Suffering in Silence …

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We can never really know when those moments of ‘awakening’ will happen.  When all of a sudden something comes into full view that was prickly and palpable but just a bit too blurry, obscured and covert to detect really clearly.   One of the most poignant ‘ahas’ that I’ve had in a long time popped up very unexpectedly (nearly two years ago) after I received a distressed call that my mother-in-law had been rushed to the hospital … again.  My very beloved in-laws (Oma, now 87 and Opa, now 91) had been enduring storm after storm of medical crises (for several years in a row) …  with countless trips to the ER … numerous hospital stays … and many lengthy and lonely convalescences. We had been desperately craving some calm … not just for them but also for us.

But on that particular day, with no sunny skies in sight, I dropped whatever I was doing and made another 45 minute commute into the ER because no one should be alone in a storm. My heart sank as I saw Oma stretched out on the gurney and the man who had been her husband for over six decades was pacing and perturbed and clearly paled by his powerless to protect her.  The energy in the room told me this foreboding squall was not going to blow over quickly.

Yes, it was dire. And Oma was done. She was begging us to let her go this time… to find a way to end her suffering.  She was pleading with me … with us … in barely discernible whispers to“please” make it stop.  It had been too long.  She’d spent too many fractured years bravely overcoming one hurdle only to find herself promptly propped up against another one.  It was clear that she was not one bit interested in soldiering on through the pain of helplessness and subsequent hopelessness that she had so long been feeling.  She wanted it to be over.

I had seen her flirting with defeat before … but never like this. For many years prior to my arrival in the Lanser family some 40 years ago, Oma had already been an “invalid” (her term, not mine) … she could not brush her own hair or cut her own meat or wipe her own bottom.  And aside from lamenting that “It’s always something”… she really didn’t much complain. We knew she had her bad days, but I was invariably inspired by her attitude and the good-natured grace from which she courageously coped with her discouraging decline and undeniable debilitation.  And, I bore witness to the depth of her determination as she willed herself to persevere and to endure the surgeries and the long and tedious recoveries and the endless hours in physiotherapy in hopes that she could optimize her mobility and/or, at the very least, retain what little autonomy she still had left.  She laboured so hard physically and I intuitively knew she had to work just as hard psychologically to ensure those gloomy daily battles didn’t take her down emotionally.

But in the ER on that particular day … it was clearly all too much.   She wanted it to stop and begged us to spare her of more misery. When Opa’s eyes met mine, I could see him uncomfortably scouring his soul … how he could ever even consider letting her go? My heart ached deeply for both of them.

When the physician finally arrived into assess her condition … Oma compliantly shifted into ‘good’ patient mode and tried with muffled effort to answer the doctor’s questions. I had to help translate because she has a strong Dutch accent and was slipping in and out of English.  At one point, she offered a half-hearted smile in response to the something soothing that the doctor said and eventually she mustered enough strength to defeatedly but clearly declare, “I don’t want to be here.” The doctor was kind and caring and thought Oma meant she didn’t want to be ‘here’ in the hospital … not realizing she actually meant not ‘here’ in her life.  When the doctor compassionately responded that she’d try to get her “out of here” as soon as possible, the floodgates opened. She didn’t want to go home, she wanted to go HOME. Her suffering cascaded down her cheeks in torrents of anguish.  And although it was absolutely agonizing to see her in such a state of despair, I was not prepared for happened next.  As soon as the doctor had left, Opa leaned in toward Oma and told her with a very stern and almost scolding tone: “You had a smile for the doctor. You can have one for us.”

I was stunned.  Whatttt? I could not even fathom what I was hearing.  It took me a minute to recover and recognize that this was Opa’s own angst and terror talking. He was entirely overwhelmed himself and couldn’t bear to witness the weight of her woundedness.  He needed a reprieve … even if it was at her expense.  And so he took it the only way he knew how … he ordered it.

And with his words … I watched her eyes become vacant and a solemn stare washed over her face. She then closed her eyes while she obediently retrieved any and all expression of her agony and she buried it somewhere deep inside her.  She lost her tears and became stoic, stalwart and completely silent.  I stood there, dumbfounded by the depths of sheer despair I could hear screaming out despite her sobered silence.  And I sensed from her rapid response to his request that this was not the first time she had been required to put her pain away … to keep it out of sight.

And I understood, in that very telling exchange, that part of her survival story was to repress whatever she sensed was not welcome to express.  Oma had learned to silence her suffering in order to spare others. There was a time to stop feeling sad and find a smile instead. AND, in the transparency of that blatant shushing of my ‘invalid’ mother-in-law … her pain was  rendered absolutely ‘in-valid’.

I instantly felt appalled and ashamed that for all these years I, too, had unwittingly perpetuated this discounting of her despair by applauding her admirable attitude.  I had misinterpreted her smiles as strength. I saw them as an absence of suffering … rather than a stoic and stalwart silencing of it.  It sickened me to the core of my being.

