Tag Archives: mindfulness

Counsellor confession… “I hate my partner.”

 

 

 

I hate my wife. I hate my husband.

Relationship articles, facebook memes, and lofty platitudes about what makes a “healthy” relationship float across my virtual desktop daily. They always emphasize high ideals of respect, non-violence, kindness, trust, empathy, validation, etc. They never include anyone saying –

“I hate my wife.”
“I hate my husband.”

It’s no wonder that my counselling clients feel like failures, and doubt the legitimacy of their marriage or relationship (or even of themselves) if they experience intense resentment, anger, grief, rage, frustration or jealousy.

What are we supposed to do with these unwanted feelings when we’re repeatedly told that they have no place in a “healthy” relationship (or life)?

For many, the answer is simple. Ignore the feelings. Reject them. Stuff them deeply into a sack and drag it along behind, pretending it does not exist, even as it grows into elephantine proportions and begins to crowd everything else out of the room.

I confessed in an interview recently that I was feeling grateful for being able to express my outright rage and seething hatred of my spouse… to my spouse. That’s right, I told my partner that I hated her. And guess what? The world didn’t end. And neither did my relationship.

As a marriage counsellor working with clients worldwide, it felt risky to publicly share that I sometimes hate my partner, and that I have told her so. But I believe that because I am able to express a full range of feelings toward her, and because she can hear them, disaster is averted. This works in both directions in our relationship; I hear about her anger as well. It has at least once been expressed as “I want so badly to punch you in the face.” (She contained the impulse, but the message was received.)

In our relationship, my partner and I allow each other to express these difficult, dark feelings, and so they are, in a way, over time, transformed. Left in the dark corners they fester and grow, and they sneak up on us, often in disguise. Faced head on, they tend to reconcile of their own accord. The result? A clean slate.

That’s worth stating again: To the degree that we are able to identify and express our darker feelings about each other, to each other, we’re able to avoid lingering resentments in our relationship.

As I state in my book, The Re-connection Handbook For Couples – 

If your ideas about love are too narrow to accommodate the relationship you actually have right now, you may want to try expanding your thinking. Love is certainly not just good feelings, kindness and caring. Romantic and erotic love is compatible with resentment, mistrust, selfishness and even cruelty. Perfectionism, lofty platitudes and willful naivete about love are common in our culture, but real love may demand dark expressions from time to time.”

Are negative emotions so bad?

Emotions in our culture have been neatly divided into two columns: negative and positive. But what if emotions were neither negative nor positive? Neither good nor bad? What if emotions were simply acknowledged on their own terms?

There’s a popular idea that we should be able to control our feelings through sheer force of will. I’ve never, ever seen this to be true. But I have seen the damage that this belief causes. It IS true that by practicing mindful awareness, we may be free of some of the more painful and destructive emotions, but they fade largely of their own accord, and usually only after being acknowledged, and even expressed.

So how can we safely express potentially destructive emotions like rage and hatred? Perhaps we can’t. Perhaps they are inherently unsafe. If so, it appears that we must risk something if we are to give our anger, cruelty, resentment any real voice. (Sometimes what we risk is intimacy; the intimacy aspects of engaging with the darker emotions often go unrecognized.)

Popular communication techniques would have us calmly and quietly stating our angry feelings – “It makes me feel angry when you leave your socks on the floor.” But anger, real anger, is rarely calm and quiet. It is fiery and fast. It burns. I’m suspicious of techniques that sugar-coat or rely too much on pretending.

Of course, raw, unchecked rage and hatred freely expressed in a relationship is clearly not going to be acceptable to most self-respecting people. If we want to work with darker emotions, to allow them an appropriate place in our awareness, our relationship and lives, the answer must lie somewhere in between; still potent and alive, but not full force. We can practice allowing an emotion like anger without becoming it entirely. The key is awareness; the ability to have an experience (really HAVE it), and also to notice it at the same time. This requires us to grow our capacity for seemingly contradictory experiences, what I sometimes call “holding opposites,” and it takes practice.

