Fun and Fears

October is often the month known for all things scary, although for those who are true horror film or paranormal buffs, there’s never a bad time to check out a new scary movie or location. Whether you enjoy watching those types of movies and shows or visiting those types of locations, and whether or not you believe in the paranormal, just about everyone has fears about something during their lives. Sometimes these are fears like something/someone being under the bed or in the closet that are 99.9% of the time not based in reality, but they did come from somewhere, regardless of however rare the reality of them occurring is.

Sometimes we get over our fears in large part, but some of us are never able to break free. And to an extent it is healthy to have fears, or at least have a healthy respect for things that can harm us like heights and cliff edges and deep water and violent people. Our fears become an issue when they prevent us from living life as fully as we would like.

As adults we have to find a between balance being honest with the next generation about some of the not so awesome things and people in the world, and helping them have a healthy attitude towards life and the fun that can be had, including with all things scary. We shouldn’t judge them for their fears or being asked to check for monsters, instead we should help them learn the many different faces of fear; from reality to potential to imagined to fun and make believe.

So go ahead and have a little spooky fun with your kids this month, but make sure you know if their definition of spooky is visiting a haunted attraction, watching a slightly scary movie or carving a scary face on a pumpkin.

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Comfortable Changes

How do you handle those conversations with your partner when they want to talk about things they want or feel are lacking in your relationship? I had a conversation with someone about this during the past week and it got me thinking about how we can overcome the challenges we personally may face if we’re asked by our partner to make a change or do something different.

While the first emotion you may feel is gratitude that your partner is finally sharing their concerns, fears or desires, the emotions that may closely follow are guilt, fear, and panic. It’s never easy to realize that you’ve been failing in some way on something or not being everything your partner needs. But that’s not necessarily what the conversation means, because it may not be about you failing to do something, but about something new your partner wants or needs or wants to try. If you’re in a healthy relationship, it should be an opening conversation, a beginning of a discussion, not a requirement or hard line.

Change and growth are natural parts of a healthy relationship. So what it you do feel overwhelmed by the request or the conversation? Instead of trying to conquer the mountain in one jump, pick something that’s easier for you to work up the courage or confidence to get to that point, or at least try to get to that point. Showing that you’re trying will mean a lot to them and may give them the immediate positive reinforcement they need to regain their confidence in your relationship and encourage you and work with you on trying to incorporate their requests or feedback into your relationship. It will also give you the courage and strength to keep going and working on their requests or feedback.

For example let’s say they are bored with what you all typically have for food options in the house and everyone needs to eat healthier, but you don’t really like fruits or vegetables. So don’t dive into trying the ones you know you don’t like, start with incorporating more of the ones you do like into your diets and pantry. Let’s say they want to do more and get in shape. Instead of trying to be ironman or woman, start with walking or swimming or whatever fitness activity you are OK with.

That first step may be a little intimidating, but it’s way less challenging than trying to go all the way from day 1. What tips do you have for working through conversations with your partner?

Facing Your Fears for Victory

Have you visited a haunted attraction before, whether one of those “authentic ghost tours” or a Halloween transformation of a roller coaster or related park? Maybe you went on a dare from a friend or because all of your friends were going, and maybe you even convinced yourself to work one, and on the small chance you haven’t been to one or been part of one, you’ve probably seen some of them on TV. Maybe you ended up enjoying it, but maybe you went through the attraction just because you didn’t want to look like a wimp or to prove to yourself you could do it.

Sometimes we have to be willing to take on our fears or do things that we really don’t think we want to do. Sometimes it’s about proving to ourselves that we’ve got the courage, or to get over a fear, or because we really care about or want to support the person who asked us along. Sometimes though, it’s just about having fun and seeing the creativity that other people come up with.

The same is true for victories, sometimes we have to go through the tough stuff to get to the good stuff. Sometimes we have to do things we’re not necessarily so interested in to get to success. Sometimes we have to kiss a few frogs before we find the prince. Of course we all wish we could skip the issues and just get to the victory, but in many cases, then the victory wouldn’t really seem like one. Of course you can shorten the hills you have to climb by hiring other people to do the less awesome stuff or to help guide you, and you can learn from other people’s mistakes and not do what they did.

So this week I would encourage you to take on something you’ve been avoiding or afraid of doing, or have that conversation you’ve been skipping, in the spirit of Halloween and facing your fears.

Life with Loss

The month of October makes people think about things like death and fears. They’re not easy topics to talk about or think about, but all of us are affected by them. Some people have fears that become debilitating, while others of us are mildly bothered by things that we call our fears. What I’m thinking about today though is in the family of the death topic, that of loss.

