Honesty From the Inside Out: A 1-2-3 on How to Equip Our Children

My kids and I have a lot of long talks. We talk about things likeN&L-1 who we want to be in the world, friendships, differences in beliefs and religions, personal responsibility, diversity, and qualities that are important to us. I love hearing their innocent and naturally developing views on these topics that become the foundation, I believe, for their happiness, their relationships, and their sense of living into their truest natures. I love hearing their minds and hearts expression through exploring what’s most relevant in their growing ideas of the world and of people.

Wednesday night, the subject of honesty came up at the dinner table. We were navigating a “little white lie…” in our house, getting clear on why it happened and what the consequences would be.

As many parents have experienced, this bit of dishonesty had to do with an IPad.

iphone-kidsI have a love-hate relationship with everything “I-digital,” mostly because it’s having a significant—in some ways, devastating—impact on our children’s developing brains, their ability to regulate emotions, their attention, their mental health, and their ability to relate to people in the present moment. It’s having a similar impact on us all, but that is for another post! (Noted as I type this on my related mac book).

When our kids lie, as all of them will be at times (it’s their job to push against every boundary, every edge that we have), our response is key. Just like any relationship—we have to know how to respond effectively when we feel mistreated to increase the chance that we’re treated better in the future—we have a powerful opportunity in these moments to help our kids learn this valuable lesson, yet it can be incredibly difficult to slow down our brains enough to take it!

Honesty is a relational quality that doesn’t always come naturally. When we’re lied to, we have an internalized belief that we’ve been wronged and our brains can become reactive to the point that, through shaming, we contribute to an increase in our kid’s dishonesty in the future, rather than a decrease. And because this is parenting, it’s our responsibility to create the foundation and structure that will support our kids in not just “learning the lessons,” but in embedding honesty and integrity as the foundation of who they are—something human relationships don’t practice near enough of these days.

I heard a great quote the other day, though I don’t know whom to credit:

“Children who are not held accountable grow up to be adults who believe they can do no wrong.”

It’s our job to hold our kids accountable in ways that don’t shame them—that honor where they are developmentally, and honor their relationship to us—their models and guides.

It can feel like a mini brain explosion the first time we realize our kiddo has lied to us—one of those blatant lies, thought out, intentional. It’s easy to fall into a trap of what it means about us—their parents—we can feel a need to control the situation, or we can fall into our own shame. Our reptilian brains can go into fight or flight while we work to mitigate the emotional landslide threatening to override rational thought.

If we look at what research has shown to be absolutely necessary, though, in effective relational skills (which are essential in parent-child relationships), there are some things that desperately need to happen if we’re going to affect positive change.

Number One:

MINDFULNESS

We need to slow down. The reactive brain is powerful and quick—it’s built for survival, for protection from threat (and betrayal feels like a big threat), and fight or flight responses. The immediate reaction to our kiddos lie, if not monitored, can do some damage. Slowing down, however, takes some focused, intentional practice—“knowing this” is very different than “doing it” in the heat of the moment. It’s just like a new training regimen; we need consistent, focused practice, often with support to rewire our brain’s very natural and habitual responses.

We need to focus not on what our child did that was so wrong, but on how we feel in that particular moment. What are our emotions, thoughts, and, even deeper than that, what are our physiological responses—what’s happening on the level of sensation? When we have the capacity to simply notice what we’re feeling, before responding, we slow down our powerful reactive brains and we set ourselves up for a load of successful interactions. We also provide a valuable model for our kids.

Number Two:

COMPASSION

As difficult as it can be to have compassion when our children misbehave, it’s essential that we remember the fact that underneath the bad behavior, there’s a person—one we love desperately and one who is doing his or her best to learn all of life’s lessons, and looking to us to structure the container in which s/he is learning. It’s amazing when we can approach without judgment, get curious about what was happening, and give some understanding to our little ones, we make it safe for them to actually talk about what they did and why. And the more they trust us to hold that space, the more they will be able to share with us in years to come, things that might be painful, shameful, or embarrassing to share.

Compassion doesn’t mean that we rescue them, make it okay, or let them off the hook. It means we help them to explore the “why,” and what they could’ve done differently, and then we collaborate on an effective consequence that will support more congruent choices in their future—and we do this with love and understanding.

