Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC is a therapist and blogger in Annapolis, Md, where she owns and operates Progression Counseling. She walks with women on their path of self-discovery when they feel lost or unseen and helps them uncover their wants, needs and desires. A certified clinical trauma professional, Elizabeth incorporates mindfulness and meditation into her psychotherapy work.


Healing begins when you’re seen. Healing deepens when you see yourself.

Throughout most of my life, anxiety has been a  constant companion. As a young child, anxiety was part of my emotional landscape, and it also inflected my physical world. I needed to feel that my body was safe and secure. I’d get my mom to tie the ribbons at the waist of my dresses so tightly that I could feel them cutting into my skin. I couldn’t fall asleep at night unless the covers were tucked so tightly that I felt the pressure of the blankets pushing me into the bed.

As a teenager I often disconnected from my difficult feelings. I wasn’t fully present and it was as if I was in a fog. At other times, it was as if all the wires in my system fired at the same time. When I was stressed and anxious I became hyper aware of my clothes touching my skin. Irritable and angry much of the time, I struggled with depression. All of this confused me. I wasn’t making the connection between the physical sensory discomfort and my emotional discomfort.

I felt like I didn’t fit in. I believed that there was something wrong deep within me and that I was the problem. When I’d try to “fix” that, I’d mold myself to other people’s needs and agree  to things I wasn’t sure I wanted. My body would try to get my attention: a heavy tightness would press down on my chest. To this day, that pressure continues to remind me when I’m holding back and not speaking up for my wants and needs.

Surviving Abuse

It’s not easy for me to open up and it takes a lot for me to let down my guard - to be vulnerable, to trust, to be me. So much of that comes back to my childhood. The physical and emotional symptoms that I described didn’t just crop up one day. When we were very young, my sister and I were abused by a powerful man in my family. The abuse was allowed to continue even after my sister and I came forward and told my parents and they consulted with the other adults in the family. It took a huge leap of faith to tell our story, but the adults we relied upon rationalized the abuse. My sister and I were told to figure it out on our own.

We were 4 and 6 years old.

I can picture my younger self in a starchy, smocked calico printed dress. Chubby legs, a smile on my face, wanting to be loved, cared for... I just wanted to be seen, heard, and protected. Instead the message I received was, “Don’t make a fuss!  Please, go figure out how to protect yourself.” As we grew older the abuse stopped, but the emotional scars are still present and they show themselves when I’m feeling most vulnerable.

Seeing the Unseen and Hearing the Unheard

I know what it means to feel like no one sees you and no one hears you.  I know the fear of showing my real self. And this is why I became a therapist, because I care so deeply about those who feel unseen and unheard.

As a therapist, I hold sacred space as I see my clients in their most vulnerable moments. I work with women who have trouble showing up as who they really are. They feel inauthentic in their lives and they struggle with anxiety and depression. As we work together, they experience what it’s like when their voices, their needs, their wants, and their pain are finally seen and heard.

Truly Seeing Myself

My own deep dive into therapy has helped me understand my shame and self-blame. It’s helped me to re-integrate the parts of me that I pushed away. I’m able to feel the power of those voices inside me that long to be heard. I’m able to acknowledge the parts of myself that need to have their stories told, shared, and embraced with compassion. I’ve begun the process of listening, loving, trusting, and seeing all of me.

I’m not sure I’ll ever rid myself of the need to protect myself, or the worry that I’ll show myself and there won’t be anyone to see me, but I’ve learned that I can be there for me. I am the one who will be able to see me, to hear me, to support me, and love me.

The abuse I experienced used to feel like a liability, but now I see it as my strength. I am a better therapist because of my story and I appreciate how it’s shaped me both personally and professionally. My clients feel that I truly understand their pain and trust that I can see their true selves in ways that might be hidden from them. I receive their stories with empathy and I support them with encouragement and compassion. As they reach out, as they explore their experiences and move forward on their journey, I continue to grow and heal right there beside them.


Editors' Note: Are you a therapist interested in diving into your own stories and understanding how the stories you hold can help your clients heal? Consider joining our Practice of Being Seen virtual membership community for therapists

Finding the New Normal in Our Post-Election World


This election rattled me more than I’d like to admit. But I got up the next day and went to work, because what else was there to do?

