Family, Duty, Honor. But This Isn’t Game of Thrones.

“Monopoly, anyone?” It was always the game we played up at the lake, when everyone was around. A few times we tried Risk; group Solitaire was always a family favorite. But it was always Monopoly that got everyone going.

Every year we would go up to our cabin on a lake in the Adirondacks and play this game of Monopoly. Before we kids grew up, no one really knew anything about fiscal conservatisms or capitalism. The cousins and I would just kind of bought up properties and sold them at a whim while playing this game of Monopoly. Tempers flew when someone lost but couldn’t figure out that having all four train stations paled in comparison to having a monopoly on the all three red spaces.

Now, however, the strategy was plotted before the game even started. Secret trade deals were made that would make Mr. Moneybags roll over in his grave. It’s the better knowledge of how to play the game and cheat your family members out of their money that makes the game that much more fun and infuriating.

But Monopoly is not the only reason we go to the lake, nor the lake the only place we go. My family likes to uphold an annual schedule of things, so every August my grandmother comes up from Maryland and my surrounding aunts, uncles and cousins all congregate under my roof in Massachusetts. While we are all together we go on the annual trip to Powder Point in Duxbury, make the annual trek to the beach, have the annual ice cream cone at Farfar’s, and feast the annual feast at Red Lobster in Plymouth.

This past summer, however, we had an addition to the crew: my brother’s girlfriend, Claire. Claire is by no means a new addition; she was there at our last Monopoly game, she went down with my brother to visit my grandmother just this month, and she was there the day we spread my grandfather’s ashes up at the lake.
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This was her first experience of the annuals, and she was starting to fit in, until the last night everyone was here, when everything got a bit out of hand.

It should be noted that my grandmother is a news junky, or rather a politics junky. Now, without diving too deeply into politics (this isn’t Game of Thrones or one of those articles), politics are all she talks about. It can be a bit overbearing, and, along with most of my family, she is on the exact opposite side of the spectrum from Claire.

A conversation started during hors d’oeuvres. A comment was made about how the media had focused in on an Olympian woman who had won a fencing match while wearing a hijab. While my uncles and mother claimed that the feat itself, a Muslim woman winning the gold metal, was the real accomplishment, Claire argued that the symbol of the hijab was just as important. Words of oppressive religious practices were thrown around and the conversation got a little heated. Claire got backed into a wall, being the only one who had her own separate view.

Seeing my brother’s girlfriend sit there and squirm under the pressure to support her views made me cringe. It was like Monopoly up at the lake, but this wasn’t a game and we weren’t dealing with paper money. I spoke up in her defense.

I said that while writing, an author or journalist often times wants something to pull from, a symbol that ties it together and makes the point clearer. Metaphor is one of the greatest tools of the human language and allows for easier flow of understanding. The use of the hijab was a metaphorical crutch for the article’s message.

My family just went on arguing, but Claire shot me a thankful look.

***

Later, after my aunts and uncles had gone back to their respective homes and we had seen my grandma off back to Maryland, my mom expressed a concern to me. She said, “I don’t like being at odds with my family.” She went on to describe the scene after the confrontation, when everyone had left the room and only her and my brother remained. My brother had approached my mom about her views and how much they differed from his own, a shock to her.

“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, mom.”

“Yes, but I’m afraid that your brother feels challenged by us. I did not mean for that to come up with Claire. I was relieved when Uncle Mark changed the topic to sports. I just don’t want you two to feel distant from all of us because we have differing political views.”

“Mother, you wound me. You know how much we love our family.”

To prove our loyalty, a month later my brother and I went and got matching tattoos: a combination of our family crest and the shield of the Blue Angels, the group in which my grandfather had flown in during Korea.


Chris Largent is currently employed as a Content Marketing Specialist for HMI Performance Incentives, Chris writes copy for various clients in the form of email and print marketing. While employed as an intern at Hudson Valley Public Relations, Chris helped to write blog articles about an assortment of relevant ideas in the Public Relation, Marketing and Advertisement industries. These blogs are all about stimulate business health and growth. In his time at Hudson Valley Public Realtions, Chris wrote an assortment of content for the firm’s clients, ranging from law to finance. He also worked on projects within HVPR to help promote events and articles through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. In his free time, Chris likes to write, read and hike.

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How to Take the Headaches Out of Holiday Travel

In the coming days weary holiday travelers are sure to see their fair share of busy highways, crowded airports, and packed buses and flights. It’s no big surprise that the sheer number of people on the roads and in the skies creates a headache-inducing experience for many – both literally and figuratively. The good news is there are a few things you can do to take the headaches out of holiday travel.

Make Use of Helpful Apps

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There are many apps that aim to make traveling a bit less stressful. My TSA, for instance, offers 24/7 access to the critical information passengers need to know, such as wait times, details on what items are permitted in checked and carry-on baggage, and other information.

If you’re traveling by car, the Waze App is a handy tool that offers real-time traffic and road information to help you plan the best route to grandma’s house while avoiding construction, congested highways, and other delays.

Start Early and Allow Plenty of Time for Unexpected Delays

Whether you’re traveling by air, car, or bus, plan to arrive early and allow ample time to cope with unexpected delays. Both the roads and skies are busier in the days leading up to the holidays, so flight delays and slow traffic patterns should be expected. If you’ve given yourself plenty of leeway, a delay or two won’t end up making you late for your mom’s famous pumpkin pie.

If Possible, Stay with Your Luggage

Before your trip the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure you’re up to date on the latest luggage size requirements and checked bag allowances for airlines. This will help you avoid any unforeseen delays and fees when it’s time for you to fly the friendly skies.

Then, on your travel date, try to stay with your suitcase and other luggage if possible. With so many travelers making their way through airports, bus stations, and the like, even attendants doing their very best to funnel everyone’s luggage to the right location can sometimes make mistakes. If you have to check your bags, attach a bright tag, scarf, or some other easily identifiable object so that you can quickly pick your bags out of the crowd. It’s also helpful to take a photo of your luggage so that you have a record in the event that your bags end up misrouted halfway across the country.

Sign Up for the U.S. Registered Traveler Program

Delays going through airport security are among the most common headache-inducing challenges of holiday travel. Trusted Traveler Programs offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection can make getting through airport security for international travel a bit easier. Likewise, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a service that allows people traveling abroad to register their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, providing updates about the conditions in your destination country and allowing the U.S. Embassy to get in touch with you quickly during an emergency.

Use Your Smartphone to Your Advantage

In addition to the many helpful apps that can help you travel more easily this holiday season, your smartphone can also be a valuable tool for backing up identification and documentation. If you have health conditions, for instance, you can take photos of any letters from your physician, prescriptions, and other health-related info that you might need in case of emergency. Do the same for your driver’s license, passports, and other travel-related documents. Should you lose your carry-on bag or luggage, you can still verify your identify and access critical health information if needed.