Number Three:

PARENTING

Seems an obvious necessity, right? We’re clearly parents or we wouldn’t be here. Sadly, I often witness parents, either in my practice or in my community, who seem to struggle in deciding whether to be a parent or a friend. I would assert that most of us would like to be both. Sometimes, however, our friend role gets in the way of being good parents, and our kiddos desperately need us to be parents first.

I love the pendulum shift in our culture that has brought us to paying more attention to our children’s emotions than to their behavior, as we did in previous generations. However, with that, our kiddos are struggling to find a solid structure on which they can depend to hold the natural chaos of their development! The rise in anxiety disorders in our kids and teens is unparalleled and so much of that is related to the lack of stable household environments and parents who are modeling emotional tolerance, resiliency, and flexibility.

Parenting—true parenting, including rules, structure, discipline, along with unconditional love—can be really uncomfortable sometimes. We all want our kids to like us, and want to spend time with us. We want to have positive, fulfilling interactions and relationships with them. But sometimes our actions geared at creating friend relationships undermine the effectiveness of our role as parents.

Setting boundaries, enforcing rules, providing consistent and thoughtful consequences—no one enjoys being a drill sergeant (well, there are those few…) and sometimes it may feel as if we need to embody that character for our kids to listen—these are just some of the qualities of a stable parent-child relationship. The other side of this foundation, of course, is our own ability to model these qualities. When kids feel and can trust in us to provide these consistently, they learn to gain a stable foundation from which they can naturally learn to navigate the impact of their own developing relational qualities. 

We are powerful factors in helping to determine the qualities our children choose to practice. The responsibility and impact are incalculable. Pushing into the less comfortable moments in parenting, with some dedication to these practices, can provide some of the most fertile ground for our children to become mighty stewards of our collective humanity.

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts, reservations, questions, hopes, and some of your own personal stories!

For the Love of Your Life,

 Angie

The Other Side of Addiction

I’ve been in recovery for almost five years. It’s difficult to say, however, what my recovery is from. There’s no measureable substance with which I can relate my sobriety, no way to legitimately claim abstinence from a particular behavior. There is no 90-day or five-year chip. Some people might not believe that my recovery is “as important” or “as difficult,” or even “as real” as recovery from a substance or specific behavior. They might also believe that the damage from this side of addiction couldn’t equal its counterpart.

I can assure you, however, my recovery is real—as real as the destruction in its wake. And it’s been a difficult journey. Some of you may be able to relate. Others may not want to.

My addiction is emotional and relational—almost impossible to quantify, but poignant in body and soul. Clean and sober, for me, is a process that occurs internally and in the realm of how I connect with people in my most intimate relationships. The only way to understand whether I’m “on” or “off” the wagon is by having a felt sense of being in relationship with me—and not just any relationship—being in the grit of life with me.

Maybe it’s silly for me to look at my own earlier relational habits as addictive processes. But if we are not able to look at this spectrum—the tightrope that we all have walked, in some form or fashion, whether personally or in relation to others—it’s impossible to have the necessary understanding and compassion when it comes to the need to hold and heal the overarching epidemic of addiction in our culture and world. It has literally become part of the infrastructure of our relatedness, an underlying root system that is rotting out from under us, from which our relational matrix has evolved.

A large percentage of how we know one another, how we manage emotions in the presence of one another, how we share intimacy, and how we function are relational constructs that have depended on generational patterns of addiction to exist. And it is essential that we look to each one of us—to how we’ve been a part of this evolving destructive cycle, if we want to begin to heal our capacity for being in the world and with one another.

It’s easier to think of addiction in regard to alcohol or drugs, or a behavior such as pornography, gambling, gaming, or sex. It’s much more clear to imagine how the effects of those behaviors can wreak havoc in families and relationships, or in our professional lives. …But emotional addiction? What does that even mean? And who’s to say what’s addictive when it comes to our hearts expression?  One way to look at it is this:  An addictive personality has an inability to regulate emotions internally, so seeks some external substance, behavior, emotion, or relationship to help regulate. This could be alcohol, sex, heroine, shopping, food, relationship, control, gaming, or any other number of behaviors intended to provide short-term relief from emotional discomfort.

Some might see these types of relational/emotional addictive patterns as a “co-addiction” or co-dependency. The thing is… ALL addiction is RELATIONAL. It begins with emotional pain—emotional loss or trauma. And it begins in relationship. And I want to point to the beauty in that, as it is through relationship—with ourselves and others—that we heal.

