Letting Go of Suffering- Week 5: Why Do I Suffer? (continued)

Most likely, the reason you suffer as an adult is because suffering was an acceptable method of expressing your feelings, or more accurately, a method of “stuffing” your real feelings, in your family of origin. This week you will explore some of the childhood origins of your suffery behavior. Again, Levin’s Think Structure (Cycles of Power) will be used as the tool to help you organize your thinking.

(The Think Structure process is taught in the previous lesson.)

Example 1

Situation: As an adult, I have trouble saying “NO”. I will think about what happened when I said “NO” as a two-year-old and nine-year-old child.


Example 2

Situation: As an adult, I have trouble asking for what I want. I will think about what happened when I asked for what I wanted as an infant and a 14 year-old child.



When you explore how your adult behaviors relate to your childhood, it would be helpful for you to look at one behavior over a variety of ages. In each of the examples below I ask you to look at an issue for two different ages. Fill in the blanks to come up with your own think structures.

Practice Exercise 1


Practice Exercise 2


During the rest of the week, complete Think Structures for some of the adult behaviors you worked on in Practice Exercise 3 in the previous lesson. Explore two childhood ages for each Think Structure. (Ages that tend to be particularly good to reflect on are infant, 2, 5, 9, 14 and 17.)

You may need to change the way you described the adult behavior in Practice Exercise 3 in the previous lesson, so that it becomes a childhood behavior. For example, if your adult behavior was “leave work early”, the child behavior might be “do what I want to do.”


See you next Monday for the sixth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.


Letting Go of Suffering- Week 4: Why Do I Suffer?

The task for this week and the next will be to explore WHY you suffer, e.g. why you are suffering now as an adult and why you learned to suffer as a child. The primary tool you will use is Pam Levin’s “Think Structure” (Cycles of Power). This structure will help you 1) organize your thinking and 2) determine what motivates or drives the behaviors that lead you to suffering.


Example 1

Situation: I agreed to help a friend move to a new apartment and even though I didn’t want to do it. I feel mad that I am not spending my day doing what I want to do. This would not have happened if I had said “No” in the first place, but I was afraid to do that.


Example 2

Situation: I want to go to the movie but I am afraid that if I ask my friend to go, she will say “NO” to me, so I stay home alone.


Your turn! Think of recent times when you had trouble 1) saying “NO” and 2) asking for what you want. Fill in the practice exercises below. If you can’t think of recent incidents, use experiences from the past.

Practice Exercise 1


Practice Exercise 2


During the rest of the week, be aware of times you are suffering. Use the Think Structure to help you sort out what is going on for you.  If you have no incidents of suffering during the week, complete the structures from incidents in the past. If you have trouble identifying when you are suffering, use some of the behaviors you identified in Exercise 1 of Lesson 2. Complete at least three more Think Structures this week.

Practice Exercise 3


Feel free to share or ask for feedback on Think Structures that you come up with!

See you next Monday for the fifth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering: Week 3- What Would Your World Be Like If You Didn’t Suffer?

Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Many years ago, Pam Levin taught me that the first step in manifesting your vision is to have one.

The exercises for this week are devoted to imagining what your life would be like if you didn’t ruminate about the past, worry about the future or do the unhealthy behaviors that you know make you miserable.

Exercise 1

Identifying Your Vision

Take a few deep breaths. Focus on “breathing in relaxation” and “breathing out tension.” Let your body settle into the chair you are sitting on, or the bed or floor on which you are lying. As you begin to relax, let yourself imagine what your life would be if you were no longer immersed in suffering.

Let the images come and your new world develop. When you are ready, bring yourself back into the present and then answer the questions in this exercise. If you need to, close your eyes and go back into your new world to get the answer to a question.



Exercise 2

To make your vision become a part of your life, spend 10-30 minutes a day for the next five days putting yourself into a meditative state (through breathing slowly and allowing yourself to relax) and then experiencing your new world. Feel what it feels like to live there. Experience whatever you experience. Let your new life develop in your mind’s eye. Jot down some notes in the spaces below.


