Recognizing What Is True

April 21, 2014

What could the Great Fifty Days of Easter, Mother’s Day, and commencement exercises have it common? At first glance, not much. One is a season of the Christian liturgical church year, one is a Hallmark Holiday, and the last one is in some ways an initiation into another developmental phase of life. But lately I’ve been wondering about those Great Fifty Days when it is said that Jesus was risen from the dead and was appearing to some he loved. He wanted them, I think, to be able to recognize him, not by his outward appearance-apparently he looked distinctly different to the human eye after his rising—but by being able to see with the eye of the heart. From deep in their insides, he wanted them to be able to recognize him. And when they didn’t, he helped them see what got in their way. When the Christ is right in front of you, can you see Him?  What prevents you from recognizing the Christ, in yourself and others?

 My mother, Jane Caroline Sharpe Sander, (1923-2001) taught me in so many ways to see the Christ in other people as well as in myself. Her mantra, “People are important, not things” became one of the writings in my heart early in my life. All of my friends were greeted as if they were the Christ.T he house could be a mess, and it usually was, but my mother always put down what she was doing to greet my friends and talk with them. I think her heart recognized what was good, true, and authentic in people. In her volunteer work with the mentally disabled, my mother talked about how she felt like she could see the Light of Christ in the eyes of those she helped. I don’t think I got it then, but I get it now. A good mother, the Mother Archetype, sees right to the heart and soul of a person. A good mother knows her children, recognizes who they are and brings out what is true and good in them. A good mother, like the risen Christ, wants to teach her children to recognize Truth from inside themselves, and to not be dependent on the outward appearances of others. So like the risen Christ who was still teaching those he loved during the days after Easter, a good mother teaches her children over and over again to recognize what is True and to know it from deep within.

 Make a giant leap with me here to commencement exercises. Many people will be graduating from something in the next few weeks: kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college and graduate schools, and basic training. If all has gone well, the graduate is being sent into the world ready for the next stage of the life they are living. They have succeeded in making it to a certain mile marker, and they will be granted access to the next part of the path.  It is assumed that certain truths have been learned and that the person has been formed in a way that will enable them to expand upon what has gone before. Like Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples (You have graduated guys, you know this stuff, you can go out into the world and do this. It’s all inside you now) we, too, graduate from many things and are sent to walk the next part of our path. We carry what we have learned with us, hopefully deep within us.

 Spring is a busy time for most people. Many things are coming to an end. Take a few moments and meditate on what you have learned to be true, from the inside out. What gets in your way of seeing truth?

And Happy Eastertide, Happy Mother’s Day, and Happy Graduation in all of the ways you celebrate them.

Fast and Feast

March 25, 2014

Due to the fact that I hang around many faith-based people, and also because the season of Lent has become so popularized, I have heard many comments about what people are giving up for Lent. It has been traditional to fast during Lent, often from a certain food or substance. When I was growing up we didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. This year I was fascinated with the number of people who either said they were giving up Facebook for Lent or were cutting back on the amount of time they spent on Facebook. I am curious, how does fasting from Facebook deepen your relationship with God? (Seriously, I am curious. If you did this, please write back to me and tell me.) I can imagine that maybe the time that you save because you are not looking at FB could be used for other things, like prayer, meditation, or sacred reading. Are there other ways fasting from FB deepens your faith?

 The point, it seems, is to give up something that is important to you. The purpose, though, is to draw closer to God. To draw deeper into your relationship with the Holy One. If your Lenten fast doesn’t put you on your knees, doesn’t truly challenge you, doesn’t make you question some very deeply held thoughts or beliefs, it probably isn’t really a fast.

 Last week a friend of mine sent me a list of what we might consider fasting from and what we might consider feasting on this Lent. As of the writing of this, we are still unsure of the source of this list, but he believes it came from an Episcopal Church, Church of the Atonement, in Sandy Springs, Georgia. I decided to post this list because it has spoken deeply to me. I am trying to read it everyday, and to let this kind of fasting bring me more into alignment with a transformed consciousness, having the same attitude in me that is in Jesus. (Philippians 2) Whether you are a religious person, or just consider yourself spiritual, this list is a challenge for all of us. I’ve been busted every day. Every day I have broken my fast. This is a true Lenten discipline.

Fast from judging others. Feast in the Christ who dwells within them.

Fast from emphasis on differences. Feast on the Spirit that unites.

Fast from words that pollute. Feast on phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent. Feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger. Feast on patience.

Fast from gossip. Feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from pessimism. Feast on optimism.

Fast from worry. Feast on trust.

Fast from complaining. Feast on appreciation.

Fast from negativism. Feast on affirmation.