Culturally, it is easy to look to an “identified patient” when it comes to addiction. But addiction happens within a system of closeness, of togetherness, of intimacy of some sort, and so really, addiction IS co-addiction, and almost always happens in a co-dependent system. And it is through a systemic lens that we need to look, if we are going to heal.


Systems support dependency through co-dependency. Think about it.


Since addiction doesn’t happen alone, we don’t heal alone. We heal when we are in the presence of willingness, compassion, understanding, honesty, challenge, and grace; and are able to allow our pain some space–to have a voice. When we can fully be with what is in the presence of another, we have an opportunity of living into the people we were designed to be. When we learn to allow healthy relationship to help regulate our nervous systems, with mindful intention, we can begin to increase our own tolerance for emotion, and learn to organize and regulate our experiences from an internal locus of control.  

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Emotional pain lights up the brain just like physical pain, and whether an addiction is to an external substance or an internal feeling, the brain’s pain response can be soothed in similar ways. Our addictive patterns—whether to heroine, shopping, or emotional control or drama—are all attempts to soothe pain, to escape it—to be in the world, in our bodies, and in relationship with others.

As Dr. Gabor Maté says, we need to be looking not at what’s wrong with addiction, but what works—what’s right about it. When we can understand how it’s working, we can begin to understand the underlying need. And when we can understand and validate the true need, the habit and/or desire to avoid it can dissipate.

So what’s the difference between addiction and co-addiction?

Let’s first define addiction:

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be momentarily pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. In this scenario, the decision to stop ingesting the substance or engaging in the activity can feel impossible.

The definition of co-addiction looks a little different:

Co-addiction is the dependence on the needs, behaviors, or control of, another—to the point where one can become entirely preoccupied—and placing a lower priority on one’s own needs and behavior, resulting in an external locus of control: The experience of one’s emotions being regulated by someone or something external to the self. Initially, the experience can feel pleasurable, as it can result in a sense of connectedness, purpose, the building of ego, and the feeling of “care-taking.” For an active co-addict, however, the decision to “let go” of an addict and their behavior, and focus instead on SELF, can feel insurmountable.


If any one of us finds ourselves in intimate, long-term relationship to “an addict,” let’s get clear:

That doesn’t happen if we don’t have the right wiring to be in relationship with addiction. We are an integral piece in the puzzle. This is where co-dependency can be confusing. If we’re in an addictive system that we can’t seem to get out of, we are on the spectrum of addiction—plain and simple. That doesn’t mean that other things aren’t in play, or that we always have equal culpability in every relationship or situation. It does mean, however, that what we bring to the table matters and that more than likely, if we’re blaming an addict, we have blind spots with regard to how we are impacting our relationship.

Addictions related to our emotions can contribute to levels of toxicity in our lives that equal, and may even surpass, the damage done by chemical or behavioral addictions, mostly because of our lack of awareness, coupled with our blame toward “the addict.” When we see another as “the problem,” we disregard areas in our own lives that are causing damage. We may be embodying contempt, which research has shown is the kiss of death to relationship. (That’s another article!) When we focus on another’s problems, we also disempower ourselves to take charge of our own path. We become the victim to our situation and lose our objectivity—our ability to clearly see a different way.

I have fallen “off the wagon” multiple times. What does that look like, you might wonder. Someone with a substance addiction can’t “kind of” relapse—a drink or drug is a tangible slide. Yet a thought…. even a misstep in relationship is subtle—less obvious. Comfortable, in a way, because it’s what we “know,” (that early wiring) and also because there is a certain relational truth to the core underpinnings of our addictive behavior—the underlying intention to connect in ways that feel good can be incredibly healthy. The feeling, though, is also incongruent, and most often in my case, I’m the only one any wiser. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better during the last decade at tracking the subtle shifts that clue me in, and less comfortable with how they land.

When I have a misstep, the most obvious impact is that I feel incongruent with who I know myself to be in intimate relationship. It shows up in my behavior, in my every day emotional presence, and in my body. Dr. Maté shares a quote in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts stating, “Nothing records the effects of a sad life so graphically as the human body.” When we learn to pay attention to the subtle shifts in sensation, in our bodies, we begin to know when we’re off track, and how to utilize that deeper wisdom to help us find our way back into alignment.

