Never the Same Person

It was the second day of a 3-day conference, and I returned to my hotel room in the evening, feeling the kind of deep fullness one has when attending a rich experience that infuses new life into your very soul.

As I turned my doorknob to close the door, glad to be in the silence of my room (as an introvert, I really need that silence and space to process and recharge), I had the thought that I’m returning to my room a changed person from when I left it that morning. Of course, the intensity of a conference (or workshop, retreat, etc.) is easily conducive to that sense of growth, the almost visceral awareness of time having sped up as one drinks deeply from the well of experience. It’s exciting, and a little overwhelming (or very overwhelming, as the case may be). One can soak it up almost *because* it’s condensed into a short amount of time.

The point of this blog is not to try to think about how to hold onto these deep, profound experiences of insight, change, and growth, how to carry them into everyday life. But that moment when I closed my hotel door, feeling the deep internal shifts, I also realized that whether I return from a rich conference, a day of seeing clients, a vacation, or a grocery store trip, I am never the same as when I left. It looks pithy when written down like this — haven’t we seen enough Facebook posts about embracing the moment??

But I sensed a powerful truth to that thought on a deep level beyond words. One never steps into the same river twice. Writing this blog post from a bumpy airplane flight on my way back home, like almost everyone on it with me, I’m more aware than usual that our days are all numbered. This truth is avoided with the most intense vehemence by most because of the enormity of grief we do not want to face, but there is massive freedom that comes with a deep acceptance of it. When my 70-year-old grandma would say to my mother and I, “So when I’m gone, I want you to have the…[coffee table, brooch, painting, etc.]”, my mother would always wave her off with a “Mom!! Stop that.” But what freedom it might have been for my grandma to know that, having just a few years left on this planet, she can choose to leave gifts to her family in her wake. It is a paradox, but what freedom might each one of us experience if we were to fully acknowledge the finiteness of our lives.

Much has been written on this subject that I cannot hope to reference or survey here. My purpose here is to share a single enlightened moment of turning my doorknob during a conference weekend, and to convey perhaps a droplet of feeling that you might take with you wherever you go next.

A few exceptional authors on this subject do come to mind:

Staring at the Sun” by Irvin Yalom
The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker
Many books by Stephen and Ondrea Levine


The Paradox of Becoming a Therapist

As the year draws to a close, as always, I find myself reflecting on the most important things I came to understand and learn over its course. While there are many insights and areas of exploration (always!), the one I keep returning to is the experience and the life of the therapist/analyst. So, here I want to share my thoughts about what I’ve come to see as the paradox of becoming a therapist. I believe that these insights can apply to those in other healing professions, as well.

One of the crucial elements of one’s education in becoming a therapist is the deep personal exploration of why she or he has chosen this profession. Helping people has so many different aspects to it and so many possible areas that can be addressed, even within the field of psychotherapy itself, let alone other fields (healing professions, teaching, and so on). But the work of someone who does long-term, deep work with clients to help them discover their patterns of relating to others and to themselves, requires a deep examination of what drives one to keep returning to the consulting room.

As I’ve worked with clients for a number of years now, I’ve been more and more aware of the fact that people who are drawn to the healing professions are, in part, driven by childhood experiences. (Alice Miller, in The Drama of the Gifted Child writes extensively on this.) Very often, while growing up, the child has had to learn to be immensely vigilant and aware of her or his parents’ feelings, expectations, and needs on a daily – or hourly! – basis. Knowing when their mother is angry, or when their father needs his coffee (or bottle, as the case may be), comes to be a matter of emotional survival, and the child develops a great skill for reading the family’s emotional states – even though he or she is not usually consciously aware that that’s happening. It simply becomes the fabric of one’s experience in the family. Finding opportunities to feel close and receive love and adoration can also take a fine-tuned skill that the child develops overtime when the situation requires it.

It is with this set of skills that later, the adult, arrives at the decision to become a therapist or healer of some sort. These skills are immensely useful in therapeutic work – and the person very readily reads her or his clients’ faces and body language in a very similar way to when this skill was being honed in on during childhood, intuitively. And as a result, clients often feel deeply seen and known by such a therapist for this reason – very rarely in their lives have they been paid such close attention to. (Sometimes they even struggle to really receive this much attention and might not trust it, experiencing it as someone looking for things to judge them for. But that’s a separate blog post!)

