Tag Archives: life

The Other Side of the Couch – “What Thoughts and Prayers Look Like”

 

On Monday, October 2, 2017, I woke to the news of yet another mass shooting, the worst in our nation’s history.  My reaction to this news was disturbing, because at first I felt nothing other than a weary sadness and a sense of “another one”.  Where was the horror, the anger, the disbelief, the sorrow?  Have I become so desensitized to violence that I cannot react to such carnage?

I know that one of the first reactions to extraordinarily painful events is often shock.  We go on automatic pilot for a while, just to survive.  Trauma does that, both physically and emotionally.  As the week wore on, and the details of this event permeated the nation’s consciousness, as the stories of the victims and the lack of a known motive for the shooter became available, the protective walls came down.  The tears and sadness followed, along with the need/hope/wish to do something.

So many times when friends or acquaintances or strangers are in need, when a death has occurred, I hear people say – I say myself – my thoughts and prayers are with you.

My friend, Beth Pattillo, writes award-winning romance and women’s fiction. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a group spiritual director. She can be found online at www.bethpattillo.com.  Beth wrote a poem in response to the all the recent tragedies our world has experienced that spoke to me.  She has given me permission to share it with Her Savvy readers.

What Thoughts and Prayers Look Like

People lined up at blood banks
Texted donations
Cases of bottled water and container ships with MREs
Mosquito spray and goggles and strangers taking in strangers
More than words on a social media account
A kindness done every day
Not for the feel-good but for the other
Quiet, when we examine our hearts and listen for God
Who will tell us whether we are the problem or the solution
Refraining from violent thoughts, words, and actions
A displaced shelter dog adopted to a new home
A cake for a neighbor who is a first responder or medical provider
A refusal to engage in hatred
Hands and feet that do the work of goodness and walk the path with
Those who are in pain, in need, in turmoil
Love in action, in practice, in point of fact—
A giving of self, a giving up of self
Unsecured existence made secure
Not in ourselves but in something greater than ourselves

— Beth Pattillo

May we all find the way to love in action in these perilous times.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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You Can Breathe A Sigh of Relief…

You know how sometimes you just feel like sighing?  Nothing is really wrong. But you find yourself worrying that something may be wrong.  You’re not facing any “emotional trauma” that you know of.  It just happens; perhaps several times in a row, maybe really big sighs. Well, according to an article on the Science Alert website, a team of researchers believe they have found that the sigh is “actually a crucial reflex that keeps our lungs healthy,” and the reflex appears to be controlled by neurons that manufacture and release one of two neuropeptides.

Researchers, Mark Krasnow, from Stanford University School of Medicine and Jack Feldman from the University of California, Los Angeles, and their team found “two tiny clusters of neurons in the brain stem that automatically turn normal breaths into sighs when our lungs need some extra help – and they do this roughly every 5 minutes (or 12 times an hour), regardless of whether or not you’re thinking about something depressing.”

It’s as though we have different buttons to turn on different types of breath.  For example, one may control regular breaths and one may control another, like a sigh, a yawn, or a cough, etc.

“A sigh is a deep breath, but not a voluntary deep breath.  It starts out as a normal breath, but before you exhale, you take a second breath on top of it,” Feldman explained.  “When alveoli collapse, they compromise the ability of the lung to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.  The only way to pop them open again is to sigh, which brings in twice the volume of a normal breath.  If you don’t sigh every 5 minutes of so, the alveoli will slowly collapse, causing lung failure.”

The research team studied the process in lab mice and, of course, more research will be required to see if the same “pathway” occurs in humans, but they feel “the similarities in the mouse and human systems” are leading them in the right direction.  For people who suffer conditions that stop them from breathing deeply or for those who sigh so often that it becomes debilitating, the scientists feel it may be possible to to offer relief once they work out how the process is regulated.

As for emotional sighing, there is still the question of whether it works in the same way.

“There is certainly a component of sighing that relates to an emotional state. When you are stressed, for example, you sigh more,” Feldman said. “It may be that neurons in the brain areas that process emotion are triggering the release of the sigh neuropeptides — but we don’t know that.”

