Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


1 Comment

The Extra Mile- Is It Worth It?

Henri Nouwen said the following:

“Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant… Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”

This has always been my philosophy. I may not have been able to articulate it as such, but I think it is the way I have usually lived and conducted my life. Several years ago when I was introduced to the Eneagram and discovered I was personality type number four, I was given another layer of understanding. Fours will take agony over nothing because it makes you feel alive and not invisible. I had more words to articulate my personality and philosophy.

The last couple of years though, I find myself questioning whether or not I want to continue to make decisions based on the “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” theory. I’m not talking only about romantic relationships, but the way I have approached every aspect of my life. Give with all my heart because that is who I am. That is how I am wired.

Truth is, I love living my life that way. I’m actually proud of it. I got the extra proverbial mile. Okay, let’s face it, I go thousands of extra miles, as a mom, step-mom, therapist, family member, friend. When I was very young, I remember my mom saying that I give so much of myself, which is fine until I expect others to give back the same. When they don’t I get crushed. She understood me from the very beginning. And it’s the line in Henri Nouwen’s quote about being rejected, abandoned, or left by death that gets to me. I love giving passionately. That is, until it hurts. Then I question the whole way I conduct my life.

In my practice, I have often gone beyond the normal expectations. I will do a home visit if someone has lost their license, has a bad back, or suffered a particularly difficult trauma. I have given several free sessions for different circumstances. I have attended weddings, funerals and other meaningful events when requested to do so. I don’t charge for those extra phone calls between sessions or for letters to be written. And I do it because I want to. I do it because it is how my heart beats. Then I do something- less than perfect, or not what is anticipated, or whatever it may be, and the client gets angry or upset, and drops out of therapy. It may or may not be accompanied by a torrent of harsh words. I know professionally that this happens. But regardless of any intellectual knowledge I have, it still knocks the wind out of me. Years of going out of my way and doing all the extras are forgotten because one ounce of upset negates several tons of love and compassion.

Or perhaps it is my family. As a step-mom, I vowed on my wedding day to seek to love my non-biological children as much as any biological children I had. I know there is a difference, but my goal was to minimize that difference as much as was in my power to do so. And anyone that knows me, knows I have kept that vow. Of course I’ve made mistakes and I’m far from perfect. But I have been there. I have sacrificed and interrupted my life innumerable times. I have given on some occasions, far more than any biological family members have given them. I have opened up my home dozens and dozens of times to my husband’s FORMER wife and her family over and over again in order to make things comfortable for the kids. And I don’t mind… that is, until I get hurt or attacked or whatever. Then I wonder if I should make different choices.

I could go on and on but you get the point. I am challenged all the time by my professional peers, counselors that care about me, friends that love me- that perhaps I need to not always go that extra mile. Disappointment and hurt are part of the human condition and are inevitable. But is it possible that it might hurt a little less if I haven’t gone so far beyond the call of duty when it happens?

I don’t have any answers. I just keep wondering and thinking and wondering and thinking about it. But part of me also wonders if it is a futile exercise. The bottom line is, I don’t know if I am capable of living any other way. Sure, we can tweak things a bit, but overall? I’m not sure I know how to relate to the world in any other way but the intense way in which I do. I can provide evidence of ways that I have been a bit more self-protective and held back a bit so as to learn from the lessons I have encountered in my life. But overall? I will probably always love deeply like Henri Nouwen says.

I have met a few people who have chosen NOT to allow themselves to love deeply. They will not risk it. They just won’t. I adore them, but know I will be kept at a certain distance. It makes me sad, but then I have to admit, they seem happier than I am on a consistent basis. They are more alone, but they also don’t experience the aggravation and hurt as often. If I am totally honest, part of me is even envious of them. I wish I could distance myself and protect myself more.

Again, I’ve made some progress. I’m slowly, slowly learning how to be slightly more judicious in how I put myself out there. But the bottom line is, you never know when you invest how it is going to end. Just like with being an advocate, you don’t know when you will be successful so you just have to keep trying. And I will keep trying to take better care of myself, but in the big picture, I will probably keep loving deeply and keep praying for that fruit to show itself. Sometimes I just need a different perspective to see the fruit that is there, but sometimes there just isn’t any there to see. Somehow, I will seek to love deeply, but maybe more smartly too.


5 Comments

Happiness or Hope?

I read a most intriguing article this week. It is from the magazine The Psychotherapy Networker, and was written by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The title is “The Downside of Happiness.” Here is the link if you want to check it out: http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/magazine/currentissue/item/2551-the-downside-of-happiness

As a person that struggles with depression, I have certainly spent a lot of time pursuing being happy. As a single person, one of the most repetitive things I hear is, “You have to be happy with yourself before you can meet someone else.” The next logical step in that thinking, is that if you are alone, you must not have achieved being happy alone. (The next step is, “It’s my own fault if I’m alone.”)

The article doesn’t debate the obvious benefits of happiness, it just points out the balance of the other side. I won’t go into details, but let me say that the research seemed well founded and ethical. Here are some of their interesting conclusions.

“Researchers have found that when you enter into a situation with the goal of becoming happier, you actually make that less likely to occur.” “…adults with the greatest desire to be happy felt lonelier, more depressed…” Well, that explains a lot.

The upside of being less than happy? Also pretty intriguing. “…if your goal is to gain assistance, this is the wrong time to feel happy, express happiness, and minimize the unpleasantness of sadness.” When you need to be a highly effective advocate for yourself or someone else, it is good to “own your feelings of frustration and effectively communicate them.” In the workplace and other environments, it is better to let everyone know that it’s safe to feel a full range of feelings, rather than being sure that positivity “reigns supreme.”

The article also warns us to distinguish between wanting and liking. It is human tendency to want something far more than we actually like them for the long-term once we actually get them. Hmmm…

Summary statements: “…under certain predictable circumstances, being mildly unhappy seems to be better than being happy.” And “…if you want to be surrounded by productive, creative, satisfied people, create an environment where diverse feelings and behaviors are honored.”

Don’t get me wrong. I still want to feel more happy than I am. I most certainly do. But I admit I felt a little better after reading this article. I especially love it when I have figured something out on my own and then read “evidence” to back it up later. What I mean specifically, is that I developed a tagline when my first book came out and I still stick to it today. EMBRACE IT ALL. Own all of it, be honest with all of it. The happy. The sad. The hard. The easy. The ugly. The connection. The loneliness. The positive. The negative. I will hope for happiness, but I won’t be afraid to admit my sadness. And apparently, that’s not such a bad thing.

Then I got an email from my friend I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. She sent me this song about hope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KIhYZQ_ovw&app=desktop It’s worth cutting and pasting the link!

The words describe the darkness without holding back. Then it refers to hope in God and love. I think that can also apply to any person here on earth that loves and cares for us, even if it’s not a “significant other.” It was great timing for me. Instead of “pursuing” happiness, I think I will concentrate more on hope. Sounds like a good plan, even according to “research!”