Know Thyself, Quarantined Soul!

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Accurate self-awareness is a sign of good psychological well-being.  Most schools of philosophy argue for the need to “know oneself” in order to live a good and flourishing life.  Here are examples from some of the world’s greatest thinkers:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu, famous Chinees war strategist.

“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates, famous Greek Philosopher

Here is one from a book I’m reading now that I just love:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau, American author

“I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of.” – Michel de Montaigne, French Essayist

And let’s end with a good old American Hero who understood human nature than most modern psychologists, Benjamin Franklin:

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin

These last few months of quarantine have helped me spend some time reflecting on who I am and what matters to me.  I thought I would share them with all of you to perhaps spark a little interest in using whatever time remains in our social isolation to do the same.  Here is a little insight into the soul of Dominick Hankle.

  • I like people more than I ever thought I did.  I’m an introvert by nature, but too often people think that means I don’t enjoy being with other people.  I love being with people, but I don’t like shallow surface engagement with them.  I like deep conversations where we get to know one another at a whole different level.  I like that conversational intimacy where you get to know someone better than before you sat down over that glass of wine.  I miss seeing several people who I can have those conversations with and will treasure them more after this is over.
  • I enjoy laughing and drinking wine.  I am indeed a man of Christian persuasion and I am committed to my belief and practice of the Christian faith, but I certainly cannot claim to be a puritan.  There have been a few nights where I have been able to drink a good bottle of wine with limited friends and family and I cherish those moments.  Wine and laughter, as well as the occasional off colored joke do not make me less of a Christian, they make me more human.  I thank God for reminding me I am merely a human being in such a pleasant and unconventionally Christian way.
  • I love my family.  Certainly, this seems obvious, but a man my age often reflects on life and ponders “What might have been.”  I’ve been with the same woman for about 30 years.  We have grown up together, we have loved each other, fought with each other, and at times hated one another, but we’re still together.  Being with her is a constant in my life that I would regret losing if it were to ever happen.  I do indeed love my wife.  I’m also blessed to have all my children still living with me, and that’s good.  Sometimes the five of us are sitting together in one room just laughing and enjoying being a family and that feels good.  Quarantine has reminded me of just how much I love these people.  I’m glad we are a family.
  • I love to learn.  I’ve read many books since our quarantine and it has been a wonderful experience.  I’m learning another language and revisiting statistical analysis so I can still think critically through the myriad of data my studies in psychology throw at me.  I have discovered that my love for learning is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing because we live in a world where there is always more to learn so I have so much to explore to keep me busy.  It’s a curse, because it reminds me that I don’t necessarily fear death itself, rather I fear that I will die without studying and learning all the things I’m interested in knowing.
  • I have been reminded that life is meant to be lived intentionally.  I’ve spent many days doing a number of things that served little purpose in regard to what I have discovered my life is meant to be.  We need to reestablish our lives so that each moment the tasks we engage in serve two primary purposes.  First, the tasks must be aimed at helping us achieve and actualize our life purposes.  What we do must reflect the very thing God calls us to be.  The second purpose for what we do must be to love and serve other people.  Each time I engage in an activity I ask myself, “Does this help me be the man God created me to be and does it help me love those he has placed in my life more fully?”  With these simple questions, I can instantly evaluate whether I’m using time in a way that matters.  Relaxation itself can be either useful relaxation or a waste of precious time.  There is a difference between idleness and rest, its important we know the difference.  This time reflecting on my life has helped me learn what that difference is.

Anyway, these are just five things that I’ve learned about myself over these days of quarantine.  Make some time to sit down and ask yourself how you can use this time to be more self-aware.  Time and circumstance will come and go regardless of how you feel about it.  Perhaps times like these are meant to help us use our situation to be more than we ever imagined we could be.

Processing Pain – The Heart of Forgiving

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I’ve been writing a great deal about forgiveness over the past few months because I believe it’s such an important tool necessary for living a good and peaceful life. Frequently, no matter what someone comes to speak to me about as their therapist, the need to forgive someone for something seems to always come up. In fact, I use the very things we’ve been talking about as part of my daily practice so that I can be a more forgiving person.

