Fading Into Fear

There is a fine line – perhaps an invisible line – between living each day with its offerings and preparing yourself for what is to come.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau

I’ve had a hard time getting motivated to write lately… I have several ‘irons in the fire’ so to speak and making the time to sit down and put my thoughts on paper has been more difficult than it has been for months. I wonder… have I said everything I have to say? Probably not. It’s just… life is getting  in my way.

I wrote about Plan B recently… it was on my mind because I have control ‘issues’ and having a plan B helps me to feel safe but it also challenged me to think about what our backup plan was. It promoted good conversation here and maybe offered some fuel to fire up our efforts in laying track so that alternatives could become possibilities. That can take time and organization.

How does one unemotionally plan for a time when your loved one isn’t here? I realize how pragmatic it is and I know the logical benefits of planning but there is a part of my heart that fails to detach from these conversations. Each time one of us says “in case you’re not here” or “In case I die… there is a shudder deep within my spirit. My lungs suddenly inflate and I find myself slowly exhaling in an effort to breathe normally.

We are mortal beings and yet when our mortality sits deliberately and stubbornly in our path; when it spits in our face – coping can be quite overwhelming. We want to make life normal and yet there is a ‘new normal’ – a way of being that we are not used to – to which we have yet to acclimate.

There is a fine line – perhaps an invisible line – between living each day with its offerings and preparing yourself for what is to come. I believe this to be true regardless of the health hurdles we individually face because we, as human entities, prescribe to the need to forward think, to forward plan, to forward seek.

Right now, our lives are filled with details… taxes, budgets, business planning, etc. We will be buying a new car soon. Harlan has one of the TDI Jetta’s that is being bought back by Volkswagen and there have been a dozen hoops to jump through – more paperwork! Trying to fit car shopping into our lives and planning for whatever our future may hold is also tough. Harlan can only walk for a short bit before he gets uncomfortable and he still tires easily.

Getting one’s “affairs in order” – not because it’s ‘that time’ necessarily, but because it’s the prudent thing to do – is more detail oriented than you think when all you do it talk about it. In the face of your mortality there are more particulars and minutiae than is comfortable and the information can only be coped with in parcels. And time passes.

Yesterday, we learned the Oncologist we’ve been working with since the initial diagnosis is leaving the practice because of his own health issues and while we are of course, compassionate toward his personal needs and grateful for the help and kindness he extended to us, we are devastated to be changing doctors midstream. It’s interesting to look at how much trust you develop in a person who is guiding your medical care and the feelings that arise when it must be reestablished with someone new.

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I realized throughout my life that the best part about going on vacation was the fact that we didn’t have to deal with real life for a while. We could just hang out and enjoy the company of people we love, relax and be in the moment – truly. That is when being ‘present’ is easily manifested, consistently. In real life – being present is more difficult. It takes constant concentration and focus. I realize that I am good at it – in spurts – I can take a deep breath and center myself where I can zero in on the experience of ‘now’. I often find myself smiling then; enjoying the sensation.

And then it is lost. I fade into details and fear and uncertainty. I feel anxious about the future. And then the process repeats.

Drift…

Come back…

Pay attention…

Drift again…

It doesn’t matter if I am working, cooking, cleaning (which, doesn’t happen all that often), walking, or just sitting and watching television. I am aware of how frequently this process repeats and I find the intensity is triggered by specific nuances. If Harlan is having a good day, I feel stable and secure. If he’s not, the fear creeps in between the ‘now’ moments I try to embrace. If there is a big decision to make I feel an urgency to make it happen now – without hesitation and any patience I have practiced – disappears. If we argue, I immediately berate myself for needing to be right, or needing to be validated – both entirely human experiences that I honor, but I certainly wish my ego would just back down and let my heart do the directing ALL the time!

Each day we wake up to the reality of life, of cancer, of responsibilities, and of relationships and remember that in all of it – we are doing the best that we know how to do on that day. We are both acutely aware of how blessed we are and we have the ability to forge our broken and fearful spirits together like trees that have fallen into one another yet they still stand; at least until one of them is too debilitated to hold the other. For now, we make it through each day – through each week; maybe a little bit in spite – but hey, whatever it takes.

