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An Aging Elder: Choose to Enter Conscious Elderhood

I woke up this morning with more aches than a porcupine has quills! My knee, back and shoulder were all seeing who could scream the loudest for my brain’s distracted attention.

Aging and Elderhood, encroaching personal entropy and joyful evolving consciousness!
What a juxtaposition!

While I am extremely grateful for entering conscious Elderhood, I am very aware that my body is slowly running down. I was talking to a friend about running recently and he said, “the older I get, the faster I was.” So true. I was reading recently that the best hope for the world was that more and more people worldwide were living past 50. However, it has also been noted that civilization often advances one death at a time. Enough already – I’m confusing me!

An Aging ElderI think it is no longer enough to just get older, even though it’s true that old age is not for sissies! We also can choose to become Elders, and our journey to Elderhood begins in adulthood. I have written about Signs of Elderhood in an earlier post. If you want to become an elder, you have to begin to wake up, grow up and clean up in adulthood. Briefly, cleaning up, in addition to eating healthier and exercising more, usually involves embracing some form of depth work in psychotherapy to heal wounds from the past. Waking up means realizing you need to move beyond religious dogma and become a seeker of what IS and your true nature. Growing up means a willingness to recognize and move through actual developmental stages that we have become aware of in the last hundred years. This work may be very challenging as you transcend and include the mainstays of your culture. All of this is necessary to be able to show up as an Elder and not just an old person.

Gratefully, when you choose to enter conscious Elderhood, there is more to life than aches and pains.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Into The Wild: How to Successfully Venture the Road to Step Family Relationships

In his excellent book, INTO THE WILD, John Krakauer tells the true story of a young man who ventures into the wilderness of Alaska woefully unprepared. He didn’t even have a map of the terrain that might have saved his life.

This is unfortunately the situation of many, if not most, stepfamilies starting out. They embark on this amazing and daunting adventure of stepfamily life without guidance or even a map!

The statistics on the breakup of new families that think they have to go it alone and are not coached represent a national tragedy. One out of two new stepfamilies break up within the first two years. In contrast, stepfamilies that are coached and supported have an excellent survival rate. The Stepfamily Association of New York reports an 85% success rate with families that seek out coaching and counseling.

With this in mind, the Relationship Resource Center of Denver wants you to be aware of its ongoing commitment to stepfamilies. For many years we have helped parents and stepparents recognize and resolve the difficult status issues that are part and parcel of stepfamily formation and are not addressed even in the current literature on stepfamilies. (We plan to remedy this soon by publishing our work on status issues). We are breaking new ground in counseling stepfamilies and are excited to share our knowledge and experience with you.

journeyIt is important to realize that most stepfamilies starting out have little or no idea of what they are getting into, and they can really benefit from counseling and coaching. Many people who are stuck in pain because they have been floundering and become lost in this difficult territory, possibly for years, can also use wise and compassionate stepfamily counseling. We encourage you to let us be your experienced and caring guides on your stepfamily journey.

It can be very helpful to remember, you are not crazy, even if living in a stepfamily makes you feel like you are at times!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Positive Effect of Mistakes

Sometimes my goal or simple wish as a counselor is not to make too many mistakes. It is easy to make subtle mistakes of saying too much or too little – usually too much. Mostly listen, stay with the flow, hold a safe container for the individual or the couple in the room, love them and myself as much as possible.

aspects of counselingI hate making mistakes and usually it is the main way that I really learn. So while making mistakes is good for my learning, I don’t want to make too many of them, especially when they effect others. Speak up, tell the truth with love as best as I am able, have the courage to say what needs to be said. Over thirty years of practice is helpful, and I still make mistakes of talking or leading too much instead of following the flow of energy in the room and following content down the rabbit hole.

Mostly I feel like I have been useful to the people I have just been with. Sometimes I don’t. Do no harm, I follow religiously. At the end of the day, I am deeply grateful for my work and for the people I work with. I am truly blessed. I prefer to own my mistakes rather than shove them under a rug. Besides, no rug would be big enough anyway.

