Make Peace with the Past

Make Peace with the Past

Are you one of those people that is stuck in the memory of a past event, or series of events that you can’t let go of? A dismissive, detached, or anxious parental upbringing perhaps? A ‘failed’ marriage? The loss of a close family member? A long-term relationship ending? An affair? Trauma?

At some point in your life, you have likely found yourself ruminating on the past. Maybe you have even experienced signs of depression due to thoughts of the past.

This is no way to live out your life. Much of my work is focused on regaining vitality by transporting you from the past and into the future.

As an example of how important it is to let go of the past, let’s take a look at grief. For anyone who has lost a loved one, they know how crippling grief can be. Grief can be experienced very differently for everyone, but no one benefits from staying in the grieving process for months or even years.

Misconceptions we hold about grief can underwrite our choices of how we process the loss. Some feel the amount of time you grieve is directly correlated to the amount of love you had for the one you lost. If you grieved for 3-6 months, then you loved the person this amount, and if you grieved for 1-2 years, then your love for the person was that much stronger. This is not to say it is healthy to ignore your pain and simply move ahead with little acknowledgement for your loss. You must acknowledge the hurt, sit with that feeling from time to time, but look ahead towards the future memories you will make with other loved ones. No one will ever totally replace the person you lost, but you may be surprised at what life has in store for you once you allow it to happen.

Here are some suggestions to help you move from the past towards the future.

It is difficult to be specific with these suggestions because they often relate to the situation at hand. Regarding the grief example above, it may mean that you need to give yourself permission to move forward. This doesn’t mean you leave cherished memories behind, it simply means you are giving yourself permission to step into the present, so others can enjoy you more. It means being an active participant in life.

Realize what staying in the past does to your physical health. We all know the bi-directional pattern between the gut and the brain. The more emotional strain we endure, the deeper the physical strain on our health. Emotional strain is an endocrine disrupter. For any woman suffering with post menstrual symptoms (PMS), we can see how hormone imbalance affects our ability to regulate emotions. Weight gain is another example of what emotional pain does to us. Hair loss, eczema, acne… I could go on and on. In other words, think of what your choice of living in the past is doing to your health today.  Then ask yourself, “Is it really worth it?”

Specific ways of focusing on present and future events include:

  • Start planning future events, whether that might be an upcoming birthday, a renovation, a career move, or new health routine – the goal is to focus on the future.
  • Focus on the lessons you have learned, not where you failed. I am sure it isn’t the first time you have heard me say every mistake you made in a lesson is a golden nugget of information that you should now treasure and learn by. For instance, regrets about how you parented your child should be instead viewed as what you are doing differently today.
  • Set a specific time aside to ‘relive the past’ and be diligent about this. For example, “I am going to think of this past event during 5:00 pm – 5:30 pm on my way back from work.” Once that time is up, then there is no more thinking about the past. It sounds corny, but it is actually very effective. This is even more effective if you plan your ‘worry/sadness time’ at an awkward time and place. For instance, “I am going to worry or feel sad about this during 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm while I sit in the furnace room”. Chances are you have other things to do during this time, and who wants to sit in their furnace room?

“Focus on the future. Focus on the lessons you have learned, not where you failed.”

via @luellajonk

Finally, people often romanticize memories, making them more grandiose then they really were, whether that be much worse or much better. We all heard how our parents started working 15 hour days starting at the age of 12 (really Dad?), or how someone fresh out of a broken relationship describes their partner as ‘the most amazing person” and how “we connected like no other relationship” and so on. This is a sign that you are stuck in the ‘honeymoon’ phase of the relationship, where oxytocin is running through your veins and you both had oodles of time to focus on one another’s needs. FYI – that is not where relationships tend to stay. Life happens after that stage and just like every other relationship, it would have experienced strain. The rose tint on your glasses would have turned a hazy grey, and many other colours as the partnership continues.

