How To Keep Love Alive

Unattended, even the most loving relationship can grow stale.  Repetition brings on boredom.  Doing the same things, traveling to the same vacation spots, eating at the same restaurants all dull the shared experience because there is nothing new .

What keeps a relationship vital and alive?    When a couple investigates new and different projects, activities, skills, interests – and can share the exciting energy that comes from experiencing something new.

I’m big on planning vacations which take us to new countries and new experiences.  But I have to give credit to my partner and wife, Lou, for finding us new projects and new interests that become part of our life together.  A year ago we received a rock covered bird house as a gift from my daughter. Lou loved the item so much that she researched how it was made and actually began to buy the supplies for making one.  I, who love jig saw puzzles, found it fascinating too.  For over a year now we have decorated bird houses with rocks, gems, crystals and charms.  Then we had to find a place to sell them, and that led to craft fairs, where people oo’d and aa’d over our birdhouses and even bought a few!

Our latest newly added interest is pickleball.  Lou and our friend Cindy tried it a couple of times and then roped me into playing with them.  Tennis lessons, from when I was 12, kicked back in and now I’m an enthusiastic participant.  While we share aches and pains from the unaccustomed activity, we laugh at ourselves and then head back out to play either on the courts or on the street in front of our house.  Whichever is easier.

During our most recent trip to Florida, Lou found a kite that had become entrangled and abandoned.  She restored the kite to working order and flew it happily on the beach.  We bought another kite and felt like children – happy and free and having a blast.  My sister says that Lou has brought out the child in me, and she has!


Then there is the volunteering that we do, also initiated by Lou.  Our two cairn terriers are pet therapy dogs and we take them to a memory care center to bring a sparkle of recognition back into the resident’s eyes.  We volunteer weekly at a cancer center doing Reiki on cancer patients and survivors.  We also provide support and comfort for end of life situations.  These experiences always give us a renewed appreciation for our lives, our health and our togetherness.

Lou and I have been together for 16 years and in that time we’ve added many new things to our life to our life.  First it was kayaking and then that turned into kayak-camping where we pack our sleeping bags, camp stove and groceries into our kayaks and paddle across the lake to some remote and idyllic spot where we enjoy nature at its best.

We’re tried classes in painting with acrylics, glass blowing and music lessons.  We’ve gone on hikes to find petroglyphs. In Sedona we sought out the Palatki Indian ruins and their rock art alcoves.We traveled to Canyon de Chelly to view the rock art there with a guide. We searched out cave paintings in Uluru, Australia.  And always, we look for rocks, crystals and charms to put on our rock covered birdhouses.

It’s the diversity and the new additions to our lives that have sustained and enriched our relationship.  While I think shared interests are important to a relationship, I think newly discovered interests are even more important in keeping the relationship vital and alive and loving.

 The key to happiness is:  Someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.

Sabra House, LCSW




Adventure does not come into your life uninvited.  You have to put yourself in a place for adventure to happen.  Adventure does not happen at home.  Stories worth sharing rarely begin with "And so we decided to stay in today."

Adventure for me is about exploring the outdoors.  My partner and I took up kayaking about five years ago.  We have tried to explore as many different kayaking venues as possible...lakes and rivers in Arizona, along the coast of California, in the bay of Cabo San Lucas, with Orca whales in the distance around the San Juan Islands, and chasing dolphins in the Coral Sea.  We expanded our kayaking to kayak-camping.  And while I never loved regular camping, somehow kayak-camping is different.  One of the biggest challenges for me is dring the kayak trailer and backing it down the ramp.  I have anxiety every time about backing the trailer in a straight line, like the fishermen do with their fishing boats.  But somehow I manage and the kayaks get put in the water, whether is trailer is straight or not.  And once on the water, all the anxiety goes away...until the next time.

I measure the bravery needed on a scale of one to ten.  Backing the trailer into the lake used to rank a 9 on a scale of one to ten.  Its come down to a 6 or 7, and that's progress.  Some of the emotions that accompany adventure are anxiety and fear.  Fear of looking stupid, fear of being wrong, fear of being laughed at. These emotions keep people from trying new things, from venturing into new territories, from dealing with the unknown.  Because people don't want to feel uncomfortable or fearful, they stay in their comfort zones...and very often those comfort zones get smaller and smaller.  As a result, anything outside of your comfort zone qualifies as an adventure.  And know that when you take a risk and try something new, you will feel very proud of yourself for being brave.  And you will feel excitement, pride, exuberance and an increase in confidence.

