All posts by Tammie Fowles

The Harvard Study of Adult Development on Health and Happiness


For a remarkable seventy five years the Harvard Study of Adult Development closely followed the lives of 724 men (it’s regrettable that women weren’t included in the study)  in order to determine (among other things) what keeps us “happy and healthy as we go through life.”

In an article Posted today by The Daily Good entitled, ‘What Makes a Good Life‘ which summarized the results of the study ,  Robert Waldinger shares  that the primary lesson that came out of the “tens of thousands of pages of information”generated by the study of these individual’s lives was that it’s not fame and fortune that makes people happy and healthy but rather,  “good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

In ‘Decoding Keys to a Healthy Life,’ Alvin Powell shared Robert Waldinger’s (director of the study) observation,  “We used to think that if you had relatives who lived to a ripe old age, that the following  was the best predictor of a long life…It turns out that the lifestyle choices people make in midlife are a more important predictor of how long you live.”

In light of the above findings, it would seem that the following questions might be really important to ask ourselves.   “How are the choices I’m making now impact my future health and happiness?  Am I  exercising enough?  How am I managing stress?  Am I making healthy food choices?  Am I cultivating a spiritual life?  And most importantly it would seem,  Am I spending enough quality time with friends and family?

What wisdom might your answers to these questions offer you?







Parker Palmer’s Wisdom on How to Live a Life

Parker Palmer  urges us to fall deeply and madly in love with our lives, and offers some significant wisdom  on how to best live them.

Here’s a small taste:

“…be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”

A Simple Message About Living the Good Life

In a TED Talk Jon Jandai offers some significant food for thought regarding what truly matters and how we complicate our lives unnecessarily.

Here’s an example of his simple wisdom, Before I thought that stupid people like me … cannot have a house… because people who are cleverer than me and get a job need to work for 30 years to have a house. But for me, who cannot finish university, how can I have a house. It’s hopeless for people who have low education like me. But when I start to do earthen buildings, it’s so easy! I spent two hours per day… and in 3 months I have a house. A friend who was the most clever in the class he has a house too but he has to be in debt for 30 years, so compared to him I have 29 years and 9 months of free time. I feel life is so easy.” 

And here’s another, “I feel like now is the most uncivilized era of humans on this Earth.  We have so many people who finish university, we have so many universities on the Earth.  We have so many clever people on this Earth.  But, life is harder and harder.  We make it hard for whom?  We work hard for whom right now?”

Jandai’s message resonates with me as I seriously consider what constitutes the ‘good life’ and what steps I will be taking next in order to live more consciously, responsibly, and simply.

How Gratitude Promotes Happiness and Healing

The video above is an excerpt from a talk  by Robert Emmons,   professor of psychology at the University of California, and author of “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude can Make you Happier.”

Emmons observes, ” Gratitude is not easy. It’s not something that comes naturally, but has to be worked at. It has to be cultivated. It goes far beyond saying ‘thank you.’ It’s deeper than that; it can be a really fundamental way of viewing life, an orientation toward life itself.”

Emmons asserts that gratitude changes lives.  How are you at experiencing gratitude?



Book Group: Deepening Women’s Spiritual Lives

On January 22 from 7:00 to 8:30 join us in a warm and cozy environment to refresh your soul and deepen your spiritual life.  We’ll be discussing the first three chapters of “When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd.  While the group is free, you must pre-register by email in order to participate. Put “register me” for book group in subject line. Register at:

For more information visit:

sue monk kidd quote

Making My Life Come True: The Theme for 2015


We’re so busy these days, more often than not it seems, too buried beneath the often insignificant details of our lives to fully live them, or as Gregg Levoy observes, “to make them literally come true.”

What would it mean to make your life come true?   According to the dictionary, ‘true’ is defined as “real, genuine, authentic.”  From this perspective, how true is your life?  Is it guided by what you believe to be meaningful and ethical?  What fills your hours?  Your days?  Do they contain what truly matters most to you?  What percentage of your time does what you say and do genuinely reflect who you are and what you love?  How real, genuine, and authentic does your life feel?

In an article entitled, To Be Seen, Tim Kutzmark lamented,  “Look around—we are a people of masks and disguises. We are a people who have been taught to transform ourselves into what others need us to be… We’ve come to believe that most people don’t want to see or hear what we feel, what we need, who we are. We’ve learned that most people don’t want to see the messiness and confusion that each of us carries inside. We’ve learned that only parts of ourselves are publicly presentable. Other parts must be hidden away. For acceptability, approval or promotion, we conceal the rough edges, the broken places…”

In one of my favorite children’s stories, The Velveteen Rabbit, the little toy rabbit who longs to be real asks his companion, the skin horse, how he might become real.  The wise old skin horse replies ,  ‘It doesn’t happen all at once… You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

While I’m reasonably certain that I was absolutely  real as a child, returning to that elusive and imperfect state is proving to be  a long and frequently demanding journey.  The outer world’s claims on my time, energy, and psyche all too often distract and sometimes overwhelm me, while the inner voice that calls me towards greater authenticity issues its own demands.  It has  repeatedly insisted that I piece together those places inside of myself that have been broken or discarded in order to be whole again.  It urges me to reveal  my weaknesses and vulnerabilities rather than to hide them away in shame.  It insists  that my behavior not contradict my values, orders that less  of my time be wasted on things that don’t matter much, mercilessly rejects all attempts on my part to deceive either myself or others,  and unrelentingly calls on me to listen to my love and not my fear.

