A Sense of Place

A Sense of Place

Are you searching for the perfect place to call home?  Do you feel like you are where you belong?

I think there is a good reason that Dorothy clicks her shiny red heels in The Wizard of Oz and repeats:  “There is no place like home” over and over to transport her back to Kansas, where she feels safe again.  Perhaps it is the same reason that one of my clients told me today she feels “like she belongs” after moving to another city.  Another told me she was “in her element”, while a business executive told me they were “back home again”.

Being in the “right place at the right time” grounds us, roots our feet on terra firma and allows us a feeling of safe outreach.  It must be a concept integral to our human nature or why else would it be the subject of so many movies and books?

So what happens when someone “feels at home” and when someone else does not?  What difference does it make?  Well, there was a time in my life when I lived in a geographically beautiful and stunning landscape yet felt very far away from my “true home”.  Someone suggested that I “bloom where I was planted” so I tried really hard.

I adapted and made adjustments to my new surroundings yet I never felt that “at home” feeling.  Mistakenly, I thought the feeling would emanate literally from living in the “right house”.  I moved several times, trying on different houses as if they were dresses.  While some of them felt better than others, none of them felt quite like “home” and I never felt emotionally rooted in any of them.

So after getting tired of moving and not finding “home” I became interested in Carl Jung’s ideas about culture and geography and its affect on our psyches.  I read about his travels to what he experienced as “exotic” places (in his book “Memories, Dreams and Reflections”) and how they stirred different emotions in his unconscious.  During this time I also attended a lecture by Jungian Analyst James Hollis at Furman University in Greenville, SC.  Mr. Hollis was reflecting on the definition of “home” and what it truly meant to him.

I concluded that “home” is truly a place within ourselves, not without ourselves.  The good news is that we can go there anytime.  The not so great news is that it is often hard to get there because we forgot what road to take.

Ironically by making what I consider to be a “big move” cross country, from North Carolina to Missouri, I have been able to reconnect with a place in my soul I call “home”.  It turns out it was not so much about the geographic change, but the inner change process this move jump-started inside me that made the difference.  Although I am not finished with the process by any means, I am far enough along that I finally feel “home” in the house I live in now.

What do you think you need to do (or who do you need to become) to feel at home?

Letter to Young Roberta: Leaving St. Louis and Going to Columbia

So you’ve just gotten married, your husband has a new job that he is excited about, you are buying your first house – and you are moving to the South.  You don’t know it yet, but the road ahead involves lessons of letting go, blooming where you are planted, culture shock and the necessity of friendship and community.

Since you are so in love, your body is flooded with the feel-good hormone ocxytocin, and you don’t even realize that you are making decisions from rose-colored glasses.  Since it took so long to find true love, you think the high you feel now will last forever, and that there are only good times to be had ahead.  Sure you are filled with glee that your husband is happy to be heading up his own research group in his new job, but have you considered how it will hurt your heart to leave your new(-ish) job?  You feel like you are still in the process of proving yourself there, and you don’t understand the impact of pulling the plug prematurely and cutting things short.  You don’t know it yet but you will end up wondering if you could have been successful if you had stayed on.  You don’t know it yet but you will miss it, because so far in life you have defined yourself through your work.  You don’t know it yet but later you will say it felt like an abortion, with a premature termination.

But then again, you are all too willing to do anything for love.  Well, healthy love.  Having waited so long to get married, having once believed that there was no one out there for you - that you were doomed to singlehood your whole life, of course you would give it all up for love!  But what about all your friends?  And the network you worked so long to cultivate?  You think it will be easy to duplicate all that, but you don’t realize yet the difference geography makes.  Since you have lived in France, you understand the cultural difference between the United States and Europe, but you don’t appreciate the cultural difference between the Midwest and South in your own country.  You don’t know you are considered a “yankee” from the North and all that entails until you find yourself in Columbia, South Carolina.  The year you arrive there the city makes national news for continuing to fly the Confederate Flag on the steps of the State Capitol Building.  You watch the news and wonder what your St. Louis friends are thinking about your new home?  Surely you can barely believe it yourself.

The heady spell of adventure does not waiver until you arrive in Columbia on moving day, and realize that to you it feels like there is nothing there for you, except the Saturn dealership so you can get your new car serviced when necessary.  The startling realization of this makes you cry, and yet seriously you know you will be okay, because at least there is that Saturn dealership.

Without your work to give you a sense of identity, you find yourself lost, albeit happy in love.  You take 8 weeks lounging by the pool, trying to find yourself.  A book that you find in Columbia’s new (and actually impressive) library falls off the shelf for you (“A Bend in the Road is Not the End of the Road” by Joan Lunden) and reading it keeps you sane.  Joan’s story inspires you to embrace your passion and return to school to get an Educational Specialist Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  Although it took an enormous amount of psychic energy to embrace this change, it was exciting as well as fearful, and it was a passionate time in your life.  It was the first time you felt you stepped into your authenticity:  being of service to others who value the wisdom you gain from your own life experiences.