Adventure for me is also about doing new things, going new places, trying something different.  There is always a risk in going to a new restaurant.  What if you don't like the food?  What if the service is lousy?  What if the people you invite don't like it?  Recently I was going to meet friends before a play and they asked me to find a restaurant for the occasion.  I researched the area and located a restaurant where we all planned to meet.  When I walked, I discovered that it was small, had plastic chairs and bare cement floors.  My heart dropped and inside i was quietly saying, "Oh no...."  However, when the food came, all kinds of empanadas and plantains, it was delicious and loved by all!  It was so good that we have been back there several times.  I've seen this same restaurant recommended on Check Please Arizona - a PBS original television presentation.

My partner and I are not spring chickens.  She is in her 60's and I'm in my 70's.  In the past five years we've added a number of new things to our lives:  painting lessons in acrylics, decorating bird houses with rocks, attending plays and musicals we've never seen before, although we still enjoy the oldies.  We worked with a youth theater group to put on The Wizard of Oz.  Of course, the fact that our dog was playing the part of Toto is what got us involved in the first place, but we loved being theater moms and now are interested in working behind the scenes on future productions.  We've traveled to many different places:  Aruba, Alaska, Australia, South Africa, Botswana and Kenya.  Our future travels are going to take in Kauai, Italy and Croatia with Namibia planned for the year after.  We tried a vacation on a clipper ship and loved it.  We've snorkeled with nurse sharks and manta rays off the coast of Belize.  I've been to my first polo match and stomped on the sod pieces just like they did in the movie, Pretty Woman.  As I write this, my partner is off to her second glass blowing class.

We purchased a Miata this past summer.  it had a six speed transmission and I hadn't driven a stick shift in over forty years.  Plus, as I recall, I was never very good at shifting.  So now we had this car and I was afraid to drive it.  I avoided driving it for most of six months.  But yesterday I drove and the fear was gone.  Well, almost gone.  And today I drove the Miata to work.  I'm actually shifting better.  I'm proud of myself.  I'm actually excited about the prospect of driving again.  We we invited adventure into our lives by way of a car and I'm finally enjoying the ride!

When rafting the Colorado River many years ago, an old river man said that stories about the river always begin with, "and there I was..."  And there we were, getting ready for the helicopter to fly us out of the canyon and back to civilization.  Me, with my leg wrapped in an ace bandage from a torn hamstring and my partner white knuckled from the rapids we'd just gone through.  As she said, "it was the best of times and it was the worst of times."  But it was definitely an adventure and a strenuous one at that!

Please be aware that the degree of difficulty in adventures will decrease as you get older.  Your adventures won't be as extensive or as physically demanding.  But do what you can, while you can.  Age and physical limitations will influence the rest.  I look at the old people when I'm traveling and say to myself, if they can do it so can I....for as long as I am able!

The contents of this blog will be included in a soon to be published book entitled, Living Brave by Hilda Villaverde and Mary Beth Stern.  I'll let you know when it's available.  It's all about women who have lived brave lives.




LEGACY Continued

The day after I posted Legacy, I read this in an obituary:                                                                                  "Her mother, an art lover, was responsible for her love of bright colors and all things spicy.   Her father was a businessman whose trips to Europe, the Orient and Russia left her with an avid curiosity about the world."  

And then there was this quote that appeared, written by Carrie Hamelton, Carol Burnett's daughter:   "Our legacy is really the lives we touch, the inspiration we give, altering someone's plan - if even for a moment - and getting them to think, cry, laugh, argue.  More than anything, we are remembered for our smiles; the ones we share with our closest and dearest, and the ones we bestow on a total stranger, who needed it RIGHT THEN, and God put you there to deliver."

There was a quote from a long time ago,  "What you think about, expands."  

And so it has been with Legacy.  I love it and continue to reflect on it.