As you identify other components you would like to have in your new world, add them to your vision. Periodically, throughout your life, refer to the two exercises in this lesson to see where you are in creating that vision. Each time, see if there are areas you want to add, or parts you want to let go of. Decide which part of your vision you want to work on next. Don’t feed suffering by expecting your life to change all at once. You will create you vision one day, or even one step, at a time.

See you next Monday for the fourth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Letting Go of Suffering: Week 2- The Beginning Continued

Exercise 1:

An important step in letting go of suffering is identifying the many ways we contribute to our suffering. I make myself suffer when I eat too much chocolate, when I agree to do things I don’t want to do, and when I over-think or over-do. What are the unhealthy behaviors  you do that bring suffering into your life?


Exercise 2

In the psychotherapy model I use, therapists differentiate between core feelings and racket feelings. Child words, i.e. mad, sad, scared and glad, are used to designate the core feelings. Rackets are substitute emotions that are used to cover (hide) the core-level feelings.  Racket feelings are much more likely to lead to suffering than experiencing and addressing the core feelings.

In our families of origin, some emotions might have been more acceptable than others. In my family it was okay to feel scared but not mad, so I learned to cover my mad with scare. The pattern became so pervasive in my life that there was a period of time when I needed to assume that I was mad whenever I felt scared. When I examined my scare, I usually discovered there was no danger present and that I was actually mad. So in this example, scare was the racket and mad was the core. Other people may cover their scare with mad.

While core feelings can become rackets, there are also many other kinds of racket feelings. Some common examples are disappointment, confusion, sarcasm, and guilt. Using the chart below, identify the racket feelings that you use as substitute emotions. If you identify any that are not on the chart, add them. This week, whenever you experience a racket feeling, see if you can identify the core feeling that lies underneath it.


Exercise 3

The more we can learn about our own suffering tendencies, the easier it will be to stay out of them. For example, if we tend to be miserable on holidays, then it is important to be proactive in making plans for those days, ones that will give us satisfaction and prevent suffering. In the chart below, identify factors that are part of your suffering profile. If you become aware of other factors during the week, or in the future, add them.



See you next Monday for the third lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.


Letting Go of Suffering: Week 1- The Beginning

You are probably reading this post because you have a desire to let go of your suffering. This course will consist of 17 lessons, each containing concepts or tools that can aid you in your endeavor. The content is based on a workbook I wrote in 1991. I will be posting a new lesson each Monday.

Suffering, as used in this course, is defined as “extended hurt.” It is “the persistence of painful feelings long after they were provoked.” (Judy Tatelbaum)  Letting go of suffering does not mean living a life void of challenges or pain; it means not getting stuck in the pain

People often think of suffering as being prolonged sadness. It can also be prolonged anger or fear. There is likely to be some degree of suffering present whenever we are holding on to the past or worrying about the future.

Suffering is also brought on by the unhealthy behaviors we do in the present, those behaviors that make us miserable.

Be gentle with yourself as you go through the course.  Let this be an opportunity for you to experience being successful without expecting yourself to be perfect.

During the first two weeks, you will be gathering information about yourself. You will also learn more about suffering and about letting go. As you complete the exercises, either print the post and write your answers directly on the exercise sheets, or just write your answers in a notebook.

Exercise 1

When you are suffering, it is often important to get help from others as you work to shift the energy. In the boxes below, or in your journal or notebook, write the names and phone numbers of people in your life who might be available when you need support.


Exercise 2

What scares you about letting go of your suffering? Write down any fears that come to your mind, whether they make sense to you or not.


Exercise 3


For the rest of this week, reflect on your answers to these three exercises. Consider journaling about the thoughts, feelings and/or insights that surface as you do that.


See you next Monday for the second lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

When Our Paths Cross

I remember reading many years ago that whenever our life path crosses someone else’s, whether it be for a few minutes or an extended period of time, we have something to learn from the person and something to give them; that our meeting is no accident.  I don’t know if that is true, but I find it to be a useful concept regardless.