Create a Travel Emergency Kit

There are a multitude of issues that can create travel delays over the holidays. A holiday travel kit can save the day should you find yourself stuck in the airport for several hours or even overnight. Your travel kit should include things to help pass the time, like books and magazines, some snacks and beverages, backup batteries for your tech, a neck or back pillow, and anything else that will help keep you (and your family or travel companions) comfortable during the unexpected.

Holiday travel doesn’t have to be a drag. While it’s wise to expect the unexpected, a bit of strategic planning and a flexible approach will help you roll with the punches and cope with whatever obstacles the holiday travel madness happens to throw your way.

**PHOTO CREDIT: Image via Flickr by Jason**


Jennifer McGregor co-created the site PublicHealthLibrary.org to help people find reputable information on health topics. Her mission is to push reputable health information to the forefront and make it easier to find.

 

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The Origins and Manifestations of Internal Conflicts in Members of Dysfunctional Families, and How to Recognize Them

As much as Americans like to think of ourselves as independent-minded individuals who don’t care a lot about what our families think, we are still very much tied into our families of origin – even if on the surface we seem to be estranged from them. As young children, we are biologically programmed to try to figure out what our family seems to need from us, and then we provide it. If we appear to be oppositional, it is only because we think that our family needs us to be oppositional! Black sheep sometimes come in handy for a group. The “oppositionality” in those cases is a mirage.

But what happens if our entire family is confused and conflicted about how their members ought to behave in certain life situations? For example, since societal expectations regarding gender role functioning has changed drastically over just a couple of generations, what if the family does not know whether they should follow the new set of rules or the old ones? The ambient culture sometimes demands changes in family behavior that come too fast for some families to adjust to, creating intrapsychic conflicts in the minds of the individual members. Anthropologists call this phenomenon cultural lag.

Because many kids go to school with a wide variety of peers from a wide variety of subcultures, they are often more exposed to outside influences than are their parents, who tend to travel in more limited social circles. This often creates intra-generational conflict – what we old baby boomers used to refer to as the generation gap. But even the adults in this situation are hardly immune from hearing about new cultural opportunities for individual expression and autonomy. Unless, as comedian Bill Maher used to say, they live in a cave and don’t get cable.

Freud and his psychoanalyst friends, while completely wrong about a great many things such as schizophrenogenic mothers and penis envy in females, were really on track when they wrote about intrapsychic conflicts. Well, almost on track—as a I will explain shortly. Intrapsychic conflict is defined by analysts as the situation created when one’s impulses to do various things compete with the values one has learned growing up in a particular family and culture. Freud saw this conflict as being mostly internal – between so-called psychic structures he named the id (your biological urges like having sex) and superego (your conscience).

In my somewhat contrasting opinion, the conflict is both internal and interpersonal.

This idea provides us with an important way to integrate three of the major “schools” of psychotherapy: psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and family systems. To boil it down and admittedly oversimplify the situation, conflicts that people experience over what to think and how to behave are triggered and reinforced, on a variable intermittent reinforcement schedule, by family members who are stuck with rules of behavior that are no longer adaptive because of changes in the ambient culture. In a sense, the whole family shares the intrapsychic conflict.

Because they are conflicted, almost all family members in this situation give one another mixed or contradictory double messages about what behavior they expect from one another. This then leads to a process which causes individuals to behave repetitively in self-destructive ways. I will not be discussing that process in this post, but you can find detailed discussions about it on my two blogs, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/matter-personality and http://davidmallenmd.blogspot.com/.

If you are stuck in such a situation and are motivated to recognize the double messages and to try to discuss the shared conflicts in a meaningful way (metacommunication), how might you recognize when other family members are thusly conflicted? This post will discuss how to do that. Specifically, I will discuss how the process makes use of the intrinsic ambiguity that is a feature of all language. Ambiguity is used by those who are highly conflicted to accomplish two goals:

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  1. Keeping their conflicted feelings, beliefs and motivations unclear to other people.
  1. Keeping those things unclear to even themselves—in order to avoid fear, anxiety, and/or accidentally acting on or revealing forbidden desires.

Linguists tell us that any sentence in any language can be interpreted on two different levels – which may then conflict. One level is the purely lexical or object level, that is, what the specific words actually mean. The other level is called the meta level. This level concerns the relationship of the two people having the conversation in which any statement is made. The context provided by the entire history of the relationship between the two people can dramatically alter the meanings of the sentences.

If I say to a friend “I love ice cream” as we pass an ice cream parlor, I may not merely be conveying a message about my preferences in dairy products. I might also be suggesting, for example, that we stop and have an ice cream. The indirect nature of the request may, among several possibilities, indicate that I lack the power in the relationship to just demand that my friend go into the parlor with me. The power differential would be part and parcel of the nature of the relationship between the two people.

Whenever two people who have formed a relationship have a conversation, any statement made may refer to either the object or the meta level. The two levels may seem to be in harmony or they may contradict each other. Another way of looking at this phenomenon is that all statements may refer either to the feelings, thoughts, and intentions of the individual apart from the relationship context, or to the feelings, thoughts, and intentions within the relationship context.

When the listener does not know which of these descriptions best applies to a given statement, an ambiguity is created about the motives of the person making the statement. The statement, “I love ice cream,” is an example of a statement in which the object and meta levels would not be contradictory in most social situations. It is totally consistent for me to both like ice cream no matter who I am with or even if I am alone and for me to want my friend to accompany me to an ice cream parlor right now. If, on the other hand, I make this statement as we pass an ice cream parlor while implying that I would rather be somewhere else, then the motivation behind my statement becomes ambiguous. And confusing.

In these cases, ambiguity often arises because the usual actions of one of the people in the conversation imply something completely different from what the person seems to be saying or requesting. As we all know, actions speak louder than words. Individuals will invariably react to such ambiguity, but surprisingly they do not tend to think of the communication as ambiguous.

For instance, if a widowed mother says to her son, “You don’t care about me; you never want to come when I desperately need you,” it is natural for him to assume that his mother wants him to change his behavior. He believes that she wants him to gladly come over whenever he is needed.

It seems that he will continue to believe this even if the requests for help are made with impossible frequency at times clearly inconvenient for him and without a shred of gratitude on his mother’s part when he complies. He may continue to believe this, in fact, even if criticized every time he complies with his mother’s request!

The son in this situation is in a rather strange bind. He is being criticized by his mother for attempting to please her. To add insult to injury, her requests are almost impossible to follow without a complete disregard for his own needs. Interestingly, most people in such a predicament do not come to the conclusion that the mother may not, in fact, really want the help she asks for, or, alternately, that she does not even know whether she wants it or not. The idea of an intrapsychic conflict being the cause of such behavior is not generally considered, even though it is the most common cause.

