Karuna Counseling’s Newsletter Articles

October 8, 2012

Letting Go

Filed under: 2012 Articles,Grief & Loss,Lisa's Articles,Relationships & Intimacy — karunacounseling @ 2:16 pm
by Lisa Anyan Smith, Ph.D.

“If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back to you, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t, it never was.”  This quote, widely attributed to Richard Bach of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” fame, conveys the meaning of a proverb that appears in many cultures and languages.  I remember the quote being reproduced on the inspirational posters of my youth.  It was soon parodied by cynics:  “If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back to you, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t, hunt it down and kill it.”

The cynical version of this quote illustrates (however crudely) the difficulty that many of us have with letting go.  Letting go of unhealthy relationships, of anger, of jealousy, of addictions, of coping mechanisms that no longer serve us well, can be difficult to accomplish.  Why is it so difficult for some of us to “just let it go”?  What can we do to ease the process of letting go?

Letting go can be a challenge because we, as human beings, are creatures of habit.  There is some comfort in the familiar.  Shedding old, destructive patterns or behaviors can leave us feeling as vulnerable as a small child throwing away a tattered and filthy blanket.  Although logically we may reason that we are better off without it, emotionally we can be left feeling bare.  Yet letting go is a process that we all must face at one time or another.  We must let go of the old in order to invite in the new.  Like the child who must say goodbye to the beloved blanket, we must bid farewell to what is holding us back developmentally.  Letting go is growth.  Letting go is akin to rock climbing, in which you must let go of a toehold in order to reach the next height. Reaching, striving – we must let go in order to find our next step.

Yes, you say, I understand that I must let go.  But how?  The following steps can assist you on your journey toward letting go.

Embrace the shadow:

We all possess a dark side, the part of us that we often prefer to remain hidden from the world.  Karl Jung referred to that portion of us that we fail to see or know as the “shadow.” That which we refuse to examine does not disappear; on the contrary it takes on a greater power until it erupts in a harmful way.  For example, repressed anger can result in displaced aggression.  Robert Johnson, in Owning Your Own Shadow, posits that “to refuse the dark side of one’s nature is to store up or accumulate the darkness; this is later expressed as a black mood, psychosomatic illness, or unconsciously inspired accidents” (p. 26).  Through self-examination we can cultivate awareness of the shadow, and through ritual or creativity we can discharge the shadow energy in a healthy manner.

Awareness of the grip that we have on unwelcome thoughts, feelings, or relationships – and the grip that they have on us – is crucial to the process of learning to let them go.  For example, we all experience anger at some time or another.  Holding on to anger can negatively impact our general sense of happiness, relationships with others, and physical health.  Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, likens anger to a howling baby, suffering and crying.  He encourages us to be mindful of the anger, to cradle and embrace the baby. Once we have accepted the anger and acknowledged it as our own, we can work with it. We can realize compassion for the target of our anger and feel better.

Let go of having to control:

Taoism is a manner of living in harmony with Tao, the Way of the Universe.  Lao-tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, urges us to see the value in being humble.  If action seems called for, he asks us to consider nonaction. If we feel that grasping will help us acquire what we need or want, he counsels us to let go and be patient.

A cornerstone of many successful 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, involves letting go of control.  The Serenity Prayer urges those seeking relief to be granted “…the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  This idea can also be expressed in the notion of surrendering to win.  A friend of mine likens letting go to dropping the rope in a tug-of-war contest.  When competitors on both sides are pulling equally on the rope, a stalemate ensues.  When one side drops the rope, movement occurs immediately.  While the side that drops the rope may not “win,” the action still leads to change.

Grieve your losses

Take the time to honor the process of letting go and moving on. It may be helpful to recognize the stages of grieving identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Keep in mind that there is no timetable for grief and that your process will be different from others’. Kubler-Ross herself acknowledged that the stages do not necessarily occur in chronological order. It is common to cycle back through the stages before finally landing upon acceptance. Be patient with yourself.  Have compassion for your journey.  Walk, talk, draw, paint, or find other ways to tap into your thoughts and memories.  Allow painful memories to enter your consciousness – with support if needed.  I am reminded of the mantra in the beloved children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury:  “Can’t go around it, can’t go under it…. Gotta go through it!”


In trying to let go of a grudge toward another person, think about apologizing and asking for forgiveness.  Letting go of your past involves allowing yourself to be vulnerable.  Or, it may be forgiveness of yourself that will set you on the path toward letting go. Be honest with yourself and others. If you have made mistakes, admit them. Forgiveness can be freeing. Forgiveness, at least in terms of interpersonal dynamics, appears to have benefits for both individual health and relationships. Research suggests that forgiveness  “may free the wounded person from a prison of hurt and vengeful emotion, yielding both emotional and physical benefits, including reduced stress, less negative emotion, fewer cardiovascular problems, and improved immune system performance.” (Witvliet, et al.)

Move forward to let go of the past

It has been said that time heals all wounds. Trust that letting go will occur if you open yourself to that possibility.  Look outside of yourself. Move outside of your comfort zone. Volunteering to help others in your community will aid in moving forward. Do something different! Taking a class at the local community college, learning a new language, or starting a new hobby will focus your attention on the present and assist in letting go of the past.

Isn’t that what we wanted all along

Freedom like a stone

Maybe we were wrong

But I can say goodbye

Now that the passion’s died

Still it comes so slow

The letting go 

Melissa Etheridge, “The Letting Go”

References and Suggested Reading:

Borysenko, Joan, Inner Peace for Busy Women: Balancing Work, Family, and Your Inner Life (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2003).


Hoff, Benjamin, The Tao of Pooh (New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 1983).


Johnson, Robert, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (New York: Harper Collins, 1991).


Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth, On Death and Dying (London: Routledge, 1969).


Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell) New York: Harper & Row, 1988).


Thich Nhat Hahn, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 2001).


Witvliet, C.V.O., Ludwig, T. E., & Vander Laan, K. L. (2001). Granting forgiveness of harboring grudges: Implications for emotion, physiology, and health. Psychological Science, 12, 117

February 17, 2011

How to Be a Good Listener

Filed under: 2011 Articles,Not by Karuna,Relationships & Intimacy — karunacounseling @ 5:46 pm
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How to Be a Good Listener: 12 Ways to Listen Closely…and Kindly

By Lori Hope

(Reprinted from Beliefnet.com)

A magnificent array of diverse and unique individuals populate this beautiful planet, but as different as we are, we share at least one fundamental need: to feel heard and understood. Most of us would like to think we can easily satisfy that need with our friends and loved ones, but we often fall short. I know I do. I learned that when I had cancer, and instead of finding open ears, I often encountered open mouths eager to spout advice or share stories. I saw myself in those people, and consequently set out to do unto others as I wished they had done unto me. I wrote a book fundamentally about listening, and I discovered along the way a huge bonus. I was not only a better friend, but I was able to attract new ones. So listen up – learn the art of listening – and feel the love!