Fast from personal anxiety. Feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility. Feast on nonviolence.

Fast from bitterness. Feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern. Feast on compassion for others.

Fast from discouragement. Feast on hope.

Fast from lethargy. Feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion. Feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken. Feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from the darkness of sin. Feast on the light of Christ.

 Amy Sander Montanez, D.Min, LPC, LMFT

Hope on the Twelfth Day of Christmas

January 5, 2014

 This story starts on the first Sunday of Advent, which this liturgical year was December 1st, 2013. It was evening, and I was home alone decorating my tree. I felt good, happy, was listening to Handel’s Messiah, had eaten a good dinner and was sipping a glass of wine in between hanging ornaments. My hand was reaching up to one of the higher branches of the tree to hang a favorite hand- blown glass angel when suddenly I was visited by a familiar Christmastide emotion. When “it” visits, I quickly become heavy, depressed, almost despairing. When “it” visits, I am reminded of what it feels like to get the flu. One minute I am fine, and the next I am sick in bed with a fire of a fever. Just like that; one moment I was happy and completely enjoying the moment, and the next I was blue and unhopeful. In that moment, I felt sure that Christmas would once again bring disappointment. Another death, another accident, another surgery, another sickness, another way that things would not go the way I intended them to go.

 I dread this feeling. Although it feels very real and in some ways to be expected given what so many of my holidays have held, I also very truly feel happiness, expectation, joy, connectedness…many positive feelings that I associate with the holidays. Why can’t these positive feelings dominate my consciousness? I went to sleep that night wondering what, if anything, I could do with these paradoxical experiences and feelings.

 The next morning while meditating I got stuck on the word hope. Interesting, since the first candle of the Advent Wreath symbolically represents hope. What, exactly, was the hope of Christmas? What could I hope for, since I already knew I could not hope for an incident-free holiday? That morning I decided to dedicate my Advent meditations to hope.

 The first words that came to my mind were those of T.S. Eliot:

I said to my soul be still and wait

without hope, for hope would be

hope for the wrong thing;

 These words had a hold of me for several days. It became clear to me that I was hoping for the wrong thing. I was hoping to magically control things I could not control. I realized I was even praying, in some sly way, that God would let this Christmas pass without any big trauma. “Just give me one Christmas that won’t be disappointing, God. Really. Is that too much to ask? Maybe this year it will be the way I imagine it should be. Do some magic here God, on my behalf.” Embarrassing but true.

 The second week Richard Rohr’s words from The Naked Now came into my consciousness. “Hope and union are the same thing. Real hope has nothing to do with mental certitudes.” Real hope. That’s what I want to focus on. The hope of being in relationship with God, of spending time with the Holy One, of paying attention to what God was doing with the incarnation. God becoming human. God-seed in everyone. Now that was something I could hang my hope on. I knew that to be true.

 The third week I was focused on the hope I feel when I get to spend extended, relaxed time with my daughter and husband. I allowed myself to feel my deep and abiding love for them, as well as for my extended family and close personal friends. I know how to love and how to be loved. I can hope in that.

 The fourth week I spent time with Romans 15:12-13. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  I wanted to overflow with hope, but I wanted it to be real hope. The hope that I knew came from trusting in God, not by trusting that nothing bad would happen over the holidays.

 The “visitor” came several more times during the holiday. When it did, I quietly acknowledged my disappointment of Christmases past, and I said to myself, “Don’t go there. Don’t go down that rabbit hole. It is not helpful.” I learned that trick from watching an interview with the wife of Randy Pausch, the man who gave The Last Lecture and whose book of the same title became a NY Times best seller. When his wife was asked during an interview how she dealt with the knowledge that her husband was going to die and that she was going to be a widow with two kids, she said that her therapist and she had come up with a mantra, and that mantra was, “Not helpful.” Indeed, it is not helpful to go into that place of despair. And not only is it not helpful, it is not the whole truth. The whole truth is that when I hold the paradox of the disappointments from the world as well as the joy of union with the Holy One and with others, then Christmas becomes exactly what it was meant to be. A chance to celebrate and honor that God became human and that we have an invitation to join in that relationship. The Latin phrase, Sic et Non, means Yes/And…or Yes/But. This Christmas, my hope was in the Yes/And.

 In 2014, I am going to continue to focus on hope. I invite you to join me. What are you hoping for this new year? What is true hope for you? What past disappointments get in the way of moving into a state of hopefulness? What keeps you from opening to some new possibilities? How do you hold yourself back from living into the fullness that you are? Let me know what you think.