So… the actual point of this share?

We’re in this together, each of us. We exist in systems that are held in greater systems; from physiological, biological perspectives, from family, relational, community, and cultural perspectives, from spiritual and energetic perspectives, and from the perspective of healing, change, and growth.

Healing addictive cycles needs to happen from a “bottom up” approach, rather than a “top down” approach, changing the foundation verses treating the symptoms. We need to nourish the mitochondria of a diseased cell before we simply apply a balm to the resulting external wound. We need to look at the foundation of this matrix of our cultural connectedness—our human identity and the way in which we experience one another.  We need to understand how we’ve woven together the fabric of our human experience and how each of us are a part of that fabric. We need to heal from a lens of togetherness rather than separateness.

I’d appreciate your thoughts, your own sharing, your resistance and reservations.

For the Love of Your Life,

Angie

Bullying–a Cycle of Abuse

Talking to our children about bullying definitely makes it more real, doesn’t it? When we begin to see our kids concern, hear their questions, feel their fear? And how we navigate those tender topics will have a lot to do with how our children respond to the idea, and the reality, of this pervasive form of societal abuse.

Nathaniel and I had an interesting dialogue tonight about bullying, victims, and different kinds of abuse—including one person lying about another, or blaming a victim and why victims of abuse so often remain quiet—how the cycle unfolds and continues to spiral, sometimes out of control. Maybe because he’s entering Middle School next year, and he’s hearing a lot about bullying, he’s sharing some growing concern about the issue. He’s wondering what it looks like, what he’d do, why people act in certain ways, and who’s at fault.

There are so many ways that people bully one another, many being so subtle that it can often take a panel of experts to decide whether certain behavior constitutes. There’s physical bullying—aggressive types of bullying. There are threats to physical safety, threats to emotional or psychological well-being. There is teasing, name-calling, taunting behavior. There is the type of bullying used to belittle someone—to cause them to feel left out, singled out, or hearing untrue rumors about themselves. There are devastating impacts from cyber-bullying these days!  bullying-research-image

Ultimately, bullying means there is a difference, or a perceived difference, in power. When one person seems to have power over another, and uses that power to cause harm—that’s bullying.

I gave an example of one boy bullying another, and the victim doing everything in his power to stop the bullying—talking, practicing compassion, setting boundaries, using defensive force, and even using humor—and eventually needing someone to help him advocate for himself, if the person bullying just won’t stop. Often, even if the kid being bullied gives fair warning, a “bully” will often respond with, “go ahead and tell. I don’t care if I get into trouble,” all the while, possibly feeling “above or beyond” the rules—or subconsciously trying to get the attention he desperately needs. So the kid finally tells an adult—someone who can set more effective boundaries and provide stronger consequences that hopefully make a difference for both kids.

And what does the person bullying do? He blames the victim for being a tattle-tale, a wimp. He externalizes any responsibility (most often, right?) and blames, even when he had every opportunity to change the behavior. And in his mind, this is the truth—it is the fault of the other kid, or the teacher, or the school… but never his—he simply can’t see it. And he convinces others that the other kid is the one at fault, and sometimes (oftentimes) his parents will enable the behavior and belief. And so the cycle goes…

…And children who are not held accountable grow up to be adults who believe they can do no wrong.

And the other kid? Hopefully he has enough emotional support to buoy his belief that he is not the one to blame and that standing up for himself was the right thing to do, and that sometimes we all need support—we need people to advocate for us when there is an imbalance in power. Sadly, this is often not the case—we have way too many kiddos, and subsequently adults who raise more kiddos, who feel safer simply keeping their mouths shut.

Why does this happen? Why don’t victims of such abuse get both the advocacy and the support they need? Similarly, this is a common scenario in adult relationships—both with domestic violence as well as more subtle types of abuse—“bullying.” The following article in Psychology Today mailto:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201311/why-do-we-blame-victims theorizes that it’s against our natural tendency to support the victims of such behavior because we fear letting go of our attachment to the belief that the world is safe. We prefer to believe that bad things happen to bad people, and we get what we deserve.  Holding these beliefs helps us to avoid the vulnerability that would come from true empathy. If bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them, they can happen to us as well.