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Though not a word was spoken … the dissonance was deafening.  It was all too obvious to me now. What we were seeing on her outsides was not necessarily what she was feeling on her insides. This reckoning stirred up something deep in my soul that resonated with the pain of betraying one’s inner truth. How had I been so obtuse?  How could I not see in her what was all too familiar to me?  How had I missed this for so long??  I, too, had learned long, long ago how to muzzle my misery and quietly repress any wounding, pain or hurt that I was experiencing. Phewwwww.

In one sense I knew that I had been doing it, but like the twist of a kaleidoscope … I was seeing the same pieces of my life through different eyes.  A new picture was emerging that left me squirming uncomfortably. Seeing a ‘silencing’ so blatantly imposed upon someone else brought forth a recognition that I had been covertly but completely complicit in a lifetime of dismissing my own heartache … silencing my own pain … and pretending everything was ‘fine’ when it wasn’t. And, sadly, I had become really good at it.

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Source Unknown

And once you ‘see’ something, you can’t not see it anymore! Like rocks in a landslide colliding within my consciousness, I was instantaneously bombarded with memories of moments where, time and time again, I had forced myself for various reasons to also suffer in silence. I was so grievously saddened as I started sifting through all the evidence my heart had been holding. It became all to apparent that, over the years, I had morphed into a most magnificent martyr.

I could see as a child, how I deliberately silenced my pain in order to spare myself the shame … my alcoholic father, my mother’s multiple medical issues and diagnosis of manic-depression (Bipolar) … her subsequent addiction/abuse of prescription drugs … her stays in the psyche ward … their divorce … my time in foster care … the neglect and lack of nurture … the feelings of abandonment … the deep desire to ‘fit in’ to something you could be proud of … the longing to feel appreciated and approved of and maybe even respected.  And so … as a child, I opted to put a smile on my face and pretend everything was fine.  I have spoken to this more fully in a previous blog.  My pain was fully and completely silenced … even from myself … for many, many years until it was innocently and unexpectedly awakened in a mother’s group I was attending after we had children. You can read more about that here.

And so … about motherhood. For me, it was another long season of  harsh and heartless silencing.  I learned that what I really wanted to acknowledge was not culturally appropriate. New mothers are not supposed to discuss how horribly hard it can be to give your life over to a child.  Apparently, it was the best time of my life and it was going to go by so quickly that I should longingly adore it all completely. Every. Single. Moment.  I feel compelled in this moment to reassure all of you that I truly feel blessed to have been a mother. I absolutely do. From my humble perspective, motherhood is not a binary experience … it’s not good or bad … it’s not an either/or, but rather … it is an integrated both/and.   From where I am looking, it’s the ultimate in both agony and ecstasy.  I deeply cherish my opportunity to be a mother and the years did indeed fly by … but some of those days were the longest and most demanding in my whole life.

You see, I have been married for 39 years to an old fashioned, traditional, hard-working male … and from the generation from which he was looking,  parenting was “women’s work.”  I had no mom, mom-in-law or sisters to lean on, so I was in the trenches alone. There was no real interest in sharing the load because, at the time, I don’t think he actually believed it was a load or even work for that matter.  He erroneously assumed that because I ‘got’ to stay home, he was the only one working. He realizes now that he was the only one being paid for his work, but back then my efforts to explain my discontent were often met with quizzical looks and/or discomfort and/or frustration and/or a deaf ear.  And from what I could tell, other women seemed to be content with this binary set up. So, I learned to silence my grrrrrrrrrr.  Aside from one other friend and confidant, I had no where safe to put that conversation, so I buried my pain and put a smile on my face.  I acted like nothing was wrong, pretended that it was all perfect and soldiered on.  And, I hid it all so masterfully, that no one else was the wiser about how deeply fractured I felt or how deeply alone and unsupported I really felt in the parenting arena.

And it made matters worse that we had moved to my husband’s home town  … a very small, rural town so he could go back to farming.   I had reasoned with myself that I could be a wife and mother anywhere. I clearly had no effing clue just how arduous that would actually end up being.  But I couldn’t let myself complain … because I had willingly agreed to go and didn’t want him to feel guilty.  No one had told me, though, that the good and kind people who live in a small town already have their circles of belonging.  They don’t need to make friends with the new girl. They are more likely to gossip about her long blonde hair and her jewelry and her eye-liner than invite her for coffee.

I could not have been prepared for how my cosmopolitan roots were going to generate so much ostracism. Unfortunately, I’ve got oodles of examples to draw from … but the worst of it was probably when my mom died at Christmas in 1989 (almost a decade after we moved to that little town). I had deliberately silenced my grief in my home because I didn’t want to worry my daughters by crying in front of them. So, I took my pain for some long walks around town thinking I could hide the torrents of my tears behind my sunglasses.  I learned later that I had been nicknamed “crystal ass” … and then … my daughter came home one day and said her friend’s mom had declared I was a “slut.” Oooouch.