The idea that the mother is knowingly pushing the helper away for some ulterior motive is one that just does not appear to most people to make any sense. However, this is precisely what is happening. This is what I refer to as the net effect of her infuriating behavior. I believe that the net effect tells us the often covert purpose for which the behavior was originally designed.  However, it does not tell us why it was thusly designed.

The ambiguity in Mom’s motivation in this case does, however, suggest the possibility that she has a conflict within herself over her dependency needs. Perhaps she is not happy being looked after by her son, but might believe, for example, that being independent is not proper for a woman. Gender roles! No matter how the son behaves in regard to the issue, she becomes displeased. because his actions interfere with either her true desires for independence or the rules required by the gender role that she learned in her own family of origin. He is in a “no-win” situation. However, her displeasure does not result directly from the son’s behavior, but from her own internal conflicts.

With this in mind, let us look at the ambiguity of the “you don’t care about me” part of her statement. It may refer not to the son’s lack of concern for his mother per se, but to the motives behind his helping behavior. It could mean that she believes that the son’s behavior is based on his own selfish wish to dominate her, rather than on her desire to be looked after by him. He could be helping her because he likes being a kingpin, for instance – not because he cares about her. That would be consistent with the mother’s views of the gender role expected of men by her family.

Within the context of dysfunctional family relationships, it is often true that consideration of the seemingly less likely interpretation of a statement reveals the truth as to what is really going on!

The literary critic William Empson took Freud’s idea of intrapsychic conflict as a springboard for appreciating the art of the poet, which in turn is a way of understanding the poet. Empson conceptualized intrapsychic conflict along psychoanalytic lines, but his ideas can just as well be relevant to a conflict between the individual’s self and the family system to which that self belongs. In the book, Seven Types of Ambiguity, he listed different types of literary ambiguities which indicate increasing levels of confusion in the minds of the reader, the characters, and perhaps the author.

One of the reasons that literature excites us is because we identify with or contrast our feelings with the feelings of the characters as they encounter various predicaments. Those feelings are frequently not fixed, but mixed. Both we and they are plagued with doubts and contradictions. In much the same way, we can enter the internal world of others within our social system. In both cases, we are confronted with various degrees of ambivalence and confusion.

Understanding of Empson’s seven ways in which levels of “two-mindedness” are manifested in language can be used to alert a listener to the possibility that a motivational conflict is present in the speaker. Being able to spot this is key to understanding and then constructively discussing (metacommuncating about) repetitive dysfunctional family interactions. I will end the post with these manifestations of the conflicts I have been discussing so readers can begin to look for them.

In general, the degree or level of the speaker’s awareness of his or her ambivalence increases as we proceed down the list.

  1. A statement makes possible comparisons to several points of likeness or difference. This type of ambiguity turns on the fact that any idea or emotion causes a multitude of associations within the mind of the listener, and also because different people have different associations. A choir, for instance, can lead one person to recall positive images such as grand churches and angelic singing, while for another it summons negative images such as overbearing nuns in Catholic school or guilt-inducing sermons. This is precisely why people use metaphors and why metaphors make language so rich; a single word can stand for so much. A statement is ambiguous when the listener finds himself or herself wondering which of these many potential references and feeling states is in the mind of the author or speaker, and whether they are positive or negative.
  1. Two or more alternate meanings are fully resolved because to what the metaphor is really referring seemsfairly clear. This device may or may not be ambiguous, depending on whether or not a question exists as to the actual meaning of the author.
  1. Two apparently unconnected ideas are suddenly connected. A good example of this type of ambiguity is the pun. An ambiguity arises whenever a question exists as to whether or not to connect the meanings, or about how to connect them. I remember an instance in high school in which I made a remark to a friend about another fellow student whom I disliked – and which that guy overheard – about how he belonged to an anti-nuclear weapons organization. I mentioned that the fellow “was in SANE.” He was not quite sure whether or not I had just insulted him.
  1. The speaker indirectly expresses mixed feelings or ambivalence without admitting to them, through the use of exaggeration. Confusion can be communicated, for instance, by provoking in the listener a sense of “methinks he doth protest too much.” In other words, when individuals overstate their feelings, a listener may get the idea that they are covering up opposite feelings. The process involved can also be understood as a manifestation of the defense mechanism known as reaction formation. Individuals may defend against an unacceptable idea by becoming obsessed with the opposite idea, or defend against an unacceptable impulse by compulsively acting in ways contrary to the impulse. A good example was the scandal that surrounded the television evangelist, Jimmy Swaggert. He had vociferously condemned from the pulpit all those who gave in to the “sins of the flesh.” As it turned out, and as many of his critics had suspected all along, he had been giving in to the same temptations himself.
  1. An individual communicates two ideas which may contradict one another in passing from one of them to the other, but does not address the question of their apparent inconsistency. The speaker either does not seem to be holding both ideas in mind simultaneously or never juxtaposes them, so that the issue of their possible mutual exclusiveness can arise for discussion and clarification. For example, a man may expound on his belief that the only road to satisfaction is hard work, but then later start to complain about how bummed out he feels about having to work all the time. As a therapist, I often notice such contradictory statements made literally weeks or even months apart. A therapist really has to pay attention and write good notes about sessions to pick up on this.
  1. The speaker says something in a way that actively signals to the listener that there should be some doubt as to what has been said. The speaker appears to have avoided making a commitment to an idea or expressing his or her true feelings. In this situation the speaker cannot be held accountable for holding any particular opinion. Damning with faint praise would be one example. When a basketball coach describes a player as “tenacious on defense, and always gives one hundred and ten percent,” he is generally not describing one of his starters. A second example is the use of words like “strictly,” “exactly,” or “totally,” as in, “she was not, strictly speaking, very intelligent.” A third way is through the use of nonverbal communication. A grin or a raised eyebrow will often negate the content of what is being said at the lexical level. In all of these cases, the listener is forced to guess what the speaker really means.
  1. The last type of ambiguity is a full contradiction, in which the author or speaker obviously seeks to “have it both ways.” Speakers make statements which indicate neuroticism or indecisiveness. They may go on and on ad nauseam describing the pros and cons of particular viewpoint or course of action without ever making a decision. They may obsessively waver back and forth on an issue. They may without warning plunge from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair, or from the idealization to the denigration of a person, thing, or concept.

David M. Allen, M.D. is the author of the book, How Dysfunctional Families Spur Mental Disorders: A Balanced Approach to Resolve Problems and Reconcile Relationships. He is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and the former Director of Psychiatric Residency Training at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. He also has extensive experience in the private practice in psychiatry and psychotherapy. Additionally, he has done research into personality disorders and is a psychotherapy theorist. He is the author of three books for psychotherapists: A Family Systems Approach to Individual Psychotherapy,Deciphering Motivation in Psychotherapy, and Psychotherapy with Borderline Patients: an Integrated Approach, as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters. He is a former associate editor of the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration.

