On taking time off – and packing light

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on August 4, 2015

imagesThis is vacation time, the summer months calling forth warm breezes and the desire to step back, to take it easy, to take time off. For many in my profession of psychoanalysis, August is the month to leave our work and our patients and to take time to rest and play. So this post is about vacations and the fact that all of us need them, and further, that we could all use to pack light and leave some of our baggage behind.

The etymology of the word vacation comes from the latin vacare– meaning to be unoccupied or to vacate.  Over time, vacations became a time for physical, mental and spiritual self improvement. The virtue of leisure as a time to reconstitute and replenish was slowly introduced into our culture via medicine and religion. The former establishing the need for rest from work and the latter providing opportunities to take time off that were aimed at spiritual well being without the use of substances and other potential “detractors”. The notion that holidays help us become better versions of ourselves because of their restorative capabilities is now a well established fact, and one that most of us include in our lives.

All of us need time off.

Vacations give us a chance to forget our worries, albeit for a specific period of time. They offer us the opportunity to turn our minds away from the busyness of every day life and restore our mental and physical energy. In so doing, we are often able to come back to work and the demands in our lives, with a renewed sense of possibility and the ability to think outside the box- approaching issues with fresh eyes and minds. Think of holidays as necessary pauses to the ongoing rhythm we have established in our lives, and as opportunities to reset and reconsider who we are and what we are doing and want to do. This may require thinking about what we bring with us and what we pack in our suitcases. Do we overstuff even when we go on vacation? Or leave important things behind? What is in those suitcases anyway? What can you let go of? What do you take with you?

Pack light say I.

Yes, try to leave some of the baggage that you usually carry  behind -you know, the one that makes your shoulders hurt because of its weight- and leave room for new experiences to surprise you. Leaving space for rest and play creates more space for work to happen in. I once had a patient tell me that the more she slowed down in her life the more time she seemed to have to do everything she needed to do. She was right. And so it is with holidays. Taking time off and packing light gives us the opportunity to encounter parts of ourselves that we might not pay attention to in our daily life, parts that are essential to our sense of well being. When we have space we can reconsider what we fill it with.

Whether your vacation is a staycation or your holiday takes you to an exotic place, consider the value of interrupting your life with spaces that make room to pause, breathe and just be. Vacating from the known, the overcrowded, the box that we create for ourselves and the stuff we carry along with us can lead to much needed areas of personal expansion. Holidays and vacations turn out to be real lifesavers.



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ON GUILT- and getting down with our bad selves.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on July 13, 2015

imagesGuilt is one of those emotions that has been shortchanged in psychology, except to be understood as a sign that an individual has internalized societal and cultural norms and developed a sense of empathy for others. Freud saw guilt as one of the hallmarks of civilized humanity, an important emotion which signaled an internal conflict between our ego (our observing self) and our superego (our conscience). Often such conflict came about due to a clash between our wishes and desires and societal norms and rules. When seen in these terms, guilt and our ability to feel it, reflects an internalization of cultural and societal attitudes and the awareness that we live in community and must moderate our personal gratification for the good of all. Melanie Klein, a British psychoanalyst and Freud’s contemporary, viewed guilt as central to emotional development and to the infants’ realization of feelings of love and hate for its parents, which when internalized, led to a desire for reparation and the ability to see the other (mom and dad) as  separate people. As such, guilt is  a sign of emotional maturity and a feeling that signals awareness that one’s actions have an impact on others. Guilt is also associated with moral development, and has long been the emotion that many religions capitalize on. Yet the experience of guilt has many potential dynamic meanings. This post is about our experience of guilt, and the many things that it is about.

Many of my patients talk about their guilt regarding one thing or another – a lie, an affair, a meanness, an aggressive or hostile act- and while they all report feeling badly, even terrible about it, many of them do not really want to discuss it or have me position their guilt response within the context of their particular situation or history. My patients seem to feel that in attempting to do so, I am trying to rationalize their guilt away, or somehow relieve them of responsibility for their actions. Not so say I.

Responsibility is often associated with guilt. In fact it is inherent in the experience of guilt. When one takes responsibility for one’s actions, particularly if those actions have impacted negatively on another, one experiences guilt: The kind of feeling that starts in the pit of your stomach and gnaws away at you. Then perhaps an internal voice begins to say “that was not right” or “that was wrong” or “why did I do that?” Guilt has an audible voice that reverberates and is heard only by the guilty party. That voice is very likely an internalized chorus of parental and other authority voices, along with ours and the particular way that  we manage and talk to ourselves. While this is not a pleasant sensation, most of us can deal with it, particularly if it leads us to do something that allows us to acknowledge our actions and do something to right them. In fact, guilt often involves a desire to make amends and undo the offense.

