1. a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline. A prehistoric burial mound made of stones.
“Cairn is a term used mainly in the English-speaking world for a man-made pile of stones…. In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times.”
Why This Title?
I attended a conference in 2010 in Evanston, IL. The topic was trauma; assessment and treatment. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., who is widely recognized as one of the leading researchers and theorists in the field of trauma, was the presenter. His book, Traumatic Stress*, was available at the conference so I bought it. At the end of the conference he was talking to people and signing his book. I asked him to sign mine and, after talking for a few minutes, he agreed. He signed my copy with his name and the words, “Remember to remember.”
I believe his words referred, among others things, to chapter 2 in his book titled, “Trauma and Its Challenge to Society.” In that chapter he describes the strong tendency throughout society, including the psychiatric profession, to regularly “forget” what we have learned about trauma and victims of trauma. Because trauma can force us to confront the horror of what people can do to each other, the capacity for evil that is part of human nature and our vulnerability as individuals and societies in the natural world, there is a strong urge to put the trauma “behind us” and to “explain” it in ways that reduce our fears. Dr. van der Kolk summarized it this way:
“Traumas provoke emotional reactions in proportion to the degree of threat and horror accompanying them. One way of dealing with these intense emotions is to look for scapegoats who can be held responsible for the tragic event. Family members and other sources of social support can be so horrified at being reminded of the fact that they, too, can be struck by tragedies beyond their control that they start shunning the victims and blame them for what has happened” (p. 27).
Researchers in the area of trauma recognize the “universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil” (Judith Herman, 1992, quoted in van der Kolk, p.28) and have identified typical patterns and predictable apologies that emerge after every atrocity which reflect this desire. One needs only to review news articles and “Comment” sections on-line regarding the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and Penn State University, to name just two institutions that have been in the news, to see multiple examples of these tendencies.
Why the Cairn?
The cairn is a symbol which announces to the passerby, “You are not alone! Others have been this way before you and marked the path so you won’t get lost. Follow the way and I’ll lead you to your destination.” At other times it has been a symbol of remembering someone, a marker like our modern gravestones that points to a life, a person who mattered to others. It is a symbol of remembering and reminds us to “remember to remember.”
My intent in writing these blog entries is first and foremost to honor and remember––remember patients that I have worked with, people that I never met but whose stories touched me in some way, family members and friends that have suffered along with victims of trauma, and those who try in ways both big and small to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Dr. van der Kolk’s words made quite an impact on me. I want to remember both what people have gone through and the strength and courage they have shown recovering from traumas and other wounds in their lives. By doing so and sharing what I have learned, I hope to honor them as well. If these entries provide something useful to even a few, it will be well worth the effort. As I write, I will of course keep people’s identities confidential. If I incorporate examples from my work, I will do so in ways that protect the identity of those involved.
*van der Kolk, B. A., McFarlane, A. C., & Weisaeth, L. (Eds.). Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society. The Guilford Press: New York. 1996.
Quite often someone who has cheated on his or her spouse acknowledges that he/she has made a serious mistake and genuinely tries to make amends, to change, to “save” the marriage and to prove that “I really have changed.” This person makes sincere efforts to communicate better, to change offending or irritating behaviors, to improve intimacy, increase trust, and to show their spouse that they want to stay in the marriage.
Unfortunately, after making repeated efforts to prove that […]
This article is hosted on blog, Infidelity Info. You can read the full article by clicking here. I recommend visiting their blog to read a wealth of interesting and helpful articles.
Tip 37: Learn how to argue well
Research shows that successful couples argue when necessary; they don’t avoid discord or conflict. A vital key to ongoing satisfaction in relationships is to learn to argue effectively. Happy couples, for example, don’t use condescending comments or “zingers” to sting their partners into silence; they don’t withdraw from conflict; when they need to “take a break” to regain their composure, they commit to return to finish the argument; they demonstrate respect even when they are angry. Identifying and admitting grievances allows each partner to speak up, be heard, and take responsibility for their own mistakes.
