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Sorry, Not Sorry

apologies

Never underestimate the value of a sincere apology.

If you don’t give a crap about the person, I guess you can say whatever you want. But a sincere apology goes a long way if you’ve hurt someone you care about and really want to make amends. If you get into arguments with loved ones where there is no clear resolution, it’s probably because they don’t end with a sincere apology, and therefore it’s difficult to reconnect.

Before I outline what to say in an apology, let me first begin with what not to say. Things that will likely prolong the argument and hurt the relationship.

Insensitive comments have to do with shame–the feeling that, if you make a mistake, you must be a bad person. Therefore, the person cannot acknowledge any wrongdoing. And because the person is focused on their own shame for making a mistake, they cannot have compassion for the person who they have hurt. Here are some examples:

  1. You’re too sensitive. This is not an apology at all, obviously. You’re basically saying it’s not me; it’s you. You are flawed. I am not.
  2. That wasn’t my intention. I meant well. Not my fault if you interpreted my good intentions in a different way. So we can just agree to disagree and you need to get over it.
  3. Everyone has flaws. You know how I am. I have a bad temper. Sometimes I blow up. I can’t change who I am. So expect more of the same.
  4. I’m sorry that you’re upset. I can see you’re upset, but I don’t take any responsibility for it. But I do I wish you weren’t upset, because you’re upsetting me.
  5. I’m sorry. I will say sorry to appease you, but I have no idea what you’re upset about. And I don’t really want to try to find out and have to change my behavior.

If you have said one or more of these things, let me reiterate that you are not a bad person. No one likes making mistakes. It activates our defenses and makes us want to protect ourselves rather than attend to the other person. And most of us aren’t taught how to give a sincere apology.

So here’s your chance to change your behavior. These are the steps you can take when you’ve hurt someone:

  1. Acknowledge their pain. Even if you think they’ve misunderstood what you’ve said or done. Try to identify what they’re feeling. Acknowledge that you can see how your actions triggered that feeling.
  2. Tell them that you care about their feelings. Let them know that their pain matters. You do not want to be the cause of their pain because you love this person, and it hurts you to know that you have been, in this case.
  3. Make your apology specific. I’m sorry that I worried you by not letting you know I was running late. I’m sorry that I made it sound like it’s your fault, when it’s not.
  4. Make a commitment to change your behavior. From now on, I’ll text you if I’m running late. I’ll tell you that I need space and tell you when I’ll call back rather than hang up.
  5. Reaffirm your commitment to the person. I care about you and I care about our relationship. I’m going to demonstrate this through my actions.

The best way to practice giving sincere apologies is to practice self-compassion. When you accept your own mistakes and forgive yourself for making them, you learn that making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad person. We all make them. We’re all just stumbling along, not knowing what we’re doing half the time.

So self-forgiveness goes a long way.

Ironic, isn’t it? That the best way to learn how to be kind to others is to be kind to ourselves? That’s a win-win, if you ask me.

Things I Learned from Bad Therapists, Part 3

Don’t be afraid to break up with your therapist. They’ll understand.

How to be Unsuccessful

therapy

As you may have surmised by now, I’m actually a big believer in therapy.  I’ve suffered from mental health issues (mostly anxiety and depression) for the better part of forty years, so I’ve seen a LOT of therapists.  Some of them have been helpful, and some not so helpful.  Everyone looks for something a little different in their therapist. I want a therapist to be more like a close friend than a doctor, which can be challenging because I don’t have many close friends.

The “bad therapist” i’m thinking about today actually wasn’t bad at all – he just was more like a doctor than a friend (not his fault).  But he taught me a couple of things:

Treat your depression like a medical condition

and don’t be afraid to get a new therapist

This guy (whom I’ll call Steven, because that’s his name) is a psychiatrist, and I was…

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Things I Learned from Bad Therapists, Part 2

Most people would rather be right than happy

How to be Unsuccessful

lucy2

A few years ago, shortly after I made a career change and moved my family from Canada to the United States, I became depressed and started seeing a bad therapist.  OK, maybe I shouldn’t say “bad”, but he was just not very effective for me.  He often seemed bored during our conversations, and once when I asked him what it was like to listen to people’s problems all day he replied, “It’s a real treat.” O-Kay.

He was a psychologist and had written a book, which I dutifully bought and read.  However, all I remember about the book is that it involved some theory of relationships as triangles, and one person in the triangle had to do things differently and stop re-creating negative patterns.  I’m not sure that makes any sense now that I think about it, so I guess neither the book, nor most of his advice, stuck with…

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Things I Learned from Bad Therapists, Part 1

The worst thing about depression is that it makes you believe things that aren’t true

How to be Unsuccessful

lucy

If you have a history of mental illness like me, chances are you’ve had several therapists over the years.  Maybe you’ve had dozens.  I’ve told my troubles, at various times, to psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and others whose professional qualifications I can’t even remember.

