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The Healing Power of Laughter

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Can you laugh when the expectations you had for life have been turned upside down and inside out and you wonder how you will make it through another day? Your world has changed forever.

When my husband and I brought our third child home from the hospital after he was born, it was with joy and excitement. He was a husky, healthy ten-pound baby boy. However, by six months we knew something wasn’t right as he still was unable to hold up his head.

Many months later, once again, we brought our son home from another extended hospital visit where extensive tests had been done. Only this time, we were in shock. The final diagnosis was that Don had cerebral palsy of the worst magnitude (a-mi-tonic-quadriplegic was what we heard).

We were instructed to have a brace designed for him as quickly as possible so he might have a chance to walk. They didn’t offer much hope of him ever having a functioning brain; in fact, they gave us little hope of his ability to accomplish anything.

We drove home in silence.

When we arrived, I knew I needed the help of God to raise this child. This required knees on the floor beside my bed where I prayed for acceptance, strength, wisdom, and faith to raise this child as normally as possible.

I was rewarded with the most incredible peace I have ever experienced. And it was just the beginning of the most marvelous journey I have ever been on. My prayer was not only answered, but I was flooded with excitement and joy. Along with that peace I was given an “I can do it” mindset.

Don didn’t have cerebral palsy.

Instead, he had the absence and weakness of muscles, not only in his neck but down his back.

My son not only walked but started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. At the end of his career, he had become a freelance artist who worked in one of the most difficult arenas – L. A. – where he designed, created, and wrote. He created story boards and produced movie shorts.

When he died from pancreatic cancer, his celebration of life was full of people who came to pay their respects. He was esteemed by his peers and had a huge family of friends.

We never considered Don handicapped and he never considered himself handicapped. And while there were those serious moments of contemplation, they were few and far between. Don had a sense of humor that never quit and had us all laughing. He was a joy to raise.

Can you laugh through your tears?

Laughing through tears

Yes, but give yourself time to absorb the challenge you have been given. Then, with prayer, make a purposeful decision to find the blessings involved. Cry – yes – but then laugh!

For God, who loves us so much, will not only give us strength and faith, but joy, blessings and even laughter.

Don’s sense of humor tickled everybody’s tummy. Throughout his growing up years and afterward, he was the instigator of laughter and humor that seemed as natural as eating breakfast. It was infectious.

The benefits of humor

Can you find bits of humor nestled in the difficulties of a childhood?

Can you laugh when your wife has only a few weeks to live, and she wants to put up pictures that both of you can look at and laugh? Would you feel you were being insensitive and callous?

Or could you, like the author of I’d Rather Laugh: How to be Happy Even When Life Has Other Plans for You, see laughter as a way to help you get through an impossible time – a way to keep sane and keep from falling in the abyss.

Linda Richman had a crazy, screwed-up mother and a father who died when she was 8. In fact, she hated her mom! Linda married at an early age and her marriage was disastrous. She became agoraphobic (anxious and fearful).

Her son was killed when he was 29, just as Linda was beginning to pull her life together. She went into a tailspin. Her daughter was in pain, and Linda was in pain until she cracked a joke that broke the pain cycle for both of them. They were released and changed from that moment on.

She started performing at different clubs and groups, sharing her story.

“I learned that we could withstand a lot of pain and loss and not just survive but rise above it. I learned that no matter how sad you are today, happiness and laughter and even joy are still distinct possibilities for tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, the day after that. And I learned that I have in our power the ability to get all that and more. Everything important is in our control. I tell them that no matter what horrible thing has happened, life still offers you humor if you want it.”

“Are there really benefits to laughter, other than it feels good in the moment? Oh yes, there is,” Linda says. It is not only giggling and laughing, but also looking at the world with hope and anticipation.

Laughter and humor allow us to see an expanded view of the world. It allows us to see the good along with the troubles.

Laughter minimizes our suffering and helps us cope. With humor we can survive the toughest of situations – even concentration camps. Victor Frankl wrote about that.

Humor gives us power. It helps us overcome fears so we can rise above difficulties. It is uplifting, encouraging, and empowering and gives us the energy and strength to turn situations around.

Humor and laughter not only help us feel good in the moment, but literally contribute to good physical health. Daily stresses, unchecked over time, will contribute to illness.

Humor takes the pressure off “fear, hostility, rage and anger” so we can begin to think positively.

Hearty laughter exercises our heart. It lowers blood pressure, engages, gives our lungs a workout, releases tension in all parts of our body and with the release of opiates in our blood system, we experience a high – a lift.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
—Proverbs 17:22

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”
—Voltaire, French Philosopher

Charlie Chapman once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in longshot.”

Humor not only helps us see beyond our troubles, but also reveals potential solutions and options. It keeps us balanced and gives us a way out of the worst of times.

It helps us step away from our imperfections.

We can laugh with tears of happiness instead of tears of sorrow. Tears of laughter are as beneficial as tears of sorrow, carrying harmful toxins away from the body.

It diminishes our emotional pain and breaks that deadly self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

Laughter helps us connect with others.

I’d rather laugh – wouldn’t you?

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The Joy of Laughter

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“He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.”

—Job 8:21

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”

—Leo Buscaglia

When was the last time you laughed – I mean, really laughed – until the tears rolled down your cheeks, your sides hurt, and you gasped for air? You laughed and laughed and didn’t want to stop!