The Platinum Rule

February 13, 2014

Did you grow up, like I did, hearing The Golden Rule espoused as the litmus test of moral living? Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. This is a universal moral code, found in the scripture of every great religion of the world.  It is a helpful rule, a guiding principle, a reminder of how to behave if we want to live in harmony and peace with others. Sometimes it is called the ethics of reciprocity, a concise formula of how to live. I am sure you have, like I have, tried to live by this rule.

 A few years ago, while training  to use the PeopleMap Personality System developed by Mike Lillibridge, Ph.D. I learned the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they want to be done unto. I don’t think Lillibridge invented the Platinum Rule because I have since found it on the website of Dr. Tony Alessandra and have even seen it as the title of a network TV episode of How I Met Your Mother. Whatever its origin, this rule takes into account an important truth about relationships of all kinds. We feel most loved, valued, respected and cherished when we are treated in ways that matter to us. Because we are unique and we each have different ways of giving and receiving love, we need to know how to treat and love those with whom we are in the closest relationships.

 Thinking about the Platinum Rule recently, I was remembering a parenting class I taught more than twenty years ago. I remember asking the parents, “How many of you love your kids? Really, truly love your kids?” Every hand in the class went up.  Next question: “How many of your kids feel loved?” Less than half of the hands went up. That was why these parents were in this class. Their child was acting out, having trouble with behavior at school, and the class was designed to help parents connect with their child at home in a way that would encourage better classroom behavior. So why was it the kids didn’t feel loved? Certainly there were some complex reasons, but one of those was that the parents were loving the kid in a way that didn’t connect with that child. If the parents could learn how their particular child learned and interacted with the environment (unique learning style), they could probably make some important parenting changes. Do unto others as they want to be done unto. This didn’t at all mean that they were to give their child whatever was wanted. It meant, and still means, that you know your child well enough that you can love them in ways that matter to them. Kids who feel known accept discipline more easily; in fact the children, even at an early age, report knowing that discipline is a loving and necessary act by the parent. The key is that they feel known and accepted.

 Gary Chapman wrote a NY Times Bestseller in 1992 (already reprinted four times) called The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Written mostly for couples, the premise of Chapman’s book is that we don’t all feel loved in the same way. Some people like words of affirmation, some like gifts, some like acts of service and kindness, some like physical nurturance and affection and some like quality time. What makes this tricky is that you might like one kind of love, and your spouse or lover may like another. Your job is to love them in the language that most speaks to them, and for them to love you back in the language that speaks most to you. If your spouse most likes acts of service, that expensive piece of jewelry you bought for Valentine’s Day may not have the impact you hoped for.  Better would be to finish that project around the house that you’ve been promising to do for the last year. Maybe taking the time to put some heartfelt words into a card or poem would make the day of someone who likes words of affirmation, but wouldn’t matter at all to someone who needs and expects a long weekend away with just the two of you. This kind of loving is sacrificial, challenging, and requires effort. It requires the Platinum Rule. Do unto others as they want to be done unto.

 The PeopleMap System takes this premise and applies it not only to couples and families but to other systems like corporate systems, school systems, and churches to name a few. When you find out what your PeopleMap type is, and you find out the type of those around you, you can then learn to relate to people in ways that matter to them. You can learn to appreciate others and draw on their particular strengths. So at work, if I know my boss is a Leader Type and doesn’t particularly like idle chitchat, it would behoove me not to engage constantly in asking about his family. Best to get the job done well and punctually, ask only questions that need clarifying, and not take up too much precious time. And if my boss knows that I am a Free-Spirit Type, then he might remember to give me some creative work to do and to be a bit flexible with my schedule. I will be a more reliable, content, productive employee this way. I will feel known and valued.

 What does this Platinum Rule require of us? In a love relationship specifically, it requires that we get to know the people in our lives. It requires a deep level of intimacy, knowledge which goes beyond cursory and superficial conversation to the deeper levels of relationship. What makes this person happy? Sad? What is going on in his/her outer life and inner life that is pertinent right now? What is she most excited about? Scared about? What ignites his passion and curiosity? And most especially, what makes the other feel loved.

 This, it seems, has become very difficult. We, all of us, are distracted and tuned in to many things at one time. It is difficult to pay attention to what is right in front of us, to notice and then to take the time to respond to what we are noticing. Using all of our senses when we are with someone, this state we call “being completely present” might seem like a luxury to many right now. Can we turn off the screens and truly attend to those most important in our lives? Do we want to find out what would truly mean the most to those we say we love? What would the Platinum Rule require of us right now?

 Valentine’s Day is certainly a commercial holiday and you could approach it with that perspective. But perhaps an alternative would be to use this Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to practice the Platinum Rule. Do unto others as they want to be done unto.

