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.
Below are stories of real people. Their stories help illustrate the kinds of issues and struggles that most of us can identify with in ourselves. Reading about the work these people have done can help validate the feelings and experiences we, too, share. They also illustrate the kind of healing that can take place when we face our fears and pain with compassion and courage.
I have changed the names and circumstances in these stories. I want to thank these people for the inspirational work they have done and their willingness to share their stories. May these stories encourage and support us all.
If you would like to be notified when stories 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!
Lisa had worked for non-profit charities for years. Serving others had always been a priority and focus for her. After being in therapy for about three months, she finally risked sharing that she was a kleptomaniac. She admitted this with profound shame and grief. It was painful for her to describe what was going on. She would find herself walking out of a store and on her way out one hand would reach out and grab something (usually some candy) and hide it in her pocket. She never ended up eating the candy herself. The guilt she carried for having stolen the candy wouldn't allow for that. She would give it away. Those who got the candy would thank her for her generosity which, of course, only compounded her guilt and shame.
In exploring her kleptomania, it was clear how unconscious her actions were. It was as if her hand had a mind of its own when reaching out to take something. It was very hard for Lisa to be with the self-judgment and shame that came up for her. These feelings made it difficult for her to explore what her hand was doing. She needed to move beyond her being so judgmental. This is not about condoning stealing. She knew it was wrong. But her criticism was not about remorse. She truly regretted her actions. Her criticism was crushing. It condemned who she was and denied her humanity. A humanity that was so caring of other people.
As Lisa began to move beyond her condemnation, and to explore what was happening, she realized that her hand was reaching out to somehow feed and nurture herself. As she delved in this further, she became aware that she was terribly starved for affection. The irony about this was that Lisa was someone who constantly gave to others from a very heartfelt place. And people genuinely cared for her! But when they would express their care for her or compliment her for the work she did, she was ever ready to discount them. She might not say anything out loud but she would be thinking, "They're only saying that to be nice" or "They don't really mean it" or "They don't really know me." She wouldn't let it in. Yet she craved for that care and attention. Lisa recognized how undeserving she felt of any kind of care or affection. She put up a wall and would not let others care about her. She certainly didn't feel she deserved to be cared for by herself. She knew all her secrets. So her hand in desperation would reach and steal what it could to try and be fed. And that just led to her feeling worse about herself and even more undeserving.
In this painful journey of self discovery, Lisa became more conscious and aware of what she was doing, why she was doing it and how she kept people at a distance. She began to soften and to risk letting people in. Her kleptomania had already stopped once she had started talking about it. But now, her need for closeness and affection with other people was being met. Her walls continued to slowly melt away.
(See also Article: Should We Have Needs?)
David is a young man in his twenties and grieving his father's death one and a half years ago. He'd been able to grieve over the death of his father and come to a certain peace with it. But today, in his therapy session, he is again feeling sad. This time, however, as he explores his sadness what becomes clearer is his holding on to a sense of being in control. When asked what would happen if he let go of his control, he becomes scared and frightened. He realizes that to let go would mean that he'd just "dissolve away." There'd be nothing left of him. He'd be completely empty - nothing would remain of him. He'd be totally helpless and exposed.
As David talked about this, he was already beginning to move through his fears and experience these feelings. He began to sob deeply. He was feeling so empty, alone, helpless and undone.
In his being able to risk going into this scary and painful place, David came to realize that behind his fears lay a deep sense of abandonment. He had been a young boy when his Dad was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, as his Dad went through treatment, the attention was naturally on his Dad. There just wasn't the same kind of time, care and attention available for him. He felt abandoned and scared. To compensate, to get attention, to feel a part of his family, he took control of himself. That is, he put his feelings, his fears and his needs aside. He helped his Dad and his family. In truth, he had a close relationship with his Mom and Dad and siblings but the price he paid was ignoring his own feelings.