I must acknowledge that we do not stand alone. Indeed, a thick and healthy forest of support surrounds us. It is the oxygen of their existence that I breathe deeply when the spirit of hopelessness tugs on my soul. And I am reminded of hope. And I do the best that I can.

Drift…

Come back…

A Letter to Myself – Age 40

It was a decade of self-discovery and reinvention; a decade of loss and exploration

“40 is when your body gives your brain a list of things its not going to do anymore.” – unknown

My forties were a time of freedom; emancipation from worries about what other people were thinking about me. I often wonder why it took forty years for that to happen. Once I experienced the pleasure of this peace, I encouraged my younger friends to let go of their need to please and yet it was as if there was an automatic release valve… a disintegrating dam that was locked into place until the fortieth year unfolded. Inevitably, someone would call and share their own ah-ha acknowledgment of the ‘pleaser’ independence. Needless to say, it isn’t that automatic but there is relief as we mature and center our perspective.

My forties, the first decade of the twenty-first century, was filled with tremendous grief and personal development/growth that I had never could have forecasted. It is a true testament to the idea that it is impossible to predict the future and that anything is possible. It was a decade of self-discovery and reinvention; a decade of loss and exploration.

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What surprises me the most is how young I continued to feel… it wasn’t anything like I imagined when I was younger. In my head – I wasn’t aging – I was learning. Everything in my life seemed to be highlighted and slightly more enjoyed. Well, except for alcohol… drinking a lot wasn’t much fun anymore.

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I’m not sure I would change anything but if I am ever able to offer some compassion to myself, some words of encouragement or a gentle warning… here it is; just in case I am willing to listen.

Hey Lady!
Welcome to middle age. It’s really not bad, in fact – it’s great overall. In retrospect, your 20’s were for exploring, your 30’s for creating, and now your 40’s are for growing. You will be growing your family – hey, by the way – those kids, all four of them – wow. You did good. And… you will be growing. Yes, there will be some growing pains but it will be OK.
Some of your growing pains will be because you didn’t take my advice in your 30’s. (see my raised eyebrows?) I don’t want to say “I told you so”, but since we are one in the same… I did try to tell you.
Stand in front of the mirror. Where are YOU? Where did you go? While it’s a little sad that you disappeared for awhile, I know it was for your protection. Your kids are more self-sufficient these days and so you get to pay more attention to yourself – thankfully, you discover the benefit  of balance. I know you can’t imagine it but guess what? By the end of the decade you will have a graduate degree… yes ma’am, you go back to school, finally! Way to go! Don’t worry about it now – the details work out perfectly and you’ll do great.
Your marriage is a mess. It’s good that you are trying counseling, that ends up being a great decision and will impact you far beyond what you can now imagine. You need to ask yourself an important question… why are you allowing yourself to be so disrespected? You, at the very least, deserve respect! Everyone does. The behavior you are allowing in your life does not respect you as a woman or a wife. Get smart. Respect is at the very core of your need as a human… pay attention. Also, while you are looking – what is it exactly that you love about the man you are sharing your life with? Is it the man he is showing you he is? Or the man you ‘want’ him to be? Listen. Watch. Learn. The man you want him to me may not be the man he is… Be present.
Your mom is going to need you for a few years and then she will leave you. I’m only telling you so that you remember to take time with her. Ask her everything you want to know – don’t leave anything unsaid. She ends up in an impossible position and does the very best she knows how to do. She’s only human too… you may have to forgive her.
Speaking of motherhood… think about what you want your children to know. What do you want them to learn about the world, about themselves? You are largely responsible for setting the example – both to your son about how women should be treated and to your daughters… how will you teach them self-respect? You are going to make a ton of mistakes… some of them will seem huge and irreparable but like your own mother… you are doing the best you can – based on what you know – in that moment. That’s all you can expect of yourself. Ever.
When you know better – well, as the saying goes, you’ll do better. In the meantime – give yourself a break and keep doing what you know to do day by day – that’s it. That’s as good as it gets. Your intentions are good and you demonstrate respect in most everything – that makes the difference. Get up in the morning and be grateful for a new day. Go to bed every night and count the day’s blessings – every day has a few. Hug your children. Keep your family close. Be kind to yourself. Keep learning to let go.
Even when you don’t think so or don’t feel like it, there is a core of strength in your spirit and you are going to be using every fiber of it. Stay strong and remember that true strength is feeling even when you don’t want to.
I’m here.
Me.

