Do You Have “Key” Clutter? Get Rid Of All That Unnecessary Stuff On Your Keychain For 2014

large__543268337Key Clutter….Got A Lot Of Unnecessary Keys and other Paraphernalia on Your Key Chain?

Lighten Your Load For 2014

This Christmas my most “life changing” gift was the smallest one.  I now have a new keychain with exactly three keys on it:  1. My house key,  2. My Car key,  3. My office key.   Additionally, my keychain sports a small LED flashlight, and a remarkably small, sharp, pocketknife.  My keys and my “tools” are all I need to negotiate my daily life.  Yet, somehow, for many years now I’ve been weighed down with a gazillion unnecessary keys.  They have added weight and bulk to my purses, my coats, and my psyche.  The process of “key shedding” for me has been highly symbolic and representative of a sea change in the “shedding” of many things in my life that no longer serve.  Here’s how it happened.

A Key Inventory 

After taking all of my keys off the key chain, I did a quick inventory.  Here is what I found: 1. 3 keys to cars I no longer own, including keys to my adult daughter’s cars that are long since gone.  2. 2 keys to file cabinets that I no longer have. 3.  4 keys to doors in offices that I have no connection to at all. 4.  3 keys that I can’t even identify at all.  Some of these keys had some sentimental value and brought with them memories, so I didn’t throw them out, but I took them off the key chain.

What’s Up With All The Keys? 

In my view, keys have all kinds of meanings.  Keys open doors to houses, offices, and other private places.  Keys represent security and ownership.  Car keys have to do with autonomy and freedom.  When my daughters first learned to drive I always had copies of their car keys because I felt I needed access in case they got into trouble or lost their keys. In retrospect I can see it was a form of control as well.  I kept these keys way too long because it was hard to let go.

Keys Represent Identity 

What I have come to believe is that each of my keys represents a part of my identity.  I have a house key.  Therefore I’m a homeowner.  When I bought my first house this key conferred power and prestige to me.  A car key means I’m also a car owner.  My office key allows me a private inner sanctum where I do my work.  Homeless disenfranchised people don’t have keys, so they don’t have this identity.  I noticed that when I went from 12 keys to 3 keys I initially felt kind of lost and powerless.  Weirdly the heft and weight of my keys actually gave me this feeling of substance and importance

Shedding Keys Means Shedding the skin Of Old Identities

I don’t need keys to cars I don’t own or have access too, so these were the first keys to go. My daughters are grown and responsible for their own safety and transportation. There goes that identity. I only have one house and one office. All the other office keys finally got tossed, and I realized I kept them on the keychain because I still felt sentimentally attached to where I used to work. In some small way I was still attached to my younger identity. That’s why I kept the key. Maybe I even had an unconscious belief I might want to go back to my old job.  I usually only drive one car.  I have access to another but I don’t need the key with me all the time. I don’t need the security of having that second car key with me.  I used to think I did. It was like I felt I needed a “backup” car.

Now that I’ve downsized my key chain I feel that my identity is light, fluid, and ever changing.  It feels like I don’t anymore need so many small talismans that tie me to the material world and remind me that, yes, you are safe.  You have a place to live,  a way to get around, and a job.  That feeling now resides within me.

Do You Have Anything To Shed?

As 2013 draws to a close, it seems like a good time to think of shedding anything in your life that belongs to a previous version of you.  I’m also looking at clothes, dishes, bedding, and furniture that is no longer reflective of my present self. I don’t want things that are too big, or too small, too shabby or too youthful.  Similarly, I’m looking at belief systems that no longer serve….whole ways of looking at the world in fact, and even people who used to be a part of my life… but its time to let some of them go too.

The up side of this is that life will always come in and fill in the void that is created when something is taken away… even in those times when you cling desperately to the way things are and don’t want them to change.  I don’t know why this works, but I believe that it does.  Just…be open.  Listen and watch for new life to grow in those fallow fields….It will happen.









Free Yourself From Suffocating Relationships

Fresh Air

Fresh Air

Many of us can identify a key relationship, often formed early on in our lives, that has been profoundly influential.  For me, that relationship was the one I had with my mother.  My mother has been dead now for 31 years, but only very recently in my 63rd year can I honestly say that I am free of the grip she has had on the manifestation of my personal identity.  Let me explain the long journey.