Something tickled your funny bone so that in an instant you saw the world differently – your situation was so bad, it was funny – your problem so profound, it was laughable – the ludicrous became the comical. The world had turned upside down and you laughed as you swung in the absurdity of the moment.

What precipitated that laughter?

How did it change how you felt about your world, your situation, yourself? How did it change the minutes and hours afterwards?

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

—Mark Twain

Laughter helped Allen Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor, go through the death of his beloved wife. Together, they chose to focus on the ludicrous, the absurd, and the farcical. They laughed over the ridiculous and after her death these memories put a smile on his lips along with the tears on the eyelids. The focus was on the good times together and the wonderful memories that were created.

“The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.”

—H. G. Wells

A year after my husband died, I invited a group of close friends to come to dinner, where we toasted his life and shared stories about the funny things he did, the way he could laugh at himself, and how much we loved his subtle humor. It was more than just a celebration of his life; it was a placing of wonderful stories and events and connections lovingly in our memories.

Our Ability to Create Humor

Each person has within them the ability to create humor and laughter. Humor is not just fun. It is extremely powerful “medicine” that heals the soul and mends the body. Humor is a revival, a mini-vacation, a breath of fresh air, a way to cope. There is no situation so severe that we can’t find a way to laugh at it.

Humor can instantly transport you to another world. It removes you from the troubles in the moment allowing pain to subside. It makes life bearable when everything is going wrong. It allows us to laugh at ourselves while giving us power over what seems impossible and powerless.

Tickle the Tummy of Your Misfortunes

women laughing

What makes you laugh? When do you laugh the most? What if you took your impossible situation and looked at it upside down? Would it make you smile – maybe even laugh?

Comedians find humor in all life circumstances. In fact, they would not be in business if they couldn’t turn tragic events into occasions to laugh.

Laughter is not a once-in-a while event. It is a lifestyle – a way to look at life. You not only find the good things every day, but you find those moments when you can take an intolerable situation, one packed with emotions and stress, flip it on its side and tickle its tummy.

“I’m hanging on so tight, I’m getting rope burn.”

—Fred Allen, Playwright

Humor takes the edge off any crisis.

It isn’t laughing at someone – it’s laughing at yourself.

It’s taking the edge off the adversity sitting in front of you.

It is enlarging the joyous moments – expanding the depth of our love and enjoyment of life.

6 ways to make laughter and humor a normal part of your life

1. Exaggerate. Take a bad day and blow it out of proportion. Make a mountain out of a molehill. Imagine you are giving a performance at a local theatre and your material is coming from what is happening right now in your life.

“I had such a bad day… You wouldn’t believe how bad it was… It was so bad…”

“I wouldn’t say the rooms in the last place I stayed were small, but the mice were hunchbacked!”

—Fred Allen, Playwright

2. “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, e-lim-i-nate the negative” was a popular song in the 1940s.

Choose to look at the world on the positive side vs. the negative side.

A 50% chance of sunshine instead of a 50% chance of rain…

A glass half full vs half empty.

3. Start a “Happy Journal.” Paste a large smiling face on the cover. Record a happy, pleasant, or joyful event each day. Find that blessing in whatever is happening. Sometimes those blessings are hiding under a big rock of troubles. Lift the rock and release the blessings. Include warm comments, favorite sayings or anything that made you laugh. Paste in cards and letters or articles that focus on the positive. Look at your journal every day. Rewrite current events to include humor.

4. Smile at yourself every time you pass a mirror! At the same time, give yourself a big hug. Allow yourself to be open to hugs and you will find others may want a simple hug as well.

5. Cut out jokes and cartoons and place around your room. Create humorous affirmations, such as “I love to laugh!” and repeat them whenever you are feeling down.

6. Laugh at yourself. Perhaps the greatest gift of all is our ability to laugh at ourselves! If we laugh at ourselves, nobody can laugh “at us” – they can only laugh “with us.”

“When we admit our schnozzles, instead of defending them, we begin to laugh, and the world laughs with us.” 

—Jimmy Durante

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Reframing: A New Perspective

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Our first response to any drastic life change is usually shock, then denial. When you lose your job, can’t make your house payment, or have been diagnosed with a life-altering or life-threatening disease, the crisis takes center stage and everything else is blocked from view.

Reframing takes what life has handed us and looks at it in an expanded way.

The following story illustrates this point.

Years ago, I worked for a company that led two weeks of day-long classes for injured workers. In these classes we taught attendees how pain disrupts our lives, what we bring to the pain experience and ways to go beyond this pain.

As individuals began to apply the information we gave them to their personal situations, it was amazing and encouraging to see what a difference it made in their outlook for the future. Their injury was not the end of the world. There were new ways to look at the world that not only changed their perspective but how they could reframe that outcome in a positive way.

People entering the class were dejected and angry – feeling helpless and hopeless. By the end of their first week’s class, I saw determination and motivation emerge – a sense that life was not over – they were just going through a rough patch.

When they returned for their last week of class, and as I listened to their newfelt optimism, one woman’s story especially grabbed my attention. She had lost her job and lived with her two children in a tiny one-bedroom house. Everything was overwhelming and she saw no future other than pain and poverty.

Over the weekend after that first week, she decided to reframe her circumstances to include possibility and hope. When she came to class the following week and shared her reformation, she was beaming.

When she had gone home, she decided to make some changes. She would give the one bedroom to her children. Over the weekend, the kids helped decorate their new room with pictures from magazines. They didn’t have money to paint walls or buy pictures or anything at that time.