Since November, I have felt it in waves, in small moments, in seismic shifts.   I’ve paid close attention to others’ reactions too. It only makes sense that the impact of this inauguration will touch us all, in a myriad of deeply personal ways. Ultimately, I can only speak for myself and my growing sense that the shifting political and social tides influence the way I see myself and the ways I wish to be seen.

To be clear, the daily realities of my life haven’t t really changed all that much over the last few months, and for that I am grateful. But, all the same, something has shifted. Something deep in my bones, in my body, in my awareness says that this is different.

I’m midway through a yearlong postgraduate training in trauma and the creative arts and it’s helping me understand my own experiences in a new way. I know that I hold trauma memories in my bones, in my body, in my history and in the ancestral stories of those who came before me.

I was teased a lot as a child – I was different, I was an “exotic face”, and that was hard. I had a funny name, a hairy upper lip, a Dad with an accent. For years, I just wanted to be like everyone else – have a name people could pronounce, a face that didn’t stand out, a heritage that was simple. I just wanted to fit in.

Aspects of those experiences have been  coming up since the election. I don’t consider myself traumatized (I have never considered myself a trauma survivor), but at the core of my life experience is an experience of being an outsider, of being unique, of being different in some way, and that leaves an imprint.

As a child and  as a teenager, I did what I could to downplay my uniqueness.  I would often call my father “Dad” instead of “Papa” around my friends – to his credit, he never asked why. When I could, I avoided explaining about my Holocaust survivor grandfather, my triple citizenships, the fact that I was born “here”, then lived “there” for a bit and then came back “here.”

But as I got older, I grew into myself. I grew to love my exotic name, my dark eyes, my unique look. And maybe there’s a part of me that really loves that. I got so used to being the only Jew, the only one with a parent not US-born.

Over the years, diversity became the new normal. I easily shifted from being one of a few to being one of many – I can’t remember the last time I heard the name “Maya” called on the street and it was actually for me.

But now something has shifted. The diversity that I and so many other New Yorkers grew so accustomed to seems to have a different texture. Now, I feel that shift and I know that I want to be seen, and I wonder what that means.

The trauma that my grandfather endured resonates in my bones. The echoes of “Never Again” echo in my head. I know I am privileged, and can hide my differentness to a fairly large extent. But would continuing to hide really make sense ? For my work? For the world? For me?

Seeing and being seen are two different things – equally hard, equally raw. I hold one in each hand, and tentatively step forward. I do not know what to do, which always scares me. But I know, deeply, that to do nothing would be wrong.

So I allow myself to feel scared when sirens rush past, and to notice my body. To make eye contact with strangers on a NYC street and smile. Do these action seem too small, too inconsequential when I’m trying to find ways to respond to post-election America and how the diverse society I value seems to be eroding?  

To let myself be more present, and less removed from everyday interactions is actually quite powerful. I can let myself be seen now. I must let myself be seen now.

Right now, my response to our changing society is to make deep and intimate connection with myself and others. Tomorrow it will mean something else, but right now, it’s enough to see and be seen.

Editors' Note: We're continuing the conversation about how to respond to our changing world in our brand new podcast, The Practice of Being Seen, which is set to launch January 25. Find us on iTunes or your favorite podcasting platform on 1/25 and learn more at www.practiceofbeingseen.com.

Relationship Therapist Declares: Nobody's Got Time for Feelings.

time for feelings

Contribution by Robyn D’Angelo

Do you wear your wedding ring everyday?

I’m asking because I just took mine off, while sitting here working, typing away. The house is pretty quiet, other than Pandora spitting out the most random array of tunes.  I stopped typing and started kind of wringing my hands (like when you put lotion on, ya know what I mean?) And it was like taking a ride back in time...

Suddenly, I was feeling  "this is what single Robyn's hands felt like" and I got all these flashes of my past. Of working in the advertising world 15 years ago in Las Vegas. I saw grad school, parties in downtown San Diego with the girls, kissing random strangers in bars (I was known as the makeout-bandit back in my day), and I almost could feel the “freedom” of being single. It was so strange. And fun. And that felt a little naughty. (FYI: Robyn-the-Rule-Follower does not do naughty).