   Along the way to becoming real, like the velveteen rabbit,  I’ve suffered significant scars, and am no longer the beauty that I once was when I was untried, unmasked, and brand new.  And yet, as I continue to work on living consistently smack dab in the middle of my truth, I find new opportunities and new doors being opened up.  I encounter teachers every where (when I am open to them) that encourage me to do my very best to make as much as I possibly can of the sweet life that is left to me come true.

When Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

The very same holiday rituals that were filled with Joy during other years can become acutely painful when we’re grieving .  So much that warmed our spirits  during happier times now leave us cold, adding still more weight to hearts so heavy  that we may be exhausted from carrying them around.

I lovingly reach out to those of you who are hurting during these holidays to reassure you that as painful as they can be,  you can not only get through them, you can experience brief and beautiful moments of love,  awe, gratitude and perhaps even joy.

In addition to the video above,  you may also find the following articles helpful.

How to Help Ourselves Through the Holidays

Meaningful Remembrance Ideas for Holiday Grief

During this difficult time of year when the absence of someone you love can feel so much more profound  than their presence did the year before,  and you have no choice but to grieve while the celebration goes on around you, I urge you to make every modest and healing decision that you possibly can.

Decide to take in the love that still surrounds you even if only for a moment.

Decide to touch someone else’s holiday in a modest but meaningful way.

Decide to acknowledge the multitude of gifts that still grace your life – a beautiful sunset, a perfect snowflake,  the rich aroma of a scrumptious pie in the oven, the presence of light at the push of a button, a warm home, loving hearts,  unanticipated gifts of grace that are already on their way, and so much more….

I bless you.  I bless your magnificent, wounded, heavy, and yet still bravely beating heart……

It will get easier, I promise…….










Until We Meet Again

By Tammie Byram Fowles, MSW, Ph.D.

In the past, termination held more of a finality then it does for me now. It indicated that our work was completed and our relationship had come to an end. Today, while it still marks the completion of the work we have contracted to do together, the door remains clearly open. The client is invited to return to do another piece of work should the need arise.

Every seasoned therapist is aware of the powerful feelings that termination can evoke. Feelings of accomplishment and pride can often be overshadowed by feelings of anger, fear, abandonment, grief, and loss. This critical event requires great skill, empathy, and the careful attention of the therapist. The therapist must assist the client in moving towards the future with confidence and hope. The client must possess the skills to maintain the gains that have been made, master the separation, and what it may uniquely represent to the client, and be able to reach out for assistance in the future should the need occur.

We have all witnessed the rather sudden regression of some clients as termination approached. While it is important that we honor the client’s present experience, it is also necessary to recognize that the regression will probably be resolved as the client successfully works through his or her concerns around terminating treatment.

Therapists must prepare clients for termination from the beginning. Approximately three sessions prior to termination, I ask the client to begin to think about how they wish to mark the occasion, and a date is set.


I am a firm believer in the power of rituals, and more often than not incorporate them into the final session. I encourage my client to create a ritual that will mark the completion of his/her present piece of work. I welcome him/her to invite others to participate if he/she chooses. Sometimes the ritual is as simple as lighting candles and incense, while the client reads what he/she has written for the occasion. I then might read what I have written and at times then sip sparkling cider out of Champaign glasses. Other rituals are more elaborate. One woman wrote a brief play representing her therapy journey and had members of her support system act it out. We then sang songs, testimonials were delivered, and we feasted on food that participants brought in. It was a powerful and empowering closing. A man with whom I worked was a lover of music. I had asked him earlier to produce a tape containing on one side those songs which represented his pain and struggle and on the other to record music which inspired him and represented his achievements, strengths, and growth. He played this tape during our final session. Another women with whom I worked had shared with me that her parents had never once acknowledged her birthday. They had never baked her a cake or offered presents. On our last session, I presented her with a cake and a gift-wrapped journal.

