Commitment: The Gift That Keeps Giving!

Learning is Required.As we move quickly toward the season of New Year’s resolutions, I’m moved to write about commitment.

In my last very personal post, I shared my recent experience with open heart surgery as a metaphor for how, at certain points in our lives, we find opportunities to hit “reset” on various aspects of our lives, to create new beginnings. These change moments can be inspiring and feel incredibly positive. However, without commitment, new beginnings can fizzle out fast.

I also noted in the last post that pain – physical or emotional – is often the driver of tough decisions and change. However, once we decide to change something, it doesn’t mean it will be easy from that point on. In fact, often the decision to change is comparatively easy when actual, permanent change requires unwavering commitment over time – throughout the course of a lifetime!

It’s easier to commit to change long term if you recognize it as a choice! Our choices – large and small — are under our control. Then, it is our willingness to be clear, self-aware and responsible about our choices that leads to the sustainable change we want.

So, when you make your resolutions this year, consider that they are purposeful choices. Understand what they will mean to your life. Say what you mean, mean what you say, keep these promises that you make to yourself. The quality of Your life depends on it.

If you want to lose weight, if you are ready to stop killing yourself with cigarettes, if you want to be more physically fit, get training for some skill, earn an educational degree, play an instrument, improve an important relationship with a significant person in your life or any other goal, you need to make a conscious, committed choice to pursue that objective.

If you get scrupulously clear about what you really want, you’ll be positioned to make a solemn commitment. Then, find the resources or guide you need and reaffirm your choice one day at a time, one moment at a time when necessary — especially when fear, pain, frustration or laziness creep in! Everyone can do that when it’s easy, but real change happens when you keep moving ahead through the tough parts!

I’m extending my own new beginning by committing to lose the weight I gained when angina kept me inactive. I will get truly lean again – commitment has me nearly there and I’ve resumed an active lifestyle that includes exercising regularly – forever. Is it easy? Hell no! Especially in this season of endless food and drink temptations. But each day that I see the scale move down or my physical strength increase, I’m able to renew my commitment and continue pursuing my goal of a permanent healthy lifestyle change.

So can you. Keep in mind that when you commit to your choices over and over, you’re giving yourself a gift that keeps on giving back to you!!!

Happy New Year!

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A New Beginning!

Saturday morning Ellie and I went for a long walk along the Hudson River. We used to enjoy these morning excursions as a regular part of our weekends. The operative phrase here is ‘used to’, which I’ll explain in a bit.

Later in the day we went into Manhattan and walked from 83rd St. and Madison Avenue all the way down to 64th Street and, after a heathy anMatthew - We become what we think about.d delicious Nicoise salad at a delightful French bistro, walked all the way back to 83rd Street. This included some uphill stretches. Our day of walking made both of us quite happy!!

So, what’s the big deal about Ellie and me enjoying long walks? Until this past Saturday, our walks had become a thing of the past. How did that happen considering the pleasure it brought us? I’ll tell you now:

Some time ago, I began to suffer occasional angina – chest pain — during physical exertion. Over time it became chronic and had me avoiding a variety of physical activities that had been a source of pleasure. A few months ago, the pain in my heart and the impact it was having on my life became intolerable!

How did I let it get that far? There were distractions and rationalizations that made it possible to put off dealing with what was obviously a serious health issue. For a while I put it off because I had elderly, ill parents who required a great deal of my time, attention and care. Even after the deaths of both my parents, there was always another event, circumstance or responsibility for me to focus on.

Once we humans – even trained psychotherapists — begin to avoid something, we create a “comfort zone” around the problem, comfortable because it is familiar – a known – something we have learned to tolerate even when it causes pain and suffering! Easier to deal with emotionally, than the “unknown” with all its perceived risks.

Yes, I allowed distractions and denial to get in the way of taking proper care of my physical wellbeing. But at last, the physical pain, limitations and restrictions on my life, and the fear it caused Ellie, demanded proper attention!

I realized I could no longer postpone getting a thorough evaluation of my cardiac condition and recognized the scary truth that I might very well need bypass surgery. I finally accepted the undeniable fact that treatment was required and whatever that meant, it had to be done now!!!

