knew that there was a website online where people shared opinions about service stations. He said, “We’ve won best service station for this area,”  which he hears about through new customers. And after I first met Mark, last year, I checked out my intuition about him and his service station on the internet and — indeed — the reviews were excellent.

Mark also has people working for him who are all helpful  and a pleasure to deal with. Here’s one of them:


This is Tom. He helped me find my cell phone last week, with a lot of good humor.  (I had actually dropped it outside the service station, on a day when I was pretty sleep-deprived.)

Tom is more of an internet user than Mark, and he told me he’d be able to find this blog, easy.  Mark asked me to e-mail him the link so he could check it out. Actually, I’m going to drop by tomorrow, on my way to work, and show this post to Mark, to make sure I got the stories right. (I really value people’s stories and want to make sure I tell them correctly.)

Thanks for reading these stories today. And, dear reader,  I hope you have a good mechanic — and other good players — on your team.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Day 41: Love, Fears, Internalized “Isms”, AND the Circus!

So, unlike yesterday’s post, this is NOT going to be a short one. (However, like yesterday’s post, I AM starting it during the middle of the night.)

This post may also be one of the more ambitious ones I’ve written so far, in this Year of Living Non-Judgmentally. I’m guessing that I’ll be writing (and re-writing) THIS post throughout the 24-hour period of Day 41.

(Loyal readers of this blog  — and people who know about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT — may notice that I just used the cognitive distortion of fortune telling in that previous paragraph, because how can I really know — for sure — how I’ll write this post?)

(By the way, I’m realizing that it would probably be helpful for me to post a list of definitions of Cognitive Distortions, as a handy-dandy reference.)  (I figured out how to do that — YAY!! and  it’s HERE.)

So where was I before all those parentheses?

Oh, yes.  I think it’s safe for me to say that I’ll be writing this post throughout the day because — as  you can tell by the title — this post has A LOT going on. I mean, look at all the sub-topics in that title!  There’s:

  1. Love, which is a big topic. (duh!)
  2. The fears we often have regarding loving somebody — specifically, the fears of being hurt and the fears of losing what we love. (Another big topic?) (Duh!)
  3.  Internalized ‘isms”. Man, this is HUGE topic — plus, I have to EXPLAIN what I mean by that friggin’ term!  Okay, let me try to define this, right now. “Internalized ‘isms'” are the forces and messages in human society, having to do with differences among people, which we all, inevitably, encounter and internalize. They involve  stereotyping, discrimination, fear about “the other,” stigma, and cultural assumptions about what kinds of people have more intrinsic “value” in our society. I think the best way to explain what the hell I’m talking about here is to give you some examples:  racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia (not literally an “ism” word)  and Anti-Semitism. (I’m adding this parentheses weeks later:  more examples of “other-ness” which can be stigmatized in our society — having a diagnosis of mental illness, being overweight, having a physical “dis-ability”, etc.) (So, ANOTHER big topic?) (Double Duh!)
  4. The circus. The circus, I hope, is self-explanatory.  Well, maybe not. The reason that the circus is there in the title is  because that’s what I did yesterday. I went to the Shriners’ Circus in Columbia, SC, where I am stranded due to the snowstorm, staying at my friend Jenn’s house. And I’m currently addicted to putting pictures in these blog posts and I’ve got some awesome pictures of the Shriners’ Circus!

Plus, something happened at the circus, that inspired this whole blog post.

So there you go.  I’ve got a lot to cover in this blog post.  Let’s see how I pull it all off.

Since I like the healing power of story-telling (see here for a post about Narrative Therapy), I guess I’ll try the form of a chronological (sometimes  illustrated) story.

(I was about to write something like “I’m not very good at chronological story-telling” but that’s a judgmental, cognitive distortion (labeling, perhaps?) so I’m letting go of those thoughts, so I can do a better job of writing this.)

Where was I before the italicized parentheses with the cool link to the List of Cognitive Distortions?

Oh, yes.  The story:

How I Spent (A Day of) My Winter Vacation

On Saturday, 2/9/13, I was staying with my old friend and co-worker Jenn — whom I love — and her family in Columbia, South Carolina.


 I was staying with her on that date because I had been stranded by the Big Boston Blizzard of 2013 (dubbed “Nemo” by the media).

A few weeks before, when I was arranging my birthday trip to Charleston, South Carolina,  I had let Jenn know I was coming to her state, to see whether we could get together, for the first time in over 5 years.  We had decided to meet for dinner on Thursday night, 2/7/13,  the last night of my scheduled stay. Also, Jenn had graciously invited me to spend that last night with her and her family in Columbia. So the plan was for me spend that last night at Jenn’s, and then drive back the next day to the Charleston airport, for my scheduled trip back to Boston.