She decided to turn the living room into her bedroom suite. The couch became her bed. There was a little fireplace that became the focal point for her “bedroom.” She rearranged furniture so that when she lay down at night she was facing the fireplace and could enjoy its relaxing atmosphere as she read her books and magazines. She said she had never slept so well and was actively making plans to find new employment. By the end of that week, she had secured new possibilities.

Why was this important?

Nothing had changed in her life except her perspective. The previous week, she has been feeling down, hopeless, depressed, and angry.

She was able to reframe her circumstances, her thinking, and possibilities, which gave her renewed energy, motivation, and goals.

She was not the exception. Others also shared a new outlook. Some, however, remained angry and resentful at how the events of life had altered their expectations and assumptions about life.

Reframing begins when we change our perspective.

Adjust Your Focus: Reframe Your Circumstances | FocusWithMarlene.com

It means stepping back from the problem and taking in more information. When our nose is pressed against a tree trunk, we cannot see the rest of the tree or surrounding area until we step back.

Reframing allows us to “step back” from the impossibility of the situation to see possibilities. It not only helps us transcend difficult or traumatic life situations but to find humor and purpose within them.

When faced with difficult or traumatic events, our perceptions of what we believe the world should or ought to be are challenged. Reframing allows us to review and evaluate our expectations and assumptions and accommodate for change.

For example, if you’ve been out of work for a while and can’t find work in your field of expertise, reframing allows you to look at alternatives… temporary jobs or ways to survive within this time period.

When my husband and I were first married, major transitions and loss of income resulted in the need to live with parents until we could get on our feet.

Reframing allows you to look at many different options – ones you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. It takes you out of a cycle of anger, stress, helplessness, and hopelessness.


  • Challenges a rigid and inflexible mindset
  • Focuses on what you can do, not what you can’t do
  • Looks for creative ways to resolve problems
  • Creates new meaning and purpose for life
  • Helps you become aware of your blessings and practice gratefulness

Life can be cruel and harsh. In all our difficult times, we still have our ingenuity, creativity, and determination to start again. When we choose to reframe tough circumstances, we will find a way to start once more and take those steps forward.

I leave you with one more story. I watched a TV program that highlighted a remarkable person. Nick Vujicic had been born without arms and legs, but he was not sad, depressed, disheartened or discouraged. Instead, he was a confident adult comfortable with himself. He had an enthusiasm for life that was infectious. Happiness and contentment radiated from his face – something difficult to fake.

He has authored several books, keeps an exhausting worldwide speaking schedule, swims, and even plays golf. He has a beautiful wife and active young son.

I may have had difficult times in my life but whatever was required of me I had the use of my arms and legs. To become inspired, check out his website, lifewithoutlimbs.org.

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Forgiveness: Release from the Prison of Resentment

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“But I say to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

—Luke 6:27

Really – pray for them?

Jesus said, forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We take it as a moral imperative.

But it isn’t just Jesus who tells us how important forgiveness is, science confirms it as well. In fact, not to forgive is putting a slow death sentence on yourself, as the theologian Frederick Buechner so aptly describes.

“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.

The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself.

The skeleton at the feast is you.”

Frederick Buechner,
Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC
(New York: Harper & Row, 1973)

Forgive for GoodIn his book, Forgive for Good, Dr. Fred Luskin lists eleven definitions of what forgiveness is and seven definitions of what forgiveness is not.

Forgiving the Unforgivable - FlaniganIn her book, Forgiving the Unforgivable, Beverly Flanigan, MSSW, defines how betrayal of people we trust shatters our core beliefs and concept of right and wrong and begins the creation of unforgivable injuries. Flanigan defines forgiveness as “mastery over a wound,” where an injured person embraces and then “conquers a situation that has nearly destroyed him.”

Unforgiveness creates a destructive force in our lives.

Within its tenets we find hatred, rage, and revenge – all corrosive and self-destructing emotional reactions to life. It allows evil and caustic pain to continue.

Research shows that “forgiveness leads to less stress” and fewer health problems. On the other hand, when we fail to forgive, that unforgiveness may be a greater risk factor for heart disease than hostility.

Forgiveness releases you from a prison of resentment. It is necessary for emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

Most of us deal with the sins and transgressions of others in the moment. We get mad, pull away, then make up and go on. When we are the transgressors, we do the same. With minor goofs and slip ups, we feel bad in the moment, apologize, and then move on.

When we personalize indiscretions or offenses of others, however, we are setting ourselves up for the creation of a “grievance story,” as detailed by Dr. Luskin. When we hang on to resentment, it becomes more toxic over time.

7 ways to make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

7 ways we can make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

Here are seven ways to make forgiveness a gift instead of an obligation, as suggestions offered by Dr. Luskin. They can help us better understand how and why we are so quickly offended and what we can do to change such a trajectory.

1. Don’t make “unenforceable” rules.

Unenforceable rules are expectations and assumptions that everyone must follow, or we will be personally insulted and offended. Associated with such rules are the words should, must, have to and When you hear yourself saying these words, ask what you are demanding from either yourself or another. How are you eliminating personal choice?

2. Own your feelings.

We blame others for how we feel. People can’t make us feel a certain way unless we allow it. We can choose other ways to respond that don’t involve escalating anger, ill-will or hatred.