First, Practice Actively

Listening well is an art – a skill honed by practice, study, and observation. And though it seems passive – after all, people talk TO us – it is indeed an activity and can require great effort. Seeing genuine listening to be active listening will prepare you for the immensely satisfying work it takes to really hear someone.

Open Your Eyes

Good listening isn’t just about ears, it’s about eyes. Maintain eye contact, and don’t give into the temptation to glance around. I’ll never forget meeting John Kennedy Jr. at a reception in New York, and noticing that while I spoke, his eyes never left mine, even though we were surrounded by luminaries. I felt like the most important person on Earth. Also, read the speaker’s body language; if their eyes are not meeting yours, they may feel uncomfortable or could be hiding something.

Move your Body

When you’re truly engaged, your body reacts by leaning forward, and your pupils dilate. Though you can’t control your pupils, you can show you’re listening by moving your body instead of your mouth. Nod; move forward in your chair; and if you’re close enough, physically and emotionally, gently touch the speaker’s arm.

Keep Your Mouth Closed

“Keep your ears and eyes open and your mouth shut!” commanded a boot camp officer in a documentary I made years ago. When I’m about to listen to a friend who needs to talk, I think of that or “You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion,” and remind myself to count to at least two before speaking. (By the way, keeping your lips together still allows you to give that most vital vocal sign, a soft “mmm-hmmm” that shows you are listening.)

Forget Yourself

It’s natural to relate what someone else says to your own experience and respond without thinking (I sometimes call that “blurting”), but considerate listeners keep their focus on the speaker. Even though you may have something important to say, try not to worry about how wise, clever, or empathetic you’d like to appear. Just concentrate on the speaker, which belies your wisdom and compassion more than anything.

Don’t Interrupt

As tempting as it is to interject your thoughts, hold back. It’s insulting to cut someone off when she’s voicing an opinion, but it’s even more hurtful when she’s sharing a feeling, especially a difficult one. When you interrupt, it can feel like a denial or discounting of your friend’s emotions.

Resist Multi-tasking

Most of us have become adept at cleaning off our desks or even checking Facebook while talking on the phone, but if you really want to hear what someone’s saying, it’s a good idea to let go of everything else while you’re involved with your conversation. Even if you’re only cleaning the kitchen counter, it’s easy to get lost in the sponge or the stubborn stain instead of the details of your friend’s story.

Limit Possible Distractions

“I know my own face has fallen when someone listening to me [a caregiver who has trouble even asking for time for myself], stops me in the middle of some gut wrenching moment to answer a call,” said my friend Dana Hopkins, a cancer survivor who took care of her husband when he had cancer. She advises turning off your cell phone when you really want to listen. Not only will it limit distractions, but will signal to the speaker that you’re serious about hearing what he has to say.

Be a Mirror, Not a Window

Listening is not about inviting people into your soul; it’s about entering theirs. To let them know you’re hearing them, reflect back to them what you think they’ve just said, with a “What I think I hear you saying is that…” or “It sounds like what you’re saying is…”

“Mother, May I …..?”

Remember what your mamma taught you? “Say ‘please,’” or in other words, ask permission, especially before offering advice. Sometimes a loved one just needs to vent or talk, and feel heard. They may not want to hear what they should or shouldn’t say, do, or feel, and if you ask, “Would you like my take on this?” you let them know they’re not only being heard but also respected.

Withhold Judgment

When I produced documentaries about homeless people, teen parents, and others facing tremendously difficult life challenges, they easily opened up to me about their deepest fears and desires, and I think it’s partly because I was able to suspend any judgment about them, and just listen with an open heart and mind. Most of us can tell when we’re being judged, and clamp up accordingly.

Don’t Interrogate — Do Ask Gentle Questions

When you question someone too intensely, it can feel voyeuristic – like you’re more interested in learning something than actually hearing someone. So when you do get an opportunity to ask questions, ask open-ended ones that give the speaker a choice, such as “Do you want to tell me more about that?” Encourage your friend to elaborate or discover things themselves by asking, “What did that feel like?” Or “What options are you considering?”


In addition to reserving judgment, try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. What are they feeling? How would you feel? When you put yourself in that head-and-heart space, you can’t help but listen well; that is when you feel compassion — a word which means “to feel with” – and truly understand.

Lori Hope is the author of Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You to Know. Visit her online at LoriHope.com.

February 13, 2010

The Five Love Languages

Filed under: 2010 Articles,Molly's Articles,Relationships & Intimacy — karunacounseling @ 6:59 pm
Tags: , ,

By Molly Keeton, Ph.D.

The information in this article comes from a book by the same title “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” by Gary Chapman.

As I was reading this book, I found myself going back and forth in my response. One second I was thinking “this seems to be surface level sort of stuff – how profound of an impact can it really have?” The next minute, I was truly blown away by the depth of what could be communicated and healed by speaking one another’s love language. In the end, I found the concepts to be meaningful, relevant, and useful. While no one thing is going to be the solution to making love last, I believe this could be a valuable contributor. Learning one another’s love language (and actually taking the time to speak that language) not only offers love to one’s partner in a way that will make them feel the most loved, most secure, and most taken care of but also will convey investment and commitment to the relationship.

When I have come upon earlier editions of this book, I noticed that a very specific religious context was put upon the concepts. This is not the case in the most current version, which I read for this article. If you are looking for Christianity to be incorporated, you may enjoy the earlier edition. I am not certain what this might have added, but I can say that I did not find the book lacking in any way without this lens.

One final observation – I found the language in this book to be disappointingly heterosexist. The author often used the word “spouse” but mostly referred to “marriage”, “husband”, and “wife”. He made no mention of same sex relationships. It is never my preference to recommend a book that does not acknowledge and celebrate same sex relationships; however, I felt the information was valuable and wanted to share it. I also firmly believe that it applies to all people and relationships equally.

Falling in love, falling out of love

Human beings require love and affection. It is one of our most basic needs. The need to feel that we belong and are wanted is essential to the human experience and to our overall emotional health. This begins in infancy and childhood but does not end there. As adults, when we have that all consuming experience of falling “in love”, this need appears to be met in a very fulfilling way. When this happens, we feel as though we have met our soul mate. It is like heaven on earth – we could spend all day together and never run out of things to say. We have more in common with this person than we ever dreamed possible. They are a perfect fit to our best selves, our quirkiest selves, our truest selves. We hardly ever disagree, but when it happens, we are able to move on quickly. In dreaming of the future, we know bigger obstacles will come but are confident that we will triumph over them. Together we can work through anything because our love is special and we are truly committed.