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5 Critical Reasons You Struggle To Feel Loved, Appreciated and Respected In Life and Work

Today’s my birthday, and traditionally, I’ve loved this day – June 2nd. I have very happy memories going way back, of celebrating this day with dear friends and family. One of my fondest memories is of a wonderful party for my 18th birthday given by my dear friend Nan in her garage (because the outdoor party was rained out). I felt treasured and very happy on that day, even with the heavy downpours and dampened festivities, because I felt the true love of my friends.

It’s wonderful to experience deeply the love and appreciation from others, and to receive and hear messages that people reserve only for special occasions like birthdays.

But I’ve found too that sometimes, soaking in these loving messages — really taking them in, down to my toes – can be challenging for me, and many others have shared that they have this challenge too.

Why is it hard to truly embrace and accept (and be healed by) an outpouring of love, appreciation and gratitude from others?

I believe there are 5 key reasons we keep ourselves from truly feeling love, respect and appreciation – why we block ourselves from letting it in, and healing from it.

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Here are the top five reasons we stop ourselves from soaking in love and appreciation:

#1: We have grown distrustful of what people say to us, especially if it’s kind.

Even when friends, colleagues and family share beautiful sentiments about us, many of us have grown distrusting and skeptical of what people say, and find it hard to believe people are being truthful when they’re being highly complimentary.  Sadly, we wonder, “Why are they being so nice – what’s in it for them?”

#2: We keep ourselves too busy and distracted in life, that we fail to give ourselves the breathing room to inhale all the love.

Being over-the-top busy every minute of every day is a true disease today in our society that affects millions of people. We run round and round like hamsters on a wheel, only to come to the end of each day with no time for real rest, or to contemplate our blessings, and acknowledge what we’re grateful for. This pertains to love as well – many of us are stingy with ourselves, our time and our ability to take in love.

#3: We don’t feel worthy of this love, deep down, or comfortable “holding” it, so we deflect it.

So many folks I work with and know have been trained NOT to love themselves. Their parents or authority figures encouraged them to be blind to (and neglectful of) their own magnificence, beauty and amazingness. If we don’t believe in our own extraordinary qualities, then external words of love and praise simply don’t get through.

#4. Some of the hurts we’ve experienced from the past can be like bottomless pits that won’t be filled, even when love is pouring in.

In conducting therapy and coaching with thousands of people over 11 years, I’ve seen firsthand (and lived it) that some of the hurts we have remain open – like deep, unprotected wounds that won’t heal. These wounds are like bottomless pits – love and kindness may pour in, but the wounds don’t close and don’t fill in until we take proactive measures to heal them.

#5: We’re so used to love that’s “conditional” – meaning, that we’ve learned we have to bend ourselves in half and do back flips in order to earn “love” from others –  that we don’t know what to do with beautiful, unconditional love that comes our way.

Most of us have been trained that, in order to be loved, we have to be pleasing – we have to do what others want us to do, and avoid getting in the way, and making “trouble.” But real love doesn’t depend on our pleasing others. Real love is unconditional, and we’re not used to how that feels.

Today, I’m committed to soaking in all the love I’m receiving. And I’m determined to hold and savor this love and appreciation every day of my life. Not just my birthday.


**Kathy Caprino, M.A., is an internationally-recognized women’s career success and work-life expert, leadership consultant, speaker, and trainer dedicated to the advancement of women in business.  A featured contributor on women’s careers, business and leadership for Forbes, Huffington Post, and LinkedIn, she is also the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose.  A champion for working women, Kathy is a former corporate Vice President, a trained psychotherapist, specialized career and executive coach, and sought-after writer and speaker on women’s issues.  She is the Founder and President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and The Amazing Career Project, supporting women to build successful, rewarding careers of significance.

Read the original published article here!

 

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Family Gatherings of a New Kind

Well, it’s getting to be that time of year again. Mom’s already worrying about where we’ll find room for Auntie Sue and Cousin Bill when they fly in for Thanksgiving, commercials are beginning to boast Black Friday deals for gifts to make Junior light up with joy, and you are busy wracking your brain for the best (and in my case as a broke recent college graduate, the cheapest) holiday presents for all the loved ones on your list. Each landmark of the season emphasizes the same message: the holidays are a time for family. Yet in spite of these same old indicators, this holiday season isn’t going to be quite the same for mine. These past few months I’ve lost some of the most pivotal and, to be fair, completely kooky figures in my life: my headstrong grandma, her kleptomaniac sister, and a fiery aunt. It has been a disturbingly unbalanced year of grief-stricken moments, with the loss of one family member hitting right after the other like a terrible game of dominoes. So at first, this impending family-focused season seemed like nothing but a looming reminder of those I had lost; of how our holidays, our traditions, and our whole family had changed forever

Growing up, I was never much a fan of change, and so the holidays each year were my heyday; it was a time of year I could always count on, with the same old traditions repeating in their perfect pattern. Every Thanksgiving I could expect loads of mashed potatoes prepared by my all Irish-blooded grandma, a plea from my dad to get a potato pot that wasn’t missing a handle (and threatening to topple boiling water all over him), and the mandatory pumpkin pies that no one ever touched. I knew there would be secret-family-recipe-stuffing made by my aunt, which we only discovered years later was taken straight from the back of the Pepperidge Farm box, and a bowl of it prepared for both the “kid table” and the “adult table.” I knew my grandma would grumble when she realized we’d forgotten to put the cranberry sauce out yet again this year and that there would be the frenzied drawing of the Secret Santa before relatives began to depart. I knew my cousins would leave before dinner to make it back home in time to greet their opposite side of the family, and that my uncle wouldn’t pay the pricey airline fees to attend Thanksgiving but would sure as hell be up for Christmas. And all of these nuances—the loving, the nit-picky, the bizarre—they were all A-Okay by me because I knew them. They all made up a collective signature, signing off on another successful family Thanksgiving.

Christmas was always packed full of sacred traditions in much the same way. Each Christmas I could bet there would be buttery sugar cookies baked to perfection by my mom and topped off with festive red and green sugar. I knew my brother would guess at each present before he opened it Christmas morning until my parents decided to start placing rocks inside the packages so he couldn’t decipher the gifts with a simple shake. I knew my grandma would protest if we didn’t save the wrapping paper or blacklist you if you dared throw away leftovers from Christmas dinner (she was not one to waste anything, even the watery remnants of an old Caesar salad). I knew we’d pass around the phone taking turns saying “Merry Christmas” to distant relatives who couldn’t join us, and that my dad would offer me a taste of the Christmas ham before it was served to anyone else. These were the facts of my life.

