I started reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming this weekend, and was reminded that unless I have walked in someone’s shoes, I really have no way of knowing what they’ve been through. Michelle speaks kindly of her stern and humourless Aunt Robbie who lived on floor below Michelle’s family. If young Michelle and her brother Craig got too wound up, Aunt Robbie let them know:
Aunt Robbie would flick the light switch on our shared stairwell, controlling the lightbulb in our upstairs hallway, off and on, again and again- her polite-ish was of telling us to pipe down.
Michelle’s parents took this in stride, reminding the children that even if they didn’t know the context, they were instructed to remember that context existed.
Everyone on earth, they’d tell us, was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance.
What incredible wisdom, to remember this simple fact. If someone does something rude or thoughtless, I can assume it’s deliberate. Alternatively, I can remind myself that I don’t know what’s been happening in their day, or what kind of life they’ve had. I can tell myself that that seemingly unkind action may simply be out of context.
So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, or is rude to you in line, it may help to send a request to the universe that their day will get better. Wish them a bit of happiness in what may be a difficult day.
Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych. Executive Director, Landing Strong
“I’m tired of feeling bad about myself. How can I learn to feel better?”
It’s a great question, and is likely a challenge that has faced us all at some point in our lives.
Personally, I think low self-esteem is the result of high expectations.
We’re all good at some things, and not so good at others.
Low self-esteem happens when we think we should be good at everything.
Those of you who struggle with addictions likely can relate. Addictions aren’t the result of expecting too little. It’s usually about expecting too much and feeling frustrated with ourselves when we don’t measure up.
So my word for the week is compassion.
Are you able to take a moment to appreciate those things you do well?
Try practicing compassion with yourself in those areas that you’re not strong at. No one gets better when they are being yelled at. Our inner critic can have the loudest and most disabling voice of all.
You may know that you love deeply, and care deeply, but not actually know how to communicate that to others. Instead of focussing on those things we can’t do, and feeling badly, I encourage you to notice your areas of strength, building on them so you have the confidence to work on those things that are still “in development.”
Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych. Executive Director, Landing Strong
In her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg describes the devastating impact of unexpectedly losing her husband Dave during a trip to Mexico. The purpose of the trip was to renew their wedding vows after eleven years of marriage. One minute he’s on the elliptical trainer climbing his way to health, and the next moment he is lying on the floor, gone. Suddenly, she found herself in a deep void attempting to begin a life that she did not imagine nor choose. She described feeling completely unprepared and alone. Grief became a demanding companion, with ordinary events like school parents’ night becoming unexpected landmines.
Her friend and Psychologist Adam Grant flew across the country to support her. His words of comfort were that she would need to allow her grief to run its course. She asked Adam how she could get some resiliency. He told her that resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity. It isn’t about having a backbone, but rather, about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.
I know that many of you have endured life altering loses. “Option A” of life, as we originally expected it, no longer exists. It might be the loss of a person, of health, of your identity, or of your belief in the world. For some reason, the unfolding of your existence has been irrevocably altered.
What do we do in such times? In Sheryl’s case, it was to recognize that Option A as she put it, life with her husband Dave, was no longer available. The only option, according to her friend Adam, was to “kick the shit” out of Option B.
What stage are you in?
Have you started to allow yourself the possibility of developing an alternative option for yourself?
Like Sheryl, we encourage you to allow others in, to assist in the re-visioning and restructuring of your life. Know that we are here for you.
Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych. Founder, Landing Strong
It’s not uncommon that we see the best of people in the harshest conditions. It shows up in a number of ways: volunteers laying sandbags to fight floodwaters; communities taking in strangers to offer shelter from a storm; or in more extreme conditions, bi-standers risking their lives to protect or defend people they don’t even know.
It’s those critical moments when people show up when it counts the most. When we think back to those times, it is the moments of courage and compassion that strike us the most.
They say that North America is consumed by the search for happiness. Research studies reveal that it is, in fact, purpose, meaning, and social connection that are most important.
If you are reading this, chances are you are in some form of community service: military, policing, firefighting, corrections, paramedical, or medical. Perhaps your service is supporting those who have taken on these difficult roles. We take on these challenges for different reasons: to create something better for ourselves; to establish purpose or meaning in our lives; or even to be of service to our country. What’s interesting, though, is that ultimately when people are under fire it isn’t their country they are worried about – it’s the person standing next to them. It’s in social connection that we find the greatest meaning.
We all need someone who will have our back, in good times or bad. We all need a tribe, a family, or a group to call our own. Sometimes it takes something awful happening for us to figure this out.
Landing Strong is about creating a tribe: a place where we are all connected by our united sense of meaning and purpose. Our goal is to create opportunity for connection and movement for those who are tired of being where they are at and ready to move forward.
Another great restorative yoga class this week left me feeling calm and centered (thanks Lisa!). At the end of the class, we practice Savasana, a pose where we lie silently on our backs, eyes closed. This exercise isn’t a physically challenging one, but it is one where the mind tends to wander. During this part, our instructor played a wonderful rendition of the tune “Sea of Love,” the theme song from the 1989 box office movie sensation. In this moment, where we are supposed to be clearing our minds, I was replaying a scene from the movie involving Al Pacino, who plays the role of a burnt-out cop. He is part of a sting operation designed to apprehend people with outstanding warrants, luring them in with the promise of having breakfast with the American Major League baseball star Dave Winfield. Everything was going smoothly until one late-comer shows up holding the hand of his young son.
“Hey, am I too late?” he asks.
“You got an invitation?” Al Pacino demands. The father hands over a piece of paper.
“Ernest Lee, the invitation’s for you only,” Pacino asserts.
“I can hardly meet Dave Winfield without takin’ my boy”, the man pleads.
Not wanting to ruin what was clearly a positive relationship between father and son, Pacino decides to cut him a break.
“We’re all booked up.” Pacino discreetly flashes his police badge, signalling to the father that the baseball player event was a trap.
“Thanks man,” the father backs away with his son.
“Catch you later,” Pacino responds before driving away.
It’s a dark film, about a dark topic, but many years later that’s the scene I remember… someone in a dark place, showing an act of compassion.
Memory and association are closely related. It is not the actual events that create our emotions, it’s how we process and remember these events. If I were stressed out maybe I would have remembered the fact that Al Pacino was a drunk and that the movie was actually about a serial killer. Because I was relaxed, I just remembered the good bit… the compassion.
This is a reminder for me to take the extra time to care for myself. If I take this extra time the bad things I may have experienced don’t seem quite so awful. (And believe me, in my seven years acting as Chief Psychologist in a federal penitentiary, there was bad stuff). If I take the time to process these events, they don’t affect me as much. I am more able to remember the good aspects of my job.
Many of us have experienced or witnessed incredibly traumatic or dark things as a routine part of our daily work. Looking back, how we feel about them is largely determined by how we remember them. The lens of trauma only remembers things the same way, repeated over and over. By welcoming the perspective of others in a safe and supportive environment, we open ourselves to seeing things in a new light, often changing the way these events emotionally impact us.