Karuna Counseling’s Newsletter Articles

November 9, 2008


Filed under: 2008 Articles,Claire's Articles,Mind-body-spirit Integration — karunacounseling @ 5:37 pm
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by Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

As we come to the end of the year, it is a good opportunity to take time out to reflect on the year just past, remembering all the things it held for us. The following questions are offered as a way to facilitate that reflection — and perhaps stimulate your thinking to ask yourself questions of your own.

As with any psychological exercise, I would add this caution. If you find yourself feeling unduly overwhelmed or distressed by your answers to any of these questions, it might be helpful to talk about your thoughts and feelings with a friend or family member who can give you support. If you feel you need to talk with a professional, there are several options available to you: you are welcome to contact one of the therapists at Karuna (404) 321-4307; or you may prefer to talk with a clergy person; or your personal physician; or you could contact your local county mental health center.

With that caution having been said, I hope you’ll find this exercise beneficial and even have some fun with it — maybe stir up some good memories, get things into a different perspective, and perhaps learn some interesting things about yourself in the process.

What was my greatest accomplishment(s) this year?

What was the biggest disappointment of the year?

What was the highlight of the year — what gave me the greatest joy this year?

What was the most frustrating situation of the year?

What was the best surprise?

What was the biggest relief?

What was my worst blunder?

What are the moments I wouldn’t want to have missed?

What, if anything, do I wish I had done differently?

Who was the most interesting new person in my life?

What was the most difficult thing I had to do this year?

What was my worst experience?

What was the most unusual experience of the year?

What person/book/experience/movie, etc. had a big impact on me? Why?

What was the area of greatest growth for me?

What area(s) need the most growth/development in the future?

What am I most thankful for?

Who were the people who were most important to me this year?

What was a kindness extended to me that meant a lot to me?

What was a kindness I extended to someone else that meant a lot to me?

What do I want to invite into my life in the upcoming year?

(Try this exercise instead of New Year’s Resolutions. The answers to this question can be used to create a graphic representation of what you want to invite into your life during the upcoming year , e.g., a collage of pictures, a drawing, a list of key words — which can then be displayed somewhere you would see it occasionally to remind yourself what it is you **really** want.)

November 3, 2008

Questions for Reflection at the End of the Year


Claire N. Scott, Ph.D. 

As 2008 is nearing its end, it is a good opportunity to take time out to reflect on the year just past, remembering and considering all the things it held for us.  The questions that follow are offered as a way to facilitate that reflection — and perhaps to stimulate your own thinking about questions you want to ask yourself.  An article similar to this was first published in our Karuna Newsletter several years ago, and it seemed a good time to revise and repeat it as we come to the end of such an eventful year.  In the previous version all the questions had a personal, psychological flavor.  That is mostly true again this year, but I’ve also added a few questions related to how external world happenings may have impacted you personally.  The world seems to get smaller every year.  We are more aware than ever of how events and decisions on the other side of this island home can impact the air we breathe, the food we eat, the cost of gas, and our sense of security. 

Some of the following questions are designed to help you recall good memories, interesting events and people.  Some are just for fun.  Some might put things into a different perspective for you.  Some questions might trigger insights or help you learn some interesting things about yourself.  And some are designed to be thought-provoking and even challenging.  In the last regard, I feel compelled to add a small caution:  if you find yourself feeling unduly distressed or overwhelmed by your answers to any of these questions, it might be best to put the questions aside and talk about your thoughts and feelings with a friend or family member who can give you support. If you feel you need to talk with a professional, you are welcome to contact one of the therapists here at Karuna (404) 321-4307, or you may prefer to talk with a clergy person.  If you don’t have other resources, you could also contact your local county mental health center. 

Mostly I hope you enjoy this process, and find it useful.  I’ve been doing it for several years and I enjoy going back and seeing what was going on in my life and in myself in previous years.  You may not get through all these questions in one sitting.  Take you time.  Notice the questions you want to skip or the ones that stop you.  Hold it all in compassion – no judgments.  It’s good to take time out to reflect on your life, no matter what the answers.




What was my greatest accomplishment(s) this year?

What was my biggest blunder of the year?

What gave me the greatest joy this year?

What was the biggest disappointment?

What was the best surprise?

What are the moments I wouldn’t want to have missed?

What, if anything, do I wish I had done differently?

Who was the most interesting new person in my life?

What was the most difficult thing I had to do this year?

What was the worst experience of the year?

What was the most unusual experience?

What book or movie had a big impact on me? Why?

What was my coolest new purchase of the year?