Apparently they determined I was “pedaling my ass around town.”  It was agonizing to be so misunderstood. I got self-righteous and brave one day and tried to address it with one of them.  Let’s just say it didn’t go well.  I suspected I was just making it worse so I downplayed how deeply isolating and hurtful my experience had been. I pretended everything was fine … even though I ached to put a huge sign up on the post office bulletin board … calling them out name by name by name … and … telling them all to shove their mean-spirited judgments right up their own miserable asses.  But …  I didn’t.

It became clear that taking a sanctimonious shot at any of them would not have served the greatest good in the situation. And so I hid all my pain again.  I was am a master at it.  I have been practicing my hiding since I was a wee child. I wonder, though, how often I looked like Oma did when I, too, lost my tears, retrieved all expressions of my pain, buried them deep down inside and pasted a strong and convincing smile on my face instead.  I’d gotten so damn good at repressing my hurt by then that I am sure people believed my sunny disposition was an honest reflection of my idyllic life.  Eventually, I did make some very good friends … and for them I am eternally grateful, but I’m guessing very few, if any of them, had any real clue about the deep ache in my heart.

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And I do look happy. Even to this day, I think most people believe my life is filled with clear blue skies, bright sunshine and lots of lollipops. I’m guessing that is so because it is really quite rare for people to sincerely inquire “How are you doing?” In their defense though, why would they ask … I always look like I AM just fine. And so, for the most part, people tend to connect with me when they need to lean in … when they need support.  And, I am so deeply honored to be invited into people’s hearts (both personally and professionally) and trusted with the most fragile parts of their souls.  It is both my most passionate pursuit in life and my most nourishing purpose. So, please, please, please don’t get me wrong here … I treasure the opportunity to be of service but I’d also like to feel people’s efforts to connect with me are sparked by their affection and interest in me, not just their need of me.

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And, I’d be remiss without sharing that I’ve also felt the need to stifle all the embarrassment I feel for being such a ‘fun sucker.’ It’s always been a challenge for me to simply ‘let loose’ with my husband and our girls and my grandchildren. As I shared in a prior post:

The shame and neglect of my early years has shaped my overly ‘anxious mind’ and unfortunately, it takes a whole schwack of energy to manage the various worries, uncertainties, reservations , doubts, qualms and fears that persistently and unpredictably pop into my awareness.  When uttered in the past, my husband would shake his head in stunned disbelief as my neurotic ramblings effectively sucked any potential for joy out of the moment.  Pretty soon, I just quit sharing them out loud …

The anxious mind is so bewildering for people to comprehend.  It’s not rational at all.  Not even to me. So how could it make any logical sense to others?  How I wish I could just “relax and have fun” within the cacophony of noise and chaos and dangers that my highly sensitive spirit and highly-kindled brain is on high alert for when the house is filled with of all of us. It sounds so reasonable … and yet … is always a struggle for me. So I do my best to manage my jacked-up amygdala and try not to suck all the fun out of the space when the alarm bells are going off unnecessarily in my head.

I know I have chosen to silence myself on many occasions because I truly am a “Highly Sensitive Person” I am acutely aware of the energy in a room.  I can sense when people are hurting and then I worry that maybe I have done something to upset them.  Gah.  It’s tough, because I do not wish to harm anyone with my words, thought or deeds. If it would seem that my perspective would be uncomfortable or unwelcome in a situation, I have often muzzled myself. While I will introduce ‘hard conversations’ in the counselling room or the coaching domain, I refrain from doing so in my personal world without an invitation.  And it would be completely outside my character to publicly unleash any un-tempered anger … even when doing so would protect me from victimization. I can think of at least three times that has happened in my professional career. Arghhhhh.

It does not escape me that there comes a time when protecting others becomes injurious to oneself. And yet, I am forever checking whether the things I am about to say  would improve on the silence.  Is what I need to say kind, true, necessary or helpful?  If not, I have voluntarily silenced myself on many occasions when I actually have had a whole lot I could say!!  And it can often be at great expense to myself that I will stifle a whole conversation because I just don’t want to hurt others. I’ve even considered deleting parts of this blog because I worry that I have cast some of my loved ones in a bad light. All the second guessing is brutal … and … prickly … and … sometimes excruciating.

And so …  in that split second … in that ER room with my precious in-laws … I had some clear insight into the unhealthy nature of the patterns that have been chronically, quietly and subconsciously running my life.  The truth is that I have resisted giving myself permission to bleed in public … it’s seems way too risky. In fact, the more I am hurting, the quieter I will usually get.  It’s become a habit … not always adaptive.  I am far more willing  to discuss my pain once it’s been healed and the lesson from my wounding might be of service to another . Yes. I am more comfortable speaking from the scar.  It just feels so much safer … so much tidier.

