How does a Hummingbird help us to slow down?

Yesterday a teaching moment popped up just as I was preparing to relax, detach and do my favorite activity.

I had just gone up to the barn to visit and ride my horse. As I got out of the car I saw a friend looking intently at something cupped in her hand. It was a beautiful hummingbird that had been stunned. It lay motionless in my friends hand. At first it looked like a hopeless situation. There was absolutely no movement. Now a hummingbird is the closest animal to me in its constant movement.  From afar it looks like a frenetic bundle of energy, but anyone who has watched these beautiful birds know they are intent on a purpose and full of resolve. Their purpose is not random nor is their energy disorganized. I do not mean to suggest I possess a beauty close to that of a hummingbird but I do indeed have the appearance of an intense output of energy.  Seeing the bird motionless was quite disconcerting to me. I mean how could this hummingbird survive with no movement?

My friend encouraged me to keep a sense of optimism. Perhaps the bird just needed time to recover. Ten minutes turned into twenty with no movement, challenging not only the bird but also me. I sat next to my friend as she softly stroked the bird. Standing in the sun to warm the bird she directed me to create a bit of sugar water to attempt  to revive her. She pointed out to me that the bird was a girl due to her seemingly dull feathers. However, we both noticed a vibrant red below her beak, which shone through when the sun hit it just right. This was no dull bird. Hidden beauty shone through demonstrating a palette of beautiful feathers.  Had this hummingbird been on the move these colors would have been difficult to see.

After whatseemed forever the bird sputtered a peep-peep. She also flapped a wing and then returned to motionless. My friend and I looked at each other in deep resignation. Too much time we believed had gone by, leaving us with the distinct impression the bird was not long for the world. I spread my voice of pessimism to her suggesting it was time to move on and let this little bird go. Evidentially she half agreed relinquishing the bird to me as she went to get a box to place the bird in out of the way of harm. She came back with a box lined by a soft piece of tissue paper. She smiled and said “just in case”. I looked at her with the wise eyes of someone who has lived 20 more years than she has and responded with a look that said “well not much chance but do it if it makes you feel better”.

We placed the box in the back of her truck and went on with our afternoon. To be honest I forgot all about the bird as I rode my horse insanely around and around the arena. But not this friend of mine. The second she got off her horse she went directly to the truck and triumphantly held the empty box up with a knowing smile of someone who never gives up. Yes the bird was gone. She had flown away home.

How I got to be where I am today

How I got to be where I am today

Building a private practice in my field of psychology was much easier than getting through school. However, I did spend my second week as a private therapist believing I had failed miserably.  The 6 clients I had scheduled and seen the week before didn’t show-up again. It was only later (when I left the office) that I found out I had given them the wrong gate code as I had reversed the numbers in my usual dyslexic way. They had all shown up but had left thinking it was their fault. It was then that I discovered that being the imperfect therapist has its charm and can even fill the seats. In fact, humor and taking responsibility for mistakes can shock and surprise, even help people feel better, and mistakes are something I learned to do well...  I found that irreverence can be an effective tool for working with people.

3 Ways to Promote Safety and Harmony in your Family

For some of us the presence of a pet promotes a sense of safety and security. Sitting on my back porch writing, I am accompanied by no less than five animals including a cat and two dogs. About twenty feet away two miniature horses lie in the sun. There seems to be a shared message of comfort circulating between all of us. From a neurobiological perspective I am sure mirror neurons and unseen messages on a hormonal level are supporting this environment of safety. For instance, in front of me is a strong smelling bush covered in honey bees. The bees are deeply involved in their job on the plant, ignoring the presence of the rest of us.

Families come to Transitioning Families in California and Stable Paths in Florida struggling to figure out how to create harmony in their worlds. This is especially true for families in the midst of and/or post divorce. Sometimes the quest for harmony is complicated by the addition of a stepparent or step siblings.  Everyone’s role and sense of belonging  has been disrupted and has shifted in the face of the fracture and reformulation in the family.

How do you regain a sense of Saftey?

  1. Respect the Boundaries of Individual Space: Family members need to establish and be aware of individual and collective space.
  2. Know your Job/Role: Individual family members need to be aware of their own role and individual place within the system.
  3. Neutral Zone: An environment of safety needs to be a priority. Find a “conflict free” space where individual needs and conflicts are put aside. Such as: the dinner table, during bedtime rituals, etc.

So how does watching animals help us understand how to do this as humans?  It might be simpler than it sounds. The first step would be to acknowledge and commit to the notion that regardless of individual differences and needs we can survive and thrive together. We have had people visit the facility who are surprised cats and dogs can live so closely together. No special training is needed, just promote a slow integration and promote the sense under that conflicts will arise but steps are taken to minimize their escalation.  An example would be feeding the dog and cat in separate protected spaces. This avoids the inevitable fight between these animals during feeding time. It doesn’t mean they cant live together. It just means common sense and mindfulness needs to be applied during that time.

Animals tend to look to us humans as the providers of safety. Today they gravitated to where I sat in response to their sense of my comfort level. The bees did not distract any of us . I was confident in their focus on the job they had in front of them and clearly they trusted me to stay out of their orbit. Again simple: respect individual space, know your job, have a “neutral zone” and never lose sight of th fact that we are all part of the same planet. Families form different constellations. Conflict can be supported or avoided, but first a feeling of safety must be achieved. Active litigation is not a promotion of safety.