I think it's pretty typical, when you're at a funeral, to think about your own demise.  And today, as I attended a funeral, I was doing just that.  I was thinking about my own funeral when the pastor mentioned the word, "legacy".  My thoughts then went to what legacies I might be leaving, how I might have influenced people, whose lives I might have touched.  But before I could get very far with that line of thinking, my thoughts drifted to the legacies I had received.

The first legacies that came to mind were from my mother.  From her I learned that cooking and entertaining can be fun and exciting.  And then I thought about the stuffed mushroom caps that I used to love and can't duplicate.  I learned that its not where you buy your clothes, but how you wear them that's important.  And there was an unspoken message that expensive jewelry was not important, not to be expected, and not to be asked for.  Her final legacy was an Edgar Cayce book, left on her dresser at the time of her death, which sent me on a spiritual journey that has continued ever since.

My father's legacy was his work ethic.  It was never talked about.  It was one of those silent legacies that you don't even know you're getting.

From my grandfather I learned that you never touch the principle.

From my grandmother I learned that beneath a subservient exterior can lie a very capable woman.  

From Jim and Max I learned the art of intrepid traveling.

My mother-in-law's legacy was thriftiness.  She would only put three inches of water in the tub to conserve water and keep down the expense of heating it.

And so, as I reflected on the legacies I had received, I realized that we are unaware when we pick them up, that some are said out loud and others are unspoken, that the degree to which a person is important to us affects what we take from them.  

And then I realized that we have no idea when we're influencing someone else's life.  We really don't know what legacies we are leaving behind.  However, I do know this, and it's a quote from Oprah, "We never touch a person's life so lightly that we do not leave a trace."




My partner, Lou, lost her date book.  Everything was in it, all her plans, her volunteer hours, her doctor's appointments, everything.  Her life schedule.  Lou was lost without it.  She didn't know what the next day held, let alone the next week.

We looked everywhere - in both cars, in the bags she carried to her appointments and her volunteering, all around the house.  The date book was nowhere to be found and Lou was freaking out.

Two mornings later, as I was leaving for work, I heard the thought,  "Go check Lou's Reiki bag."  No, I responded in my head, we've already checked that bag at least fourteen times!  The thought came again, "Go check Lou's Reiki bag."  So, reluctantly, I went to the back of her Escape and opened the hatch.  My hand reached in and went directly to the side pocket (which I didn't even know existed) and pulled out the date book.

Needless to say, I was in a state of shock as I took the lost date book to Lou, who of course was thrilled to have her life schedule and her appointments restored to her.

As I drove off to work I smiled to myself and said, "It was a God thing."




How do you see people?

I was listening to a Ram Dass CD on my return from Miraval and one of the things he discussed was the channels that we tune into when we see people.  That’s not a very clear statement, but let me explain.

If we see people on Channel One – we are looking at them and judging them by their appearance.  We judge their weight, their size, their hair color, their clothes, their unlaced tennis shoes, their funky clothes, their hair cut, their tattoos.  And we assume things, based on their appearance.

If we see people on Channel Two – we are looking at them and judging them by their position.  So a politician has more importance than a gas station attendant, a professor has more importance than a student, a CEO has more importance and more power than an IT tech.    We give more importance to the higher ranking person without looking within to the person inside.

If we see people on Channel Three – we are studying them and reacting to their personality styles.  Some people are timid and shy, others are bullish and order giving.  Some people are emotional and expressive.  Some people are cerebral and thoughtful.  Others are accommodating and accepting.  Still others are type A personalities and get a lot done, while their counterparts are slower to experience life and more easy going.  We judge people on their style and decide whether we like them or not depending on their style.

If we see people on Channel Four – we see their souls and there is no judgment.  We know that they are kindred souls on this planet, just like we are.  If we see their souls, it doesn’t matter what their outward appearance looks like.  If we see their souls, it doesn’t matter what position they hold in the economic environment.  If we see their souls, it doesn’t matter how their personality style presents.  If we see their souls, it only matters that they are a soul just like we are and that they are here,  on this planet,  doing the best that they can do.

How do you look at people?




How to Create the Day You Want  

Our meditation group met last night and the topic was, How to Create the Day You Want. We each added our own suggestions and as the list grew,  I thought it's such a great list why don't I share it.