However, I am sensing that I need to change this because it is not working all that well for me anymore.  I think a part of me has always known I need to change this, but I have effectively silenced that awareness too.  It seems so very scary to stand before someone … naked in your pain-filled truths … before there is enough scar tissue to protect you.  I’m not yet great with vulnerability.

But … I keep getting nudges from the Universe telling me I don’t have to keep suffering in silence.  Maybe I don’t have to keep doing the hard parts alone. Maybe I shouldn’t expect myself to weather the storms alone any more than I expect Oma should go through them alone. I certainly don’t expect my clients to do that. I don’t expect my friends or children to do that either. Maybe I need to start giving to myself what I most love to give to others … a soft, compassionate and safe place to bleed … a tender touch on an open wound … a safe place to heal the pain. I hope I can be brave enough to keep doing this because I still have some things to say … some things that still have tears attached to them. Yes. There is more to work through.

And so, if you are still here reading … after I have taken up so much of your time with this very long 3550+ word oration  … thank you for staying with me … thank you for not ducking out because I have been so incredibly long winded … thank you for holding a safe space for me,  Karen

P.S. My mother-in-law survived that storm on that particular day … and since then … has gone on to endure many more.  Sadly, she and Opa are struggling once again.  We are hoping they will soon find themselves enjoying fairer weather.  Cross your fingers for them okay?

P.P.S. Oma did not survive that last storm. She left this physical plane on October 9, 2016. We honor her strength and cherish memories of our times together.

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I Put Up a Wall …

two people

Source Unknown

I put up a wall to keep you out … because I am wounded and fragile and afraid you will hurt me.

You see my wall and feel rejected.

You perceive my wall as a judgment or criticism of you.

The space between us becomes large and ominous … and … keeps us from truly seeing each other.

It keeps us from truly loving each other and meeting each others needs … which we could do and would do … if we weren’t looking at exactly the same thing and seeing something totally different.

If only we could see through the wall.

If only we could feel each others vulnerability.

But we don’t.

And so we both suffer … needlessly.

Source Unknown

There are times when we need to wall up,  but … not all the time, Karen

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Understanding the INFJ in your Life … yep, that would be me.

Understanding your INFJ

“The Care and Feeding of INFJs”  by Matt Knight

It happens a lot.  A whole lot. Actually, it’s been happening for all my life. I’m not exactly sure why OR how to manage it … but my experience is this: I am misunderstood.  Often. Too often.  And it is so damn frustrating.

And so … when I came upon this short little presentation (just click on the picture to view it) I decided it might be wise to share it publicly.  I am reassured and yet, somehow at the same time, deeply unsettled when people (who I DO know) don’t seem to get me and then someone named Matt Knight (who I DO NOT know) can describe me (for the most part) with such pin point accuracy. How is it that he can peg me so astutely … in the most significant ways?  Aren’t we, as human beings, supposed to be as unique as snowflakes?  How can he so casually and clearly names the parts of myself that are so often misunderstood?

While it is exceptionally tempting to discount the validity and reliability of popular personality ‘tests’,  I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or some popular variant of it at least three times over the last 25 years and have gotten exactly the same results.  It’s certainly consistent …

So, on behalf of myself and any other INFJs whose family members/friends/colleagues may be struggling to understand us, I am sharing this Prezi (it’s a new fangled special kind of slide show) because this is a very accurate description of myself! 

While only three people in 100 will fall into the  category of INFJ, I actually know a very disproportionate number of INFJs!  Many are my colleagues and some are my friends and I welcome them with open arms as kindred spirits.  We get each other. I guess we tend to be drawn to the same circles … and … this presentation demonstates why so many of us become counsellors/therapists.

Even if you are not in relationship with an INFJ, maybe this entertaining little slideshow will inspire you take the MBTI test yourself or some popular variant of it (these are free of charge and/or maybe easier to navigate) and see if it resonates as accurately for you as it did for me. I’d love to hear about your experience!

Either way, I take this opportunity to welcome you to my inner world … Karen  🙂

 

 

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[Guest Post]:The Sensitive People In The World

I’ve personally spent much of my life ashamed of my sensitivity. I’ve spent countless days, months and year trying NOT to be sensitive. My sensitivity has often felt like a fatal flaw in my character.  I think I have finally come to accept/embrace both the gifts and challenges of being a sensitive soul.

This beautiful reflection resonated so deeply for me … I just had to share it … in case you too are a sensitive soul … or … in case you are living with one or in love with one!

With deepest gratitude to Shannon L. Alder for composing this and with heartfelt appreciation to Positive Outlooks Blog for sharing this.