However, even before Jenn and I met for dinner on 2/7, my return flight home had been cancelled, because of the Dread Blizzard Nemo.


My niece and travel agent, Laura, had told me that I might be stranded until Tuesday or Wednesday! Jenn was gracious enough to tell me that I could stay as long as I needed to.

So, on Saturday,  Jenn and her family (her five-year old daughter, Abby, and her husband Steve) invited me to accompany them to a circus!


I loved the idea of going to the circus with Jenn and — especially — her daughter Abby, who was extremely excited about going to a circus for the first time! Here’s a picture of Jenn and Abby at the circus.


Here is a fuzzy picture of Jenn’s husband Steve with a fuzzy clown:

photo (38)

There was a family of jugglers at the circus,


and a family of trick cyclists (here’s the youngest member):


I really enjoyed being at the circus with Jenn and her family (although I didn’t enjoy seeing the tigers, bears, and lions there).  (Seeing the wild animals like that made me sad, which — who knows? — might be the topic of a future blog post.)

Okay. So now I am coming to the more difficult part of the post.  Something happened, after the circus was over, as Jenn, her family, her two friends  Jessica and Barry, their two kids, and I were leaving.  And I have some shame about what happened and my reaction, but I think it’s important to write about.

As I was walking out, I overheard Jenn and her friend, Jessica, talking behind me. And they were talking about Jews and things associated with Jews. And Jenn and her friend are not Jewish. But I am.  And I guess I had been — unconsciously or not — feeling a little self-conscious about being Jewish and being in unfamiliar territory on my travels.

And you know what?  I haven’t admitted in this blog before that I am Jewish. And admitting that can always feel like a risk to me —  because I don’t know what effect that admission has.

After overhearing Jenn and Jessica,  I suddenly felt alienated and unsafe.  I was aware of my Jewishness and how Jenn and her family aren’t Jewish. And I wondered how important my Jewish-ness was to Jenn (and to everybody else).  And  I “rewrote” the story of my friendship and safety with Jenn, to a story where she saw me as her Jewish Friend, rather than her friend, Ann, who is Jewish but is a lot of other things, too.

I’m not saying that this re-telling of the story was accurate.  It involved a major cognitive distortion — mind reading. But once that fear was activated, it stuck.

And then, my own internalized anti-Semitism kicked in; and I was very aware of the stereotypes of Jews, as being  cheap and rich. And I wondered if Jenn and her family thought I was cheap — because I was staying with them.

As these thoughts were coming up for me, I felt awful. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach by my own thoughts and reactions.  The shift from safety to fear — from love and connection to alienation and suspicion — was instantaneous and extreme. And as much as I wanted to let that reaction go, and to return to how I was feeling before I overheard that conversation — safe, happy, and loving being with Jenn and her family — I just couldn’t do it.

I knew that Jenn could tell that something had happened. As her family and I drove to get pizza, she asked me a couple of times if I was okay.  I decided that while I could not shake these feelings immediately, I would ride out the reaction as soon as possible. I focused on interacting with the Adorable Abby.  And I had enough faith in myself and in my relationship with Jenn that I assumed that we would talk about this soon, although I had no idea how that conversation would play out. But in the meantime, as we talked about paying for the pizza, and I waved a $20 bill at Jenn and her husband, I had some more pangs, for fear that I was being seen as a Money-Obsessed Jew.

But within an hour or so, as I consciously worked at talking to myself, bringing myself back up from that vertiginous plunge into alienation and fear, I felt enough trust to be able to respond authentically and tentatively to Jenn’s asking me, “Are you okay? Is something bothering you?”  And I told her enough to start a conversation which we continued — as we could — throughout the rest of the evening (interrupted by our spending quality moments with the Fabulous Abby).

And I was really grateful to have the chance to express to Jenn how that can happen to me — how I can suddenly feel alienated with people I love, fear the possibility of disconnection, and how those reasons can relate to the confusing issue of anti-Semitism in society.

And that felt new, to admit that to somebody.

In her turn, Jenn told me about her own experiences with fears of hurting and being hurt by people she loves, and how she has detached from people at times, for her own reasons of safety and self-protection.  It was a wonderful conversation of which I could write more (and maybe I will in a future blog post).

But for now, it’s time to put this  post to bed. Because I did, after all, include all the topics from the title!

I have to tell you, dear reader, it was a great day — and not just because of the circus.

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

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