There’s no reliable formula for successfully navigating difficult emotions like anger in a relationship. Talk with your partner. Examine your own taboos. See if there might be room to experiment with allowing some expression, even a basic verbal acknowledgement of the feeling.

Every relationship has its own unique culture, a set of agreements and rituals, implicit or explicit, that guide it. Does your relationship make room for expressions of the full range of human emotions? Or are only “positive” emotions allowed?

 

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Is mindfulness making us ill?

Is mindfulness making us ill?Is mindfulness making us ill? A reader recently forwarded me an article from The Guardian that asks this provocative question. Like virtually all popular journalism, it’s a divisive piece that will fuel both skeptics and supporters. I think the author makes some valuable and legitimate points, especially about how mindfulness can trigger dissociation related to trauma, and also about the political problem of trying to use mindfulness in the workplace to make people more productive in a work culture that is probably intrinsically unhealthy and essentially inhuman (my words, not the author’s).

What is mindfulness?

In my counselling practice I define mindfulness as having an experience and noticing it at the same time. This is a practice of awareness. Can deepening our awareness be disturbing? Yes, it can. Can it “make us ill” as the title of the piece suggests? The suggestion that awareness of our own experience is dangerous (and should thus be medicalized) is more than a little troubling to me, but I suppose we each put our faith where we believe it belongs.

Mindfulness billed as a “relaxation technique” (as stated in the article) is a problematic promise right out of the gate. Mindfulness is not first and foremost a relaxation technique, it’s an awareness practice. Awareness can ultimately have a relaxing effect, but it can also have other decidedly non-relaxing effects.

Assigning mindfulness practice en masse (whether through corporate wellness programs or mobile apps or yoga studio memberships) with the expectation that relaxation be the automatic result reveals a basic misunderstanding of what mindfulness actually means, and sets people up for potentially confusing and dissonant experiences.

True mindfulness is like peeling layers of an onion or delving into an old trunk of belongings. It takes you deeper. You might find sadness, joy, numbness, physical tension, fear. As the article implies, prescribing mindfulness for relaxation only, and then providing no support or allowance for the other experiences that awareness may uncover does seem irresponsible in some ways. Also, it fits perfectly with our current cultural paradigm, a paradigm that recognizes, validates and supports only the narrow slice of human experience that fits its own needs.

MIndfulness and social implications

A genuinely mindful (aware) society would acknowledge and make room for the full range of human emotional experiences that personal mindfulness may evoke. Much of the suffering that comes from numbness, grief, dissociation, panic, anxiety etc is less from the core experience itself, and more a result of the isolation and marginalization that comes from the absence of sacred space, of ritual where these experiences can be compassionately held, witnessed, acknowledged, shared. Perhaps the question that the article asks, “Is mindfulness making us ill?” begets further questions rather than decisive answers… “What does mindfulness ask of us? What does mindful awareness reveal about us, individually and collectively? What do we do with what is revealed?” The answers can be awkward.

The economic and political systems of our culture demand that we be materially productive at all times, at all costs. This demand comes with enormous human sacrifice. In ordinary consciousness, we’re mostly blind to this enormous human sacrifice because our cultural story is deeply woven as “natural fact” into the fabric of our being. This cultural failure to acknowledge (let alone meet!) real human needs for connection, compassion, love, patience and tolerance is much more pressing, much more tragic, and much more dangerous than mindfulness itself could ever be; and mindfulness, in a perfect paradox, may give us a glimpse into the price we routinely pay for membership in this culture. This glimpse can be incredibly disturbing, but blaming mindfulness for the disturbance is akin to blaming a microscope for the germs it reveals.