And … with warm hugs to all of you from sensitive me, Karen

Positive Outlooks Blog

Sensitive people are the most genuine and honest people you will ever meet. There is nothing they won’t tell you about themselves if they trust your kindness. However, the moment you betray them, reject them or devalue them, they will end the friendship. They live with guilt and constant pain over unresolved situations and misunderstandings. They are tortured souls that are not able to live with hatred or being hated. This type of person needs the most love anyone can give them because their soul has been constantly bruised by others. However, despite the tragedy of what they have to go through in life, they remain the most compassionate people worth knowing and the ones that often become activists for the broken-hearted, forgotten and the misunderstood. They are angels with broken wings that only fly when loved. — Shannon L. Alder

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Facing our Dragons …

Dear Steph and Bryan

I recently attended a wedding.  It touched me in a very meaningful way.  It was the kind of wedding that penetrates your soul because the energy of love was palpable and pervasive throughout the entire event.  I popped the bride and groom a little note to share my reflections about it. I received permission from them to publicly share my meanderings with you here.  Aside from a taking a few editorial liberties to ensure their anonymity and to polish things up a bit for publication, here is what I shared:

Dear Bride and Groom,

We enjoyed your wedding so much! Right from the ceremony itself … to the East Coast influence of fun and frolic on the dance floor … to the delightful taste sensations … to the warm and vulnerable speeches that touched and tickled my heart in so many ways.  I scribbled something in the guestbook in the small margin of space at the bottom of the page that I selected … something about hoping that the love and light and laughter you enjoyed on your wedding day would multiply over the years to come. I didn’t have space to say what I wanted to say. I’m not sure why I didn’t turn the page … maybe it was the late hour, or maybe the Malbec. It really doesn’t matter but …

I woke up in the early morning hours after your wedding (I think it was still in the sixes) and my hubby was still asleep. I made my way quietly to the desk and with the little lamp lighting up the darkness I picked up the complimentary pen and note pad provided by the Wingate by Wyndham Hotel and while I was waiting for the one cup coffee maker to drip me a little disposable cup of decaf coffee, I jotted down what I wish I had said in your book.

Here is what I penned on those three double-sided sheets of that little wee pad …

“It was so refreshing to marinate in the pure love expressed throughout your wedding day. The words in the ceremony were so moving and brought tears to my eyes … and I noticed that the groom never took his eyes off his gorgeous bride. I said to my friend seated beside me, who was equally touched, “That boy is in love!

I repeated it again to my husband … who knowingly nodded (with a tear leaking out of his eye too) because we both know all too well what that actually means. At the risk of projecting our experience onto you … may I share what was going through our minds at that moment.

It means that the groom is completely vulnerable. It means that he is ‘all in’. It means that the bride must be very cautious lest she unwittingly injure his fragile and unprotected heart. It means that he has never been more likely to get wounded in his whole life.

Paradoxically, it means that he could say or do things that are seemingly inconsiderate or thoughtless (to her) but perceived as ‘completely insignificant’ to him (knowing how much he adores his bride). These things, however, might spark some anxiety, frustration or pain in the heart of the bride because, unfortunately, she is not looking at the situation through his eyes.

Of course, he’ll have a hard time understanding her sensitivity because all he can see and feel is how much he cherishes her and, therefore, her fears may seem unfounded to him. As such, her concerns may fall on deaf ears at times. So, if I had a suggestion it would be this:

If the bride is hurting, please be willing to look for what she is seeing on her side of the coin. Even though you are seeing ‘tails’ (the maple leafs on your side of that shiny penny), she may be seeing ‘heads’ as she stares straight into the face of the stately Queen and the date stamp on the other side of that exact same coin. It’s so important to remember that the same coin (or event, situation, circumstance) looks different to everyone depending upon their perspective.

Couples have been defending what they see on their side of the coin for hundreds of years … strongly defending the accuracy of their viewpoint … arguing mercilessly with each other hoping to somehow prove how right they are and how wrong their partner is … all the while forgetting about the fragile and vulnerable hearts that are getting trampled in their self-righteous exchange.

From where I am looking, it’s far better to see if you can identify with what part of their perspective might be even a wee bit true. We must remember to be gentle with such valuable but vulnerable hearts especially when we are wounded. It’s tricky, though, because when we are most wounded … we APPEAR angry rather than hurt. It’s very tricky to remember that.

And, of course, if the bride is anything like me … that timid, scared little girl (who needed her mom to follow the bus to school) stills lives within the heart of that strong, independent and competent bride. She’s just harder to identify now … because this woman is clearly so bright and beautiful and smart and strong. She’s managing her anxious mind much better than when she was little … but … she has just vowed to let the groom into her heart space. Oh my, she is now wide open to wounding. The groom must not let her capable, competent demeanor fool him in those delicate moments. She needs to know she can lean in on the groom and he will be there … really be there … not just with one eye on her and the other eye still on the hockey game.

She is going to need her groom to help her quiet the anxious thoughts that might sometimes blindside her at the worst possible moment. She doesn’t need him to fix it … no … she’ll figure it out. She just needs somewhere safe to put her tears. She needs to know she can trust him to honor her most tender scaredy-cat moments of insecurity. She needs to know that he will not dismiss how big her emotions feel to her in that moment. Yes, she’ll work through it herself … of course she will … but when you love someone, you don’t want to leave them alone to fight their dragons … however real or imagined.