What was the biggest waste of money?

What newsworthy event(s) had the biggest impact on me personally (e.g., the presidential race, global warming, Iraqi war, Olympics, gasoline crunch, plight of refugees, green issues, etc.), and why?

Do I experience the world differently than I did a year or two ago?  In what ways? 

What do those differences mean for me personally?  Have they or will they change how I live and the choices I make?

Who were the people who were most important to me this year?

What was the area of greatest personal growth for me?

What area(s) need the most growth/development in the future?

What am I most thankful for?

What kindness was extended to me that meant a lot to me?

What was a kindness I extended to someone else that meant a lot to me?

What do I want to invite into my life in the upcoming year? (See exercise below.)

Consider trying this exercise as an alternative to making New Year’s Resolutions.  Ask yourself the above question and use your answers to create a collage of some sort.  It can include pictures, drawings, photographs, words – anything that represents what you want to invite into your life during the upcoming year. 

What you create can then be displayed where you will see it occasionally to remind yourself what it is you really want.  I once heard that given as a definition of self-discipline.  I’ll make it big so you can use it in your collage if you like.



P.S.  I was supposed to have a book to go with this article, and there probably are some good ones, but the truth is some friends and I came up with this idea at a party one night and it has gone through several revisions and variations since then.  

August 13, 2008

Allowing Animals into our Awareness

by Metta Sweet Johnson, LCSW, MAT

Imagine for a moment this Earth without animals.  Forests, oceans and rivers, sky, plains and caves, empty of all the creatures that inhabit them.  No songs of birds, nor chirping crickets, nor barks of dogs, nor trumpeting elephants.  No laughter at their antics, nor respecting their power, nor interest in their unique view and interaction with the world.  No Animal Planet programming.  No zoos, safaris, or museum sections educating us about them.

How does it feel to imagine a world like that?

Even if you’re not an animal lover, you’d probably not prefer a planet without them.  In addition to providing a unique addition to the experience of life, animals have much to teach us about the human experience.  Looking to nature is often a great place to start when trying to achieve some kind of personal healing or growth.  Noticing particular animal attributes can be a fun and deeply moving way to add to your wisdom and experience.

You may have noticed on www.karunacounseling.com that each Karuna therapist has a symbol—some of them animals—associated with their philosophy on therapy.  Mine is the frog.  I draw inspiration and guidance from the energy of frog in my approach to therapy:

Frog reminds us that life is a process of changing and evolving.
Of swimming through the watery currents of life and making our way to shore.
Of starting out as gray swimming tadpoles and forming into colorful leaping frogs.
Frog’s rapport with rain and water reminds many of cleansing and healing as well.

To me, therapy echoes these aspects–
providing the possibility of change that can cleanse and heal. 

There are many ways to determine which animals you may have a strong connection with and/or that may be helpful to you at a given time.  Here a few:

  1. Strong Connections:  Did you connect strongly to certain stuffed animals as a child?  Did you dream of one day working with animals? Are you drawn to art depicting certain animals?  Books and films? 
  2. Feedback from Others:  Has anyone ever told you that you have remind them of a particular animal?  That bear-like hug, that eagle-eye, that owl wisdom?
  3. Sightings/Experiences:  Have you come across animals in your daily routine—that hawk you noticed sitting atop a light pole across the street while you ate lunch?  That owl that you know inhabits a tree a in your yard and hoots at night?  The deer that crossed your path?  Have you ever been attacked by or bitten by an animal?
  4. Stories:  Is there a story in your family of origin and/or family of choice about a special pet or a sighting/experience of a wild animal that is told over and over again?
  5. Fears/Joys:  What animals most frighten you?  Which bring you to the most joy?  Paying attention to strong reactions on both the “dark” and “light” sides can give you clues to look further.
  6. Dreams:  Do you dream about a certain animal more often than others?  Do the dreams you have with a certain animal seem particularly powerful, meaningful of vivid to you?
  7. Cards:  There are decks of cards that can be used to help you.  The Native American “Medicine Cards” book and deck by Sams & Carson is especially well done.

The Native American tradition has deep respect and reverence for what they call “animal medicine.” What they mean by medicine is “anything that improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all of life,  …includ[ing] the healing of mind, body, and of spirit, [and]…also anything that brings personal power, strength, and understanding.”  Since psychotherapy is a healing process with the intent to also empower, integrating animal medicine can be insightful, inspiring, and transformative.