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Quick Stress Relief – There’s an APP for That!

When we don’t get a break between perceived stressors, we need to FORCE our bodies to chill out.

I am taking a brief departure today to address stress. In the last two weeks, I’ve had a surge of clients making last minute appointments to cope with feelings of elevated anxiety and stress over the current political climate. I’ve shared this information so much in private sessions that I feel it may be beneficial to help alleviate accruing tension for any of us.

The Process

Any time your brain perceives a threat it stimulates the flight or fight response (FOFR) – there doesn’t have to be a REAL threat – just a perception of one. The FOFR is a series of chemical reactions in the brain that activates the sympathetic nervous system by pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream creating a faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure, faster respiration, etc…  That’s the first thing and it happens in microseconds – before your eyes or ears fully process what is happening. To keep you in a state of readiness, more chemical reactions take place until the adrenal gland starts to produce cortisol.  It is cortisol that sustains your readiness.

The Problem

Our bodies are not designed to sustain high levels of cortisol. In fact, a continuously elevated level of the stress hormone can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure, impact sleep, cause weight gain, impact your libido, and much more.

Typically, after the threat passes, our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) naturally takes over, returning our heart rate and breath to normal.

When we don’t get a break between perceived stressors, we need to FORCE our bodies to chill out. The chemistry works like this:  By extending your exhale longer than your inhale – the vagus nerve is activated and signals your brain to activate the PSNS, calming you down.

I know some people can’t pull themselves away from news or are surrounded by people who have differing opinions and so they stay stressed. Aside from the obvious… get away from news and people who suck your strength…. There is another solution to offer immediate relief…

Breathe

I recommend the app RELAX LITE to everyone I see who has difficulty with stress.

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I love it because it has calming music and a great visual to follow. Let’s face it, when we are stressed, it can be hard to find focus without a little help. Relax Lite has offers both breathing and meditation. Start with the BREATHING.

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Choose Beginner – and then set the length of time you want to focus on your breath. Even 5 minutes at a time is helpful. Start there.  LEVEL THREE is designed specifically to induce the PSNS by extending the exhale longer than the inhale.

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Sit quietly for a minimum of five minutes even if you must lock yourself in the bathroom stall at the office or on the pot at home. No excuses!

Not sleeping?

High levels of cortisol prevent melatonin production so you may find that you have a hard time getting to or staying asleep. Here are a couple of quick tips:

No news or bright lights at least two hours before bedtime.

Use a meditation CD or app as you lay down – guided meditations that use progressive relaxation are great!

Make sure you have actively made an effort to engage your PSNS.

Use synthetic melatonin – but sparingly.

Focus

Don’t forget to focus on what you DO have control over. Taking control of your body is first and foremost but there are other things as well. When you become proactive on any front, your stress is mitigated!

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A Letter to Myself Series – Age 30

This older version of you is laughing at how hard you tend to make things! EASE UP!! Chill out!!

Third in the series A Letter to Myself

I remember thinking that if I hadn’t ‘made it’ by the age of 30, my opportunities would be gone. For some reason, I had developed the notion that whatever impact I was going to have on the world, would have to have begun before the age of thirty. Consequently, that particular birthday was notably difficult as I hadn’t yet influenced the world in any significant way.

I greatly admire and applaud the energy that young people step out into the world with. I am in awe of the motivation and dedication new college graduates bring to their first job and far too often I see the light get sucked out of their spirit because life does not unfold the way that was anticipated. It’s another problem with expectations that we conjure along the way… our neglect of developing realistic aspirations or the ability to combat disappointment. If we are going to have one – we must have the other.

I’d like to think there is a way to encourage tenacity so that it overshadows disappointment; to promote endurance and patience in the pursuit of those amazing visions we have in our early years. It’s also important to allow for a change of direction because not everything is what we thought it would be and/or we encounter a split in the road that calls to us more strongly. Here is what I would want my thirty-year-old self to hear and heed…

Hey Lady,

Another decade in the dust and what a whoosie it was. I’m so sorry you had to endure those hardships but hey… look at you now! It’s like life is giving you another shot. See… in some ways it’s like adulthood is just beginning for you and truly… you have no way to imagine what is in front of you! In the scope of your life – you have just started.  All the stuff behind you – well, it sucks for sure but by now you know that good things can come from bad ones so keep that front and center in your life.

