The More the Merrier!

21 12 2010

In my Small Group Bible study through Park Community Church in Chicago, I have been reading through Ecclesiastes.  For me that is a challenge.  I don’t always see, hear, or experience the Bible as a life-giving document that inspires me to live a more Christ-like life.  More often I see the Bible as I did growing up- a tool for punishment.  I’ve been reticent to dig into it deeply and yet am starving for the knowledge, wisdom, insight, and healing that it can provide.  I have suspended my fears and just read it.  I’m glad I have, among the many great things I’m learning, the most poignant so far has come from Ecclesiastes 4:8-12.

8 There was a man all-alone; he had neither son nor brother. 
There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. 
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” 
This too is meaningless— a miserable business! 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 
10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. 
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone? 
12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. 
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I read the first part and had an, oh crap he’s talking about me moment.  I immediately identified with the man standing alone- working constantly, rarely content and actually depriving himself of enjoyment!  I’ve been living under the mistaken belief that in order for life to have meaning it must be a struggle- not true, well, not entirely true.  Life is hard work and it is hard work that is best taken on in community, with support and not something to be done alone.

As a therapist I have the privilege to be a professional relationship builder, and yet these relationships alone are not enough to keep me filled, supported, and thriving.  I find an immense amount of satisfaction and joy from my work and though people whom I support surround me, I live my life more like the man in the passage.  I am learning to reach out more often for the same level of support in my own life that I offer others on a daily basis.  As the words in the passage suggest, when I am supported and backed up by another my efforts go farther.  I work harder, have someone to help me up when I fall, and I stay warmer- full of life, energy and vitality.

Through my employment at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment I have experienced the value of community and groups.  On faith I have done the unthinkable, and risked pain, rejection, and hurt by getting involved in my own personal growth work receiving group and individual support.  I am allowing myself to trust more than I have in the past and I am seeing the positive effects permeate my life.  I am less concerned with personal failure and utter destruction.  I have instead created for myself, through intention and support, the network of support I need to be constantly growing, learning, and playing in this world.

 





Battling Loneliness- The Fight for Intimacy Part II

2 12 2010

Continued from Tuesday read more of my thoughts on fighting loneliness-

Especially for singles during this holiday season, feeling loneliness and shame are common and avoidable.  I would suggest a couple of simple things that I have found helpful in my own life and that were suggested to me by Rich Blue of the Center for Christian Life Enrichment:

First- change what you beleive about yourself and the world.  Believe that you are a person worth being in relationship with, that you have a lot to offer and that you are capable of creating the type of fun and connection you are hungry for.  It sounds simple and is yet often overlooked.  If you have the vision for and the definition of what you want it is much easier to actually get that.

Second- Do one thing each day to connect in a way you would not normally do.  Maybe it is calling a friend you have lost touch with, sending out a card, or writing a meaningful email.  It could be as simple as talking to the doorman in your building or the receptionist at your office, striking up a conversation on the bus, or simply looking people in the eye as you walk by them on the street.  The important thing is to be pro-active and assume that other people will be happy to hear from you.

Waiting for others to connect with you can be painful, and is normally a setup that perpetuates feeling stuck, in shame, and alone.

Doing these little things with the mindset that you are valuable and worth knowing will go a long way to filling your intimacy tank- they have and still do for me!  Creating intimacy does not have to be a fight; it can be a manageable, measurable, step-by-step process of getting what you want out of life.  Taking these daily steps does require an increasing level of consciousness as well as the willingness to engage with vulnerability and truth.  The payoff though is living an abundant life full of depth, intimacy, and meaning!





Battling Loneliness- The Fight for Intimacy Part I

30 11 2010

How do you fight loneliness? My best friend and I were talking about it the other day. People don’t realize how much time you spend alone; especially if you’re single and/or live by yourself.

 

The above question came from a good friend of mine and in the spirit of the site, AskMerce, I’ll take a crack at it.

