Monday, August 30, 2010

Understanding Romantic Love

In order to understand the main concept of the book,The Psychology of Romantic Love, What Love Is, Why Love Is Born, Why It Sometimes Grows, Why It Sometimes Dies by Dr. Nathaniel Branden, I need to share with you the author’s definition of romantic love, as well as his definition of love in general.

"Love is, in the most general sense, our emotional response to that which we value highly. As such it is the experience of joy in the existence of the loved object, joy in proximity, and joy in interaction or involvement. To love is to delight in the being whom one loves, to experience pleasure in that being’s presence, to find gratification or fulfillment in contact with the being. We experience the loved being as a source of fulfillment for profoundly important needs."

Romantic love takes it one step higher, as Branden states, “Romantic love is a passionate spiritual-emotional-sexual attachment between a man and a woman that reflects a high regard for the value of each other’s person. At the core of romantic love is to be able to be seen, to feel psychologically visible.

In successful romantic love, there is a unique depth of absorption by and fascination with the being and personality of the partner. Hence there can be, for each, a uniquely powerful experience of visibility. This is one of the main sources of the excitement and nourishment of romantic love.”

In romantic love, Branden states, there must exist:
--passion and/or intensity
--some experience of spiritual affinity
--some deep mutuality of values and outlook
--some sense of being soul mates
--deep emotional involvement
--strong sexual attraction
--mutual admiration

He goes on to say that romantic love also responds to various needs:
--the simple need for companionship
--the need to love
--the need to admire
--the need to be loved
--the need to feel visible
--the need for self discovery
--the need of sexual fulfillment
--the need of fully experiencing oneself as a man or as a woman
--the need for a private universe or a refuge from the struggles of the world
--the need to share excitement in being alive and to enjoy and be nourished by the excitement of another

"The fact that two human beings love each other does not guarantee they will be able to create a joyful and rewarding relationship. Their love does not ensure their maturity and wisdom; yet without these qualities their love is in jeopardy. Their love does not automatically teach them communication skills or effective methods of conflict resolution or the art of integrating their love into the rest of their existence; yet the absence of such knowledge can lead to the death of love. Their love does not produce self esteem; it may reinforce it but it cannot create it; still without self esteem love cannot survive.”

In conclusion, it seems that Dr. Branden believes that love will not conquer all. Therefore, when evaluating if a relationship is the real deal, ask yourself whether there is more than love present. Of course, love is the foundation, but query whether both of you possess the ability and skill set necessary to forge a lasting and healthy relationship.

In the coming postings, I will explore the components Dr. Branden feels are necessary for a successful relationship.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How Relationships Work

I possess a great interest in understanding how relationships work. As many of you are thinking about or have already started exploring new romantic relationships, I believe the material I am going to present in the next many blogs will be of interest to you too.

Many years ago, a friend recommended a wonderful book,
The Psychology of Romantic Love, What Love Is, Why Love Is Born, Why It Sometimes Grows, Why It Sometimes Dies by Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D, that was actually first published in 1980. Although that seems like a long time ago, the fact of the matter is that the truth always remains the truth. The principles expounded in this book so resounded within me that I thought I would share them with you. I will warn you that I got a little carried away, but there were just so many passages that were so wonderfully elegant that I feel “obligated” to reproduce them for you. Take what resonates with you and discard the rest.

Dr. Branden explains so clearly and precisely what is necessary for a relationship to work. They are principles we know – they sound like common sense – but somehow in the midst of relationship issues we forget some of these fundamental truths. Sometimes it’s nice just to have them in black and white to remind ourselves of the importance of being totally upfront and honest in all our relationships (not just romantic ones). Unless we are willing to reveal ourselves, it will be virtually impossible for someone to love us for who we truly are because they will only come to know the persona erected for the outside world. We must put aside our fears (of rejection) and take a chance for a greater good.

As I’ve shared before, I feel the word “love” is grossly overused – and Dr. Branden supports me!! Love is serious. Saying you love your house or your clothes is not the same as saying you love another human being. Personally, I think the word love is such a superlative that it should be used only when there is an excellent understanding on the part of both partners of the emotions/thoughts that stand behind the words.

Dr Branden states,
“The current usages of the word “love” represent inexcusable intellectual sloppiness. My own impression is that people who talk of “loving” everyone are in fact expressing the wish or plea that everyone should love them. But to take love — above all love between adults -- seriously, to treat the concept with respect and to distinguish it from generalized benevolence or good will, is to appreciate that it is a unique experience possible between some people but not with all.