Friends without Facebook

Having just watched my youngest of five children launched out the door, I began to think about the moments and opportunities I might have missed before she left.

Don’t get me wrong, 19 years with my firecracker of a daughter had provided plenty of opportunities for positive and negative connections. She and I had spent countless hours taking walks together and sharing cheesy movies that no one else could tolerate on a Sunday night. Together we discussed exploitation of younger girls and the possibility of date rape as presented by Alec Baldwin and Beyoncé. The conversations were not deeply intellectual but through these conversations we talked about things that might not otherwise be addressed.

Looking back, it was the times we spent together without gadgets and electronics that counted the most. The walks together or the two weeks we spent in the summer without Internet access was when we really learned the most about each other.  It was during those times my relationship with her grew and blossomed.  It’s what I miss the most.  A distance between us began the summer after 8th grade.  It is the age that many young people should begin to individuate, yet I must admit it caught me off guard. Suddenly, the friends counted more and Internet and cell phones were a huge priority.  It really was a challenge for her to separate, and to be honest it was hard for me too.

I think to a pre-teen and a young teen the Internet has taken the role of the wise old friend or relative.  What I mean by that is the Internet becomes the place to go for information and access to the world outside of the teen’s world.  What’s the downside?  The downside is that as parents our influence is watered down sooner than it might be without the constant input from outside of our immediate sphere.  We lose a connection because we are not as interesting or as informed as what the world of the Internet provides.  Losing connection too soon leaves kids dealing with information they are not ready to handle. It also leaves us with very little understanding of what they are learning.

How do we combat the impact of technology and the wall it creates between parents and children?

  1. Don’t expect to eliminate technology completely from your children’s life. If you do have a technology free house be aware they may be going on the Internet elsewhere. (One client of mine at a technology free Waldorf school had a face book page at a friend’s house).
  2. Look for opportunities where you and your child can unplug together. Outdoor activities like walking, etc. bring us together. Nature has a great way of showing us another side to things.
  3. Junior high or middle school years are important times to strengthen the bond that will inevitably be stressed during the high school years. Kids are beginning to push away but hold on for just a bit longer.
  4. Let them teach you about the latest trends on the Internet. By the time I learned about Snap chat it had been all but replaced by Integra. There is no way we can stay on top of all the latest trends without help from them.
  5. Take the time to really listen to what they have to say. Sometimes we are too quick to lecture them about our world view, forgetting they may have their own unique viewpoint.
  6. Unplugging does not just mean stepping away from electronics, it also means means reframing our own agendas and needs when connecting with our children. Create agenda based times to connect and really get to know your children.

Hugs, Is there a right time?

There are so many rules out there for being “PC” these days and the act of giving a hug is no exception. I especially see this when dealing with victims or as I like to call them survivors of rape, incest or molestation. What is the right thing to do when you know this person in front of you has been touched in inappropriate ways? You might want to give your client a hug but think, if I try to give her a hug he/she will feel violated. Or worse will they think I’m trying to touch them inappropriately if a put my arm around them. As a clinical professional I say to hell with all the PC correctness when it comes to dealing with clients! We are human and believe it or not even survivors of sexual crimes are human…they are not aliens from another planet, so why not give them a huge hug! Why deny them or worse make them feel like touch is all-bad. If you were that person would you want the only experience you had of being touched to be a negative experience? Would you want your only reference to be of rape?……. No!

If you have doubts about how your hug will be received, how about posing a simple question. “Hey can I give you a hug?” “Or I would like to put my arm around you, is that ok with you?” Or if you really feel they are not quite ready for a hug how about starting out with a finger or fist bump. All I’m saying is do not shy away from human contact. As therapists we are trained to put our personalities on hold while we see clients. I think this causes way more damage to the people we are supposed to be helping. We perpetuate their negative thinking and that is the last thing we as professionals should do. Help them get over the hurdle by being authentic and by reframing touch and hugs as good things….because they really are great things!

January 21st was national hug day. It was created in 1986 by Kevin Zaborney. He considered that “American society is embarrassed to show feelings in public” and hoped that a National Hugging Day would change that. Lots of studies have been done showing the benefits of hugs and touch. Touch produces oxytocin which has been shown to promote bonding, trust and empathy.

Still need a little convincing?  Famous author and social worker Virginia Satir says, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” And this famous quote from Maya Angelou speaks to the depth of what I am saying:  “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel“. ~ Maya Angelou. Here is a link to another blog about the power of hugs so you don’t just have to take my word for it.

All this information and I still hear you say, well where I work we have a procedure to follow before we can hug or we have “guidelines” on how to appropriately hug our child clients.  I’M TELLING YOU RIGHT NOW YOU WILL MAKE THESE PEOPLE MORE DAMAGED THAN THEY ALREADY ARE!  You will be the one victimizing if you stick with these “rules” and “guidelines”.  Yes, by all means ask for permission before, but once you get the go ahead hug’em with all you got because that simple act could be the turning point in their recovery and all it cost you was a little bitty hug.