The Therapist and the Wedding Ring Converse

As a rogue therapist turned relationship coach who specializes in working with couples, I notice that when people sit across from me - when they are in pain, agony or just confused - they tend to fidget with their rings. It's almost like their subconscious is attempting to reconnect them to their love for their partner. It’s like the ring screaming to them, but in a whisper:

"Hey, I know you're hurting, mad, broken, betrayed, tired, whatever - but hang in there! Look at the person who put this on your finger. They’re right next to you - even if you no longer recognize them as that person. REMEMBER. It wasn't always bad. It wasn't always like THIS. It was good once. It was lovely, and easy, and fun, and sexy, and delicious once. Go back to that place. Go back to that time. NEVER. FORGET."

Sometimes I think our rings try to scream out to us and reconnect us.

Tonight, my ring wanted a vacation of sorts - maybe to reconnect me with my Self. With the "Robyn-Before-Brandon" to remind me that I am fully capable of being this kick-ass human, independently of the phenomenal man I call my husband.

Feeling the Feelings

Removing my ring tonight, and being zapped into my past was an incredibly confusing, semi-exciting experience. I was feeling all the feelings.

Usually, my brain does not slow enough to focus on feelings. How sad is that? I am a psychotherapist. A relationship and lifestyle coach. “The Happy Couple Expert” for God’s sake! And yet, I don’t often slow down enough to FEEL or even acknowledge my own feelings. Makes me a bit human, I suppose. Right?

“Nobody's got time for feelings - fuck ‘em!” was my first thought when typing this out. Jokingly of course. But, sort of not. More like, “Nobody MAKES time for feelings.”

Do you ever slow down enough to feel? I mean really, really feel your feelings?  Yeah, me neither. It’s sort of boring. I mean, in this “if-it-doesn’t-feel-good-immediately-don’t-do-it” world we live in, when will we ever see the value in feeling stuff? And not just the good stuff.  

The gross stuff. The prickly, cold, heavy, crushing stuff. I don’t want to feel that shit, and I don’t think you do either.  But, without it, can we really truly feel what our bare hands feel like? Can you even recognize your hand without that ring -  after you’ve worn it for months, years, decades?

When you feel into your past you can develop a new relationship with the present

There are feelings that zap us back in time and enable us to relive life. You know, the freezing midnight dips in the ocean, the beat taking your breath away in an underground club, and the hot tears soaking your top as you watch your first Brene Brown Ted Talk. Those moments.

So, rather than saying “fuck ‘em” the next time feelings happen - what if you just said “Rad, bring it. Let’s do this!” What if you just welcomed them?

Huh … who would have thought all that magic would come from taking off my wedding ring, and letting my fingers explore my bare”Single Robyn” hands? Rad.

Editors’ note: Did Robyn’s perspective help illuminate the ways you do or don't make time for feelings, to feel them? Tell us about it in the comments and please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

Broken Spaces: Lessons in Healing and Relationship

Broken Spaces


We all live in fear of the broken spaces - especially the interior broken spaces.  We accept the myth that those spaces keep us from being enough.  I used to fear that if I still had broken spaces it would make me less effective as a therapist.  That it was necessary for me to be perfected before I tried to help others heal.

If my clients knew I sometimes still hear the voice of my father questioning my value and ability, would it make my training and ability as a therapist less valuable?  How would they react if they knew I sometimes question whether I am worth the fees I charge?  Would they question who they were seeing for help if they knew I sometimes feel like an imposter who managed to b.s. his way through a master’s degree, how would it affect their belief in me?

Then one day I came across the term “potshard.”  It is exactly what it sounds like.  Just a broken piece of a pot… A shard.  

Pot·sherd - ˈpätˌSHərd/


• a broken piece of ceramic material, especially one found on an archaeological site.

Most of us would see this as something to simply be discarded.  We wouldn’t give this broken piece of a pot a second glance.  Just a remnant of a failed attempt.

But the potter sees it in a different light.  The potter will take a broken piece with a unique edge and use it to create amazing designs and shapes in new pots.  The very brokenness of that shard gives it value in creating beauty in other pots.

Brokenness can become a tool that creates something new

I don’t make a habit of telling clients about my broken places because clients are not there for my healing.  

But it is my brokenness as a human being that makes me a better therapist. The wounds are useful.

My wounds are the potshards within that allow me to feel my clients’ losses.  They allow me to sit in the room as I listen for the broken places and empathize because I too have been broken.  I know hurt.  I know what it is to be forced to carry someone’s shame when it’s projected through acts of violence and rage.   I know fear and loss.  I know longing.  I know what it is to live with another’s brokenness and feel helpless in that struggle.