For David to finally allow himself the experience of letting go of his control, he got in touch with these long held back feelings. His eight year old self could finally experience his own real feelings. The eight year old could finally be seen and heard rather than hidden away behind a mask of control.
Healing takes place when we can be with whatever we are experiencing in a deeply compassionate way. David and his eight year old were healing.
Cynthia was disillusioned and really down on herself. Here she was in her early thirties, not married and with no children yet she wanted a family. What really brought this to light even more was her growing relationship with her father. They had been estranged for most of the last twenty years but had found a way to begin to connect with each other. All that Cynthia could see now was how revered her father was by so many people. He was a noted public figure. He was quite wealthy, charismatic and a dynamo of passion and energy.
Cynthia couldn't help but compare herself to him and find herself coming up dismally short in most every way. This was incredibly discouraging. These feelings were beginning to cause problems with her partner. She felt she needed to push him to be as successful and engaged as her father. These feelings for her partner were such a reflection of her own feelings for herself. She felt she was a failure and could never measure up. This kind of self-criticism was drummed into her as a young girl by her father. He had been constantly impatient with her, often calling her "stupid." As much as she had fought him on this, there was still a part of her that was afraid it was true and had taken it in. Having "internalized" this criticism, she was now her own worst critic. Even when she was confronted by the facts that contradicted these criticisms, Cynthia would find a way to discount the facts. That she had put herself through nursing school and held a demanding and responsible job meant little when she would get mad at herself.
Not until Cynthia was able to compassionately explore why she was so down on herself did she realize how severely critical of herself she was. She recognized in her hurt how she was so painfully comparing herself to her father. In this light, she was always falling short. However, she began to see that the work she did as a nurse required a care, compassion and presence that were her gifts. These were not things that her father valued. She began to see the light. Her father's criticism had driven her away from him. But Cynthia's relationships with other people were very different. She was caring and sensitive with people and cherished this way of being with people. Cynthia realized that her task was to care for herself in as loving a way as she cared for those she loved. She was already beginning to care for herself. Though it was hard especially at first when she was still feeling so self-critical, the truth was that she has a very loving heart. And she could be loving with herself.
Our self-criticism doesn't go away and disappear. Something so ingrained remains. But rather than being something to beat ourselves with, it can instead serve to be a reminder. When we become aware of our criticism, we can choose a different course. It can be a reminder to be caring of ourself when we realize that we are doing just the opposite. It becomes part of our healing rather than a weapon. This process takes time and is ongoing. But throughout this process, each step we take is part of our healing.
John had wanted to be a sheriff. He easily passed the mandatory intelligence and personality tests but kept failing the physical. His strength was good but he could never pass the running test. He had to run a certain number of laps under a certain time. He would ready himself to go out to a track and run the test on his own. Stopwatch in hand, he'd take off at a fast clip determined to do well. He finished his first laps well under the time he needed to pass the Sheriff department's test. But about three quarters of the way along he'd be badly out of breath. He would push hard just to try and complete the distance. But finally despite his determined drive to finish, he would be forced to stop, too exhausted to take another step. He felt like a failure. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't even complete the distance. Then he'd get mad at himself for being so incompetent. It would be months after feeling so devastated to rally himself to try again. Then he'd repeat what happened before and again feel undone. This was an ongoing pattern in his life in several areas. And yet John was an intelligent and physically fit young man.
This pattern continued for John until he began therapy and realized how he was setting himself up. He set his goals so high each time he began running that he set himself up for a fall. For John to run any slower than a "decent" pace felt wrong and lazy. How could he tolerate being "less than." He had to do his absolute best. Anything less wasn't worth doing at all. So of course when John wasn't even able to complete the needed distance much less completing it in the required time, his sense of failure was total. For John, it was not only failing to become a sheriff, it was about his failure as a person, as a human being.
