Welcome to the Inner-healing Web Site
hosted by F. Michael Montgomery, LCSW, LMFT
LCS 6184, MFC 15488
Therapy for the heart, mind, body and spirit in a safe and healing setting
This Inner-healing web site is a resource center for the support and promotion of personal growth and healing.
My desire is to support people in their own healing through the compassionate and courageous work of their hearts.
The following articles are short discussions of issues that we often encounter in our lives. Their aim is to help clarify what these issues are and how we can work with them so that we heal in these areas. Our lifetime journey of healing is about reclaiming our wholeness.
If you would like to be notified when articles are added or would like to make a contribution, please E-mail me.
I would like to hear any comments or suggestions you may have to offer. Please E-mail me!
In truth, we often do not grieve for a number of reasons. Sometimes we do not make room for our grief. I remember a woman I worked with in a hospital who had just had a heart attack. I was asked to see her because she was crying a great deal. As I visited her, she was feeling quite undone by her crying and didn't understand it. She was in her sixties and had always been a strong and independent woman. This crying not only didn't make sense to her but it left her feeling uncomfortably vulnerable. She didn't like what was going on at all. As she continued to talk the story that unfolded centered around the death of her son a year ago. In fact, he had died on the same date that she had her heart attack. But that was a year ago. And she began crying again. Through her tears, she again said how it didn't make any sense to her that she was crying now. At her son's funeral, she was the "strong" one who was seeing to everyone else's needs and comforting them. Sometimes it can be so hard for us to let our pain and our grief in. I cannot believe that her having a heart attack one year later to the date that her son died was just a coincidence. Her heart was broken but she couldn't let it in. Her heart needed to grieve. Even if the "rational" part of herself didn't understand.
Another problem with allowing ourselves to grieve has to do with time. Our lives can be so full, so busy that there isn't time to grieve. It doesn't fit conveniently into a scheduled time slot between work, family and activities. A friend was telling me about her being in a department store to buy a gift. While waiting for the gift to be wrapped, several fathers and sons came in to buy something for Mother's Day. My friend's husband had died about two years before and seeing these fathers and sons touched off so much pain and grief for her. It caught her by surprise. It was so unexpected but there it was again. While we can't always allow our grief to emerge in the middle of a work day, it is so important to honor the grief we are feeling and not avoid it either.
Our fear can be an obstacle as well. I have heard hundreds of times from someone that they do not dare to let themselves start crying. Their fear is that "If I start crying, I know I'll never stop." We can let our fear of being overwhelmed by our grief isolate us from our grief altogether. But our grief is part of our natural healing process. When we cut ourselves off from our grief, we cut ourselves off from our healing as well. We need our healing. We need our grief. We need to let our hearts break and care for ourselves in as loving a way as we can as we move through this process. We need to trust our process.
Many of us grow up feeling that we have to be the best at something in order to feel alright. And then we can end up feeling poorly about ourselves when we discover that we are not the best. But the drive can still be there and the need to succeed if we are ever able to feel good about ourselves. It can set us up in an endless and ongoing pattern of striving and then disappointment and then "failure." Perfectionism is really about expectations and judgment. It is about expectations that we have for ourselves and our judgments about ourselves around these expectations. For instance, for a painter, it can be about the picture that is never good enough. For a writer, the piece that is never written well enough. For a parent, the parenting that is never up to par. For a student, the test that can never be studied sufficiently for or the grades that are not good enough. For each of us, it can be about the task that we just can't seem to do the way it should be.
Goals are important in our lives. They reflect those values we aspire toward and cherish. Those goals we can spend a lifetime living toward. But these same cherished goals can become the very weapons we hammer ourselves with when they become judgments against us. Instead of being inspiring, we mentally beat ourselves up over them because what we wanted to accomplish didn't turn out the way we thought it should. Rather than our being inspired to ever reach out toward our goals, we instead feel defeated in not having attained them. As perfectionists, problems encountered are not challenges to our responsiveness, creativity and ingenuity but instead become proofs of our shortsightedness and lacking. Perfectionism is an ever defeating cycle.
When we realize our judgment behind this way of thinking, we can change this. Letting go of the judgment, we can re-evaluate what is truly important to us and begin living those values as best we can. And to go on learning how to live them and realize them more fully in our lives. We enter this as a process that is ever changing and ever challenging because we are always able to grow and learn about those things that most excite us and inspire us.
(See also Stories: Perfectionism)
Having "needs" can be such a charged issue. We can have so much judgment about our needs. In this judgmental place, having needs can mean being "needy" with all the negative associations that this carries. It carries with it the sense of wanting too much, or wanting more than is reasonable, or wanting more than we deserve. And yet for so many of us, tending to the needs of others is valued. It is about people caring for each other. It is the glue of a family, of a community. Yet how terribly and painfully out of balance it is when we care for the needs of others but refuse or deny our own needs.