Love Dogs By Rumi Healing Relationship

The longing is like the  “whining of a dog for it’s master” Rumi says.  Longing is the connection, in this case. Not bliss. Not passion. Longing.  What a beautiful thought.  It makes my heart ache.

That silent whine is just under the surface.  This need for connection, for depth and realness drives us.  We all have it. And it leaves us longing….constantly.

Mindfulness holds space for longing

What helps me hold those wounded spaces without allowing them to overcome me is mindfulness.  I can sit with the longing and experience it for the gift it can be.  In my mindful practice this means allowing the emotion, the fear, the holes to open and bubble up without needing to push them back down.  To be able to observe them in the quiet spaces of my own soul without needing to fix them so that they can be fully experienced.  To simply acknowledge the ways I have been changed by the the pain of life...to feel the longing, to hear the whine without reacting.  To trust that the master potter will find usefulness in the broken potshards.

This is when the light starts to enter and real healing begins.

Healing Relationship where the light enters

But the wounds - the broken spaces that we all have -  are also the places that light flows out of us.  Healing begins in these illuminated broken spaces and then enables you to connect and be part of other people’s healing.  

Connection is at the root of healing

As human beings, we long for connection.  We were created for relationship with each other and, out of that, with the divine.  When we have experienced trauma and abuse, we fear the very connection we long for.  We so want to take the risk and reach outward, but fear being broken in the ways we have been before.  

Therapists are no different. I am no different.  It is my own broken spaces, the cracks that have healed and the ones that are still healing, that make me a better therapist.  As a psychoanalytic practitioner I make a habit of being very aware of those broken spaces and how they are playing out in that room with my client. I work to recognize how my client’s are pulling at my own values and beliefs that originate in  my own broken spaces.

My own wounds make me a better healer

Both my brokenness and my own healing process allow me to send light and grace out through those wounds and enable me to connect with people on that level of mutual vulnerability.  When two people are vulnerable and honest and trusting of one another, the connection gets real.  Healing begins.

Beautiful things take place in those broken spaces.  Forgiveness, grace, compassion, vulnerability all come out of those wounds.  They pour from you during the healing process and through grace enter into you when those close to you begin healing themselves.  Over time, they form connections that can be stronger than any nuclear bonds.

We share tears in the office as the light leaves and enters because they are opening the wound.  I know that opening.  Both the pain and the joy.

Relationship with each other and relationship with the divine are found in these spaces through which the light enters and leaves.  They are the fertile grounds where growth begins.

It is out of our errors, our mistakes, our blunders and our ability to hurt others that the opportunity for grace and forgiveness arises.  Without these places of hurt and darkness light would have no worth, no value.  A potshard would just be a broken piece of pottery.

Editors' note: Did Robert's perspective help illuminate the ways your own broken places actually help you heal and connect? Tell us about it in the comments and please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

The Art of Compassionate Self Care

The art of compassionate self care

Contribution by Lanie Smith, MPS, ATR

My hand grabs the brush, dips the wet bristles into the fresh white paint and delights as the color is smudged across a sea of deep pthalo blue bleeding into aquamarine. This practice is what fuels my love for Abstract Expressionism. It’s the raw sensory satisfaction, so expressive that it doesn’t need shape or clear form to communicate. Color and texture capture the essence.

As an art therapist I see the world, my clients, and their healing through an artist’s lens and use art with the creative process to help clients reconnect with parts of themselves previously disowned, forgotten, or undiscovered.

Just the basic element of color can help me connect to my clients and their creative choices. When they pass me a sheet of watercolor paper, so weighted by materials, I can physically feel the load they have been carrying. I can see how trapped they might feel when they bind found objects. Even when words are too tangled to share, the materials speak.

I know this, not just from my training on the therapeutic use of art media and the neuroscience to support it, but because I discovered the value of artmaking when life was overwhelming for me. Before learning anything about Art Therapy, I sought safety through paint and large installations that could contain my vast emotion.  

Looking back, I see how much more comfortable it  was to paint maniacally than it was to experience the feelings in my body. I was adept at distracting myself from the discomfort of grief and pain.  

It took a physical diagnosis to fully tune me into the wisdom of my body. Because I was struggling with mounting fatigue, I had to quit making art at the rapid pace I once celebrated. Eventually, I  took a complete sabbatical from artmaking while learning to manage my health.  I granted myself permission to rest and be an art therapist who was NOT always making art.