3. An injury does not create a “grievance story” – we do.

We can reframe our situations, become less critical and balance troubled times with humor.

4. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.

Forgiving prepares the way for reconciliation – it doesn’t automatically say it will happen. Forgiveness is letting go of trying to get retribution. Forgiveness of self says, I can admit when I am wrong, apologize to others and ask forgiveness if needed, and stop beating myself up.

5. Forgiveness does not mean condoning unkindness, inconsiderate or selfish behavior, or excusing bad behavior.

It does not deny or minimize the hurt, pain or injury done to us. It just refuses to make it into an ongoing resentment story that becomes toxic over time. We are the ones hurt by not forgiving.

6. Coming to terms with unpleasantness in life helps us understand we are not perfect or flawless.

We will make mistakes and need grace and forgiveness. Although people will hurt us, they are often unaware they have offended us.

7. Forgiveness is a choice.

We make the conscious decision to let go of hurts and wrongs. Forgiveness requires we first define our grievance. When we can articulate the details of the hurtful event, we will know exactly what we are forgiving. Acknowledge and accept your feelings, and then make that conscious choice to forgive. Forgiving helps us from getting hurt in the future.

Forgiveness allows me to let go of the pain and experience peace. I choose to forgive. How about you?

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Lay Down the Unwanted Burden of Resentment

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“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”

– Attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

To seek revenge is to want retribution we want people to pay for what they did. When the injustice is repeated over and over again in our mind, the desire for revenge increases.

The flames of anger, hurt, and betrayal continue to be stoked until we have a raging furnace inside us. We have become a victim.

Let me share a story titled, “The Unwanted Package,” that illustrates this point so beautifully.

The Unwanted Package

Once upon a time, a package was delivered to a young woman. When she opened it, her eyes blazed, and she became very angry. Although she was infuriated over receiving this parcel, nevertheless she took it with her everywhere she went.

Soon other packages arrived, and she had to get a larger bag to put them all together so she could continue to carry them with her.

Every morning she dutifully picked up her bag, which was growing heavier and heavier. She took it everywhere she went – on the bus to work and when she met with the girls for coffee or a glass of wine. It went with her to family gatherings and remained on her back as she fixed meals, adjusting her load to make the beds and do the laundry.

Every once in a while, she received another unwelcome and unwanted package which she stuffed in the bag with the rest.

There were moments when she laid her bag down – times when she went for a walk in the woods or walked the beach where waves gently lapped over her ankles. She felt free and alive. She could enjoy the sun and the sweet smells of the forest and breathe deeply the fresh salt air.

She felt weightless and at peace and was tempted to leave the bag behind when she left. But it called to her, and she picked her load up once more, the moments enjoyed becoming burning coals of sadness, regret, and despair.

One day as she walked down the path of life, an old man stopped her and said, “I have been watching you. Every day you carry that big bag. I can tell it is heavy by the way your body sags under the weight and the strain of effort can be seen on your face. You must have something very valuable in that bag.”

Woman carrying heavy backpack

The woman, who was aging more rapidly because of the constant strain, set the bag down for a minute and reflected before she replied. She had been carrying her load for so long that it just seemed natural and the thing to do.

“Sir, the things in my bag are things I do not want, have never wanted, and I carry them with me so that I never forget how much they have injured me. If I lay them down, then I might forget. For you see, in this bag are all the betrayals, rejections, insults, lies and humiliations I have received – things that have cut and wounded my spirit and soul.”

The man responded with shock, “Why would you want to keep carrying them around with you? Why don’t you put them down and leave them behind?”

With tears in her eyes she replied, “Because I don’t want to forget what was done to me. I don’t want them to get away with what they did to me. I want them to remember the pain and suffering they inflicted on me.”

The old man looked around and slowly said, “But they don’t know you are carrying this bag of grievances and resentment. They are not around. Whatever was done to you, you continue to do to yourself. You are not exacting any punishment on them, but on yourself. Others may have injured you, but you continue to inflict pain on yourself. “

Amazed, she said, “But if I put it down, won’t I be saying that what they did was okay? That they got away with it? As long as I carry this bag I can be thinking of ways to get even.”

The man kindly and compassionately said, “Is it worth letting a lifetime of joy and happiness pass you by?”

She looked into his eyes full of wisdom and grace and realized for the first time that by carrying her bag full of resentment and grievances she was unable to build a constructive and meaningful life.

She thanked the man and went home. She put her bag down beside her and pondered the things he said. What would she do with all the “rocks” she had been carrying around for so long? Inside were not only the injustices and wrongs, but also her anger which could quickly be fanned into a deep, simmering rage. She no longer wanted to carry them around with her. But how would she get rid of them?

She looked out the window at a garden that seemed all too ordinary and common, and she knew what she would do. Filled with an energy that bubbled up and surprised her, she took the “rocks” out of her bag and built a monument in her garden, filling in places with new dirt and planting new fragrant plants.

Water ponds were added to hold the tears she shed, and pathways wound around carefully placed objects that were no longer stumbling blocks but sculptures enhancing the garden.

Her garden was no longer mundane, but extraordinary and she would invite friends and family over to rest with her in her garden, enjoying peace and comfort.

Resentment is a heavy burden.

We want revenge. The problem, however, is that revenge doesn’t resolve anything. Even if only played out in our heads, there is no long-lasting satisfaction. We simply remain stuck in a cycle of endless need for justification and retribution.