I hope this post helps you stay with the present. Your loved ones around you want and need you to be in the present. It is not fair for them to often experience you ‘half there’. They cherish you and want you to experience life to the fullest.

Life is short and none of us know when our time is up. Make the best of it.

Today seems like a good day to start.

When to Say or Not Say How You Really Feel

When to Say or Not Say How You Really Feel

This question comes up A LOT in my office. Especially, when it comes to communicating with the ones you care for the most or spend the most time with.

Personally, I have to admit I love hanging around people who say it like it is. This is the person who isn’t afraid of how their words may be interpreted by others. I feel you are being genuine when you express how you really feel.

Why? Think of what the implications might be if you were to do the opposite. Would you prefer to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Are you conforming to act or express yourself in a certain way that is really not authentic to you and how YOU feel? There is a huge risk in doing this. I don’t mean you lost a chance to express yourself in the moment, what I mean is…

The risk is that you are not aligning toward your true core values.

Think about it. For every interaction or communication attempt you make in life with another individual, you are negotiating with yourself first. It may be a split-second decision in terms of what comes out of your mouth, but it is a decision that is based on how this response feels to you. What sort of energy is flowing through your body?

You may have heard me in the room note that the most important relationship you have in life is with yourself. Therefore, you check in with yourself first, and if it feels right, express this to your communicative partner. The person may not like what you are saying, or agree with what you are saying, but if it aligns with your values, then it is the best response you can give to them. If this person has similar values as you – then they will eventually understand you.

What are my values you ask?

Many people do not know what their values are. Have you ever tried to list your top 5 values? Think of what is the most important to you at this time in your life. Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  1. Family
  2. Purpose in Life
  3. Spirituality/Religion
  4. Children
  5. Partner
  6. Honesty
  7. Non-judgement
  8. Maintaining Close Friendships
  9. Service to your Community
  10. Trust
  11. Commitment
  12. Respect
  13. Physical Health
  14. Education

Now, let’s put this in action by giving you an analogy in which you need to first negotiate with yourself, check in to your core values, and then decide what comes out of your mouth. I will provide the analogy of two romantic partners in a communication attempt with one another. The couple is Todd and Rhianna. I will assist Rhianna to check in with her core values in order to play this out. Her top values happen to be; Career, Children, Honesty, Physical Health, and Emotional Health. Todd and Rhianna have 3 children under 8 years old.

The family has just had supper. It is a beautiful summer evening. The kids have been wanting to get school supplies for some time and the parents also want to get this done, so they decide to head out to Staples. Then, Rhianna receives a text from one of her close friends who wants to take advantage of this summer evening, and requests she join her for a walk to catch up. They haven’t had a chance to see each other in a long time and Rhianna would love to connect with her. However, Rhianna knows her family has plans, so she begins to negotiate with herself.

 “I want to help the kids and Todd pick out supplies. I have always helped them with the school lists. Todd is not the most organized and I know he prefers me to help him. I haven’t made time to go for a walk in so long. How many more nights will we have like this? Summer is coming to an end. It would be nice to see her.”

Let’s stop and check her core values? What is pulling her toward walking? Physical health, emotional health, and honesty. What is pulling her towards jumping in the car with Todd? Her children and partner.

There you have it. Negotiation is done. Rhianna is going for walk with her girlfriend. Are the kids and Todd happy about it? Probably not, but that is okay. Why? Because by aligning to her core values, Rhianna is a happier and more fulfilled person.

Could Todd call her selfish? Perhaps (if he is a jerk – sorry, but it is true), but I like to call this selfless. Rhianna is aligning to her own self-worth. Her ‘self-check’, which occurred in milliseconds, would have told her whether to fulfill her needs today or not. Maybe if Rhianna was at the cabin days prior to this and went on lots of nature hikes with her family or by herself, she might have passed on this opportunity. However, something is pulling her to take care of herself, her emotional and physical health. Most importantly, Rhianna is being HONEST, which to me is one of my most important values. I don’t think I could write this post without you being able to see what values are important to me. This is how I write. I check in with myself so I can be authentic and real in the way I write. My posts, ideas, and thoughts are not always going to sit well with all that read them, and that is okay.