Don’t talk for the first five minutes when you wake up.
Think about what you want the day to look like.
Think about what you want to bring to the day.
Think about what you want to give to the day.
Set your intention to be present in each moment.
Set one goal per day so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Be aware of nature – even the smallest thing such as a butterfly.
Try something new.
Move your thinking from “I have to” to “I get to.”

And after all was said and done, we concluded with these words,
“May I be healthy and strong. May I be safe and protected. May I be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May I be happy and joyful. May I be patient and understanding. May I be loving, kind, compassionate, and gentle in my ways. May I be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May I be diligent an commited to my meditation practice and to helping others along their spiritual path. May my true nature shine through and onto all beings I encounter.”
Now, I hope you have a great day!




Mindful Relationships

Just returned from a wonderful week at Miraval - a resort spa with opportunities for enlightenment, personal growth and challenges.  One of the seminars was on Mindful Relationships and I took copious notes.  What follows are some of the gems:

The five A’s of a Supportive Relationship:  Attraction,  Acknowledgement,  Appreciation, Affection, Allowing.

What get’s in the way of a Supportive Relationship?  Anxiety, Need for Control, Judgment, Illusion, Unrealistic Expectations.  Also, Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

Four Fundamental Truths about relationships:  1.  Relationships are a mirror of ourselves and sometimes we don’t like what we see.  However, this always contains an opportunity for our own personal growth.   2.  I want others to honor what is true for me.  Do I honor what is true for them?   3.  Others cannot control my thoughts, feelings and actions – unless I allow them to.       4. I cannot control another’s thoughts, feelings or actions, even though I’d sometimes like to.

John Gottman PhD studied the Characteristics of Stable, Supportive Relationships and came up with strong predictors for a successful relationship.  His research is mentioned in the book, Blink.

Turning Toward – when someone ‘bids’ for our attention and we turn toward them, they feel loved and important.  If we Turn Away by staying pre-occupied, not listening, ignoring or interrupting, they feel unloved and unimportant.  If we Turn Against by speaking put downs or insults, they not only feel unloved but also not safe.

The second predictor of a successful relationship is a sense of We-ness.  A couple needs to feel like they are a team, that they are in this together.  There are shared values and goals, shared dreams and rituals, and shared problem-solving.

The third predictor of a successful relationship is a willingness to accept influence from the other person.  There is an openness to new perspectives, an ability to create new alternatives and options.  This is a couple who can make dialogue be the goal and come up with new ideas.

The fourth predictor of a successful relationship is the active building of friendship and intimacy through:  Positivity, Emotional connections, Fun, Adventure, and Playfulness.

Couples need a Five to One Ration of positives to negative interactions!

And finally, a list of qualities of Mindfulness:  Presence, Acceptance, Letting Go, Gentleness, Beginner’s Mind, Openness, Neutrality, Patience, Trust, Warmth, Honoring, Understanding, Empathy, Loving Kindness.  ”True love is being present.”





I’ve used this expression many times over my years as a psychotherapist.  When I perceive that someone’s behavior is not going to change, I use the saying, “This couch is never going to fly.”

You can want it to fly,

You can wish it would fly.

You can be mad at it because it’s not flying.

But in all reality, no matter whether you want it or wish it – that couch is never going to fly!             Agonizing over it, is just going to be a waste of energy, because the couch is never going to fly.

I use this saying to relate to a husband’s behavior, a mother’s enabling, a narcississtic parent, a selfish sibling.  Just today I talked with a young woman who’s sister has different values from her’s.  She described her sister as a ‘taker’, someone who takes from their parents without thought for anyone else.  The sister’s values are  totally different from  her own value system and the sister’s “taking”  makes her very angry.

I told her that her sister was never going to change, that her values were never going to change and her ‘taking’ was never going to change.  I then added my words about the couch.  She can be mad at the couch, she can plead with the couch, she can beg….but the couch is never going to fly.

Another daughter ‘bails’ on invitations at the last minute, inconveniencing everyone in the family and frustrating them to no end.  When talking to someone related to her, I reiterated that ‘the couch is never going to fly’, so save your energy and move on with the events.

And, after many years of this behavior, I also asked, “Why are you surprised?”