Make no mistake, I was a well-loved child.  I see myself actually as a child of great privilege with theoretically limitless possibilities for my education and ability to be successful in whatever I chose to do.  All of this was just “theoretical” though.  I also knew, from a very early age , that my mother had in mind a very specific blueprint for me. In reality my “choices” were much narrower than they needed to be.  I was limited by the way she saw me, and what I needed to do to keep her pleased and happyThat’s the truth.  I wasn’t strong enough emotionally to rebel against my mothers projected image of me, except on a few important although exceedingly rare occasions.  In retrospect, I don’t even blame my mother for the reality of my childhood and adolescence.  In many ways it was a golden time.  But….it was what it was…. It was co-created by a whole cast of characters.

Fast forward to my 32nd year, when I lost my mother tragically to breast cancer.  Although the loss at that time was devastating, I have gradually begun to realize that I lost so much more than my mother herself in 1982.  As the years went by and I faced the monumental task of raising my own daughters, the full extent of my loss came into focus.  Here is how I view the loss of my mother now:

My mother died before my eldest daughter had her first birthday.  I had always imagined that my mother would be thrilled to be a grandmother, and I looked forward to bonding with her in a new way around our now shared experience of “motherhood”.  Obviously this experience was mostly denied me, but even more importantly, as I think back on it now, I was also denied the opportunity to separate and individuate from my mother in a whole new way. Ideally, when I became a mother I could have demonstrated to my mother that I understood “motherhood”, but I was going to be a different kind of mother than she had been to me. My new motherhood could have been a chance, at last, to find a way to rebel and be different from my mother. I could have come up against her, so to speak.  I was not conscious at the time of the far-reaching effects of this loss, but I became more aware as the years went by.

Flash-forward again to 2003 and I am dealing with my own rebellious teenage daughter.  She is telling me that I’m controlling and suffocating, and that she can no longer live her life in such a way that I am always pleased and happy with her.  Oddly, although her words are vaguely familiar to me, I cannot really make the connection to my own thwarted teenage self. It does not even occur to me that I have become my mother.  I’m mostly just suffering and focused on how unbearably anxious and worried I am all the time. My mental state at that time was indeed a total “energy drainer “ and left no room for anything else.  I was actually at this time suffocating as well, and I see now that the inner experience of suffocating  actually quite literally is the inability to bring “fresh air” to a situation. It’s no coincidence to me that an anxiety attack is literally the experience of not getting enough air. That’s what I felt then, and it prevented me from seeing the “bigger picture”.  I think my daughter and I were both feeling that way.

My final “flash forward” brings me to the present day.  My daughter has ventured out on her own now and had adventures that I would have never have had at her age. Me…. somehow I was forced to “let go” of the way I had become with her…and this was really the “inner work” for me. In “letting go”, painful as it was at times, I was finally able to actually gain a much bigger perspective on what had gone on between my daughter and I, and how closely this was related to my relationship to my mother.   The insight allowed me to “let go” even more and realize it wasn’t sustainable for us to go on the way we had been.  In the end the relational paradigm kind of let go of itself. One of us had to be the one to make the move, physically away from the other, and fortunately she had the courage to do it.

So, what does this have to do with my mother?  The way I see it, the “mother/daughter” healing  I have experienced with my daughter has healed my relationship with my mother  at the same time.  There is in fact no distinction or separation between the two. What I have experienced is a change in all of my relationships with women…. friends, sisters, older and younger women alike…all of them. In a larger sense, I think there has been some “fresh air” brought to my personal and archetypal female lineage, and I’m hopeful that this will carry forward to future generations.

Subjectively, I know that I breathe fine now.  The air is clearer, the colors are brighter, my voice is louder and carries more authority, and my life feels infused with new energy and excitement.  For me the lesson is a hopeful one.  The damage done “in relationship” can best be healed “in relationship”, it is never too late, and new opportunities are always presenting themselves.


How Do You Experience Betrayal In Your Relationships?….Does it have to mean the “Kiss Of Death”…Maybe Not

The kiss that symbolizes the ultimate betrayal

The kiss that symbolizes the ultimate betrayal

The picture above depicts Judah bestowing a kiss on Jesus Christ. This “kiss”, often referred to as “the kiss of death”, symbolizes Judah’s betrayal of Jesus. As the story tells it, with the “kiss”, Judah is revealing to the Roman soldiers the identity and whereabouts of Jesus. The information leads directly to Jesus’s death.  Judah’s kiss is an apt metaphorical illustration of the nature of betrayal in our culture.  In the worst acts of betrayal, you find subterfuge and deception, as is the case with Judah who “pretends” love and loyalty while planning the ultimate “double cross”.  When betrayed in our intimate personal relationships we feel both “stung” and outraged.  How could we have been so wrong about someone we loved and trusted?  We may doubt ourselves and/or imagine that the next “Judah” is right around the corner.

