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.

Breakdown or breakthrough … ?

courage

One of the most sacred but entirely daunting and deeply humbling parts of becoming a ‘Certified Integrative Coach’ is that you MUST do all the work yourself … long before you ever get to lead a client through any kind of process.  I learned really early on that Debbie Ford’s incomparable internal processes were not for the faint of heart.  They are designed to unconceal inner truths that most of us have consciously and/or subconsciously tried to avoid, justify, resist and/or deny. Sometimes in the midst of it all, it feels more like you are on the cusp of a breakdown rather than a breakthrough … BUT …

Over the past dozen years, I have learned to ‘trust the process.’  I have never yet failed to find the most bright, brilliant and beautiful gifts when I was courageous enough to face the most painful parts of my own past experience.  Which doesn’t mean it’s pretty.  No, definitely not pretty.  And …  you learn that the wisdom in your wounds, the blessings in your challenges and the light in the dark  are usually tucked somewhere within the ‘ugly cry’ (you know – that shoulder heaving, snot dribbling, swollen-eyed, red-faced kind of sobbing that makes it hard to breathe) … BUT …

It is hard to describe the sublime freedom, joy, and/or bliss of redefining the parts of your life you had previously been resenting, rejecting and blaming for your heartaches. Crazy but true … ask anyone who has attended a Shadow Process or been coached through this impeccable body of work. They have incredible stories to share.  Sorry, I’ve digressed … this was not meant to be a sales pitch for integrative coaching.  My intention was to offer you some honest, authentic  ‘truth-telling’ … BUT …

Some of the most profound shifting of my life emerged when I became part of Debbie Ford’s study group as she was writing her book Courage: Overcoming Fear and Igniting Self-Confidence . Debbie has redefined courage as a quality of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ … not something that we ‘do’… but something that we ‘are’.  Huh?

I had been equating courage to a kind of brave and intimidating force … and relating it to qualities like strong and invincible  You know, the ‘roar’ of the lion … the bold retort … the willingness to stand up and defend yourself or your cause (at all cost). I thought it was what you mustered up when you couldn’t take it anymore (whatever ‘it’ is in a given moment).  Yep … I could see where I could ‘do’ courage like that … BUT …

As I journalled about how to ‘be’ courage, I could feel a large lump forming in my throat.  The unflattering truth that leaked out of my soul through the ink on the page was this:

“I don’t know how to ‘be’ anything … I only ‘do’ life. (Ouch).

Well … that’s not entirely true … I AM STRONG. I do know how to BE strong. (In truth, it’s become my comfort zone.)

But if being strong is doing courage … then what is being courage? (Totally baffled.)

No other thoughts or words came to me, but in my mind’s eye I got the most poignant, remarkable image of a huge tree (trunk at least 5 feet in diameter) … solid, unshakeable, and impenetrable. I could feel it was the visual representation of my strength.  And then … I could see some wee little arms struggling to reach out of two (almost imperceptible) holes in the massive trunk of that tree.  And … I knew it was me. More tears … big tears. It was heartbreaking to notice that she couldn’t reach anyone … and … very few passers-by noticed her.  She was hard to see  because she was pretty much concealed by the enormity of the tree trunk that protected her but also eclipsed her from view.

Then the tree opened (kind of like “open sesame”in fairy tales) and out came this little waif … a little strawberry blonde – so innocent, so tender, so trusting. She was about 2.5 feet high … such a fragile, timid, vulnerable little thing that she could have been knocked down by a feather . Her skin is so thin … so translucent … you could see clear through her and right into her heart. She was the essence of pure love …

It was in this poignant moment that the ugly cry started.  The tears were blurring my vision and flowing like rivers as they poured off my chin … BUT …

I got it.  THIS IS COURAGE!  To allow yourself toBE’ completely exposed, unguarded, unprotected and undefended takes a very brave spirit.  I could feel in my heart, as Debbie contends, that ‘courage’ truly is  ” to be and own all of who you are … without apology, without excuses and without masks to cover the truth of who you are.”

‘Being’ courage, therefore, is reflected in my willingness to really be seen … to come out from behind the tree!  To boldly face the fear being of mocked,  ridiculed, dismissed or ‘less-than’ and to stand in the energy of heart … to show my pain, my heartache, my sadness rather than concealing it behind my impenetrable veneer of ‘strength’. It seemed so incredibly clear in that moment. .  I have clearly used my strength to aptly avert anything that might invite me to be really, truly vulnerable.  I could also see that I had been motivated to do so because  life hurts. And, hurt people, hurt people!  Vulnerability did not feel safe.  At all. No. Not one bit … BUT …

You have to decide who is worth suffering for and/or with … and then …  let your heart show.  Because … here is the ‘truth’ that I uncovered.  It is ‘safe’ being tucked into the trunk of the tree, but it is incredibly lonely … and … painfully isolating.  In any given moment, I can  protect or I can connect … but not both.  With that awareness, Brene Brown’s insights about vulnerability being the quality that connects us were  speaking to me at a much deeper level … at least 10 layers deeper.    The dots were coming closer together around why I have often felt very alone in the world.  I have been unwittingly co-creating my own sense of isolation by choosing to be strong instead of vulnerable.  Argh.

