Posts tagged ‘Dr. Phil’

Making Way for New Life


It’s spring (in North Carolina)!! My brother and sister-in-law in Maine and my friends Mare and Colette in Calgary may not yet believe it is actually spring, but the birds and the bugs here in the south are hard at work singing and stinging, so it’s a fact: It’s Spring!

We blogged last week about the necessary deaths that precede new life, and anyone who has done or is doing spring cleanup knows exactly what I’m talking about. The grasses are all dry and brittle as are the end bits of plants and bushes. Shriveled leaves and debris makes everything look messy and dormant. But rake some of the old grit off the top and there, underneath, barely visible, is the new growth. My two chrysanthemum plants have about an inch of timid green life at their base, but I had to cut off the brown sticks left over from last year to see the tender leaves.

The metaphor is no doubt obvious to you. It’s the spring of our lives, too. Every year we get a chance to do a little pruning and cleanup and make way for our own personal new growth. We have tender green shoots waiting timidly to break through our dormant consciousness and provide our spirits with the same delight the spring bulbs bring. The question, of course, is the same for each of us although the answers will differ dramatically: What do we need to trim away so we can nurture the new growth waiting just below our ground level?

Making Way for New Life. Lagerfeld hatchlings.

Making Way for New Life. Leatherback hatchling.

Many of us have become mature adults who still carry around a lot of old baggage that no longer serves us and simply stifles new growth. I remember a brand of denim pants called, “Not My Mother’s Jeans.” Well, you don’t have to worry about me wearing my mother’s jeans. My grandmother never wore a pair of pants in her life, and my mother, while she progressed to trousers, wouldn’t have been caught in a pair of jeans. But, once again, we’re looking for the deeper meaning of the metaphor. What am I still wearing, or lugging around, or believing, which might be as unsuitable as the notion that women don’t wear pants and certainly not denim ones?

I carry inside myself my grandmothers’ and mother’s and grandfathers’ and father’s ideas and prejudices and fears. I brought with me to North Carolina all the internal baggage which helped me grow up in secluded Durham, Pennsylvania and then learn to live safely in big cities like Washington, D.C. and Rome, Italy. I, like each of you, have been affected and influenced by the assassinations, the wars, the terrorist attacks and the injustices of our lives. Who among us has not lost people we love, has not been betrayed by people we trusted, has not been disappointed by people’s inhumanity and meanness toward each other? We have each developed an armor to try to protect ourselves from the pain and insults of life. We are all the walking wounded, bundled up inside an insufficient barrier we hope will keep us from future assaults and possible annihilation. How’s that working for us, Dr. Phil would ask? The answer, of course, is that part of our protective shield is working well for us and part of it isn’t.

You will have observed that some people are very well protected. Some people walk around every day in armor so thick that no one can possibly penetrate their “walls.” This reminds me of the material the landscaper put in my flower bed. I think it’s called weed barrier. It’s this black mesh that is put over the earth and then covered with a layer of mulch. It is supposed to keep the weeds from coming up. However, it is so impenetrable that it keeps anything from being able to take root and grow down into the ground. Without roots there is no stability. No new life can break through. You are stuck with whatever was there when the barrier was erected. You won’t get weeds, but you won’t get flowers, either. And if you were thirteen when the walls came up, in your deepest recesses you’ll always be thirteen. This is what psychologists mean when they talk about being “emotionally stunted.” Nothing can grow under that weed barrier because the part that roots and grounds us, the earth, is separated from the things that induce growth, like the wind and the rain and the sun.

Other people have inadequate protection. I have a client like this right now. She has a history with abusive men. Her mother did, too. This young woman is starting to build some defenses, both physical and emotional, but she is still in a precarious and dangerous place. She was put in jail by one abusive boyfriend who was able to show the police where she scratched him. She never got to show her bruises. This past weekend she allowed a current boyfriend to convince her to go bail a friend of his out of jail. She and current boyfriend had each had two beers. She told him he would have to drive, but they had to take her car, he told her, because he was almost out of gas. He crashed her car to the tune of about $7,000. worth of repairs. Can you see how desperately she needs some boundaries? I was very proud of her, though. The “alledged” boyfriend told the police officer she had been driving. The boyfriend is about six feet tall and she is barely above five feet. She asked the police officer if he would please watch her sit in the driver’s seat. She couldn’t reach the pedals. Maybe she’s done taking the fall for other’s despicable behaviors. That’s a boundary, my friends. Own what is ours, and let others own what is theirs.

(Please notice how beautifully this woman held her boundary. She didn’t scream and argue and insist. She quietly and politely asked a third party to quickly observe something which would prove the truth. Demanding our own way is a behavior most of us outgrow at the age of three or four. Any two year old worth his salt will try a few temper tantrums. Any parents worth his salt will extinguish those temper tantrums within weeks. You can tell whose parents gave in to the tantrum throwing. Those big kids have become menacing bullies who are still acting like the world owes them.)

So what do you need to trim away, sweep up, dust off, refurbish for this new spring of your life? Are your boundaries too solid or too permeable? Do your attitudes suit your current situation, or are they attitudes which fit you better twenty years ago? And how can you find out what needs to be attended to? Actually, you can find out fairly easily by listening to your self-talk. What do you go into a rant about when you are alone with your own thoughts? What wakes you up in the middle of the night?

For most of us there will be a theme. For most of us this theme will center around being loved, respected, treated justly and, of course, the exact opposite. Nobody loves me. I don’t get no respect. That’s not fair! Many of us probably spend half our self-talk time reminding ourselves how right we are and how wrong everyone else is. These general “themes” create misery and suffering. And we bring it on ourselves with our outdated and immature expectations and beliefs.

We could begin the spring clean up by getting rid of all the “first world” problems. Here we go back to my imaginary friend who lives in a small African village. When I fall into the pit of self-pity, I remember her and the simplicity with which she lives. When I feel unloved, I remember that love is a luxury she’s probably never experienced. When survival is the goal, Prince Charming is not as important as keeping the wild animals from eating your supply of beets and turnips. When I lament wearing a size “large” I think about how happy she’d be if she were as well fed as I am. Imagining her life really helps me prioritize my life.

Another way to tell what we might need to get rid of is to listen to ourselves as we explain, justify and defend. Just why am I giving this detailed explanation to someone I feel didn’t give me a fair shake? I’m explaining myself to get this other guy to change his mind. Talk about a waste of energy. When was the last time you changed your mind because someone “set you straight?” When was the last time someone listened to your justification of your actions and said, “Oh, now I understand. Of course you’re right?” How about the last time you defended yourself? How successful was that attempt? Rule #1 of Assertiveness – mentally healthy, appropriate assertiveness — DO NOT explain, justify or defend. And yet when we’re talking to ourselves, that’s just what we do.


I could have learned three foreign languages in the time I’ve spent in this lifetime talking myself into how right I was, how justified and reasonable my actions were, how misunderstood and maligned I’ve been by friend and foe alike. All I can tell you is, don’t bother going through my trash next week. You’ll find the sticks and dried weeds and straw, and that won’t hurt you. But you’ll also find a smattering of self-pity and self-righteousness, and that stuff is toxic.

Here’s to this year’s spring clean up. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of junk left for next year’s attempts, but hopefully I’ll create some new space for extra doses of humor and tolerance and love to grow up from that fertile Mother Earth.




Photography by that wonderfully talented Mary Ellen Jelen


April 11, 2015 at 12:04 PM 3 comments

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