This is why the title of this post is what it is. When to say or not say how you really feel. What you do not understand is that if you continue to be disingenuous to yourself, you are living a shallow life. And the vignette written above shows a simple example of what practising this in daily life might look like. If you don’t practise the self-check-in on a daily basis, you are not going to be able to do it when it comes to major life decisions. Should I have children or not? Do I want to live just outside the city or not? Do I enrol my kids in public or private school? Do I pick the kids up from daycare or does my partner? Do I have a meeting with my administration asking for a promotion/raise or do I sit quiet? Do I contact my professor to question this exam mark or not? Do I end this relationship or continue to spend time with this person?

Hmmm – Suddenly, this post is not so light anymore.

Are you living up to your core values? Or are you simply taking the path of least resistance in order to just scrape by? These days of scraping by are adding up to years of your life.

The best time to start living according to your values is today.”

via @luellajonk

The best time to start living according to your values is today. Are you putting too much effort, money, or time into living according to a value that is not even on your list? If so, this might be why you are feeling like you are today.

I hope this helps you make some better choices in the days to come. I want you to become an excellent negotiator not only with yourself, but with the people around you. If that inner dialogue is not going well, then ask yourself one simple question.

What are my concerns? What am I fearing?

The answers will come.

I Just Want Stillness

I Just Want Stillness

But do you really?

It is interesting how one’s craving for solitude can be another’s sense of loneliness.

Peace, solitude, loneliness, quietness, stillness, calm. All these descriptors may have different meanings depending who you ask.

Is it possible to have one without the other? No one wants to feel lonely. However, some crave solitude. To me, it seems to be that they correlate with different stages in life.

As you can imagine I see clients at all stages in life. A mom with a newborn who doesn’t seem to get a minute of alone time, yet feels lonely a lot of the time. Same with a spouse in an unhappy marriage. While another mom of three children under the age of 10, working from home during Covid, would cut off her right arm for solitude. But instead, you lock yourself in the bathroom in order to get 5 minutes of ‘solitude’. Another widowed client who spends 80% of her existence alone may experience a deep sense of loneliness. Finally, one of the saddest cases, a young child whose parents are dismissive, ‘too busy’ or physically not present in his life feels an extreme sense of abandonment.  

The common thread here is that we want what we can’t have, in that moment. The mom of young children, wanting desperately to run away at times, craves peace and solitude, while the elderly or extremely young crave connection, touch, companionship.

With the exception of the young child (who naturally needs nurturing, a sense of belonging and importance), you as an adult, need to realize there are times you need to adapt. Rather than focusing on what you do not have in the moment, whether that be peace and quiet or the presence of another human being, try to remind yourself of what stage of life you are in – in the moment. But most importantly, use the power of the mind. You can ‘make’ loneliness lessen. How badly do you want connection?

If you are one of those individuals that finds yourself alone right now, whether that be as a product of spousal separation, death of a spouse, empty nest syndrome, or the end of the a relationship, try to accept this for what it is. It may be temporary, or it may not be temporary. If temporary, try to see it as an opportunity to sit and think. Sit and think you say? I think too much!!

I don’t mean rumination of thoughts, which is detrimental to your emotional health, I mean to just sit with your feelings. Some people call this meditation. You can call it whatever you want, but whatever you call it – it is good for your mind, heart and soul. No device, no music, just crickets. Sit with your feelings. And be okay with marinating in that. The more you do this, the more you should want to do this. See it as an emotional health pit stop in the journey of life. Maybe you will start crying. That is okay. It just means you needed that.

