Posts Tagged ‘postaweek2011’

The biggest obstacle to our staying with the new thoughts we take on is that “positive” thoughts often generate “negative” feelings.

David Friedman

This time, I have taken even longer to get back to writing, but this is a pattern for me, and I have discovered that it is related to my “fear of success.”  Whenever I am succeeding at something, I freak out, and I stop.  But this freaking out is not loud and conspicuous; it is insidious and sneaky.  It tiptoes and whispers so lowly in my ear, that I can’t defend myself against it, succumbing helplessly to its grip.  Looking back, as the affirmations for my blog increased so did my fear.  But instead of taking in the love, I jumped from the present moment into a foreboding future of writer’s block and rejection.  They say you create your reality, and I did.  If my fear was that you would stop reading—- well, you have, because I stopped writing. It is interesting that instead of writing, “stop reading”; I wrote “top reading I am more afraid of the former than the latter.  In other words, how can I someday have a widely read blog when I can’t accept the job of my current readership?

Over the years, I have learned of my difficulty tolerating the sensations associated with love and success, and I have been working on changing that. When I was young, I avoided falling in love because I could not tolerate the exhilaration after meeting someone who excited me. I felt so out of control and agitated that I wouldn’t sleep for days.  The same happened if I were excited about a job. To protect myself, I just realized, I shielded my heart with the cloak of avoidance. If I don’t succeed, I don’t have to deal with my heart prancing around, overwhelmed by the excitement (terror?) of infinite possibility. Although I am still prey to avoidance, since I often don’t see it coming, I am learning to mindfully sit with the sensations associated with success. Sometimes, when I sit with Judith Chusis, my mentor and collaborator on the Success is an Inside Job project, I am assaulted by anxiety that makes me want to jump from my skin or even throw up.  At those times, I soothe myself by recognizing the pattern, telling myself that I am okay, and bringing myself back to the present moment. But when the fear is restrained, I don’t become aware of its grip until days or weeks later.

As you know from past blogs, I do background research as I write.  When I searched using the keywords “tolerance of positive emotions”, I could only find information, mostly psychoanalytic about tolerating negative feeling states.  Interesting, I just discovered that for me, positive feelings become negative because I feel deregulated.  It’s no wonder I have been avoiding the things that make my heart race and frantically dance! So, what am I going to do about this?  I am going to continue to work on tolerating the sensations associated with expansion by sitting with them until I make them my friends, as Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, would say, and I am going to read the book, Thought Exchange, by David Friedman.  Friedman, a highly successful songwriter, author, and speaker, has written a book about changing your thoughts to create your reality. When my friend Cath told me about it, I skeptically asked what was unique about this book since others have expressed this idea in, for example, Ask and it is Given, Conversations with God, and the Secret.  What she replied, caught my attention.  According to Friedman, you must learn to tolerate the sensations associated with your positive thoughts.  I have to go order my book.  To be continued.

P.S.  I hope you had a peaceful holiday.


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Last week, I had the insight that, I may be co-dependent.  In the past, I have rejected co-dependency as professional jargon, but last week, something told me to check it out; I did, and I’ve decided that it is a useful construct.  The term co-dependency grew out of the Alcoholics’ Anonymous Movement, along with the understanding that, the alcoholic was not the only part of the equation.  In essence, co-dependency is excessive caretaking at significant personal expense.   It is learned behavior that is passed on from one generation to another.  Although it took me almost a lifetime to admit it; my father had a drinking problem when he was younger, which is, obviously, a risk factor.

