Ann G. Kramer, EdS LPC             

Counseling, Coaching, Creating Wholeness

Welcome to the Life Puzzle Center

 We live in very challenging times.  The world is changing so fast which is making it very difficult for humans to adjust and find their way.  Rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide make clear that many of us are feeling lost.

The Life Puzzle is a framework that can help you feel grounded as you go through life.  It is a practical, tangible tool you can use to guide your daily actions.  It helps you understand your SELF as a whole human being that has physical, emotional, thinking, sexual and spiritual areas. Every day, as you use the Life Puzzle framework, you can feel confident that your efforts will result in creating wholeness for your on-going, growing life!

Life Puzzle whole

It’s not you, it’s the story.

Reading Johann Hari’s book, Lost Connections—uncovering the real causes of depression and the unexpected solution was so refreshing!  He has taken on a major issue—anxiety and depression and offered an entirely new view as to how we solve those problems. For thirty years we’ve been told these issues come from a biochemical problem—a disease of the brain. But he shows you that the data does not confirm this at all. In a nutshell, he’s exposed that anxiety and depression comes from a societal story that results in disconnecting from self and others. As one disconnects depression and anxiety emerge.

And here’s the good news—the solution isn’t about changing you—it’s about changing the story. Changing the story will allow you to change the way you live. When you change the way you live reconnection becomes possible. And as you reconnect—depression and anxiety begin to lose their place in your life.

I kept smiling as I read because his book parallels what I learned early on with my clients who came in to my office looking for help. <!–more–>  What they told me was that despite being successful they were depressed, anxious and many had addictions. They were living the story they’d been told would make them happy but they were ending up depressed and anxious. Hmmm…. And at first I bought into it—yes, you’ve got depression let’s fix it. But after I heard this so many times, I began to suspect there was something else going on. How could all these successful people have depression and anxiety? Slowly but surely it dawned on me, it wasn’t my client that was the problem. The problem was the story of success they’d been told would make them happy. It clearly wasn’t making them happy. That’s why I finally started saying to them “It’s not you—it’s the story.”

Inevitably then, that led them to ask—what would the new story look like? I worked on that for a while and eventually the answer came to me. Wholeness….the new story is about wholeness. But what, my clients asked, does that look like? And thus, the Life Puzzle was born. The Life Puzzle is a way to teach the story of wholeness using a practical, tangible framework to build that story on. And it works.

Hari outlines 9 areas of disconnect and I would concur with all of them. The way he’s structured it, these 9 areas of disconnect provide a big picture/broad brush look at the ways the stories of our lives result in disconnect. I think it is a good place to start exploring the entire concept of ‘lost connection’ and why this has to change.

All of these 9 areas are in the Life Puzzle and a few more as well. The Life Puzzle is designed to give you a more specific and detailed way to begin reconnecting to your self and others. Life Puzzle provides a practical, tangible framework that enables you to connect to your wholeness. Wholeness is the new story you create for yourself. And what you discover is you can do it even as the world around you spins out of control from the old story!

Hari highlights 9 areas where humans are disconnected and as a result end up with depression and anxiety:

Meaningful work

Other people


Childhood traumas

Status and Respect

Natural World

Hopeful or Secure future

Genes and Brain

You will see them in the 16 core areas of the Life Puzzle–most specifically in these areas in bold:













Play & recreation

Financial responsibility

Special Challenges


Finding Meaning

Are you ready to start a new story? The Life Puzzle framework is here to help you begin that new story—a piece at a time with the whole you in mind. Discover how reconnecting with your SELF and your wholeness helps you create the new story for you, your family, the community and the world!

What does it mean to be a human?

Seems like such a simple question, doesn’t it?  Yet, step back and look at the history of humanity and it is clear–this isn’t a simple question at all.  History includes slavery, genocide, the Holocaust and all sorts of ways that humans have chosen to look at other humans and deny them the right to be human and live their lives.  The recent events in Charlottesville, VA where white supremacists want to insist that they are a superior human to others is just one more challenge to this basic question: What does it mean to be human?”

Answering this question for your SELF will have a profound impact on the way your live your life. What history shows us is that humans use all sorts of ‘descriptors’ to define themselves as humans–and others as ‘not human’.  The white supremacists clearly think that ‘white’ is the best way to define human.  Others might use being rich as the best way to define human.  Men may think they’re superior to women simply by being born with a penis. What I’m getting at here is that many of us use ‘descriptors’–white vs. black (hispanic, asian etc.), rich vs. poor, men vs. women, christian vs. muslim, straight vs. lgbtq as the way to define ourselves as humans and others as ‘not human’. But the problem with all these descriptors is that they infer that being a human is matter of finding your place in the hierarchy of better than or less than.  This has been going on for so long, many people take it for granted that this is the way to define humans.