Even the get-togethers that didn’t go quite according to plan still somehow squeezed themselves into the label of a forevermore family tradition. One year, for instance, my dad chopped his finger nearly clean off while grinding coffee beans for Christmas dessert; now, each Christmas is not complete until someone calls out “And don’t let Glenn make the coffee!” and the room breaks out in laughter as we retell the story yet again.

christmas-ham

You get the picture: the traditions of our annual family gatherings are essential to me. But I’ve been scared about how these get-togethers will change. Will all the grandchildren still go to the movies on Christmas Eve now that our grandma is gone? Will the rest of my aunts and uncles still come to Thanksgiving now that we have lost one of their siblings?

holiday-movie-tradition

But in all my worrying and pondering and plotting about how to preserve our traditions, I’ve realized something: our traditions were always in flux. They’ve always had to morph to fit new circumstances as our family has grown and changed. When my great aunt became too frail to leave her nursing home to join us for Christmas, a new tradition emerged of a small group of us going to visit her each year. When my grandma’s arthritis got too bad for her to peel and mash potatoes anymore, she taught me how. When my brother went off to college, we rescheduled our Christmas tree picking for Thanksgiving weekend so he could be home for the event. And when he got married, his wife joined us in the tradition. When my cousin had kids of her own, we added new stockings with their names on them to the wall and readjusted the Secret Santa accordingly. When cousins grew older and had to work through Christmas Eve, we set aside a plate of food for them and saved present opening until they got there. When the grandkids got too old to be amused by Christmas caroling for grandma, we developed a new tradition of taking grandma to play laser tag. And when she got too old to run around the course with us, we put a chair in the arena so she could play from the sidelines.

laser-tag

You might rail against the change like me and struggle when those kooky traditions you count on one year are gone the next. But change isn’t all bad. It’s inevitable. And it leaves room to create new traditions. Cherish those long-held family traditions while they’re still around, and when they have to change—because now you’ve got to split time between the in-laws, or divide holidays over a set of divorced parents, or account for new grandchildren in your Secret Santa, or even recalibrate after a death in the family—cherish those new traditions too. They’ll be the ones you’re looking forward to at next year’s family Thanksgiving.


 

**Erin Kane is a graduate of Marist College where she studied English, creative writing, theatre, and social work as well as a recent graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course. Published in both the academic and creative writing fields, she is thrilled to now be pursuing a career in the publishing profession.

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If Hope Was A Color

breast-cancer-photo

 

Titties
Nah, nah, you heard me right the first time
Titties
Tatas, boobs, jugs, rag, squeezer pleasers, hooters, Thelma and Louise, attention felons
and “One day, ‘dose mosquito bites will turn into juicy, juicy melons”
Breast.

Breast cancer.

You see it’s not so funny when that’s added into the picture.

Breast….Cancer

Do the math.

I was 16 — 2 lumps, 1 breast.
I mean 10 years ago it was about training bras but now it’s about padded ones
and the underwire just isn’t enough to support me.

The numbers don’t add up
If you divide the chest, subtract the lumps, you’ll see what I wanted to be..
Free.

When I was little
I used to put pink ribbon in my hair.
I would pretend to be a ballerina and let the pink ribbon engulf my body
As I danced freely — from all constraints.

Now pink ribbon gives me night terrors.

Because it’s like a grumbling monster that grew the balls to cuddle up next to me that October night.

Hug me, caress me, stress me,
Enough for my uncomfortability,
But I wasn’t strong enough to put up a fight.

So I lift my arms
Pat left, pat right.

Feel for lumps and bumps because it might be breast cancer
I felt something and hoped.

“Oh maybe it’s nothing”
But my thoughts lingered.
My fear and blissful ignorance held hands and strolled quietly..

and I asked God’s forgiveness for whatever I had done wrong
Made promises I didn’t know that I could keep,

Hoping he would take it away
But I don’t think he heard me.

So I prayed louder and harder

GOD, PLEASE DON’T LET ME HAVE CANCER

His response was silent…
and I was there.

Living on sincere hopes and prayers.
But if hope was a color I would see it in pink with red splashes and purple polka dots
Not as something scary,
But as something beautiful beyond comprehension
Not to mention
…worth fighting for.

So here’s to the warriors who wrap themselves in pink sashes and don’t allow the fear to overcome them.

Here’s to the mamas, sisters, aunties, and cousins who fight like real women
Because 1 in 8 will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

1 in every 8 will develop breast cancer
What if that one was your mother?
Would it force your eyelids open?
Or your sister?
Would it divulge the words you haven’t spoken?
What if that one was your daughter?
Because I’ve seen cancer slaughter daughters and I just wasn’t ready to put on the armor…

1 in every 8 women will develop breast cancer
And I was almost one of them.

 


 

**Evanston, IL native, Bryanna Adams is a senior at Marist College, studying criminal justice, communications, and women’s studies. She’s a sucker for long walks on the beach, deep dish pizza, and social justice discourse. To keep up with her shenanigans, visit: bchrisrenee.blogspot.com

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Retrograde

I need to get a few things out of the way. I am young. I am white. I am straight. And I am male. The world has virtually been designed for people like me to succeed. I cannot—and do not—claim to know the difficulties of people who fall into various marginalized groups. Yet, I am going to write about them.

In a recent interview with Slate Magazine, Jonathan Franzen, perhaps our country’s foremost literary voice, said that he would never venture to write a novel about race. He said that it was “dangerous” to presume that his “good intentions [were] enough to embark on a work of imagination about Black America.” Like me, Franzen is straight, white, and male. He believes there is something paradoxical about reaping the benefits of white privilege and then exploiting the struggles of people unlike him in his writing.

I hope this long-winded disclaimer will, instead, act as a preface for this article. I am going to write empirically about three interviews I conducted with homeless people while doing research for my senior thesis. The numbers vary, but the marginalized groups remain the same. People of different races and members of the LGBTQ community create a large portion of the homeless population, despite the fact that they make up only a small amount of the general U.S. population. Women do tend be homeless less often than men, but if they do become homeless, they are exposed to a drastically higher risk of disease, physical assault, and sexual assault than homeless men.

The idea which guides me is this: it is precisely people unlike me that have the highest risk of homelessness. So, in writing about these people, I have to consider the line that divides compassion and exploitation.

***

homelessness-picture

The Lunch Box is a one-room soup kitchen in Poughkeepsie, New York. It has six long cafeteria-style tables, a small kitchen, and several milk cartons against the back wall—some full of paperback books, others offering an assortment of nearly-rotten fruit and vegetables. It was almost Thanksgiving when I went. On the walls, cardboard pilgrims smiled next to cardboard turkeys. Red and green Christmas garlands added a tinge of off-season color. There were roughly forty people in the room. A few were white, some younger than I expected. But, most were older, black men.

I had mentally rehearsed my elevator-pitch to a mechanical degree. Be quick. Be direct. Do not offend.

My name is Derek. I’m a student at Marist College and I’m working on a senior thesis about local homelessness. Would you be open to answering a few questions?