Only now, each time we lament on how unfair life has been, we exact that revenge on ourselves. What someone has done to us – we are now doing to ourselves.

Don’t you want to set your heavy burden down?

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The Cost of Unchecked Anger

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When anger becomes habitual, it can be harmful.

When used repeatedly as our typical response to things that irritate us, we end up with an anger problem that can be catastrophic over time. That’s because, when we’re angry, we tend to be reactive. We no longer think rationally.

The price of staying angry

Do you find yourself responding more and more with anger to annoying situations?

  • When a car cuts you off on the freeway, do you want to get even?
  • When your spouse does not acknowledge appreciation for the things you do, or people at work keep taking advantage of you, do you want to retaliate?

There continues to be that child in us that wants revenge when life isn’t fair.

Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose.

Like fear, it can help us survive, can motivate us to take action and make appropriate and necessary changes. It protects us when life threatens us psychologically or physically.

Anger is a survival mechanism because it mobilizes us into action. There is an adrenaline rush – a powerful, strong, energizing force in response to what is happening around us.

Anger can be either constructive or destructive.

Thoughts associated with anger usually include perceived injustices, perceived rights and assumed lack of responsibility in others. It can become a habit and our favorite mode of communication. Left unchecked, anger becomes toxic and corrosive.

Sometimes we feel more in control and less vulnerable when we find fault with others and deflect from our own errors of judgment or behaviors. When we react without restraint to that powerful rush of energy or without identifying the problem connected to it, we not only inflict pain on others, but also on ourselves.

It is our responsibility to discover the underlying reason associated with an anger problem.

When anger is our first response to things we don’t like, it often has its roots in our past. Children often experience angry outbursts from troubled parents and are unable to express their own anger. Anything they have done right is dismissed as unimportant.

Wounds from childhood run deep. While buried in our sub-conscious, we continue to be influenced by them.

If you find yourself constantly feeling angry, ask yourself:

  • What were you told about anger when you were little?
  • List the times in your past when your anger was not expressed or acknowledged.
  • Where do you direct your anger: toward yourself, others, your parents, boss, etc.
  • When you feel angry, does the situation warrant that feeling?

When we allow ourselves to become a victim, we will experience an underlying level of anger. Being a victim takes away our personal power to make changes and choices.

We can use anger to motivate necessary and appropriate change without inflicting harm.

Here are some suggestions to try if you constantly get angry:

  • Keep an anger diary. When are you feeling angry? What are the thoughts or beliefs associated with those feelings? Are there events that constantly trigger your anger? After a week recording, you will see a pattern emerge of when, why and how long.
  • What alternative behaviors can you use when feeling angry, giving you time to readjust your thinking and response?
  • What situations could you avoid, knowing they trigger anger?
  • When your anger is triggered, count to ten – then count again if necessary to delay that initial anger response.
  • Practice expressing anger assertively instead of aggressively.
  • Replace irrational beliefs such as, “life should be fair” with rational thinking.
  • Write yourself a self-management contract. Include commitments you are making and affirmations to keep yourself on track.

Unchecked anger can move to resentment.

Conflict – “He Said – She Said” | FocusWithMarlene.com

Sometimes we believe that all anger is not good, and that good people shouldn’t get angry. But when we ascribe to that philosophy, we fail to address the underlying issues associated with it and keep denying or burying it until we develop an ongoing internal bitter resentment. We have then added to the problem.

Anger, like all our emotions, has a purpose, and we need to acknowledge and listen to what it is trying to tell us. It is not to be ignored, stuffed, or suppressed. It won’t go away by itself.

When denied, anger will re-appear in the form of illness, depression, rage and even ending of one’s own life or that of another. It has an energy that, when turned inward, will gradually eat us up from the inside out or becomes self-hatred and self-loathing.

So, what can we do?

First, STOP.

  • Stop avoiding
  • Stop rationalizing
  • Stop pushing it away
  • Stop medicating with drugs or alcohol to dull its pain and underlying fear

Second, ALLOW yourself to feel your emotions.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I feel so angry all the time?
  • What is it trying to tell me?
  • What am I supposed to learn?

Third, IDENTIFY the problem and look for solutions.

  • What constructive options do I have?
  • What responsible behaviors can I apply?
  • What positive changes do I want to have happen?
  • What problem solving strategies can I use to bring about a positive outcome?

Anger has a purpose.

Connect with its message and all the other emotions that are often buried with it: fear, guilt, pain. Work through them to healing.

If you have an ongoing problem with anger, please seek out a good professional mental health counselor or therapist to help you work through underlying long-held issues attached to it.

Helpful books:


The Dance of Anger, A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.

Anger: How to Live With and Without It, Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within, Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Peter D. Rogers, Ph.D., Judith McKay, R.N.

Legitimate Fears vs Paper Dragons

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Many years ago, an intruder invaded my home. But angels were there also, and I escaped without harm. (You can read my personal story in Heaven Touching Earth: True Stories of Angels, Miracles and Heavenly Encounters, a book of stories compiled by James Stuart Bell, available on Amazon.)

Fear is a critical survival warning system.

It triggers our fight/flight response system to meet any threat by fleeing, fighting, or remaining frozen in place.

When you have experienced fear, it becomes a reminder to put preventive measures in place, such as locks on our doors or avoiding parking in dark places at night.

Perception of danger of any kind will trigger fear. It can be an internal gut feeling that tells you something is not right or a heightened awareness of what is going on around you.