Although our need to be loved is temporarily satisfied by early love, over time the euphoria begins to fade. Studies show that this infatuation stage of early romance can last up to about 2 years (it may last twice that long in the case of an affair) but does ultimately come to an end. “Welcome to the real world”… of partnership… “where hairs are always on the sink and little white spots cover the mirror… where shoes do not walk to the closet themselves… and socks go AWOL during laundry. In this world, a look can hurt and a word can crush. Intimate lovers can become enemies and marriage a battlefield” (p. 30).

We ask ourselves if we were wrong, was our love not the real thing, was it not meant to last? The truth is that it wasn’t meant to last – not the obsession of early love, during which nothing else seems to matter (work, housekeeping, paying bills, seeing friends and family). It is virtually impossible to keep any balance in one’s life during that initial and overpowering stage of love. As such, it is a good thing for the world that it does not go on forever.

The sense of connection during the early “in love” stage gives us a false sense of intimacy. It also gives us a false sense of ourselves – in this phase, we are truly selfless. Giving to our partner is the most gratifying thing on earth. Their faults are easy to overlook. This is made easier by the fact that our partner feels the same way towards us – truly loving and altruistic. However, as life goes on we inevitably return to our own interests and needs and so does our partner. We realize again that we are two people, not one. Two people with different goals, needs, feelings, preferences. We may feel we are falling out of love, and in a way this is true once that all consuming “in love” feeling begins to diminish. At this point, many couples may split. They may believe their only alternative to moving on and hoping to find “the one” is to settle into a life of disappointment with this person who so clearly does not understand their needs. However, one other option does exist – to recognize that the “in love” experience was meant to be temporary and to learn how to have a truly intimate long term relationship with one’s partner. True love cannot really begin until the obsessional love phase has come to its conclusion.

“True love’ …is emotional in nature but not obsessional. It is a love that unites reason and emotion. It involves an act of the will and requires discipline, and it recognizes the need for personal growth. Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct… if, once we return to the real world of human choice, we choose to be kind and generous, that is real love” (p. 32-33).

Love Languages

People speak one of five different love languages, usually the language of our caretakers, which we can think of as our native language. Each of the five basic love languages can contain a number of dialects. This means that there are countless ways to express love to one’s significant other while using their love language – the language that will truly make them feel loved. Over time, we may acquire new or different languages, but typically other languages will not come as easily as the primary language we were taught in our family of origin. One’s primary love language is likely to be drastically different from that of their spouse or significant other – possibly as different as English and Chinese. In order to communicate our love more effectively, we must be willing to identify our own love language, the language of our significant other, and to learn to speak one another’s love language.

Love Language #1: Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation are words that build another up. These are words that express love verbally. They may be complimentary or express appreciation. They are as varied as one’s imagination and may speak to physical appearance (“Wow, are you looking hot tonight!”), a character trait (“You always go above and beyond for the people you love”), or encouragement (“You have both the talent and passion required to become a great artist”).

Encouraging words

This literally means to “inspire courage”, to help build up our partner’s sense of security and self-esteem. This does not involve harassing your partner into doing something that you want them to do but helping them find the courage to pursue what is meaningful to them. It comes from a place of empathy and being able to see the world through one’s partner’s eyes.

Kind words

To truly communicate love verbally, one must use kind words and a tone that matches. This is especially important in the face of an argument. When spoken with kind words, even sharing a disappointment (“I was really hurt that you did not make it on time to dinner tonight”) can build connection.

Humble words

“Love makes requests, not demands” (p. 45). We need to know and understand one another’s desires in order to develop intimacy. Stating those desires as an order, a threat, or an ultimatum will not lead to connection. Sharing our needs and giving our partner a choice in meeting those is a way to guide them. Making a request of your partner indicates that s/he has something to offer, which affirms their worth.

Love Language #2: Quality Time

Quality time involves giving someone else your undivided attention. “When I sit with my”… partner… “and give her twenty minutes of my… time… and she does the same for me, we are giving each other twenty minutes of life. We will never have those twenty minutes again; we are giving our lives to each other” (p. 56).

Focused attention

This is more than just being in proximity or doing something together while paying attention to other things. On the contrary, it is not limited to sitting quietly and looking into each other’s eyes or having hours of conversation about our hopes and dreams. Focused attention may involve an activity that one or both of you enjoy, but the activity itself is almost irrelevant because our intention in doing it is giving our attention to our partner.

Quality conversation

This is a very common love language that involves a true sharing of thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a loving and uninterrupted manner. We are focused on listening and truly hearing from our partner, encouraging them to share more of themselves. This is not likely to involve offering solutions or analyzing what they are saying but being attuned to your partner’s feelings.  You may have to learn to listen to offer this love language, and you also may have to learn to talk – to share openly from your heart and let your partner see inside of you.

Quality activities

These include any activity in which at least one of you has an interest, but again,the emphasis is on the why and not the what of the activity. The meaning behind the activity is to experience something together, to express love by doing this thing together, and to add to your memories of meaningful time spent together.

Love Language #3: Receiving Gifts

“At the heart of love is the spirit of giving. All five love languages challenge us to give to our spouse” (p. 82). A gift is a tangible thing that can be given, a symbol of one another’s love that can be seen and felt. Giving someone a gift involves thinking of them, and the gift becomes symbolic of this thoughtfulness. For people who speak this love language, having a visual symbol of their partner’s love is incredibly meaningful. Gifts may be bought, made, or found. The value of the gift or the money spent is not the key component here. It rarely matters what the cost of the gift is unless it is thought to be very far outside of what one can afford (in either direction).

If receiving gifts is the primary love language of your partner, you may have to alter your beliefs about how money should be spent. If gift giving seems frivolous to you, think of creative ways to give that don’t involve too much money. And when it comes to the times that money needs to be spent, think of it as an investment in your relationship.

Also, be aware that the gift of self can be powerful, especially for those who see love in visual ways. Giving of yourself by being present during a special event or a time of difficulty may speak volumes to your partner.

Love language #4: Acts of Service

To do an act of service is to do something for your partner that you s/he would like to have done. Acts of service “require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love” (p. 92). Acts of service could include doing the dishes, getting the tires rotated, hanging a picture, cleaning the litter box, paying bills, or making a call to the mortgage company. Oftentimes, this doing for one another is a regular part of the “in love” phase but fades out once a long term relationship begins.

Doing acts of service does not mean to become a slave or a doormat. It is not to become a servant or to give in to manipulation, coercion, guilt, or demands. It means giving to our partner through taking on some of the tasks of daily life and expressing one’s love by relieving your partner of that particular burden. Getting comfortable with giving acts of service may require re-examining what you learned about what it is to be a man or a woman in a relationship and letting go of some outdated stereo-types (you may find their effect whether you are in an opposite or same sex relationship).