So, yes. Whether this alone time is temporary (in the case of a break-up for example) or not temporary (in the case of the elderly), then try to realize that you are in the driver’s seat. If you continue looking into the rear-view mirror, you are going to run off the road. In other words, stop focusing on the past and what you ‘did have’ and look ahead towards your new future. PLEASE do not say – I am too old, slow, crippled, etc. If we all had that type of mindset, I think we would all still be living in caves. I mentioned Terry Fox in my last post. Look at what you can accomplish once you put your mind to it. If you are creative, adventurous, and curious in life, you can never go wrong. Rather than focusing on ‘how alone you are’ realize it all begins with a conversation. It is up to you to connect.

“Rather than focusing on ‘how alone you are’ realize it all begins with a conversation. It is up to you to connect.”

via @luellajonk

As I write this during the Covid pandemic, I realize that for the elderly, it may not be as easy as it sounds due to mobility or safety issues. However, there is always the phone, video, promoting/arranging visits where/when possible.  Adopting a victim mentality is something you do NOT want to do. When you keep your mind busy, (cleaning, cooking, purging, puzzles, painting, etc.) it is difficult to feel alone.  Call it solitude and remember how you may have once craved this so badly!

And hey, I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Tinder, Bumble, and whatever dating app you may have been thinking of trying or have tried. If you feel the need to connect to another human, and you are asking me if you should use a dating app, the answer is a full blown ‘go for it’.

And yes, that means you too Grandpa. Polish up those loafers, grab that walker and get out there. For the ones that are a bit more spry and single, let’s face it…you no longer have the water cooler to provide you with that opportunity to spark up a conversation. God knows it is literally impossible to ‘bump into someone’ at your local grocery store to start a conversation, unless you want to be handcuffed and escorted out of the store! Clearly you failed to follow the physical distancing rules. Shame on you.

All joking aside. Respecting social physical distancing (hate the word social) is a real thing. How are you supposed to meet someone?? And honestly, I see these apps like your ‘one stop shop’. You can choose True Valueä or Giardiello – it’s up to you. You can also let this potential candidate know whether you like texting back and forth or instead speak by phone or in person. As I said in a previous post, just tell it like it is. Be specific in terms of what you want. Don’t pretend. And if it turns out to be a total disaster, it was 1.5 hours of your life? Big deal. I am sure it will make for a great topic of conversation the next time you get together with your friend, therapist or co-worker.

This post seems to be a lot about finding happiness doesn’t it? Is it easy for you to feel happy when you are alone? If not, maybe you should do that emotional pitstop as I mentioned earlier. Just sit with your feelings for a while. Close your eyes, and focus on your breath, and extend the exhale a little bit longer each time you breathe in. Let the thoughts come. What emotions do you feel? Why are those emotions there? Let them come in and let them go. Just like the white puffy clouds above, these thoughts will pass. Let the energy move through your body instead of allowing it to be stuck, as this will only bring you tension and inflammation. After all, it is only a thought. It is not real. And furthermore, you created that thought.

Doing this exercise is so important. Just sit and think. Think about what you do have right now. It is August 14, 2020. It looks like we are going to get some much-needed rain. The air smells amazing right now. Nature will drink this up and display it’s beauty even more so. Enjoy this moment.

If you are so lucky as to be at the lake, then this experience may be even more spiritual for you. If you are reading this in your apartment, you might have a small balcony to take in the fresh summer air. Then there are always our beautiful parks or a quiet country road to walk along. Nature is there for all of us. Be happy in this moment and have gratitude for everything you do have. Most importantly, you are always in the driver’s seat, so look out in front of you, and take that car wherever you want it to go. You will not be disappointed.

As they say, life is a highway. Okay – I know that it is tacky to include a link to Tom’s song here…but how can I not pay homage to this Manitoban! And he does do a great job with that harmonica…

The fact is when on this highway, there are lots of hills and valleys, sharp turns, roundabouts and roadblocks, but you will get to your destination. You will be alright.