So where is the paradox? From the above it would seem that becoming a therapist after growing up in a tense, challenging, or neglectful environment is simply a positive development and allows one to use those skills in a constructive way. But given my own years of analysis and experience, I’ve discovered that there is indeed a major challenge that lies hidden within this – a challenge that might later become a life-long journey of working through for the therapist.

The key here lies in the fact that the skills of exquisite attunement and awareness of the other’s feelings and needs were formed because it was a matter of emotional (and sometimes literal) survival. The child learned not only how to read her or his parent(s) for what they feel, but they also learn what to do and say to elicit only positive reactions, and avoid triggering or upsetting them at all costs. Eliciting any “negative” feelings often comes to be feared at the very core as the child repeatedly learns that this causes their parents to retaliate and even punish them in response. Pointing to a parent’s weak spots, to their hypocritical statements, is rarely met with openness and reflection – more often than not, the child learns that doing so is wrong and gets one punished and rejected.

So, one’s childhood often teaches the child to observe, match the other’s experience closely, and avoid rocking the boat at all costs. Yet, one of the major jobs of a therapist is indeed eliciting challenging feelings, and pointing to those very issues that would have upset their parents. Even if consciously, the adult-therapist knows that this is necessary and potentially deeply therapeutic, some child part of them is likely to fear it nonetheless. Therefore, the now-adult is faced with the important task of undoing what was learned in childhood if one is to be an effective therapist. This can stir up inner conflict and possibly cause the therapist to merge with their clients, avoid important areas of exploration, be overly “social”, and even blur boundaries.

All these are important signals for deeper personal work – and can lead one to truly profound growth. In many ways, I see the choice of becoming a therapist as (in part) an unconscious desire to change this ingrained dynamic, to be able to talk about anything, to learn to freely express feelings and thoughts that in childhood would have been met with rejection or punishment. In this way, while helping others, the therapist can also experience deeply transformative growth as part of their work. I know I do.

The Ritual of Everyday Life

​Like most people, I tend to dislike cleaning. I do it because it needs to get done, but it’s not really fun. It is literally a chore, something people compare dull, repetitive, and annoying tasks to. However, I have recently discovered a surprising element to chores that made the process become fascinating for me. I will share this below, but first, I want to share a memory that sprung to mind when I made this discovery.

Washing dishes - Pixabay

When I was 9 or 10 years old, my family and I were expecting company — a family friend and his son were visiting us​, which was a rather rare occurrence. The son (I’ll call him Sam) and I were good friends, and I was thrilled to see him because he lived on the other side of town and we went to different schools, so I got to see him very, very rarely. In preparation for their visit, we all got busy cleaning the house top to bottom. And part of the reason this memory stands out for me as much as it does is that I noticed that I felt quite differently toward these same chores that I normally hated doing. I found myself thrilled to clean my room and wash the kitchen counters. Suddenly, dusting the bookshelves was kind of exciting. This was such a powerful experience, that decades later I remember it more vividly than I remember seeing Sam and spending time together during that particular visit.

What was it that shifted my perspective so powerfully? One could say that the excitement of the goal ahead (the special occasion of seeing my friend) is what motivated me to be more engaged with the tasks at hand. This is how I saw it too, until very recently, when I was reflecting on the topic of ritual. When most people think of rituals, they usually think about daily routines, religious practices, or perhaps the obsessive-compulsive rituals that someone can’t seem to stop repeating. But there’s an entire world to ritual that happens literally every day, something we are not often taught to look for. Once I began noticing this, the idea of ritual has created immense meaning in my life.

What happened for me in preparing for Sam’s visit was that I was so thrilled to see him, that to savor the anticipation, cleaning the house became part of the ritual of preparing to see him. This is why it stands out in my memory this much – not because I did a particularly stellar job or because I overcame laziness to do the tasks I normally avoided at all costs (what 9-year-old wouldn’t?). It stands out because this time, the cleaning had a different feeling to it, almost something sacred. It bonded us as a family, as we all worked to create the space in which to welcome cherished guests. We weren’t merely doing chores – we were creating something special.

The more I reflect on the idea of ritual, the more I see it at play on a daily basis. For example, when I put my makeup on in the morning, it’s not just a routine, although that’s a part of it. There is a ritual quality to it because putting on my makeup means I am going to the office to see clients – and during those 10 minutes or so, I start to enter into a different self-state in order to prepare for the day. Similarly, so many other routines in our daily life can be seen as rituals that create a shift in our self-states, a different kind of energy. Washing dishes, rather than a chore that eats up 20 minutes of the evening, can be experienced as a ritual that creates clean dishes and a clean kitchen – with the many deeper implications for an uncluttered mind. Other household or work tasks can gain a similarly rich meaning as well.

