Boundaries are Sooooo Tricky …

 

In this very short but compelling  video clip, Brené Brown discusses the notion of living a B.I.G. Life.  Her research has revealed that the most compassionate people are the most “boundaried” people. She begs the question of what Boundaries we would need to erect in order to live in Integrity and be the most Generous in our assumptions of others (i.e. believing that everyone is doing the very best they can in each and every situation). Makes perfect sense … intellectually. And, I’d venture to say we’d inhabit a world filled with expressions of compassion/empathy/good will if it were easier to actually do this in our day to day existence!

But, boundaries are so darn tricky to execute.  It is so much easier to erect a boundary once you are PISSED OFF.  There is NO second-guessing about putting up a boundary once you’ve been hurt.  We may not even think twice at that point … and then … we erect it angrily and often self-righteously.  But the problem with putting up boundaries in ANGER is that the meatiest part of our message gets lost in the perception of ATTACK.  When you put up a boundary with someone because you are feeling violated … they feel your anger … and may not be able to hear your justification for erecting the boundary.

In fact, many people who have been chronically wounded in their prior lived experience struggle terribly in their attempt to set boundaries … because – they often approach the boundary WITHOUT the assumption that people are doing the best they can.  Their perceptions that people in the present and future will be out to get them just like the ones in their past shift the energy and intent behind the boundaries.  And when we are coming from that defended space, our boundaries are like fences erected out of barbed wire … rather than compassionate reminders of how we need and want to be treated.

And so, we must learn to set the boundaries before we could shoot daggers out of our eyes …to  set them proactively … not … reactively.  We must learn how to set them kindly and firmly.  And then … lovingly hold them in place for the benefit of all of those concerned.

And to do so, we might have to sit in the discomfort of guilt rather than the self-righteousness of resentment.  This is the trickiest part to navigate.  Many of us are more comfortable living with the resentment directed at others than inhabiting the guilt we might feel in our own hearts if/when we have our own backs …before we get mad at another. BIG lives do not just happen … they are consciously and courageously created.

May we all commit to living BIG … Karen

 

 

[Guest Post]: Between the Silences …

Between the Silences

Diane Buchanan (2005) Frontenac House

“It happens between the silences, amid
whispers, flipping papers, coughs and
bows.

It happens, they say, after previous
consultation, and with due
consideration.

It happens on paper in assessments,
reports and addendums.

It happens between lawyers, social
workers, judges.

Between the silences it happens; families
are split, children discarded,

fathers and mothers appear and
disappear, the director becomes the
parent.

It happens with grown-up words like:
custody, guardianship, father unknown,
or absent,

mother served or signed release,
supervision order, child in care, status
extended.

It happens while children play in the
courthouse hallways.

A child’s future determined in the time
it takes to say:

So ordered.”

I felt compelled to share Diane Buchanan’s (2005) haunting and heartbreaking reflection of the shattering experiences of those involved with Child Protection Services.  While our systems and structures are fueled by good intentions,  we often step over the wounded souls who are painfully, perilously and powerlessly caught between the silences.

May we all hold a little more compassion … and … extend a little more grace,  Karen

“KNOWING is the booby prize …”

embrace your inner idiot

With deepest gratitude to “frogandthewell.com” for this graphic.

Ever notice that when you think you already know something, you have no room to hear anything different?  Our tolerance for being wrong is hotly contested and fiercely limited by our fragile human egos.  As a result, in the space of evidence contrary to what we think we know, we quickly and effectively (often without conscious awareness) disqualify any differing proof  in order to stay ‘right’.  For example, if we have decided someone is a “liar”, we tend to scrutinize their every thought, word and deed seeking to confirm our unfavorable perceptions.  Likewise, if we have determined someone is a “loser” … then when they do the ‘right’ thing, we chalk it up to an unlikely exception.   As well, the beliefs we hold about ourselves are equally insidious.  If we believe we are “stupid” or “not good enough” , then any smart or worthy moments are often minimized, dismissed or overlooked.  This kind of discounting has the capacity to derail any dreams/visions that are not consistent with our self-limiting perceptions.  Sadly, when you think you already know …  you are no longer open to learning or seeing anything new or different.

One of the greatest blessings of my post secondary studies in anti-oppressive practice was that we were invited to critically assess how we were thinking about things rather than being taught what to think.  We were invited to unpack the things we thought we already knew.  We got to  embrace our inner idiots and UN-learn so much of what we had involuntarily come to accept as ‘the’ truth rather than simply ‘a’ truth..  This powerful exercise in critical thinking rendered visible the beliefs that were simply socialized into me  … by those who raised me, schooled me and befriended me.  Their opinions became my truths because I never thought to question them … or  … learned it was not OK for me to question them.

Learning to embrace my inner idiot took me to places I had no idea I needed to go.  I will spare you all the details but what I learned is this:

  • unlearning can be painful.  (What does it mean about me and my perceptions if I am wrong about this, that or next thing?)
  • unlearning can be deeply humbling(It hits you right between the eyes when you recognize that the culprits you have been judging harshly  might also need to include YOU.)