Here’s an example: 

I was driving to the mountains using the same route I’ve driven for years.  On this long valley road on the way up the mountains, I spotted a turtle crossing the road.  I stopped the car to move her to the side.  This was the first time I’ve encountered a turtle on these roads and so the experience stood out to me.  Over the weekend, I wondered how the turtle was and if she had safely arrived at her destination.  On the way home down that same road, there she was again!  She was off to the side this time, so I didn’t have to stop.  I did stop, though, later that night to flip through my animal books to look up the symbolism of turtle—Mother Earth. I was deeply moved by the insight and guidance it provided for me at that time in my life around issues surrounding maternal experience.   It led to further personal healing and exploration and was a delightful addition to my process around this issue.

Here are some other animals and their “key note” energy:

Ant = Industrious, Order, Discipline
Armadillo = Personal Protection, Discrimination, and Empathy
Fox = Camouflage, shape shifting, invisibility
Mouse = Attention to Detail
Snake = Rebirth, Resurrection, Initiation, Wisdom
Spider = Creativity and the Weaving of Fate
Squirrel = Activity and Preparedness
Tiger = Passion, Power, Devotion, and Sensuality

Gratefully, we do live in a vibrant, alive world with a wide variety of amazing and interesting animals.  If you choose to allow their presence to interact with and support you on your life journey, you may find that your life becomes more amazing and interesting as well!  And, in turn, your gratitude and appreciation for animals helps support them on their journey here also.

You can draw from many resources to explore further what your particular “animal medicine” might be. One website: http://www.starstuffs.com/animal_totems/index.htm contains a wide range of animals, including questions at the end of each animals’ section that you might ask yourself about why the animal came to you – such as giraffe asks “are you becoming complacent and losing track of your goals?”.   Also, here are a couple of great books:

Animal Speak by Ted Andrews
Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson

June 11, 2008

Turning Toward Our Shadow

Filed under: 2008 Articles,Darby's Articles,Dreams & The Unconscious — karunacounseling @ 2:45 pm
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Darby Christopher, LMSW

We all have a preferred way of viewing ourselves, which includes owning the personality traits that we believe will serve us best in the world. Often, cultural values that we uphold, such as loyalty, optimism or courage, will fall into this category. Many of us want to see ourselves – and for others to see us – as loving, giving, considerate and self confident. Sometimes, qualities like wild, out-of-the-box, rebellious and counter-cultural are also characteristics that we are happy to claim.


But what about those parts of ourselves and experiences we have that we don’t want to claim? What about the traits that others might see in us, but which we have a difficult time seeing in ourselves? These are the parts that Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung named our “shadow.” Traits that comprise our shadow often include qualities that our communities have disowned, such as fear, anger, selfishness, destructive words, thoughts or actions and various desires and addictions. Experiences of abuse or shame that have affected our self concept also fall into this category. On the other hand, if owning our talents or loving nature doesn’t feel safe, then these traits too will comprise our shadow.


Our natural human tendency is to run from our shadow. After all, the reason we don’t like certain qualities or recalling certain experiences is because they bring us pain, and our natural response to pain is to get as far away from it as possible. 


However, what works in the physical world – “don’t touch that fire!” – does not translate well in the psychological world. If avoiding the things that bring us emotional and psychological pain were the answer, this whole business of growth and healing would be simple, linear and formulaic.  The journey toward wholeness, rather, is circular, containing elements of mystery, and often takes place in relationship. This is why our efforts to “just not think about it” or “just don’t do it” sometimes fail us.


Why is this the case? Why doesn’t avoidance work? I don’t have the definitive answer for this, but one thing seems to be clear: The harder we work to push some aspects of psychological life away – including our painful problems and symptoms – the harder they work to make themselves known. It’s as if they contain a message for us, and, in terms of the big picture of our lives, this message is more important than our comfort.


Paradoxically and somewhat counter intuitively, turning toward our painful problems, symptoms, personality traits, and memories is what helps begin to loosen them and move them along.



How To Recognize The Shadow


In order to turn toward our shadow, we must first be able to catch glimpses of it. This is not easy, as our defenses are sometimes good at keeping it out of view. However, finding our shadow might be a little like bird watching, or finding shark’s teeth at the beach: If the intention is there, and we know what to look for, it may be elusive, but it is also ultimately knowable.


One of the best ways to catch a glimpse of our shadow is through our body and emotions. While we may be adept at keeping certain thoughts at bay, our bodies and feelings often will not cooperate. Depression, anxiety, disturbances, addictions, compulsions, physical pain and other physical or psychological symptoms are sometimes the result of disowned  parts of ourselves trying to get our attention. (Note: If a medical condition is suspected as the source of a painful condition, a physician should be consulted.)