I could see that the true challenge would be to actually show up differently … to actually let my waif-like warrior be ‘seen’ beyond my strength.  So, here I am …  blogging about it … attempting to drop my guard with this transparency.  It feels more like I’m destined for a breakdown than a breakthrough … BUT …

This is me ‘being’ courage.

It’s going to take some practice … Karen

 

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Maybe being nice isn’t always nice …

Be a nice human

Source Unknown

I’m perpetually seeking inspiring quotations to ‘share’ on my business Facebook Page and when I came upon this one it seemed like such a noble recommendation …  but then I remembered.  I remembered the times in my past when my commitment to being ‘nice’ trumped my willingness to intervene on my own behalf.  I remembered the times when being ‘nice’ unwittingly  condoned the wounding of unguarded hearts.  I remembered the times when being ‘nice’ silenced me on  issues where it would have been  far more prudent  to take a firm stand and dare to defend the marginalized and oppressed.

Ultimately, I remembered that being ‘a nice human’ is only good advice in particular contexts.   I realize I might be confusing or even frustrating some of you right now … but, in all honesty, I am no longer convinced that being nice  is a universally noble quality nor an unequivocally desirable human attribute. Let me explain …

I was having  a little pity party for myself a few years back and remember woefully lamenting  to a good friend of mine that it felt like people were more willing to let me down/take me for granted than they did others.  My friend caught me by surprise when she casually but candidly responded with “they do it because they can.” Huh?  She clarified that  “it is safe to do it to you.”  It took me a minute to wrap my head around what she was actually saying!  We ended up discussing how people trusted:

  1. I would be understanding.
  2. I was compassionate and empathic enough to put their needs first.
  3. I would not hold any grudges.

In other words, I was ‘nice’ and folks learned that I would typically step over any perceived transgressions between us.  Wow … it was an ‘aha’ moment of gargantuan proportions because I had no idea that by opting to always be ‘nice’ I was actually co-creating my own suffering.  I was not aware that when I predictably allowed others to disappoint me without experiencing any sense of discomfort themselves, I was implicitly making it safe for them to continue to do so.  Who would have thought …?  It was such a profound lesson.  Thank you Kimmy!

I’ve also come to recognize that in order to be ‘nice’ it might be necessary to compromise our own inner truths. Being nice can stop us from saying “No, I really don’t have time to help” or “Sorry, that doesn’t sit right with me” … or … “No thanks, I don’t like mushroom soup“.  There are countless times like this (in all of our lives) when silencing ourselves (in the name of being nice) can foster all kinds of internal heartache. Furthermore, if/when being ‘nice’ unconsciously morphs into habitual self-denial and persistent self-sacrifice, we ultimately end up resenting those very folks we were too ‘nice’ to be honest with. As a result, our relationships begin to suffer.

Another downside of always committing ourselves to being ‘nice’ is that we may have to withhold a powerful ‘truth’ regarding someone else.  Nice always looks very, very pleasant … truth can sometimes seem cruel.  If I committed myself to being a  ‘nice’ counselor, I would have to deny myself permission to speak the hard truths that people often need to know in order to stop sabotaging themselves.  It may not be easy for them to hear, but as a brave feminist once wisely shared: Gloria Steinem In keeping with that (and on a more personal note), I will never forget one of the times when I was floundering desperately in the parenting trenches and my husband dared to say: “Sometimes you can be so mean”.   Whoa.  Me?  Mean?  His honesty pierced through to the core of my being because I would never, ever (not in a million years!) have considered myself anything vaguely resembling ‘mean’.  Some might argue that he was being mean in saying what he said.  Perhaps he was … and I could have rejected his unflattering observation on those grounds. Instead, I decided to let his hurtful words land in my heart and humbly notice how what he was saying was might be true.  I remain forever indebted to him for helping me see what I could not see for myself in that moment. It was a gift of growth that would have been left unwrapped if he had opted to be ‘nice’ instead.