This time was the first time in your life when you began to realize that once you are on your right path, the universe reaches out to support you in your choice.  For example, when you were overwhelmed trying to decide which school to attend, what program to enter, and what degree to get, the world made it easy for you and the answer fell in your lap through your relationships.  You could have skipped all the anxiety and indecision you put yourself through at that time by simply following the advice of the people you admired most.  In the end, it was through your trust of your new therapist that you found your perfect place at Converse College and Westgate Family Therapy Teaching Clinic.  With all the schools scattered throughout the states, who knew you would end up in the only one with a Jungian-oriented practicum, so perfect for you after having seen a Jungian-oriented therapist while living in St. Louis.

Therapy itself has been a guiding principle for you since the ‘90’s:  in seeking out a therapist yourself, you were lead to a hypnosis session in which you remembered wanting to be in psychology at age nine.  Observing your own transformation in therapy helped you make a solid commitment:  first to yourself, then to your husband.  Something you were not capable of before therapy.  Being frightened in Columbia gave you the incentive to seek therapeutic help there, too.  Who knew that the very person you sought help from would lead you to Converse College…and later show up as your instructor there?  Having experienced the joy of mystical change gave you the hunger to want to help others.  Helping others through sharing your own wounds is your gift, and something you are very good at. But then I get ahead of the story, because that is something you don’t discover until later down the road.


Ghost of the Past

Have you ever felt compromised, maybe even lured away from your true self?

“You meet me in the dark alleyways when I am lost.  Twisting and turning, you seduce me when I am low and can’t find my way.  You lure me with false promises of hope and fantasy.  When I give in to you, you control me.  When I hand over my power to you, you have won me over.  You bind me with a thousand layers of crystallized dust until the point that I am so blind I have no choice but to see…but only what you want me to see.

You are not there when I am riding the top of the wave, strong in my authentic voice and feminine self-confidence.  Instead you lurk in the shadows, drawing me out and coaxing me to come near, just so you can have the thrill of manipulating me further.  You capture my loyalty and my trust, too easily surrendered when I am vulnerable.

You lead me astray when I can’t see straight, and are shockingly cruel when you take over my thoughts.  You take me to the point of surrender, where in that moment you become my lifeline.  Then just as you have what you want you betray me by abandoning me…pulling further away into the darkness.  Beckoning me to chase you as if that were my own idea not yours.

I follow you no more.  I am on to you.  No longer your victim, I pull myself away and take myself back into my own hands.  The angels and saints are on my side and they help me reclaim my wise feminine voice.  I imagine you as the devil’s minion.  In this role you are against me.  Though you would persuade me with your gaze I decline, as I wish to know myself inside and out.  Turning away from you I pursue myself.  As I pursue myself there is a chorus of cherubim waiting to assist me.  I let them help as I work my way back to myself.

Coming back to myself is really coming home.  You see I love myself more than I think I love you.”  (A fictitious woman speaking to her animus)

I wrote the above to illustrate how a woman might feel about what Jungians would call her shadow side, or even her unconscious masculine, a.k.a. her animus. Other psychotherapists might describe it as how a woman feels when she is caught up in an addiction (to alcohol, food, sex or drugs), or love obsessed behaviors, in a relationship with a narcissist, experiencing anxiety, depression or anything else that feels toxic and self-defeating.  The identifying pattern here is that something unconscious or seemingly negative takes over and holds the “Self “ captive while the woman behaves in self-destructive ways.

Writing from a Jungian perspective, sometimes we are led down a path that to others appears toxic but in truth has the power to set us free…if we are able to extricate ourselves and learn from it.  Just like in homeopathy, sometimes the poison in the symptom is actually what heals us.

If you are a woman reading this and you can relate to the above passage in purple, chances are you are feeling stuck, hopeless, overwhelmed or exhausted in your life.  If that is true for you, I am writing to offer you a sense of hope from what I know to be true.  Often, working with your dreams and journaling can help you understand the negative patterns that are holding you hostage in a place you don’t like.  When you are held hostage you often feel like you have no influence over your situation, but in truth you have much more sway than you realize.

Think of things this way:  you are the one who made the choices (albeit unconsciously) that took you down this path in the first place.  Which means that you are also the one who can make new/different choices to remove yourself from this path.  I mean this in the most compassionate way:  no shame, blame, or criticism here.  This truth means that through the power of your own decision, you can take a stand, pivot and course correct.  And that is good news because it means that you have the power to free your own self.

I am not promising that this process will be easy or comfortable, in fact it most likely will not be.  What I can promise is that it will be worth it to take your power back and come home to who you were born to be, with full use of all your talents and inner wisdom to guide you down the path.

I have been helping guide women through this process for fifteen years.  Though there are patterns/similarities I find that each person’s way of finding her way home is individual and unique. Most women report that they feel more hopeful, energized and empowered as a result of our work together.

 If you would like my assistance to reconnect with your true self, please contact me.


Thoughts About Loneliness

Many of the people I see and talk to indicate that one of the feelings they struggle with is a constant or nagging state of loneliness.  What does that really mean, I usually ask them.  The answers I receive are very personal, varied, and individual.  There are some common threads though that tie these answers together.  Perhaps the state of being human IS to be lonely on some level.  I suspect we are all hungry for someone who really gets us, really understands us...without us having to explain or reveal ourselves too much.  Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing if such a person really existed? 