It can make our relationships with others more difficult. Responding to the needs of others is more difficult when our own needs go unmet. It can leave us feeling jealous and resentful of the attention that other people do receive. This can take place with our spouses or even children, with our siblings and friends. And because these are the people we care about, we can feel all the worse about having these feelings. All of this confusion can have the effect of leaving us even less open to these needs of ours which only seem to end up creating more problems for ourselves and others.
How can we turn this around? We need to recognize that we do have needs. We move beyond this apparent conflict when we begin to tend to our needs. It is about recognizing that our needs are as important and as valid as everyone else's. Our needs and the needs of others change from moment to moment. This is an ongoing and ever changing dynamic. Doing our best to keep a balance between meeting our needs and the needs of others can help bring us peace of mind and heart.
(See also Story: When Our Needs Aren't Met)
Grief is a natural healing process that takes place as we are affected by the changes that come into our lives. It is about the changes as well as the losses in our lives. Before I worked for a hospice organization for eleven years, I had always believed that we grieved when people we loved died. And this is generally true. But what I came to discover was that we grieve around the changes that come into our lives. And this of course happens all of the time. At first take, this perspective seems wrong. If it is true, then we would be grieving all the time! And indeed I believe that we are largely out of touch with our grief.
While there are many changes that affect us minimally, there are those other kinds of events that have a much deeper impact. These can be events like the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, a separation or divorce, or the loss of our health. And yet how much do we allow ourselves to feel what we are going through. There is so much pressure in our society to move on and not feel our grief. Allowing ourselves to feel any kind of discomfort (and our grief certainly falls in this category) is generally not supported in our culture. Even with the death of an immediate family member, we are still expected to be back to work in about a week. Two weeks at the most. And if we are still grieving several months later, we will be questioned about what our problem is and again urged to pull ourselves together and get on with our lives. This pushing us along does not recognize our grief. And we may not even recognize it ourselves. Or if we do, we may discount it and ignore it. But the truth is that when our hearts are broken, we need time and space to mend.
It can be difficult enough for us to grieve when our grief is recognized by others after a loved one dies. It is far more difficult when our grief isn't understood or validated by others. I was made aware of this when I worked with a group of young couples who were coming to a support group. They had all gone through a miscarriage or still birth. And they had all shared the experience of having their family and friends not understand their grief. Usually said with the best of intentions, what they heard were comments like, "But the baby hadn't even been born (so they shouldn't be feeling so bad)" and "Thank goodness they were young and could easily have other kids." But in fact they did have a child. They had already begun to wonder (or had already found out) if the child was a girl or boy. They may have started picking out names and buying furniture. In listening to these couples, it was clear to me that a baby is very much present to a couple long before the birth. But when this is not seen, the terrible ache of losing a child is not understood and ends up leaving these couples in painful isolation. They needed to be supported in grieving the loss of their children. Fortunately for these couples, the support group offered them this kind of support.
There are other kinds of circumstances where our grief is not so apparent or is covered up by other feelings. For instance, moving to a bigger and nicer home. This can be a time of happiness and celebration. But what may then go unnoticed are the feelings of leaving the old home. All the memories of times shared, of kids growing up, of challenges faced and of quiet, loving moments are somehow held in that home. And leaving it also touches our sadness. Not that we would not want to move to the newer home. But recognizing our grief honors those feelings and experiences that made that first place a home and not just a house.
I was reminded of this when my boys were young and our car was falling apart. The boys were excited about looking at new cars and couldn't wait to bring home a new car. But when they saw the old car being driven off they cried. It had been like a member of the family and they were going to miss it.
There is room in our hearts to hold all of our feelings. The wonderful and the sad. We are asked to be as loving with all of what we feel, excluding nothing. As Stephen and Ondrea Levine describe this (see Books: Healing Into Life and Death), our hearts have that kind of spaciousness to lovingly hold it all. It is our task to trust our hearts, trust our grief, and to trust our healing.
Healing can only come from within us. Our healing can be supported and nurtured in the most important and endearing ways by family, friends and therapists but can only be brought about by ourselves. Our healing is about attending to our own woundedness. We heal ourselves when we attend to our woundedness in a deeply compassionate way. The way we would attend to a dear friend who is hurting. It is part of our Divine nature and reflects our connection with the Divine. It is the very act of bringing our loving attention, rather than our judgment, to our woundedness that brings about and continues our healing. This is an ongoing and lifelong process for each one of us. It is about becoming more fully ourselves in mind, body, heart and spirit.
Please E-mail me with any suggestions, comments, or feedback you may have. I would really like to hear from you!
F. Michael Montgomery, LCSW, LMFT