Now this is an area I’ve struggled—for years, I struggled to acknowledge victims, even myself when I’ve been victimized. In fact, I’ve explored the extremes of this victim pendulum well! After recognizing that I spent much of my life as a victim, I formed a reactive defense, wanting to believe that we each have ultimate control of our lives. It used to really irk me when someone in a “victim position” actually claimed to be a victim, because I wanted them to acknowledge their own power and, therefore, a solution to the problem, because that allowed me to believe “I” was all I needed for solutions to my own problems. Of course this was my own way of avoiding vulnerability.

2121754867_745c975b98_mI continue to explore the balance between victimization and personal power, being a relationship therapist who does a lot of work around our primary issues being systemic and “relational” rather than solely “personal.” I support people in looking not at what their partners are doing wrong, but how they are responding because even when our partners make the worst of mistakes, it is our ability to respond effectively that sets us up for relationship success.

…And that’s another post!

This PT article asserts that our avoidance of vulnerability to others’ suffering comes with a deeper cost—that we are less able to empathize, less able to feel true compassion for others because of our own fear.

I want to add to this theory. If we actually look at the “wrong” that someone has done…. And we look deeply, we also become vulnerable to looking at some reflection of ourselves. Example: If we honestly look at a child who is bullying, we often look at the parents who’ve potentially taught, enabled, and modeled a way of being in the world to that child; we may also look at the school system that hasn’t provided safety, and we can’t help but look at a society that hasn’t provided enough community, support, and love. Ultimately, we look at our part in that society, if we are willing. To acknowledge the entire system that supports bullying—that supports abuse—we must look at ourselves. And that’s really uncomfortable for most of us.

When friends and family remain neutral about abuse or bullying, saying “it was both people at fault,” they deny the needed life lesson of the perpetrator, colluding with him or her, and they also make it less likely that the victim of abuse will reach out for support. This is one form of “enabling.” When we take the easy road, seeing both people as equally culpable, we not only continue to enable abuse, but we support the avoidance of accountability that we each need to hold.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about issues where each person truly holds equal responsibility and both are blaming one another, which can be very confusing. I’m talking about actual abuse—where there is a consistent pattern and a disparity in power; whether physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or psychological—and I’m talking about both children and adults. There is a big difference here in areas where we “claim victimhood,” and where people are truly victims. Both are real. Both are worth our time.

Nathaniel and my discussion ended in the shared belief that it is all of our responsibility to acknowledge where and how abuse and bullying manifest, and to step into the vulnerability of acknowledging our part in it either continuing or ending.

I feel grateful for the privilege of sharing these dialogues with this very wise soul! And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

For the Love of Your Life!

Angie

 

 

Thankful

I wrote this article a couple of years ago, and while I don’t often “re-write” articles, this one, to me, is more of a practice–a reminder of the blessings in my life.  They have shifted and grown, so I will allow my sharing to grow as well.

If you care to read, please take a moment to quiet your thoughts, and allow your heart to open to the gifts that are yours, right in this very moment…

Happy Thanksgiving.  

I’m blessed to live in a state where a three-hour mountain ride on my road bike is possible at the very end of November. So today, Thanksgiving, as my way of “giving thanks,” I donned my cool weather (even though it was close to 70 degrees) riding gear and headed out into the peaceful hills to breathe it all in.

I had my kids a few hours longer than anticipated last night, so just soaked them up, playing games, doing puzzles, coloring, snuggling, cooking, eating. And I’ll have them again on Friday for our Thanksgiving.

I thought that I might feel a little “whoa is me” being solo today, but I’ve been struck by how filled my heart is—especially as I road—with the amazing blessings in my life. Of course my brain goes to the psychobiological—“well, I’m stimulating the release of positive neurochemicals through exercise so of course I’m feeling good!” But there’s more to it than that today.

Maybe because of the work I do, or certain shifts I’ve felt as of late, but I’m often reminded that the pain I’ve suffered throughout my life, while sometimes overwhelming to me, does not compare to what so many endure. The things that people can do to people, and the burdens that humans must bear… the trauma and tragedy, the abuse, the betrayals, the life and death events that break hearts and tear families apart, the unresolved hurts… And what I see, consistently, is that the human spirit is not only resilient—we want to feel joy and so we choose to. Not always, and not everyone. But feeling joy beyond our particular suffering is a choice before us that motivates bravery beyond measure. And when I witness those who’ve suffered so much choosing to continue to open their hearts to love and to joy, risking what is most vulnerable, I am humbled and changed.