Whoa...fraud alert...who the eff does that?! What decent art therapist stops making art?!’  

I was terrified someone would figure out I was a complete impostor or a fake wannabe artist turned art therapist. Even scarier: would I start to feel the pain that my art helped me manage?

Truth is, I did feel the pain when I stopped creating with such blind fervor. I still do sometimes. Fortunately, getting still allows me to heal more deeply than frantic painting ever did.  

Now, I let myself admit fear and feel loss, disappointment, rejection, or abandonment that used to terrify me. I am focused on inviting healing through gentle self compassion to comfort the child within and respect the limitations of my body.  

The rewards have been huge as I’ve learned to pay attention to my body  - including my heart. This is true self care.

A shift in my art practice: no more obligatory anything

Improving self care means doing what feels good, but it’s more than getting a massage or taking a vacation to manage stress. It’s also about looking at the source of the stress and evaluating ways to eradicate unnecessary stressors while increasing activities that make your heart dance.  Self care is an act of compassion that permits you to let go of obligatory tasks and commitments in order to follow your desire.  

When you have satisfied your own needs and desires you can give out of love rather than obligation. In my case, I have quit making art for anyone other than myself. Even if I am making hand painted cards for loved ones, I’m doing it is because I want and love to paint.  

After years of practice I am able to let go of the need to impress others. When I am creating art or moving through other aspects of life I grant myself permission to enjoy the process without concern for outcome.  This is the very invitation I offer my clients before every group, on every consultation call, and in each intake session. Now that I offer myself the same compassion as I extend my clients, I find myself less and less interested in collecting traditional art materials, creating a final product, or archiving its existence through photography and social media to prove I made something or to show others that I am still creative.

A shift in my daily practice: slow down

There are some days that are slow and quiet. Those days feel like a slice of heaven to my highly sensitive nervous system. Others are loud and busy with incoming calls, messages, and requests for my attention. It can feel like too much if I try to keep up, so I move slowly… slower than I have ever moved before. Literally, the more hectic things get, the slower I move.

One. Breath. At. A. Time.  And not short or shallow breaths but deep, wide, expansive breaths that create an almost trance-like state that enable you to observe automatic thoughts and feelings. Such mindfulness is instrumental in tuning into the present, tuning out unhelpful messages (both my inner judge and any external critics), and tuning up my ability to discover joy.  

I grant myself and my clients permission to do less. This means taking time to explore without pressure to achieve anything. Ironically, we often have the most creative ideas during this time because play is the antithesis of fear which cuts off the flow of imagination and problem-solving.

A shift in my private practice: connect with nature

For months after the autoimmune diagnosis that would change the way I approached all aspects of my life, all I wanted to do was stare at trees. The tears would flow as I allowed myself to just sit. Over time I discovered the tears wouldn’t last forever and I found joy on the other side of my sadness.


More and more since I began this journey of living with chronic illness I have found that listening to the heart and following the desire to do what feels good often leads me and my clients outdoors more. Nature is healing and allows us to connect to our own natural selves free of our mind’s propensity for worry.

Nature has become my co-therapist too. I’ve moved my office into the mountains to help my clients - and myself - take advantage of the beautiful desert landscapes. It has also been necessary to change my business model to continually ensure I have the downtime I need to rest, read, write, play, and heal.  

Playing outdoors with natural media is rather simple. It doesn’t require any special knowledge of materials, but it allows me to feel like a child who is safe enough to explore. I can arrange flowers, rocks, or leaves between clients. I can take clients to do the same. We can stop in the mountains on a hike and form a cairn of stones. This has reinforced the practice of impermanence, non-attachment, and love since we can leave ephemeral works of art in their natural setting as a gift for others to enjoy as they pass.

Simplifying life and keeping it that way.

Chronic illness has become my biggest teacher with a lesson in simplifying my life. I’ve learned that the lower my stress load, the better I feel. The more white space I create; the more joy I experience by following my desire. I can be spontaneous and take inspired action. I aim to follow my heart instead of the fear in my gut.

Keeping things simple requires a commitment to simplicity as self-care. I say no to others more often now, so that I can say yes to myself. Saying no to opportunities that, while attractive and flattering, just don’t fuel me has led to a greater sense of peace and calm. I’ve learned to follow my passion by following what gives me energy rather than drains it. You can do the same. The more skilled you become at tuning in, the easier tuning out and tuning up can become.  