Let me offer one example of my unlearning.  As a well-intended, socially conscious, educated white woman, I have always contended that I do NOT condone racism’. I blushed with a deep sense of shame when I learned, instead, that I don’t even have to do anything obviously “racist” to condone racism … I benefit from it by sheer defaultSadly,  we live in a socially constructed system where one part of our humanity counts for more than the ‘others‘ … and … having white skin puts me on the ‘favorite’ team in a world that plays favorites.  As a result, I get all kinds of unseen, unearned perks:

  • I don’t have to worry about whether people will rent accommodations to me
  • I don’t have to worry that the job will have “just been filled” as I arrive for the interview.
  • I don’t have to worry about whether someone will sit beside me on public transportation
  • I don’t have to worry about my children being stereotyped at school
  • I don’t have to worry about being followed in a department store
  • I don’t have to worry that my speech patterns, body type or food and dress will be mocked and/or ridiculed

Guess what my skin color gives me the unmitigated privilege of worrying about?  Sunburn.  Yep … that’s it.  If only a slather of SPF30  could so easily protect people from prejudice, marginalization and oppression.  As White people, we typically author the educational curricula and, therefore, we have not been taught how we are complicit in perpetuating racism given the advantages we reap from it.  You might be tempted to leave this blog right now … but I hope you won’t.  I hope you will be willing to consider that if we are not actively and persistently resisting racism, we are silently condoning it.  I am not suggesting I have figured out how to best use the power and privilege attached to my White skin to counter racism … but increasing mainstream awareness is certainly the first step.

If what I am saying is making you squirm, you are ripe for a moment of unlearning and embracing your inner idiot.  I hope you will be brave enough stay with me here because the struggle to comprehend a ‘truth’ outside our comfort zone is a point of real awakening.  We can’t be expected to know what we don’t know …  until we do.  And, once you do know … you can’t pretend you don’t.   And when we are  open to the profound power of unlearning  … we begin to realize that the more we know … the more we know we don’t know! 

From that humble space,  I become aware that  my mainstream sexual orientation does not preclude people’s comfort with me being around their children.  The folks in the GLBT community are not so fortunate.  I also notice that I managed well in a traditional school setting because it favored my left-brained, sequential kind of thinking.  The right-brained, kinesthetic learners have not been so lucky.  My  married, double income status earns public respect and has afforded my children many advantages.  Single parents endure public censure and many luxuries are beyond their reach. My able body means I get to go places without worrying about access. My office is located in a ‘public health unit’ that has a ramp but no button to pull open the door! Argh!  Some how this all continues to be tolerated in our society.

When I embrace my inner idiot, I have to seriously question everything I think I already know.  I must also consciously consider whether my personal and professional  ‘successes’ have truly been  earned by me … or  … if I simply got a head start and an extra advantage over ‘others’ because they are outside the margins of the ‘favorite’ global team.  I now know that the essential unlearning of what we think we already know is the critical portal from which true compassion and empathy can emerge … not just for ‘others’ but also for myself!  It takes a whole lot of courage to unpack our own misunderstandings and misconceptions.

I have learned that by allowing myself to see what I was unable, unwilling or unprepared to see … I have opened  the door to a world of  miraculous shifts in perspective. Much to my pleasant surprise, it is from a place of not knowing that I have been humbly granted the capacity to see what might have been there all along … even when I thought I already knew.

Let’s continue to embrace our inner idiots, because as my amazing mentor Debbie Ford always told us “Knowing is the booby prize

Still unlearning, Karen

My finest moments might surprize you …

Graphic via Google Images

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Pema Chӧdrӧn

As a counselor/therapist this quotation resonates with me in a way that might baffle you.   I believe my finest moments in the counseling room, or in my life for that matter … are not when I have reached down to help someone weaker or less fortunate than myself.  My brightest moments have not been when I have wisely utilized the letters behind my name to cleverly intervene and gift someone with the answer that has been eluding them.  My proudest moments have not been when I have felt sorry for someone and charitably offered to rescue and protect them from their current plight.  My most stellar moments have not even been reflected by my aptitude for helping someone shine some light on the dark parts of their path.

Don’t get me wrong … these moments feel really rewarding … but … they are not the moments that most aptly reflect my long-standing desire to   serve the greater good and support people in living a great life – despite any challenges they may be facing.

My finest moments in the counseling room may surprise you … or … maybe even upset you.  I know deeply, clearly and undeniably that my most altruistic and compelling moments are when I can look into the depths (and darkness) of my own experience and find that space within me that can recognize and relate to the invisible pain and ache in the heart of ‘the other’.  That is, compassion emerges when I can find empathy for the bad one, the wrong one, the unlikeable one, the condemned one, the reprehensible one and the unforgivable one.

My finest moments come when I am able to feel compassion and kindness for the parent who has abused their child.  They come when I am able to find that space within me that remembers how raising children can bring out the worst in even the most well-intended parents. My finest moments emerge when I am willing to search for the goodness and broken spirit within the adulterer … not just the person (s)he betrayed.  Can I find that part of me that could possibly deceive the person I love the most?  My finest moments in the counselling room, and in my life, reveal themselves when I can sit in the energy of humility and humanity … when I recognize that ‘hurt people, hurt people’.  My finest moments are when I can look inside my own soul and find the part of me that might have responded as badly, wrongly, thoughtlessly and recklessly as those I am tempted to judge harshly.

While I have passionately dreamed of healing people’s souls … I have come to recognize that it is only in my willingness to acknowledge that I am equally capable of harming people’s souls that I can ever truly embrace the pain in another’s spirit.  This is not to make excuses or deny the need to make amends/retribution … these are also critical parts of healing.  It is simply to realize that it is in my willingness to embrace my own woundedness that I can honestly and genuinely relate to our shared humanity.  This is the most authentic seat of compassion from which I can humbly attempt to live and work. I’m not always successful … but … I can tell you with 100% certainty that it is from this sacred space that I have experienced my finest moments as a counsellor, wife, mother, daughter, friend and woman.

Embracing it all, Karen

 

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