So, don’t fear the sigh – Sigh on!  It’s good for you!

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher. She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations. She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Done Dreaming

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

By Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, c. 1994

I write today in honor of and in solidarity with the 800,000 Dreamers whose dreams have this day been shattered by the decision of President Trump to discontinue the Obama-era program that protected them from deportation.

I am not interested in the legalities of this situation.  I am interested in the humanity.  These are human beings, brought to this country as children – children who had no ability to object or to decide their own fates.  They know no other country.  Most were too young to remember another place or way of life.  They are in school, studying, becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers – and now our government, the government of the United States of America, is telling them that they are unwelcome.

My heart is breaking for these young people.  This action is wrong.  Whether the program expires in 6 months (which will happen unless Congress, which to date has been unable to act in a bipartisan manner for years, is able to act) or is extended or completely dropped, these young people are irreparably harmed.

They are harmed by knowing that some people in this country see them as aliens, as outsiders, even as enemies.  They are harmed by living constantly with fear and stress.  They are harmed most of all by broken trust.  Will they ever trust again?

And – It is not their fault.

I am writing my senators and congressman today about this situation.  I hope that you will, too.  It is about justice, fairness – but most of all it is about being a caring human being.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – A Storm Passes  

 

A friend and I were recently eating lunch at a popular Nashville restaurant.

We often sit toward the back of the restaurant, and this is also the area that many of the families with young children choose.  As we sat down and were served our meal, a little girl, perhaps four or five, dissolved into loud sobs.  Her distress intensified, as did the sound of her crying.

What happened next was amazing.

The child’s father, seated to her right, calmly pulled her chair closer to his, reached out, and gathered her into his arms, holding her close against his shoulder – and he just held her and let her cry.  He didn’t talk; he didn’t explain or tell her what to do; he didn’t tell her to pull herself together – he just held her and let her cry.

Within a couple of minutes the sobs began to diminish.  The child sat up, took some breaths, and soon got back to her own chair and her own meal.

The storm had passed.

We never really knew what precipitated her distress.  It could have been anything – hurt feelings, not liking her lunch, competing with her sister, wanting attention – we didn’t know.  What we did know, however, was that this father knew that if he let his daughter feel what she was feeling, without interfering or explaining or trying to change things, she would work it through.  And she did.

Children are so in touch with their feelings and their bodies – they know that they need to express the emotions that arise in them.   Our job is often to stay out of their way as they do so.  A child who has experienced a challenging moment has feelings arise and allows those feelings to move.  Loving presence is often the best thing we can offer.

What if the child were acting out – throwing things or harming self or others?  In that case, clear boundaries must be set, but loving presence as the child works through the experience is still needed.

I appreciated this father’s skill.  His daughter is being given a gift that will last a lifetime.  Would that all children could have that opportunity.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com .

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The Other Side of the Couch – Why We Write   

 

What is it about writing?

Writing is not innate.  While speaking as a form of communication is part of the developmental trajectory of the human being, writing (and its companion, reading) must be learned.  That learning process takes years and requires practice.  How many high school students have labored over the five-paragraph essay or complained about learning expository writing?

The physical process of writing is becoming a lost art as more and more people who write depend on the keyboard and computer.  Experts debate both sides of this issue.  Some say cursive should continue to be taught; others say opting for print is the best.  A third group says the focus needs to be on keyboarding.  As a left-handed writer whose handwriting was already shaky, the final blow was taking speedwriting after college – the result is that anyone who attempts to read my handwriting often needs translation.

And yet – the process of using language to write may have therapeutic results. As a professional counselor I often recommend exercises that involve writing.  If you are a worrier, keep a pad and pen beside your bed, and if you wake up and are worrying, get those worries out of you and onto paper.  This process sometimes will help you calm down and return to sleep.  If you have unfinished business with someone that cannot be safely or reasonably addressed with the person, write a letter to that person – a letter that you may never choose to send –  to reach some degree of closure.  If you are engaged in a process of self-exploration, the experience of keeping a journal may help you deepen your journey.