This article is hosted on the InfidelityInfo.com. You can read the full article by clicking here. I recommend visiting their blog to read a wealth of interesting and helpful articles.
Jack Kornfield “…is one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America. A practitioner for over 40 years, he is one of the key teachers to introduce mindfulness and vipassana meditation to the West. His approach emphasizes compassion, lovingkindness and the profound path of mindful presence” (http://jackkornfield.org). He tells a story about a family going out for dinner at a restaurant. It goes something like this (I’m paraphrasing quite liberally here with apologies):
A family goes out to a restaurant for a meal. The family includes Dad, Mom, 9 year old daughter and a 7 year old son. The waitress takes the orders of all the family members coming to the 7 year old last. She asks the young boy what he wants and he responds enthusiastically that he’d like a hot dog and a Coke. His mom interrupts to say, “He’ll have the meat loaf, mashed potatoes and carrots.” After a brief pause, the waitress turns her attention back to the 7 year old and asks, “Do you want french fries and mustard and ketchup with your hot dog?” He says, “I’ll have ketchup and fries.” The waitress says, “OK” and walks away to enter the orders. The family members sit quietly with the parents, no doubt, thinking, “What just happened here?” The 7 year old is the first to break the silence when he says, “Wow, she thinks I’m real!” [… ]
This article is hosted on the Relationship Advice Cafe. You can read the full article by clicking here. I recommend visiting their blog to read a wealth of interesting and helpful articles.
There is a poem written by Oriah Mountain Dreamer titled The Invitation. In it she expresses her desire for something more between herself and the world. The poem has spread across the internet and literally around the world. I’ve provided a copy of the poem for your convenience and consideration.
In her book by the same name, Oriah writes, “The Invitation” is a declaration of intent, a map into the longing of the soul, the desire to live passionately, face-to-face with ourselves and skin-to-skin with the world around us, to settle for nothing less than what is real” (The Invitation*, 1999, p. 5). She goes on to acknowledge that while the heart may feel the urge to accept and say, “Yes!” to The Invitation, the desire “…is not the same thing as actually making the journey” (p. 5). To live deeply engaged in the world requires, among other things, a willingness to take risks, to live with fear–but not let it stop us, to bear grief and sorrows alone and with others, to face anger, to delight in joys: In other words, to live aware of all our feelings, not to hide from them.
Oriah writes eloquently about what she wants to invite from others and, by implication, what she expects of herself. There are many things, though, that can get in the way of living out such intent. I’d like to address one aspect of that.
Even though we may have the best of intentions, we may unconsciously give off signals to others that contradict our desire to “choose life” and live fully. We may unknowingly communicate to others through our unconscious behaviors and habitual ways of doing things exactly the opposite of what we profess to want in our enduring relationships and day-to-day interactions with others. This occurs because our motivations for doing things are rarely pure. They are usually a mixture of our psychological defenses and our conscious goals, objectives, dreams and desires. While our psychological defenses are “designed” primarily to keep us feeling safe, our desires often lead us down paths that are filled with risk, anxiety and the potential for as much pain as pleasure, as much loss as gain. Our decisions and behaviors, then, are a combination of strategies to help us feel safe, on the one hand, and to pursue goals, etc, on the other.
We form our fundamental “conclusions” about ourselves, about others and our relationships to the world and people around us quite early in life. These coalesce to form an important foundation of what we call our personality or character and lead to habitual patterns of behavior. Most personality theorists suggest that our personality is essentially formed by late childhood, though aspects of it, in particular our character, may continue to develop throughout life. For ease of discussion in this article, I’ll use the terms personality and character interchangeably to refer to “our characteristic ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that are consistent over time and across various situations.”
Personality development occurs by the ongoing interaction of temperament (genetically determined traits), character (learned patterns), and environment (adaptations to our unique circumstances). It is important to remember that this is an unconscious process: We don’t chose our personalities from a list available to us in childhood. Once formed, personality tends to be very stable. When we think of the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive identity, when we recognize or remember who that person “really is,” we are identifying the essential or the essence of their character, that which makes her “who she is.” We expect this to be the same over time with others, friend or foe, so we are not continually surprised by who they are. We say we “know” our friends when we can predict what they’ll think, how they’ll feel, what kind of presents they will like, and so on.