But it is not.  All of those descriptors having nothing to do with our being a human.  They’re all artificial labels we’ve created over time as ways to separate ourselves from others. They keep us at each other’s throats and lead us to live lives that leave us all hurting. Because to be ‘better than’ infers there are ‘less than’ humans but underneath that everyone lives in tension and fear.

Instead, here at the Life Puzzle Center–our goal is to help you see that being a human is an on-going, growing journey to wholeness.  To be a human means to understand your SELF as a physical, emotional, thinking, sexual and spiritual being and at the same time, to understand that every other human you meet is also a physical, emotional, thinking, sexual and spiritual being on their own on-going, growing journey.  There is no better than or less than.  The Life Puzzle is a universal model–a way to understand your SELF as a human and the way to understand everyone you meet too.  We all have the same 16 core areas, 5 edges that create that SELF and yet no two of us will put them together in exactly the same way.  Thus–being a human means enabling yourself and everyone you meet the opportunity to build their Life Puzzle–a piece at a time with the whole (human) YOU in mind.

Yes to Resiliency!

Students Bertait College clip artRobby Soave’s recent article in the Daily Beast: “College students need remedial classes in how to be adults”, stirs me to write this blog response.

The article implies that our college kids are wimps that can’t handle real life. I’d like to suggest that this article’s snarky tone makes a mockery of what is really going on. While he seems to see the fact that students are seeking counseling more and colleges/universities are building resilience programs to support them is a bad thing, I think it would serve us all better to say, yes, FINALLY!  We’ve ignored mental health for generations and we are finally turning the corner on that.  People are seeking counseling when they need it. We’ve taken the shame out of seeking counseling but Soave’s article seems to want to put us back to those old days. That’s ridiculous. Continue reading


The first time I heard the phrase “bragplaining” was from a freshman college student at a prestigious college.  We were working together to deal with the high levels of anxiety and stress she was experiencing.  It had gotten so bad that she was considering dropping out.  As she discussed the pressures to fit in, she mentioned ‘bragplaining’—where students complain about all they have to do in such a way that it implies they have this incredible, successful life that requires them to juggle all these balls.  This had become the norm on campus.  She found it disgusting at one level but also found it hard not to get swept up into it even though it was making her ill.

The second time I heard the phrase was from a University professor telling me that on his campus, it had become epidemic.  Students were obsessed with taking on more and more just to feel as if they were being as successful as others.  The administration were truly concerned that this was having a detrimental impact on students.  They could see that it was increasing student depression, anxiety and possibly even suicide risk.

What’s old is new again? To me ‘bragplaining’ is a millennial phrase that replaces the ‘rat-race’ of previous generations.  Both phrases reflect the angst that results when we’re living hyper-busy lives to imply we’re successful.  Deep down inside, no one really likes it but we’re afraid to stop doing it because who will we be if we’re not part of this status quo, rat-race game?

When I started my private practice in the late 90’s, my clients were expressing this same dilemma.  They were caught up in doing what everyone else was doing (rat-race/bragplaining) and at first they thought it would bring them happiness.  But by the time they came to counseling, they were not finding happiness and joy in this process. They were concerned that this reflected there was something wrong with them because they were convinced everyone else was enjoying it—except them.  Having heard this from so many clients, I could honestly say to my clients—“No, no one is enjoying it—let’s work on changing it.”

The same thing is going on for these college students.  My freshman student was smart enough to recognize early on she was getting caught up in a ‘bragplaining’ cycle and it left her stressed out and anxious.  Initially she thought everyone else was doing okay with it while she was not but then it dawned on her—“No, we’re all miserable, I’m just willing to say it out loud!”

And in saying it out loud, she had taken a quantum leap to break out of the reactive pattern that most people live their entire lives in.  Our work together focused on what she would do instead. Because it isn’t really enough to break out of the rat-race.  Knowing what you don’t want to do is only half the equation.  The other side is figuring out what you do want to do instead.  This is when I introduced her to the Life Puzzle—a framework for building a whole and dynamic life.

This made great sense to her.  Together we worked on strengthening her edges/SELF and this enabled her to realize—she could be proactive and create a life that worked for her.  Yes, there was still plenty of bragplaining going on around her!  When she heard it, she would purposely smile and relax knowing this behavior did not reflect how she wanted to live her life.  With practice, it became a gentle reminder to her to stay focused on building her own whole and dynamic life.  So, while everyone else complained they didn’t have time for X because they had so much to do—she determined what she wanted in her life.  With that clarity, she created her own way of life and successfully completed her freshman year happily out of the ‘bragplaining’ cycle!