***

Homeless families consist of 33 percent of the total U.S. homeless population.

The first person I spoke to was a 43-year-old woman. She said that her husband, a roofer, herniated two discs in his back and got laid off because of the injury.

“How long have you been homeless for?” I asked her.

“Not long at all,” she said. “It’s only been a couple weeks. We haven’t slept on the streets or anything yet. We just got evicted from our house and we’ve been staying in the shelter since then.”

She said that she had two kids, both of whom were staying with their grandparents. She added that there wasn’t enough room for her and her husband to stay there as well.

“What do you think is the hardest part about being homeless?” I asked.

“Oh, I really couldn’t say. Like I said, it’s only been a few days.”

“As somewhat of an outside observer then, do you feel like Dutchess County is doing enough to help the homeless?”

“Well, that’s a tough question too,” she said. “I don’t know if I feel comfortable answering it. I can tell you that my husband and I have found ways to get food and we’ve also had some help from my parents. I guess it’s finding a job that’s really the hardest part.”

She went on to say that she had been offered a job as a taxi driver in Poughkeepsie, but she couldn’t afford the $43 fee needed to upgrade her driver’s license from a Class D to a Class C.

Her husband came over midway through the interview, looking quizzical, but stern. I explained why I was there and asked if he wanted to be interviewed as well. He declined and said that he and his wife should leave.

***

37 percent of homeless people in America are black.

The second person I spoke to was a 31-year-old black man. He said he had been born into poverty and had lived in Poughkeepsie his entire life.

“How long have you been homeless?” I asked.

“About four years now.”

“How did you become homeless?”

“I think a few things made it happen. First, a lot of it has to do with drugs.”

Without being prompted, he said he had gone from pot to coke to heroin.

“But, I only became homeless after my mom died a few years ago,” he added. “My dad kicked me out because I couldn’t get clean. But, I think it’s this city too.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know it’s my fault [that I’m homeless], but the city doesn’t give a fuck about us. There’s nothing really proactive to help people before they become homeless. Then, once you do, it’s almost impossible to get back on your feet. I’ve heard that Poughkeepsie is better than most places. They’ve got a lot more shelters and stuff, but I’m telling you, it’s impossible.”

“What’s the hardest part about being homeless?”

“I think it’s boredom. I try to find things to do most days, but it gets so boring.”

This answer stood out to me. Most people I spoke to that night said sleeping in the cold or constantly looking for food were the most difficult parts.

“There was one time when I didn’t talk to anyone for like two weeks,” he said. “It was before I really knew about shelters or places like this. But, I went so long without even having a conversation with someone. I think that was the hardest part.”

***

One in five homeless people in America suffer from mental illness.

The last man I approached was sitting by himself. He was white, boasted a beard that covered his Adam’s apple, and, at sixty-two-years-old, he was the oldest person I interviewed all night.

I quickly felt that his answers and mannerisms were consistent with someone experiencing mental health issues. He spoke tirelessly, but without direction. Throughout our conversation—nearly half an hour long—he often made claims which undercut previous ones.

“How did you become homeless?” I asked.

“I became homeless after my parents were forced to leave the coven [an organization of witches],” he said. “My parents went against the superiors and they kicked us out. After that, we didn’t have a place to live.”

“How long have you been homeless?”

“On and off for thirty years.”

 


 

**Derek Rose is currently a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing at Columbia University. He likes sitcoms without laugh tracks, movies without climaxes, and books about antiheroes. He grew up in Stillwater, New York—a town so small it doesn’t have any street lights. His fiction has appeared in the Atticus Review, Sink Hollow, Potluck Magazine, and Crab Fat Literary Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter (@Derekrose21) and Instagram (@Derekrose212). Check out more of his writing at https://derekroseblog.wordpress.com/.

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Like Endless Rain Into A Paper Cup

When I was thirteen I accidentally traveled back in time to the 60s. That’s sort of what it felt like, anyway. Up until then I considered myself a pretty “vanilla” teenaged girl. Shy, easily influenced, brainy, and desperate to blend in with the other girls in my class. I was in my room one night after school VERY busy listening to my new Jonas Brothers CD when my parents called me into the living room.

“We’re gonna watch a movie, come sit with us?” my dad asked. He phrased the sentence as if I was being given an option. By his tone, I knew I had no option. I reluctantly plopped down in my sofa crease and prepared myself for two hours of apathy. (Movies have never been my cup of tea. I think it’s an attention-span thing.) The movie was called “Across the Universe,” and I could tell from the graphic designs on the DVD Menu alone that this wasn’t like the usual genre of movie my parents gravitate towards. (Them being English Literature teachers, I’ve seen every movie adaptation of every Jane Austen book known to man.)

I was shocked, blown away. I can see how I may be coming off as dramatic when I say this, but no amount of mental training could have prepared me for this moment in my life. “Across the Universe” was turbulent, rebellious, artistically beautiful, exciting and romantic, but above all, what struck me most was the soundtrack. All Beatles songs. I can’t accurately explain how much that movie hit me in all the right places. And thus, my obsession with the 1960s began.

It started with The Beatles (appropriately) but then it evolved to the whole of “The British Invasion.” The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Hollies, The Who. Then I furthered my education to American bands: The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Stooges etc. By the time I was a Sophomore in high school I was an extremely advanced rock n’ roll historian. If my friends knew the extent of my love for elderly rock stars sixty years older than me, they probably would have had me admitted to the most heavily guarded psych-ward in California. Very few of my high school buddies got the chance to visit my house. I never invited anybody over for fear that they would see my poster-covered walls and think I was a serial killer or stalker. You think I’m exaggerating.

I had the four walls of my room painted the exact same colors as the jackets The Beatles were wearing on the Sgt. Pepper album cover. Blue, pink, orange and lime green. (So chic.) Then, those walls were plastered with countless posters of mods and rockers all looking down at me while I slept. Joy Division, Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground chillin’ on my ceiling. My furniture ranged from all things psychedelic to all things grunge. In 11th grade I made a shrine to Andy Warhol in the corner of my room, complete with candles, incense and a painting of Edie Sedgwick my friend made for me. In 11th grade I painted brick walls just above my vanity, in honor of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, of course. And let’s not forget about the Amy Winehouse collage I’ve had behind my door since her Back to Black album came out in 2006. It was an acid-tripping, heavy metal, glitter-covered, flannel-ridden nightmare. And simultaneously, my paradise.

img_9905

I was a little self-conscious about my hobby. Only because it was hard to find people who could relate. While I was discovering Frank Zappa, some of my closest friends were making the transition from The Black Eyed Peas to LMFAO. (NOT that I look down on people who enjoy LMFAO, I’m just saying we were definitely on different wavelengths.) But overall, I think I received more respect for marching to the beat of my own drum. I never once felt that I was outcasted for following my joy. I had managed to trick people into thinking I was cool just because of the music I listened to.