And without really trying to today, I kept thinking of the things I’m most grateful for. My “top 10” – not necessarily in any order.

I’d like to see your list too, if you’re motivated to share.

10 Blessings for which I’m incredibly Grateful

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#1 My children. Beyond anything in this world, they are my greatest teachers, my most powerful motivation, the wellspring of my love. They have grown me into the mother I am and they are the center of my heart, my most profound joy. I am currently struck by their emotional intelligence. Their ability to open their own hearts, to cultivate empathy, and to love—just purely LOVE, is so humbling. Deep gratitude to this life for the blessing of my children.

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#2 About three and a half years ago, I met an amazing man who, with humility, integrity, willingness, and love, has taught me to slow down and has connected with me in a way I’ve longed for my entire life. He reflects my gifts, challenges my mind and body, inspires my deepest respect, and my most playful presence. He “meets me” in the unique design of my heart’s longing and I have changed through receiving his love. I am blessed to be fully sharing my life.   To practice the skills I’ve cultivated over the past decade in an intimate and loving relationship, where they are welcomed and where I feel cherished, is… well, amazing. I am so grateful.

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#3 My family. We’re Greek and messy and dramatic at times. We’re quirky and strange in our own way. We exhaust one another. My parents taught me early on how to work really hard and they taught me that family is family and we stick together. They taught me that sometimes, no matter how tired we are, we just do what needs to be done for one another. They taught me to cherish our time together, to celebrate and dance, to be passionate, to tend to one another well, and to love big. I am so grateful for my family.

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#4 My work with my clients, I’ve found, is often as transformative for me as it is for them. I am humbled and honored that people choose to open their lives to me, and to trust me with their hearts, their questions, their shame and hurt, their anger. The work that I do is an incredible gift to my life. The community and team of people—Noeticus Counseling Center—with whom I work is like a cocoon for our collective personal and professional development, and provides me with the foundation for my work as a therapist. So thankful!

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#5 My closest friends are the people who meet me in the stability and the chaos, holding my hands through our shared journeys. They are the ones who grab ahold when I don’t have the strength and the ones who pull me back with loving arms to challenge my objectivity. They are the ones who see and love all of me, and allow me to witness the wildness, the grit, and the suffering of their hearts.  They allow me to help hold them with gentlenss, especially when they forget to be gentle with themselves. I am forever grateful to these women who have stepped into the fire with me!

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#6 My deepest hurts are blessings that have strengthened my tolerance, broadened my perspective, and challenged every edge of my heart. Engaging with the brokenness has taught me that there is a deep wisdom in pain, when we pay attention, when we stay present. When we can allow ourselves to feel, we are opened to fully engage with life. When we stretch to feel the pain, we are also strengthening our hearts capacity for love, for play, and for intimacy. My deepest hurts are gifts for which I will be forever grateful.

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#7 I have cultivated a variety of physical practices over the years, with the influence of friends and mentors, and I am so thankful! Last week I danced, I climbed, I ran, I skied, I strength-trained, (and I also did these wild leg-blaster workouts that leave me crazy shaky and happy!) and this week I hope to ride… challenging my body has strengthened my mind, and I am grateful for the ability and motivation to push myself beyond comfort.

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#8 My education—both my formal education and life education, and the integration of learning and practices that have changed my visceral experience of living in the world. My education is a privilege, and something I do not take for granted. I am grateful for the opportunities, the support, and the motivation to embed the practices that change who I am and how I impact others.  I am thankful for mentors, for their work and legacy that I now have the opportunity to hold and share.

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#9 My health has allowed me so much opportunity. It has allowed me to learn to trust my body, to track the very sensation that informs me of what needs tending to, to deepen into complete present-centered relationship with me. My health is never a given. It is both something I do my best to manage well and it is a gift for which I am wholly grateful.

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#10 Neuroplasticity! So thankful that the “emotional wiring” I had for the first half of my life will not be the same wiring that I have at the end of my life! My brain—everyone’s brain—is plastic! We can completely rewire how we exist in relationship to others, how we respond to life, to love, to everything that comes our way. I am so thankful for the way that my brain and body work together to create the life that I envision.

There are so many gifts in each of our lives. I hope that you are struck today, and every day, with the unique gifts that have been offered to you. Please take them in and share them with all of us!