People say it’s hard to find a good therapist, and I think that’s true.  On balance, most of the therapists I’ve seen have not been particularly good, at least for me.  I find some of them don’t listen well, some talk too much, and other offer advice that I don’t find useful.

However, in looking back I can see that even the therapists whom I thought were useless usually said at least one thing that was helpful, one thing that I remember now years later.  What they said didn’t make a big impression on me at the time, but now I recognize it as wisdom, that…

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Be Brave

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I once saw a news story where this guy jumped into the river to save a drowning person. When asked how he was able to be so brave, he said he didn’t really think about it. He just did it. While this is an amazing thing to do, I wouldn’t necessarily call it an act of courage, because he wasn’t afraid. There isn’t really anything courageous in doing something that doesn’t scare you. What’s the risk in that?

I asked readers to share the bravest thing they’ve ever done. A lot of them had to do with taking risks like starting a business, joining the army, going back to school. Most people play it safe–stay in the career or relationship or neighborhood that isn’t fulfilling because of the fear that whatever they choose could be worse. Not many things are scarier than the unknown.

Some people said the bravest thing they’ve ever done was to embrace a painful life experience. Going through childbirth alone, without drugs. Facing a diagnosis of a brain tumor. Watching a loved one die. I had not expected this, but I guess it’s true that life will inevitably throw experiences our way that require us to be brave. No one gets through unscathed.

I would say the bravest thing I’ve ever done was to be single. I had been in a relationship nonstop from 15 to 45, and when I knew that one relationship was about to end, I would start another one so that there was no period of time when I was alone. I was ashamed of this, but I was more afraid of being by myself. And I stayed in a lot of unsatisfying relationships because of this fear. So for me, being single for 4 years was pretty courageous.

In my search to discover how to be a good person, the answer I found was unexpected. To be a good person, to be loving, we must be self-aware. We have to look inward and be with all of those things about ourselves that we try so hard not to face. Our flaws. Our mistakes. Our secrets. We have to accept them, forgive ourselves for them, and understand that this, too, is what it means to be human.

Those who do so can be loving because they know that we are all the same. We all have flaws. We’ve all made mistakes. We all harbor secrets. So who am I to say that I am better than anyone else? We’re all traveling the same road, doing the best that we can. We are all deserving of compassion.

I would say that this is the most difficult kind of bravery of all–to face what is inside us. This is the reason that people come to therapy–and why everyone can benefit from therapy. We aren’t taught how to face our demons. We are told to suck it up, push through, instead. And in the midst of a crisis, that is an important skill to have. But in the aftermath, we have to take time to make sense of what we’ve experienced. That’s when we need to spend some time looking within.

In teaching clients how to practice mindfulness, I tell them that they are learning how to feel their feelings but not respond reflexively to them. Just because we’re anxious doesn’t mean we have to avoid flying. We can still book the flight. We can be afraid but do it, anyway. We can be brave.

What will your next act of courage be?

Words of Wisdom, Part 2

UVA basketball 2018

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love Tony Bennett. Almost as much as I love Federer. In fact, Bennett might have a slight edge because he’s local, and Federer is rarely in the U.S. Not that locality increases my odds of being with either of them, but it is easier to be in the same building with Bennett, at least. The last 3 tennis tournaments I’ve gone to for Federer I did not get to see him. But when I go to a game, Bennett is always there.

By the way, if you don’t follow basketball, I’m not talking about the 80 something year old Tony Bennett who sings “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” This is the men’s coach for the University of Virginia basketball team. Not only is he really, really good-looking, he is also a great coach, a great leader, and a great human being.

Last weekend UVA had a loss in the NCAA basketball tournament that has been described as the biggest upset in all of sports. Not exactly the way you want to make history, some might argue. Although my brothers and I take a more positive spin on it: if it’s the greatest upset ever, we must be that good.

And we are. We are the only team to start the season unranked and end the season as the unanimous #1 seed in the country. The ACC regular season and tournament champions. The only team to go undefeated on the road in the ACC. The only team to win after being down by 4 points with .9 seconds left on the clock. The overall #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A huge favorite to make it to the Final Four. To win it all for the first time ever.

And then we lost to a 16 seed. The weakest 16 seed in the tournament. And we lost badly. Embarrassingly. The worst loss we’ve had all season. Praise for Tony Bennett as the favorite for National Coach of the Year has turned into criticism of how he isn’t capable of winning in the tournament. Doesn’t have what it takes. Maybe UVA should just fire him.

It was painful and heartbreaking to watch them lose. I couldn’t bear to watch the Retrievers celebrate their victory. I went to my room and lay down on my bed and thought about crying. Because, as you know from my last post, I’m on the verge of crying all the time.

