Monday, December 20, 2010

Should You Really Forgive Everyone?

This morning, I received a letter from a reader who had experienced both physical and sexual abuse from her parents while growing up. She was eventually placed in foster care, and then as an adult, made every effort toward reconciliation with her parents. She spent time with them and tried to be loving toward them. Rather than the healing she had hoped for, she found that all of her encounters with her parents left her feeling miserable, and so at the suggestion of her therapist, she finally stopped her visits to them. She wrote to me wondering if she needed to be in contact with her parents in order to forgive them, and asked how she could tell if she had, in fact, completely forgiven them.

Her questions really are about just how far forgiveness should extend, and the key, I think, lies in understanding that forgiving does not equal allowing. Many of us think that forgiving means opening all the doors to our hearts and our lives and welcoming the person we were angry at back in.  But in fact, doing that may subject you to dangers that you can’t handle. The danger may be physical, or it may be emotional, or even psychic. To continue the relationship may mean allowing yourself to be undermined and enervated to the point where you have no energy or love to give to anyone else. It would be wonderful to be able to be strong enough to be in the presence of those who have been abusive to you and to remain centered and loving, but you need to be realistic about where you are actually at and what you are capable of—and what is healthy for you.

 Here’s what I wrote to the woman who contacted me:

Forgiving does NOT necessarily mean continuing to have relationship with people who have abused you. To forgive means letting go of anger and blame, accepting that the perpetrator did the absolute best he or she could at that time. It means wishing that person well, inwardly asking the Creator to heal that person. Along with that goes the realization that the person may not heal, may not change, and putting yourself in the path of that person may not be wise.

To forgive also may mean allowing the sadness that comes when you accept fully the reality that deep pain was inflicted on you by that person, and that there's nothing you can do about it except embrace that truth calmly and in faith. It's coming to peace with that sadness, and holding it inside of you like a child in need of love. In a funny way, accepting the sadness contains it, so that you can make room inside for other things, including joy. Coming to terms with the sadness and the imperfection of the other allows you to give up the notion that you can somehow "fix" the situation or "fix" the person who hurt you--you can't. You never will. That is in the hands of the Creator. Understanding this fully is what will give you the strength to both hold that person in love and keep your distance when that is the wise thing to do.

Forgiveness never should involve taking on more pain than you already have experienced. Instead, forgiveness should allow you to feel the beauty and purity of your own heart. Every day, you can inwardly offer the person who hurt you a prayer for healing, and inwardly offer them your blessings and goodwill. At the same time, you can pray for your own illumination, protection, peace, and wisdom. Another thing you can try is to give yourself a TAT session, which is one of the best methods I have found for experiencing wise forgiveness. I have used it both on myself and with many clients successfully. To try it on yourself, go to and download the free booklet, or contact me for help.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Use Music to Heal Yourself: Four Techniques

Since the cradle of civilization, people have used music to heal. In the Bible, David healed Saul through harp music. Krishna healed with his flute, and the ancient Hawaiians used song and chant in healing. The god Apollo oversaw both medicine and music in ancient Greece.

In modern times, though, it comes as a surprise to many just how powerful music and sound is in healing both mental and physical distress. Studies show that music helps stroke victims to heal faster, premature babies to stabilize quicker, and terminally ill patients to experience less pain. Lactating mothers who listen to music produce more milk (one study found a 63% boost from listening to music). Music can help hypertensive patients to reduce blood pressure, Alzheimer’s victims to sleep better, victims of Parkinson’s disease and brain injury to recover cognitive and language function far more completely. Plus, it enhances the immune system and even improves strength and balance.

Years ago, I knew a schizophrenic woman who had been through years of treatment with anti-psychotic medications and psychotherapy, with little improvement. Then she started listening to classical music for several hours each day, and she completely healed herself in that way. Most of us do realize that the right music soothes and heals the soul, but few of us know how to harness the full power of music to heal ourselves or to enhance consciousness.

The cool thing is that you can use music and sound right away to help yourself. If you want to improve your consciousness, try one of these things. For even better results, do one of these things every day for a month:

  1. Play inspiring, uplifting music while you write in your journal. Choosing the right music is essential. Selections like Pachelbel’s Cannon, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and Handel’s Water Music work particularly well, but if classical music doesn’t appeal to you, try whatever you love, depending on your taste. You’ll find a nice selection of music intentionally written for healing on the internet. You’ll know it’s the right music if you feel palpably better afterwards.

  1. Now, do the same thing, but this time, do it with a partner. While the music plays, relate any thoughts, images, or stories that arise to your partner, while your partner acts as scribe. The power of this exercise may surprise you.

  1. Breathe in healing music for 20 minutes. Remove every other thought and distraction from your field of consciousness. Just listen to the music and breathe it into yourself. If you prefer, you can imagine breathing the music into each of your chakras in turn…first breathe into the center at the base of your spine for a few minutes, then into your sacral area, then your solar plexus, then your heart, your throat, your third eye, right up to the crown of your head.