In almost 38 years of marriage and 10 years of counselling/coaching people, I have learned that it serves us best when we unite in love and face our dragons together … in solidarity … because we all have them. Even the best of us have insecurities and fears and wounds and scars from our prior lived experience. We need to be able to count on our partner to have our backs when the world seems too fierce and formidable to handle on our own.

That said, I am not sure if any of this will make sense to you … until it does. In the meantime, I am wishing you both an incredibly beautiful journey … one in which your hearts remain safe enough to stay as open and vulnerable as they were on your wedding day!

I can still feel the love that was in that room.

What an amazing young man!

What an extraordinary young woman!

And … as two remarkable families unite, the joys are simply multiplied …

Yes. This is what I wanted to write in your guest book.

With deepest respect,
Karen

A Tragic Misunderstanding …

With acknowledgement to the Internal Acceptance Movement [I.A.M.]

My ‘effing’ story got me again.  It’s so frustrating because as a counsellor/therapist and life coach I have been impeccably trained to help people bust through the nasty stories that are lurking insidiously in the shadows of their minds.  In fact, I’m actually really good at it.  I’m usually pretty good at managing my own unfavorable narratives too, but …

Every once in a blue moon the most painful ‘shadow belief’ that tagged along from my childhood literally blindsides me.  It reeks sheer havoc with my soul and then leaves me shattered, shaken and grievously grappling for solace.  And I get so frustrated, because although I KNOW that my story isn’t true … when it takes hold … it FEELS so true. And, my logical mind can’t seem to talk my emotional heart out of it’s desperate despair.

My “I don’t matter” story is strong and powerful and perilously persistent.  It emerged in my childhood … an erroneous interpretation of a wee little girl just trying to make sense of the neglect she experienced in a dysfunctional home ravaged by addictions and mental health issues. She couldn’t see, at the time, that her parents were caught up in the wounds of their own painful dramas.  So instead, she attributed their lack of attention to her needs as a reflection of  her own insignificance.  A tragic misunderstanding.  A terribly tragic misunderstanding.

Through the exceptional body of work inspired by the late Debbie Ford, I’ve been effectively ‘rewiring’ the neuro-template that was firmly etched into my psyche by that erroneous interpretation.  Thankfully, it doesn’t take me down all that often anymore, but … if/when it gets away on me, that negative cognition has the capacity to so steal so much joy from my heart … and … it can convincingly morph itself into any number of painful correlates:

“Nobody REALLY cares about me.”

“My needs are meaningless to others.”

“I’m completely expendable.”

“I’m absolutely inconsequential”

“I’m only appreciated for what I can give to/do for others.”

Blah … Blah … Blah … Blah … Blah. 

Recently, while marinating in the vulnerability of that unfavorable quagmire, I found myself beseeching  a miracle.  I was pleading for a merciful release from the wretched pain of that effing story. And … low and behold … I came upon Daniell Koepke.  Her words landed gently like a warm and loving salve on the jagged and raw edges of my tattered and torn heart.  Who was this person who knew exactly what I needed to be reminded of in the agonizing ache of those moments??

I felt compelled to look her up.  It turns out she has inspired the Internal Acceptance Movement.  She has written some inspiring reflections!  She was my angel in that moment offering a meaningful measure of pure grace and the miracle I was looking for … the ability to shift my perceptions from an energy of fear to a spirit of love and acceptance. So I’d like to say “Thank you Daniell.”  Your thoughtful perspective answered my call.

And … I am sharing this with all of you publicly because I want to pay forward the blessings in her wise words – just in case, you too, find yourself consumed by a painful belief you’ve lugged along from your past … and … just in case, you too, are in need of a wee miracle.  If so, you might let some of her words wash warmly over your soul  when you are in need of some help busting out of your own sad story …

With deepest respect for our collective wounding, Karen

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I Never Talked About It …

I never talked about it.  I tucked it all away, deep down inside where no one could see it. Not even me.

No, I never talked about it until one day when I was attending a young mother’s group.  I was about 30 years old … with three darling daughters.  The guest presenter was speaking about the challenges of parenting and invited us to recall the warm and wonderful times in our childhood when we felt safe and protected and happy and coddled.  Huh?  The naive assumption that we all came from that enviable place surprised me.  I could not resonate with where she was trying to take us … at all. I looked around the room. People were smiling … nodding.  Some were tearing up in fond recollection. I went numb for a moment.

And then it hit me … and … I swallowed hard to hide the tears that nearly escaped … right there …  in front of all those lovely young mothers caught up in that heavenly melancholic moment. My story was not their story.  I felt like I just didn’t fit in.  I remember thinking, “I don’t belong here.” 