When a man and a woman with significant spiritual and psychological affinities encounter each other and fall in love, then romantic love becomes the pathway not only to sexual and emotional happiness but also to the higher reaches of human growth. It becomes the context for a continuing encounter with the self, through the process of interaction with another self. Two consciousnesses, each dedicated to personal evolution, can provide an extraordinary stimulus and challenge to the other. Then ecstasy can become a way of life."

Next up ... Understanding Romantic Love

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is Your Life A Battleground?

Do you feel like a warrior sometimes? Challenge after challenge confronts you. You feel misunderstood or even feared because of your life circumstances. Each day feels like an uphill battle where you fight to regain a solid footing against the slings and arrows of life.

This is not a unique situation to the widowed, for they are universal feelings. Life can be a battleground, but we also have a choice on how we respond (rather than react) to our circumstances. We can fall victim to them or be victorious over them. It is all in your perception and attitude.

We need to let go of those Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) that can eat us alive – those messages, perhaps, given to us by others that rumble around in our brain and cloud how we look at ourselves.

Clearing your mind and focusing on what you know to be fundamentally true about yourself (and disregarding messages that box you in) gives you the freedom to be your authentic self.

What are some first steps to accomplish this feat?

1. Examine the most prevalent emotion you feel; your biggest problems, and how you present yourself to the world because of these.

2. What effect are the answers to question #1 having on your life?

3. Why do you feel this way? The simple answer might be because my partner died or left me, but try not to make it all about your sudden singleness. Of course, you are sad, lonely, frustrated, etc, but moving forward through loss requires you to take responsibility for your emotions and, if you don’t like the way you feel, to make positive changes.

4. Determine whether you are willing to take the aforementioned responsibility for your feelings or if you have gotten too comfortable having a victim mentality.

5. Figure out concrete ways/options/alternatives to feel better and move forward.

Taking these steps requires the courage to look deep inside and admit your weaknesses and fears. Facing both of these is the first step to overcoming them, for how can we begin to “feel better” if we are not aware of what is truly causing us to feel that way.

Rumi states, "when you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, this is certainly not like we thought it was!" Tear away those veils you may have erected as a self-protective mechanism so you can face your greatest fears and move through them. Once you allow yourself to take this step, Rumi goes on to say "though we seem to be sleeping, there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dream, and that will eventually startle us back to the Truth of who we are."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Defining Yourself As A Widow

One of the big steps on the grief journey is deciding whether or not you are going to let the title "widow/er" define you or not. It is understood that this "event" in your life has had a major impact and has changed the course of your life as you envisioned it. However, allowing the term widow to define yourself may mean that you are looking at this one-dimensionally.

Being a widow/er will always be a part of you, but it is not the totality of you. You are multi-faceted and widowhood is just one of those facets -- although they were all affected by the death of your spouse. It might sound like semantics, but a small shift in perception can change everything.

As the beginning of mourning (and probably for a few years afterwards), widowhood does encompass one's whole being. However, as you travel on your journey, it can become just one part of you.

I liken it to when someone asks, "What do you do?" This is my least favorite questions because (1) I am not what I "do" and (2) the person who asks is trying to categorize me so he/she can understand me better. Therefore, it is really about them and not me!

Moreover, aren't those little boxes on every form you need to fill out trying to put you in a box too? Are there only three choices -- married, single, or widowed? Those are narrow selections and don't allow for any shades of gray, for a person in a long term monogamous relationship outside the bounds of marriage is still regarded as single -- even though in his/her eyes he/she is not. The bigger point is that I rebel against being placed in any sort of box.

The term widow never defined who I was, but rather it was a part of what happened to me. It is certainly a chapter in my history, and it has shaped who I am today. In actuality, being a widow was responsible for enormous spiritual growth on my part and my deeper understanding of the cycle of life. I did not want to grow in this manner, but I am thankful I am able to use the lessons learned for the rest of my life.

So, if you have come to a point when you are ready to look for a new partner, and you are still mentally defining yourself as a widow/er, you may still be attached to and/or not readjusted the picture of your late spouse. In other words, "widow/er" is the first word that comes to mind when asked to describe yourself, and it overshadows any other aspect of your personality and life.