 Amy Sander Montanez, D.Min, LPC, LMFT

Joy and Happiness

On a recent drive to the mountains of NC, my husband and I were talking as NPR played on the radio in the background. I heard a phrase that broke through to my awareness, and I stopped our conversation and turned up the volume.  All joy and no fun, I heard repeated again as my husband and I tuned into the interview.

Author Jennifer Senior was being interviewed about her recent book by the same title, whose content is mostly about parenting. Parenting surveys show that children actually do very little to increase a parent’s happiness; however, the emotion that was not measured, according to Senior, was joy.

We listened to the interview until the end, and then began our own conversation about the difference between happiness and joy. We were intermittently quiet, periodically offering a thought about the difference. Here were some of our thoughts:

“I think joy has a spiritual quality.  If feels qualitatively different than happiness.”

“Happiness seems fleeting, maybe a little more superficial.  Joy is deeper.”

“I feel joy when I am with certain people.  With my best friends and family, I have that feeling of deep joy, no matter what happens when we are together.”

“I remember feeling a deep sense of joy when I watched our daughter dance and play the piano.  Maybe joy is connected to pride.  Knowing your children are doing well and growing up well…I think joy is connected to that.”

“I think joy is connected to gratitude.  Often when I am grateful, I think I feel joy at the same time.”

We decided that we would continue the discussion at our parish weekend, which is where we were headed. We didn’t know who would be sharing a cabin with us, but we thought it would be fun to bring it up over a glass of wine that evening. And so we did.

Several others had heard the NPR interview and our cabin mates were quickly involved in the conversation.

People shared moments of joy, most connected to having an awareness of an expanded sense of the meaning of life. It was a sense of “this is really important” or a sense of being connected to something much bigger than just the present moment.

I shared the deep joy I felt at my mother’s deathbed. Surrounded by her husband, children, and most of her grandchildren, we prayed in a circle around my mother and sang a few songs. She died peacefully with us there. I certainly was not happy. I was, in fact, deeply grieved, and yet I felt a profound sense of joy. I felt connected to a Holy Mystery much bigger than I am. I felt connected to my family. I felt sure that all would be well. I actually felt clear on the inside, and so very grateful.

Another shared the tears of joy she felt when learning that her child was spending time with a dear friend of her late brother. Hearing how this person valued and treasured her child’s gifts, knowing that her brother was being remembered through her child, was a joy deep in the bones.

Stories were shared about joy at camp, joy during worship, joy at rituals like weddings, bar mitzvahs, and baptisms, joy during sickness and healing. We shared lines of hymns and poetry that used the word joy. “Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of Glory, Lord of Love.”  “Joy to the world, all the boys and girls.”  Joy, to some, was also connected to hope, and in some ways, to optimism. What was interesting to me was that we had very little conversation about happiness.  In the face of joy, happiness seemed so much less important.


Our culture talks about and focuses almost obsessively on happiness.  On any given day you can find endless articles, blogs, and Facebook posts inquiring about what brings you happiness. What makes you happy? But very little is said about joy. And this makes me wonder, how can we, should we shift our focus?

I think joy is a spiritual reality that already exists and our task is just to open up to it.  In this way it is like the reality of forgiveness, of hope, of faith, of love, of inclusiveness, and of compassion. What if we focused on the deep, spiritual quality of joy that transcends happiness, transcends sorrow, and transcends other more fleeting qualities in our lives? If we focus on one spiritual reality such as joy, do we more easily open to all the spiritual realities?

This year, I am going to pay careful attention to the quality of joy in life. I will begin by sharing with you that there is something about writing that brings me deep joy. I always feel connected to something bigger than I am. Thank you for sharing in this joy with me!

Below are a few of my favorite quotes about joy, many of which seem contradictory and therefore give us wonderful food for thought.

Joy is not in things; it is in us. ~Richard Wagner

Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is. ~C.S. Lewis

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. ~Henri Nouwen

Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself. ~Mahatma Gandhi

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.~Jesus Christ (John 15:11-12)

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. ~Joseph Campbell

I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.

~C.S. Lewis

Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. ~Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Joy Arrives

Joy arrives. Joy dances and swirls. Joy given freely to those whom will accept this gift. The joy of living one’s life within the realm of freedom. A child’s joy left untampered with and left to be experienced honestly. Yes, an honest joy. Free of hindrances. Free of doctrines. Free of definitions. Free to be expressed and experienced by all willing. Yes, joy born in freedom. Joy born in love. Joy given and taken freely. A joy that comes to visit. A joy that arrives to you this day, this moment. A joy to be shared. A joy in living and a living paid in the currency of joy. Be joyful this day. Be joyful this moment. Come to the joy of this moment. Arrive and depart in joy. Let joy make a home within your heart. Allow joy this day. Now. Now have we joy.