By nature I am a very strong introvert so it is easy for me to stay within myself and not interact with other people. I know when I do that, however, I am potentially missing out on some important opportunities.

I imagine from time to time, all of us meet people in situations where our meeting seems very synchronistic, times when we sense that something bigger than random chance is operating. During my last two trips to India, I had four experiences like that. Continue reading “When Our Paths Cross”

Struggles with Conflict – Part 2

On April 17, 2014, I wrote a post called Struggles with Conflict. That turned out to be the second most popular post I’ve written.   After reflecting some more about the topic, I decided to share some techniques you might find helpful when you are faced with conflict.

When someone is very angry with you, if you start defending or explaining, you may make the situation worse by giving the person more ammunition to use against you. While the problem may need to be discussed in depth, a positive outcome is not likely when one or both parties are escalated. In those cases, consider using one of the techniques I list below.  That may be all that is needed.  If not, then you can always set a later time for a serious discussion. Continue reading “Struggles with Conflict – Part 2”

Stopping Negative Self Talk


I often ask new psychotherapy clients what they would think if they were out to dinner and heard a parent barraging a child at a nearby dinner table with all of the negative things they say to themselves. “You’re stupid.” “You’re disgusting.” “Why don’t you use the brains you were born with.” “Can’t you do anything right?” They usually say they would intervene, or call Child Protective Services or the police. They clearly see treating a child in that way as abuse.

When we were little, we may have heard those things from critical parents, but as adults we are the person treating the vulnerable parts of ourselves in abusive ways. I believe it is reasonable to see a parent constantly criticizing a child as a way of brainwashing him or her. Self-criticism can be seen in the same way. We may be berating ourselves hundreds of times a day, and, to me, that is brainwashing ourselves.

If our mind can be brainwashed in the first place, we can also brainwash it to think positive thoughts. I’ve always been very skeptical of affirmation programs that have people stand in front of mirrors and say an affirmation to themselves once or twice a day. But I’ve found it very effective for myself, and for clients, to flood our minds with an affirmation.

I recommend the affirmation be said at least 1,000 times a day for 21 days, using some kind of counter. (Talley counters are available at office supply stores and IPhone has an app called Counter +). While 1,000 is effective, I found if I said the affirmation in the realm of 10,000-15,000 times a day, it started going through my mind automatically. I even woke up at night and discovered my mind saying it on its own.

Imagine saying, “I am lovable, or “It is okay for me to make mistakes,” “ My needs are important,” or “I am a competent, capable adult” 1,000 to 20,000 times a day rather than all the critical comments you usually tell yourself.

It doesn’t matter how fast you say or think the affirmation. You can do 1,000 of the short ones in 20 minutes. Once you have picked an affirmation, stick with the same one for 21 days. If you want to switch to a new one after 21 days that is fine, but don’t switch midstream. If you need ideas other than the ones I mentioned above consider using one of the Affirmations for Letting Go I shared in an earlier blog. Any positive statement said to yourself in high quantities will work.

So are you interested in experimenting with brainwashing your mind with good things? Try it. I’d love to hear about your experience.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

23 Affirmations for Letting Go


1.  I learn from every mistake.

2.  Change is a necessary and important part of living.

3.  I honor my growth.

4.  I treat myself and others with respect.

5.  The old lessons were for then. It is time for me to move on. Continue reading “23 Affirmations for Letting Go”

Living in Gratitude

I spent a lot of time during my childhood sitting in my room pouting.  Decades later, during my personal therapy journey, I was able to move beyond much of the negativity and pain of those early years.  It was in my therapy community that I first had a strong sense of belonging.  I felt content and happy.  One day, though, I heard a friend talking about feeling joy.  Happiness versus joy….. hummm.  That was something to contemplate.  I felt happy, but I certainly did not feel joy. Continue reading “Living in Gratitude”