I’m still working toward remission, practicing greater self-­care, and being more compassionate with myself and others. I am slowly accepting my limitations and following my bliss.  

Ultimately, health and well-being stem from applying less pressure and more love. I gently strive to replace harsh, critical judgment of myself with gentle acceptance of what my heart is longing for. My passion is to guide others to do the same.

How do you apply less pressure and more love?

Whatever is calling to you... listen and respond. Use your desires as a compass that guides you toward joy and bliss.  

Get quiet and respect the whispers of your heart. I call this practice of trusting your body and your desires “tuning in, tuning out, and tuning up.”  It’s a process of stretching your intuitive muscles in order to find what makes you healthy and whole.  There are so many rewards inherent in this practice, but I must warn you that it also requires courage to step away from what you think you ‘should’ be doing and instead move toward what you actually want to do.

So, what do you long for and what could use more attention from you? How are you listening to your body? Are you tuning in regularly? What about tuning out unhelpful material and tuning up activities that bring you joy and bliss?

I'd love to hear where you are at in this journey, where you succeed, and where you might find yourself struggling a bit or in need of some help. Remember, practice makes progress, so please leave a comment and let us know how your practice of tuning in, out, and up is going!

From the editors: Did Lanie’s perspective on the art of self compassion shift the way you look at tuning in, tuning out and tuning up? If it resonated with you, please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

Sadness Is the Remedy for Depression

Contribution by Paul Lichtenberg, PhD

All too often, sadness is confused with depression.  But, what most don't realize is that sadness is actually  the opposite of depression. In fact, sadness -- I mean true sadness, the experience of bringing loss into your conscious awareness -- is the remedy for depression.I'm quite familiar with both depression and sadness, from both sides of the therapeutic relationship. Though as a child and young adult, I suffered from depression, depression saved my life. It buffered my childhood trauma until I was able to find sadness.  

How can depression save a life?

The first thing to understand about depression, as a response to trauma, is that it takes the emotional reactions -- fear, hurt, rage, helplessness -- and turns them inward. Then, like someone hiding their valuables in a safe, depression buries them away.  You see, to express these emotions would threaten one’s very survival.

The problem, as you might imagine, is that the very layer of numbness that protects you, also isolates you. You’re not necessarily physically alone, but you become emotionally disconnected from yourself and the world.  This pretty accurately described my life after my father died when I was twelve. My father was forty-six, a decorated war hero, and an alcoholic who was unable to function when he returned from the war.For my father, the war never ended, and his family reminded him of that everyday. This tragic fact of war became the basic wound of my childhood trauma. Trauma always has a face, and a story.I remember a night shortly before my father died. He was drunk and harassing my mother. I stood between them, pushed my father, pounded on his chest with my fists, and said, "Leave my mother alone. I hope you die."  And soon, he did. Like many children of my generation, I did not get therapeutic help. I never grieved. I didn't understand. I believed I killed my father. I turned inward. I closed myself off. I became depressed.  One way we can understand the experience of depression is to see it as the failure to properly grieve. We might say that “proper grieving” is the understanding of depression. We can see the context in which we became depressed, what triggers depression, as well as an awareness of the complex of emotions involved in this traumatic psychic injury.Simply put, grieving is the expression of sadness -- the psychic, energetic release of afflictive emotions surrounding loss.

And this can include any kind of loss, even disappointment. We might say that all losses, in the context of the life process, are necessary losses. Loss accompanies life at every turn. There is no way around it. And so, loss itself is never the problem. The problem is not learning how to transform loss into meaning.  

When we give meaning to loss, we awaken the deeper resources of our spiritual awareness and wisdom. When we give meaning to loss, we create the capacity to love and create, find peace and joy, and live fully.  This is where sadness comes in.

It's important to understand the vital role that sadness plays in life

I was so angry when my father died. I cursed his grave. I cursed his name. I called him a drunk. Then, one day, after years of psychoanalytic psychotherapy (which is now my own vocation, craft, and professional work), my analyst said to me, "You know Paul, your father was a war hero." It was as if something in the transmission of his words, very deep, dark, unimaginably heavy, and suffocating, was opened.  I started to cry, and then sob.  I cried often for years after that.  In those words, I found my sadness.  It was as if my analyst, through his deep caring, gave me permission to grieve, to openly release and express what was denied and taken many years before. And in that sadness, I found my father again.  He would visit my dreams and begin to guide me.  He became a real person who suffered greatly, and gave me the gift of meaning.  