For most people most of the time our defenses work sufficiently well so that we are able to contain, or hide, the “unacceptable” parts of our personality and show the world our acceptable “public self.” For example, most people with a mild to moderate degree of chronic anxiety lead productive lives and others generally wouldn’t guess they are suffering silently, and sometimes severely, on the inside. Individuals who live, for example, with a feeling that they are “not good enough,” or “flawed” in some fundamental way, or who carry some irrational guilt about the past still form friendships and hold jobs, but they may be plagued with worry that people will reject or abandon them if their secret is discovered.
So what does this have to do with what we invite from others? Most of us have heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy and accept its validity to some degree. Have you ever wondered, though, how this actually works? How does what we expect to happen influence what literally happens? And in our interpersonal relationships, how does the way we feel about ourselves, the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the way we present ourselves influence the way others respond to us? In other words, what do we really “invite” from others?
It is usually easier to observe in others how the various ways they behave, their moods and attitudes, their “vibe,” has an impact on the way others respond to them over time. We sometimes excuse a friend’s or colleague’s occasional irritating or boorish behavior with an understanding, “He’s just having a bad day.” But the colleague who is too often rude or bad-mannered eventually runs the risk of alienating others permanently and we are not likely to chose or keep such a person as a friend.
It is generally harder to identify our own characteristic patterns and how these influence the ways people respond to us. If you stop to think about yourself for a bit, you may be able to identify, for example, that you tend to be a “fixer,” or that you tend to “focus on others’ happiness more than your own.” You may “see” that you present yourself as “ultra capable” or, conversely, as someone who is “indecisive and rarely expresses a strong opinion.” There are many patterns that will be identifiable if you take time to consider how you typically behave and how people respond to you in your own many relationships. Or you might think about friends and try to identify how they “characteristically” act in their relationships and how you respond to their various personalities.
Remember, these patterns are neither good nor bad. They are ways that we learned to “be” in the world and they “worked” to help us get along, thrive, cope, or survive in the circumstances we grew up in. I sometimes ask patients to stand up and assume a posture, including arm gestures and facial expressions, that symbolizes their “approach” to the world or “stance” in the world. By involving their bodies and noting areas of tension, placement of arms and legs, etc. they are often able to quickly “see” things that are difficult to identify when we are sitting and talking.
These patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving become so firmly established precisely because they worked better than any other pattern to help us feel safe, secure, attached and accepted when we were young. Our psychological defenses are usually incorporated into these personality patterns quite fluidly and seamlessly and help us negotiate the stresses of life quite effectively, but they exert a cost.
Each of these patterns is likely to elicit rather predictable behavioral responses from others. For example, the “fixer” may “invite” others to come with their problems and requests for help, the “ultra capable” person may invite dependence from others and foster an attitude of “let’s ask him/her to do it, they’re so good at it.” The “indecisive” presentation may “invite” others to ignore or marginalize. The skills of being a talented problem solver, a competent worker, or being able to withhold one’s opinion judiciously are wonderful, but if the skill becomes a dominant pattern that characterizes a person’s interactions over time and across situations, it will limit our capacity to choose, our flexibility, and possibly even our freedom in life.
It has been said that the strongest prisons are the ones we build for ourselves. While our defenses are designed to help us feel safe and “in control,” their very effectiveness cuts us off from feelings that make us too uncomfortable, behaviors that feel “out of the box” even if they are not for most of our friends, and ways of thinking that can seem dangerous or feel like “breaking the rules.” We may say that we want to live “more fully,” we want to be more alive and engaged with others, or we want more satisfaction and intimacy in our relationships. Many have experienced the frustrations involved in making the changes required for this to happen. We find ourselves repeating the “same old song” time after time.
