A Fresh Start

january- a clean slate

Out with the old and in with the new – I love my January rituals of purging and cleansing and clearing out what doesn’t serve me any more.

Out goes the eggnog, the peppermint bark the chocolate santas; packed away are the fragrant green boughs and jingle bells and mistletoe…

Ok I admit it, I’m a bit somber as I stow away the wine bottles and crème de liqueur.

But I don’t stop at the kitchen. I clean out all my sock drawers and make a big pile of clothes for Goodwill; I even pack up a few great reads to send to my mom.

And when I’m finished there is a sense of calm and dare I say it – smugness!

But that doesn’t last long. As soon as my outside is cleaned up and put away, I turn my gaze inward and realize there’s some junk in there too….

Here’s some old resentment, a couple of grievances, maybe a few lingering blames or “it’s not fair” left over from the  past year as well – and I begin to take stock and realize if I want a truly fresh start, I’ve got some work still left to do.

HOW DO WE GET RID OF THOSE NASTIES LYING IN WAIT TO RUIN THE START OF A GOOD YEAR?

Resentment is like the rust that blocks the pipes from delivering clean fresh water. It’s the sludge in the bottom of the coffee cup that makes it taste so bitter, the block that keeps us from moving forward with joy and gratitude, and authentic connection. It keeps us fearful and mistrusting and disconnected….

And underneath resentment lies hurt and sadness, but we don’t always get down to those because we let resentment and judgment and blame sit on top, keeping us from really getting down to the difficult stuff that lies deep within us

So how to begin? It’s certainly easier with the socks, and treats and holiday decorations….

According to Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong – it starts with rumbling with our feelings.

You must explore what lies underneath the resentment. Is it fear of trusting again? Is it sadness or grief that someone we loved disappointed us? Is it hurt that we weren’t understood or seen for who we really are? The answers to these questions allow us to move forward – once we can diagnose the pain, we can begin to heal the hurt.

The next step is to take a look at  the stories we are telling ourselves about the situation; what are we making up about the people involved?

Maybe we’re saying that they really don’t care about us, that they are broken and spiteful and that they meant to do us harm?

When we do a reality check about those stories, we can see how much is made up and how much is based on truth. Often when people hurt us they didn’t intend to do it. Perhaps they were busy with their own agenda and “missed” ours, or they were too caught up trying to make things OK for themselves and missed the chance to see things from our perspective. Mind you, I’m not saying that these realizations or observations take away the IMPACT of the hurt, but it provides us with a context to begin the process of forgiving and letting go.

ASK YOURSELF THIS: IF I WERE TO GIVE THEM THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT AND IMAGINE THAT THEY WERE DOING THE BEST THEY COULD AT THE TIME, HOW WOULD IT CHANGE HOW I FEEL?

I know that’s a big ask, and not an easy thing to accomplish, but I have found it to be transformational in my own “letting go” process.

Finally, we need to  take a look at what our part in the struggle was. That doesn’t mean taking the blame or beating ourselves up, it just means shifting ourselves out of the victim mode and into the driver’s seat to see what we can learn to move forward. It’s about learning the lesson in every struggle, and figuring out what boundaries need to be in place and what we can do differently next time.

Examining what happened in each situation enables us to choose a new response next time. It allows us to let go of the past with new resolve and a new vision for the future. And once it’s done – we are left with a clean slate to begin the new year!

Here’s to Fresh Starts and Clean Beginnings!

How to Live a Life Of Courage In Spite of Feeling Afraid

I am fascinated by courage- I always have been- I’m not talking about the firefighter/soldier/007 type of courage it takes to go into battle- although those people fascinate me as well- I’m talking about the everyday type of courage that it takes to live a rich and meaningful, purpose -driven life.courage

I’m fascinated by people who go after their dreams against all odds- who risk everything and go for it- who take their big idea and make it a reality- those people who adopt children from Africa, who fight for their causes, who stand up to injustice in their workplace, who volunteer their time for others’ less fortunate.  I also live in everyday admiration for the clients and people in my world who do the day to day of living whole-hearted and courageous lives supported by their values and beliefs.  Those who go ahead and confront a friend when they violate a trust- those who say they are sorry first to a spouse – those who stick by their rules and discipline their teenagers when it’s difficult and important to do so- those leaders who admit they’ve made a mistake.

What do these people have in common? Do they ever experience fear? Are they made of tougher stuff than me? How can we learn to live with that kind of courage?

I believe my fascination with courage comes from having lived much of my life feeling afraid. My mother was an anxious worrier- so I come by it honestly.  She tells the story that once when I was 3 I looked up at her and said “Don’t be Afraid Mommy-“ I think my reasoning was if she wasn’t afraid- I wouldn’t have to be.