~Michael Hopkins

Ballroom Dance and Church

For a few weeks this past month I felt like my husband and I just weren’t “in the flow”.  Everything seemed difficult.  We were snappy with each other.  Little things which are usually easy, almost unconscious, seemed difficult.  I didn’t think either one of us was particularly happy to see the other.  Trying to discuss things over the phone, easy things, became difficult.

And then, all of a sudden, it seemed easier.  I was wondering to myself, “What happened?  What is different?”  I was wondering this while driving home Monday evening after a ballroom dancing lesson.  It hit me in the car that perhaps it was the dancing itself that helped.  We usually dance once a week, sometimes twice, but for almost a month we had been absent.  He had been traveling and I had an emergency come up at work one of those Mondays.  So maybe, I thought, it was the dancing that we had missed, the dancing that brought us together.

But not exactly, because it had already been a bit easier the day before that.  I had noticed Sunday evening that we were laughing again, and flowing like we usually do.  We were touching more easily and being generous with each other, generous in spirit and in action.  What happened Sunday, I thought to myself?  Well, Sunday morning we went to church.  For the first time in almost six weeks.  We had been out of town, or I had been teaching at another church, or he had been on a golf outing.  Was it something about being back in church that began to make things ease up a bit?

As I thought through this, I realized that those two things, church and ballroom dancing, are rituals that are important to our marriage.  Being in church together, sitting side by side, praying, receiving communion, remembering who we are and what our priorities are, passing the peace, talking about a sermon, this ritual matters to us.  Turning to my husband and saying to him, “God’s peace be with you,” somehow changes things.  Hearing the words, “The body of Christ given for you,” said to him and to me, changes things.  Singing and chanting and worshipping God changes us. We are, each of us, on an active individual spiritual journey.  At church, though, we remember that we are in this together.  And not just us, but the community we worship with.  And not just that community, but all the communion of people worshipping.  It should change our perspective, our sense of ourselves.  It should send us out into the world (and in this case, our marriage) formed in a new way and ready to make a difference. I believe that is exactly what happened.

Ballroom dancing reminds us who we are in a completely different way.  We both love to dance and have boogied down for years.  But this kind of dancing forces us to work together as one, to want what is best for the other person and to be relatively free-flowing in that generosity.  We are both challenged.  We are both wrong a lot, and we are both right occasionally.  It’s a team sport, so to speak.  We only do well if we both do well.  And the feeling of accomplishment, of producing a little work of art, so-to-speak, is a wonderful feeling.   Holding each other doesn’t hurt either.  And laughing, like last week when I tried to do some sexy move and fell down.  And giggling when he tried to be all dramatic, acting like he was in hot pursuit of me.  I just cracked up.  Such fun and levity.

Being without both of these rituals made us cranky.  Irritable.  We forgot the bigger things.  Which is why ritual is important.  Good ritual reminds us of the bigger, more important things in life.  Good ritual holds us so we can go deeper into the important things.  Good ritual uses metaphor, images, and all our senses to heighten our experience of something bigger than us.

Six weeks was too long for us.  What rituals are important to your relationships?  How long is too long for you to be away from those rituals?  How are you reminded that there is something bigger than you?

The Shame Continuum

Posted by AmySanderMontanez at 3/23/2014 3:29 PM | Add Comment

Picture yourself on a continuum.  On the far left is a state of self-contempt.  You do not have an accurate self-image.  You do not believe you are enough: good enough, smart enough, worthy enough, pretty enough, rich enough, whatever enough.  You have trouble knowing what your positive traits are and you need a lot of external feedback. You think something is inherently wrong with you.  You are often in a state of emotional distress and pain.  You may seek help because you are in such pain.

On the far right of this continuum is a state of contempt of others.  You also do not have an accurate self-image.  You believe you have the right to act however you want, to be unkind or entitled, to not follow the rules, to not have to constrain yourself.  You are not aware of your negative traits and are often completely unaware of how your behavior is affecting those around you.  You are not in a state of emotional distress, in fact you feel pretty good most of the time, but the people around you are in pain.  You rarely seek help because you feel good as long as your environment keeps giving you positive feedback.  When it no longer does this, you quickly look for another place to get affirmation.

This shame continuum goes from toxic shameful co-dependence on the far left, to shameless narcissism on the far right.  Many couples that come to therapy have one person toward the right on this scale and one person toward the left, in varying proportions.  They seem to have come together with damaged and inaccurate self-esteem, with a very warped sense of who they really are. This breeds all kinds of serious trouble.

