Shhh—Don’t Tell Our Family Business - 4 Ways to Break the Cycle

“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” --Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
All families have collective secrets such as shared rituals, traditions, or practices that they do not wish to share with the world. Siblings hold secrets from their parents, while parents may choose to withhold some aspects of their adult lives from their children. These are not the secrets that will be discussed here.

1. The hard conversation - A client, let’s call him Billy, came to me because of his procrastination. I asked Billy if he could recall when it started. He told me that as a teenager he suspected that his father was an alcoholic. Billy began avoiding his father, his friends, and even his schoolwork. As we talked further, he revealed that to this day he still avoided his father. Billy now had a wife and two small sons but felt a sense of unease when he visited his father and mother with his own family. Billy told me that his father teased him relentlessly, which resulted in Billy packing up his family in a huff, shortening the visit. Billy expressed a desire for his children to know their grandparents, yet he could not bear to be in the presence of his father and avoided his calls.

No one in Billy's family discussed his father’s drinking. His mother and two younger sisters all played along with the lie and laughed uncomfortably when their father was drunk and verbally cruel. Billy worried that he would hurt his mother and two sisters if he told the truth about his father. Nevertheless, Billy agreed to have a hard conversation with his dad. He told his father that he loved him very much and wanted him to be a part of his life, but he would not visit if he drank. Billy felt a tremendous release after speaking with his father. As a result, he was more focused and productive at home and at work. Billy’s honesty not only liberated him from the procrastination he suffered it served as an invitation to his father and the rest of his family to heal. While Billy's father declined his son's invitation and berated him for the suggestion that he may have a drinking problem, the mere fact that Billy broke the chain of the secret brought him back to a sense of wholeness. 

2. Self-love - The emotional swastika the keeps families hidden behind secrets is the mighty monster of shame. Author Brenè Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly "Shame derives its power by being unspeakable.” The more fearful Billy become of speaking his truth, the more that monster grew in his life. Shame tells us we deserve punishment. It tells us that we are not worthy and to keep our shameful family deeds hidden behind the shield of our secrets. Shame tells us we are responsible for other people and how they feel. And the most damaging of all, shame tells us that we must not ever tell anyone. When we are silenced, our sense of self is diminished because every aspect of our being must be acknowledged in order to grow. Self-love is the most powerful way toward wholeness. When we deny any aspect of the self, we suffer. Shame cannot co-exist with self-love.

3. Banishing the false constructs of “good” and “bad” - Culture within our societies sets a value system of “good” and “bad.” Within this construct, we judge all aspects of our humanity when our divine nature is to accept both the shadow and light of our being. Children who experience behaviors that are painful by the hands of a parent may numb those painful emotions with alcohol, drugs, anger, self-sabotaging behaviors, co-dependent relations and more in order to protect their parent from the feared societal label of being “bad.” I encourage my clients to reframe “good” and “bad” as “tank needs more gas” and “tank filled.” We wouldn't dare judge and shame our hunger. We would not deem we are "bad" when the pangs of hunger remind us to eat. We can learn not to judge and shame ourselves or those who may have hurt us when we understand that their emotional pain may be a reminder of where they are broken. With that simple shift, we can examine our lives and the actions of those we love without judgment and move toward true healing as easily as we fill our empty stomachs. Sometimes it is a simple matter of learning how to properly feed ourselves. Some of us never learn and go hungry our whole lives, as may be the case with Billy's father. 

4. Embracing the value of our family shadow - Our shadow self is a loving barometer that directs us to pay attention to our wounded parts. Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung said, “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.” When we love ourselves enough to tell the truth, we crack the shell of shame and open a space for light to flood into our being in the form of awareness. Living in that truthful space, as Billy discovered, brings us back to a state of peacefulness.