For me the essence of writing is connection.  I write because I have a thought, an experience, or a way of seeing that I want to share with others.  Bringing whatever this is out of myself and into a form in which I share it with others who may be interested, may respond, may be touched or moved or shaken, is for me part of the larger journey of being in community with other human beings.

I write because I have something to say. Writing feels like the creation of something bigger than myself.  I don’t know where my words go, where they land, what impact they have, but in bringing them out of myself and offering them to a larger world, I am engaged in the process of creation.  I don’t assume that my words are great literature or that they are life-changing.  They may just be my words – and that is ok, too.   I offer them as they are – and for my reader, they can be taken in whatever way the reader chooses.

Solace, comfort, joy – struggle, pain, despair – writing can be all those things to the writer and to the reader.

Is writing a part of your life?  Does it play a role?  Has it helped you?  Harmed you?  Open the door to this process and see where it might take you.  You could be surprised!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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When Should I Quit?

when-to-quit

I was raised to believe in perseverance and not giving up. Quitters were often labeled as losers who gave up too soon and therefore never achieved success. Think of childhood sports, like T-ball or soccer, where the coach and parents scream at the children to keep trying even when it is obvious their team can’t win.  No one wants to be a quitter.

The dilemma of whether to quit becomes riskier when one reaches adulthood. Adults who quit are often risking the loss of a job, ending a marriage, or losing money on a failed business venture. The emotional burden is much more severe than losing a kid’s game.

I’ve spent years of misery in jobs I hated before finally accepting the obvious fact that my values were incompatible with my employers. I’ve continued supporting ventures that sank faster than the Titanic because I didn’t want to be branded a quitter. But at some point, our “gut reaction” can’t be ignored. We need to accept that failure is probably the only realistic option.

Recently I’ve been struggling with the decision to quit a commitment I made less than a year ago. True to my usual form, I spent months stewing about it before I finally asked my trusted friends to help me decide what to do. They asked three questions.

  1. What goal am I trying to achieve? I joined an organization because I believed in their mission. Unfortunately, they were already in crisis and I realize now that I was recruited because I have skills that could help them resolve their problems.
  1. What support do I have to achieve the goal? I knew the answer to this question, but had been delaying accepting it. I lack support from the organization because key insiders are comfortable with the status quo and afraid of what change means for them personally. I can continue to suggest needed changes but my perseverance won’t change their resistance.
  1. What will I gain by quitting? Quitting would end the emotional toll of trying to change an organization that doesn’t actually want to change.

There is no bright line test to know when it is best to persevere and when it is best to cut one’s losses and quit.  Asking trusted friends or family for advice is a great starting point for making the final decision because their vision is not clouded by the emotional attachment that makes it difficult for us decide.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Finding Hope and Inspiration in a Life Well Lived

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These days it’s hard to feel inspired.  I wake up each morning worried and anxious about what new, manufactured, crisis was created while I slept.  I check the news outlets I believe are reliable so that I can try and anticipate what will come today, and I struggle not to panic and to keep focused on my personal goals.  It’s a challenge I’ve never faced, this difficulty feeling optimistic and inspired.

Last week’s New York Times published an Op-ed by David Leonhardt.  It was a eulogy of sorts for former PepsiCo executive Brenda Barnes.  Barnes made news 20 years ago when she quit her job to become a stay-at-home mom.  She died a couple of weeks ago, at the young age of 63, following a stroke.  After reading her story, I felt a spark of inspiration mixed with some hope.  You see, Barnes started the dialogue about work/life balance.  She was proof that it is possible to craft a meaningful life filled with work, parenting and personal growth.  She paved the way and while there is still much work to be done in the area of equal pay and workplace supported parenting, she elevated the topic.