I hear frequent complains about husband’s and their behavior.  When the behavior has been consistent over many years, I gently suggest that this behavioral probably will not change, at least not without some strong intervention.  Often the intervention is the wife’s asking for a separation or a divorce.  That gets his attention and suddenly his behavior changes.  When this happens, the husband believes that his change in behavior will fix everything.  What he doesn’t realize is that his wife is usually half way out the door when she finally gets up the nerve to tell him that she wants a separation or a divorce.  She has already left the marriage, mentally and emotionally.  At this point, she feels she has nothing to lose. He tries to make changes in his behavior.  He may become more attentive, he may become more romantic, he may bring home flowers, he may beg, plead and cry.  But all of these actions, much to his dismay and his surprise, only make her angrier.  Her anger is based on three things:  if he could make these changes now, why didn’t he make them before all the damage had been done; why should she trust these changes, because he could just be doing these things now to win her back and then revert to old behavior; and it was easier to be mad at him and look forward to a future without him, when he was being his old self.

When relationships are at this junction, there is no predicting the outcome.  Sometimes the structure of the marriage wins out and the strong family ties, the mortgage, the car loans, the kids, the neighbors and the family members hold the marriage together.  Sometimes the wife is willing to begin trusting the new behavior and allow a new relationship to blossom.  Other times, too much damage has been done and the relationship cannot be restored.  In cases like this, a separation ensues and the couple begins to learn how to live separately and build their own lives apart from each other.




The Broken Record Technique

My Aunt Jeannie had bought a pair of shoes from a local shoe store and wanted to return them. Unfortunately, they had a policy – no returns without a receipt. And my Aunt Jeannie no longer had her receipt, so I taught her the Broken Record Technique.

The Broken Record Technique goes like this. You create a sentence that says what you want and you repeat this sentence over and over and over again. In my Aunt Jeannie’s case the sentence was, “I want to return these shoes and I don’t have a receipt.”

She entered the shoe store and spoke to the young man behind the counter. She said, “I want to return these shoes and I don’t have a receipt.” Of course his response was, “M’am, we don’t accept returns without a receipt.” And so Aunt Jeannie just kept saying her one sentence, over and over and over again. Eventually the young man went and found his Assistant Manager, who then went through the same routine with Aunt Jeannie, who continued to say the one sentence over and over and over again. And he finally called for the General Manager who eventually capitulated and said, “Lady, just this one time, but never again!”

Aunt Jeannie left the shoe store pleased as punch and never went back.

So when you are in a situation where you want to make yourself heard but don’t want to argue, or perhaps you are not good at arguing, use the Broken Record technique.   Create one or two sentences and repeat them over and over again. Don’t get drawn in to explaining yourself. Don’t get defensive. Don’t get drawn off track. Just keep repeating your sentence over and over and over again and see what happens. Aunt Jeannie did and look what happened!




One starfish at a time…

Hello, My name is Sabra and I’m a psychotherapist.  After 32 years in practice, I have a number of stories to tell, quotes that I have used and some that I have created, tools that I that I have taught my patients, some actual therapy methods, and many ideas that have worked well for me over the years.  All of this became more evident when I was asked to supervise a group of interns in clinical mental health programs, going for their master’s degree and PhD degrees. As I began talking with them about my philosophies, my theoretical styles, my interventions, my quotes – I discovered that I had a lot to share and was very excited about doing so.

I am not purporting to be an expert or a specialist in any sense of the word.  But I am an effective therapist who still loves her work after 32 years in practice.  And now I’m excited about sharing this information with you.  This blog is for the curious therapist who wants to see what I’m doing out there, it is for anyone entering the profession of counseling, and it is for people who have been in therapy, are interested in being in therapy, or who want to use my ideas and my quotes to help themselves or to help others.

The first story that comes to mind is the starfish story entitled, ” One at a Time”.  I have never felt that I could change the world, but I did want to help people.  This story explains my position:

“A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach a sunset.  As he walked along, he began to see a young man in the distance.  As he grew nearer, he noticed that the boy kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water.  Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean.

As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and ,one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water.

Our friend was puzzled.  He approached the boy and said, “Good evening.  I was wondering what you are doing.”

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean.  You see, it’s low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore.  if I don’t throw them back into the sea, they’ll die up here from lack of oxygen.”