I have also learned from clients there are times when being ‘nice’ will keep you in situations that are not healthy.  I’ve noticed that the people who typically tolerate more abusive exchanges in their relationships tend to be the nice, compassionate, strong ones. Interesting, isn’t it?  These seemingly noble qualities can actually keep them from standing up for themselves.  Their ‘niceness’ allows an abusive partner to manipulate their perceptions of who is responsible for their unhealthy relationship dynamics. Their ‘compassion’ allows them to excuse and forgive their partner’s disparaging behavior, time and time and time again. And, their ‘strength’ gives them the capacity to ‘soldier on’ long after a more nasty, intolerant, and weak person would have declared “I can’t take this anymore.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me.  There are countless situations where being  nice is clearly meritedNo one would argue that our world would be a much brighter, lighter space if we all made an effort to be nice to the new kid at school.  Perfect context for being nice. Or, maybe at the grocery storecould we offer a frustrated parent (obviously embarrassed by “the little monster”) a compassionate smile instead of a scowl?  Might we invite them to go ahead of us in line? Nice place for nice.  Or, maybe we could choose to be nice with someone in our day to day interactions who doesn’t share our religious beliefs, ethnicity, sexual orientation or politics. Perhaps we could resist the temptation to make them wrong/less than?  Maybe nice is especially critical here! You’ll get no argument from me about the virtue of being nice in these particular moments …

I’ve come to believe, however, that ascertaining whether  human attributes are virtuous/noble OR reprehensible/undesirable is entirely dependent upon the context in which they are being expressed.  A characteristic that may seem like a noble quality in one context may not be virtuous in another situation.   For example, we all know many mothers who resist being ‘selfish’ because they believe ‘a good mom‘ always puts her children’s needs first.  Unfortunately, this ‘selflessness’ may actually come at the expense of their children because empty, stressed and exhausted mothers are simply not great gifts to their families.  There are times in life when being ‘selfish’ enough to put the needs of your children’s mother first is clearly the wisest and most loving thing to do for the children!

Along the same lines, there may be times when a loyal commitment to being ‘generous’ is counterproductive.  Consider all the young people who have developed a debilitating false sense of entitlement because they have been given everything.  These kids become demanding in their expectation that other people must take care of their every need, want and desire.  In an effort to be generous, parents can actually rob their children of learning how to independently make their own way in the world.  Too much generosity can undermine a person’s opportunity to build confidence in their own abilities and pride in their own accomplishments.

Paradoxically, there are also times when seemingly negative attributes like being ‘rude’ or ‘disrespectful’ might actually serve the greater good.  In the presence of a bully, a ‘nice’ request for them to stop might fall on deaf ears. We might need to ‘rudely’ interrupt them in order to get their attention as soon as possible. Although many of us have be taught it is rude to interrupt …  we all know there are things that should be interrupted.  That said, many of us have been taught not to disrespect our laws, cultural norms or elders, but … thank goodness Rosa Parks dared to disrespect the segregation laws.  I am equally grateful to all the women during The Suffrage Movement who bravely protested for gender equality and earned me the right to vote . If we are to be honest, we owe thanks to Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and so many others for disrespecting the prevailing doctrine that dominated beliefs in their time. In the right context, disrespect may lead to great gains for humanity.

I could go on and on pointing out times when seemingly positive (light) human qualities  may actually not serve the greater good … and … when apparently negative (dark) human characteristics could actually come bearing great gifts.  As a result of doing the liberating shadow work inspired by my training with Debbie Ford,  I am reluctant to agree with anyone (or any dogma) that suggests we should always be something.  Rather, I would suggest that we should always make room in our lives to be everything.  As Debbie explains in one of my favorite books of all time (The Dark Side of the Light Chasers):

We live under the impression that in order for something to be divine it has to be perfect.  We are mistaken.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.  To be divine is to be whole and to be whole is to be everything: the positive and the negative, the good and the bad … (pp. 12-13)

If we can give ourselves permission to express both light and dark attributes  (in the appropriate context)  … we can embrace being whole humans! No one would contest that a whole day contains both light and dark.  Even a whole atom contains both positive and negative electrons!   If it is only positively charged … it is an unbalanced atom.  If it is only negatively charged … it is also unstable.  What if humans are no different?  If we remain 100% committed to being ‘nice’ and light in all circumstances, might we lose our balance and stability too … ?

So many of us reject important aspects of ourselves by trying to only express the ‘right and good’ parts of humanity. We beat ourselves up mercilessly for even feeling anything perceived as ‘wrong and bad’.  In doing so, are we losing our capacity to wisely discern which human attributes might actually serve the greater good in a particular context and which might not….?  Maybe being nice isn’t always nice …

Maybe it’s not the attribute itself that defines the merit in any moment, but the intention behind it.  As we have discussed, we can unwittingly use our perceived ‘good’ qualities to do harm … and … we can just as easily use our perceived ‘bad’ attributes to help.  Maybe it’s just not as black and white as we have been led to believe … and maybe it doesn’t have to be!

I guess for me … the truth isI don’t want to just be a nice human.  I would rather be whole. How about you …?

Source Unknown

Source Unknown

Slowly learning to embrace it all,  Karen

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