The situation is quite different when the possibility for reparation does not exist. Then guilt becomes persecutory, haunting the person at every turn. This is because without the possibility of doing something that allows us to amend or atone for  the situation that was caused by our behavior we have to manage our feeling about it on our own, and come to terms with parts of ourselves that are not necessarily likeable but are nonetheless ours. When reparation is not possible we must deal with the part of ourselves that acts out of its own need, the self that wants, as well as the part of ourselves that can destroy another. Where reparation is not possible we are faced with our own destructive potential and must deal with it on our  own. This can be very difficult and often, very painful, particularly if it activates early, internalized interactions that remain laden with shame (which is often the case). At such times guilt partners up with shame in a deadly combination.

While guilt mobilizes us toward a reparative action, when that possibility is closed to us we are face to face with those behaviors or parts of ourselves that we most loathe, self states that have been banished over and over precisely because they could not be acknowledged and processed in our early relationships with our parents, leaving a residue of shame which is activated in other relationships. Because shame is implicitly a relational experience, it brings about a self-in-the eyes-of-the-other awareness, which becomes the focus for scorn and self-hate. A powerful one-two punch erupts from the shame/guilt combo, which calls forth experiences of deep shame around feelings of being bad/terrible/unlovable/despicable, etc., and makes it impossible to connect to other parts of the self which could help negotiate those feelings. In those moments of self-in-the-eyes-of-the-other awareness there is only badness and self-loathing, nothing positive can come of these feelings. In fact, they shut us down and isolate us from others.

So how do we get down with our bad selves?

How indeed.

Those of you that are readers of my post already know the answer. We need an other. Or many others. We need the potential emotional regulation that relationships to others offer us to help mediate the “badness” and remind us that we are much more than that.

Much more.

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ON RECOGNITION – And the feeling of being known.

July 5, 2015

What does it mean to be known by another? To be recognized for who one is, warts and all?  The good with the bad and everything in between? I think we might be talking about the precondition for love, and about what it means to love another person, about the way we negotiate and make meaning […]

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ON RESOLUTIONS – and the will to change.

December 31, 2014

This is that time of year when everyone thinks about change and about the things in one’s life that need changing. The end of the year provides a time to take inventory of our lives, take stock of what we have done and what we have not. Resolutions abound, ranging from – losing weight, starting […]

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About a Woman: Marilyn Monroe

October 27, 2014

Lately I have been thinking about women, and the many incarnations we can embody and be in the articulation of our femininity and our way of being the woman we want to be. Such thoughts led me to consider Marilyn Monroe- yes, the Marilyn Monroe, the woman that illuminated that “dark continent called woman” in […]

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On Building a Life – Alongside.

September 10, 2014

It is thirteen years after. Almost to the day. I do not know when you will be reading this post, but I am writing it on the eve of. The eve of the event that changed everything for many of us. Strange to look out my window and see the beams of light knowing what […]

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ON PASSION: and the feeling of intensity.

August 12, 2014

Most people think that passion is something that we feel when we fall in love or lust – and while that is true, there is much more to passion. Passion runs the gamut of emotions. Passion adds intensity and a particular kind of alchemy to any feeling that we experience, highlighting its emotional reverberation in […]

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ON IMAGINATION – and the power to make things right.

June 9, 2014

“Logic will get you from A to Z; but imagination will get you everywhere.” ― Albert Einstein   I have always been partial to fairytales and science fiction because they helped me explore lands that I could only dream of, until, as a young child, I realized that I often dreamed of them while awake, […]

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ON MINDFULNESS – and minding your p’s and q’s.

March 31, 2014

Mindfulness is a term that gets used a lot these days, despite the fact that it has been around for centuries. Eastern thought, primarily Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, and meditative disciplines have always had the concept of mindfulness at their core. The idea of mindfulness has entered western ideas through the world of spirituality and […]

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February 10, 2014

Recently I posted a blog on the power of laughter and humor. I was writing about the  kind that makes your belly tremble and your chest heave. The kind that moves the neurobiology of your insides and translates into mood shifts on your outside. The REAL kind. Today’s post is about its opposite, what I […]

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