Spirituality

Overcoming Survivor’s Guilt

Three suicides. One week. All connected to the tragic aftermath of mass shootings. I was asked to speak about survivor’s guilt today, when the loss is unthinkable, when the trauma, unimaginable.  We all want to understand how we humans respond to such overwhelming pain and grief. How can we care for ourselves, Heaven forbid, to find meaning and embrace life again. How we can care for those around us?

Survivor’s guilt, a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), shows up much the same way that traditional PTSD does. That is, nightmares, flashbacks, sleep problems, irritability, numbness, meaninglessness and helplessness. Many develop suicidal ideation and impulses.  Those who fair the most poorly and ones with a history of depression, childhood trauma, low self esteem and little social support.  The trauma becomes a compounding experience and often a wake up call to deal with the root issues still wreaking havoc in one’s psyche and nervous system.  

It might sound oversimplified for anyone who has experienced devastation and tragic loss, but below are some suggestions.  

  1. Counseling and mental health care are key.  Every living thing has the energy of healing within, but we often need another human to hold the space to help us awaken that healing energy. Not just at the beginning, but long term, it’s imperative to have mental health check ups and regular support for un-peeling the layers of grief.   We lost our nephew in 2006 and it wasn’t until 2016 that his mother realized all the layers of grief she had buried, escaping into old and outmoded coping mechanisms.  Watching her embrace her recovery process 10 years later is a true testament to the resiliency we possess at the core and to the power of spiritual and personal growth.

  2. Connected to counseling is the importance of processing, rather than suppressing emotions; and identifying and transforming the cognitive patterns and belief systems that might be feeding the guilt, depression, helplessness and despair. 

  3. Don’t be surprised if your unresolved issues show up on the table. Consider this an opportunity, not an easy one, but a true chance  to excavate that which has likely weighed you down for years. 

  4. Allow yourself time to grieve.  Be patient and self loving. Everyone’s process is unique and not to be judged or compared.

  5. Self care is essential and top of the list.  This could mean spending plenty of time with those you love, being in nature, caring for your body, taking your spiritual life to the next level, and all of the above to tend to the deep emotional wounds.

  6. Lean into your routine.  This can help prevent you from falling lower than you can manage and also keeps you connected to other people and the world of life around you. 

  7. Be of service as best you can. Do your best to seek meaning and purpose.  Invest yourself in something you believe in, something that will add value. When we come from a place of sharing and kindness, we benefit far more than those on the “receiving” end.   When empty, you might not be able to give the same as when you feel full. Yet it’s important to push yourself and go against the justifications as to why you can’t or shouldn’t share. 

  8. Deepen into your spiritual path.


When speaking about survivor’s guilt, of course, we must address the guilt aspect.  Why did I survive and not them?  Maybe I could have done something more? I missed opportunities while they were alive to do more, show more, give more. These feelings are common and normal responses to grief overall, but especially strong when the loss was sudden and tragic, much less violent.  A powerful remedy for survival’s guilt is to understand that much of what you’re feeling is a coping mechanism to try and cover up the true vulnerability that is inherent in being a living human being, especially when it comes to deep loss. While I believe we can actually taking charge of our lives far more than most of us grasp, we must also embrace the humility that comes with that which is bigger than us.  The trick is to keep our hearts open while at the same time facing our vulnerability.

Guilt is different than responsibility. Guilt weighs us down, makes us want to do less, speaks lowly messages inside our heads and demotivates us. The energy of guilt comes from a negative force and places a boulder on our back which becomes the foundation for a tower of sadness, shame, anger, and blame. Even when we do good things, but from a place of guilt, we won’t feel inspired or connected to life.  Responsibility, on the other hand, while it might come with feeling the pain of our own missteps, missed opportunities or loss— the energy shifts from passive to active.  From beating oneself up, to “I can do something positive now.”  It’s an energy force on the side of empowerment drawn from the essence of our unlimited soul. When we give from wanting to take responsibility, we come from fullness which opens the gates to the creative mind and blessings flow. So check your thought patterns when you notice feeling guilt, and ask yourself: How can I turn this into something practical, proactive? How can I take responsibility for some aspect of my life, because I believe in myself?”

When it comes to supporting others, don’t be afraid to be vigilant about asking personal questions related to how they are doing.  How are you sleeping?  Do you have nightmares? What kinds of thoughts trouble you the most?  Do you feel like yourself? If you feel concerned about them, be willing to set up an appointment and go with them to a counselor or psychiatrist. Sometimes we need a hand in ours to take brave steps. Be patient, knowing that grief and trauma can feel relentless.  Do your best, then let go of the rest. 

May we all be there for one another and may our days be filled with blessings, even amidst the pain and tragedies of life.  

The Tidying Up Craze: Create More Joy, Empathy and Better Connections

I always know where I am in my life, within my self, by looking at these three areas in my home: my closet, my desk, and my refrigerator.  If I am neglecting my self in some way, or feeling overwhelmed, I’ve learned it’s time to start emptying and organizing. Bit by bit, I begin sorting and cleansing my way into a sense of control and confidence, outside and in.