Healthy fear not only prepares us to respond but also reminds us to be careful and cautious when in unfamiliar territory. Healthy fear is based on what is happening in the moment. It prepares us mentally and physically to take action when and if required.

After my home break-in, we purchased a German Shepherd who became a very reliable deterrent, allowing me to relax at home without any heightened fear.

Creating paper dragons

Fear can be our friend, or it can be our enemy. It can prepare, instruct, and keep us safe; or it can become a huge threatening shadow that keeps us locked in doubt, worry, uncertainty, and helplessness.

Ongoing fear replayed over and over in our mind will create unending anxiety.

We can allow fear to so monopolize our lives that we are constantly playing the “what if” game.

  • What if I can no longer live alone…
  • What if my money runs out as I get older…
  • What if I can’t pay my mortgage…
  • What if I get a serious illness…
  • What if I have trouble making new friends…
  • What if I’m not good enough…
  • What if…

The list of what ifs can go on forever.

When times get tough, this kind of internal dialogue can become pervasive and dominate our thinking. The what ifs become so real that we defend their existence and refuse to think positively about anything we can do or are capable of doing. We become consumed by the terror of what might happen without adequately checking out whether they are realistic fears.

This is called creating a fear dragon or paper dragon. The problem with paper dragons is just that – they are created – they are not real.

paper dragon

The fear is the fear of being inadequate. We become fearful of making wrong decisions.

Understanding the beliefs and thoughts that maintain that fear can be liberating. If we can create them, we can replace them.

Healthy fear

Healthy fear can be the precursor to putting in place preventive measures. Pay attention to that niggling doubt or feeling of fear.

Pay attention to your intuition.

Check out troubling symptoms that just don’t seem right. That includes relationships, changes in behaviors in your teens or children or health symptoms that keep recurring (ones you don’t want to address). It may be an underlying concern about aging parents. It may be that infer voice telling you to watch your spending habits.

We need to pay attention.

What fears are you experiencing?

What can you do if you have ongoing anxiety, fear, or even feelings of panic?

First, ask yourself:

  • What is creating this fear?
  • Is it legitimate and real?

Are you fearful of physical danger? Check the locks on your windows and doors and replace them if old. Be sure doors and windows are locked before going to bed at night. If shopping at night, park where there is adequate light and be sure your car is locked. If you love to go hiking, go with a companion. You can develop the habit of being aware of your surroundings without being in constant fear.

Maybe you have a good job and are constantly in fear of making a mistake and losing that job. That underlying fear can become a deterrent to doing the best you can. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. But we can focus on doing the best we can and relax into that.  

If you are a worrier and find yourself asking, what if… more often than you want, remember that what ifs are future events that you are worrying about in the moment.

Put in place a preventive.

Get additional information. For example, what if the economy tanks and I don’t have enough money? First, do a review. What do I currently have? How can I spend less money? How can I create a larger reserve account? Read some books on the subject or talk with a financial planner – one who is honest and respected. It might be money well spent.

Financial Peace RevisitedA good book on the subject, Financial Peace Revisited, by Dave Ramsey, was written for the average person to apply the principles of managing money.

What if you are worried about becoming seriously ill as you age? Put in place a healthy lifestyle right now. Do what you can to eat healthier, exercise, etc. Anybody can get a serious illness at any time in life. None of us are immune. But we can do more to create a healthier lifestyle. And constant worry and anxiety can become an illness.

Make a list of your strengths.

Include the times when you made good decisions. Evaluate the pros and cons of your decision-making. Which can help you eliminate or reduce many of the what if fears?

Whether you are worried about the high cost of living or having enough finances, or if you are experiencing undefined, ongoing anxiety, confront it.

  • What actions can I take now to feel more secure and protect me in the future?
  • How can I better understand myself so I can confront my fears?

Anxiety and ongoing fear can lead to panic attacks.

When you sense your fear rising, take some slow calming breaths and remind yourself that you are okay – you are not in physical danger. Then identify the underlying cause of your fear.

When fear and anxiety levels are lowered, we can think rationally, problem solve, conceptualize options, and formulate new plans of action.

When we accept the least pleasing aspect of ourselves, it no longer creates an unreasonable fear of making mistakes or looking foolish. Becoming proactive is using fear to our advantage.

Challenge Irrational Thinking

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What does it mean to challenge thoughts and beliefs?

It means making an assumption or hypothesis and testing its validity through objective analysis.

  • How accurate is my thinking?
  • How can I prove or disprove that?
  • Can my thoughts be modified or expanded?
  • What are the underlying beliefs?

Unchallenged, our first automatic thoughts to potential catastrophes can keep us in a fear, anxiety, or panic mode.

Challenging our thoughts allows us to get out of highly charged emotions while affirming our ability to be flexible, roll with the punches and believe in ourselves.

Crises will happen. Knowing how to go beyond our initial response allows us to think more appropriately.

Here is an example of someone worrying about their future:

Situation: You are close to retirement, the economy has tanked, and you are experiencing health problems.

Fear and anxiety escalate as uncertainty about the future mounts.

Your savings and pension are smaller than anticipated. Thoughts like: What will I do if I can’t pay my bills or remain in my home, or do some traveling I had hoped to do?