In talking about how he felt and what he was thinking, John realized how terribly hard he was on himself. But on the other hand, how could he settle for being second rate? This was his dilemma. It took John time to recognize that we need goals in our lives to aspire toward. But that's not perfectionism. Perfectionism is about mentally and emotionally beating ourselves up when we don't reach our goals, and reach them perfectly, and reach them now. John began the process of re-evaluating what his goals were and how he could work toward them.
A few months later, John was again at the track. He began his run but not at the clip he had always insisted on before. It was a measure and paced gait and slower that he had allowed himself before. This time he was alright with it. He kept to his pace. And for the first time since John had begun applying to become a sheriff, he finished the distance.
(See also Article: Perfectionism)
Nicole was feeling overwhelmed. Work was becoming busier than ever. She was committed to her non-profit organization and the way it served people. Much of her work was volunteer as the fledgling organization was getting underway and beginning to do well. Along with this, her partner's health was poor due to ongoing illness. He was her soulmate. If there was to be less time for the two of them, she wanted to spend it together and cherish it. Being away from him and involved with other activities was difficult. She was already feeling her sadness and grief as his health was changing. Both her mother and mother-in-law were elderly and needing more help and support than before. Nicole and her mother had always shared a close relationship. As her mother's health ebbed, her mother wished that they too could spend more time together. That was Nicole's wish as well. Nicole's mother-in-law not only needed more help but looked for companionship as well. As Nicole's partner was less able to assist his mother, this increasingly fell to Nicole. Nicole was left feeling that she couldn't even begin to do everything that was needed.
Nicole tried to balance things out as best she could. Nevertheless, she usually ended up feeling she wasn't doing nearly enough in any of these areas all of which were really important to her. She began to feel more and more out of control each day. Nicole wanted to find a way to say "no" to some of the demands in her life so that she could carve out some badly needed time. That of course made a lot of sense. Yet there was also the clear difficulty of trying to choose between needs and wants all of which she valued.
As Nicole continued to explore her feelings and frustrations, it seemed as if there was another "part" of herself that she was avoiding and keeping under control. As we talked, it was also clear that this was a part of herself that Nicole did not want to get in touch with at all. In looking closer, this was the part of her that could be wild, rebellious and acting out. The part of herself that could and had gotten her into trouble. I encouraged her to get in touch with this part of her to see what was going on. It was difficult to do. As Nicole explored this part, what emerged was anger, criticism and hostility directed towards herself for doing everything else and ignoring this part of her. Nicole's first reaction was to pull back. She didn't like that kind of anger and criticism being directed at her. This was a very real conflict going on within Nicole between these two parts of her. Rather than just pull back, I encouraged Nicole to continue "dialoguing" with this part of herself. What emerged behind this angry part was an image of a five year old girl, alone in a long, empty hallway, curled up in a corner. This five year old was scared and feeling confused and abandoned. When Nicole had become so involved in so many things, there was this part of her that felt terrifyingly alone. Nicole became aware that it was whenever she'd feel overwhelmed by so much activity that this other part of her would emerge in a rebellious and critical way. Yet behind all the acting out was this frightened five year old girl lying curled up in a corner who needed to be seen, needed to be heard and needed attention. It was when this five year old part of herself wasn't seen or heard that the five year old would come out of her corner with a vengeance.
Nicole began to realize that even though she couldn't immediately work out all the demands of her present circumstances, what she could do was to recognize that very scared part of her that was feeling so abandoned and ignored. It was that part of her calling for attention and recognition. In trying her best to attend to everyone and everything else, Nicole had been ignoring herself. She needed to step back and take time to recognize her own fears, her own grief, her own need to be attended to as well. Nicole came to see that she couldn't bring a balance into her own life unless that balance also included caring for herself. Only then could she begin to weigh what needed to be done, do her best with the time she had and then let go of what could not be done. The part of herself that was at first so scary and abrasive turned out to be a deeply needed reminder that Nicole needed to be loving with herself as well. But in order to discover this, Nicole needed to be willing to face that dark, scary part of herself to bring it to light.
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