4 Ways to Solve Pressing Problems

The meditative mind is a creative, open and aware mind. Learning to harness that energy can produce amazing results in business, love or in any area of our lives. We can direct that fertile energy by tapping our meditative mind in these four ways:

1.       Give Yourself Permission to Solve Problems in Your Sleep

Dreams have informed me for much of my life. I began writing my memoir based on a recurring dream of my father. To use the information in your dreams, set an intention to resolve a problem before you go to bed. The dream state is a natural altered state similar to the state experienced in hypnosis. In fact, the very word is derived from the ancient Greek word sleep. You can offer a hypnotic suggestion by simply stating the problem and asking your subconscious to provide an answer while you sleep in the form of a dream.  If you fear you may have trouble remembering your dream, set an intention to remember the dream by saying to yourself several times, "I will remember my dream when I wake up." It is a simple practice, but it does work. Place a notebook by your bed and when you wake, record your dream. Clues to solving stubborn issues may appear. You may need to repeat this practice over several days or weeks, but with time you will see a theme emerging from your dreams that will give you guidance. It is not wishful thinking, scientists are discovering more about our dreams and how the brain functions every day. Robert Strickgold, associate professor of psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School states: "...sleep permits a time when the brain can search for and identify useful associations between recently formed emotional memories and older ones, helping to place them in a more useful context, from which their resolution may become more readily apparent."

2.       Take a Mindful Walk

Albert Einstein and writer Virginia Woolf both took walks to clear their minds to create the space for new ideas to emerge. Walking, especially in nature, can quiet the voices in our heads that keep us from getting a clear answer to our problems.  Walking can also help us break through creative blocks. Taking a mindful walk simply means quietly putting our attention on our surroundings. We do not need to overly observe, all that is required is to gently notice. When we find our mind cluttering up with worries or chores of the day, we can redirect our attention towards our environment. When we consciously let go of whatever it is that is plaguing us and decide to enjoy every step of our path, our mind is open to new ideas and solutions.

3.       Deep Breathing

The art of deep breathing from the diaphragm is as old as man and is a practice used by athletes, women in labor, singers, actors and in mediation. I find this practice to be quickest and easiest way to reset my inner emotional landscape, and I use it daily if not several times per day. Deep breathing facilitates an  energy that the Chinese call Chi, the Hindu call Prana and masters of old and scientist today tout can strengthen the body, make us calmer and even happier. We can take a deep breath any time we feel stressed, hold it for a count of three or four and then release it fully like deflating a balloon to recharge our bodies and minds. 

4.       Create a Mantra

Creating a mantra, or affirmation is another practice that I use often. By simply repeating a phrase such as "I know the answer," "I trust," or a popular mediation mantra, "I am," connecting ourselves with our divine entity if we so believe, a more positive mental state can be achieved. The easy practice of creating a mantra and repeating it to ourselves several times when we feel stuck can redirect our thinking and infuse us with confidence and hope.

Have a Dream? Let Your Body Lead the Way

Photo by A. Edmonds

Photo by A. Edmonds


As a life coach, I am privileged to be in a position to hear the dreams of others. I am privy to the most inspiring, bright and beautiful places men and women want to move in their lives. I also often hear this phrase, "I don't know what's blocking me." 


In some cases I hear clients tell me that they know they are supposed to be doing something more meaningful, but they are not sure what form that meaning should take in their lives.   


How can we move from sensing into fully knowing? What prevents us from being able to move our dreams from the body into the light of the world? In short, how do we get clear, get unstuck, and get moving?


The answer to these questions is simple but not easy. The body holds the answers. Our emotions and bodily discomforts give us clues to why those dreams lay dormant. 


When I was in my early 20s, I spent 30 days in the hospital for an eating disorder. I was diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia, a deadly combination that threatened my life. While I learned tools to deal with my disorder, it wasn't until I was pregnant with my first child did the lessons my body was trying to teach me through the gift of that dis-order come into view. 


Because of the love I had for the growing child in my body, I gave myself the space to examine my actions when I wanted to restrict myself from eating, or when I had the impulse to overeat and then use exercise to purge. What I discovered was that I had developed those behaviors when I was a child in order to protect myself. I turned to food when I was frightened as a little girl. Toasted bread with butter protected me when Daddy was hurting Mommy. I, in turn, began to purge when my appearance was not pleasing to my mother. I ran and ran and ran to make the food inside of me go away. I did this in my marriage as well.  I ran and ran and ran when I felt I was unpleasing to my husband, when I felt him stray from our marriage. That scared and wanting to please eight year old was still controlling my life. Every time I was frightened or felt unloved, I returned to my little girl way of coping. One simple question shifted my behavior.