Lily Tomlin was once quoted as saying,  “Even when you win the rat-race, you’re still a rat.”  Getting out of the rat-race or bragplaining cycle is doable!  Life Puzzle is a framework for wholeness that enables you to refocus and create a sane life.  To learn more on how you can make these choices in your life—check out Life Puzzle—the DIY for you.

No Hate = No Gun Violence? Or is it just Human Violence?

Traveling on Rt 64 in Apex, NC, someone had placed a small sign in their yard with the word Hate in the ‘no’ symbol and then an = sign and the words Gun Violence in the ‘no’ symbol as well. As I drove by I thought, hmmm…..is that right? Or should it read No Hate = No Human Violence.

Because it seems to me that’s the core issue here—why are we so violent towards other humans? Every day we see human violence—whether it is a man punching his girlfriend, a college swimming star raping a coed, human trafficking, child abuse, sexual abuse and debates on waterboarding and torture too.

Some will say it is ‘human nature’ but I would argue it is not. We are taught to be violent and nowadays we are teaching violence 24/7, 365. The 500+ media channels show it 24 hoimage006urs a day.   It is the crux of every newscast and look at the line-up of television shows that are centered on violence! Take a peak at the movie selections in your area cinemas. I guarantee you that most of them are showing human violence. The last time I went to a movie, I sat through the previews—movie after movie for the coming summer crowds showed wars and fighting non-stop! I remember thinking—can’t they come up with anything else?

Even our futuristic movies like Star Wars (war!) show that the best we can hope for is that we’re at least on the winning side of violence. Where is the movie that shows us discovering new worlds and having an incredibly joyous welcome. Imagine the scene where everyone has been raised in an environment such that solving problems through violence would never even occur to them! I’d like to see that movie.

We see the results of this non-stop violence training. Nowadays killing someone is the solution to everything. Why shouldn’t a 20 something think this? All our crime dramas show people doing it as an “oh so no big dea
l thing”. Video games are all about killing and removing those we don’t like.

We seem to be in the Dark Ages right now. I want to call out for a Renaissance. It is time for us to change this.  Let’s start teaching wholeness instead and let us stop teaching hate. Human beings have the longest childhood of any species on the planet—it now lasts almost 24 years (that’s when our brain has its final growth spurt). In those 24 years we have plenty of time to teach our children to love themselves and love others. But instead we seem content to let them learn to hate. And yes, many of us walk into adulthood hating our SELF and then we transfer that to hating others.

Teaching wholeness as a framework for building our lives is so easy! And it is far more fun and wonderful than letting our children grow up in a world of hate. We can make this choice. Let’s pull out of this Dark Age we’re in. Let’s put down our guns and let’s stop teaching hate. When we stop teaching hate, we can stop human violence. And that will take care of gun violence too.image006

Human Dignity: one coin–two sides

image015Watching the 2016 Presidential primaries there’s no doubt this is a primary season like no other in recent memory. As Trump takes over the GOP and shocks the traditionalists, Sanders is as much a shock to the Democratic side of the equation as the young flock to him to listen to his message of Democratic Socialism.

Underlying both sides of these extremes appears to be a huge anger at the status quo system. The general populace is no longer interested in maintaining the status quo. Trump supporters appear ready to blow up the system with a leader that promises greatness with no real plan. Sanders supporters appear ready to turn old style capitalism on its ear and transform it towards a market economy mixed with social awareness of the value of all citizens not just the wealthy.

As I’ve watched this process, it occurred to me that the Wholeness Choosing Continuum is a perfect reflection of these two different extremes. Trump/GOP group is the 0-5 side—reactive, unconscious and playing the victim to a world that they no longer feel they have a chance to achieve the 5 of status quo/middle class wealth. As they watch the old story of ‘grow up, get a job, spouse, house, cars, kids and you’ll find happily ever after’ slip from their grasp, they are blaming it on immigrants, or those they think are living off huge entitlements like welfare (?) and food stamps (?). They are ready to take out their angst on everyone else, sure that once all those ‘others’ are gone then ‘they’ll be great again’. And in this reactive process, they’ve latched on to Trump who promises to blow it all up and start again. Continue reading

Guru You!

buddha-mdThe other day I was watching TV and a commercial came on highlighting a series of “experts” that were offering a daylong event.  They were shown talking to a large auditorium of people sitting rapturously as they waited for the wisdom to be imparted that they felt would change their lives.