What To Take Along

I almost always request that my client bring in a letter of support written to him/herself from the nurturing, supportive part of themselves to our last session. I request that he or she read it out loud, and I then read my own letter of support written specifically to this particular individual. Generally, this includes reminders, observations of how he/she has grown, and strengths which I have appreciated along with encouragement for further development. I try and always mention something about the individual that I have found to be unique and wonderful. At no time have I worked with someone where such a quality could not be found. The client is instructed to keep these letters and read them whenever he/she is in need of reassurance. It’s a reminder of his/her strengths, the lessons that have been learned, future goals, self-care commitments, etc.

 Life Stories

Erving Polster, in his book, Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel, acknowledges the healing involved in an individual discovering how “remarkably interesting” he or she is. In part, it is the recognition of this truth that prompts me to suggest to each client that they write their own story. Often when the client is sharing his or her story with me, I make observations, comment on the significance of a certain event, the beauty of another, etc. I make suggestions such as that a client may want to explore a particular aspect of the story to a greater degree, or acknowledge the pain, strength, etc. of the main character (the client) more fully. I often find myself pointing out that the writer has demonstrated no empathy or compassion for themselves in the telling of their story and recommend that they go back and attempt to do so. Very often it is a review of the finished product that becomes the focus of our final sessions.

A client with whom I had worked for some time (I will call her Anne), and whom had suffered extraordinary sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of her father, brought in her story. The story was written not from the perspective of the adult, but from that of the little girl. As she read it, for the first time, she began to cry from some deeper place. While she had shared her story before, it was much more akin to a recital with minimal expression of her pain. Now she was truly grieving, as she allowed her child to speak directly versus controlling the child within her by speaking for her from the intellectual stance of the adult. Since this time, I frequently ask that when a client’s issue stems from childhood pain, that the story be told by the child, not revised and edited by the adult. I have found the child’s story to be far more powerful and empowering, and I am grateful to Anne for this and many other lessons which I have learned from her.

I have kept a notebook for several years, although it has been misplaced on more than one occasion. While I started it in around 1985, the book’s contents are few and far between. The purpose was for purely personal growth, and so very often I do not identify the particular source or even the date in which I entered it. I ran across an entry the other day that I would like very much to include here, although I confess that I have no idea from whence it came. It is part of a story I either read or had told to me. Somehow it feels like a very appropriate way to finish this piece on termination.

A woman shares with her therapist that she feels her life is over. Her therapist responds by sharing a dream he had with her. In the dream, the therapist hears, “You never finish anything.” This troubled the therapist greatly for a very long time. Seven years later while listening to a tape, he had an insight, “Who says you have to finish anything? Nothing is ever really finished as long as we are alive.” He then suggested to the client that perhaps she could conceive of her life as a continuation of her parents, and her children’s life a continuation of hers, and that the process will continue as long as there is human life.


Tammie  Fowles is available for consultation, training, and to conduct “Healing into Wholeness” retreats as well as “Myth and Meaning” workshops. She is willing to offer these programs at no charge to non-profit service organizations.  She can be reached by e-mail , website,  or by calling 207-620-0792

On Providing Support to Parents who are Also Survivors

anaruleI want to first share with you how very appreciative I am of you. How important you are. Not only to the parents and children with whom you work, but also to those generations not yet born. Your life becomes a powerful message, and each time it touches a parent, it reaches farther into the future than you can imagine.

I’ve been asked to speak to you today about assisting parents who are also survivors. This is clearly no simple task. There’s so very much to consider, so much to think about, and far more that you need to do. Where do we begin?

Let me share a bit about who I see these people with whom you work to be. Survivors are in general from my perspective truly amazing people. They’ve been wounded and battered and yet have come to possess enormous strengths. Please never for a moment fail to recognize these strengths, or forget the degree to which they have suffered. How painful it is to be haunted — haunted by betrayal, abandonment, deprivation, abuse, depression, anxiety, low-self esteem, and so much more. They want your respect and need your compassion if there is any hope that you might eventually earn their trust -a trust that is often hard won and sacred.

Parenting offers tremendous gifts to survivors, providing them with opportunities to heal old wounds as they develop a loving relationship with their children. It is also often an enormous challenge. To parent effectively is difficult for those of us who receive significant support and were blessed with positive role models. To do so without these benefits can very often feel overwhelming.

J. Patrick Gannon in Soul Survivors: A New Beginning For Adults Abused as Children wrote: “Parenting for the Survivor before or during recovery is like facing a fork in the road: at major junctures you will need to take a different road from your parents in the manner you raise your child.” Anyone who’s faced a new road can appreciate how easy it is to get lost along the way. Your job in part becomes that of a tour guide, pointing out the areas that require caution, making recommendations, and providing general assistance and support. Before a guide can be effective in facilitating the journey, he or she must be very clear regarding the destination. When providing guidance to parents, it’s very helpful to have an understanding of where the parent wants to go. How would the parent like to be different from his or her own parents? What is he or she afraid of repeating? Where are the places that the parent gets triggered into falling into unhealthy patterns with his or her children? How does the parent know that he or she needs support, direction, or a break from the demands of parenting? What are the parents dreams for his or her children? What kind of parent does the survivor want to be? What is his or her vision of being a good parent? Who are his or her role models? What unresolved issues will be raised for the survivor during the course of parenting? How will the parent know he or she has been triggered? What will the survivor do, and whom can he or she turn to for assistance when these issues arise?