Another sure way to spot our shadow is to look for it in what we project onto others. Jeremy Taylor, Unitarian minister and author of several books on dreams, refers to people as “projecting machines.” Taylor emphasizes how, in order to see something in ourselves, we must first project it outward onto someone else. For example, if a man sees and is frustrated with the passive or aggressive nature of another man, he may not yet recognize his own passive or aggressive qualities.


Another way to find the shadow is to look for it in our dreams. Because, on one level, everything we dream is an aspect of our own self, the potential for shadow-finding in dreams is immense. One predictable way in which this occurs is when an individual dreams of another person of their same gender. For example, if a woman is invested in seeing herself as serious and responsible, and she dreams of her free spirited sister allowing the bills to pile up while she lounges around, she may be seeing a disowned part of herself.


Most of us encounter our shadow in hundreds of ways every day, such as in our dreams, the people we come into contact with, movies, books, plays, work situations and primary relationships. Even what we day dream about could show us disowned parts of ourselves or repressed memories, if only we pay attention.



How To Turn Toward The Shadow


Finally, in the journey toward growth, wholeness and self-discovery, we need ways to get to know and integrate our shadow material. The following list includes a few ways to do this:


When a disturbing thought or feeling arises, take time to turn toward it, welcome it, and be still with it. If possible, go to a quiet place. Breathe deeply. Focus on the disturbing or painful feeling/experience. Hold it in awareness, and let go of any negative thoughts toward it. If possible, welcome it and put forth an intention to listen to it and learn from it. Breathe into it.


Journal, using “Active Imagination.” Choose a dream image, and ask it questions. Write down both the questions and the answers. The idea here is to allow the answers to arise spontaneously from the unconscious. Write down whatever shows up. Resist the temptation to force a question or answer, or to judge it. Sometimes, the sillier or more off the wall the answer is, the more right on it turns out to be. Ask: “What is here? What is going on? Who or what are you? What do you like or dislike? What are you afraid of?”   Insights will come sometimes, but not always. The practice of being still, asking, and listening is what counts, and will make a difference over the long run.


Practice taking back projections. When strong feelings of like or dislike for another person show up, make a list of what you like or dislike about that person. Then ask, “Where does this quality show up in me?”


Practice “I am that too.” Jeremy Taylor adopted and advocates this practice from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Whenever the urge to judge another is present, practice the thought “I am that too.”


If possible, do the work with a therapist or spiritual director. Something powerful occurs when we confess (or, “own”) a part of our self to a trusted other, and learn that all of our parts, even if painful or undesirable, are ultimately acceptable and make sense. Often, deep healing occurs in relationship.


Remember SOS, which can stand for “See it, Own it, Say it.” Recalling SOS may help us remember to stay alert and watchful, own what is ours rather than projecting it on others, and then to invite the healing power of relationship to work for us as we share our journey with a trusted other.





Shadow work requires persistence, patience, and sometimes, the ability to be present with pain. Like many endeavors in life, the reward – including a greater sense of wholeness, a sense of waking up to our lives, and ultimately an increased capacity to love – is worth the effort. For many of us, our well being depends on this work, and, as our own inner light shines brighter, our efforts will benefit the people whose paths we cross. And ultimately, we can be deeply gratified to know that our work is transforming the world we live in, one step at a time.



Recommended Reading:

Romancing The Shadow by Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf

Jung To Live By by Eugene Pascal

Inner Work by Robert Johnson








May 20, 2008

Loving Considerations

by Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

     It’s February: the month of Valentines’ Day, Cupid, love poems, flowers, and candy.  It’s a month of joyful celebration for some, bleak disappointment for others, and outright fury for a few.  I tend to run across the disappointed and angry folks more than the joyful celebrators.  That’s probably because people in the throes of love and romance aren’t usually the ones in therapy.




              If you’ve read Irvin Yalom’s book Love’s Executioner, you’ll know what I mean.  He begins that book by saying:


“I do not like to work with patients who are in love.  Perhaps it is because of envy – I too crave enchantment.  Perhaps it is because love and psychotherapy are fundamentally incompatible.  The good therapist fights darkness and seeks illumination, while romantic love is sustained by mystery and crumbles upon inspection.  I hate to be love’s executioner.”


              He’s talking of course about the infatuated, obsessive, head-over-heels kind of love — the kind that makes you forget your name (and sometimes your morals), the kind that strips you of rational sense and any conception of balance.  That wonderful, knock-your-socks off, glorious kind of “love” that can make you believe you’d be content forever if you could just spend every moment in the presence of your beloved.