Challenged: I have a savings account. My pension may be small, but I can begin right now to budget, curb my spending, and pay off all my credit cards, thus reducing my debt. I can start right now putting more money into my savings or pension plan. I will start to improve my health by watching my diet and by exercising every day. I have managed in the past and can manage again. If I need to, after retirement, I can get a part-time job to help. My focus needs to be on what I can do right now.

When we challenge those first automatic thoughts that focus only on the worst possible scenario, we can temper them with more positive, alternative possibilities and constructive thinking. It doesn’t mean things won’t get tough. It means we are taking charge so we can be prepared to meet those challenges.

Think of a situation you’re going through.

Using the example above, challenge any negative thinking that keeps you focused only on the worst possible outcome.

Or choose one of your entries from your tracking last week. Before you challenge, identify all the emotions being triggered so you can address each of them.

Challenging thoughts basically asks the questions:

  • Why do I believe this to be true?
  • Who says it is true?
  • Are my thoughts limiting me from finding alternative solutions?
  • Could I reframe the situation to gather more information?
  • What beliefs do I hold about myself?

Can you see yourself as competent and capable? Or do old habits of thinking keep you believing you are incapable? Challenge that belief.

Where did it come from and who says it is accurate?

Old messages from the past can reduce our ability to feel competent to make appropriate choices in the here and now.

Believing you are capable does not mean you won’t make mistakes or have to learn new ways or that you are better than anyone else. It just means you recognize your ability to grow and learn and accomplish.

Review your tracking entries from last week.

Is there a pattern of negative emotional responses to many situations? Were they appropriate for the circumstances?

Reflect on the situation again – on the emotions you had – and challenge the thinking.  Ask yourself:

  • How can I look at this differently?
  • What can I do to reduce my worry and anxiety about life in general?
  • How do I affirm my abilities?
  • Do a further exploration by asking yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?

Worst-case scenario

Our minds like to create the worst scenario possible, and we have a tendency to dwell on that to the exclusion of anything positive. When our focus is narrow, we are usually excluding a lot of relevant information that could be helpful.

Adjust Your Focus: Reframe Your Circumstances | FocusWithMarlene.com

Reframe it.

Reframing takes a situation, pattern of thinking, or rigid belief and expands the view or interpretation of it. It is like replacing a telephoto lens on your camera with a wide-angle lens so you can see more. This expanded view helps you understand better all the elements of your life in order to rise above or work through difficult times.

As you become familiar with challenging irrational thinking, you will begin to identify and address personal distortions as soon as they are happening. These distortions will continue to pop up and sidetrack you until you recognize them.

Correct them immediately. “Oh, oh, I am blaming again,” or “Wait, I am not listening,” or “I am falling into the trap of “should” instead of “choice.”   

Remove the words “should, have to and must” from your everyday language. Replace with need or choose.

The car needs to be taken in for a checkup. I will do it on Wednesday.

When you become aware of the stress perpetrated by the pressure of “have to” or “must,” replace with, “I can choose to do this or choose not to do this.”

Now your choices are tied to a thoughtful understanding of what you want and what needs to be done along with consequences associated with them.

You will be required to make difficult decisions throughout your lifetime. Some are as simple as choosing whether to wash your dishes after dinner or wait until morning. You can think through both options and make a choice that you are willing to live with, along with the consequences.

What is important in any decision-making is taking the time to think through your options and choices along with their consequences.

Information Emotions Give Us

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Imagine not being able to experience the joy of holding your baby, or that feeling of confidence over a job well done, or the excitement you feel cheering your favorite sports team. Life would be dull and robotic if it weren’t for those wonderful moments of joy and excitement and contentment.

Every day we experience emotions enabling us to enjoy life.

Emotions help us respond appropriately. They warn us of danger as well as bringing us incredible joy. There is a large body of research, such as RET (Rational Emotive Theory) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Theory) that help us understand how emotions and thinking affect our life.

The research indicates it’s not situations themselves that create our responses so much as it is our interpretations of what is happening.

Interpretations >> Core beliefs >> Habits >> Rules & Expectations

Throughout life, starting in childhood, we are ascribing meaning to life. These interpretations become the core beliefs that we live by.

They become habits used in thinking and making judgments about everything.

From those early interpretations we establish rules, expectations, assumptions, and attitudes that we live by and insist others live by as well.

Unless examined and assessed, these beliefs can become rigid and uncompromising, global in scope and over-generalized.

In the example below, I have combined the stories of many people into the person of Suzie. Suzie illustrates how early core beliefs about her ability to do anything well enough keeps her from recognizing her qualifications, abilities, and successes.

Susie was taunted at school because she was bright and was more interested in learning than following the crowd. She had few friends, was overweight and the other girls called her geek, fatty and ugly.

She longed to have pretty clothes, but her family was poor. Her dad drank and her mom didn’t give her encouragement.

As she grew up, she worked harder and harder, but believed that she was stupid and worthless. When things went wrong, the labels leveled at her as a kid rang in her ears as confirmation.

Her core beliefs became global – she believed she had no worth or value – and those beliefs applied to everything she did. Even when she tried to believe otherwise, old thoughts reminded her that she would never be any different no matter how hard she tried.

Deep down she believed the labels were true. Only when she went into counseling did she understand that those core beliefs were biased and false.

Automatic thoughts occur quickly, usually without our awareness. In the blink of an eye, circumstances trigger a habitual response and emotional reaction. When our reactions are based on faulty beliefs and perceptions from the past, the outcomes, while predictable, will not always serve us.