To be fair, Barnes’ path was incredibly atypical.  After raising her kids, she was able to move back into the workforce as chief executive of Sara Lee.  Her legacy is carried through her middle child, 28-year-old daughter Erin.  She herself left a lucrative job a few years ago, so she could care for her ailing mother and today is pursuing a nursing career, one she finds more meaningful and adaptive to family life.  Erin acknowledges her mother’s unique opportunities, but the message remains the same.  At a family memorial for her mother, she implored everyone to remember her mother’s insistence that we not work too hard.

So why does Brenda Barnes’ life give me some hope and inspiration?  I also made life choices based on spending time with my children.  Sometimes I wonder, “what if,” but most of the time I’m happy with my choices.  Of course I’m just a few years younger than Barnes, so perhaps the path wasn’t as clear for me as it is for my daughter.  But therein lies my hope and inspiration.  I am hopeful that, thanks to women like Brenda Barnes, this next generation will move the needle farther.  Although women continue to pay a higher price for parenthood and making choices, I’m hopeful our voices are stronger and that we will continue to push harder.  I am inspired by Barnes’ story and of her lasting message that work isn’t everything, that life is precious and often too short, so it’s important to find meaning and purpose and, ultimately, love.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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The Other Side of the Couch – What’s in a Name?

my-name-is

A question on Facebook recently sparked my curiosity regarding names.  The question was:  Were you named after someone?  I answered that question easily because I have always known that my name reflected a generational struggle perpetuated in my family from the early days of my parents’ marriage.

I was named “Susan” after my maternal great-grandmother, Susan Crawford White, and “Elisabeth” after by paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Wilson Mosier.  Please note the “s” in my name and the “z” in my great-grandmother’s name.  Because of that difference in spelling, my paternal grandmother rejected the idea that I was named after her mother.  The way she saw it was that my mother’s family had “won” some unnamed contest.

This “contest” reflected the merger of two different cultures – that of my mother’s family and my father’s family.  Mimi, my maternal grandmother, came from a Nashville family that had acquired some success.  Mimi’s younger brother, Weldon White, was an attorney who later became a Supreme Court justice in Tennessee.  Her family highly valued education; she graduated from Hume Fogg High School, and after her husband suffered financial reverses after WWI, she became the stable family breadwinner, teaching first grade in the Nashville public schools for forty years. A pioneer in her own way, she pursued her own college degree and graduated from Peabody College for Teachers at the advanced age of 47.  She was a life-long Democrat and supported the Equal rights Amendment when she was in her seventies.

Mam-ma, my dad’s mother, came from a different situation.  Her father moved his family repeatedly, always in search of a better situation.  Mam-ma left school after 8th grade, in part due to this constant moving.  She married at 20 to a young man who had ambition to get off the farm, and my grandfather won a position as a railroad mail clerk, moving the family to Nashville in 1924.   Mam-ma was very proud of her home and her homemaking skills; her home was her pride and joy.  A product of extreme poverty (her family never owned land and farmed for others), she believed in very traditional family values.  My grandfather was a staunch Republican, and she never questioned his positions.  However, they supported and were completely proud of my father’s college and medical school successes, and they made sure that their daughter also went to college.

So, what was the struggle?  These two strong women were jockeying for what they perceived as inclusion in the household that I entered as an infant.   Mimi was often present, always a helper, always looking for something to do that would be useful.  Mam-ma and Poppy visited often, but were the “fun” grandparents who brought us treats, took us to do fun things, but were not helpers in the way that Mimi was.  Mimi saw Mam-ma as overly frank, too direct, and a bit uncouth.  Mam-ma saw Mimi as a snob who was hypocritical.  My parents, and to some extent the children as well, were aware of navigating challenging waters between Mimi and Mam-ma.   Never overtly antagonistic, they nevertheless were cut from very different cloths and called each by their last names for all the years of my growing up.

One letter of the alphabet became emblematic of a much larger issue.  Who is included?  Who is on the outside?  How does a family navigate the choppy waters of extended family life?  How do mothers and mothers-in-law manage the tasks of allowing room for the new family to emerge?  It took these two women many years; I was an adult with a child of my own before they called each other by their first names.