The many teachings on mindfulness talk about something very similar, but I see an added element to it – that what I am talking about is not just about being in the moment without trying to escape “boring” or painful reality, but about the conscious creation of something new within one’s life, a shift in awareness and in internal experience. Finding the ritual in everything – taking a shower, getting dressed, cooking, eating, and so on – is what shifts one’s life from a series of routines and chores to a deeper, possibly even spiritual, experience.

But Other People Have Had it Worse than Me

I hear this phrase so much in my work that I realize that it needs to be addressed more. Rather than writing about it, I decided to record a video that is now on YouTube. You can watch the video below or go to my YouTube channel.


There is much to be said about this topic, so please leave comments — either below, or on YouTube below the video.

No Money, No Problem: Part 2 – Now What?

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about how it happens that people continually recreate the situation where they have no money, despite possibly earning enough (or how it might be a struggle to create a situation where they do earn enough). I talked about some of the unconscious forces that might be at work that perpetuate the situation of deprivation and lack that one experienced during childhood – whether that was a literal deprivation (poverty, hunger, lack of resources), or an emotional one (neglect, abuse).


First, I’d like to address the fact that Part 1 of the blog received some very powerful responses, both on the blog itself and on social media. The most powerful responses came from people who immigrated to the US from other countries where they lived in poverty and have had to teach themselves how to save money, how to go beyond surviving and begin to thrive financially. Some of my own family members have done just that, either rising through the corporate hierarchies or bettering themselves through education in order to get better-paying jobs. For these people, the experience of poverty and oppression was so dreadful, that they courageously fought to change their circumstances and their financial situations. So, for them, the unconscious forces were quite different than what I described in my post. One dynamic at work there is the fear of reliving those dreadful conditions – to the point where one is compelled to do whatever it takes to avoid them in the future. There is much more to this, and I want to be sure to emphasize that everyone is different and I cannot hope to describe every possible unconscious constellation here. However, I do welcome responses to this post to share your own experiences and insights.


And now I will return to the task at hand – addressing the situation where one recreates the deprivation and lack in her or his life through lack of money. While consciously one might be constantly wishing to make more money, dreaming about hitting the lottery, or even being magically rescued by someone with a lot of cash to spare, unconsciously, something altogether different is playing out. Getting to the understanding of unconscious forces at work is the stuff of psychoanalysis and a challenging task indeed. It took me years to recognize it for myself, to piece together the many facets of my life and childhood experience before I could see, clear as day, that for a long time I was unconsciously literally trying to avoid having money. Realizing that on some level money has been tainted with the deprivation, neglect, or abuse of power is an enormous step in the direction of shifting one’s relationship with money. It’s a process that takes time and is very much worth that time.


Now what? When am I going to get to the way out of this mess already? Isn’t that why you’ve made it this far into the article? In terms of solutions, lots and lots has been written about it. I’ve listed the tiniest selection below. But while as an analyst, I might suggest a resource I think could be useful, my work with clients is not about prescribing solutions – my work is to help empower and support the person to find their own way through self-knowledge. And what I’ve experienced, both in my own analysis and in my work with clients, is that that empowerment emerges naturally as these unconscious dynamics are recognized and worked through on an emotional level. Money Plant Pixabay

Some questions that might come up around working through money issues are:

  • What is it that might feel dangerous (on an emotional level) about having money (or having anything else, for that matter)? This may seem like a silly question, but it might have some very, very serious answers.
  • Conversely, how might staying broke keep things “simple” (i.e., No Money, No Problem! Again, this is a question that sounds silly on the surface but is actually quite challenging.)
  • How is money tied up in important relationships?
  • How might having money disrupt those relationships, and why might that feel too dangerous to do?
  • Conversely, how might staying poor/broke maintain some important, needed relationships?
  • How might doing better than your family be somehow dangerous as well?
  • What might you have to lose – or fear you might lose – if you were to change your financial situation?


I could keep going, but I think this is a good-enough sampling of what might need to be worked through, and also illustrative of how deeply money issues go.


Money itself is both literal and symbolic on many levels, representing as well as intertwining with other means of support, nourishment, connection, and so much more. If these experiences are tainted, money can become tainted as well, with manipulation, sadism, control, and other toxic ways of relating. Therefore, in my experience and opinion, to truly work through one’s relationship with money is to work on all of these issues simultaneously – and this is why that work is so challenging and at the same time truly, truly worth the effort (pun intended!).