Love language #5: Physical Touch

“Whatever there is of me resides in my body. To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally” (p. 112). The sense of touch is incredibly powerful for human beings. Many studies have shown that babies who are affectionately touched more often are physically stronger and more resilient and grow up to be emotionally healthier.

Unlike the other senses, touch is not limited to one part of our body.  Physical touch can communicate a variety of things – love, hate, tenderness, aggression. For a person who speaks this as their primary love language, touch may communicate far more than words ever can. The dialects are also infinite in the language of physical touch – what one person finds meaningful may do little for someone else. You must learn to speak each other’s dialect when it comes to physical touch and never assume that what feels good or loving to you applies equally to your partner.

Loving physical touch can be explicit or implicit. Explicit touch requires effort and attention (a massage or sexual interaction). Implicit loving touch may take less time and effort but does require thought and intentionality. This could be sitting close to one another, touching them as you pass by, giving a quick kiss when saying hello, or holding hands as you walk together.

Sex may be a primary dialect within this language, but not all need for physical touch should be assumed to be sexual. Also, a strong and frequent desire for sex does not necessarily mean that physical touch is one’s primary love language. If you find little meaning or interest in being physically affectionate outside of sex, then physical touch is not likely to be your primary love language, even if your craving for sex is quite intense.

Identifying your love language

Just reading the brief descriptions of the five languages may have clearly illuminated to you what your primary love language is. You may or may not be able to guess the language of your partner as well. If you would like to do a more formal assessment, there are questionnaires in the book. Another option that Chapman recommends is reflecting on the following questions:

  • How do you most often show love to others? When you want to express to someone that they mean a lot to you, do you find yourself doing nice things for them (acts of service) or writing them a note to tell them how much you care (words of affirmation)?
  • What have been your typical complaints to your partner within your relationship? Do you find yourself expressing frustration over not spending enough time together (quality time) or wishing s/he would do more to help around the house (acts of service)? These complaints will shed light on your unmet needs. And if you are not sure of the answer to this question, ask your partner. They are very likely to know your complaints.
  • What do you ask your partner for most often? Do you find yourself asking for a backrub or hug (physical touch), for a token of their feelings (gifts), or for encouragement when you want to pursue something (words of affirmation)?

January 1, 2010

Forgive to Live


By Micky O’Leary, PhD

Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.
~Lily Tomlin

A man convicted of several random murders was recently executed. The media coverage around this event was extensive. Among the reports were interviews with survivors of the victims.

One survivor was planning to be present at the execution – his way of seeing that the man who killed his loved one suffered in some measure for his deed. However, another survivor stated that he did not plan to attend and, in fact, was not interested in the details of the execution. He said he had forgiven the murderer and felt no hatred or animosity toward him.

I have heard stories like this before. Each time, I tried to put myself in the place of the survivors. Would I, could I, offer the same level of generosity that the second person showed? Or might I be like the first person, looking for some retribution to satisfy my hurt, anger, and overwhelming loss?

While few of us (thankfully) experience the pain associated with the murder of a loved one, none of us escapes this life without at times feeling hurt or betrayed in our relationships with others. What gives some of us the ability to forget these hurts and go on with our lives? And what keeps some of us in bondage to the injury we have experienced and the grievance we have created?

To forgive is to set a person free and discover that the prisoner was you.
~Louis Smedes

Forgiveness means different things to many people. I have often heard quoted the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” example from The Bible. Others have expressed their feelings about hurt and betrayal as “Don’t get mad; get even.” In a culture that uses weapons to settle the score, forgiveness is often equated with weakness. Dr. Fred Luskin, a well known researcher in the field of forgiveness, notes matter-of-factly that “Forgiveness is a tough sell.”

Indeed, forgiveness can be a tough sell if we see it as a gift we give the person who offended us. Framed in that light, forgiveness may seem like an insult (to ourselves) on top of injury.

But what if we could see forgiveness as a gift we give ourselves? For example, have you ever found yourself reliving and rehashing an injustice you have suffered? As you play the scene again and again in your mind, your anger and resentment continues – and often grows. You feed the memory by giving it “air time” on your own personal station and, in the process, create a grievance story which takes time and attention to keep alive. In other words, we take the memory of our injury – and the person who injured us – and let them live “rent free” in our head and heart.

Everyone gets hurt. It’s one price of living. What is the point of prolonging the hurt? Yet that is what we do when we make the choice to hold on to a grudge. And as we relive and revive the hurt, we also re-inflict the physical and emotional stress that we initially felt.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Researchers studying forgiveness have found that people who are able to let go of resentments and thoughts of revenge (Remember the earlier example of the man who had forgiven the murderer?) benefit in numerous ways. Among the many ways are reduced stress levels, less depression, less anger and hostility, a reduction in chronic pain, more satisfying relationships, and improved emotional and psychological well being.

The fact is: Stress hurts. It takes its toll on our bodies as well as our general enjoyment of life. And there are few things as stressful as continuing to experience and focus on the bad things that have happened to us in our lives.

If you know the process of healing from a physical wound, you can understand the experience of healing from an emotional one. In both cases, the hurt is not forgotten, but it ceases to interfere with our daily life. The power that it once held over our thoughts and feelings recedes and we are free to focus on the present moment.

However, one of the reasons that forgiveness can be a “tough sell” is that some of us may confuse it with forgetting what happened, condoning what happened, or reconciling with the person who hurt us. None of those things is necessary for us to forgive. What is necessary is that we make the choice to release ourselves from the emotional tether that keeps us feeling connected to the past.

When you hold resentment toward another,
you are bound to that
person or condition
by an emotional link that is stronger than steel.

Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.
~Catherine Ponder

While forgiveness takes time (and a commitment to personal freedom), it also requires that we be able to step outside our own experience to see the ways in which we may be contributing to keeping our own pain alive. For instance, if we are hurt and angry because a situation did not turn out as we had expected/hoped (e.g., our partner decides to end our relationship), we keep the pain alive when we tell ourselves that our life is not turning out the way it should. In other words, we are angry because we cannot control what has happened. We have an “unenforceable” rule about the way we want others to behave or the way we think life must look.

Losing a partner, like many other experiences in life, is usually painful. But blaming that person for our unhappiness also means that we are giving them control of our happiness. If I attribute my unhappiness to another person, then I am simultaneously giving them the key to my own well being.

Equally important as forgiving others is the ability to forgive ourselves. As we grow in acceptance of life’s disappointments, imperfections and losses, we learn that we also make mistakes. We realize that we are not perfect. We understand that sometimes we make bad decisions. Being human means that sometimes we fail and cause other people harm.