Both of these states are actually caused from feelings of contempt.  Self -contempt causes shame, and contempt of others causes grandiosity.  Both of these states are dangerous to healthy relationships.  In order to be in a healthy relationship two people need to have the feeling of same-as, I-Thou, a feeling of mutuality.  So the person with a deep sense of contempt for self needs to move to the right, and the person with a sense of grandiosity needs to move to the left.

Here is a short checklist that might help you know where you are on this continuum:

 Toxic Shame (Co-dependence)

  •  Do you need help from others to deal with your own emotional states?
  •  Are you over-involved in the relationships with your spouse or children?
  • Do you need your partner’s approval to feel good about yourself?
  • Do you wants someone to save you, and do you expect your partner to take the lead in doing that?
  • Are you confused about how to respond when disrespected by others?
  • Do you ever believe the disrespectful comments and even acquiesce?
  • Do you feel responsible for the actions and feelings of others?
  • Do you look for validation and encouragement, and often try to get it from                         the very people who won’t give it?
  • Do you have addiction issues? (Food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, work, exercise)

 Toxic Shamelessness (Narcissism)

  • Are you a different person in private than in public?
  • Do you feel or act superior, especially with those closest to you?
  • Are you emotionally unavailable unless you want something?
  • Do you have trouble admitting mistakes?
  • Do you have trouble apologizing?
  • Are you provocative?
  • Will you egg on a fight?
  • Do you lie, distorting facts and changing stories to suit your needs?
  • Have you been told you are controlling?
  • Do you have difficulty relaxing?
  • Do you have addiction issues? (Sex, pornography, alcohol, gambling, food)
  • Do you live in a fantasy world of porn, affairs, unlimited success, money,                        because you think you deserve that?

 When couples come together on this continuum, trouble will quickly stir.  One person feels one-up and entitled, and the other feels one-down and unworthy.  This creates the impossibility of mutuality, of respect, support, and nurturance.  Often the roots of these issues run deep in a person: in childhood experiences, in traumatic events, in sexual orientation issues, in learning difficulties, even in body type and physical attributes.  Whatever the reason, without the healing necessary to correct the poisonous and inaccurate self-image problems, these two extremes will likely create a chaotic and painful relationships.

Embrace the Dysfunction

Posted by AmySanderMontanez at 2/11/2014 11:46 AM | Add Comment

Yes, you read that title correctly.  Embrace the dysfunction. This is one of the best pieces of holiday advice I can give you.  I am not talking about embracing pathological or destructive behavior.  I am talking about embracing normal, universal, our-family-is-nuts and I-can’t-believe-I-have-to-do-the-holidays-again kind of dysfunction.  Specifically I am encouraging you to do this as a way to lessen holiday stress and notice the love that often lies underneath what we call “dysfunction”.

Over the years I have read too-numerous-to-count articles about how to decrease holiday stress.  Already this year the news channels are hi-lighting segments about how to make it through the holidays.  Every magazine I saw while standing in line at the grocery store had a feature article on surviving the holidays, as if we need arsenals of stock-piled resources or dozens of first aid kits incase the holidays leave us in psychological intensive care.  Heck, I’ve even led a lunch-and-learn workshop on holiday stress.

I think by now we all know the basics:

Don’t have too many sacred cows, just a few traditions that you can’t do without.  Whether that is a certain food, a specific time when gifts are open,  a religious service that is set in stone, or what decorations go on the mantle, only hold fast to a few important things and hold every thing else very loosely.  Let go of traditions that are not serving you or your family any more.

Make lists and work ahead.  Do a little bit week by week, day by day so that you have a rhythm that feels manageable.

Take care of yourself.  Stick with your exercise routines, eat the foods that are good for you, get enough sleep, and watch the alcohol intake.  Excess in anything usually comes at a cost.

Do something that reminds you what the holiday is really about.  Whether that is shopping for a family that needs your help, volunteering to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless, making a donation to the charity of your choice, connecting with friends you don’t see often enough, or being more thoughtful and intentional about keeping your mind on what matters, do those things.

Have fun.  Have fun.  Have fun.  It there’s not enough fun going on you are sure to start resenting all the fuss.

But here’s the piece I think everyone misses.  You have to embrace two things:  the sheer ridiculousness of this time of year and your own family’s nuttiness.

Let’s start with the first thing.  During the holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving and continuing through New Year’s Eve, we all act crazy and pretend it’s normal.  There’s nothing normal about knocking ourselves out having company, driving hundreds of miles to see family, spending more money than we have to buy gifts that no one needs, attending party after party to eat more, drink more, and socialize more, staying up into the early morning in order get things done, putting more and more lights and decorations on our houses so that they look festive, and then, if what you are celebrating is Christmas, trying to teach the children and remember yourself that this holiday is all about Baby Jesus’ birth into the world.  In the family therapy field we have a very clinical word for this.  We call it crazy-making.