I am happy to see that you’ve realized that dreams get fulfilled even when they look differently than you had imagined – it’s only the beginning of that too! What I really want you to know right now is that there is so. much. more. Have I already said that to you? It’s really important to know that every moment is to be enjoyed so try and tuck away the fact that you have time to enjoy this!

Look at what a good mom you are. Through all those challenges, you stayed focused. Good for you – that had to have been hard. See… self-compassion isn’t that difficult! I want to encourage you to learn that now instead of later in life. You are going to have more children and I won’t spoil the surprise this time but they change you – they change everything about you – for the better. We’ll talk more about that when you turn forty but for now, know that there is much to look forward to.

Going forward, you will be served well to trust your heart more. It speaks to you frequently but you aren’t listening. Learn to pay attention! Yes, your life will be hectic and there will be less time for you to sit and be still – make it! Don’t let your ‘inner self’ take a back seat. You will always be a better mother, wife, and neighbor if you take care of yourself FIRST. It’s not selfish – it’s self-care and it would be better all-around if you don’t wait another twenty years to figure it out!

Oh – and let’s talk about your body. So… you’ve developed more body acceptance, that’s great. Now you have to take care of it!! You have some bad habits that need addressing – you know what they are. Again, make those changes now instead of years down the road and even though you ‘hate’ to exercise – please. Please. Please. Do it. If there is any single change that this older version of you wants you to change now – it’s this part. I know, I know…. Everywhere you turn people are telling you to ‘get healthy’ – it’s a buzz phrase for all of the 1990’s and it would be good if you could get on the bandwagon. If you don’t – you never will and your body… well, you are not going to like it!

I know people everywhere are giving you advice and like most everyone – you really haven’t listened. Are you aware of how stubborn you are? Why do you feel you must reinvent everything you do? Why not take advantage of the lessons people in front of you have learned? This older version of you is laughing at how hard you tend to make things! EASE UP!! Chill out!! You don’t have to do it all right. Let yourself make mistakes – try new things – experiment but don’t be hard on yourself. Let go.

You don’t physically change very much in the next decade but your whole perspective on life will change – it’s all good. As I said, motherhood changes you dramatically in really special ways and you will redesign your vision of yourself – that’s good too. Go with the flow – feel the vibe – the current – and relax on it. In part – it is your instinct… your intuition… and it’s authentic so it won’t let you down. Your only trouble happens when you are bucking the flow – did you hear me?? When you are not floating on your ‘authentic current’ – you will be unhappy. You eventually figure it out – but why wait??

That guy you just met… he’s part of your life lesson. No, he’s not going to die – you will be together for a long while but he is in your life so that you can learn. It will be up to you to find the lessons; the good and hard ones. It’s his children that bless you the most.

Keep going …

Me

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A Letter to Myself Series – Age 20

The next few years are going to be some of the best and some of the worst that you can imagine.

Second in the series A Letter to Myself

Sit back for just a moment and think of the growth that happens in the time that spans the second decade of life. The change between a ten and a twenty-year-old is amazing. It is in this decade that we learn independence and crave autonomy. As we leave our childhood behind, we experience puberty and explore sexuality. We physically turn into adults and obtain the privileges to drive, vote, and fight for our country. We may learn about love and loss for the first time. It’s a time for exploration and challenge.

In my life, everything changed during that decade. My parents split, I moved across the country and went to five different high schools. I took on a ton of responsibility as my parents lost and then found themselves again in different partners. I became the one everyone could depend on and didn’t buck the system until very late in the decade and then I made up for lost time. I experimented with everything that was on the naughty list. I started school but didn’t take it seriously.

By the age of twenty I was living on my own and self-supportive. My family had moved out of the area and so I surrounded myself with friends who became what I called my family of choice. Not all of my decisions were good and there were some f***ed up days coming, so if there is ever a time I can do it over again – this is what I want that girl to know.