Gannon points out that child abuse on one level is about the abuse of power, and cautions that if a parent hasn’t worked out their own feelings regarding the power imbalance they suffered as children, they risk these issues resurfacing in their relationships with their own children. Parents, counsels Gannon, must possess greater power than their children in order to effectively guide and protect them, however it’s also important that children maintain some age-appropriate control in order to effectively learn how to live in the world.

Survivors very often struggle with sharing power with their children and tend to respond by gravitating towards one extreme or the other. They either assume too little control and responsibility, or become over controlling. Survivors who were neglected as children may in their attempts to offer more protection and guidance than they themselves had, exert far more control than is healthy for their children. On the other hand, those survivors who were dominated by their parents may overcompensate by

abdicating control and responsibility. It can be helpful for parents to ask themselves when working on issues of power and control, “Do I find myself telling my child what to think and how to feel?” “Do I allow my child to make choices?” “Do I expect my child to behave like I would under the same circumstances?” “Do I avoid making family decisions or providing discipline because I’m afraid that I’ll make a mistake, become too much like my own parents, or lose the love of my child?” “Do I allow others to make decisions regarding my child that I should be making?” When assisting parents in working on these issues, I often gently point out that sometimes we do the wrong thing for the right reason.

It’s very common for a survivor to become triggered when his or her child does something that the survivor wasn’t allowed to do as a child. The survivor, who spent years of feeling helpless, now finally has the power to fight back and often does. Unfortunately it’s easy to lose sight of the fact during these times that the anger and indignation that’s been activated in the parent should never be directed at the child. While the anger that the survivor feels isn’t wrong or unjustified when it gets triggered, it’s critical that the parent learns how to effectively deal with these feelings by directing them away from his or her children, not at them.

Gannon offers the following suggestions to parents regarding how to effectively deal with anger.

anabull1 Become aware of the body signals that indicate that you ‘re becoming angry.
anabull1 When you experience these signals occurring, take a time out by placing your child in a safe place until you cool down, or request that a responsible adult take over if one is available until you’re feeling calmer.
anabull1 Attempt to understand why you’ve become so angry. What has your child’s behavior triggered in you?
anabull1 Reach out to a support person, share what you’re feeling and explore what it is that’s been triggered.
anabull1 Write in your journal regarding your child’s behavior and its connection to the buttons that have been pushed by the behavior. You might want to ask yourself in the journal, “Do I feel more like my parent or myself when dealing with my child when I’m angry?” “What situations push my buttons?” “What is my own inner child feeling during these times? “If the ghost of my parent begins talking though me during these times, what is the ghost saying? That my child has no right to express certain feelings? That my child has no right to make a certain request? That parents should never ever be questioned? That my child doesn’t love me?
anabull1 Engage in behavior that will help you to constructively discharge your feelings. You might chose to write in your journal, exercise, make a phone call, scrub walls, etc.

I would also add that parents who learn relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing become far more able to control their anger than those who have not.

For many survivors, particularly those who grew up in families that lacked appropriate boundaries, physical and emotional closeness can be confusing and even frightening. It’s not easy to establish proper boundaries as a parent when you didn’t experience them as a child. It’s often necessary for those who work with survivors on parenting issues to provide guidance in helping the parent to learn such distinctions as, what’s appropriate to share with a child and what’s not; when the needs of the parents should supersede the wants of the child; when does physical affection become sexual arousal; when does discipline become abuse; and when does parental authority become over control.

Many survivors tend to underestimate their strengths in regards to parenting. It’s important that you help them identify and build upon their skills and abilities. Just as you hope to teach parents how to best nurture and care for their offspring, the parents with whom you work need your encouragement and support. It’s been said that the best teaching comes from example- by providing parents with positive feedback when ever possible, you not only encourage them to continue doing what works, you also model an important skill that children so desperately need from their parents. In honoring the parent, it can be possible to assist the parent in honoring his or her own child.

I’ve left a tremendous amount unsaid. I’m sure that this comes as no surprise. How does one capture the tremendous amount of knowledge and skill required in meeting the needs of the survivor who parents? Just as parenting is an ongoing process, so is learning how to best teach effective parenting an ongoing journey. To some degree, that’s perhaps part of the beauty of your job – there never ceases to be opportunities for growth. Bless you on your journey….

Written by: Tammie Byram Fowles, author of BirthQuake: The Journey to Wholeness