In a way, I am eternally grateful to the artists who have managed to captivate my imagination. Now that I’m a young adult it is so obvious to me how much Debbie Harry has affected my fashion sense, or how Bowie has inspired my love of all things eccentric and bizarre. I’ve realized that every passion and every experience (whether fabricated in my mind or a physical event) is just another Jenga block on the tower of my identity. If I were to remove one, the tower would crumble and I wouldn’t be me. I am composed of every work of art I love.

Now, Oscar Wilde wasn’t a rockstar but he has made some pretty punk rock comments in his time. One of my favourites being: “Art is the most intense mode of individualism the world has known.” There are very few statements that I agree with more. The art you love defines you just as much as the people that you love. The Beatles didn’t make me who I am, their work allowed my soul to express itself the way it had always been meant to be expressed. If I were alive in another era, I would have found the same outlet with Beethoven, William Blake or Robert Frost. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and had I not sat down to watch “Across the Universe” that night, who knows how I would have developed? Sometimes it’s best to do what your parents ask you to.


 

** Emma Tice is a Marist College student form Anaheim, California. Upon her graduation this May, she will have a major in Media Studies and Production and a Creative Writing minor.

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Sprung

“Hop on,” the nurse instructed as she pointed to the scale.

I was going in for an annual checkup and hadn’t thought, until that moment, to weigh myself for the past two months.

“Okay, let me just take my shoes off.”

“No need—they don’t really make that much of a difference.”

“Okay…”

Wary, the shoes remained and I stepped onto the dingy metal contraption.

The nurse must’ve seen my panicked, widened-eye look, because she immediately took back her previous statement:

“Don’t worry, clothes and shoes add at least five pounds to your weight.”

If she was going to lie, couldn’t she have made it a little less obvious?

As I sat in the examining room, waiting for the doctor to make his entrance, I recalled all of the things I did to contribute to my not drastic, but significant enough weight gain.

I turned 22: I ate and drank…and drank and drank.

I vacationed in New Orleans: I ate gorged on jambalaya.

I was stressed about my life after graduating from college: I ate more.

I realized I wouldn’t see some of my friends after graduation: I drank more…I swear, I’m not an alcoholic.

My asthma was flaring up: I stopped working out.

Crepe
That’s me eating a crepe that contained peanut butter, bananas, walnuts, Nutella, marshmallows, and bacon. I ate the entire thing.

As I waited, I remembered the first time I was consciously insecure of how I looked. Samantha, who lived across the street from me had invited me and my next-door-neighbor, Molly, to go swimming with her in her pool. Being new to the neighborhood, I jumped at the opportunity to hang out with actual friends who had thought of me and wanted to see me. Thrilled, while rocking a magenta and orange two-piece, I skirted across the street to my swimming pool friend date. Molly was already there and started talking about American Girl Dolls with me, Samantha greeted me with a skeptical look.

“How much do you guys weigh?” her arms folded across her small waist.

I looked down to my stomach and noticed that instead of the slim, tan skin that Samantha had, I had pasty pudge sticking out from the line where my bathing suit met my body. We went around the circle: Molly was 72 pounds, Samantha was 72 pounds, and suddenly it was my turn to reveal my weight:

“74 pounds.” I heard myself squeak.

But I lied/guessed. I actually had no idea what I weighed. Why? Well, because I was nine-years-old…I wasn’t supposed to know or care about my weight. Molly, Samantha, and I jumped in the pool and swam for the rest of the afternoon and when I went home, I immediately ran to my parents bathroom to see how much I actually weighed: 80 pounds. I haven’t worn a two-piece bathing suit since.

From that point on, my insecurities, regarding weight, flourished with each passing year.

I was eleven when I started crossing my legs to make my thighs look smaller when I sat down.

Thirteen when I realized that sucking in my stomach fat made me look thinner.

Fifteen when I discovered wearing baggy t-shirts hid my curves and made my breasts less prominent.

Seventeen when I vowed to never wear a tube-top again after noticing that my strapless prom dress accentuated the small piece of fat between my chest and armpits.

Nineteen when I stepped on the scale and reached my heaviest weight: 164 pounds.

After reaching my heaviest point, I had an epiphany: I wasn’t living (Metaphorically, of course. Scientifically, I was very much alive.) My insecurities were holding me back from not only being confident, but feeling worthy of anything: nice clothes, enjoying a meal, friendship, romance. I wanted to change. Over the course of the following year I lost 17 pounds and believe it or not, I started to gain a bit of self-worth back. I wasn’t in jaw-dropping shape, but for the first time I was healthy.

My weight loss coincided with the start of mainstream media embracing “full-figured women.” It was weird to read the latest news and see headlines about Aerie refusing to airbrush its models, but to know my peers still held a much more traditional standard of beauty.

After hearing about a romantic escapade my Barbie of housemate went on, my friend and I started talking about what type of men are drawn to us versus our housemate.

“I don’t get it. Why are so many people so into her?” I honestly questioned

I was met with a scoff and all-knowing look.

“Oh, Michalyn, you know guys don’t go for girls like us.”

I physically felt my heart drop from my chest into my stomach as I sat there watching and listening to her explain to me the type of girl guys “go for:” blonde, blue-eyed, sun-kissed…thin.

I was none of those.

“That’s all they care about.”

2nd pictures
This (on the left) is what my body looked like when I was told people wouldn’t find me attractive.

Within seconds, I was the nineteen year old ashamed to be seen in public because of my weight; I was the fat-girl picked last in gym class; I was the girl with long, frizzy brown hair; the girl with glasses, braces, and un-groomed, thick, Middle Eastern eyebrows sitting alone in the back corner of the classroom; I was the girl sucking in her stomach fat while crossing her legs to conceal her meaty thighs; I was the nine-year-old girl who lied about her weight to fit in with her friends.

At 20 years old, I lost any semblance of self-love I had fought so hard for because of one uncalled-for comment by another insecure 20-year-old “friend.”

I was hurt and accepted that I would be a fat, ugly, spinster with 50 cats, despite hating cats. I gave up on trying; I gave up caring; I gave up on hoping for the future; I gave up.

But, I (Let’s be real, mostly my parents) didn’t want my pathetic self and lack luster future to miss out on the coveted American-college-kid experience of studying abroad.

My “unappealing” body and I packed up and moved to London for four months, leaving behind peers who picked friends based on who had which Louis Vuitton bag (Can we just take a moment to appreciate that I spelled Louis Vuitton correctly?) and saw me for who I was on the outside: a woman who didn’t bother wearing makeup to a class that started before 2:00 pm.

For those of you who have never heard me fawn over my love for London, I have argued (on multiple occasions) that London, not Disney World, is the happiest place on earth. And let me tell you, it’s not just because of the townhouses, flawless public transportation, vast history at every turn you make, and pretty men with pretty accents (although all of this certainly helped me love it even more.)