There's an unexpected relationship between sadness and depression

And the deeper I went, I began to see this subtle and profound relationship between sadness and depression. Though they were always connected, they were radically different. Depression and sadness lived at opposite poles of awareness.  

My experience has taught me that sadness is actually the remedy for depression.  When you find that space in your heart that feels like the rising of a tide, and the tears are coming up, let them come. Honor them. Look at them in wonder and with gratitude.  

From the editors: Did Paul's perspective on sadness and depression shift the way you look grief and loss? If it resonated with you, please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

INTENTIONAL INTIMACY: when your past meets your present

Lily Zehner

Contribution by Dr. Lily Zehner

Intimacy is a delicate and powerful force in all aspects of our lives - not just in the bedroom and not just with your romantic partner. Intimacy can be experienced in all relationships - even with your in-laws!

Intimacy is knowing we will be seen, heard, and accepted exactly as we are. It’s about trusting that you can show up - vulnerably, authentically, and wholeheartedly.

And yet, it can be terrifying.

This is a story about how I figured out how to intentionally create ideal intimacy with my in-laws and aligned our relationship with my needs and values.

Unspoken Hope

There was a disconnect with my in-laws, and it was starting to weigh heavily on my marriage - a relationship built on deep and sacred intimacy.

I craved a relationship with my in-laws that felt safe, reciprocal, and fulfilling.I love and care for them. They are generous, kind, and light-hearted. Yet, whenever we would all spend time together, I would leave feeling unfulfilled. For years, I couldn’t figure it out.

Every time I spent time with them, I hoped “this time it may be different.” That it would be nourishing on a deep level. That it would be reciprocal. That it would leave me feeling loved and received exactly as I am.

But then it all became clear to me. One of the things that draws me to my in-laws is the way they value humor and play. And yet, I was struggling  to meet them there. I was afraid that they would laugh at the real me or take something important about me too lightly. In my childhood it wasn’t safe to play and laughter was seldom kind.

Culture Clash

Suddenly I got it:  we had a culture clash. It wasn’t that they didn’t love me, it was that they showed love differently and I didn’t know how to receive it. It was like a language barrier.

And so, I needed to ask for what I wanted. What I craved were open-ended questions that went deeper than the moments we shared together. I wanted to reveal something more of myself, but they just didn’t seem to care.

Turns out, they did care.

I found out when I took a leap: I wrote a heartfelt letter. And I actually sent it. It felt like a brave thing to do. Even more important, it felt necessary. Yes, I was scared to do it, but I reminded myself that my husband and I had created a safe world together and this was the right thing to do for our relationship and for our relationship with his parents.

When they wrote back, they told me exactly what I had hoped to hear. Turns out, they wanted to create a relationship where everyone felt seen and truly comfortable too.

They felt like it was an act of love to avoid asking questions. I am the kind of person who feels loved when people want to know more about me.  

Months later, I continue to see proof in words and actions from my in-laws that shows that we can feel safe even when we’re being vulnerable. Now, I feel like I can show up authentically in every one of our phone calls, emails, and days spent together.

It Begins With You

Here’s the thing about intimacy: you have to first know what you need and desire. Once you are clear, it is up to you to communicate your needs with others. Often you have expectations of others’ love and are left wondering why they can’t provide you with what you want. The question is, have you ever shared this with them?  

I didn’t realize that the reason my in-laws weren’t loving me as I needed was because I never told them. They loved me as they knew how and I loved them how I knew how. None of us were wrong. We were just missing each other’s attempts to connect, doing the best we knew how.

Don’t Wait for Intimacy. Ask for It.

If you are feeling a disconnect from those you love, please take the time to get clear with your desires and needs. Find a way to share them whether in a dialogue, a letter, or otherwise.

In the end, the sweetness of intimacy is worth putting yourself out there, taking a risk, and being vulnerable. Know yourself. Build trust. Show up as yourself and allow yourself to be seen, heard, and accepted while offering the same to others - that’s what all the deep, nourishing connections in life are made of.

Dr. Lily Zehner has inspired you to expand your idea of intimacy and take steps to make it part of all of your most important relationships. Sign up for our newsletter for more insights into how you can practice loving Connectfulness in your life.