Additional resources:

The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth by T. Harv Eker

… and literally thousands of others.

No Money, No Problem: A Deeper Look at Having No Money

I’ve worked with a number of clients for whom this scenario is very familiar: they live paycheck to paycheck, and no matter how much or how little they earn in a month, they wind up with nothing in the bank. Somehow, they cover their basics, but there’s nothing left over. They feel ashamed, they tell themselves they should be saving up, they fear the future without any kind of financial cushion to fall back on, and yet month after month, the bank balance goes back to $12. In fact, for a long time, I’ve lived this pattern myself, so I know it inside and out.

So, what is going on here? There can be so many different things at play here, but I am going to describe one very common unconscious dynamic that could be driving this particular pattern.

So, it’s a typical month, and you are making a relatively predictable income. Then, suddenly, something breaks your way and you have some extra money coming your way. It feels amazing, something in you relaxes, you might start thinking about putting away some of that money for the future, fantasizing about how amazing life would be if this “extra” was a regular thing, how you might now be able to afford that trip to see your friend upstate, and so on. Then, this new pocket of ease compels you to go on Amazon and order something extra – something you don’t actually “need” per se, but that makes life a little easier. Or, you order takeout and get something fancy. Maybe you treat yourself to a trip to the clothing store. This new sense of having a bit more in the bank feels so wonderful that you want to commemorate it with a new pair of jeans. You’ve been working so hard, that you do need some treat, something to validate how much you have to hustle and juggle every month. After all, you’ve had so little for so long, you’ve had to deny yourself most luxuries and make do with basics. Maybe none of this is consciously thought – you just make the order and try to enjoy the bounty while it lasts, because you know it won’t.

I know this will feel familiar to many readers. What’s at play here revolves around the experience of deprivation or a sense of lack, often stemming from the far reaches of our childhoods. We get so used to that state, that it’s hard to imagine anything else.  Those of us who came from poverty will have this state ingrained very deeply – but even those who grew up with financial comforts may feel ashamed or guilty about it (or about something else within the primary relationships) and unconsciously punish themselves by living a life of deprivation to make up for it. Whichever way it comes about, it’s the air we breathe, it’s the way we experience equilibrium in life – the life of husting and juggling just feels “normal” even though it certainly doesn’t feel good.

money-2700212_1920 - Pixabay

So, what gets created – and recreated over and over – is a similar state of deprivation, even as consciously you might be wishing for a very different kind of life. And then there are all kinds of issues around the fact that if we grew up in poverty, then we also know that our parents struggled as well. My own mother tells me how when I was 3-4 years old, she would often go hungry in order to feed me. The layers of guilt and shame around having things (including money!) might build even more. Having more money would mean living a life that’s different from (i.e. better than) our parents’, and not wanting to disturb these relationships in our minds, we simply stay where we’ve always been. It’s a kind of equilibrium: no money, no problem…-ish…

Then, what happens when someone like this gets a bit more income in a given month (or week, or even day!) is that unconsciously there is some signal going off, saying that the familiar equilibrium has been disrupted. Consciously it’s a sense of “well I deserve the treat because I’ve worked so hard to get it!” or even “I’ve had to put off buying this because I couldn’t afford it until now!” – and that’s absolutely undeniable, which makes it hard to get underneath that. But what’s underneath is the “compulsion to repeat” (as Freud called it), which drives us to recreate familiar situations, even if they are painful – because there is much in them that needs to be experienced and “worked through.”

When I work with clients and we arrive at this realization, they often ask, “So what do I do to change this?” Seeing how deeply this goes, there might be a kind of despair as to whether it’s even possible to really change anything – or perhaps anger that we’re getting mired in old stuff that keeps us from addressing it in the present. I will explore this in part 2 of this blog post. And as I write this, I very much feel like the analyst who says, “Let’s talk about it next week” – but there’s a reason for that. This is deep stuff that takes time to integrate. But I will say that making these dynamics conscious is an enormous step in itself – where you recognize that on some level you do believe that “no money, no problem” is true. That’s where space opens up for real change.

What’s Behind Laziness?

Almost all of my clients talk about being “too lazy” or “just lazy” as their reason for not doing things they want to do or believe they should do. In the past, I, too, have used this term to describe myself, and my analyst gave me the enormous gift of asking me, “What’s behind that?” Continue reading