According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, our home is a manifestation of our soul — a place to park our soul at the end of the day. We want to use our home as a reminder of how our consciousness should be. It’s up to us to create the energy in the home and to make it a reflection of us. Creating balance and order around us helps us do the same in our consciousness. Author and home organizer, Regina Leeds, puts it more bluntly, "Your crap and your clutter is what's going on inside of you." Don’t we all know and feel that

This month, nearly every major publication and network is talking about author, Marie Kondo and her Tidying Up series on Netflix.  Who doesn’t agree that tidiness makes us feel better?  And yet many do not grasp the extent, and the far reaching impact positive impact of decluttering? So what are the benefits of creating order in our home?  And what is the best approach to declutter with joy and balance (and that we can sustain)?

The Psychological, Spiritual and Relationship Benefits of Tidying Up

We know it from experience, but research confirms that those who move from clutter to tidiness experience not only a decrease in stress but an increase in their ability to process information and to focus on their goals. Order also helps us feel more creative, hopeful and more confident we can achieve our potential. 

Order can awaken it’s own brand of simple joy. We find a serenity that comes with less stuff. The key is balance. While it can be a happy and beautiful experience to buy a new dress or gadget, or to treasure a sentimental item, there’s a flip side to “too much” and not being sensitive to how each item affects us. Without balance, and developing what Marie Kondo describes as an empathic sense of what sparks joy, we can stuff ourselves into emptiness and guilt.

Even if it doesn’t reach the proportion of a full blown hoarding crisis, too much stuff can easily become an addiction, a distraction, an escape from connecting with our bodies, our loved ones, our pain, our self and the truth within our soul.  We are energy seekers by nature, and in a consumer society, it’s easy to turn to the illusionary solution of accumulating more stuff when it’s something much deeper that brings lasting joy. Decluttering opens up the space to connect from within—or as my daughter, Andrea Glik, LMSW, likes to say, “come home to yourself.” 

In our relationships, chaos in our environment can easily get in the way. In large part because it’s harder to connect with ourselves much less another. Ask anyone with young children about this one.  I remember that time in our life, back in the day, and listen to the struggles of many young couples who can’t seem to catch up. Not only from the hectic and relentless running around of those little joy machines, but just from the mess and disorder itself. It can be difficult to find that open space to connect. The key is finding a way to make the tidying up process light and fun, and not just on the shoulders of one person. It’s about creating an attitude of empathy, gratitude, and mutual care towards your home, your items, and especially the people with whom you live and love. So now let’s talk about the how …

Best Practices for Tidying Up

According to Marie Kondo’s Konmari method, she recommends the following rules:

RULE 1: Commit yourself to tidying up.

RULE 2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

RULE 3: Finish discarding first.

RULE 4: Tidy by category, not by location (e.g.,clothing, books, papers, kitchen/bath, sentimental)

RULE 5: Follow the right order.

RULE 6: Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

Here are 7 Tips to not only help make the tidying up more joyful but also SUSTAINABLE:

1. ACCEPT YOUR OWN RHYTHM

Make perfectionism the first thing you discard. Each person is unique and that’s in the beautiful design of our universe.  While some decide to make the clearing and tidying process an intense and concentrated project, I find that each person needs to find the rhythm that works for them.

As most of us do, I wear many hats and I continue to make choices that demand from me, stretch me and require constant change.  This makes my days and sometimes evenings quite full. That being said, I can’t say that full time organizer fits in my hat closet. So what works for me is to grab snippets of time wherever I can.  One fridge-drawer here, one under-the-sink-cabinet there. Maybe it’s the sock drawer before work and the underwear drawer after. Usually mornings work better for me because clearing out and tidying up often requires more decision-making energy than we realize. Sometimes there’s a time for going all in and devoting full days, but I don’t recommend the all or nothing mindset. 

2. MAINTAIN BALANCE

While a neat house reflects a person who takes good care of themselves, too neat can show obsession or lack of presence or warmth. I suggest reflecting within, using the extremes of “mess” and “over-neat,” as a gauge for where you are.

3. CREATE A SPACE THAT REFLECTS YOU

Our home should be a reflection of us, not who we think we should be or what others think. When decorating, organizing and tidying, ask yourself, “IS THIS ME?”

4. AWAKEN MINDFULNESS AND COMPASSION 

The Kanmari method is most well known for the invitation to ask oneself, “Does this item awaken sparks of joy?” Answering that question requires listening within and being present in the moment without any judgement about what you might hear. Try inviting self-compassion and self-acceptance, right where you are now. Also consider carefully you’re personality and attention style. Some are organically orderly in their way of processing information and life. Others are more expansive in their attention span, and this can affect your relationship with the space around you. So please be gentle with yourself if consistency and keeping order is naturally a struggle. 