Please don't misunderstand -- of course you are still a widow/er, but you are also an individual who may be ready to get to know his or her "new single self". It is this single self who will be able to look and find new love, which can honor your past relationship. Until you reach this point in your evolution, a new relationship will most probably elude you -- although practicing can be fun!

My purpose, through Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story, is to help put the process in motion that can provide a shift in perception, allowing you to reignite and rediscover a passion for life and love!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Mourners "Get It"

If the afterlife is merely an extension of the earthly world -- a different plain of existence -- then we never have to "lose" our loved one. We can participate in a continual conversation -- although we can only experience him or her through some of our senses.

It is as if our loved one is living out of town. We can have a telephone relationship with him/her but are never able to experience a physical touch.

We are all able to pick up this "telephone" and hear the departed speak to us -- if we would listen carefully. And, if not, a conduit or a clairaudient can become your telephone line to the spirit world.

Perhaps, spirits walk among us while they watch us scurrying in our busy lives while we ignore the important things -- when we forget to live in gratitude about what we do have rather than lament what we don't have.

Perhaps these spirits only communicate with those who are open to listening. They want to help us to "see the light" and to try to carve a little piece of heaven on earth.

Could this be an explanation of why most people who have experienced hardship or lost a loved one 'get it' and those untouched by pain and sorrow remain in the dark?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Defining Love Part II

Can real love truly be unconditional? This would mean that one party could do and say anything to the other without regard for human dignity and feelings. Healthy relationships cannot exist where there is control, disrespect and manipulation by one or both partners.

The most important ingredients for a successful relationship are respect, allowance and non-judgment. Easy to say, but sometimes not so easy to remember and accomplish.

Without malice, we each believe our way is the right way, but it is important to not project our feelings onto our partner. Each individual comes with his or her own way of approaching tasks -- the way that feels most comfortable for him or her. It is essential for each partner to not make the other feel inadequate, wrong, or "less than", if tasks are not approached in the same manner. Acceptance without judgment and an allowance for individuality will eventually narrow the gap between how life situations are approached.

Although sometimes sounding like hackneyed dribble, truly, the most important concept to remember is that until you can love yourself, it is virtually impossible to love another.

If you cannot be generous and caring toward yourself, you cannot act that way toward another. It is not selfish to take care of yourself first. It is only a whole and emotionally healthy person who is strong enough to enter a true partnership relationship.

So ... take the time for yourself to grow and evolve by becoming friends with your inner being. Know yourself, and you will be able to know others in a deep and connective manner. Keep the spirit alive within yourself and for yourself, and your light will be a beacon for others to find you and connect.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Defining Love Part I

The language of your childhood, which is born from the patterns observed in your familial home and deeply ingrained in your consciousness, colors your understanding of love.

To illustrate this point, consider the example of individuals who participate in, what most would consider to be, an abusive relationship. Why do they stay in the relationship AND how can they say they love their abuser? It doesn't seem to make sense.

These individuals are equating pain and love, most probably because that is the language they learned during their formative years.

Unfortunately, ingrained in our societal consciousness is the idea that "true love" must be unconditional. This allows people to falsely believe that "love" is present even in an abusive situation where there is a high disregard for another.

In order to sever this aberrative connection, the energy pattern surrounding the original abusive events must be examined, addressed, and released --- or this person is most likely to repeat this same unhealthy behavior in every relationship going forward.

Next up ... what does unconditional really mean?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What I Learned at Camp Widow 2010

I have really great news for all of you who are new widows and widowers, or even those of you who are many years past the death of your spouse and are still struggling in some way.

What I learned by attending Camp Widow is that
you can be done with your grief.

When I was first widowed 15 years ago, there was very little support of any kind for young widows, and on-line support was virtually non-existent. I was so happy to find Soaring Spirits,, and all the other resources available via the Internet, for this meant that young widow/ers would not feel the same isolation as I did when I was raw with grief.

I wanted to be part of this community -- to put out my hand to help those who were making the arduous trek that I had previously traversed. My intention was two-fold when I first applied to be a presenter at Camp Widow 2010. Most importantly, I wanted to help grievers by sharing my story and the lessons I learned with my "been there/done that" expertise voice as well as from a professional coaching approach. However, I also thought that I would be interested in listening to the other speakers, for I believe there is always more to learn.

What I discovered, as I wandered in and out of the other speaker's informative and heartfelt presentations, was that I didn't really belong in the sessions -- other than on an academic basis.