Embracing your family’s dysfunction is really a lesson in how love can win in the end and how being able to laugh at yourself and with others in transformational.  I don’t know when it was decided that the normal quirkiness, uniqueness, and character that makes human beings human and therefore makes families families should be called “dysfunctional”, but for the past twenty years this term has been tossed around like a Frisbee.  Truthfully, most families function because they have to.  And most families are quite resourceful in finding ways to function and even to thrive.  During the holidays, because of what I wrote about in the preceding paragraph, many people and families are a little “stressed” (remember that’s a euphemism for nuts) and therefore everyone is often not at his or her best.  Maybe mom is exhausted because she is still insisting on making that yeast cake that her great grandmother made that takes three days to make, or dad is a little over his alcohol limit because he’s been to four parties in two days.  Maybe granddad is worried that it might be his last Christmas and is either sentimental or depressed.  Perhaps sister is hiding the fact that her marriage is fragile and brother hasn’t told anyone about his illness because neither one of them wants to ruin the holiday for everyone.  In the midst of all of this, you can choose to focus on what makes your family work.  Focus on what holds people together.  Keep an eye out for the uniqueness of each person and for the wonder that is his or her life.  Employ wonder and curiosity about family members. Laugh at yourself.  Enjoy the process.

This is why I love the TV series Modern Family.  Week after week we are treated to a family that in all secular ways would be labeled dysfunctional.  And yet, and yet.  The love that flows beneath this family’s craziness is palpable.  The same is true for the award winning movie, Little Miss Sunshine.  There is a high degree of nuttiness, and what could even be labeled pathology, present in this family’s story.  And right there, right in the midst of it, is the love that binds them together, the sheer acceptance of each other’s quirkiness, of each other’s humanness.  And that love wins.  That love transforms them.

So don’t scoff at the dysfunction.  Don’t run away from it.  Embrace the dysfunction.  The good, juicy stuff is right there in the middle of it.


Posted by AmySanderMontanez at 11/13/2013 4:55 PM | Add Comment


Forgive me, dear Reader, for the recent lapse in my blog writing.  I have been busy getting my book published, (which it is) and getting it launched (which is happening this very month.  Please visit for more information on that)  I just have not made the time to be faithful to this blog.  I am starting, again, to write here on the psycho-spiritual issues that are near and dear to my heart. 

My older brother, a talented physical therapist, recommended several years ago that I try wearing an orthotic insole in my athletic shoes.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, an orthotic insole is an insole that is specifically designed to fit your personal foot.  The purpose is to hold your foot in an ideal position for proper distribution of your body weight, and to improve the alignment and bio-mechanics of your movement.  Several years ago, after a foot injury, I didn’t take him up on the suggestion.  This July, for no other reason that I thought it was a good time to do this, I did.  When we were together at our beach reunion, he molded my foot with something that resembled paper mache’ and sent those molds off to a company that turned them into orthotics just for me.

When they came back to me in the mail, they came with directions.  Only wear them for thirty minutes the first day, increasing your time every day until you can wear them all day.  (I don’t wear athletic shoes all day ever but that’s another blog.)  Obediently I wore them thirty minutes the first day.  They felt weird.  I could feel something solid against my arch.  And I felt like my foot moved in ways that did not feel “normal” to me.

The second day, I took a three -mile walk in them.  (Yes, I was a little overly enthusiastic.  This is my pattern.  I was trying to do sit-ups less than a week after I birthed my baby. Please don’t judge me.)  Again, they felt very awkward.  Not only could I feel my arch too much, but I noticed that my gait was different.  I felt like I wasn’t walking smoothly.  I felt my foot rolling and shifting in a new pattern and my stride seemed jerky to me.  And the next day, wow did my hips ever feel stiff.  I spent time stretching and rubbing all day and called my brother that night.

“Is this normal?  Am I supposed to feel this awkward?  Are my hips supposed to hurt like this?”

“Well, Amy, your foot is being realigned.  You are being realigned, from the bottom up.”

Oh.  That would be awkward.  And unfamiliar.  And uncomfortable. Yuck.

My temptation was to stop using them.  To go back to my old insoles.  To feel what is familiar again.  I don’t like being uncomfortable.  Not many people do.