Please imagine song lyric playing in the background:

   I can’t live if living is without you.



              It’s true that there is nothing quite like that “in love” feeling.  It is ecstatic and all-consuming.  It’s the love that inspires the rapturous sentiments in songs and promises eternal devotion.  It is unbelievably wonderful while it lasts.  But, alas, as most of us have probably learned by now, it doesn’t last.  None of us really wants to hear that, but most of us know it’s true.  The bubble has to burst; the honeymoon doesn’t last forever. 

              The ending of the romantic crazy-in-love phase often feels more like a kick in the stomach than a mere bubble bursting.  It often happens quite abruptly and tends to occur right at the time when things seemed to be going the best.  All of a sudden there’s a shift and things seems to turn sour and painful overnight.  What happened to the person who was so all about you?  Where’s the person who couldn’t wait to make you happy just a few short hours ago?  Now they’re acting like they don’t care.  Angry words are exchanged; tears and recriminations replace smiles and tender words.  There may be a period of hit-and-miss repair attempts, brief respites and reconnections, but often within a few weeks, if not days, you’re feeling heartbroken, disillusioned, and wondering how you could have been so blind.



 Song lyric:  Love is just a lie, made to make you blue. 

Love hurts.


              If couples are willing to stick it out and work on the relationship, this can be a developmental stage in the relationship – a rocky passage that can lead to greater closeness, honesty and clear vision.  But it does take hard work.  More often the relationship ends once the fun is over, and after a brief period of mourning, the bereaved is looking for another romance that will surely work out better than the last one.  One glimpse at the Hollywood tabloids can verify this.  


 Song lyric: You’re gonna have to face it:

   You’re addicted to love.



              Why is this the fate of so many relationships?  How is love lost so easily, especially when it seemed so perfect, so right?  One of the main reasons is identified by that old adage “Love is blind.”  Indeed, especially in the initial stages, what you “fall in love with” is not really the other person (usually you barely know them).  What you actually fall in love with is the projection of an image of an ideal partner that exists in your own mind.  Something in the other person “hooks” our attraction, and naturally enough the other person is putting their best foot forward.  But we are not truly seeing the reality of the other person; what we are seeing is the projection of our own hopes and ideals and dreams onto that person.  This reminds me of an old joke about two guys walking down the street.  They see a beautiful woman approaching and one of them comments about how gorgeous she is.  The other guy says “yeah, but just remember:  she’s probably somebody’s worst nightmare.”  No matter how good the initial impression, we’re not seeing all there is to be seen.        


 Song lyric: 
Like a moth to a flame, burned by the fire, my love is blind.


              So knowing that we’re seeing the other through rose-colored glasses, what can we do to help make things a little more realistic – to be sure we’re getting an accurate view of the other person?  First and foremost it’s important just to be aware that you can’t possibly really know a person in a few days or weeks or even months.  SLOW DOWN.  Enjoy the feelings you’re having, but don’t make the mistake of thinking these feelings are facts or that they will last forever.  Give yourself time to let the new wear off — time to see the person in different situations, with a lot of different people.  There’s an old adage about being with someone through all the seasons before you decide if they’re the one for you.  There’s a lot of wisdom in that.  Give yourself a chance to see how the person behaves under stress, in a crisis, when they’re angry.  See how he treats his parents, friends, and service people.  Learn how she talks about her past significant other and how she explains their break-up.  Become an anthropologist of the other person – learn about their history and values and sense of self.  What makes them laugh and what makes them cringe?  What are their politics and personal idiosyncrasies?


              So how do you know whether the relationship has potential or if it’s a disaster waiting to happen?  Is the person you’re infatuated with someone who would make a good life partner?  What should you be looking for?  What are the indicators that you’re on the right tract, that you have chosen wisely, and that this person may actually be a good match for you?  Below I’ll list seven concrete guidelines that can help you answer these questions and negotiate the confusing emotional waters of a relationship.  By the way, as you think about how your potential partner fares in these seven areas, please give some thought to how you fare as well.


1.  Self-esteem.  While infatuation and falling in love are wonderful feelings, no one can really begin to sustain a workable relationship with someone else until that person likes him/herself pretty well.  I’m not talking about ‘baggage.’  We all come with personal baggage that we take into a relationship.  The important question here is whether, on the whole, one likes and accepts who they are, warts and all.  If you’re partner doesn’t feel that way about him/herself, it likely means that they will need you to make them feel loved and lovable.  That’s a lot of pressure on both people – on your partner to perform and on you to be constantly happy with him/her.  Nathaniel Branden in his book The Psychology of Romantic Love, says,  


“The first love affair we must consummate successfully is with ourselves; only then are we ready for a relationship with another.  A person who feels unworthy and unlovable is not ready for romantic love.”