It occurred to me that I’ve watched this scenario now for decades.  Audiences file in to hear some thought leader and then buy their books and hope to change their lives.  And yet, those very same thought leaders are still on stage essentially saying the same thing again and again.  And I thought–if what they’re saying really works, why haven’t we all gotten it by now and found our way?

The larger question, however, may be why we don’t feel confident to be our own thought leader? Why are we looking outside ourselves instead of inside? One answer of course is that we grow up being dependent on parents, teachers, ministers, rabbis, etc.so we get accustomed to looking outward.   But why are we still looking outside our SELF at 30, 45 or 60? Why don’t we trust that we can be our own guru? Continue reading

Happify or Wholify?

As a counselor, I think one of the greatest things I can do for my clients is to bust the myth of Happily-ever-after. We grow up hearing this story over and over again and it looks so good at the end of a fairy tale. But we should teach our kids there’s a reason its called a fairy tale. There is no real place called “happily ever after”.   Yet, many of us travel out of childhood and into adulthood on a Holy Grail search for it only to feel constantly frustrated in finding it.

IMG_0623I don’t want my clients to search for it. Instead, I introduce them to wholeness and show them the Life Puzzle model.   I want them to see their lives as an on-going growing journey that honors their physical, emotional, thinking, sexual and spiritual SELF. The framework of the Life Puzzle includes 16 core areas, 5 edges that create the SELF and in putting those pieces together over one’s life journey, wholeness emerges. And happiness? It’s in there too—through the healthy foods we eat, the relationships we engage in, through the family we create, the community we connect with, the environment we care for etc. Happiness is also found is managing the special challenges that come into our lives that force us to grow through tough times.

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Who knew Amazon was so 0-5? Could we suggest 6-10 instead?

A recent NY Times article exposing the harsh work environment at Amazon ignited intense discussion about the “culture” of Amazon and its expectations of long work hours at the expense of work-life balance.

As I read it (and clearly, Amazon isn’t the only tech company taking advantage of its employees through long work hours), I thought—“Wow, how 0-5 on the Wholeness Continuum” (see below). Clearly this high tech company of the 21st century is still attached to the old, reactive, status quo world where the awareness of Wholeness is basically absent. The belief by CEO Jeff Bezos—and then supported by staff—that in order to be successful we must allow only the work piece of our life to thrive—even at the expense of our health, our relationships, family, and community reflects the rat-race of the 20th century being perpetuated in the 21st.

Dear Amazon—that is so yesterday. Could we introduce you to the 6-10 side of the Wholeness Continuum? This is where real success can be found on personal, family, community, and business levels. It starts with individuals who use wholeness as a framework for designing their lives. No longer will they give up their health, relationship/family, and community connections to concentrate their energy in only one area—work. They want to live and work using a proactive, conscious framework where work fits into their life, not their life fits into what’s leftover after work.

The much smarter move? Wholeness. When you have an employee base focused on wholeness, it enables the creation of a Triple Bottom-line business—people, planets and profit resulting in a better business and a better world. And that’s a truly successful company.

It’s not too late Amazon—you can transform from 0-5 to 6-10. Wholeness is the future.


Not done @ 21!!!

As another school year begins…….

High school graduates are soon heading off to college and college graduates have entered the real world.  Both of these transitions represent two of the most intense times of our lives.  We are leaving a comfort zone of friends, family and the known while heading into the unknown.  We may be excited as can be about it all–but nonetheless, it is a very unsettling time requiring tremendous learning, new choices, establishing new patterns and social contacts.

Did you know that 40% of freshman drop out of college? (and never go back!) Did you know that depression rates skyrocket after college graduation.  What’s going on here?

As a counselor I have worked extensively with the 18-24 age bracket.  It is very important to show them that they are still working to form their SELF.  Boundaries are not fully developed and the SELF is unsure of so many pieces of their Life Puzzle.  In this overwhelming state, with lots of choices to be made, many in this age bracket shut down and feel defeated. I love working with them and showing them how to turn defeat into an adventure of living instead.

NOT DONE @ 21 !!!!

One of the chief complaints I heard from so many of these young adults was their belief/feeling that they were “behind”.  That somehow by 21 they needed to have figured it all out and that was not happening!  As I mulled on this more and more, I felt compelled to make this issue more visible and talked about. With several clients, I had “dialogues” about this issue.  I turned those dialogues into a short booklet I’ve put together called “Not done @ 21—building wholeness in a 100 year life”. Continue reading