In London, I was away from a place where I had years of unpleasant memories of an unhappy, pudgy girl and unrewarding friendships that did nothing but strengthen a sense of self-pity. I made friends who celebrated me; friends who praised my fat thighs, big boobs, and “hourglass frame;” friends who encouraged intellect and humor; friends who encouraged me to show my personality; friends who reminded me that I was, in fact, beautiful and worthy of respect even though I wasn’t a size two.

And it felt incredible.

3rd Picture
Some beautiful ladies who made me feel beautiful.

The truly magical thing, though, was the response I got when I returned from my mini adventure. I was greeted with a parade of curiosity:

“Did you lose weight?”

The truth is, I actually gained weight—there’s a lot of food to consume in Europe, believe it or not. I did look better, though, I’ll be the first to admit it. But it wasn’t because I lost weight, it was because, for the first time in my memory, I was genuinely happy.

So, here’s the moral of the story, folks: as I sat in the waiting room, having just learned of my minor weight gain, I finally understood that my weight will always fluctuate. I’ll have periods of time where I look thin, I’ll have periods when I look, well, not thin, and that’s okay. But what is not okay is attributing my state-of-mind to my weight.

In that waiting room, I decided that I will no longer push things off for, “when I lose weight.” If I want to wear a crop top, I’ll wear that crop top; if I want to wear a mini-skirt, I’ll wear the goddamn skirt; if I’m feeling like wearing a bikini, I’m gonna do it. Why? I want girls to look at me and see a woman who is confident, who demands respect, and knows her own self-worth. No nine-year-old girl should feel pressured to lie about her weight to her friends and if my embracing my imperfect, curvy, fluctuating body can help achieve that, then I’m in.

Plus, I’ve kinda grown to love my big butt…and I cannot lie about that.

4th Picture
My hips also don’t lie.

 


 

**Michalyn Curran is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer working for Kirschenbaum Productions. Her blog, Begrudgingly Optimistic, explores the complexities of being positive in an increasingly negative world. While it is most often a challenge to stay optimistic while living in the heart of NYC and striving for recognition in a cutthroat industry, it IS possible with a little bit of effort and a forgiving sense of humor. To read more of her writings, visit her site at: begrudginglyoptimistic.com 

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What Do We Mean When We Say “Self-Love?”

Therapists like myself spend a lot of time talking about self-love. But if you’re like many of my patients, you might not know what self-love means exactly. Many people mistakenly believe that self-love is the same as narcissism, or having a big ego. It’s not. So, what do we mean when we say “self-love”? Self-love means having a high regard for your own wellbeing and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your wellbeing to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve.

Loving yourself doesn’t mean you think you’re the smartest, most talented, and most beautiful person in the world. Instead, when you love yourself you accept your so-called weaknesses, appreciate these so-called shortcomings as something that makes you who you are. When you love yourself you have compassion for yourself. You take care of yourself like you’d take care of a friend in distress. You treat yourself kindly. You don’t nitpick and criticize yourself. For many, especially those of us who grew up in households that lacked love or in which love waxed and waned, loving yourself will take work. Self-love is a practice and it’s a skill that takes work.

Self-love isn’t about instant gratification. A new pair of shoes or eating an entire pizza might make you feel good in the moment (or taste delicious), but the feeling isn’t lasting–and could be damaging in the long run. Self-love means giving yourself what your body, brain, and soul needs for the marathon that is life. It isn’t hedonism and it isn’t chasing a physical or emotional high. The practice of self-love is the practice of nourishing yourself.

Self-love means taking care of your needs. If your needs were neglected when you were a child, it’s important that you develop the ability to recognize what you need and to meet your own needs. If you were sent the message as a kid that you didn’t actually need what you asked for, or you where always ignored when you asked, you likely didn’t learn how to meet your own needs and may even have trouble recognizing what your needs are. Whether it’s food, comfort, exercise, or something as simple as a long, hot shower, self-love for those who missed out on consistent love and care as children can mean starting with the basics. Self-love means you care for yourself the way a loving parent should.

When self-love isn’t something that comes easily to you, or something that you’re used to, there can be a learning curve. You need to explore what makes you feel cared for. Is it taking a long yoga class? Bubble baths? Curling up with a good book? Try different things. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t.

Self-love means self-respect. Boundaries are essential when it comes to self-respect. Learn what your boundaries are, express them to the people in your life, call people out when they step over your boundaries, and remove people from your life who consistently disrespect your boundaries.

Self-love means you don’t compare yourself to others. Looking to other people for an idea of what you should be like, look like, or act like is always a path toward self-hate. For those of us who struggle with self-love and self-esteem, it can feel like we’re surrounded by people who make us feel inferior. A good remedy for this is to spend time doing what you’re good at and what makes you feel good about yourself.

self-love 2

The more you feel capable of, the easier loving yourself will be; it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you feel incapable. When we surround ourselves with people who treat us like we’re incapable––or we were raised by parents who were critical and constantly told us that we weren’t good enough—we internalize that message. Self-love can mean not letting people do things for you. Push yourself a little. Remind yourself that you’re capable. You can take care of yourself. You can do this.

Self-love is an important skill to learn and practice not only because it means our day-to-day happiness, but also because it affects our relationships. Self-love determines the quality of our romantic partners. The person you’re with is dependent on what you think you deserve. If you lack love for yourself, you’ll settle for a partner who doesn’t treat you well.

When we lack love in our childhoods, we often fall into the trap of relying on our adult romantic partners to parent us. We rely on them to take care of us, to do things for us that we don’t feel capable of, and we rely on them to love us the way a parent should––love that’s not tied to results or reciprocity. But that’s not how a healthy relationship works. Our partners aren’t our parents. They can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything for us, take care of our every need, and love us no matter what. That’s what we need to provide for ourselves. We need to take care of our own needs and love ourselves no matter what. We need to be there for ourselves, to stand by ourselves through the ups and down, because if we don’t love ourselves like this, we will fall apart when our romantic relationships break down.

Learning to love oneself isn’t easy. At first, self-love may feel uncomfortable. It may even feel indulgent. But, keep at it. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you’re selfish or self-centered. On the contrary, the more you love yourself, the more you’ll have of yourself to give to others. But you can’t spread your love, smarts, talent, and kindness around to the people in your life if you neglect the person who should be most important to you: you.


**Dr. Andrea Brant is a marriage and family therapist in Santa Monica, California who is an expert in treating a full range of emotional issues, including anger & aggression, anxiety & trauma, aging, relationships, work-life balance, workplace, and women’s issues. In her workshops, patient sessions and presentations, Dr. Brandt reveals positive paths to emotional health that teach you how to reinvent and empower yourself. To learn more about her seminars and workshops, go to mindfulangerworkshop.com for details.

AB office 1

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