The good news about all this, though, is that we are capable of changing, even our basic personality patterns. We don’t have to change everything about our personality in order to alter some of the patterns that keep us locked into unproductive behaviors and unsatisfactory relationships. It is not easy to make such fundamental changes, but it is possible. We are not just prisoners to our history, our genetics, or our learning. It is possible to identify our own characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving and to learn how these “invite” certain responses from others.
The “ultra-capable” individual, for example, may truly enjoy his or her competencies and the inherent thrill of doing something well. Beneath this layer, though, she or he may harbor the thought and fear, that others “will not accept me if I’m less than outstanding.” There is also the risk that he or she may develop an unspoken, or even unacknowledged, resentment from always “having” to work so hard to do things “just right.” It takes courage to risk challenging these deeper fears and conclusions and actually behave differently, i.e. less perfectly, not incompetently, but it is the only way to truly find out that our worst fears usually don’t materialize. There are many small, but necessary steps on the road to developing a new, more satisfying way of being in the world.
Just as it is impossible to see the outline of the forest when we are standing on the ground surrounded by tall trees, it can be maddeningly difficult to identify our own unconscious patterns without occasional help. If you try this type of change on your own and get stuck, don’t give up. Invite a friend, spouse, or life partner to make this journey with you. If you prefer not to start this type of change with someone you know, ask a professional for help. A spiritual advisor, psychotherapist or other professional may be able to provide the help and support you need to identify and successfully complete this type of change.
This approach requires that we take an attitude of observation and acceptance, not analyzing and criticizing. Remember, we developed our character attitudes and behaviors unconsciously for the most part. If we can accept that we did so to help ourselves feel safer and accepted, there is less chance we will condemn ourselves for behaving “so stupidly” or some other such criticism. Because so many people feel like they are not good enough, this is no small undertaking. It is worth the effort, though, if we want to respond to The Invitation.
*Mountain Dreamer, Oriah. The Invitation. HarperONE: San Francisco. 1999.
Welcome to my blog. This is my first entry and I want to introduce myself and say a little about my reasons for writing. I plan to add entries, on an occasional basis, related to my areas of practice and the range of patient needs that I work with.
I’ve been working as a psychologist and psychotherapist for nearly 35 years. While that fact alone doesn’t make me an “expert” or even remarkably qualified to comment, my experience has provided countless opportunities to become acquainted and deeply involved with many wonderful and courageous people. I mean courageous in the sense of the ability to do something that frightens one or strength in the face of pain or grief. These individuals and couples have motivated me to keep learning, to keep dealing with my own issues and growing in ways that help me help interact with them more deeply and therapeutically. In this process, I’ve learned more than a few things along the way that I hope may be of benefit to those who read this blog.
During these 35 years, like most therapists, I’ve listened to such a variety of stories, problems, heartbreaks, tragedies and accomplishments. I’ve helped people wade into the dark recesses of the psyche and, more importantly, to find their way out when they couldn’t do so on their own. It has been a great privilege for me and immensely satisfying to help them resolve problems, recover a firm “footing” in life and learn to live with greater freedom and health.
I’ve also been “in the other chair” in my own therapy and body-centered work during my own dark times and as an integral part of my training. Being a patient and struggling at times with emotions, with depression and despair, and with other issues in my life has “taught” me at a level that formal education just cannot duplicate. An immensely valuable aspect of being a patient is experiencing that therapy really does work. Recovery is possible. I hope that my articles and posts will reflect both these professional and personal experiences.
As a young therapist I searched for several years to find and formulate an overarching goal or purpose for therapy, a philosophy that would guide my work. I read about and heard others describe their goals and philosophies. After I started doing body-centered therapy in the early 1990’s, I began to read a variety of writers in this area. I came across Alexander Lowen and saw his statement regarding his goal for therapy. He said:
“The goal of all therapy is to help a person increase his capacity to give and receive love––to expand his heart, not just his mind” (Bioenergetics, 1975, p. 89).
His words resonated with me as did his attention to what was happening in the body as well as in the mind. If I am successful at helping people achieve this primary goal, then, by definition, we will also accomplish the other, more specific goals relevant to each individual.