All of us experience losses over the course of our lives. We’ve heard stories of people and pets who pass away after they lose the person they loved. We’ve seen how drastically the loss of a person in our life because of divorce or separation or distance can negatively impact a person, maybe leading to destructive habits or depression. It’s funny because we’re so insistent upon doing things for ourselves and being able to stand on our own to feet, and yet we are so affected by the ties that bind us.

Unfortunately, with the way that life is right now we are faced with losses. We do get separated from our pets or loved ones or people who we may not really love any more but played a significant role in our lives for a period of time, that’s the reality of life. The question is what will you do after that loss? Will you choose to stop living because they do or because they’ve left you? Or will you choose to see that you’re more than that person, that you can learn from your time together, even appreciate it, and still be able to move on and keep living? Because I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have something they could contribute to the world. Everyone, regardless of age, health, location or any other factor, has the ability to make a difference in someone’s life. Yes, death and loss are painful, and we should take time to process that large change in our lives. But I can’t think of one situation that the other person would want you, or anyone, to give up on life. Loss is part of life’s journey, where your journey takes you is up to you.

Difficult Explanations

Sometimes it seems like the season for bad news, doesn’t it? As if you just can’t escape it and the hits keep on coming. Watching the news and talking with some of my family and my clients over the past few weeks has me thinking about how you talk with kids when faced with difficult news. How do you tell your kids why you’re leaving the house so suddenly, why you’re in a large auditorium with hundreds of other families, why you’re never going back to the only home they’ve ever know when you’re faced with a hurricane? How do you tell them about an attack like 9/11? How do you tell your kids that a relative has died or terminal cancer has just been discovered, let alone a parent? How do you break it to your kids that you’re bankrupt and everything is going to be sold and you have to move? How do you tell your kids you’re getting a divorce or a relative or parent went to jail? These are conversations no parent wants to have, but many have to have with their kids.

The stories have been told of how people never knew until it was too late or felt like their whole lives were a lie when they finally found out. I get that sometimes parents don’t tell them because they want to protect their kids, and sometimes it’s not the wrong thing to do, especially if they’re super young (under 5) and not ready for the realities of life. But kids today are so exposed by the TV they watch, what they hear parents talk about, what they see and hear in school, and what they see and hear when they’re out and about with their parents that it’s hard to keep the truth from them. Honestly I don’t think the truth should be fully kept from them. Maybe there’s the PG version to share or the cliffs notes version, but kids, just like adults, need answers to the things that go on in their worlds. And more often than not, they pick up on the experiences the parents are going through and feeling and are concerned about that, something I remember vividly as a kid.

Yes, the truth can be painful, but the lies are so much more so, and the fears over what is unknown can be debilitating. I encourage you to choose to give your kids an answer, a real one, before they find out from another source. When you are the one telling them about what could be a scary event, you have the ability to give them the truth before they hear rumors, and establish next steps with them so they feel comfortable with how things are going from this point. It also gives you the opportunity to let them know that you’re here for whatever questions they have and will do your best to answer them.

This week I encourage you to be the parent and have the difficult conversations you may have been avoiding with your kids.  They’ll feel better about it and you may feel less guilty keeping it from them too.

Bully Free School Zone

Last week we started a conversation about two of the challenges that kids going back to school face, and we started by looking at drugs. Today we’re going to talk about a topic that is definitely more talked about with relationship to kids and teens, but can affect adults as well: bullying. According to the dictionary a bully is “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people. A man hired to do violence.” In some ways the second definition would make it easier if that was the majority of the way that bullying happened, but more often than not there’s no money involved, it’s someone who picks on others.

Let’s start by being completely honest. Almost all of us have at one point in time or another throughout our lives picked on someone else. Maybe we did it as part of a crowd, maybe we were there when others did it, and maybe it was done in jest, but most of us have experienced what it’s like to bully or pick on someone. When you’re bullying others or picking on them there’s definitely a rush that you experience, a feeling of power and domination, and it can be seductive. I get that, really I do. But there are so many better ways to experience a rush and be in power than to beat down on someone else.  If you’re someone who tends to bully or pick on other people I strongly encourage you to work on your interpersonal skills and channel that energy into more productive activities like skydiving or catching alligators.

The other feeling that most of us experience (because we’re not true bullies) is the feeling of guilt. That’s the feeling we need to keep at the forefront of our minds when we think about getting involved with a bully or bully someone ourselves. The other feeling we need to keep in mind when considering bullying is of course what the person being bullied feels, which again is something that most of us can understand. Maybe you’ve never been a true target that faced incessant, debilitating or viral bullying, but just about every one of us has been picked on at some point in time or another. It does not feel good to be the target of one or many individuals picking on you, how you look, what you say, how you say it, what you did, who your family is or where you live, or any other number of things that you may have been picked on regarding.