I ran across the following and sadly, I do not know who wrote it.  I’d like to give credit so please, if you know the author, let me know.  It speaks to my heart though…  maybe it will speak to yours as well.

“Having loved enough and lost enough, I’m no longer searching… just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain but trying to be a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land. These are the irritations that rub into a pearl. So we can talk for a while but then we must listen, the way rocks listen to the sea. And we can churn at all that goes wrong but then we must lay all distractions down and water every living seed. And yes, on nights like tonight I too feel alone. But seldom do I face it squarely enough to see that it’s a door into the endless breath that has no breather, into the surf that human shells call God.” (Author unknown)

For the Love of Your Life!

 

Angie

Greek Dolmades

I LOVE having my kids in the kitchen with me.  It doesn’t always happen,dolmades3 but when I can cook things that are fun and engaging, that get them involved, the time we share is priceless.  That’s when conversation flows easily, when we share stories and work together.  These are the moments that remind me of my best growing up memories in my Mom’s kitchen.  And they’re the moments that remind me of who I want to be as a Mom, and what I want to give to my kids.

One of our favorite recipes is for homemade Dolmades–most people have heard of “Dolmas” but I grew up with Dolmades, the Greek version.  Dolmas, traditionally, are rice wrapped in grape leaves, with a light lemony sauce.  Dolmades are similar but with meat inside as well.  And the great thing about this recipe is it’s a fun way to get kids involved in helping with dinner!

Here is my recipe–a little different than what my Mom and Dad have done, and adapted as well from my sister, Martha’s, recipe.  They’re really not that difficult at all, so have fun and get your kids involved!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Jar grape leavesDolmades4
  • 2.5-3 lbs. Ground Meat (my favorite combination is 1/2 lamb and 1/2 free range lean beaf.  I’ve used beaf, buffalo, elk, deer…  lamb alone is a bit heavy but anything will work!)
  • About 1 cup raw rice (this is one of the rare times I use plain white rice–Uncle Bens–it’s what I grew up with and doesn’t require as long to cook, which is important in this recipe)

Dolmades1

  • 1 Medium sized yellow onion, chopped
  • 4-5 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Can tomato paste (optional)
  • Homemade chicken stock
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • A bunch of fresh parsley and oregano
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 TBS Cornstarch
  • A few TBS cold water or broth

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a large bowl, combine meat, rice, onion, garlic, spices, and paste.dolmades5
    This is where the kids start really having fun!dolmades2
  • Get your hands in there and blend it up really well.
  • Lay out your grape leaves and gently separate them.
  • One at a time, take a spoonful (or small handful) of meat mixture and place into the center of the leaf.
  • Roll the ends over and roll lit up into a small tube.dolmades6
  • Place in a large flat pan with sides that are about 2″ high.
  • Fill the pan tightlydolmades8
  • Pour chicken broth and the juice of your lemons over the top, just to cover the rolls.
  • Bake for one hour
  • Just before you take them out of the oven, ladle some of the broth out and place into a sauce pan.
  • Mix the cornstarch with the cold water or broth and blend into the saucepan,
    to thicken the sauce.
  • Remove the Dolmades and place into another pan, so you can add any leftover sauce into the saucepan.
  • Serve with sauce and enjoy!

This is great served with a green salad!

I would love to hear how this goes for you!

For the Love of Your Life!

Angie

 

 

Modeling Emotions to Our Kids

emotions1I’m a mama who shares a lot with my kids. I’ve gone overboard at times. I’ve shared too much, not quite grasping that my emotions or mental “meaning-making” machine was just too much for my little ones. But overall, I’ve realized that my kiddos have a lot of emotional intelligence that I want to honor.

Being intentional about sharing our emotions with our kids requires balance, mindfulness, and a lot of awareness of our own internal landscape.

Many of us shield our more intense emotions when we think our kids can’t handle them—or we fear that expressing our emotions might do damage, or frighten them. And while we do need to be cautious about our expression with our kiddos, we can sometimes do more damage in our attempts to protect them.

Parents often shield their children from so much and, subsequently, children don’t build the understanding or skills to manage their own intense emotions. Because emotions—big ones—are natural. They’re going to happen. And it’s our response to them, and our ability to be with them, regulate them, and learn to trust the wisdom of them, that allows us to build a healthy sense of self and ultimately forge healthy relationships with others. For our kids to be able to cultivate these abilities, they need to feel the raw, poignant teaching, modeled to them by their parents, of feeling and regulating the spectrum of all that life brings.