Hey you,

Wow. Look at you. You did it. You made it through all those changes and faced the challenges of being a teenager all at once! I know you didn’t want to, I know it was hard, I know you struggled but you did it. You could have let a few more people help… you didn’t have to do so much of it by yourself. In the future – being stubborn isn’t going to offer you the easiest option. Life is better when you let people in, when you let them help.

So, your family looks a little different huh? Yeah, it gets bigger and a little more convoluted but you end up depending on each other a lot. You’ve got a great foundation to build on and the family values that you have gathered will be reinforced over and over again by most everyone. You are going to need those people! Good job on noticing how much they mean to you.

I want to encourage you to get better about finishing things. It would be great if you could finish college now even though everything turns out ok, it’s harder – much harder when you do it later. Most importantly… without that degree, you end up thinking that you don’t have as many choices and ‘that’ moves you in directions that end in pain. You work it out but… if you finish school now it will make things easier for you. And that stone sculpture that you never completed… you will shake your head over that for years! It will make a great door stop – just do it!

I know you’ve struggled in the boy arena. It’s not them… it’s YOU. You are OK, just like you are and when you finally figure that out – it will be everything you think it should be. I know adults tell you this all the time… they say it because it’s true – when you are happy with yourself, the ‘beautiful’ in you is visible to everyone. You are not fat! Your body is fine and the best thing you can do is to learn acceptance of it.

Adults are not saying these things to make you feel better (well, maybe a little) … they say them because they are TRUE!

You fall in love. Yup! There is a man out there who will love you as much as any Prince Charming. I’ll keep the suspense up and not go into many details but just know that he is on your horizon.

You will have a baby and he will grow your heart so much that you think it is going to burst. Yes, sorry to spoil the surprise – your first child will be a boy, just like you’ve always wanted. Just watching him sleep will bring you more joy than you knew was possible and when his little hand reaches for yours… well, your heart is just never the same.

The next few years are going to be some of the best and some of the worst that you can imagine. I’m not trying to scare you – it’s all going to be OK but you need to know that everything that has happened before now… it is preparing you. It has taught you to persevere, to keep going. You’ll need that but know that I am here too… your older self. You make it through – really… I am here on the other side as evidence. Just keep remembering that everything fits together at some point. Life is worth it, so don’t give up!

Believe it or not… the best is yet to come.

With love and support,

Me

 

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A Letter To Myself Series – Age 10

How many times must we fall before we learn to or decide to change direction? What are the right words to persuade us to change course?

“For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.” ~ John Connolly

What would happen if you found a letter from your older self? Or your younger self? Like in the movie Back to the Future when Marty wrote to Doc that he was going to get shot so Doc wore a flack jacket (bullet proof vest) to the parking lot where the van of guys with machine guns came screeching through…

Would you listen? We don’t seem to take the advice of our older relatives or friends. Seemingly, each of us needs to learn firsthand – even when something is painful. I know it to be a source of frustration as a mom… watching my children head right into something I know has a high probability of turning out poorly. I only know that from years of experience – personally as well as my large collection of observations … they want to try it their own way. Presumably, due to the tweeks they may have made, it will turn out differently for them. (um..hm) Right.

My kids aren’t any different than any other person. I continue to see this fascinating phenomena in my clients too. It’s sometimes even more interesting when we are learning something that we already learned but think may be different THIS time. I do it too…. How often have I cut myself with a freshly sharpened knife? How many times do I have to shrink a favorite sweater before I learn to pay more attention when I am switching laundry?  How many times must we fall before we learn to or decide to change direction? What are the right words to persuade us to change course? Why are we so stubborn? Is there anyone void of this trait?

I’m beginning a series of letters to my younger self… for personal reflection but also for anyone there – in those years who might want to benefit from a little perspective or as inspiration for you to write your own!

A Letter to My 10-year-old Self

Hey there kiddo,

Wow. You have a great life right now – pretty much perfect don’t you think? Your baby brother is great and don’t sweat it… you’ll be friends forever. Your sister needs you. Be nice. Include her more. These two people will know you longer than anyone else and you will have amazing history together.