As I write this, I am also reminded of female gender socialization; in other words, females, across cultures are socialized to be caretakers of their children and their men.  Then, there are the expectations in some cultures (like Hispanic and Asian) that family come first.  I started wondering about all of this, because I have noticed that I spend most of my mental energy thinking about others.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that I am a martyr, since there is always a pay-off.  Thinking about others distracts  me from taking responsibility for myself.  For example, when I was on tenure-track at Michigan, I would stop my work, or whatever else I was doing, to answer a phone call.  Abandoning your routine to respond to somebody else is one of the symptoms of co-dependency, according to Melodie Beattie in Co-Dependent No More. It took me years, and I am not kidding about this, to figure out that I could choose not to answer, or if I did, that I could say, “I’m busy, can I call you back?”  And, although I am far better than I was back then, I still other-escape.  Feeling compelled to help people solve their problems is another one of my symptoms, which may be why I avoided clinical social work.  Instead, I was addicting to helping others as a hobby.

As I said, earlier, this behavior is learned.  In my family, my mother would put her needs aside for my father and we were supposed to as well.  Her needs, my sister’s, or mine did not matter because my father ruled the roost; this implied that we should not have needs that conflicted with my father’s, and after he died, my mother’s.  He wanted me to get an education, to marry young, have children, and to live near the family.  That, of course, was not what I wanted, so I rebelled: I left home, got a PhD, married late, and didn’t get around to having children.  I don’t mean to blame my parents, but to recognize that I have been programmed to be-other directed, and I wonder whether that is why I didn’t make active choices in my career.  I did choose to go back to school, in part as an escape, but once I did, I followed the program that was traced for me by my dissertation advisor, both to please her and to avoid struggling with getting a “real job,” one that was not a continuation of graduate school.  Fast forward, twenty-five years, and I am taking baby-steps to discern my needs and wants, making friends with uncertainty, taking leaps, and hoping that, as the saying goes, I grow wings along the way.  My mantra:  It’s all about me.  What about you?  Are you taking care of you?


Mental Health America: Co-dependency

Codependency | Melody Beattie

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Do you ever delude yourself?  I, do, regularly.  My Delusion is insidious, as are her good friends, Denial and Rationalization.  So, this past week, I was thinking about my next blog topic, and how I had plenty of time to write it and still keep my weekly schedule, when Reality interjected: “Na ah!  It’s been two weeks, not one since your last post!  What time zone are you on?” Oops, I did it again.  When I was in academia, I believed, once, twice, three, and four times, that I had plenty of time to publish, only to find that five years had evaporated.  But, this is another story.  Today, I am writing about Scrabble.  Yes, I have been playing Scrabble instead of blogging, reading, studying for my clinical exam, or cleaning the house; but this is when Rationalization steps in, telling me that play enhances creativity, abstract thinking, mastery, and cognitive development, among other benefits.

As a child, play bored me, as did other children.  Instead, I wanted to be around adults to listen to their conversations.  Don’t ask me why, as the adults in my life were not particularly interesting.  As an adult, I found games a waste of time, until this summer, when my husband introduced me to electronic Scrabble, which I play with friends via facebook and my iphone.   Some of you may be double squirming right now, thinking that facebook is bad enough, but wasting time on electronic games?   I was once where you are, but I will tell you what I have learned from playing Scrabble.  Spiritual lessons are everywhere—other humans, animals, bed bugs, and even electronic games!

At first, I was afraid to play out of fear of losing—I played with my husband, and Mrs. D., an aquaintance who mirrors my fanaticism (we play three games at a time). But, true competitor that he is, he encouraged me to stick to it, and 356 games later, I am more engaged than ever, and I, for today, I am at the top of the list of my friends who play Scrabble.

Lesson 1: You have to play, to win.

Had I given up after my first game, I would not have not gained a new friend or connected with old ones.  And, I would have missed out on learning these lessons.

Lesson 2: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again:

I have learned not to give when I am losing because the tiles can turn, and I only need one point to win.  The possibilities to form new words are there, but I need to look for them, once, twice, or three times.

Lesson 3: Don’t get cocky.

Although I may score a Bingo (letter points and a 50 point bonus), again, the tiles turn, and if I am dealt all consonants or all vowels, I may lose despite my skill.

