Friday, July 18, 2014

Longing for Peace and Calm while Feeling Fully Alive

Needless to say, my title is a contradiction.  How can we feel peaceful and calm while also feeling fully alive? Can this be achieved?
Although many of us hunger for peace and calm, the real trick is to be able to find some peace while also feeling fully engaged in life, being able to tackle life’s challenges and manage a whole range of emotions, still being somewhat grounded, centered, and safe.
I used to think that we all just long for that ideal mother who can give us everything we need: food, drink, nurturance, comfort, filling up those empty spaces inside us, or soothing those jagged parts of us to create comfort and joy. Nowadays, I know that no one person can humanly supply all that for us, and we can grieve that fact.
We all want to feel loved, nourished by others, by our work, by our children, friends, family, and by life itself. But, too often, life becomes either hard to deal with or sometimes even boring and mundane. We wonder why we are here, what is the purpose of our lives?  Then, when we are upset, what we may want is for someone to hold us, to listen to us and to truly understand us.  That can be hard to find. In my psychotherapy practice, I hear daily about how some people have grown up with parents who weren’t fully attuned to them, didn’t seem to really understand them, or listen to them with great empathy.  After all, parents have their own lives and stresses, and parenting is not a job that any of us can do perfectly. 
Those people sometimes grow up rarely feeling good about themselves, always feeling a little different, or misunderstood, and can be confusing even to themselves, even when they have had good lives, filled with all the trappings of a good family, fun stuff, opportunities, and more.  With that kind of background, they may wonder, “Then, why am I feeling so bad (or blah)?”  Good question.
Babies and kids grow up in this world being fully dependent on caregivers for all of their needs.  Certainly trauma can occur which is tragic; but even when that doesn’t occur, people wonder why they just don't feel good. Some parents are excellent but there are lots of other variables that affect children and their self esteem. Some people never ever feel quite good enough, and some feel fraudulent as if they are just acting a part and can never really just be themselves. We compare ourselves to others, knowing someone is always more successful, smarter, or better looking. 
For whatever reasons, many of us do have a hunger for more or different, for something that we haven’t quite found even within ourselves.  Although we want to engage in life and to connect with others and ourselves in deep and meaningful ways, too often conflict occurs and reinforces some of our bad feelings about ourselves.  So, we learn to soothe ourselves as best we can, often in destructive ways, with comforting substances or behaviors that can become compulsive or rigid. We look and long for something to help us feel better, to help us feel alive but at the same time we want comfort and peace.  No small request!
We get discouraged and sometimes feel desperate to find some way, any way to feel better. And, we long for safety and passion sometimes both at the same time. So, how do we find that thing that really works for us, helps us, so we don’t go through life feeling all alone so much of the time?
Some find help in religion, meditation and other spiritual practices. Some find that if they can still their minds and let flow through them all those harsh internal judgments, they can sometimes let go of some of those old mean messages.  Forgiveness is often necessary. But, sometimes we can’t do it all on our own.  Sometimes we need a family member, a close friend, and/or a minister or rabbi to be with us through this hard journey called life.
Since psychotherapy is my career which I dearly love and enjoy, I find that the best way I can help someone is to be with them, to listen to them carefully, to try to understand and then help them understand who they are and what has happened to them in their lives.  Then, we can both seek together some new ways to think about or be in life perhaps a rewriting of life's narrative. I believe that therapy is a sacred space where people can come together with the intention of finding better ways to understand themselves, others and their lives.  In doing so, people can feel reborn, blossom like never before, and feel transformed, because they have committed to undertake an exploration, with another person beside them, as they discover what is missing and what might be done so that they can feel better than ever. 
Psychotherapy and life's journey can take much time and energy. But what can be more valuable than this process? Because if we feel better, the world and people around us feel better, our children are better cared for, and our relationships and our work improve.  We can help the world more effectively by helping ourselves, and we can do both at the same time.
One day, if you haven’t already, or even if you have done so before, give yourself the gift of seeking inside yourself to discover who you are and how you can feel better.  Give yourself a gift that may create in you more peace and calm, while you can also feel more fully alive.

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