If you’re facing bullying or your kids are, or if you’re just wanting to prepare them for if and when it happens, start with talking about how bullying feels and why it’s wrong with them, and let them know that you’re there for them should they be bullied, as are their teachers and the other adults in their lives. Second, it’s important to instill self-confidence and teach them to value themselves for whomever they are, whatever they like, however they look and wherever they go. They don’t have to be the same as anyone else, they can and should be their own person with their own interests and appearance. Third, don’t let them dismiss it more than once from a person. Sometimes the best thing to do is ignore the person or people and they’ll stop. But if it happens again they (and you) have to learn to stand up for themselves and ask for help if they need it. Maybe the help isn’t someone charging in and demanding the person stop (maybe it is), maybe it’s just giving and/or teaching the person the resources they need to fight this particular bullying situation and individual or group.

With the number of bullying related suicides each year becoming more publicly known more schools and businesses are taking a stand against those who would be bullies or try to demean people. While we still have a long way to go, it’s good that we’re having discussions about it and taking steps to stop it before there are even more bullying-related suicides each year. So the question is, what are you going to do to stop bullying?

Freedom to be Different

This month one of the topics we’ll be taking a look at is the topic of freedom. Part of that freedom that everyone wants to embrace is the freedom to be who they are, to be themselves, and to not be ridiculed or rejected because they’re different. It’s not always easy to give others that freedom because we don’t understand them or their differences, or think that their differences make them wrong/bad. Part of that struggle is a conversation issue, but it might not be the one you’re thinking it is, because there are lots of people around the world having great conversations and lots of opportunities throughout social media and tons of other forums, which is good news.  But most of those conversations are happening between people that who share the same differences (for example between survivors of a particular trauma or people who have a medical condition or people with a passion for bratwurst).

I think a big part of the conversation issue is that some people aren’t willing to listen to others share about their differences, and part of that unwillingness has to do with fears. Fears about the other person’s story actually making a lot of sense, being able to identify with them, or even finding out that maybe the differences aren’t so different after all. If any of those things happen we have to readjust what we know and especially how we interact with them, and that can be really scary or intimidating. It also leads into the possibility that we were wrong about the type of person they are, or wrong about how wrong/bad/weird their difference is, and that’s not easy to swallow either.

I’m not suggesting that we should sit down with terrorists and try to understand or accept our differences, that’s a completely different conversation for another day. What I’m talking about here is two people (or a group of people) talking long before things would ever escalate to war/genocide/massacre level, or even to protest level. I’m talking about regular citizens having conversations with cops, people of different cultures talking, or the older generations talking with the younger ones.

I don’t believe that we’ll all love each other and everything will be perfect if we have these conversations, but I think that we’ll all be able to breathe a little easier if we were a little more open to each of us being different and that difference being OK. Yes, it will mean that we’ll have to suspend our judgment, be open to seeing the world in a new way and maybe even be wrong about what we knew before, not to mention become better communicators. But if we really want a better world for the next generation, I think it’s important that we take the conversations out of our individual groups and start talking among ourselves.  Will you join me in being open to being different, and maybe even someday to celebrating our differences?

Relationships are Scary

As we finish up Halloween I’m thinking about some of the scary things in relationships.  Relationships can be great opportunities to move into an amazing future with someone you care about.  They’re also challenging regardless of how perfect you are for each other.  I’ve always talked about communication as being one key to surviving and thriving in your relationship, trust, forgiveness and love are 3 other very important keys.  Let’s first talk about some of the scary things in relationships that can hurt them.

Our own fears and pasts:  Everyone brings stuff into a relationship, primarily what happened to you before you met that person and the beliefs you have.  You also bring the present into your relationship but for most of us it’s our past that has greater potential for damaging than our present does, mostly because we’re able to do something with our present and can’t do anything about the past.  Our past does make us who we are and does shape our decisions in the present and future. So for example if you were hurt or cheated on in the past, unless you have overwhelming trust and love in your current relationship it will be something that hovers in your consciousness whenever you have to make a decision regarding your relationship or partner.  Fears, however irrational can also affect your relationship. It can limit the experiences you can have together, and hold you back from communicating with your partner.