I went home and cried. A hard cry.  And … the lid came off.  It all came pouring out of me … in streams that chafed my cheeks and welted up the tender corners of my eyes.  And then I got mad … MAD.  How dare this gracious ‘presenter’ with the Hallmark childhood so cavalierly ignite the pain I had tucked away so effectively for so long! How dare she obliviously obliterate my strong, capable, logical, ‘I can handle anything’ persona.  I felt fragmented and fragile and I couldn’t seem to collect myself with any degree of predictability.  I simply could not get the lid back on it.  And I tried … believe me I tried.

I’m not sure when I conceded … when I decided that it was time to tell my story rather than continue hiding it and hiding from it.  Somehow, between the sadness that surprised me and the struggle to ignore it,  I realized that I would need to ‘feel it’ in order to ‘heal it’.  And THAT was certainly not a straight path. Nor easy.  I was flooded with painful memories and I didn’t have a  clue where to put them or how to carry them out there in the real world. 

I started talking about it.  I guess I shared too much … too often …  because then someone said, “Is that is all she ever talks about?”  Perhaps that was true.  Maybe the pendulum had swung the other direction … when the lid blew off the mess was hard to contain.  What I heard her saying was:  “No one really wants to hear about it”.  Ouch.

And I almost silenced myself again.  Out of shame.  Far be it for me to take up space where my story was not wanted.  I had no idea where it belonged …where I belonged.  Fortunately for me, I found a place to put it. I found a place where my story was honored.  And I felt heard.  And I found some beautiful gifts that had been tucked into my story.  And it felt good.  And I learned that these things need to be spoken of … because  all wounds need a compassionate witness if we are to finally make peace with them.

Ultimately, I found a safe place to lean in and embrace my own story.  It scares me to think of where I would be had I not discovered the divine body of work founded by Debbie Ford.  I got some good counseling too.  Yes. I did.  And … it transformed my life.  So much so that I found my calling.  I trained with Debbie Ford herself and also went back to school and earned my MSW.  Now, I get to coach and/or counsel those who need a safe and compassionate place to own their stories and help them learn to thrive despite the pains of their past.

 I could never have anticipated the miracle and magic of owning my story. I still talk about it  … sometimes.  And other times I blog about it.  Mostly, though, I share it when I think it will be meaningful to others. I am learning that there are times when my prior lived experience really resonates with the people I am working with and fosters their own capacity to heal.  And, in the communion of our stories, we are liberated. And we are understood. And we find a place where we belong.

And yes, there are still those times when I sense that my story is not welcome … places where it is not a good fit.  But that doesn’t mean my story doesn’t matter.  It does.  And so does yours.  I hope that you, too, will be brave enough to find a safe and compassionate place to share it!  It matters … and  you never know … you might just find some magic and/or a miracle or two wrapped into it.

Daring Greatly,  Karen

I am not what happened to me …

not what has happened to me

I just came across a very heartfelt stream of consciousness that I recorded in an old journal. I was wrestling with my aversion to confrontation.  I was questioning why I got so anxious at the thought of disappointing others. I was pulling at the roots of my prior people-pleasing tendencies.

Here is what I discovered as I coaxed myself deeper into the subconscious inquiry:

Why am I so uncomfortable with contention or confrontation?

Because I don’t like it when things aren’t going well between people…

Why don’t you like it when things aren’t going well?

Because I am afraid people will leave me.

What am I afraid will happen if people leave me?

I will be alone and scared and have no support.

What will happen if I am alone, scared and have no support?

I will have to do things all on my own … and/or … reach out to strangers for help.

What if I reach out for help?

Then people can hurt me, when/if they don’t care enough about me to help me.

What if they don’t care enough to help you?

Then I will feel rejected.

What if I feel rejected?

Then I feel worthless and insignificant.

What if I am worthless and insignificant?

Then I am nothing.

What if you are nothing … ?

If I am nothing – no thing in particular, then maybe I can be anything.

Ha!   My stream of consciousness just took a sharp, very unexpected turn.   Upon deeper inquiry …. the blessings covertly tucked on the other side of my fear are rendered visible!  If I am no particular thing (nothing) ... then maybe I am at liberty to consciously create myself into something … and perhaps … that opens the doors for me to be anything.

In order to claim that prize, I can see I must be willing to step out of old patterns of belief and behavior. As Carl Jung so wisely contended “I am not what happened to me,  I am what I choose to become”. As a people pleaser, I developed a pattern of trading truth for safety.  In order to feel safe, I contorted myself into the most pleasing, sweet and endearing child … always.  All ways.  I can see that I did so (in order to minimize the probability of rejection) because I was often at the mercy of  leaning on a teacher, a friend’s parent, or a stranger.

BUT, that was THEN and this is NOW. I can choose differently.  I have access to resources and supports I never had as a child … and I can take care of myself.  Mostly. And, maybe … even more importantly … maybe at this point in my ‘all grown up’ life, it could be quite safe to risk be rejected. Perhaps, in being brave enough to risk the rejection of others, I could quit rejecting myself  by ‘going along to get along‘.  Perhaps that has been the greatest violation to my soul in my patterns of the past.  I have been unwittingly rejecting my Self when I trade truth for safety.

