I was recently skimming old journals of mine when I found an entry that made me do a double-take.

… because I doubted my worth, I never sought a partner who, on paper, might appear my equal. I sought men who I ‘felt’ for; whom I could ‘help’ with my compassionate heart…”

In other words, people I was (thought I was) superior to.

You can hate me for saying it– out loud, but I’m doing it anyway – because I think a lot of people out there do the same. We are drawn to safety (“inferior“); We are confident in our role (“fixer”); We like feeling “in control”.

I was in therapy at the time. I was in my mid-20s – a naive believer that “love could conquer all!”

My therapist said, “but at what cost?”

I remember being stunned. Because HE WAS RIGHT! How much of my true self had I sacrificed for the sake of this unchallenged belief??

I had to challenge my own “instincts” – after all, they were based on “safety”, not reality.

In reality, I had a master’s degree (no financial help from family). I had overcome many major challenges: I refused to be a victim of my childhood – from learning disabilities, abuse from my stepfather; to an unloving, absent mother.

I was, in actuality… AWESOME!

I learned to view my anxiety as a burden instead of ‘good instincts’. I learned to re-interpret it as a faulty warning system, and to dive in, instead of running.

30 years later, I thank my therapist for challenging me with such perfect timing.

It’s an art.

Get a good therapist.

It makes a difference.


Snuggling With the Demons

(It’s good to re-cycle! …Even old articles :)


In order to truly reach our potential as unique human beings, we must face our Demons – those parts of Self that don’t feel very respectable; the parts you’d like to disown; those aspects you do not want to accept about yourself.

Carl Jung coined the term “The shadow” to describe our demons. It’s the unconscious composite of self that has been repressed, suppressed or disowned. Our shadow often has both positive and negative aspects. For instance, the shadow of someone who identifies with self as being kind may not be able to see when he or she is being harsh or unpleasant. And a person’s shadow can have hidden positive qualities that have been repressed. The shadow of a person who perceives himself to be unfeeling may not see that he or she can also be tender. Jung described the unconscious is an active part of the normal human psyche, and that “neurosis results from a disharmony between the individual’s unconsciousness and the higher Self”.

The first task on the path to your potential happens when you become aware of your inner states of being – your motives, emotional reactions, and patterns of thought – as you experience the world around you. If you look into your own life, you will notice that your beliefs and expectations, many of them formed in early childhood, skew your experience of reality. And the effects of cultural, historical, and environmental influences may be beyond our individual ability to control. But many of those influences can be challenged. It begins with awareness.

Becoming aware is enormously important in freeing you from these patterns, but awareness will not, by itself, remove them altogether. At the level of daily living, these insights do not “fix” the old patterned emotional tendencies. You still have the same difficulties in your relationships, the same tendency to confirm what you think you already know, and drudge on, wishing it would all change.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

~Albert Einstein

Only by learning to investigate and integrate our unconscious patterns of thinking and feeling can we become whole and end our imprisoned patterns that cause most of our suffering. We must stop pushing away moments of discomfort, but instead welcome them as opportunities to see into and eventually through the unexamined aspects of self that have been driving us.

Making the unconscious conscious is a radical kind of responsibility for the self, and the only true path to freedom and authenticity.

“Each time we bring the light of awareness into the corners of our psyche, it is like turning on the light in a dark room. As we get accustomed to the feelings, we find we can leave the light on. The monsters and dragons reveal themselves to be shadows. Then we don’t have to do anything to get rid of them. It’s as if they were never even there.” ~ Sally Kempton

Our supposed demons have their own gifts and challenges. But the perfect way to tame each of them is by learning to understand them, appreciate their message, and give them the simple things they need. As soon as these parts of self feel understood,  they tend to no longer threaten us. They become assets instead of liabilities.

Psychotherapy can help you learn to transform these unconscious energies into snuggly beasts. I haven’t met a client who didn’t love themselves more after meeting their demons with understanding. Maybe a therapist can help you, too.

The First Task of Life: Survival and Our Quest to Be Loved


The First Task of Life – to Be Loved

Love is the most compelling force for our species – not survival. Babies do not survive without love. Food, shelter and food are not enough. Children actively seek a love-bond with their caregivers and there is nothing more frightening to us as children than the possibility that we would not be loved or accepted by significant persons in our lives. We know we need it to survive and our sense of physical safety is intrinsically linked to our sense of emotional safety. These emotional drives shape most behaviors and are associated with our core fears of rejection, inadequacy or abandonment.