Erik Erikson was right when he mapped out the stages of human development.  He labeled the twenties and early thirties as the time where people struggle the most finding love, oscillating between intimacy and isolation.  The successful completion of this stage is built upon the previous stage of identity formation and successfully finding a strong enough sense of self such that you are able to be in a relationship and still be an individual.

Emotional pain and anxiety triggered by feeling isolated and lonely are common to people during this time.  I know personally that I have spent most of my young adult life attempting to avoid or solve the problem of feeling lonely without ever really addressing the feeling head on.  Oftentimes I feel trapped and scared, stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Do I put myself out there and risk rejection in dating, with friends, and by meeting new people?  Or do I remain at home and continue to live a small and isolated life, not really investing in many people and not allowing them to invest in me?

I complain that I want to feel more connected and have more friends, a bigger social network, and to also find that special someone, yet I don’t live my life that way.  I am oftentimes too scared and sometimes overwhelmed to be the type of person I envision myself to be.  I see my best self as engaged, energetic, lively and attractive. When I am living in that space and get the connection and intimacy I am looking for, I set myself up to feel the love that I want to feel in my life.  Sometimes though, that’s the problem, I get what I want.

I don’t always believe I deserve to get what I want.  I act in ways that devalue my hungers so that it doesn’t seem to matter quite as much if I am getting them met.  In reality though, I’m messing with myself. Instead of living through and experiencing that hurt, I am avoiding the pain that not getting what I want stirs.  I end up living unsatisfied and ok with that because it has become strangely comfortable and familiar to be that way.

It hurts knowing I am capable of creating intimate relationships and knowing that I choose not to out of fear, scarcity and hostility.  I get in my own way and blame others for what I have created.  What I am learning though is that not only is this a natural process that people go through, going through it with an increased level of consciousness is helping me to find more satisfaction in my personal life.  I am allowing myself more grace and compassion- I am not as hard on myself as I once was.  I am beginning to see that in order to be more fully intimate with another person, I need to be more fully intimate with myself.  Through self-discovery and knowing more of what makes me tick, I have more of myself to consciously and authentically offer in relationship with another person.  Almost paradoxically, spending time doing my own personal work empowers me to be more fully present with another person, and taking the learns I get from my own growth work back to my personal relationships enriches and nourishes the bond between the two of us.

Check back on Thursday to hear some more thoughts on specific step you can take to avoid loneliness and maintain a deeper sense of connection and intimacy, especially during the holiday season!





I Don’t Want to Date a Country Girl!

4 09 2010
As I’m listening to the radio on my daily commute from Chicago to Northbrook,  cringe every time I inadvertently tune into US99.5.  Now I’m not bashing anyone who likes country music, it’s just that it doesn’t suit me.  Now imagine how frustrated you’d be having a radio that is only capable of tuning in to country. The twangings of some poor sap who’s lost his girl, broke his truck, and can’t find his dog would flood your airwaves.  And even though the next song may be upbeat and have a catchier tune, the foundation underneath is still country and still annoying!  How long would you be able to stand listening to that radio?

I believe that dating can be the same way.  Like a radio and a radio tower, we all have a certain frequency we send out and that other people pick up on.  As we date we emit our own unique signal that attracts us one to another.  Though the person we attract may look different each time, like different songs on the same radio station, there is a way they are all share common themes.  Our dials are stuck, and we keep attracting the same personality that ultimately drives us crazy, it’s as maddening as listening to a radio stuck on country! And yet I wonder why I find myself unsatisfied in each relationship.  I’d like to date rock, or alternative, or pop, and I am slowly learning how to change my dial, I’m realizing the issue is with me and my signal, not the receiver.

What I am finding by looking more deeply at myself is that I can change the station, and thereby attract other people.  As I learn and grow and understand more about the unconscious aspects of attraction and to what and to whom I am attracted, I can find a style of music and personality type that suites me better.