  1. If you enjoy chanting, buy, download, or rent from your library kirtan or bhajan chants and sing along for half an hour. Or, just tune in on the internet (check here). You’ll undoubtedly experience a lift and clearing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

People Pleasing: Wanting Everyone to Like You

Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means that you stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

The great leaders in history, it seems, have been adept at going forward in spite of having political enemies. They willingly speak their minds and stand up for what they believe even when others get alienated. But most of us limit just how much we speak out. We’ve learned “pleasing behaviors” at a young age so that other people will like us. We smile even when we aren’t happy. We learn to keep our mouths shut when our opinions differ sharply from those of the popular people in our crowd, or when our first attempt at voicing our views meets with anger. We learn to monitor how others receive our comments or behavior, and then we adjust accordingly.

And that’s because it hurts so very much to be ostracized from the group, to be rejected. A study just published in the journal Psychological Science reported that social rejection actually affects the heart. When subjects were told that others didn’t like them, their heart rates plummeted. In other words, the body seems to carry programming which influences it to try to fit in with the herd, and when that isn’t happening, the body goes into shock mode.

Yet some people manage to move outside the herd. They say their truth and either don’t care how others react, or are willing to live with the consequences. Maybe they feel popular enough with the few supporters they do have to risk rejection by the masses, or maybe truth matters more to them than popularity. In any event, they have embraced what I’ll call “elective unpopularity.” They have alienated others based on choices they’ve made—by joining certain groups, or wearing their hair too long or too short, or by espousing unpopular views--and could probably win those same others back by making other choices.

But then there’s “non-elective rejection,” and that’s where the pain of rejection stings the most. That’s when others just don’t like you because you happen to be you. They don’t like your personality, your being, your presence. Maybe you did something bogus in the past and they can’t and won’t forgive you. Maybe they don’t like how you look or talk or smile or think. Maybe they don’t like the fact that you like someone they don’t like, that you hang out with Joan instead of Joanna, that you defended someone they were angry with, that you (God forbid!) once set a limit, said “No,” or got annoyed with them. Try as you do, you can’t get these people to accept or forgive or understand you. Even those who handle elective unpopularity just fine can find this non-elective rejection intolerable. While you might be fine with the idea that some people reject you because your politics or religion or other group identifications, you might find personal rejection intolerable.

And yet, tolerate it you must, because it’s nearly impossible to make everyone like you. If you make an attempt at it, you’ll exhaust yourself, but that’s just what lots of us do—exhaust ourselves trying to please others. We go into a near frenzy trying to please our detractors in order to turn them around, and we may not even know we’re doing it because our “pleasing behavior” is so automatic—smiling and yessing and staying silent when we have important things to say and doing things for other people instead of caring for ourselves--trying, trying to keep everybody in our fan club.

Of course, to some degree, all of these behaviors are essential in order for us to have a civilized society. I personally don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with stifling yourself to fit in—it’s what your biological nature tells you to do—but the question becomes at what cost do you try to make others like you? No matter what you do, there will always be those who just won’t bite your bait; there will always be those who won’t forgive or accept or love you. And the harder you try to win them all over, the less of yourself will be left for you to love, the less of you there will be to contribute your little authentic piece to the world tapestry.

The bottom line, I think, is that we all need to learn how to live comfortably with the fact that some people just plain don’t and won’t like us-- if we are to retain any integrity. And, we need to know what to do with the sting of rejection should we encounter it, where to put it, how to nurse the ache. Nothing in life prepares us for it. There are no courses in school that teach, systematically, how to be yourself even if it means surviving unpopularity. There are no fail-proof manuals that point out places to store pain and hurt so that we can forge ahead in spite of those feelings. There are no perfect instructions about how to stand up in a crowd that disagrees with you and speak your mind without fear of humiliation or ostracism.

But there are people to look to for inspiration—public figures who have risked all to say the truth; or closer to home, individuals who consistently try to be honest and transparent with us, even at some risk. If you want to stop mindlessly “people pleasing,” you might begin by assembling a support team. First notice who invites you to be yourself and to say what you feel and believe, versus who tries to shut you up. Who, when you have a difference of opinion, has the courage and integrity to work it through with you and listen to your point of view? Who encourages you to speak the truth as you see it? Those who embrace honesty and open communication you can celebrate as true friends—your support team; those who shut it down you can mourn.

And should you encounter rejection, or if you’re living with the hurt of rejection now, ask those on your support team for help. Ask them how they handle such things. Ask them to keep you honest, in spite of the hurt. If you need additional help, you can use techniques that reduce fear and hurt and anxiety—things like meditation and EFT and TAT—to stay on course.