Isn’t this the way it is anytime we are learning something new?  If a golf pro or a tennis pro adjusts your grip, it feels awkward.  It may not feel smooth right away.  Your game might even be worse for awhile. The temptation is to return to the grip you are familiar with, even if you can’t improve your game with that grip.  When you are learning the proper way to do an exercise, it feels awkward.  Maybe hard.  Maybe so hard you can’t even do the whole exercise.  And the temptation is to return to the old pattern.  The way that is most familiar.

When our dance coach corrects something my husband and I are doing, especially if it is our posture or dance hold, it always feels awkward.  Really?  I am suppose to stand like this, look this direction, put my foot where?  This can’t be right.  And yet, if we don’t make that correction, we cannot continue to improve.  The next level of the dance is dependent on proper alignment.  And by golly, I am almost always sore after making those corrections.

Can you make the leap to how relationships are realigned?  When you are learning a new relational pattern, you will feel awkward.  You don’t know how to talk like that, how to listen like that.  Perhaps you are learning to not be defensive, or sarcastic, or dismissive.  Maybe you are learning to speak up for yourself and to not run away when there is conflict.  You are trying to show up and say what is truly going on with you in the moment.  You may be learning how to speak hard truths, how to lovingly voice a complaint, or how to make a request.  Perhaps you are learning to set personal boundaries. Maybe you are learning how to take responsibility for your actions and how to apologize. You may be trying a completely new way of parenting your teenager or toddler.

When our relationships are being realigned, we will feel awkward.  Practicing the skills that we are learning may even feel artificial or mechanistic.  Like toddlers, we will move awkwardly and then fall down.  But with lots of practice getting up and trying again, it will become the natural way we do things.  It will become smooth.  Seamless.  Reflexive.  It will eventually just feel like who we are.

I am sticking with my orthotics.  I trust that eventually they will feel just right.  I can even imagine the day when I put on a pair of athletic shoes without them and think that something is wrong.  My foot will be so use to the alignment of the orthotic that any thing else will feel awkward.

So here’s my encouragement to you.  When you are making those difficult but important relational changes, whatever they are, stick with them.  Push through the awkwardness.  Know that the discomfort will eventually disappear and you will have an entirely new way of being in relationship with people.  You, too, will be realigned.

Another Relationship Lesson from the Dance World

Posted by AmySanderMontanez at 9/3/2013 2:50 PM | Add Comment

“Amy, you have to be completely, solidly on your leg.  You cannot depend on Nick to hold you up.”

“Nick, you have to communicate to her-let her know that you have her.  She is not going to let go if she’s not sure that you have her.”

 I love the paradoxical nature of relationships and this is another important lesson in just that!

What does it mean to be standing on one’s own leg(s) in a relationship?  That’s a loaded question but let’s begin with the basics.

It means that my partner is not responsible for my well-being.  It is my responsibility to steady myself, ground myself, hold myself up.  This means that I take care of my emotional and spiritual needs, as well as my physical and medical needs.  I do not wait for someone else to take care of that for me.  And I take care of those things because they are important to me.   I love and value myself enough to be solid, grounded, and healthy on all fronts.  When I am at my best, it is not only for me but it is a gift to those around me.  I might go as far as to say I owe it to my partner (and my children) to be at my best.  If we are going to “dance together”, go through life together, I can make that dance easier for both of us if I am completely, solidly on my leg.  Don’t panic.  I know there are periods when life hands us a hard time.  We are wobbly and vulnerable and not at our best. Of course. But generally those times are not meant to be the majority of the time.  It is during these times, times of desolation, loss, and crisis, that we have the opportunity to slow down, take stock, regroup, relearn, be nurtured, and come back again, different perhaps, but solid.

And here is the paradox in this metaphor. Even when I am standing on my own leg, we dance best together when my partner communicates to me that he “has me.”

What does it mean to communicate to someone that you “have them”, that you have their back and you will do your darndest not to let them fall?  It means supporting them in ways that actually feel supportive.  Perhaps saying words of affirmation and backing those words up with actions.  Maybe offering a sincere apology if doing so would repair some damage done.  It means listening clearly enough to know what would feel supportive so another.  For someone it may mean taking on a few chores.  For another it might mean planning a night out or a vacation.  Perhaps taking care of the children or turning off a TV or computer and engaging in conversation would feel supportive.  It may mean offering kindness and generosity to an in-law.  Recently in my office I have heard many stories about how stressed sole providers of households feel.  When spouses are unwilling to work, to somehow add to the family income, the other partner can feel very unsupported, like no one has his or her back.

It is important to remember that in real life, the dance roles are interchangeable.  Sometimes we are the one standing strong, and sometimes we are the one holding.  But either way, when we come together, independently and then interdependently, we can make a beautiful dance together.  The final dance is more intricate, more fluid, more spectacular than the sum of its parts!