What mistake that has occurred for you turned out to be the best lesson you learned?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Getting In Touch With Our Feelings: Men vs.Women

I have written about how men are often out of touch with their needs, wants and feelings, and how this underlies taking entitled positions as well as other problems they may experience in relationships. Initially in counseling, they may have a great deal of denial about the significance or even the existence of traumatic experiences in their life, especially when they were very young, even infants.

If a man is willing to consider even the possibility of unresolved childhood trauma but can not feel it, he may be willing to hear me when I share with him that I am feeling his pain in a conversation we are having. He may be willing for me to reflect his pain back to him, thereby validating the importance of his getting in touch with his packed away feelings as an opening into his heart.

man and woman embracingWomen often do this unconsciously for men that they love, but since they do it unconsciously, they may not insist that a man then feel his own pain, and instead take his unresolved stuff on as their responsibility to feel and to manage for him. A man may then stay unconscious and continue to act out his painful feelings and early trauma in ways that are destructive to himself and others.

The bottom line here is that we may compassionately feel another’s pain and unconscious feelings, but we can not do their work for them. Paraphrasing something Carl Jung once said: “Enlightenment is not just about basking in the light. It’s about making the dark conscious.”

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Dynamics of the Journey of Self Recovery

When men set out on the journey of self recovery and really begin to connect with their needs and wants and feelings, they are embarking on a journey into the long unexplored and long neglected realm of their hidden selves. The relatively few men in our culture who are courageous enough to take this journey can get deeply immersed in their needs and wants and feelings, so long ignored and possibly screaming for attention. The danger now, if they are in an intimate relationship with another, is to make what they need and want and feel preemptive; that is, more important than their relationship with the other. This is a challenging and often relationship-threatening place for a couple to find themselves.

The work of recovery takes on another dimension. I really begin to get that my needs and wants and feelings matter and are important and yet not more important than the needs and wants and feelings of the significant others in my life. Now I am faced with, maybe for the first time in my life, really being able to negotiate on an equal footing about needs and wants and feelings with another person rather than take entitled positions with them! This is because I am finally getting in touch with more of the whole of me than ever before and more able to be in touch with the whole of you.

But being able to do this is not enough. Now that I am more able, I must choose to do so; indeed to exercise and practice this new ability if it is to be more than just potential. In other words, now that I am truly growing up, I must also show up and know that I won’t do so perfectly. But you, my love, probably knew that anyway, and you may have been waiting a long time for me.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

A Better Alternative to Addictive Attractions

In the waning years of the Roman Empire, the citizens of Rome were given free bread and entertainment in the form of bloody circuses involving wild animals eating people, and gladiators fighting each other to the death. In this way, the leaders of Rome in its decline managed to keep the population under control with free food and spectacles to minimize the possibility of dissension and revolt. I guess they figured that a populace satiated on circus entertainment and free bread would be less likely to make waves or protest the decline of the general welfare. A bit chillingly like today with much of TV being mindless crap, and obesity stemming largely from empty calorie fast food approaching epidemic status.

Why is it so hard to resist the siren song, the addictive attraction of mindless entertainment and plentiful, empty calories?

I think, in large part, the empty calories and entertainments fill the emptiness, the void of meaning, that many people feel in their lives.

barren image

We live in a time when meaning is a scarce resource; one that is not readily available in the culture at large.

At the Relationship Resource Center, we don’t offer free food and spectacles, but we do address the lack of meaning our clients may be experiencing. We see this work as one of the most important services we can offer, and one of the reasons that we believe psychotherapy and coaching really matters.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Holding the Gold: Claiming Your Inherent Value

Sometimes a person comes in for counseling and needs us to “hold their gold” for them.

doubt vs. beliefI am indebted to Robert Johnson, the famous Jungian analyst, for turning me on to this important realization. It is not uncommon, as counseling progresses, that a person may not be able to claim his/her own inherent value.