As I mentioned before, forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. When we choose to let go of our anger and resentment toward ourselves or another, we are also choosing the peace that comes with being free of those negative feelings. We are choosing to take back our personal power, assume responsibility for our own feelings, promote self healing and be the hero of our story instead of the victim. We are choosing to construct the story of our grievance in such a way that we can acknowledge the pain without getting stuck in it, recognize that life gives us both positive and negative experiences, and know that we can hope for the good and forgive the bad.

We are choosing to release our past in order to heal our present.

You will know that forgiveness has begun
when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.

~Louis Smedes

feather forgiveness

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

September 4, 2006

Can We Talk?

Filed under: 2007 and earlier,Claire's Articles,Relationships & Intimacy — karunacounseling @ 11:46 pm

A Primer on Effective Communication

by Claire Scott, PhD

Hopefully by now you’ve memorized my earlier article on communication. That article covered the basics of listening and speaking and can be found in the article archives on this website if you missed it.

Before presenting additional information on communication, it bears repeating that LISTENING remains the key to good communication. Good listening skills create an open, respectful atmosphere between people. Attentive listening conveys acceptance, caring, and an effort to understand another’s perspective and feelings.

This article will provide additional information on other aspects of communication, specifically (1) developing a climate for good communication, (2) intent vs. impact problems, and (3) no-lose problem solving.


Take a look at the following model about the impact of various behaviors on communication. This information can help you select the ways you want to behave in order to create the kind of climate you want.

These kinds of behaviors:

Produce this kind of climate:

Which results in these kinds of feelings and responses:








Guilt Inducing

Name calling


















Showing interest

Good eye contact










Pretended compliance














Closing down



Emotional intimacy



Open sharing







Willingness to engage

It seems, given the above, that it should be relatively easy to produce a climate of acceptance and open communication. And yet, the reason most often cited for coming to therapy is problems in interpersonal relationships. And communication is the medium by which most problems in interpersonal relationships are created, and hopefully, solved.

It is important to remember that is it inevitable that any two people will have differences in their needs, wants, values, moods, priorities, and preferences. If you’ve ever lived or worked with others, you know how hard it can be just to arrive at a thermostat setting that suits everyone.


So what can one do to cut down on the amount of strife that is often generated when people clash over those differences? One important caveat is to remember that the INTENT you have when you say something can be very different from the IMPACT it has on the receiver of the message. Why is this so? All of us have an internal communication mechanism that works like a filter. Through this filter all messages must pass, whether we are sending or receiving the message. This filter is comprised of our background, our values, our beliefs, our sense of self-esteem, how it was done in our family, our hopes, etc., etc.

If you sense a message you sent was misunderstood, stop and check it out with the other person. If, for example, the other got hurt by something you said, when that was not what you intended, don’t assume he or she is just being difficult. Stop the process and ask: “It seems like what I just said hurt you, and I really didn’t mean to hurt you. What did you hear in what I said?” Slowing down the communication process, and taking time for clarification helps to open the channels of communication. Learning about your own and another person’s filters will help you to understand each other at a deeper level.

The next section is devoted to a problem-solving model that also might be helpful.


The most common approach to handling conflict is a power struggle in which each person feels he or she must WIN the argument. Each person strives to prove his or her point and convince the other that “I am right about this and you should see it my way.” In such a strategy, someone must be the “loser” of the argument – if one is right, then the other must be wrong. And since no one likes to be wrong or lose, each person tends to argue louder and harder, which only serves to escalate an argument into a fight. No one really wins in this kind of fight, because if you win and leave your partner feeling like the loser, what have you really gained? As the old saying goes, you may win the battle, but chances are you will lose the war.

There is another way! In “no-lose” problem solving (also called “win-win” problem solving), the underlying principle is that each person’s needs, wants, perspective, and opinion, etc., are equally valid. In a mutually respectful relationship, the goal is to resolve differences in a way that leaves each person feeling valued, satisfied, and a “winner”.

There are two main commitments that must be made to accomplish ”no-lose” problem solving:

(a) Both parties agree to participate together in a search for a solution acceptable to both, and

(b) Both parties agree to stay in the problem-solving process until the matter is resolved, regardless of how long it may take (no getting angry and leaving in a huff — if a break seems appropriate, set up another specific time to continue).

Once those two assumptions are met, the method is as follows:

Make sure you have a clear definition of the problem, to which both parties agree. Try to make the problem statement as concrete and specific and non-blaming as possible. E.g., as opposed to ‘the problem is you never help out with household chores’, use language like ‘the problem is getting these specific household chores done.’

Generate possible solutions. Brainstorm about possibilities that might solve the problem — even ones that seem a little crazy!No evaluating or ruling out options allowed at this point. You may want to make a list of these options.

Once brainstorming is over, then evaluate the possible solutions that were generated. Important: Each person involved can rule out any option just by saying “that option doesn’t work for me.” He or she doesn’t have to give a “good-enough” reason or explain why it won’t work – they need only say it won’t work and that option gets crossed off the list. (If all options are ruled out, start over — generate more options, or possibly redefine the problem.)

Pick one of the remaining options that you can both agree to try for a while.

Set a time for a follow-up evaluation to see how the solution is working. If it is not working well, you can go through the process again and try something else.

Implement the option you have selected.

Obviously this approach is not a cure-all, but it can go a long way toward helping relationships get on a good track.

One last closing comment: Good communication is a skill. Any skill takes practice. You will probably feel awkward and stilted while you are getting used to it. But good communication is a skill very much worth working toward, one that pays huge dividends in terms of the quality of your relationships.

August 20, 2006


by Molly Keaton, PhD

What is a boundary?
All life forms have boundaries and each part of our bodies has physical limits, from the skin to the membranes covering nerves and muscles. When our physical boundaries are invaded (when we are cut or scratched) we are vulnerable to infection. Therefore, our physical boundaries promote health and safety. My physical boundaries are defined by how close I let people get to me. My emotional boundaries are defined by how I allow others to interact with me – whether I tolerate abuse and hostility or whether I demand respect.

To learn more about your boundaries, think about the amount of personal space that you prefer. You can probably recall the creepy feeling that arises when someone (especially someone you don’t know well) invades your comfort zone. Also, notice that this zone is very different with strangers than with acquaintances. We allow those that we love and trust to get much closer, but still there is a difference in what is acceptable for a friend vs. a lover. This illustrates an important point about boundaries – they are flowing and adaptable. It is our right to choose where to set the boundary of how close another can get to us physically or emotionally. This limit will change not only based on the relationship but also based on the situation. For example, in a relationship, there are times when partners feel like being sexual and times where they do not. Just because you are sometimes physically intimate with a partner does not mean that you owe this to your partner at all times. It is your right to set boundaries, to change your mind about those boundaries, and to have those decisions respected.