The stories of my grandmothers seem to me to be emblematic of the divide that is roiling our country today.  One strand focuses on equal rights and embraces change; the other strand highly values continuity and traditional values.  I loved both of them dearly, and I celebrated the day they finally reconciled themselves to each other and to the family that my mother and father created.  Both were born at the tail-end of the 19th century; both lived to see changes that were unimaginable at their births.

The important part of this story is that they found a way to respect each other.  It was a process that was grounded in love.

What is the story of naming in your family?

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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A Christmas Truce

a-christmas-truce

December is a difficult time of year for many people.  December can be especially lonely for soldiers who are far from home.  In 1914, lonely soldiers caused one of the most extraordinary Christmas events.  They (briefly) stopped the First World War.

The impromptu ceasefire began on December 7, 1914, when Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary ceasefire so that the soldiers in the trenches could celebrate Christmas.  The governments of Britain, France and Germany refused to observe an official ceasefire.

It’s not clear why they said no, but there were probably two main reasons for refusing a ceasefire.  First, no one was tired of the war.  In December 1914, the war was only about five months old.  The major slaughters, like the Battle of the Somme when a million men were casualties, didn’t happen until 1916.

Second, and I think more importantly, the governments opposed a ceasefire out of fear.  Specifically, fear of fraternization.  Soldiers are better able to do their job of killing the enemy if they don’t know their enemy.  It’s why we demonize our opponents as a faceless “other” and use derogatory nicknames to dehumanize them.  If a soldier sees the enemy as human with a family and personal aspirations, it becomes difficult to shoot to kill.

Consider the line “from a distance, you look like my friend, even though we are at war.”  It’s taken from an anti-war song called “From a Distance.”  The song became popular during the First Persian Gulf War in the early 1990’s and it evokes a universal sentiment.

In 1914, the soldiers in the trenches ignored their governments and saw the enemy as a friend.  On Christmas Eve, they sang Christmas carols to each other across no-man’s land.  On Christmas Day, they crossed no-man’s land to exchange food and talk of their families back home.  In one instance, they played a game of football (i.e., soccer).

After Christmas, some of the soldiers decided they couldn’t return to war.  One anecdote says that some French and German soldiers refused to fight each other.  Their commanders threatened them with all sorts of disciplinary action to no avail.  Eventually, the affected French and German units were pulled out of their trenches and sent to fight in other sectors.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 has never been repeated.  As wars continue around the world, that is one of the saddest commentaries on this holiday season.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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The Other Side of the Couch – What Do You Do When Your Heart Is Broken?

broken-heart

November 8, 2016 started out as a day of hope for millions of United States citizens.  By November 9 that hope had been transformed into what felt and has continued to feel like a surreal nightmare.  As one young friend said to me that day, “This is not the country that I thought I lived in.”  Reminding one’s self that this election did not reflect the majority vote is helpful, but it does not change the fact that the person who triumphed in this race did so by unleashing the forces of bigotry and hate.

What can a person do who is struggling with what happened?  What do we tell our children, who in many cases have awoken to a totally unexpected world – a world in which bullies triumph and hate speech is condoned.  What do we tell our friends from other countries, whose skin color, accent, race or religion have been targeted?  What do we tell each other as women, whose ability to have control over our own bodies is in jeopardy?

I don’t have good answers to these questions.  I know that in this democracy power is passed peaceably.  I try not to believe that all the people who voted for him support these kinds of attitudes.  I have heard people say that they voted for him in spite of these attitudes because they are so desperate for change and felt so unheard.  Well, good luck with that.  You have unleased the genie, and putting all of this anger and hatred back in the bottle is going to be a hard job.

I know that he will be the 45th president.  I also know that I can’t give up and stop trying to effect change, be it at the most micro level by the way I talk to someone, listen to someone, write to someone, challenge someone.  I will hold my broken heart and sew it back together with words and actions that continue to support the values of caring and inclusion on which I have based my life.

What will you do?

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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