Lesson 4:  You see it when you believe it.

I use to think that Bingos were rare, but this week I’ve seen differently.  If I believe they are rare, I won’t look for them, but if I do, I will find them.

Lesson 6:  Non-attachment

Because the tiles can change at any moment, I have learned not to become attached to winning or losing, though I strive to score.

I have also learned about myself.  I never saw as being competitive because I shied away from competition.  But today, I see that I was hiding my competitive nature in my shadow.  I am competitive, and if own that side of myself, I can manage it instead of it managing me.  And, surprise!  I have fear of success.  When I scored three Bingos last night, I found myself panicking that my Scrabble partners were going to quit on me.  Picture my inner child, alone on the playground, rejected by her playmates; it’s no wonder I have always been reluctant to shine my light out of fear that I would be left alone in the dark.  Practically, Scrabble helps me to manage my anxiety and my boredom.  A close game can be exhilarating after hours of tedious online grading, and it is cheaper than compulsive shopping, a coping strategy from when I had money to spare.  But, I also know that, Scrabble can be my accomplice in avoiding life.  Want to play?  I warn you, though, that I have made dictionary.com my homepage.


Benefits of Play

via Play = Learning – Benefits of Play.

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Be careful of what you ask for!  Don’t say I haven’t warned you.  I asked for an open heart, and I got one, literally; I asked to feel, and I am itching!  To clarify, my teacher, Chetana,  taught me the heart chakra is associated with feeling, and when we are working on issues, we may experience them on the skin level, as the body holds our memories.  Having lived most of my life in my mind, I have often been oblivious that, as one body worker told me years ago, I have a body attached to my head.  I often need reminding of this fact, and the Universe provides me with reminders (e.g., open-heart surgery).   Thanks, Universe!  I must warn you, though, that this entry may trigger your Entomophobia (bug phobia), or may give you one, if you don’t already have one.

My story begins in Massachusetts, on October 28, when I accompanied my husband, his rowing partner and his wife to the Head of the Charles Regatta.  I was ambivalent about going, due to my separation anxiety, but I challenged myself venture out of my comfort zone.  We stayed at a Quality Inn that was clean and had the best breakfast I’d seen in similar establishments.  The weather was fall-like pleasant, and although my husband and his rowing partner did not do well, I enjoyed the company.  On the way home, stopping at a Subway to eat dinner, I start itching on my forearm.  Of course, I start scratching, thinking that I have become allergic to the tight, wool sweater I am wearing, and I wonder whether I will have to get rid of all my sweaters, if that is the case.  We ate and got back on the road.  But by the time I got home, my forearms were covered with bright crimson red, itchy welts.  Closer inspection revealed welts on my arms, and one on my neck.  Then the dizzying realization hit me.  I had been attacked by, yes, BED BUGS!  These miniature bloodsuckers had strategically bitten me wherever they found a prominent vein; my husband, of course, was untouched.  I say, of course, because this was the second time that I was attacked by these hideous creatures and he’d  been spared.   Why me?

Being chomped on by bed bugs is bad enough, but then there is the terrifying question about whether they ‘hitchhiked’ home with you.  PANIC!  If you have been living in this country, you may know that with a 5,000 percent increase in recent years, we are experiencing a bed bug epidemic.  Further, these pests are resilient, and difficult to eradicate.   More PANIC.  Okay, so what to do, except put all the clothes we took on the trip in the laundry, wrap the luggage in a plastic bag, and pull out the Belleruth Naperstek guided imagery to help me sleep, so that I won’t be up all night wondering if they are going to attack me again.  Although I fell asleep, I was a sharp sting on my leg awakened me.  I scratched, turned over, decided not to panic, and went back to sleep.  When I awoke the next morning, the side of my left hand and my left ankle had red, itchy, bites that were smaller and different from my previous bites.  Fleas!  More itching and no scratching to avoid infection.