So, I am seeing that the ultimate gift in risking rejection is the opportunity to be authentic and real.  I can go along to get along … or … I can be real, raw and truthful to my Self.  I can do one or the other, but not both simultaneously.  So, let’s bring on the confrontations … eeek.  I say that knowing that they give me a chance to step out of old patterns … and … claim the opportunity to be something closer to the real me … 🙂

There is so much light hidden in the dark … if we dare ourselves to look deep enough,  Karen

P.S. I wrote this journalling years ago, and drafted this blog quite some time ago, but I never posted it.  It’s likely no co-incidence that since then, I have taken several bold opportunities to be real and risk being rejected.  It’s actually been quite an interesting ride … I think I’m going to hold on and keep doing it.  Much to my surprise, being ‘real’ feels really safe in a whole different kind of way … really.  Nothing could be better than stepping out of old patterns from the past.

She teaches me to love … unconditionally.

feathers

Although our nest has been empty for nearly 10 years, the recent birth of our 7th grandchild got me reflecting more deeply upon the richness of motherhood … and … the peaks and valleys of my own journey through it. From where I am looking, parenting is one of the ultimate callings in life.  For me, I think it is the HIGHEST and most NOBLE calling because it has been the HARDEST calling of my life.  It has also been the most MAGNIFICENT and SACRED calling of my life … stretching my character to unknown vistas, bringing me to my knees in humble appreciation and heartfelt compassion for those who have parented before me …  and … leaving me with a deeper appreciation of LOVE than I ever fathomed could be possible.

Motherhood has been the ultimate in both agony and ecstasy for me.  It has been, and continues to be, the most remarkable part of my journey.  But, it has left me completely shaken, broken to the core and scared spit-less.  Feeling terrified that in my best efforts to be an amazing parent, I have screwed up royally.  Feeling petrified that I have harmed the souls of those whom I most cherish.  Reassuring myself, often, that they are resilient enough to rise above any of the pains I have etched in their hearts.  My three daughters, all grown up and with beautiful, sparkling little cherubs of their own, have broken me open in ways I had not expected … nor … at times, thought I could possible endure.

It is such a vulnerable place to live … being a parent.  Your heart is wandering about in the world … all by itself … and out of your control … so you tremble.  And, from the outside, you look rational for the most part, but you get crazed by irrational fears … blindsided while you are flipping a pancake or cleaning out a closet.  But your awareness of the lunacy of your fears is not sufficient to silence them.  You make up horrific stories in your head that won’t allow you to sleep until they are tucked safely back in the nest at home.

I swear that you view the world differently once you become a parent. You see things you never noticed before … and … you wonder how you missed such obvious hazards and then you worry beyond all sense and sensibility.  You treasure your children so much that your fears can eclipse your capacity to let them breathe … and … blossom.  If you are not careful, you smother them with your love.  And  you KNOW they can’t survive that kind of selfish, conditional love that places your fears before their freedom, but you can’t help yourself.  So you clip their wings in order to spare your own heart.  And then you feel guilty … and ashamed … because they deserve a chance to grow and thrive and offer their delicious and dazzling gifts to the world.

It is excruciating to learn that unconditional love means you make the decision to let yourself sit in the prickly discomfort of giving them wings.  You shift your gaze and do your best to silence your primitive protective instincts  … and … you commit yourself to dwelling in the anxiety of letting them flap their wings until they learn how to fly.  You accept (as some very wise soul once contended) that the question is not when they will find their wings, but  what they are going to wear with all those magnificent feathers.  And you cry.  And you know you shouldn’t.  It’s just hard to think about them fluttering off …  leaving the nest.  But you also know, they are meant to SOAR …

And you do your best to encourage the fulness of their flight.  And it is so hard some days.  So you practice your own counseling skills.  You attend an art therapy workshop but you use it to do your own internal healing.  The others might be thinking about how they will use this skill with their clients … but you are expressing your innermost emotions in the creation of the mandala … and … you write a poem from the artistry you have created.  And you feel some release of the weight in your heart …

Unconditional Love - 2

Unconditional Love … mandala/poetry by Karen Lanser

In a blazing circle of hearts

I am centered magnificently

watching

learning

growing

noticing a chaotic but definite pattern

of complete balance.

I see symmetry and asymmetry

interwoven into the continuous circles of change

and between

the sharp lines that sometimes divide us.

Although there are definite starts and stops

A beautiful yellow blossom

is emerging

from the center.

She is my sweet daughter

bursting magnificently

as a bold blossom

 generously gifted into our lives

to help

us learn

how to love … unconditionally.

It is my deepest honor to see my dazzling, brilliant and beautiful daughters embracing the highest and most noble calling of all … they are now raising my treasured  grandchildren.  I am so proud of how stunning and graceful they look in full flight with all those magnificent feathers …

And, I am so deeply humbled  and so richly blessed,  XO  Mom & Gram

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