Those friends you have are the best! You are making memories that you will have for the rest of your life and that playing you are doing…. It’s so important! It’s great that you are outside so much and using your imagination – kids in the future don’t do that as much. So many of the things that you are doing are things that help you later on. You may want to back off on those marathon Monopoly games though… it eventually spoils your tolerance for the game.

Hey… don’t worry about being poor – it won’t matter when you grow up and the things you don’t have now aren’t all that important. You may want to hold on to that transistor radio; technology changes so fast that it becomes an antique relic more quickly than you can imagine. The fact that you are running around and inventing fun is training you for your future. You are going to use those attributes!

You know that song you learned at girl scout camp? The one about the three bears? You will teach it to your own children and it will become an important part of their childhood… Pay attention to as many of those things as you can. You don’t even know how much you are learning right now; how many of these things you will look back on.

Everyone tells you to be a kid… listen to them! You have so. much. life. in front of you – you have time – go ahead… go play and don’t worry about adults or problems. Try not to compare your body to other girls, your weight doesn’t matter…  people will love you and like you just because you are you, I promise.

Your mom and dad are having a hard time and life may get pretty tough for you in a little while but know this: they are doing the best they can. They are still growing up too and need to learn a lot of lessons. Remember that they both love you and want the best for you but may not know how to show it all the time.

Use your diary more. It’s great that you write down a few things but you will want to remember so much more. Those milestones you’ve already recorded… you’ll read them over and over – committing them to memory. That first kiss story – you’ll tell it over and over again – and laugh. Even though you think NJ is the best boy in the world… there are a lot more. 

The one thing that I want you to know more than anything else is that everything is going to be OK.  Learn to trust…

Love you girl!

What would you say to YOUR 10-year-old self?

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When the UGLIES Escape

Don’t be hard on yourself as you experience your humanness…

Being human is difficult. Becoming human is a lifelong process. To be truly human is a gift. ~ Abraham Heschel

Do you ever get grumpy? Out of sorts? Moody? Do your UGLIES escape?

Of course you do… you’re a human.

Sometimes, when reviewing basic communications skills with people who work in corporate environments, they tell me they “know all this stuff from seminars, workshops, and retreats at work” and then quickly ask the questions “why can’t I do it after I leave the office?”

I empathize with that question because I teach good communication tools… you know…

  • Use “I” statements
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Repeat what you heard
  • Validate

Yadda, yadda.

And yet, I too – am completely imperfect with using them. When we mix a big batch of emotion into the human factor – even the best intentions can go astray.

Sometimes, our frustration reaches a tipping point and we react without thinking about those skills we’ve collected in our communication toolkit. It happens when we are sick and when we are in pain. It can happen when we are afraid or worried. In those moments, our ability to stay focused and pay attention to how we could be behaving, is blurred.

In those times, we are prone to react first and think about our toolbox later…

And then communication goes south, conflict arises, sparing ensues, and feelings get hurt. The uglies come out.

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Now what?

First

I believe the most important thing we can do is apologize. We don’t have to apologize for how we were feeling… we only need to apologize for how we behaved when our feelings took over.

Listen, feelings are feelings and although they are not always rational or in context to a situation – they are still feelings and generally they just surface… we don’t ask for them.

Next

When we can collect our thoughts, step back, OUT of the emotion and pay attention to how we were feeling – the second step is to calmly, rationally, explain how we were feeling – using “I feel…” statements (remember to use ‘feeling’ words).

Think about the things I speak to in the post It Wasn’t Me – Or Was It? and try to communicate from the position of what you recognize about yourself…. In other words, OWN IT.

Ask for what you need – specifically. Do you need advice? Validation? Help? Or do you just want someone to listen? Letting someone know what you need in advance of sharing your feelings can often be helpful.

Lastly

Be willing to listen.

Frequently, an argument is simply the tip of an iceberg and representative of other issues that are simmering below the surface. When we can own our feelings, step out of the emotion, and be prepared to listen… we are able to address those matters that affect us subliminally.

Remember, the things I talk about take practice and patience! Don’t be hard on yourself as you experience your humanness… when you are tired or sick… when you temporarily lose track of your toolbox… or when you make a mistake.

Your life – my life – everyone’s life, is a work in progress. Just keep moving forward. Today is a new day.

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