The trouble with mindfulness

Perhaps the real trouble with mindfulness is in what we expect it to deliver. Mindfulness does not fix us, it allows us to see things more as they are. As such, mindfulness is radical. Who has the authority on your awareness? Who decides how much self awareness is enough; how much is healthy; how much is dangerous? Should we sign away the care of our unconscious to the experts? Or should we accept the freedom and responsibility that come with self-inquiry? It is no surprise that mindfulness, a venerable practice probably thousands of years old, has been co-opted, diluted and commodified as a “relaxation technique” and corporate employee wellness panacea on one hand, and is now on the verge of being demonized as a public health hazard on the other. Ours is a culture that has a difficult time honouring both freedom and responsibility, and simply making room for awareness, ever-changing and uncontrolled, with all its necessary demands. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

 

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Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

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Mindful Marriage – Self awareness tools for happier relationships (Workshop)

Mindful Marriage workshop Justice Schanfarber OMY Jan 16, 2016

Mindful Marriage –
Self awareness tools for happier relationships

Where: Ocean Mountain Yoga
1121 Cedar Street (Second floor)
Campbell River, BC

When: January 16, 2016
1pm – 4pm

Cost: $69

To register: Call 250 914-5435 or email tamaratutt@gmail.com

Marriage and relationships can be full of contradiction and confusion even as they offer hopefulness and joy. Being fully present through all these experiences is perhaps both our hardest task and our greatest reward on the journey.

In this 3-hour workshop we will explore –

~ Supporting your partner without betraying yourself
~ How to communicate for connection and clarity
~ Finding your way through patterns of conflict
~ Paths to intimacy, pleasure and desire

This workshop is for individuals and couples of all genders and orientations.

About the presenter –
Justice Schanfarber is a mindfulness based counsellor and Certified Hakomi Therapist helping individuals and couples in Campbell River BC, and worldwide by telephone and skype. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

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Campbell River Counselling Justice Schanfarber HakomiI provide individual counselling, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples. Sessions in-person or by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.comLike Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

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Anxiety relief – A mindfulness based approach (Workshop October 14, 2015)

WHAT: Anxiety relief – A mindfulness based approach (workshop)
WHEN: 6-9pm pm Oct 14, 2015
WHERE: Flow Yoga Studio – 58 Adams rd. Willow Point, Campbell River
COST: $69 + tax
INFO: 778 996-3821 (Presenter) To reserve your spot call Flow Yoga 250 204-3301

Anxiety relief mindfulness workshop

The life of a human being is an anxiety producing endeavour. In one form or another anxiety is always impacting our relationships, our family life, our health and our overall happiness. And yet most people understand very little about anxiety and how to manage it.

In this 3-hour workshop you will learn –

* what anxiety really is, and how it invisibly runs our lives and relationships
* mindfulness based tools for managing anxiety as it arises
* how to use “anxiety awareness” as a tool for resolving conflict in ourselves and with others

Justice will be sharing the model of mindfulness based anxiety management that he uses with clients worldwide.

About the presenter –
Justice Schanfarber is a mindfulness based counsellor and Certified Hakomi Therapist helping individuals and couples in-person in Campbell River BC, and worldwide via phone/skype. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Cost: $69 +tax.
To reserve your space: Call Flow Yoga Studio (250) 204-3301.

Anxiety relief without medication – A three step mindfulness based approach to managing an activated nervous system

Anxiety relief without medication - Mindfulness based managementPerspectives on anxiety – “Please rescue me from this feeling”

All of life, family, community and relationships can be understood, in a sense, as an unconscious exercise in releasing ourselves from the anxiety of being a human being.

The anxiety of not being good enough, of past hurts and traumas, of not being known and loved for who we are, and of knowing that we – along with everyone we love – will one day die is a powerful, often invisible force driving us as individuals, and also shaping our social structures and agreements, both explicit and implicit.

“Please rescue me from this feeling” we plead in a thousand ways to spouses, bosses, employees, cheeseburgers, pornography, facebook, yoga, and television. We may recognize the insanity of certain actions – repeating abusive relationship cycles, poisoning ourselves with cigarettes, checking facebook a hundred times each day – but the underlying anxiety driving our actions remains unseen, residing deep inside our own bodies – our nervous systems most specifically.

If only the kitchen was clean, if only I had another beer, if only they listened to me, if only my team would win, if only we had more sex, if only I had more money, if only people weren’t so stupid, if only we had a holiday. The source of our anxiety always appears to be “out there” somewhere. So that’s where we focus, out there. Then we come to realize – That cigarette didn’t satisfy. My new car is already feeling old. Yoga hasn’t made me a new person. Nothing my partner says makes me feel better.