Where do boundaries come from? Why do I need them?
Boundaries define who we are and how we are connected and separate from others. Boundaries give us a sense of order and control over our lives. Healthy boundaries are empowering in that they set limits on what we will and will not tolerate from others. They allow us to bounce back from situations in which our limits are violated through awareness of our own needs and how to defend those needs. Empowerment comes not only from knowing how to protect ourselves but also from knowing that we will protect ourselves.

Boundaries develop throughout the course of our lives, beginning with our earliest interactions with the world. Our caretakers can promote healthy boundaries through encouraging individuation, which is the process of developing a clear identity that is separate from the identity of the caretaker. Conversely, a caretaker can also encourage non-existent or unhealthy boundaries. Unhealthy boundaries come in a variety of forms – boundaries can be set both too close, resulting in enmeshed boundaries. Enmeshment occurs when our uniqueness and individuality are not respected. Enmeshed families demand that all members exist for one another and sacrifice themselves in the interest of sharing the same beliefs, values, and opinions. However, boundaries can also be set too far away, resulting in little connection with the outside world. In order to determine where are boundaries are, we have to get close enough to others to feel their presence. We learn about our limits by testing them.

Childhood experiences, most significantly from caregivers, teach us where our boundaries lie and how to treat those boundaries. Enmeshed families promote the idea that boundaries do not exist and that to develop personal boundaries is to betray the family. Distant families teach their children that they are alone, isolated beings with nothing to lean on for support in this huge world. While we learn about our boundaries from our caretakers, we educate others about our boundaries through the way that we allow ourselves to be treated.

Healthy emotional boundaries lead to greater emotional health. Boundaries allow us to take care of ourselves and to defend our own beliefs, values, and needs. Boundaries allow us to say “No” to others and to act in our own best interest. Boundaries allow us to give to others without sacrificing too much of ourselves. Boundaries are highly individualized – they can be firm or flexible, close, or distant. They also vary by country and culture. Good boundaries necessitate attention and maintenance.

How do you know where your boundaries are?
When our physical boundary is violated our emotional boundaries are also transgressed. Our physical and emotional boundaries work like a system of checks and balances. Without each, we are vulnerable to violations. Our responses and emotions provide feedback about our comfort in a situation. This feedback allows us to take an inventory and as a result, to gain greater self-understanding. The combination of feedback and self-awareness facilitates boundary development. If we receive feedback but do not listen or respond to it, we are violating our own boundaries. If we do not react to our emotions, we send the message to ourselves that our feelings and gut responses are not important or reliable. In doing this, we risk losing our best tool for judgment by disconnecting from our feelings and relying on others to define our limits.

Boundaries promote connection.
Not only do good boundaries limit harm, they also increase intimacy. The ideal relationship (be it romantic or friendly) promotes a strong sense of “us” while allowing each partner to be distinct enough to maintain her/his own identity. Healthy romantic relationships involve a commitment where two people choose to make a life together. This choice is not based on dependence or enmeshment – both partners could survive without the other. While enmeshment or infatuation may resemble intimacy, they are not. Enmeshment occurs when there is no boundary or individual identity in place. Enmeshment is loving the idea or image of another rather than that other’s true self. Intimacy occurs when two people know each other deeply, accepting both strengths and limitations. Intimacy means being able to accept that your partner is distinct and has her/his own ideas, values, beliefs, and goals. Intimacy comes from having faith that you are known, accepted, and valued for who you truly are.

In sum, the goal is “to form boundaries that have some flexibility and some definite limits, boundaries that move appropriately in response to situations – out for strangers, in for intimates. Boundaries should be distinct enough to preserve our individuality yet open enough to admit new ideas and perspectives. They should be firm enough to keep our values and priorities clear, open enough to communicate our priorities to the right people, yet closed enough to withstand assault from the thoughtless and the mean” (Katherine, 1991, p. 81).

The information in this article came from a book entitled Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin (Anne Katherine, 1991).

Personality Drive Pointers through Exploring the Enneagram – Part 2

by Metta Sweet Johnson, LCSW, MAT

Note: This is the second of a series of articles on the Enneagram. I recommend you read my first article on this subject in order to get the most out of this one.

What was your initial response to the note at the beginning of the article (recommending you read the first article before proceeding)? Chances are that your initial reaction and then action is probably indicative of your personality drive:

  • 1’s would be sure to follow the note exactly in order to “do the right thing”;
  • 2’s would do so to “give” the writer what they asked for in order to “help them out”;
  • 3’s would either read the first one to be able to feel they “got it all done” or just jump into this one to “check it off their to do list”; >
  • 4’s would follow the recommendation in order to give themselves the best chance of finding what they are looking for in their individuality/uniqueness;
  • 5’s would read it because they wouldn’t want to miss out on any knowledge source;
  • 6’s would read it in fear that they wouldn’t be able to safely proceed and, besides, they’d want to feel a part of group;
  • 7’s (if they even read the introductory note) would not read the first article—opting for the adventure of just jumping in;
  • 8’s would just read this article believing that they can rely on themselves to get what they need out of this one;
  • and 9’s would probably elect to start here as well because they wouldn’t think it really mattered if they got it anyway.

If you know your drive but had a different response than I predicted, it may be because you have already developed the ability to not allow your drive to drive you! Congratulations! But remember, I asked about the initial response. Even when we get to a place of consciousness, it usually means that we have learned to be aware of our knee-jerk reactions, acknowledge them and weigh their impact, and choose from there—sometimes to follow them, sometimes to stretch and try something “against our nature.”

And that’s the real benefit of discovering your drive—becoming aware of the “defaults” in your way of being and giving yourself the opportunity to CHOOSE your response in certain situations or to create a “custom” response that usually involves some motivation, momentum, and decision-making.

So What Do I Do Once I Discover My Drive?

Discovering one’s personality drive can be a fun and enlightening process. It can help us with our understanding of who we are and what has been the unconscious motivation of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. The discovery of your Enneagram drive is only the first step, though, as I mentioned in my first article on this subject.

After delving into a deeper understanding of yourself as mentioned in the first article, one of the most powerful aspects of the Enneagram is to find out where you are in the Levels of Development. From there you can begin elevating using your Path of Integration. First, let’s talk about Levels of Development and then discuss how to move to higher levels of development once you discover your current level.

Levels of Development

Just as with physical health and development, your psychological/spiritual health and development can fluxuate throughout your life for many reasons. As you live and grow and change, you may experience periods of good health, average health, and poor health. Each personality drive has nine levels of development ranging from healthy to unhealthy. At any given time in our lives (and at any given time during a single day for that matter), we are at a certain place of psycho-spiritual health and level of development along this spectrum.