As I look back I realize many of my early decisions were an attempt in one form or another to find an answer to that pit in my stomach kind of anxiety. In my late teens and early 20’s I left home trying to escape it- I forged a new life on my own where I took risks- pushed myself in ways to fight it down- I went to a college where I didn’t know a soul-  learned to downhill ski and raced from the top of the mountain- led backcountry ski tours. It was exhilarating and exciting-it took courage to face down a steep slope-  but it didn’t take away that gnawing feeling of anxiety.

Then I tried to look for it in relationships- – finding the right person to make me feel safe- to keep the demons at bay-  and what I realized is that when you decide to love someone you open yourself up to the possibility of all kinds of vulnerability and loss, heartbreak and disappointment – until you find the one who is going to love you in the midst of it. What I discovered is that to be in relationship takes courage – to be open and honest and vulnerable and to trust someone else with your heart is one of the scariest things we can do- as well as being the most rewarding.

But the real vulnerability came when I decided to have children- talk about leaving yourself open to worry and pain- It’s like your heart goes out in the world and you have no control over what happens to it…….along with the crazy feeling of joy every time you see their face.

So I became a therapist.

We teach what we need to learn, right? I thought if I could understand why I was so anxious-why I was so afraid of loss, why I had so much self-doubt- why I cared so much about what others thought- why I was so afraid to take a risk- that I could make it go away.

I’ve spent the last two decades studying and working and helping others face their fears- and in the process I’ve learned to face my own. I’ve walked with clients through their griefs and losses, disappointments and failures and what I have come to understand is that the most courageous people are often also the most broken-hearted. They are the ones willing to show up and be seen and live a life they imagined. And when you decide to step into the arena and live your most authentic life- to “dare greatly”, there are bound to be failures and disappointments along the way.  And the most brave and courageous among them looked for resources to try to understand why. They came for help to figure out what went wrong and more importantly- what their part was in the failure or the mistake or the loss. They had the courage to look with honesty and integrity at the situation- to learn from it and move forward.

I’m an emotion-focused therapist and what that means is that I have come to understand that leaning into our emotions is the way to move through them- as opposed to trying to numb them or ignore them or offload them through judgment or blame. When we can lean into our feelings with curiosity we can learn the gifts they have to teach us- they are the guides to all our longings and desires and to living the bold and daring life we have imagined.

Fear for example can often keep us safe- it’s a survival mechanism that tells us when we are in danger. The problem is that it’s not always accurate- when we are afraid to say what we really feel, or take a risk to move to a new city or find a better job- or leave an unhealthy relationship- we let fear limit our choices, our growth and our opportunities.

When we wait until we aren’t afraid to try something new- we may never have that chance.

What I have learned after a lifetime of trying to stay safe is this:

“Safety” is a myth. And more importantly – Courage is not lack of fear, but rather moving forward in spite of it.

So how do we know when to stay safe and when to move forward in spite of that racing heart and metal taste in our mouth?

The word courage comes from the latin root couer- which literally means to tell who you are with your whole heart- I love that definition! I believe if we look with our heart- our truth comes forward-

Click here to learn more! Here’s to Living Brave Together!


Welcome the New Year with Change You Can Feel!

7-Steps-to-Creating-Positive-Change-for-the-New-Year-1-300x199As the year comes to a close, we all pause to reflect on all we have experienced and the places we have grown, the people we have encountered, the loves and losses, and the accomplishments of our year. I just finished reading Anne Lamott’s latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow! and it pretty much sums up my year so far! How about You?

I lost my Dad this year, a couple very dear to me were killed in a car crash in Peru, and a client I worked with lost his battle with depression. Those experiences of facing death and it’s ramifications left an indelible mark on my soul.

I will be forever changed by those lives and those losses. They left me stunned, aware of my own helplessness, fear and vulnerability. They also left me poignantly aware of the beauty of life, the gift of our days, our children, our families , our freedoms and our choices.

Facing death makes life more dear, relationships more precious, time more valuable and puts your priorities in order in a hurry.

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It’s Just You in There

Its-just-me-in-thsere-001Welcome to my new blog “Change You Can Feel.” I am so excited to be sharing some of what I am learning about this amazing transformational process of change and to explore with all of you what it is that really helps us make the changes we so desire… I am hoping this will be a place we can all share our growth, our struggles, our process and our journey together. Where we can learn from each other and support one another as we develop the courage to create the life we were meant to live!

“It’s Just You in There”

Are you afraid to look underneath and really get a handle on what’s inside??

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Meet Cynthia Benge

A therapist for over 20 years, I guide people from their own “stuck” places to a life full of adventure, meaning and satisfying relationships.

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