My sons are one- and two-years-old right now and, wow, this alone is enough to find me feeling overwhelmed sometimes. Add to this the fact that I also want to spend quality time with my wife, keep creating articles like this one, meet with 20-30 counseling clients per week, oversee the insurance billing for my counseling center, give workshops and public talks, supervise two student therapists, interview and hire new counselors, and keep pace with an ever-growing mountain of reading and writing assignments for my PhD program, and it’s a small miracle that I’m able to keep my head screwed on straight from one day to the next. Luckily, I’ve discovered a trick that works wonders to help me handle it all.
Confidence is one of the biggest predictors of future success. Those who have an abundance of self-confidence radiate conviction and strength; they carry themselves unapologetically, willingly take on new challenges, and face obstacles with determination and optimism, certain that they will triumph against any and all odds. Indeed, those with high self-esteem seem to have a much easier go of things in general, in work, in relationships, in everything. Unfortunately, some people struggle with this important trait, while others have it in spades. As such, I’d like to discuss why this disparity exists and, more importantly, what anyone can do to build their own self-esteem–and reap the rewards of doing so.
Manipulation gets a bad rap. In The Two Truths About Love: The Art & Wisdom of Extraordinary Relationships, as well as in my counseling sessions with clients, I explain how each and every one of us has 99% control of every relationship. Upon occasion, a client will remark, “Oh, but I don’t want to be thought of as controlling.” What a travesty! Such a person has yet to awaken to the limitless rewards that come from being manipulative. My goal, as a therapist, is to help people realize the essential role that skillful manipulation plays in our pursuit of success and happiness.
Many clients have been talking to me recently about their feelings of loneliness. Of course, this isn’t particularly uncommon. The desire for interpersonal connection, intimacy, and companionship are an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. Indeed, no one enjoys feeling lonely. Consequently, the question of how to transform feelings of loneliness is certainly an important one, which is why I decided to give this topic some extra attention lately.
I was residing at Wat Pah Nanachat (the “International Monastery” originally founded by the beloved Thai monk Ajahn Chah) outside Ubon Ratchathani, a medium-sized town in Thailand not far from the border of Cambodia. Although I wasn’t a monk at the time, my lifestyle was similarly austere. I slept on a bamboo cot placed in the middle of the jungle with nothing but a mosquito net above me, no ceiling, no walls, no electricity, just a thin blanket and a small backpack’s worth of belongings–a change of clothes, toothbrush, miniature flashlight, journal and a few pens for writing.
Sound insane? Trust me, I’m not off my rocker, nor do I endorse suicide. I value life and consider the act of someone taking his or her own life to be among the greatest of all possible tragedies. Nonetheless, I fully understand how suicide is, despite outward appearances, a tremendously bright idea. Here’s why.
One of my fondest memories is from one night in Thailand. I was alone at a café on the banks of the Mekhong River, looking across into Laos on the other side. The weather was perfectly clear where I sat but, over in Laos, a storm was moving slowly along the river’s edge. Peacefully, I watched the storm safely from afar, the moon overhead in an otherwise vacant sky. While I sat comfortably sipping my coffee, I marveled at the storm’s hundreds of lightning strikes as it crept, like a mythical goliath, across the far off shore. It was a truly beautiful hour of my life.
When we resent someone for something they did or said, we are holding onto something in the past, something we do not like, something we have not forgiven. Holding onto this thing is hurting us, just like holding onto a cactus. No matter how justified we may feel to be holding onto this perceived offense, doing so is causing us pain and solving nothing. So what if we are justified? It’s like proudly declaring, “I have a right to clench this cactus!”
Our internal friendship is a reflection of our self-image, the opinion we have about ourselves. If we do not like someone, we are not likely to have a very close relationship with them. Why would we want to? Similarly, if we do not like ourselves, we are not likely to have a strong and vibrant internal friendship. “How we think about ourselves” (our self-image) is really no different from “how we speak to ourselves”.
Most of us want to be close to others, to share deep connections built on trust and love and affection. We want relationships in which we can open our heart fully, knowing that another person will not stomp all over it when we do. We want to be vulnerable, knowing that intimacy requires it, yet we do not want to get hurt. We want two things really, intimacy and safety. Luckily, these goals are not mutually exclusive. We can, indeed, have both, once we answer the question, “How can I protect myself and build intimacy at the same time?”