Trying to change ourselves and other people and the world is valid and reasonable and perhaps intrinsically human, but it doesn’t address the core anxiety that tortures each of us from the inside out. Whatever actions we take in the world will be more effective, more direct, and more healthy when we are also addressing the anxiety that lives inside us. So how do we do that?

First, notice your anxiety

Once you consider that your anxiety might be rooted inside you, not in other people and circumstances (no matter how it got there originally or how legitimate your grievances might be), you might assume that it’s in your mind, a head thing, something that comes from thoughts and beliefs, and so you try to change your thinking. That’s fine, but anyone who’s tried to talk themselves out of a feeling knows the struggle that can bring. The experience of anxiety often includes thoughts, but its roots are deep in your nervous system, in your body, out of reach of intellect and reason.

If you want to know your anxiety first-hand (and you do – it’s how you get loose of its grip), notice what it feels like in your body. Anxiety is a body sensation that happens when your nervous system gets activated. Your spouse nags or yells and you feel your throat tighten. That’s anxiety. Your kid slams the door and your face gets hot. That’s anxiety. Notice it. Notice it simply as a sensation in your body. Name it, internally or out loud. “Throat tight.” “Face hot.”

Now stay with it

Throat tight? Stay with that sensation. Face hot? Stay with that sensation. Feel your anxiety wherever it shows up in your body. Do this slowly, with curiosity and awareness. Unless your safety is actually being threatened in this moment, nothing needs to be done. If judgement or internal dialogue appears, notice it, but come back to the body sensation. Stay with it. Stay with it because you want to fully know it. Uncomfortable? Part of what we’re doing here is building our capacity for that discomfort. It’s like exercising a muscle. It gets stronger with the right kind of use. In this case, the right kind of use is to stay with the body sensations triggered by an activated nervous system. Think of it as physiotherapy for the nervous system. Be curious about the pure sensations, without jumping to interpretation, meaning or conclusions. If you find yourself in your head, problem solving or assigning blame etc, gently come back to the body sensation.

The normal tendency is for an activated nervous system to immediately trigger a reaction (ie – fight or flight). We move so quickly to action that we miss the actual sensation, the in-body experience of nervous system arousal. Slow the process down and notice it directly. Stay with the sensations.

An activated nervous system can be extremely uncomfortable. We instinctively want to be rid of this discomfort. This is why we reflexively lash out, shut down or distract ourselves. I’m asking you to practice not doing these things. Instead, simply notice the feeling of an activated nervous system, of anxiety, and stay with it, without doing anything about it, without trying to get relief. It’s hard, but it won’t kill you. Don’t move to step three until you’re intimate with the feeling, with the direct sensation.

Next, attend to it

Once you get used to what anxiety feels like in your body, once you can name the sensations an activated nervous system triggers (“Throat tight.” “Face hot.”) you can start attending to it. But don’t rush to this step. It’s important to build some capacity for discomfort before doing anything about it. Slowing down is key.

When you feel ready, start relaxing your nervous system directly using conscious breathing. Throat tight? Breathe. Feel yourself sending relaxing, nourishing, healing breath to your throat. Face hot? Breathe. Send relaxing, nourishing, healing breath to your face. Breathe into the places that are tight, contracted, or fired up. Also, notice if you have an impulse toward movement. Perhaps your hands want to cradle your face or stroke your throat. Perhaps your hand floats to your chest. Go ahead and follow those impulses.

There’s nothing fancy about this. Don’t worry about doing it just right. What’s important is slowing down, breathing, and feeling the sensations directly – without flying into reaction, decision making or problem solving. If there are thoughts, just notice them. Then come back to the sensations and soothe yourself with breath and touch. This practice can be quite profound. Tears are not uncommon. Rage and other strong emotions can also show up.

If you stay with the sensations of anxiety directly, tension eventually tends to soften, and then the mental chatter and negative thoughts also calm down. You’re practicing having an experience and noticing it at the same time. This awareness practice, sometimes called mindfulness, gets us out of the “loops” in our head. From here, new possibilities can emerge.