“I understand,” my friend replied, “but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach.  You can’t possible get to all of them.  There are simply too many.  And don’t you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast. Can’t you see that you can’t possibly make a difference?”

The young boy smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, “Made a difference to that one!”
  (Jack Canfield & Mark V Hansen in Chicken Soup for the Soul)

And so the Starfish Story has become the foundation for my practice.  I may not be able to save the world, but I can help the world, one person at a time.






What is a Filing Cabinet, you ask? Well, a Filing Cabinet is my metaphor for the repository of the compliments you were suppose to receive as a child. You were suppose to receive the message that you were wonderful, you were precious, you were beautiful, you were talented, artistic, athletic, thoughtful, caring, sweet, intelligent, creative, and smart.  Remember the movie The Help?  “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”
If you got these compliments as a child from a loving parent, then when you are complimented now as an adult, that compliment goes into the filing cabinet and finds it’s appropriate folder. If you didn’t get a filing cabinet as a child, then when you are complimented as an adult, the compliment goes up to the filing cabinet and gets stamped, “No such person here, return to sender.” That is when you, the sender of the message, feel the compliment come back and smack you in the face.

If you didn’t get a filing cabinet as a child, it is up to you now to create one of your own. To do that, you need to write down every compliment that you receive and put each compliment in a special container. I recommend that you go to Pier I or World Market or T J Maxx and find an attractive wooden box to put your compliments in. That way, you are acknowledging the compliments and you are also acknowledging the importance of keeping them. You may find it easier to ‘keep’ a compliment about your work ethic than about your physical appearance. Once I was seeing an absolutely lovely young woman. She was tall, slender, blond and beautiful. But, she was a runner and she felt that her feet were ugly because she put so much wear and tear on them. Because she felt that her feet were ugly, she determined that she was unattractive too and that no one could possibly be interested in her and so she rejected all compliments about her looks.

I have come across many other reasons why my patients or people who have attended my seminars have rejected compliments. My favorite excuse was from a lovely, middle-aged woman who had just graduated from ASU, Magna Cum Laude. I asked her if I could now say that she was smart? Her response was, “No, because I don’t know everything.” I was flabbergasted. Other rejections have included: “I can’t take that in because I’m not that way 100% of the time.” This, from a very positive young lady who wasn’t cheerful all of the time. She admitted to being cheerful 75-80% of the time, but wouldn’t or couldn’t take in the compliment because she wasn’t that way ALL of the time. Another professional person rejected a compliment about her skills on the job because, as she said, “I’m just doing my job and anyone could do what I do.” Another time, a mother of two sons ages 9 and 11 came to my office and the boys waited an hour while their mother was in session with me. They were extremely well behaved and I complimented her on their good behavior and on her being a good mother. Her reply was an uncomfortable “Thank you.” I asked her what she did with that compliment and she said she couldn’t take the compliment in because I hadn’t seen her yell at them the night before. Other examples have included: “You’re just saying that because you want something”, “I don’t deserve that compliment”, “You don’t really mean that”, “You’re only saying that because I pay you”, “There are a lot of people out there who are better than I am”.

By the way, my grandmother always said that “Comparisons are odious”‘ and she was right! Comparisons only make a person feel superior or makes them feel less than. There is no winning with comparisons.  Are you a person who was compared to your brothers or sisters growing up?  Were you compared to the kids across the street who got better grades?  Did your parents tell you that you were just like your crazy aunt?  Comparisons like these were common as I was growing up because I don’t think parents realized the damage that these comments could do.  However, as adults we still compare ourselves to others and it can be just as damaging.  So, when you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, remember that there will always be someone who is taller, younger, brighter, more talented than you are. But there are also a lot of people who are not what you are. You need to feel special about yourself. You need to acknowledge that who you are, what you do, how you parent, or how you train or exercise or cook is good enough. You can’t be the ‘perfect’ mother, but you can be a ‘good enough mother’. Comparisons are odious and usually make us feel miserable!   Why do it?

When you are complimented, I think it’s important to practice saying “Thank you”. That way, the person paying the compliment doesn’t feel it slapped back. It really is a form of bad manners to say, “Oh this old thing” when someone had paid you a compliment (and I know that we are all guilty of this), but we must learn to take them “in”. Practice saying “Thank you”, practice taking in the compliment (at least some of it) and then writing it down. The last step is to put the compliment in your Filing Cabinet or special box. Try it – you may like it – and I promise that you won’t get a swelled head!