2.  Integrity.  All too often we judge based on personality.  Are they fun?  Do they make us smile?  Are they good conversationalists – know the right things to say?  Traits like that might make a person enjoyable, but it is integrity that will determine whether or not a person is trustworthy.  In terms of creating a long-term relationship, trust is more important than love.  A lack of integrity and trustworthiness will kill the intimacy and passion in a relationship, love or no love.


3.  Accountability.  We all make mistakes, no exceptions.  We forget to call, have insensitive moments, get self-absorbed, even screw up royally sometimes.  Perfection is impossible and not the issue here. The issue is can she say she’s sorry and mean it?  Can he say my bad – I screwed up – I don’t know what I was thinking?  If they can’t, run the other way.  As my clients hear me say a lot, accountability is HUGE in a relationship.  The absence of accountability often signals arrogance, narcissism and a lack of humility.  Even dogs do accountability.




4.  Responsibility and maturity.  Carefree, exuberant, free-spirit types are great fun as playmates and flings.  Partner with one for the long haul, however, and you can end up feeling saddled with a child you have to take care of.  Ask yourself if your potential partner can live like an adult, i.e., support themselves, hold down a job, keep commitments, and keep a clean living space.  Pretty basic I know, but all too often we’re attracted to the bad boy/bad girl types.




5.  Commitment to personal growth.  By this I don’t mean that someone has to be constantly in therapy or reading self-help books.  It’s more about attitude.  Is this a person who is interested in learning what he or she can about themselves, interested in becoming a better person?  Are they aware they might have blind spots or habits that interfere with their functioning, and are they able to listen to feedback from others about these things?  If they aren’t good at being assertive or sensitive or communicative, are they willing to learn?  Someone who’s not willing to look at themselves is likely to become stubborn and boring.  Relationships are pretty much guaranteed to stretch us.  In fact people tend to partner with people who will force them to stretch.  That little truth may be a product of opposites attracting or it might be unconscious forces at work, but more often than not what our partner ends up needing most is the one thing it is hardest for us to give.  If your partner’s not willing to stretch and grow, develop the undeveloped in him/herself, you may end up SOL.


6.  Empathy.  Empathy is another one of those things, like trust, that may be more important than love in the long run.  Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and understand their situation, feelings, thoughts and motives like they were your own.  If your potential partner can’t suspend their self considerations long enough to understand what a situation is like for you, it’s probably a good idea to continue your life’s journey without them.  Please notice that I did not say your partner had to agree with you – only that they understand.


7.  Shared values.  This guideline is a different from the others in that it is not about personal attributes, but about the fit between two people.  It is probably a good idea if you and your beloved share at least some similar attitudes, values and perspectives on a few of the key ingredients in a relationship.  Consider, for example, the difficulties that can arise if you are a conservative saver of money and your partner is a big spender.  What if she wants children and you don’t?  What if your ideas of what a relationship should look like are very different — if he thinks couples should be joined at the hip and you like your space.  One of you craves excitement and new adventures and the other is a homebody.  Such differences do not necessarily spell doom for a relationship, but they do suggest that one might want to take a long hard look before leaping.




              These are a few things to consider before deciding if you and your partner are ready to make the move from infatuation to a more mature kind of loving and commitment.  Sometimes when I do couples therapy I use the analogy of a doubles tennis team.  If you and your partner are trying to develop into a strong doubles team and one of you has a broken leg, then the broken leg needs to be dealt with before we start trying to work on the team.  There’s nothing shameful about having a broken leg, but it does need attention and time to heal before that person can play tennis.  Although I don’t say this in couples therapy, for purposes of this article — which has to do with things to be considered before the commitment is made — I might add that if your partner has a broken leg, you may want to consider finding yourself another tennis partner. 



Suggested reading: 

The Psychology of Romantic Love by Nathaniel Branden

Conscious Loving by Gay & Kathlyn Hendricks

Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix

Are You the One for Me? By Barbara DeAngelis

The Truth About Anger

Filed under: 2008 Articles,Anger Management,Melissa's Articles — karunacounseling @ 8:45 pm
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By Dr. Melissa Kulick, PhD, RYT

Though so many of us fear it and judge it negatively, both in ourselves and in others, anger is a normal human emotion.  It does, in fact, serve a purpose, as do all emotions.   Our experience of anger tells us that something is wrong and needs our attention; it is a natural response to a perceived threat.  It is there to protect us.  Anger also helps motivate and provide the energy for change, both on individual and larger socio-cultural levels. 