But I didn’t. I thought about what I teach clients about mindfulness–how what goes up must come down. Happiness, sadness. Success, failure. Love, loss. They all come in waves. When you’re up, be sure to take it in. Be fully present to it. Savor it. Memorize it with all 5 of your senses, rather than focus on when the other shoe will drop. Because it will drop. That is how life goes. That’s the ebb and flow of it.

And when you’re down, take that in, too. Comfort yourself. Console yourself. Then put things into a larger perspective. And know that you will not always be down, because that, too, is the ebb and flow of life.

But the next morning I still didn’t want to get out of bed. I had been looking forward to watching basketball all day, and now I would just hear about UVA’s loss over and over again. But eventually I got hungry so I had to get up. And I was going to avoid social media so that I wouldn’t have to see what all the haters had to say, but then I decided to just get it over with.

Luckily, one of the first things I came across was Tony Bennett’s press conference after the game. I was so moved by it that I have included the majority of it below:

A week ago we were cutting down the nets at the ACC tournament. They had a historic season, they really did. And then we had a historic loss, being the first 1 seed to lose. And that’s life. The adulation, the praise, we got a lot of it this year. But then on the other side there will be blame. But in the end that can’t define these guys, or our team, or us. Because it was a remarkable season. But we got thoroughly outplayed, and that’s the reality of it. If you play this game and step into the arena, this stuff can happen. Good basketball knows no divisions, or limits, or qualities. All that matters is who plays the best. They earned their right to play in this tournament and we earned our right. They earned their right to move on. It’s who played the best for those 40 minutes and they absolutely did.

It must be so great to have a coach who can say this to you after what may be the worst loss you will ever experience as a player. Someone who tells you to enjoy the highs, accept the lows, and know that none of it defines you. Don’t get too caught up in the hype, and don’t believe the haters. Be the same person in victory and defeat.

If you watch UVA, then you know that’s exactly what they do. What Tony Bennett teaches them to do. As an alum, I am loyal to UVA, win, lose, or draw. And right now I couldn’t be prouder to be a Wahoo, even after the biggest upset in all of sports, because of Tony Bennett.

Tony Bennett

I’m So Tired I Could Cry

Life is poop (4)

Have you ever felt so tired you could cry? No? Apparently it’s just me. I am the only person I know who still feels like a toddler.

I used to wonder why toddlers cry when they’re tired. And when they don’t want to sleep. And when they wake up. What are the thinking and feeling? I asked a parent once, and they were just like, I don’t know. He always does that. And this is perfectly acceptable behavior. Yet if I were to cry upon awakening and sulk and be out of it for a period of time afterwards, this behavior would be frowned upon. That’s totally unfair.

I have an advantage over toddlers in that they do not have the cognitive development and verbal skills to articulate what they’re thinking and feeling, but I do. So it’s almost like I can read a toddler’s mind. If I had to describe how I feel in that moment, it’s something like, this sucks that I’m struggling to stay up but I still have to stay at work, drive 45 minutes to get home, go to the grocery store, cook dinner, do the dishes, and get ready for bed before I can sleep! I could seriously fall asleep right now!

OK maybe that’s not anything like what toddlers think. But I still feel their pain.

When I feel like crying when I wake up, it’s more like, that wasn’t enough sleep! I don’t want to get up and do a bunch of chores! I’m hungry! I’m anxious! I have to pee! I’m just going to lie here and sulk for a while as a small act of rebellion against adulthood.

This is probably not normal, either.

I fight sleep like a toddler, too. It’s not even conscious. I’ll feel myself drifting off into a dream state and I’ll do something like roll over and wake myself back up again. Maybe it’s because I have to will on a hypomanic episode just to get ready for bed because it takes about an hour. But then once I’m done my brain is still all hyped up and I can’t turn it off. So then I can’t fall asleep and have to take extra Ativan. So then I wake up tired the next morning, and I feel like I want to cry. And the cycle repeats.

These are the kinds of things that make me feel like I’m not handling adulthood well.

But perhaps there are advantages to being in touch with my inner toddler. Maybe it’s a gift to able to access every version of myself from infancy to the present. Maybe it helps me to be more self-aware, to know myself better. Maybe that’s why I’m able to empathize with people so well. Maybe it helps me to be a better therapist.

Or maybe I’m just making all this up and I’m really just crazy.

That’s OK, too. Maybe there is no such thing as normal. Maybe that’s just some idealized version of ourselves that we can never live up to. Maybe it wouldn’t even be a good thing if we could live up to it. Maybe we are all just different degrees of craziness, and on that continuum, I’m probably average. More than just a little crazy, but functioning well enough to write this blog post without crying.

Adult toddler