The yearning for such a friend/companion is not really all that surprising.  One of the things we learn as child-centered play therapists is that all young children sincerely wish to be seen and heard and understood.  Since we carry our wounds from childhood forward, is it all that surprising that as adults we would still be longing and yearning for the same thing?  Someone to be a mirror for us, to show us our true selves...to share in our triumphs and accomplishments as well as our losses and sorrows.

Sometimes we can be lonely in a crowd, a group of friends, a marriage or other type of committed relationship.  Sometimes it is not enough to "have" someone, especially if we feel like that person just doesn't understand us.  There have been some relationships in my life where I felt more lonely to be in the relationship than out of it and "by myself".  Why is that, I ask myself?

Well, loneliness is a mystery.  Maybe it belongs to the realm of the unconscious, the unknown.  Perhaps it symbolizes a longing for the Divine.  Perhaps it is even how we know that we are alive!  I say that because even in my best relationships, the human ones that seem to fill my soul up to the brim, there is often that subtle (or sometimes not) psychic residue of loneliness still hanging around.  Sometimes it is just a vestige, the tiniest glint of "something" that escapes and eludes me.  

I just can't quite put my finger on it.  I suppose it functions to keep me on the path, ever trudging forward, seeking more closeness, more intimacy, with my beloved.  And then, just as unexpectedly, it vanishes.  It turns a corner and can't be seen.  

I think it's gone for good.  I relax, I stop trying so hard to stay conscious.  Maybe I even stop praying so much and sink into my own norm, the mundane of everyday living, and bam!  There it is again.  It came calling for me again just that fast!!!!  LONELINESS.  Just that little bit of something, that little bit of nothing.

How to Work With Someone Who Hurt Your Feelings

Sometimes I forget to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and see things from their point of view.  John Gottman, famous couples researcher and therapist, tells us that being able to do this is imperative for a good relationship.  Usually this means being able to understand why the other person is feeling what they are feeling.  Sometimes I am actually too good at that, usually in the context of the therapy room.  Today I am thinking about it in a slightly different context, though it has similar results.

Recently I joined a committee for a professional organization that I have membership in where I really did not know anyone very well.  I have just moved back to town and am in the process of creating new relationships/business contacts with people.  I used to belong to this organization before, about 15 years ago.  It was good then so I thought I would give it another try.

When I lived here before I was in another profession and was well-connected by virtue of what I did.  I was in business development for a CPA firm as well as for a bank.  Since then I have transitioned into doing marriage and family therapy work for professionals/executives.  I have had my own business for the last 13 years.  I think to myself (which is too often) that no one knows me here for what I have been doing these last 15 years.  I think they only know me for what I did when I left.  I think about how well known I was where I was living in North Carolina, but how little known I am here for the kind of work I do now.  So I enter the first committee meeting leading with these negative thoughts, feeling inadequate and somewhat anxious despite the fact that I am very extroverted.

I was shy about volunteering my time to help, mostly because I have so much going on with the transition here, so I held back.  However, there was one event where I thought my field of expertise could be a plus.  So I stuck my toe in the water and offered to help, but someone else with a stronger voice took charge of the lead.  That was okay with me, but I have to admit feeling a little left out.  I felt so left out that by the time I pulled out of the parking garage at the end of the meeting, I didn’t pay full attention and scraped my front bumper against the concrete post!  That was like an exclamation mark to my feelings of frustration and I almost quit the committee right then and there.  Afterall, I figured, they didn’t really need me.  I wasn’t really contributing anything.

But I stuck with it and tried again by attending the next meeting.  Once again, I felt weak to the strength of the other committee members’ strong voice when it came to speaking out on planning this one event…they were taking on all the work and I did not have a part in it,  and I wasn’t speaking out and saying anything because I was listening to those negative voices in my head too much.

A few weeks went by, and it came to be the week of the event.  Imagine my surprise when the person with the strong voice e-mailed me to request my input re: the content of the events’ program.  We arranged a telephone call, and I was blown away by how it turned out.  During a forty-minute conversation, I found out that this person valued my opinion, and preferred to collaborate during the presentation part of the event.  They also suggested that we co-facilitate that evening.  I gave strong opinions on the content and was met with positive response.  I felt my anxieties wash away as I realized that I was the one with the problem:  I had failed to put myself in the other person’s shoes because I was too preoccupied with my own insecurities.  If I had done so sooner, I would have seen that they sought my input as a valuable contribution.  That they were not preventing me from participating in the planning at all, that I was doing that all by myself with my negative thinking.

Thank goodness I was open to the call of cooperation and was easily able to brush aside my hurt feelings.  The collaboration turned out to be a rich experience.  When the other person introduced me at the event, it was done in a flattering style, with attention called to my “many credentials”.  To say I was in disbelief at the moment was not too strong of a phrase.  I hope that I will be savoring this experience for months to come…what it teaches me is not to be so preoccupied with the negative voices in my head that I fail to notice when someone is extending a helping hand.