The following is the spectrum of these levels of development and their descriptors. Notice that when people move between healthy and average levels, a “wake up call” experience is usually a part of it. And, in less healthy times—moving between average and unhealthy levels—it typically takes a “red flag” in that person’s life to alert them that serious change and help is needed. Oftentimes, it is at these “wake up call” and “red flag” transitions that people seek help—including seeking help from a psychotherapist.


  • Level of Liberation
  • Level of Psychological Capacity
  • Level of Social Value



  • Level of Imbalance/Social Role
  • Level of Interpersonal Control
  • Level of Overcompensation



  • Level of Violation
  • Level of Obsession and Compulsion
  • Level of Pathological Destructiveness

Each drive has distinct experiences, thoughts, feelings, and actions for each of these levels. For example, a level 5 for the 3 Achiever type will be different from a level 5 for a 7 Enthusiast type, even though they both involve Interpersonal Control themes. Reading through the levels of development for your drive will provide an important additional layer of insight into where you are now, where you’ve been at different times in your life, and—most importantly—where you’d like to be or your potential. Looking at the healthy levels can be very inspiring and directive to people, giving them hope for better living and a clear goal to have in mind in their efforts to do so.

So, how to get to the higher/healthier levels? The road is different for each drive and it’s called the Path of Integration, Path of Elevation, or the Response to Challenge.

Elevating To Healthier Levels Of Living

Moving up in the levels of development is the goal and purpose of discovering your drive in the first place. Each drive has a path of Integration (toward healthy) and a path of disintegration (toward unhealthy). The keys to how to move toward health lie in your drive’s Path of Integration. If you look at the Enneagram geometric figure, you will notice that in addition to being connected to other drives by being on a circle, each drive “point” has two straight lines that connect it to two different drives (either as part of the triangle 3-6-9 or as part of the hexad (1-7-5-8-2-4). These two lines indicate the different paths.

For example: if a 1 wants to get healthier, they need to focus on the healthy aspects of a 7 in order to be lifted out of their perfectionism and move toward health. When Perfectionist 1’s shift their attention to the fun/adventure/enthusiasm (7 drive qualities) of a given project/person/event instead of how it’s not quite right, their enjoyment of life increases and the way which they interact with and experience themselves and others moves up in the levels of development.
The following are the Paths of Integration for each drive:

1 to 7: Be Right focuses on Having Fun

2 to 4: Be Loved focuses on Being Special

3 to 6: Achiever focuses on Being Safe, and Loyal to Others

4 to 1: Be Special focuses on Drive 1: Reformer/Be Right/Perfectionist

5 to 8: Thinker focuses on Self-Reliance and Rising to Challenges

6 to 9: Safety-Security focuses on Being at Peace

7 to 5: Have Fun focuses on Investigating and Thinking

8 to 2: Self-Reliant focuses on Being Loved and Loving

9 to 3: Peacemaker focuses on Achieving and Doing

Integrating by focusing on and moving toward another drive is not becoming that drive or changing your drive. Your drive does not change throughout your life. However, reaching toward the healthy aspects of the drive that is your own on your path of integration while still being rooted in the trueness of your drive creates a powerful positive synergy that can catapult you to living a healthier, happier life.


There are many resources on the Enneagram, but the ones I work with most are from Riso & Hudson’s Enneagram Institute (www.enneagraminstitute.com) and The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Daniels & Price’s The Essential Enneagram, and Concept Synergy’s Harnessing Your Personality Drive Through Exploring the Enneagram

Personality Drive Pointers through Exploring the Enneagram – Part 1

by Metta Sweet Johnson, LMSW, MAT

You may have heard a lot of talk lately about personality type tests and how they’re used to help people with career choices, relationship issues, and personal growth. They’re also used by businesses to screen candidates for positions and contribute to team building and organizational health. One that has received increased attention in recent years, including at Karuna, is the Enneagram.


Enneagram simply means “nine pointed figure”: ennea> = “nine” in Latin, and gram = geometric figure. This figure/symbol is ancient in origin and its exact birth date is debated among scholars (some dating it to 500BC). The Enneagram is the matrix upon which the nine basic personality drives in human nature flow. These nine core drives are also influenced by subtypes and variations. In addition, these drives are interrelated as shown by the three shapes that make up the Enneagram: the circle (oneness/divinity), triangle (trinity/tree of life), and hexad (law of seven/evolution). The 4th century A.D. introduced personality types and the Enneagram symbol and personality types came together under Gurdjeff’s 1875 work, thus, combining ancient wisdom with modern insights as well as bringing eastern and western philosophies together.

Know Your Type, Know Yourself–Not Exactly!

Well, not exactly. Knowing your drive can help you know what drives you—your core Self is more than that. This is key: You are not your personality drive. Your personality drive is simply a force that drives you (your thoughts, feelings, and ways of relating to yourself and others) if left unnoticed and unattended. You can discover it, though, and by discovering it, harness its power and get into the driver’s seat of your life instead of it driving you. Not to get out of “the car” entirely, but to harness the power of that moving vehicle (your drive) to go in directions you want to go in life instead of just being “along for the ride.”

Every person is a unique, complex being with reactions and responses that are impacted by many forces both internal and external. It may seem strange, then, that I would find such interest in a personality typing tool that, to some, can be used to place people in confined boxes or “types.” Instead of viewing the Enneagram as a static grid for typing and labeling people, though, I view it as a living matrix of energy that flows through human consciousness. Each person is born with a strong connection and certain rapport with one specific part of this living matrix—their personality drive.

Discovering your drive can provide awareness and insight into the following:

External behaviors

Underlying attitudes

Sense of self

Conscious and unconscious motivations

Emotional reactions

Defense mechanisms

Object relations

What we pay attention to

Spiritual potential

Before Getting Started, Keep in Mind

Aside from remembering that your drive is not who you are—it is what drives your personality (Drive vs. Type), consider the following as well:

You are born with a drive and keep it throughout your life

No drive is better than another (all have healthy, average, & unhealthy “Levels of Development”)

Take time to discover your drive (only YOU can know)

Don’t use your drive as an excuse

Don’t type others

You have aspects of all types in you to some degree

This is a test…This is only a test…

Sorting Tests are a popular and effective way to narrow down the drives to a few that may be more likely than the others. Don’t take these tests as the determining truth, though. Treat them as, say, taste tests—for only YOU can know your drive! You—yes you—are your own authority (being honest with yourself is pivotal to the reliability and validity of that authorship, however!). After taking a test, study more about that drive, checking in with yourself and your authentic experiences as you do so. There are many online resources and printed materials about the Enneagram (referenced at the bottom of this article).