Once again, I washed all the bedding in the house, my clothes, our dog’s bedding, vacuuming and more vacuuming, extensive internet searches about bed bug annihilation, and depression.  I began to take it personally.  Why were they only attacking me?  I envisioned being  completely isolated because no one would want to visit a bed bug infested house, marked by a giant red CONDEMNED sign.  Although Google is replete with resources and gadgets to decimate them—-steamers are supposed to work the best—I decided to call professional exterminators.  Add financial terror to the equation.  After going through all the options, and, of course, the only one they guaranteed for 90 days cost an estimated $3700 hundred dollars, my depression was morphing into despair.  I marveled that my fear and anxiety were greater than when I was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm.  I felt trapped, forsaken, and forlorn, and I allowed myself to feel those feelings.  After all, I was getting what I asked for— to feel.  But in the midst of my suffering, I could hear the voice of Byron Katie whispering to me,

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.”

In retrospect, I was so anguished because I could not even escape to my bed for my refuge, my all time favorite escape.  I had absolutely no place to run because if I moved to another bed, the bed bugs would follow!  Seriously.  I felt physically and emotionally ambushed by bugs I could not see—in part, because they were not there.  (As I write this, I am scratching my head, and having flashbacks of head lice when I was in elementary school while my sister was spared.)  Memories of other times I’d felt in danger also flooded me—like when Sweet Money was abusing our dog and stealing my money and my car, and when I was a child in Cuba, and a gunfight ensued right outside our bedroom window.  My diagnosis was another stunning blow.  But the bed bugs were not my only triggers; at around the same, a woman I know who was diagnosed with a defective valve was preparing for surgery at the same hospital where I had my mine; the frozen grief melted once again, and I cried enough tears to wash away  colonies of bed bugs and flies.  I’d finally unleashed the tears I could not shed when I was diagnosed, out of fear that if I did, I would fall apart before the surgeons got to me.

Spiritually, I wondered what bed bugs and fleas had come to teach me. Between the washing and the crying, I cleansed my inner and outer spaces, and I began to feel relief.  Both the tears and the bites subsided, though the fading scars and phantom itching remains.  But, I admit that I am still afraid I will be bitten again when I least expect it.   At those times,  I remind myself of my friend Eric’s wise counsel when I cried to him that, I’ve always seen the world as unsafe, and even more so now.   “Although the world is unsafe, perhaps you can learn to feel safe in it,” he told me.  I am trying.  So what did the bed bugs teach me?  They taught me that fear can be so much more terrifying than reality, that I can handle whatever comes my way, and that it is time to stop hiding in my bed!

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Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Wow, I have gone three weeks without posting; that is scary and so sad, I feel like crying.  As I write this, I want to escape by calling or emailing friends—-everything to avoid doing something I love, anAdd Audiod I finally understand why.  Since I last posted, I attended a four-and-a-half day Success is an Inside Job™ workshop (SIIJ) .  What an amazing gift!  Thank you Dr. Judith Chusid for having the vision, heart, and determination to embody your dream, thirty years after conducting your original research success blocks.  I feel turned a corner, and since re-entering my life last Monday evening, my insights have deepened and expanded.  Early in the workshop, I completed questionnaires about my blocks to success (perfectionism, self-doubt, low-self-esteem, and survivor guilt) and fear of success signals (I have 25, including fear, esteem issues, distractions—my personal favorite, and negative self-talk).

We were also assigned “success” and “spiritual” buddies upon arrival, with whom we discussed our answers giving each other feedback about what we heard each other say.  One of my buddies, I can’t remember which one, was struck by my saying that I avoid the things I love the most.   Her reflecting that back to me inspired me to send a question out to the Universe:  why would I resist the things that make me feel most alive?  Neither she nor I could make sense of it, then.  But one morning, the answer came to me via a phone call from a friend.  I awoke thinking I would journal and focus on myself, determined to write and not be distracted, but when the phone rang, I automatically answered it.  As soon as I got off the phone, I received a text from another friend, needing my input on a matter, and despite my resolve to write, I dropped everything, twice.  This is not surprising, given my childhood programming, and my love of distractions.  Let me explain.