Built-in Safety – Early “Survival-Love Maps”

Born with a burning curiosity, we yearn to know everything there is to know about ourselves and about our world. Learning is one of our key attributes of human beings and a healthy brain is almost always in “learning mode”. We are wired to struggle, to learn, and to engage in processes that make us feel vulnerable, and yet, expand our capacity to grow.

Our first learning, however, was through mirroring our parents. Messages about what they needed from us, whom they thought we were, and what they thought the world was like, were etched in our brains and formed our first sense of self. If our parents were scared and insecure, upset or anxious, regardless whether their anxiety was directed at us or some other person or event, it activated our own survival response. We “knew”, without concepts, that there was danger. We learned to feel the same, thus forming a set of instructions or “rules” that can endure throughout life (Dr. Daniel Siegel). .

These early survival-love maps allowed us as children to subconsciously distort our responses to the environment to feel the level of emotional safety we needed. Subconsciously, we “decided” or “learned” certain rules that best ensured we would receive some measure of “good feelings.”

But by the time we reach adulthood, this map has outlived its usefulness to us. No longer the solution, it becomes part of the problem instead.

Unless we break free of our automatic responses to these early survival rules, we are destined to live an unfulfilled life. These love-maps can block the ability to form healthy intimacy and relationship bonds in adulthood.

Signs of an Ineffective Love-Map

  • Do you have a hard time connecting inwardly to get to know yourself and others intimately?
  • Are you dependent on others to love and value you – before you have learned to love and value yourself?
  • Do you rely on sources outside of yourself to feel normal? For safety, strength and happiness?
  • Is it hard to remain calm, confident, and centered when you feel stressed or triggered?
  • Do you feel more vulnerable than you actually are?
  • Do you find it difficult to identify what you are feeling? To know what you want?
  • Do you often act as though other people’s needs are more important than your own?

 Life is not about the destination; it’s about the process.

It has never been about getting our parents and others to unconditionally love us. Rather, it’s about the lessons, and what we learn about ourselves and life along the way. As an adult, who you want to put in charge of the power you have to make life-shaping choices? Will it be you as a conscious agent and choice maker of your life – or your subconscious survival-love map?

Here’s the good news. Human beings are resilient – the human brain has the capacity, known as neuroplasticity, to heal and change the limiting reactions created earlier to cope with life.

Part of the Work of Change could include:

  • Begins with a life long commitment to choose to live authentically and honestly in relation to self and others.
  • Involves understanding how our brain works, and the power of our thoughts and emotions in shaping behaviors.
  • Requires courage to become more aware, present and reflective of our mind and body, our inner experience and of life around us.
  • Involves a willingness to face our fears and transform them into courage.


Adapted from an article by:  Athena Staik, Ph.D.

The First Task of Life? Survival and Our Quest to Be Loved | Neuroscience and Relationships.

Your Inner Capacity for Growth

“No matter how many scars we carry from what we have gone through and suffered in the past, our intrinsic wholeness is still here. When it comes right down to it, the challenge is to realize that this is it. Right now is my life.

The question is, What is my relationship to it going to be? Does my life just automatically “happen” to me? Am I a total prisoner of my circumstances or my obligations, of my body or my illness, or of my history? Do I become hostile or defensive or depressed if certain buttons get pushed, happy if other buttons are pushed, and frightened if something else happens? What are my choices? Do I have any options? What else contains the scars? None of us has to be a helpless victim of what was done to us or what was not done for us in the past, nor do we have to be helpless in the face of what we may be suffering now.

We are also what was present before the scarring—our original wholeness, what was born whole. And we can reconnect with that intrinsic wholeness at any time, because it’s very nature is that it is always present. It is who we truly are.

As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you, no matter how despairing you may be feeling in a given moment. But if you hope to mobilize your inner capacities for growth and for healing and to take charge in your life on a new level, a certain kind of effort and energy on your part will be required.

It will take conscious effort on your part to move in a direction of healing, inner peace, and well-being. This means learning to work with the very stress and pain that are causing you to suffer.”      
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living 
This is one of the things psychotherapy is good for. As a therapist, I see myself as opening my heart to hold space for the one who is sharing, and then offering assistance in making sense of it all. We often will break down beliefs that have held my client hostage for years – some since childhood. Also, transformation seems to be more profound with a witness … expressing emotions helps you digest them, and then the emotions let you go.
Stay tuned for more articles about the benefits of psychotherapy!