Don’t Get A Swelled Head!

This is an unfortunate statement that has been around for a long time.  Why do I say that it is unfortunate?  Because it implies that we are not suppose to say good things about ourselves, in other words, we’re not suppose to brag.  (Someone in my office once said, “It’s not bragging, if it’s true.”)

I am here to tell you that feeling good about ourselves is a good thing.  It is fuel in our gas tank.  If you are in a car and have no gas in your tank, you’re not going to go very far.  So it is with us.  When we have not accumulated a sense of things well done, we don’t have as much energy or confidence to go into work the next day.

I remember hiking Squaw Peak with a friend.  I was telling him about Dr Spock being in town and how I followed his keynote speech with a workshop on Self-Esteem in Children.  Now, in the audience was a reporter from the Arizona Republic who had three children at home.  She stayed  in the auditorium for my workshop and took notes.  Those notes became a write-up that took a quarter of a page in the Sunday morning paper!  I clipped the article and sent it to both my children, who put it on their refrigerator doors (where all important papers should be displayed).  I was telling my hiking companion about the newspaper article and his comment was “Well, don’t get a swelled head.”  I felt slammed and went silent.  What could I say in my defense?

That was many years ago and I remember his words to this day.  I tell this story often to demonstrate that our saying positive things about ourselves is frowned upon in public – and it even restricts us in our heads.

As a therapist, I encourage my patients to keep the compliments they receive.  To write them down, to keep them in a special box or container.  I even suggest that they write down the percentage of the compliment that they can take in.  Strangely enough, we don’t or can’t take in 100% of a compliment.  But usually we can take in a portion of the compliment.  Try this on yourself – write down three compliments you’ve kept in your lifetime.  Now, write down the percentage of each of these compliments that you can keep or take in.  Interesting?  My observation is, that if you can’t remember three compliments from your lifetime, then you never got a filing cabinet.  (more about Filing Cabinets in the next blog).

If you are someone who could or should be paying compliments to a spouse, a significant other, a child, a co-worker or a friend, here is a list of things to compliment specifically, and I say specifically because, if you pay a global compliment, such as “you are the most wonderful person in the world”, that compliment is not going to ‘go in’.  Compliments need to be more specific so that the receiver has a better chance to hear the compliment, believe it, and take it in.  Compliment suggestions: Appearance,  Belongings,  Behavior,  Accomplishments,  Achievements,  Attributes,  Values,  Ethics,  Character Traits,  Manners,  Talents,  Intelligence.     If you pay attention, you can begin to tell if the person  you just complimented takes in the compliment, or if they bat it back to you.  If they don’t take it in, then they don’t really believe what you just said to them!

More next time on the Filing Cabinet you were suppose to get as a child and the many reasons why people push compliments away.




Do No Harm

My first rule is to Do No Harm.  I know this is usually a motto for doctors of medicine and they are to do no harm physically, or with their medications or their surgeries.  In my case it means to do no harm to a patent emotionally, psychologically or psychically.  It also means to not make someone wrong.  People are told enough bad things growing up – ‘you’re no good’,   ’you’re just like your father’, ‘ you can’t do math, you’re a girl,’   ’you’re not important,’  ’you’re not loveable’.  These messages can be given through words, tone of voice, eye contact, posture, indifference.  People carry wounds from words.  The old saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me,” is not true!  We suffer more from words than we do from beatings.  The bruises from a beating heal, but our brain never forgets the words, the tone of voice, the look on the person’s face.

I had a couple who came apart over the question, “What kind of dressing do you want on your salad?”  the tone of voice was negative, caustic and sarcastic.  The relationship, which had been in jeopardy for some time, ended with this question.  Actually, it ended on the indifference, the malice and the tone of voice.

You know, we are at our very best when we are interviewing for a position.  We are polite, we are courteous and we are very careful what we say and how we say it.  With our spouse, our significant other, our children, we become more casual and sometimes, careless.

So we need to be careful what we say, how we say it and what we look like when we are speaking.  We can do great damage with our words.  They are never forgotten.  Are you careful about your words?