Now, without sounding arrogant, I knew I had done a really good job of working through all of the issues with which I was confronted after the death of my late husband. And, I had lots of them for mine was complicated grief resulting from a suicide. But, you never know ... there could always be that lingering piece that you've denied or buried so deep.

The great news is that I discovered that there wasn't anything left for me to consider or process -- and that's a really good thing .... for me and for you!

Please, do not misunderstand me, though. My late husband will always remain a part of my history and life -- and I will still sigh sadly when I think of him missing milestones in the lives of our children. He still resides in the deep recesses of my heart, but he is not an everyday visitor -- not even a frequent visitor anymore. It is a one-way relationship now. As he is not ever present, I need to be the one to always take the initiative and to call him to the surface of my thoughts, when and if I desire to do so.

It has been 15 years, and I am not the same person I was when I was with him. I have grown and evolved by taking special care to reap all of the lessons from my life experiences. The landscape of my life has been greatly altered: I have a new husband, stepchildren, a new grandchild, new obligations, and new happiness.

And, I just wanted everyone to know that there is a shiny, bright light at the end of that tunnel of grief. It is a big spotlight being held up by me, others who have experienced loss and processed it in a healthy and successful manner, and by those who have gone on to turn their loss into a career of helping the bereaved.

Keep on trekking .... you are on the right path! Keep believing in yourself and you will get to the end of that tunnel. I'll be there to offer you a hand up to the high ground of discovering your life after death.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Taking The Easy Way vs Taking The Hard Way

At every juncture in life, be it small or large, man is given free will. Think of the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz when he lets Dorothy know that she has her choice of two paths to Oz. On one path she may be met with lions, tigers and bears and on the other cheetahs, foxes and hares. On both paths she would encounter obstacles, but her ultimate goal to reach Oz would remain the same. She might also learn different lessons that would impact the rest of her life, depending on which path she chose.

There is never one course of action. One may seemingly feel better at the time, but remember better to you is not necessarily better to someone else. For example, you may end a relationship because you intuitively feel it it not right for you. The other party may be devastated with this option. As long as you give "I messages" to the other person -- that is take responsibility for the demise of the relationship rather than blame the partner -- you do not have to feel guilty about doing what is right for you. Remember -- guilt is a useless emotion that depletes our limited energy!

There are always multiple pathways to take in life. Some of those paths might be dead ends, send you in circles, or be so convoluted it takes a lot of hard work to figure out the right way to go. Listening to your inner wisdom can make choosing the right (and clear) path infinitely easier. All Dorothy needed to do was simply tap her heels three times to get home, but look what she encountered before she accepted the simple solution to her problems.

We may think if something is simple that it is not right, but the opposite is true. Simple is always better and makes our lives less complicated. Remember: Keep It Simple Stupid!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Second Chance At Love -- Part II

The world is made up of two types of people. Those who believe (1) life is 90% of what happens to them and 10% what they do about it or (2) life is 90% what they make of it and 10% what happens to them.

In other words, there are those who let circumstances control them, and those who are in control of those same circumstances.

There is no limitation on how many times one can find love. Self-pity or discouragement over your circumstances might simply be the manifestation of your fear that there is only one "right" person for you and that your chance at love has come and gone. Everyone can "have it all" -- including a new romantic partner, if they are willing to work hard, view life in a positive manner, and recognize that the only limits one has are self-imposed.

If you feeling empty, disillusioned, or hopeless about finding love again, you might believe that something outside of yourself will make you happy, such as a new relationship. There is nothing outside of yourself that will make you happy, for happiness comes from within.

Happiness is also not a destination. Just as when you go on a trip, when you arrive at your destination, you don't stay in one place the whole time. You are in constant motion -- participating in activities, meeting people, sight-seeing. Happiness is simply a way of traveling, and there is never a finite destination. Life is a constant journey, and you should always be moving forward and not get stuck in one place.

If you are unhappy because of where you find yourself, look inside and figure out a way that you can overcome your circumstances. And then make a plan to pro-actively move from that place (it will not happen without your participation!). A good first step could be filling yourself up with the wonder of the world by taking pleasure in the simple (and free) things life has to offer. It could be as easy as taking a hike and recognizing the vastness and beauty of nature as something bigger than you. Let the fresh air blow away any defeatist thinking so that you may see the world with fresh eyes.