During the workshop, we did a psychodrama of my family dynamics affecting my relationship to career, and it was powerful! The reenactment, including my father, mother, and three and six-year-old inner children, and Dr. Chusid’s astute questions and observations expanded my understanding of my career paralysis.   First, there is my chronic avoidance of responsibility.  As the eldest child, I became my family’s connection to the English-speaking world as soon as I learned English at age seven, filling out crucial immigration forms, school absence notes, and translating. The trauma of such early daunting responsibility burdens me to this day.  Throughout my adulthood, I have said “NO” for all the times I could not, then.

Second, there is the dream issue—whose dreams have I been or not been living?  Ever since I can remember, my father dreamed that I would become a medical doctor.  Mom, on the other hand, wanted me to become a cartoonist, because of my artistic talent in elementary school.  When Judith asked me what my dreams were, I was speechless.   Dreams?  Looking back, I became a social worker because I was not ready to face the world, I needed an excuse to go back to school, and my therapist in college was a social worker.  My goal was to become a psychoanalyst, just like he was, but research and policy classes in graduate school convinced me, otherwise.  Those classes challenged me intellectually and sparked in me a commitment to social justice and to creating knowledge about Latino/as in the US.  Unhappy with the low status and low pay of social workers,  before and after graduation, I entertained a doctorate in psychology and even medical school, but chose to get a doctorate in social work, instead—not because I wanted to teach, but because I wanted options.  I realize now, that my doctorate and finding my life partner were my last career/personal dreams.  After that, the dream well ran dry.  By the way, giving upon reaching a goal is a fear of success signal, and that is exactly what I did after graduation; I landed the highest academic job I could and I retired, so-to-speak, embarking, instead, on my spiritual quest.

When Judith asked what I wanted to do in my career, I blurted that I wanted to work with her doing the workshops.  “Are you sure?,” she asked.  “Do you really want to do this, or is it that you are use to being a helper?”  I am thinking.   .   .  She ended the session with a brilliant solution that honors the six-year-old that balks at responsibility.  “You will have success without responsibility,” she pronounced.  Feeling uncomfortably irresponsible, I protested, “But it’s not that I don’t want responsibility.”  And, she repeated, “You will have success without responsibility.”

Later, I asked her what she meant; success without responsibility means that I only do the things that I want to do, for now.  I am not to force the six-year-old, which if you think about it, would be abusive.  But then, there is the lingering issue of my being a disappointment.  Since I disappointed my father, despite my accomplishments, part of me feels, why even try when I will end up disappointing people, anyway?  But this is when I need to sing the refrain from the Ricky Nelson song—-remember him from the sixties?  “But it’s all right now, I’ve learned my lesson well. You see, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.

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Last Sunday was busy and exhausting, so I played facebook Scrabble instead of writing my Blog entry. The truth is that, I unconsciously surrendered to the relentless subliminal refrain of my Greek Chorus.  As an aside, it is interesting that, refrain means, both, a “ group of verses repeated at intervals throughout a song or poem,” and to hold back.  So, what are my refrains, of this song, called my life?

“Zulema, you are so self-indulgent—why should people care to know about your navel gazing?  Oh, your writing is slipping, at the beginning you were creative and engaged, now you are just writing to fill up the page.  People are tired of your whining.

Get the sound of the cacophony I live with?  The thing is that, these messages are so insidious that, I am not always aware of this background music.  But, the Universe, in its infinite compassion sent Angels to rescue me from my reverie.  One morning last week, I received an email that a random person stumbled onto my post on Tonglen, and liked it.; one of my friends called and left a message thanking and praising me and my writing; one my former students shared that she’d read my blog on face book , and enjoyed it; finally, my blogger friend subscribed to my blog.  As I write, I am reminded that, like Harry Potter, I can create a Patronus Charm to deflect my Dementors.  Throughout the week, whenever I start to feel discouraged, I hope I remember to conjure up my happy memory to give me the energy to continue composing my life.