Recap – Managing anxiety in three steps

    1. Notice what anxiety feels like in your body. Name it – “Throat tight” etc.
    2. Stay with the feeling in your body. Don’t jump to action or conclusions.
    3. Attend to the sensations directly. Breathe into the places that are affected.

Nervous system arousal and the resulting discomfort of anxiety are facts of life for all mammals, and are normal human experiences. Our goal isn’t to get rid of anxiety, repress it, or cut it off, but rather to expand our awareness and tolerance of it so that it holds less power over us. The three-step practice above is one that I use with clients in session and that I teach for home use. Feel free to experiment and adjust it to suit you. Like practicing any new skill or exercising any muscle, results come with time. Be patient and kind with yourself. Small steps can have a big impact.

[Note – While we all experience anxiety to some degree, it can be overwhelming for those who suffer from unresolved trauma. Those who suffer from trauma induced anxiety (PTSD) can try the steps above, but may find themselves too hyper-sensitive or prone to dissociation to manage their experience effectively. These people should consider working with a therapist skilled in somatic processing and body-centred trauma therapy.]

Also read – The surprising role of conflict in relationships – How the arguments that tear us apart also hold us together (Part 1)

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Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

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Why women leave men they love – What every man needs to know

Marriage - why women leave, cheatAs a marriage counsellor working with men and women in relationship crisis, I help clients navigate numerous marriage counselling issues. While many situations are complex, there’s one profoundly simple truth that men need to know. It’s this – Women leave men they love.

They feel terrible about it. It tears the heart out of them. But they do it. They rally their courage and their resources and they leave. Women leave men with whom they have children, homes and lives. Women leave for many reasons, but there’s one reason in particular that haunts me, one that I want men to understand:

Women leave because their man is not present. He’s working, golfing, gaming, watching TV, fishing… the list is long. These aren’t bad men. They’re good men. They’re good fathers. They support their family. They’re nice, likeable. But they take their wife for granted. They’re not present.

Women in my office tell me “Someone could come and sweep me off my feet, right out from under my husband.” Sometimes the realization scares them. Sometimes they cry.

Men – I’m not saying this is right or wrong. I’m telling you what I see. You can get as angry or hurt or indignant as you want. Your wife is not your property. She does not owe you her soul. You earn it. Day by day, moment to moment. You earn her first and foremost with your presence, your aliveness. She needs to feel it. She wants to talk to you about what matters to her and to feel you hearing her. Not nodding politely. Not placating. Definitely not playing devil’s advocate.

She wants you to feel her. She doesn’t want absent-minded groping or quick release sex. She wants to feel your passion. Can you feel your passion? Can you show her? Not just your passion for her or for sex; your passion for being alive. Do you have it? It’s the most attractive thing you possess. If you’ve lost it, why? Where did it go? Find out. Find it. If you never discovered it you are living on borrowed time.

If you think you’re present with your wife, try listening to her. Does your mind wander? Notice. When you look at her, how deeply do you see her? Look again, look deeper. Meet her gaze and keep it for longer than usual, longer than comfortable. If she asks what you’re doing, tell her. “I’m looking into you. I want to see you deeply. I’m curious about who you are. After all these years I still want to know who you are every day.” But only say it if you mean it, if you know it’s true.

Touch her with your full attention. Before you lay your hand on her, notice the sensation in your hand. Notice what happens the moment you make contact. What happens in your body? What do you feel? Notice the most subtle sensations and emotions. (This is sometimes called mindfulness.) Tell her about what you’re noticing, moment to moment.

But you’re busy. You don’t have time for this. How about five minutes? Five minutes each day. Will you commit to that? I’m not talking about extravagant dinners or nights out (although those are fine too). I’m talking about five minutes every day to be completely present to the woman you share your life with. To be completely open – hearing and seeing without judgement. Will you do that? I bet once you start, once you get a taste, you won’t want to stop.

<Note – The gender dynamic outlined above is reversible. It can go both ways.>

UPDATE – Read this response > Why men leave women they love (click here)

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Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

 

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