Once I took control of the situation, I was careful to select a hospital that specializes in heart and lung surgery. However, once that choice was made, I also had to accept the risks involved and trust my life to the character and skill of those who would treat me.
As it turned out, my condition did require open heart surgery. I was most fortunate that my surgeon was highly trained and experienced and is the hospital’s Chief of Surgery. On September 28th, he performed a quintuple bypass and an aortic valve replacement!!!

The reality of that procedure was that my surgeon cut my breast bone, spread it apart and literally had my heart in his hands. As accepting as I was of my choice to undergo the procedure and as trusting as I was of my medical professionals, it is by its nature a traumatic intervention.

As my breastbone and my body have healed and strengthened over the past couple of months, I have been reflecting deeply on the experience. I’ve concluded that there is an unmistakable metaphor between the underlying physical pain and suffering that had restricted my life and led to surgery, and the emotional pain that restricts the lives of those I treat through psychotherapy.

While I don’t literally take the hearts of those who seek my help into my hands, I most certainly do figuratively. I understand – even more viscerally now – the avoidance of seeking help that continues until a marriage is breaking up, or a child is acting out dangerously, or someone has turned to substance abuse to quell their pain – or a decades long acceptance of misery has finally become too much.

Just as a heart patient like me must face the pain and risk of a surgical procedure, those people suffering from emotional pain and dysfunction have to reach a place on their path where the known pain and suffering gets to a point where the unknown pain and risk of correcting the problem becomes preferable.

Then it’s a question of making some new choices. Finding a skilled therapist to help you change your journey to a more life-enhancing direction and then staying the course and doing whatever it takes to maintain health.

I’m in the process of doing so with my physical health. I’ve changed my diet, shed more than 20 pounds so far with another 12 or so to go to reach my goal. I’ve already resumed physical exercise as you know. These must be life-long choices if I and my restored heart are to remain healthy.

Same is true for psychotherapy. As we make changes that will ensure happier lives and better relationships, we must find ways to make them permanent.

Sure, there will be pain as part of the process. I’ll never forget the horrific few seconds when one of the surgeons removed the chest tubes that had been placed during surgery to assure that fluids didn’t build up around my heart. Would I trade my choice to undergo surgery to avoid that excruciating moment? No way!

If you who are reading this – or anyone you care about – are avoiding getting help for your emotional wounds, please consider the consequences of not pursuing help. Going back to my metaphor, if I had not sought help, the alternative would have likely been death from a massive heart attack and probably in the not-too-distant future. Failing to address emotional dysfunction may not be tantamount to physical death, but in reality, it is a failure to live life to its fullest.

This includes the opportunity to experience unconditional love and to become your authentic, lovable self. You just must be ready to change whatever needs changing and willing to accept the help you need. Then your life, like mine, can have “A New Beginning!” It’s worth it.

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Interesting Update To Last Post

Yesterday – in light of millions taking to the highways for Memorial Day weekend – CBS Sunday Morning mirrored my concern about road rage as a symptom of mental dysfunction. CBS does not share links to its full segments. Here’s a link to the page where you can read a transcript and access component video.

Posted in Addiction, Anger and Control, Anxiety, Arguments, Attitude, Avoidance, Body Language, Catastrophic Counsequences, Change, Character, Co-dependency, Compulsiveness, Consiousness, Couples Counseling, Death and Dying, Defensiveness, Denial, Depression, Emotional Illness, Emotional Pain, Emotionally Safe Environments, Emotions, Family Relationships, Fear, Anxiety and Panic, Forgiveness, Frustration, Grandiosity, Hate, Helplessness, Human Error, Immaturity, Impatience, Insanity, Listening, Low Self-Esteem, Marital Counseling, Massacre, Mental Health, Mortality, Murder, Negativity, Neurosis, Non-reactive, Personal Change, Personal Dignity, Personal Growth, Personal Power, Personality, Personality Disorders, Physical Abuse, Power and Control, Prejudice, Projection, Providing An Emotionally Safe Environment For Your Kids, Psychological Abuse, Racism, Racism, Relationship Counseling, Relationships, Self Image, Violence and Aggression, Work Relationships, Wounded Child | Leave a comment

Mental Health Awareness Month: A Daily Reminder

2016-05-24 01.52.34May is “Mental Health Awareness Month.” I’m glad that mental health awareness has a month, but I believe that it’s critical to keep the awareness going year round. An article in the New York Times earlier this week reminded me of something that most of us experience on a daily basis that will keep the need for better mental health in our society top of mind.