So far, I have mentioned the importance of doing several things to be more forgiving. First, forgiveness is a choice you have to make, it’s not a feeling you have about something. Forgiveness is much like love. We can feel we love someone or something but more importantly, we can choose to love someone or something. You must choose to be a forgiving person, how you feel about that is something you work out later. We talked at length about this part of forgiveness in the post called The Choice to Experience Anger – Step 1 of the Forgiveness Process. I have also discussed how forgiving someone who hurt you means seeing them differently. Too often we see our offenders as these powerful monsters who can hurt us instead of the broken and hurt human being they actually are. Changing our view of them isn’t easy to do, so I try and help you with that part of the process in the post I called The Monster Who Hurt You – How to Start Forgiving Them. As part of forgiving our offender and seeing them in a different light, we have to start extending some level of compassion toward them or at least reduce the feelings of anger and hatred the thought of them causes us. Again, I discussed that in the post called Extending Compassion to Your Enemy – The Crucial Part of Forgiveness. I know its not easy, but is indeed part of the healing process that frees you from the past hurt they caused you. These steps are important because they help break key barriers that keep people from being more forgiving. These barriers are:

    • Our sense of justice wants us to see the other individual suffer as much as we have, but revenge seldom gives us the peace we want.
    • Too often people believe forgiveness is the same as reconciliation. You need not reconcile with the person you forgive, nor do you need to allow them to hurt you any further.
    • Sometimes people see forgiveness as a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is not weakness. It takes a great deal of strength to be a forgiving person.
    • People will avoid going through the forgiveness process because it requires you to re-experience the pain and injustice that caused you such difficulty in the first place. However, it’s important you re-experience these feelings in order to reduce their impact on you in the present.

So, if you’ve been able to work through these stages, you’re well on your way to being forgiving. What you need to do next is begin to process the pain you feel. One way I help clients do that is to ask them to make a list of the people who have hurt them. Then, list under that person each incident of interaction they’ve had with that individual that caused them pain. Most likely it wasn’t just one thing they did or said that hurt you, there are either multiple incidents or multiple aspects of what someone did that needs processed. The first step is to write it down. Then, look at each incident. Ask yourself, “why did this person do this?” “What pain or hurt in their lives caused them to act this way?” “What is it about me that makes me hurt because of what this individual has done?” “How might I evaluate this differently and in such a way that I see it as the action of a person struggling in life just like me?” Keep asking questions. If you feel hurt again, it’s okay. Think about the incident and then slowly but surely view the incident as a black and white movie. Shrink it down in your mind and visualize it as a small movie clip in black and white running on a small video screen. Notice how your body allows you to relax more and more as the image of that hurt becomes less and less real and more like a fading memory. Repeat these questions and this visualization over and over again. If you can’t visualize it, think about the dialogue. Soften the dialogue so that it becomes less and less audible and more like a bad recording from long ago. Make the voices fuzzy and difficult to hear.

Do this over and over again for the incident you decided to work on. Keep trying to understand the person who hurt you did so because they are a weak, hurting, powerless human being that found a way to avoid experiencing their weakness and powerlessness by hurting you. Let your mind transform the experience that haunts you in a way that it becomes weaker, more powerless, and more distant from you. Do this again and again until you can say with confidence you forgive the person for that one thing they’ve done to you. It may take days, weeks, months, or years, but do that over and over again until that incident is powerless and gone. Now, repeat this same process for the next incident you have on your list in relation to this person. If its one, you’re done. If you have more, keep moving through the list. Do this again and again until you process the emotions around the hurt you experience. The key to forgiving this individual is forgiving each incident you can recall that hurt you. Once you do that, you have forgiven them.

It sounds easy when you read this but it can cause a great deal of emotional trauma if the incident you’re reflecting on is exceptionally difficult. That’s why sometimes its best to do this with a good therapist. However, there are probably lighter issues that this self-reflective activity may be useful when trying to overcome emotional pain. Use it as you can and if things get tough seek out a good therapist. What is most important is to begin to let go of things that are stuck deep in your emotional self with barbed hooks and metal that just won’t let go. If you can process these feelings you can be free.

In the last post, I will share on the topic of forgiveness in this series, we will discuss how you hang on to that sense that you have forgiven someone when it feels like you never have. Often we go through this process and believe we’ve done the hard work necessary to forgive someone and something reminds us of what was done to us and it sets us off again. I want you to be able to hang on to the forgiveness you experience so look for how to maintain that forgiveness experience in our next blog post.