The truth is, that few things are inherently and absolutely good or bad; what matters more and determines an object’s or experience’s value is what we do with it.  Our experiences of anger exist on a continuum from mild irritation to rage, and there is a difference between feeling angry and acting angry.  We will talk here in terms of healthy versus unhealthy ways of handling anger.  There are three basic categories to choose from when deciding how we will respond when feeling angry:  suppression; expression and calm


Suppressing Anger



Suppressing (holding in, ignoring or denying) our anger is never healthy.  Suppressing anger turns the energy of the anger inward and can lead on a more physical level to hypertension (high blood pressure) and depression.  It can also result in (either conscious or unconscious) unhealthy indirect expressions of negative feeling.   People who more typically use this mode of relating to anger can tend towards being critical, cynical and/or passive-aggressive.  These folks are often not pleasant to be around and this can significantly impact their relationships in a negative way.

Why do we inhibit our anger?
One significant factor is our history – what we experienced and observed, especially as we were growing up, of what happened when someone “got angry.”  This was powerful learning for us.  If we learned that anger always lead to violence, pain and hurt – or that expression of anger resulted in abandonment – it is unlikely that we will feel safe expressing our anger.  We also may have heard messages growing up that “nice people don’t get angry.”  In either of these scenarios it is also likely that we never had the opportunity to have modeled for us what healthy anger expression would look like.

Issues of self-worth also contribute to the inhibition of anger expression.  Simply put, if we don’t feel good about ourselves we are unlikely to see ourselves as worth standing up for.  Feeling bad about ourselves can also lead to inappropriate, indirect (passive aggressive)  or unhealthy aggressive (see below) expressions of anger and can result in an unfortunate self-perpetuating and -reinforcing cycle of low self-esteem and even shame.

Expressing Anger

To express is to communicate, in some form or fashion.  There are both healthy and unhealthy ways to express anger.

Unhealthy Anger Expression
Unhealthy anger expression comes in several shapes and sizes.  When we engage in manipulation, resistance, withholding or avoidance as a way of communicating anger, we are expressing anger in an  indirect and “passive-aggressive” manner.   Sarcasm is also an indirect way of expressing anger veiled by humor.  As mentioned above, criticism and cynicism can also be used as indirect ways of expressing anger.


Anger can also be expressed in direct ways that are unhealthy – as physical or verbal (by words chosen and/or tone and volume employed) aggression.  

Why might we act aggressively?
Again, we start with history.  If our models for dealing with anger were aggressive and violent, this is how we learned to do it.  The value of a healthy model for anger cannot be overestimated.  I must stress here that because anger expression is a learned behavior, it is still very possible to acquire that learning even as an adult (in this case you really can teach an old dog new tricks.)

Anger is a surface emotion; there are always other emotions underlying our anger.   Very often that emotion is fear or hurt, but we may also first experience anger when, deeper down, we are feeling sadness, loneliness, powerlessness, hopelessness, grief/loss, shame or other emotions.  While many of us feel inhibited in expressing anger, anger can also be used as a defensive, safer response to feeling or expressing these other emotions.  In this way, anger can be more about pushing people away and saying we don’t need them – an expression of invulnerability,  whereas these other “softer” emotions are more about acknowledging a desire for comfort or support, which may feel too risky and vulnerable to do.  If the underlying emotion becomes overwhelming (and especially if we never learned healthy ways of coping with the underlying feelings) or the perceived threat of vulnerability becomes that large (and the need for protection that strong), the anger may erupt aggressively. 

Low self esteem and shame can be particularly susceptible to triggering aggressive defensive responses in us.  Shame, by its very nature, is motivated to keep itself hidden, and it is very easy to fall into what is known as a shame-rage cycle that looks like: 1) we’ve made a mistake and we react internally to judge ourselves as bad and unworthy because of it, 2)we believe we need to protect ourselves both from completely acknowledging what we believe to be the truth of our unworthiness and especially from others finding this out, 3)so we act defensively and aggressively in order to establish the other person(s) as the bad one(s), 4) but on some deeper level we know what we are doing and are now only compounding and reinforcing the truth of our badness (as evidenced by our attacking behavior), 5) leading us back to shame and its need to keep itself hidden and protected, and  the cycle continues.  