Think back to a time when you were in a new situation, given a promotion, got your dream job, or held a management position.

  • How did you feel overall? Did you feel confident or apprehensive?
  • What were your thoughts about your capabilities?
  • Were feelings of insecurity replaced with confidence over time or did you continue to struggle to feel good about your abilities?
  • When things went wrong, did you immediately blame yourself?
  • When things went well, did you congratulate yourself or give the credit to others?

Identify, Challenge and Replace


The following exercise will help you identify patterns of emotional thinking and responses that might be working against you.

To challenge the logic and reliability of your automatic thoughts, you must first recognize them.

Emotions based on biased or inaccurate thinking often include excessive feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness.

While we are aware of the emotions, the thoughts associated with them often remain obscured until we deliberately look for them. To alter our emotional responses, we must recognize and challenge the thoughts and beliefs connected to them.

To identify your patterns, make three columns on a piece of paper or on an electronic device with these headings:

Situation (Who, what, when, where)

Emotions (What you felt)

Automatic Thoughts (What thoughts or beliefs went through your mind)

For one week, record events that trigger repetitive, habitual, or upsetting emotions.

On your tracking sheet, “Situations” refer to whatever circumstances you find yourself in that trigger a stressful emotion. Jot down what is happening: who, what, when and where.

In the next column, “Emotions,” note all the feelings you had, how strong or intense they were, and how they affected you physically as well as emotionally.

Under “Automatic Thoughts,” record what you were thinking when feeling these emotions. It may have been a stream of thoughts, beliefs, or recollections… even images.

Here are some typical automatic thoughts you might experience:

  • There I go again.
  • I always say something stupid.
  • Won’t I ever learn.
  • Nothing I do is ever good enough

After recording all the information for a week, go back and evaluate your thoughts.

  • What thoughts did you have that you were unaware of at first?
  • How accurate or rational were your thoughts in relation to what was happening in the moment?
  • What messages from the past might be generating these thoughts or beliefs?

You will begin to see an emerging pattern. You can then challenge the validity and accuracy of those thoughts as they correspond to the situation and replace them with more rational and realistic thinking.

Remember, emotions are neither good nor bad.

They give us valuable and important information so we can respond appropriately to situations.

That first instantaneous reaction might not be helpful. Understanding that those initial reactionary reactions can be altered puts you in charge.

You are responsible for all your responses and have a great deal of influence over what you feel and think.

Next week, I will take you through the steps to challenge automatic thoughts.

Empower Your Life with Resolve

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After surgery to fuse my lower back, I was required to wear a brace for three months. During that time, I walked every day, up to two miles a day to help heal and strengthen my back.

We understand that it takes time to recover from broken bones or surgeries, and that the healing process requires physical therapy.

It takes time to recover from emotional and spiritual wounds, as well.

Making that transition to a new life is never straightforward – there will be ups and downs and sometimes detours.

I love to tell the true story of two individuals in the prime of their life who were injured in separate accidents, met in physical therapy, and got married. Both were paraplegics with no feeling from the chest down. They wanted to prove to themselves that their handicaps would not keep them from living a full life. So, they had a boat built for them and set out to meet a challenge few of us with whole bodies would do – sail across the Atlantic Ocean – by themselves.

Accidents happen. Tragedy strikes.

There might be times when we feel that everything has been taken away from us that we thought we couldn’t live without. And we are left wondering what hit us.

The world changes; and so does our life. It will never be the same. Those that survive catastrophic life events or just personal crises will be faced with making life-changing decisions they never wanted to make. Sometimes there isn’t even time to grieve their loss.

At such times, what we say to ourselves is critical. Like the two paraplegics who told themselves, “Yes, we can,” and proceeded to make it happen.

We will encounter obstacles that seem to make it impossible to reach our goals. Sometimes, we abandon our goals because the obstacles seem too daunting and overwhelming. We might feel intimidated or unwilling to alter our goals to match new realities.

What is important is remembering that it isn’t what happens in life that makes us successful – it is what we do with it.

Success is the journey of taking what life hands us and making something positive out of it.

I believe that deep within us lies the resources we need to meet any crisis, adversity, or unwanted change. These resources are often buried beneath doubts and old destructive messages. We just need to uncover those resources and alter our thinking to accommodate what is happening in our world.

Remember the first time you said to yourself, if so and so can do it, then so can I? When I was going through my adversities, after the initial slam of harsh reality, I reminded myself that people had endured far greater challenges than I and had weathered the storms of life. If others could, then so could I.

No matter how strong our determination and resolve, however, we can’t do it alone. We need the support and love of others. And even more important, we need to know that we have a God who will give us strength and courage.

We are not alone. God is with us.

It is where we find the faith and grace and hope needed to take that next step.

Determining how you will respond to life may be the biggest and most important lifestyle change you ever make.

Do a quick inventory of how you have handled difficulties in the past.

  • What did you do?
  • How did you feel?
  • What would you do differently?
  • What would you do again?

We are never sure what we will do when faced with a crisis. But if we have learned how to stop and think vs. just reacting, we will be prepared to handle most any unexpected calamity.

Endings can be scary.

To walk a new path requires expanding your horizon and trying new things.

  • Are there things in your past that keep you stuck?
  • What fears keep interfering?
  • What old beliefs, lifestyles, life scripts, assumptions, expectations, etc. are keeping you from exploring new options?

Give yourself permission to explore more of who you are.