But what I find most scary about relationships is that some people don’t try them.  Life has painful experiences in it. That’s just how it goes.  You will fail, you will struggle, you will be hurt by others in life.  But I believe that hiding away because you’ve been hurt in the past or are scared you will be again in the future can only do more damage than giving relationships a try could.  Relationships aren’t always easy but every relationship I’ve had has added value or taught me a valuable lesson that has made me a better partner for my significant other.  I may hope that this relationship is the one that lasts, but I know that life has twists and turns you can’t predict that I won’t have to start over again with someone else, whether it’s 50 years from now or just 2.  But rather than fear the future or past, or let my fears hurt my relationship, I’m choosing to step forward and trust that my partner will support me through my concerns and challenges and I can support him through his.

Love and Fears

Today I want to talk about a very Halloween topic: fear.  In all areas of our lives at one point in time or another we’ll probably experience fear. We experience fear when we let our kids go out into the world with new activities (trick-or-treating with other families and not ours), we experience fear when they’re better at things than us (catching Pokemon), we experience fear when our mind gets the best of us (how long our partner is spending at work), and we experience fear when it comes to who we are (am I good enough?).  Maybe you don’t have to deal with a lot of fear in your life because you’re super confident or conquer (smash) your fears really quickly.  Or maybe you’re one of those people who are paralyzed by fear and struggle with it for a long time before being able to even contemplate moving on or next steps.  Some wisdom I read recently has a great insight that not only will help us with our fears but also strengthening our families in general.

“The more we love, the less we fear; the less we fear, the more we love. Sometimes we can address our fears head on and simply dismiss them—or at least manage them. Sometimes love can overwhelm our fear. Sometimes doing some completely gratuitous act of loving-kindness will break through the sclerotic accretions of fear and the fountain begins to flow again.”  Br. Mark Brown

That’s right: love.  I can’t say I’ll be trying love on any of those movie monsters in the near future, but I do know that applying more love to life will help me reduce any fears I have and conquer them quicker and in better form.  There isn’t anything that can make your life, family or relationship perfect.  But there are things that you can do to make them better and healthier, and one of them is love.  If you’ve established a foundation of love within your family and between your partner and you it’s much easier to begin the tough conversations, realize that some of your are baseless, and find the courage and strength to get over the fears that do have foundation.

I believe we can all use more love in our lives, how will you love more this week?

A Response to Violence

I’ve been receiving lots of emails about the violent deaths of black men and women around the US over the past few months and especially these past few days, and you probably have too.  I’ve shared some thoughts on violence before, but to sum up I believe it’s sometimes necessary, but only for reasons of showing your strength or defending those who are weaker and in trouble.  I don’t believe violence should be the answer to fear, differences, disagreements or the way to gain power.  We each have our differences and our similarities.  Just because we’re different in one way or another, it doesn’t make it right to treat anyone as less than a human with rights.  We all have our biases and beliefs, but if we really believe we’re meant to live in a global, connected world, we have to start working together at some point in time.

So today I wanted to share with you a few of the comments I have heard that stood out to me, I may reflect in depth on some of them on the Life and Spirituality blog over the coming days and weeks as well.

“We[‘ve] talked about the terror some of us feel in our own homes. Scared of feeling rejected, ignored, dismissed, or unheard by the people who matter most, we reactively retreat to passivity and self-protection.  This is not the path to peace in our own homes, nor in our own hearts…Ultimately, learn to represent your fullest self to the fullest. That way you give yourself, and the ones who matter most, the best chance at the relationships we all crave.”  Hal Runkel

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“… the attack is a reminder that no life will be safe and truly valued until we also confront the broader American culture of violence.”  Kai Wright

“There is a deep wound in this nation and we must re-double our commitment to be a part of healing it — and it must be done nonviolently.  The only way we can truly generate healing is to take the skills and values of peacebuilding deep into our communities.”  Matthew Albracht

“Everybody’s got to reach deep down and find some empathy.  If you cried for the brother who bled out next to his fiancee, but you didn’t cry this morning for those police officers, it’s time to do a heart check.  If you cried for those police officers, but you have a hard time taking seriously all these videos that are coming out about African Americans dying, it’s time to do a heart check.  Because we are either going to come together or come apart.  There’s enough pain on both sides that there should be some empathy starting to kick in.’  Van Jones

“You need the courage to push yourself beyond your own fears.  You need to embrace your fears in order to make your life everything it was meant to be.”  Chris Howard

The world you grew up in is much different than it was for your parents, and the world your kids and their kids grow up in will be much different than the world you grew up in.  I want a world that will be a place to grow, thrive and blossom, and that’s not possible if the threat of violence remains so high.  What world do you want to create for your future generations?