The article, by Matt Richtel, appeared in the science section and addressed behavior on the roads – specifically with regard to what we commonly refer to as ‘accidents’. The story began, “Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years, resulting from crashes, collisions and other incidents caused by drivers. Just don’t call them accidents anymore.”

The article stated that this is the position now taken by a growing number of safety advocates, including grass-roots groups, federal officials and state and local leaders across the country. Richtel described their campaign to change a long standing mentality that they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error.

According to Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like ‘God made it happen!’”

No. People make it happen. Every time I get into the car I expect that I’ll be subject to tailgating, horn blowing, carelessness, aggressive lane changing, speeding and other dangerous behaviors from drivers around me. These drivers are of all ages, ethnicities, genders and socio-economic backgrounds. It’s not an exclusive club.

I’ll bet that I’m not alone in this experience and that you are also aware of being put at frequent risk. This post is intended to create awareness of how these behaviors connect to mental health – or a lack of it.

Back to the article. Mark Rosekind went on to point out something that I say in my office multiple times a week: We define our experience of everything by the language – the words – we attach to the experience!

Everyone does this and that is how we arrive at our perceptions, interpretations, attitude and conclusions! But what if thinking, emotions, attitudes and negative over-reactions are based in unhealthy thinking and ways of relating to others?

None of us is perfect! We all make mistakes and, on occasion, act in ways that we later regret such as angry words directed at someone we say we love or care about. That’s not what concerns me.

The road behaviors described above that often lead to crashes are very mentally unhealthy. They are the result of emotional immaturity, fear, anger and other negative emotions. These are at the root of defensive, toxic ways of relating to and treating others — with total disrespect and disregard!

Behaving aggressively behind the wheel provides some degree of cover. It’s anonymous; unless, of course, it leads to a collision and causes property damage and personal injury or death. Then it becomes personal real fast. Regardless, such behavior and its underlying causes never leads to anything good and it makes personal dignity and self-respect impossible.

Consider this. If someone is behaving that way with strangers, it is surely present in their close relationships, which means that in the marriages and parent/child relationships such people have, no one feels safe, no one feels truly loved. Everyone involved, especially the one acting out, is left feeling emotionally isolated and lonely.

This is often an ingredient of addiction. And that’s a particularly good reason to steer clear of aggressive drivers as much as possible. It’s highly likely that their practices are fueled by alcohol or drugs.

I know most of my readers are to some degree self-aware and take responsibility for their behavior. But if you know someone — or are someone — who exhibits these tell-tale driving behaviors you and everyone else will benefit from raising your mental health awareness.

Please share this post with anyone who you think could benefit. You never know when you may be able to plant a seed that will take root and grow.

Have a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend. There will be many, many cars on the road!

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The Presidential Election – Character Matters!

Character Matters!

Character Matters!

I don’t know about you, but with months left before the election it feels like we’re being bombarded by media drama that makes it hard to cut through to the facts. How do we make sense of this to decide which candidates we’ll support?

Politics aside, from a psychotherapist’s perspective, I look at character. What does that mean – character? Mature character includes a collection of the qualities that demonstrate sound mental health. Some of these are:

• Respect
• Honesty
• Responsibility
• Kindness and compassion
• Empathy for others
• The ability to forgive
• A loving personality

Recently a friend asked me to watch the video of a speech by a political figure of a party other than my own and to give him my opinion. Although I did not agree with some of the man’s political ideas, I could report to my friend, that he seemed to be a person of good character according to the list above.

Why is this important? Because it takes people of character to work together to solve the complicated problems we face today. It takes people whose political mission is driven by a true desire to do something good for others, rather than someone whose plans are a cognitive and emotional manifestation of dysfunctional and immature personality traits:

• Grandiosity
• Arrogance
• Negativity
• Disrespect toward others
• Chronic defensiveness
• Over-aggressiveness
• Narcissistic self-absorption
• Failure to accept responsibility

I hope this point of view will give you another way to evaluate candidates in the current political season and make the whole process less daunting.

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