Friends with Benefits

29 05 2010

I recently saw Up in the Air in which George Clooney develops a friendship based on casual sex.  The agreement set from the beginning is that the relationship is physical with no strings attached.  As the movie goes on, it becomes clear that George Clooney’s character is developing romantic feelings for the woman, and this progression from casual partner to romantic interest is common among friends with benefits.  Desiring and building deeper connection is normal; we are made to want to connect deeply with others.  And even though it can be easy to connect physically, casual sex becomes messy because it blurs the lines between friendship and committed partnership.  In those few moments of physical fun, we lose our sense of self by disconnecting from our hungers to be seen, to be known, and accepted; we trade deeper intimacy for an easier substitute.

Many of us want deep, authentic and lasting connections, yet there is pain involved in achieving and maintaining that depth.  Like working up a good sweat at the gym, it takes some initial time and effort to get there, but once achieved the after workout high is well worth it.   Our hunger for more intimacy and meaning may  be at the core of our relational ache.  Finding ways to dull that ache through hooking up or having a friend with benefits are like applying band-aids for life threatening injuries.   Like scar tissue, counterfeit forms of intimacy build up and take an emotional toll on our selves.  Self respect  and self-acceptance needs to take precedence over the temporary pleasure our body’s experience through sex.  Using sex to numb ourselves from our pain can become addicting and have painful side effects.  What is instead necessary is to begin to train ourselves to be comfortable going for more depth in relationships rather than settling for easier and ultimately less satisfying forms of intimacy.

 





Hooking Up with Lyndi and Andrew

13 01 2010

My friend Lyndi and I wrote this and wanted to pass it along to everyone!  Please enjoy:

I remember watching MTV’s “Real World” in 2003, and realizing that the meaning of the phrase “hooking up” had changed.  One of the RW participants, Trishelle, used the phrase regularly to describe her nights out.  At first, I would naively think, oh, she means kissed or lots of kissing.  I was shocked by episode 4 when I realized she meant having sex with people that she just met!  At the time, I used this phrase regularly to mean that I was going to meet up or talk later with one of my friends.

There has been a shift among young people where getting to know a person physically is thought to help determine emotional compatibility.  The more traditional way of connecting emotionally prior to physical intimacy is out of favor.  “Hooking up” is an entertaining, but costly attempt to address our ravenous hunger for closeness, to matter, and to be important to someone.  Women are especially prone to using hooking up to avoid the hunger pangs for belonging, touch, and feeling attractive.  Random acts of physical intimacy with limited emotional connection can generate instant gratification not lasting satisfaction.

Additionally there is a commonly held misconception that men are capable of having these types of relationships without any negative effect.  Men do tend to be more visual and hard wired to seek physical gratification. . They are also more aware of their feelings throughout their bodies. Hooking up to get sex is usually done in reaction to feeling uncomfortable amounts of sadness, loneliness, and anger.  For men, sex becomes the antidote for the pain of emptiness or powerlessness.

To a person who is starving for affection, warmth and care, the seemingly harmless hook up is like a junk food binge. It  feels good in the moment but leaves you feeling empty.  As the sense of fullness from the encounter wears off, we metabolize the empty calories without the benefit of nutrients to grow and thrive. We end up adding dead weight and baggage instead of energy and vitality.  Binges on junk food and sex momentarily satisfy our cravings for fullness and connection, yet tend to intensify the desire for more.  That desire for more is then mistakenly fed through additional binging and hooking up, creating an unsatisfying addictive cycle.

Sex can be an outpouring of tenderness and love, a physical expression of what is already present in the relationship.  However, sex in the form of hooking up is not likely to produce those feelings in a lasting way.  Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through responsible eating and appropriate emotional intimacy requires hard work and dedication.  It is that hard work and dedication that make healthy relationships so satisfying and why junk food, or hook ups like Trishelle leave us feeling empty.  By filling ourselves with things that are valuable and substantial we will feel like we matter to the world, trusting in the abundance of love, acceptance, and grace.  I often wish there was a pill for that!  If there is… hook me up!

In the meantime, if you are ready to discuss how to satisfy your hungers for connection and intimacy, I would love to meet with you. In an environment of safety and grace, we will discover healthy ways to feed your hungers.  CLE is a great place to learn and grow and our staff would love to support you in your journey.