But this is also a good time to revisit why I started this blog.  I write because I love playing with words, hundreds of Scrabble games, lost and won will attest; I write because I am a teacher, and I want to share what I learn; I write because it is an expression of healing, and, hopefully, sharing my struggles makes your struggles less lonely.  Finally, I write, because in the words of Dumbledore, the sage wizard from Harry Potter:

I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind… At these times… I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.

via “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” Quotes.

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If distress is the affect of suffering, shame is the affect of indignity, transgression and of alienation. Though terror speaks to life and death and distress makes of the world a vale of tears, yet shame strikes deepest into the heart…. shame is felt as inner torment, a sickness of the soul….the humiliated one feels himself naked, defeated, alienated, lacking in dignity and worth.

Silvan Thomkins

Pretend this is Sunday, though it is really Wednesday.  I was so busy this weekend that I never sat down to write my Blog.  Invariably, we sacrifice those things that are most meaningful to us; though that is not to say that working on my Cuba research, preparing for class, and Sunday Services are not important.  But we sacrifice those things that are of core relevance to our Self.  Enough with the sermon, especially since it isn’t Sunday!  In the past I have written about my feelings of dread, but have I explicitly explored my feelings of shame, embodied by my Inner Greek Chorus?   Perhaps I have and this is yet another level of realization.

This week shame came to me intellectually and affectively, so why not face it?  In class, we were trying to discern the difference between fear/dread and instinct, and shame.  Isn’t shame an instinct, too, one Korean female student asked?  After some discussion, we concluded that while fear is an instinct, or innate, shame is learned.  Although I am the last person qualified to be referencing the Bible, I noted the Adam and Eve, whom free of shame went around naked, until they disobeyed God.  After that, they began covering up, which is what we do when we feel ashamed, both physically and metaphorically, so much so, that according to Marc Miller, a California psychologist, this cover up is so strong that shame receives little attention in psychology practice, research, and training.

Shame, according to Helen Lewis, a psychoanalyst consists of a family of emotions—humiliation, embarrassment, feelings of low self-esteem, belittlement, and stigmatization. Throughout my life my shame has been so profound that, I could not see it as it was so all encompassing.  But where does shame, my shame come from?  Adam and Eve’s shame came from disobeying God and separating themselves from a sublime ideal; shame is inflicted by society (teachers, peers, religion, for example) and by our parents as a punishment for deviation.  In my case, I was born with an overdeveloped superego, which may or may not be related to having been born a Virgo, the perfectionist astrological sign.  Add to that mix, a demanding father with an insatiable appetite for achievement I could never satisfy.  My shame also comes from being different.  I was the girl who dared not to aspire to marriage and motherhood, and I whom was fascinated by ideas and people more so than by toys and play.  And, of course, we must not forget that, as a female immigrant who looked, acted, and related differently, I stood out from the wallpaper I tried to melt into.

Although my shame has become more compassionate in recent years, this week it came to meet me when I did not write my Blog on Sunday, when I feared not fulfilling a research deadline, and when I reconnected with my feelings of shame of my Cuban hillbilly working-class background.  Despite having a PhD from a world-class university, part of me feels daunted that I am interviewing people from the Cuban elite—people I never would have met had it not been for fate and history. Exposing or uncovering myself, here, is dizzying and nauseating, but it is also helping to liberate me, as I learn that I commit no sins for being myself.  What are you hiding that needs to be exposed so that its bind over you loosens?


Shame. The many faces of shame.

Tomkins, Silvan S.Nathanson, Donald L. (Ed), (1987). The many faces of shame, (pp. 133-161). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press, xvi, 370 pp

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