Don’t avoid your feelings. The problem with avoiding difficult feelings is that it leads to more pain down the road. Avoidance trains the brain to create a phobia of future challenging life events. These inevitable future events will hurt even more when they arise. Facing life’s traumas by talking to a therapist or a trusted friend promotes healing and cultivates emotional empowerment.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Ceely.
Michael Ceely is a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Ceely Counseling, providing online therapy in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Men’s Therapy Directory, a website dedicated to men’s mental health. In addition to his therapy practice, Michael owns Ceely Sports, a company that provides mental performance coaching to athletes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in rural Wisconsin and had an active childhood, always playing sports. I played baseball, wrestled, did distance running, and in high school I discovered my true love, bicycle racing. I was an only child and got a lot of attention from my parents. They were hippies and encouraged me to think freely, which instilled in me a deep intellectual curiosity that I still have today. At age 15, my parents got divorced, and I got sent to therapy. Fortunately, I had a great therapist. He changed my life and inspired me to become a therapist too.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never play it safe.” This is what my therapist Gary said to me when I was 15. I was just starting to do well in bike racing, but doubted my ability. I was afraid of winning. He told me I was playing it safe to protect myself from being disappointed if I lost.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Optimism, and idealism, and obsession.
Optimism: One of my best friends told me I have a “sense of wonder” that keeps cynicism at bay. As a psychotherapist, my optimism strengthens my craft. My clients sense my genuine optimism for their predicaments, which increases their belief in their own capacity for change.
Idealism: I’m very idealistic, which I get from my dad. I have great expectations for myself, for others, and for the future of humanity. Idealism is my strength, but also my weakness. I set high standards, but sometimes fall into perfectionism.
Obsession: When I want to achieve something I can get pretty obsessed. Obsession helped me achieve some impressive goals in my bike racing career, and later pushed me to get into a competitive Masters program in psychology. Today I’m constantly pushing myself to grow professionally so I can help as many people as possible.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
As a therapist, I help people handle difficult life challenges. In many cases, my clients become stronger because of their experiences.
Personally, I have dealt with my own losses. Last year my dad past away and I lost a good friend to cancer. These experiences were incredibly difficult, but in many ways made me stronger, in that they gave me perspective and reminded me what’s truly important in life.
For the “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss or Life Change” my list would be the following:
1. Don’t avoid your feelings. The problem with avoiding difficult feelings is that it leads to more pain down the road. Avoidance trains the brain to create a phobia of future challenging life events. These inevitable future events will hurt even more when they arise. Facing life’s traumas by talking to a therapist or a trusted friend promotes healing and cultivates emotional empowerment.
2. Lean on your support network.A lot of people don’t want to “burden others” with their grief. It’s a huge mistake to think this way. People want to help you and support you. The clients I work with in my therapy practice feel better after leaning on others for support, and as a result end up strengthening their social connections.
3. Take time to mourn. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one or just had a divorce. Well-meaning friends and family typically try to cheer you up. But it’s okay to not be happy, at least for a while. Thinking that there’s something wrong with you for feeling down can make you feel worse. There are no rules for grief or mourning; everyone’s experience is valid.
4. Watch out for depression. A period of mourning is normal, but be careful: grief can lead to depression. If after a few months you are still feeling like there’s a dark cloud hanging over you, do something to get back on track. See a bereavement counselor, talk to a trusted friend, or go on a vacation to change your perspective.
5. Stay busy. Once you’ve taken the time to mourn and deal with your feelings, it’s time to get back to living your life. Don’t just get back to normal. Keep yourself occupied to avoid ruminating on the past. Get a personal trainer, or learn a new language. Do something positive to direct your energy beyond your feelings of loss. Remember though, if you still have unprocessed grief, make sure to deal with it by talking to a trusted friend or mental health professional.
Let’s discuss this in more specific terms. After the dust settles, what coping mechanisms would you suggest to deal with the pain of the loss or change?
As I mentioned above, staying busy is a common and effective coping mechanism. Another coping mechanism is to schedule more social events. There is a tendency to isolate after difficult life events. Fight this instinct and force yourself to hang out with your friends.
How can one learn to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. But at some point you need to give yourself permission to move forward with life. When my clients have a hard time letting go, I ask them what they would say to a friend in the same situation. Often this changes their perspective and gives them permission to move forward.
Aside from letting go, what can one do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
A strategy I use with my clients, and with myself, is to regularly practice gratitude. This can be done by writing down what you’re grateful for on a daily basis. This might seem tedious, but when done regularly, it literally rewires the brain to focus on the positive instead of the negative.
How can one eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation?
The number one thing people say after the death of a loved one is, “I wish I would’ve spent more time with them.” You could reframe loss as a beacon that reminds you to always schedule quality time with family and friends. Losses, tragedies and other difficult life events have a hidden opportunity for growth, if you look for it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think if more people meditated, we’d all be better off. Most people run on autopilot, compulsively checking social media, and letting their emotions dictate their actions. Through meditation you can cultivate the observer mind, and notice that your negative thoughts are often generated from beliefs that aren’t true. This can be incredibly liberating, and reduce a lot of suffering.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Ed Mylett, a former baseball player who became a highly successful businessman. He’s huge on social media and believes deeply in people’s capacity to change. He’s been a big influence on me.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for the opportunity to share!