What is the most loving thing that the adult Stephanie can do in this moment? 


That questions shifted me away from solving problems as a child into the clarity, wisdom and mature love of the adult woman I had become. It also opened me up to my dreams. I sometimes had to comfort that little girl inside of me. "It's okay," I told her when I felt resistance to a new way of confronting problems. I could now take that little girl by the hand and guide her right into my deepest dreams and desires without fear because the adult Stephanie was now leading the way.


It takes practice to catch ourselves when old behaviors arise. The practice of placing our attention on the body, to notice any discomfort, pain or emotion will open us to an awareness of the wisdom of our emotional landscape. When we ask ourselves, "What is this emotion, behavior or pain teaching me?" the answer can liberate us to move forward.


This work is not new. Many mental health practitioners use inner child work in their practices, which harkens to Carl Jung's Divine Child Archetype. The work of  Dr. Doris E. Cohen has informed my coaching practice and deepened my own healing. Her book Repetition holds valuable exercises to help us heal our childhood hurts, empower our adult selves, and with clarity, take the actions necessary to boldly and fearlessly step into our dreams. 

3 Ways to STOP Self-Sabotage

When we are in self-sabotage mode, our thoughts fall into 3 distinct categories: 1. It’s not fair; 2. It’s all his/her fault; 3. I’m doomed and don’t know how to change. The subconscious mind works hard to prove us right. When we focus on our pain, our faults, and the unfairness of the world we, on a subconscious level, remain stuck in the emotion of helplessness.

1. Make Friends with Our Pain

In order to make friends with our pain, we must look at what’s underneath. How are your pain and perceived inadequacies serving you? Perhaps the tenets of why we show the world just how wounded we are is subconsciously steeped in our fear of not being enough. Perhaps we feel unworthy of a good relationship and thus recreate the qualities of old hurtful relationship in each new one. Making friends with our negative thoughts is the first step toward letting go. Embracing how our pain serves us will teach us how to grow beyond our pain and eventually to release it fully.

2. Changing Our Inner Dialogue through Focus

Many people think stopping negative internal dialogue is difficult and that the mind is an entity outside of our control. The contrary is true. With practice, we can quiet our brains to get into what Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, Director of Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience C... calls flow. In flow, we are living in the moment, which is also called mindfulness. In this state, we trust that we are capable by putting all of our attention on the task at hand. We can also observe, without judgment, our internal dialogue. When we catch ourselves in a negative thought pattern, we can form a visual (a Stop Sign is a good one, or a floating cloud) to counter that thought. Where we put our focus structures our reality.

3. Taking Responsibility

Releasing blame can give us the gift of knowing ourselves. We cannot take responsibility until we fully know who we are. But bear in mind that taking responsibility is a practice like any other. Would we expect to magically shed 20 pounds just because we now recognize it is a good thing? No. We develop a daily practice of eating healthy foods and exercising. Taking responsibility requires the same level of practice. Catch yourself when you engage in practices that do not serve you. If there is resistance to a daily practice, ask yourself again how it serves you to stay in the emotion of blame. I discovered I was stuck in the emotion of blaming my ex-husband because of a fear of moving forward on my own. When I understood it was my own fear, each time a negative thought came up I envisioned it floating away on a cloud and got right back to what I was doing.

Have compassion for yourself as you grow and change. Understand that moving forward can only happen when you see yourself fully and without judgment. Carlos Castaneda said, "A man of knowledge lives by acting not by thinking of acting." Become an active participant in your own success. Journal, meditate, take a class, join a supportive group, practice mindfulness, and most importantly, lovingly be aware of how you see yourself. When you view yourself as capable, intelligent, and worthy others will see you that way, too.