5. WORK ON LETTING GO—OF ITEMS AND EMOTIONS

When cleaning out our things, its a powerful opportunity to listen to our feelings, especially when we find ourselves having difficulty letting go of items. Pause, take a few deep breaths and pay attention within to the emotions the item brings up or what you’re feeling at the very idea of discarding it. The idea isn’t to feel forced to give precious things away. We must honor our truth when it’s useful, authentic, joyful or meaningful for us to keep an item in our home, in our life.

That being said, oftentimes we hold onto things for less than joy-sustaining reasons. For example, you might feel guilt for not having used an item enough, or fear of not having what you need at a later time. Maybe your ego voice is bombarding you with should’s or I need this to feel good enough. Remind yourself, You are always enough. Sometimes we don’t let go of an item because we don’t realize the drain on our consciousness that keeping it really causes, especially if it’s from a person we need to move on from or some other aspect of our past.

You might need to add soothing and cleansing rituals to support your tidying journey, especially to make it a way of life. Examples include: opening a window, lighting a candle, burning sage, spraying essential oils. If you’re really struggling to let go, a counselor or close friend might offer the support and strength you need. Whatever it takes to help you LET GO— whether of the items that do not spark joy or the emotions that keep you stuck. Remember, on the other side of letting go awaits your new and more joyful, loving, and authentic life. 

6. SAY THANK YOU 

Every living thing or object contains sparks of the Light of Creation itself. Many spiritual pathsteach this beautiful idea. When clearing items away, I love the idea of openly thanking the item for however it served you before you say goodbye.  This can assist with the letting go and moving forward into your present life, with newly refreshed goals and dreams. 

7. TIDY WITH RESPECT AND UNITY IN MIND

One of the gifts Marie Kondo brings to tidying up is the unconditional respect and acceptance she injects into the process— towards the tossed away items themselves, towards oneself and towards the others in the home.

In the Down-sizers episode, Marie shares, “It’s very important when you’re tidying to respect each other. Having a family of my own, and being a mother and I think the things in our house and all the family members in a home kind of function the same way. We each play a role and we only have a limited amount of space and we all need each other.”

Self Care When National Headlines Trigger Old Trauma

Self Care When National Headlines Trigger Old Trauma

What can you do if painful memories have come to the surface as a result of the sexual assault Kavanaugh hearings, or any other “me-too” news that rings true to home. First and foremost, BE KIND TO YOURSELF! 

Sibling Rivalry or Sibling Bullying?  When Does it Cross the Line and What Can Be Done?

Sibling Rivalry or Sibling Bullying?  When Does it Cross the Line and What Can Be Done?

So much attention, rightfully so, has been paid to bullying in the schools. Yet family researchers have recently found that bullying inside the home can actually cause as much or even more damage to children’s mental well being—even into adulthood. 

The Competitive Couple: How to Avoid this Toxic Dynamic

 The Competitive Couple: How to Avoid this Toxic Dynamic

Whether it’s about who does more or who makes more, or maybe it’s who works the hardest or who is in better shape. The bottom line is that while couples yearn to come together as one, the human ego has a pesky way of allowing competition to invade the safe haven needed for love to deepen and grow. Here are some common competitive scenarios I hear about:

Should Kids Come First? Keeping Your Marriage Strong While Raising a Family

Should Kids Come First? Keeping Your Marriage Strong While Raising a Family

When a new couple reaches out for help, almost without exception, it quickly comes to light that the problems in the marriage, in large part, stem from this repeated proclamation, “Well, the kids have always come first.” Now here they sit on the counseling couch, and to some degree in a marriage run empty with one or both feeling neglected, unloved.

Holiday Cheer vs. Holiday Fear: How to Go Above the Overwhelm

Holiday Cheer vs. Holiday Fear: How to Go Above the Overwhelm

We are all faced with a myriad of challenging life circumstances, enough to make anyone feel anxious, insecure or overwhelmed. The truth is, we are not here to simply live a life of stillness and stagnation. To taste real satisfaction and freedom, we are here to overcome, grow and transform. So how do we deal best with times of great stress and stay connected to joy and peace along the way?

Movie Love vs. Real Love

Movie Love vs. Real Love

Even though we know romantic comedies are great for lightness, fun and open-hearted laughter—and are not meant to depict real life—we are still influenced by what we see, unconsciously deeming movie love as normal love. So enjoy and laugh away but be mindful of the messages about love coming through.

Master Your Thoughts, Master Your Life

Master Your Thoughts, Master Your Life

Here are a few truths and facts about the impact of what we allow to dominate our minds— drawing from both science and ancient spiritual wisdom. Then we’ll bring this into practice, with tips and suggestions for taking charge of our mindset.

Being Real Is Good for Your Health

Being Real Is Good for Your Health

Living authentically is not for the faint of heart.  It can be scary and vulnerable to address our emotions and frailties, to look at ourselves honestly and to be more real with the people in our lives. That being said, not addressing our emotional side, along with not being true to ourselves, comes with a heavy burden — on our mental health as well as on the fulfillment and satisfaction within our souls.