There is research related to human beings, even at early ages, having strong emotions2instincts when it comes to innately knowing when others are being dishonest. Sometimes we don’t cognitively perceive dishonesty but we feel it—our bodies sense when others are hiding something and it does damage in our relationships. When children feel us having an emotion that we attempt to hide, they experience us as incongruent, not aligned, not trustworthy. And then they’re left holding that.

When children are offered the chance, however, to consistently witness the practice of feeling, expressing, and regulating emotions, in a healthy way, by a primary influence—namely, their parents—they learn to integrate learning at a deep, core level. Our little ones need to build understanding not simply through practicing what we tell them, but through witnessing explicit behaviors from adult caregivers. They require embodied learning that occurs through the interdependent “neural wiring” that occurs between parent-child dyads—they need to experience their parents navigating life’s intensity, with developed skill, to feel safe and secure in developing their own ability to navigate the same.

Now, does this mean we should share everything with our kids—all the details of our messy emotional lives? Of course not. There is plenty in our adult world to which our children need not have access. They don’t need to know “the story.” They simply need to understand how we’re managing the story.

Here are 10 tips for being an “Emotional Model” for your children:

  1. Be Honest.  Trust that your kids can feel you feeling, and stay present both with yourself and with them. When they feel your congruence, they will naturally settle in your presence.
  1. Learn about your own emotions. Learn where they come from, how they tend to “show up,” and what you BELIEVE they mean. When you understand the habits of your emotional responses, you will be more equipped to regulate them, and your children will learn through your modeling.
  1. Practice tracking the “underneath” side of emotions—you’re frustrated… what’s underneath that? What’s the “deeper thing at stake?” What’s the more vulnerable version of whatever you’re feeling? Slow your emotional response down and validate the truth of whatever is at the core. That’s where the intelligence of emotion resides and when you share what’s underneath, your children will learn to share their own vulnerable truth.
  1. Share the Felt Sense. When you say, “I’m so angry right now,” also share what that feels like. For example, you might say, “I feel like my chest is really tight and I’m not breathing very well.” When we notice the sensation that corresponds with our emotion, we are actually slowing down our reactive habits just like that! And when kids see you tracking the sensation that informs your feelings, they’ll learn to do the same, and there’s tremendous wisdom in our SENSATION. We often mistake “thoughts” for feelings, but sensation always leads us to our deeper truth.
  1. Check in with your kids when you share “big” emotions with them. How is it for them to experience your intensity? Stay curious and engaged and invite them to do the same. Make it safe for them to honestly share their emotions. And let them share in their own time, and in their own way.
  1. Share not just what you feel, but how you’re regulating what you feel. When our kids see us feeling, and practicing regulating those feelings—because it’s always a practice—they learn that our emotional habits are a constant work in progress. Just like keeping our bodies fit and healthy, it takes consistent, mindful work to keep our emotional responses aligned with who we want to be in the world and in our relationships.
  1. Know why you want to share with your kids—is it for your benefit or theirs? Being honest isn’t always to benefit someone else. Sometimes sharing emotions is about our egos, or it’s related to our inability to manage feelings internally. It’s a difficult edge to know if we’re sharing for us or them. And with our children, it’s incredibly important to check ourselves!
  1. Let kids share their emotions on their own terms. As a therapist mom, I know this one all too well. Having an agenda for how and what our children share is simply going to distance them. We can ask, we can do our best to provide the safety and attunement that our kids need to open up to us, but we need to trust their timing and willingness to do so.
  1. Share the powerful positive feelings too. Let the love fly! If you have big anger and potent sadness that you share, be sure you’re filling their emotional buckets with loads of immense love, unconstrained giggles, open adoration, care, gratefulness, and joy.
  1. When you over-share—do the repair. Whether you’ve shared too much of “the story” with your kids, or you let your emotions get out of control, consistently come back and do the necessary repair with your kids. Take ownership. Let them know where you got off track and how you’re going to practice doing it differently next time. Be gentle with yourself too… our kids need to see us offering ourselves compassion so that they can learn compassion for their own missteps.

I’d love to hear your responses, your thoughts, your FEELINGS! Hopefully, you’ll feel free to share!

For the Love of Your Life!

Angie