The Devastation Of Betrayal In Relationship

John Gottman is a relationship expert who has been studying long term committed relationships for over thirty years.  His goal is to discover the secret ingredient of “relationship longevity”.  Dr. Gottman’s research is unique in the field of  “relationship” study because of the large body of data he has amassed in longditutional studies of the same couples over a 30 year period.  Gottman’s findings about the role of betrayal in relationship disintegration are particularly interesting and offer some valuable insights about how to recognize “betrayal” as it insinuates itself into virtually every relationship at some point in the relationship. The good news is that a small betrayal can actually be repaired if “caught” early enough.  A small betrayal can be worked through to strengthen the relationship…thus avoiding “the kiss of death”.


     Anyone who has been betrayed in a long term relationship by the unfaithfulness of his/ her partner can attest to the profound and long lasting nature of this particular type of betrayal.  Almost by definition an “affair” starts out in secret…and at least in my experience…. restoring trust when there has been this ultimate breech is close to impossible.  How do you even begin to do that? assuming both partners even want to.?

A Sligthly Different View About Affairs And Betrayal

Dr. Gottman takes a slightly different view about how and why affairs begin, and then seem to gather momentum and flourish in some marriages.  Many of us, myself included, have  always assumed that some men and women, for a myriad of reasons, are prone to have affairs.  Dr. Gottman thinks this is usually not the case. Although he agrees that “extra marital affairs” are huge and often insurmountable  betrayals, he has also found that he is able to predict those who are prone to the most egregious of betrayals because of the many smaller betrayals that preceded them. The small betrayals begin to add up and form an atmosphere where larger betrayals can more easily flourish. …especially when an opportunity presents itself.  What does he mean by “small” betrayals?

The Importance Of Trust

To understand the nature of betrayal it seems important to add the word “trust”…that is to say “betrayal” means “betrayal of trust”. If you’re talking about trust between people it implies there is an agreement of sorts between them. Each partner in the agreement has to trust the other to abide by the terms of the agreement. The agreement may be  verbally explicit and/or written….or it can be implied, unspoken, assumed.  In marriage and long term relationships I think this is where the trouble comes in.  Many details of the “agreement” may be quite vague .  If you have an actual legal marriage you may have verbalized some vows about, say love. Honor…respect.  But…what do these things really mean, operationally?  Your idea of what you may expect from me in terms of honor and respect is very different from what I think honor and respect are.  

In Gottmans research he actually watched the interactions of couples as they stayed for weeks at a time in apartments he had set up for them.  He had video equipment set up to record everything they said and did and he also made minute observations of facial expressions.  He even recorded heart rate and other measures of high emotional arousal.

After analyzing his data, Dr. Gottman concluded that couples spend a large amount of time in their day to day interactions trying to figure out what the other person expects of them, and being disappointed that they are not getting what they expect. For some of the couples, the constant sniping at one another, the angry “flare ups’ the “stonewalling”  and constant criticism of one other means that each member of the couple actually feels quite profoundly disappointed and betrayed.  This marriage was just not what was expected, and nobody is talking about it.

Dr. Gottman found that the couples that had more resilient  marriages also had deep disappointments in each other and betrayals did occur.  The difference was that a small disappointment or betrayal was actually talked about.  Gradually the couple was able to form new agreements with each other based on issues that would just “come up” spontaneously.  When I read this, I thought of one specific instance where my husband and I had been having coffee with a couple that he knew, but I was just meeting for the first time.  In the course of our first casual conversation, my husband described an issue in our marriage that is yet unresolved and very private and tender for me.  I was furious!  In this instance I felt betrayed and told him so later on.  The key point here is that he was totally stunned. I had to educate him that this issue was not open for public discussion.  So…that became a new agreement between us.

In closing I think it’s important to note that Gottmans conclusions inevitably oversimplify the complex matrix that is a long term relationship. What is not clearly elucidated, I think, is the fact that both partners in the relationship have to be willing to recognize and understand the importance of the constant “tuning in” to each other and the communication that is necessary. One person can’t do it solo.  I have always felt that whatever is created is in fact “co-created”…which means that whenever one member of the couple feels there is trouble…the other member has to be willing to look into the situation and do the “work”. The hopeful message in Gottmans research is that it is not the betrayals per se that are the problem…quite the opposite. The betrayals, or you could also say misattunements  actually provide the solution if you bring them into the light, and “speak out” about them.

By Leslie Kays MFT