The Drives and Their Descriptors

The following are each of the drives and some of the names associated with each. For further descriptions as well as basic fears and desires, visit http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/descript.asp:

Drive 1: Reformer/Be Right/Perfectionist

Drive 2: Helper/Giver/Be Loved

Drive 3: Achiever/Performer

Drive 4: Individualist/Be Special

Drive 5: Investigator/Thinker

Drive 6: Loyalist/Safety-Security

Drive 7: Enthusiast/Adventurer/Have Fun

Drive 8: Challenger/Self-Reliant

Drive 9: Peacemaker/Mediator

Discovering your Drive: A Beginning, not an End

It’s only the beginning! Sadly, many stop at this point, though, satisfied at simply finding a type or label to simply explain or justify much of how they are in the world. This short cut, though, cuts them off. Cuts them off from the movement and growth and healing that can happen when one deeply works to not only discover but to harness and direct the powerful energy of their drive toward “integration” and more healthy living and relating. This is a misuse of this valuable, living, matrix that invites us to look deeply into the mystery of our true identity.

Since our perceptions are often what’s reality to us and since our personality drive plays a key role in determining those perceptions, discovering one’s drive is an invaluable tool for changing one’s reality —that is, changing one’s life. And that’s why people come to therapy in the first place: to change something about their life through healing and growth. Therapy’s purpose of providing a space and relationship for healing and growth, therefore, provides a powerful setting to work with the Ennegram.

Because I don’t believe that any healing or growth path—including psychotherapy—is “one size fits all,” awareness of a client’s personality drive is helpful to both client and therapist. Some clients choose to use the Enneagram as integral to their work and others don’t. I simply introduce it in the initial sessions and ask clients to take a short sorting test and work with me briefly to discover which drive seems to “fit” with their experience of themselves. I use this in work with individuals and couples and also lead a weekly group called Beside Our Selves.


There are many resources on the Enneagram, but the ones I work with most are from Riso & Hudson’s Enneagram Institute (www.enneagraminstitute.com) and The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Daniels & Price’s The Essential Enneagram, and Concept Synergy’s Harnessing Your Personality Drive Through Exploring the Enneagram.

May 27, 2006

Write From The Heart

Dr. Micky O’Leary

The Christmas that I was 10 years old, I received my first diary. It was white leather, with gold lettering and its very own lock and key. I remember looking at its lined pages, one for each day of the coming year, with a combination of excitement and dread. I was excited at the possibilities that could fill it. And I dreaded the work involved.


For me, the “work” was a painstaking record of each day, carefully reported in my best penmanship and spelling. I was careful to detail the most mundane aspects of my life: my school assignments and grades; visits from friends and family members; TV shows and books that interested me; the clothes I wore to school.  As I look back on it, it isn’t surprising that I found the whole experience a little tedious.


So, when my uncle the practical joker came to visit, found my diary and read it aloud to my mother, I felt strongly justified in giving up on that project and finding a better and less revealing hobby, like stamp collecting.



A Different Experience


It was some time later before I again tried my hand at personal reflection on paper. I was in graduate school and several of my instructors required some form of journal keeping as a class assignment. I can remember the resistance I initially felt to sharing my thoughts with another person. I wasn’t sure I could be completely honest when I knew my instructor was evaluating me. However, this time the experience was different in a very significant way: I was to share my feelings about the things that happened.


After a few awkward attempts at saying the “right” thing, I started to give myself permission to say what I really thought and felt about the topic at hand. I found myself writing things in my journal that I never would have said out loud. Later, as I handed in my completed journals, I reviewed them and felt surprised at the depth of my experiences. Until I took the time to record them, I really didn’t know their impact on me.


It has been many years and many journals since then. While I don’t journal every day (and I admire those who do), I often find times in my life when journaling is particularly useful. Two of those times have occurred during major losses in my life. In the first, I kept a dream journal. After some months of recording what seemed to be dream after disturbing dream, the images began to show a pattern that helped me understand what this loss meant to me. Even now, when I review some of those dreams, I am startled by the clarity that my unconscious was trying to bring to my life. Another time I kept a journal of letters to a person in my life that had died. Those letters helped me express and move through some significant grief.  


Journaling in Psychotherapy


Not surprisingly, I often suggest journaling to clients. I have found it to be a particularly effective way of acquiring self-awareness and knowledge. Since I recognize my own initial resistance to writing, I am prepared for the many reasons that people have for not journaling, e.g., not enough time, not being “good” at writing, afraid of someone reading what they write, believing that if they think things through it is just as effective as writing about them. What I have found is that those who do overcome their reluctance to journaling often find that it is an incredibly helpful tool in their own growth and healing.


When journaling is most effective, it brings together a number of different elements. Tristine Rainer, in her book, The New Diary, writes about the process of beginning a diary: “Write fast, write everything, include everything, write from your feelings, write from your body, accept whatever comes. It doesn’t matter whether you have kept a diary in any form before. If you keep one long enough, all the important memories of the past will find their way into the story when it is appropriate for them to do so. You simply begin your diary now, in the middle of the ongoing action of your life.”


Natalie Goldberg, whose books include Writing Down the Bones and The Essential Writer’s Notebook, advises her students to begin their journaling by setting a timer and writing for period of time without stopping, without ever taking their hand from the paper. The idea is to allow what is inside to find its expression without interference from our “internal censor” or “internal critic.” (Our internal censor is that voice inside of us who likes to say things like, “Oh, I shouldn’t say that, it’s not ‘nice’” or “If my friend knew that’s what I really think about her she would never speak to me again.” Our internal critic tells us things like, “Oh, that’s not very interesting or original” or “Gee, I sound really ‘whiny’ here” or “I never was very good at this sort of thing.”) 



Forms of Creative Expression


There are many ways to journal or record feelings and experiences. Writing is the form most often used. However, there are other creative ways to access our internal processes. One way is to keep a journal of drawings – noting the themes, colors, feelings evoked. Creating personal mandalas is another way to access our inner life. Some individuals have made collages of different materials as a way to express themselves. Another way to keep a journal or record could involve creating lists such as the things that scare us, the people we love, the choices that we are making in our lives, the times and the places in which we contact our inner strength.


There is no end to the ways in which we can use our creativity to bring us more in touch with our soul’s journey. Keeping a journal can give us a place to release strong feelings and tensions. It can provide us with a powerful adjunct to psychotherapy, increasing self-awareness and self-knowledge. It can help identify patterns and themes in our lives and allow us to live more consciously and intentionally. It can help us be more intimate with ourselves and with others. These are only a few of the ways that journaling and other forms of creativity can enrich our life.


As this year draws to a close and a new one is about to begin, journaling is an especially appropriate way to reflect on the lessons and gifts we have been given, as well as the struggles we have experienced. By taking the time for this reflection, we will be able to greet the New Year with a more intentional and focused approach to our lives.




Journaling books recommended:


The New Diary by Tristine Rainer

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

The Essential Writer’s Notebook by Natalie Goldberg


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