What this means is that initially they are not ready to see the treasure that they are, and they unconsciously project their “gold” or their wonderful qualities onto their therapist. They may be caught in the vise of self-hatred, and no amount of trying to convince them of their own worth can initially dissuade them from their negative self image.

 

The challenge for the therapist is to “hold this gold” until the rightful owner is ready to claim it.

It can be tempting to hold on to the disowned gold of the other. The therapist must be ready to make the transfer back to its owner as soon as he/she is ready. It is extremely helpful, indeed necessary, for the therapist to have a deep sense of their own inherent worth so they are not tempted to keep the other person’s gold as their own.

That, indeed, would be stealing.

Share your thoughts below.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

How Entitlements Are Destructive to the Entitlement Holders

I have long pondered the question of how entitlements may be destructive to the entitlement holders themselves. It is clear to others that your entitled positions are painful to them if they are wanting a relationship with you. There is also the piece about how for every hour of entitlement you take in a relationship, you get about an hour and a half of resentment from your partner. But there is something else that happens as well. When I take entitled positions, I am discounting my own needs, wants and feelings as well as those of others, and I may not even be aware that I am doing that or of the consequences.

consequences

I recently wrote about my retirement entitlement. Clearly as an entitled position, it was not respectful of the needs or wants of my wife or daughter. (Again, it’s not that I don’t have the right to retire, it’s the entitlement that’s not relational). What I gradually got in touch with was that in taking an entitled position, I was discounting my financial situation, my desire and want to keep doing work that I love that is of real service to others, and my feelings of deep connection and joy that I find in my work. In my entitled position, I was riding roughshod over myself as well as others that I care about.

Sadly, one of the first lessons most men learn in guy school is to put away their own needs, wants and feelings. In replacement for the richness that is taken from them, they pick up the barren mantle, the stone shirt of entitlements. In the Men’s Journey Work at RRC, we help men recover their birthright of owning their needs, wants and feelings and put down the entitled positions that are hurtful to others and themselves.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

How a Cooking Lesson Translates to a Life Lesson

Many years ago, I had been intensely involved in my own psychotherapy for a number of months and was frustrated by my attempts to make the process go faster.

Try as I might, the more I struggled with my demons, the less progress I seemed to make.

One night, this beautiful Native American woman befriended me in a dream and deeply and happily surprised me …

In my dream, she was preparing to cook a meal over an open fire. She had this funny looking round frying pan that had a very small cooking circle in the middle. Instead of using the larger part of the pan to cook in, she placed a little food in the inner circle to cook. When that was ready, she took it out of the pan and repeated the process again. I came over by the fire and laughed and asked her why she was cooking that way. She smiled up at me and held me in her gaze for what seemed like an eternity and said to me, “A little bit at a time, John, a little bit at a time. . .”

When I woke up, I realized she had given me the key to solving some of the thorniest of my life’s problems … a little bit at a time.

step by step

I will never forget her magical frying pan with the little circle inside the larger circle and the most important cooking lesson I have ever received.

Sometimes you need to take it a little bit at a time and realize that being gentle and kind to yourself is much more useful than beating yourself up to get yourself to change.

This approach usually works much better with others as well.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Catch Them Doing Good: Significance of Small Successes

Quite a few years ago, when I was a social worker at Fort Logan Mental Health Center, I was intrigued by a colleague’s work in another part of the hospital. He dealt with children who came to the Center with very challenging problems. He had amazing and wonderful success with many of them. One day, I asked him what he was doing different that seemed to work so well.

He said: “John, it’s simple. I catch them doing good.”

key to successYou see, instead of focusing on their problems, his focus was on what they did well, even if this was in the smallest increments. It’s not that he ignored their acting out behavior, he just wasn’t very excited by how they messed up. He was very interested in their small successes and acknowledging these.

I left Fort Logan not long after our conversation, but I had learned a great lesson from him.

I became much more interested in what people do that works rather than what they do that doesn’t work for themselves or others.

This approach doesn’t usually sell newspapers or make for exciting TV.

But then, I stopped watching most of what is on TV a long time ago.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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