Healthy Anger Expression
When we express anger in a healthy way we are communicating our experience to another person in such a way that we are “owning” the experience as our own and still leaving room for others to have their own experiences.  It is an honest and direct communication of our concerns in a way that is not intended to exert control over or make others feel bad.  This is what is known as being assertive.  Using I-statements (e.g., “I felt hurt when you didn’t call me back when I expected you to”) is a key aspect of assertive communication.  When we are passive, we are essentially saying that “you are more important than me.”  When we are aggressive, we saying that “I am more important than you.”  When we are assertive, we are saying that “we are both important and deserve respect.”



The third approach to dealing with anger within us is to start by seeking to calm the mental and physical energy that accompanies anger, allowing us the opportunity to make a more conscious and intentional choice in responding to the situation.  By doing this, we increase the likelihood that we will be able to express our anger in a more healthy, assertive way.  It provides us with an increased sense of internal control which then offers us the ability to take the time to further assess the situation and decide, not out of fear and avoidance but from a more detached perspective, if something still needs to be expressed.  We can then also be intentional in how we choose to communicate the issue to others.

The strategies employed in calming this angry energy are often referred to as anger management, and include techniques for addressing both the way we are responding inside our heads (our thinking) and the level of arousal in our bodies.

Cognitive Anger Management
This means exploring and changing how we think.  So much of our anger can be brought on by assumptions and interpretations that we make about others’ actions and, particularly, the intentions and motivations of others’ actions.  Being willing to acknowledge these assumptions and then being willing to challenge them within your head (asking yourself if there are other possible reasonable explanations for the other person’s behavior) or even clarify your interpretation with the other person, is an incredible tool in managing our anger reactions.

Exploring and learning to identify the feelings that underlie our anger (and then learning how and being willing to express those) is another.  You can also assess your current stressors: are you tired, hungry or under significant stress in your life?  Any of these factors can make us more susceptible and sensitive to irritability and quick-temperedness.

At times we carry leftover hurts and angers around with us, unable to let them go, and these “triggers” amplify our anger reactions to present situations.  Forgiveness is something that is incredibly difficult for many people, mostly because it is often very misunderstood.  When we forgive someone, we are not saying that what that person did was okay; it simply means that you are refusing to continue to carry the weight and pain of that grudge around with you anymore.  Letting go of resentment isn’t about letting others off the hook, it’s about giving ourselves relief from our own pain, on our own terms, and refusing to continue to create more unnecessary pain.

Other cognitive approaches to anger management include moving from being stuck fuming in our anger to using the energy of the anger to fuel us toward problem-solving.  Creating a plan of action can defuse built-up mental tension.  Humor, especially silly and creative humor, can also be an effective way to reduce excessive anger.  When we get really angry, we can tread onto the ground of moral/righteous indignation, adamantly assured of our supreme rightness.  Creating an image of taking this to an extreme by picturing ourselves in crown and robes as ruler of the universe can be a humorous way of helping us gain a little perspective.  Using humor to de-escalate our anger does not, however, mean using sarcasm, which is actually an indirect, passive-aggressive way of expressing anger.

Physical Anger Management
These techniques are primarily designed to reduce the physiological arousal – the rush and build-up of physical energy – in our bodies.  There are many practices that can be used to either soothe or release this energy.  Taking a simple deep breath and hesitating before we speak allows us to slow down our process and gives us the chance to be more choiceful in our response.  Slow, deep diaphragmatic (belly) breathing through our nostrils can help lower our heart rate and soothe our nervous system.  (Breathing done through the mouth and only into our chest is more likely to excite our system and can lead to hyperventilation.)  Slowly repeating a calming word or phrase (e.g., “relax”, “stay calm”), while breathing can increase the calming benefit.  Using imagery and visualization of peaceful scenes also reduces our agitation level.  Yoga is a form of physical exercise that can be used both to slow down and calm ourselves and to more vigorously move energy through our bodies, depending on the specifics of your yoga practice that day.  Any form of physical exercise or exertion can potentially help us blow off some steam and put us in a space where we are more able to approach issues that concern us in a less reactive, more reasoned way.  Running (or a brisk walk), jumping rope, hitting a punching bag, even rearranging the furniture, are all forms of this kind of activity.

Again, keep in mind that “managing your anger” really means managing your level of felt disturbance so you can then better assess what your anger is trying to tell you –what needs to be addressed – and then to do so in a healthy, direct manner that is respectful to all persons involved.


Recommended Reading:

Overcoming Anger: How to Identify It, Stop It, and Live a Healthier Life by Carol D. Jones, Ph.D.
Facing the Fire by John Lee

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