Some say I shouldn’t write about my personal experiences. That you don’t want to read them. But others have said you identify with my experiences and when I tell you about my crap you feel better about yours. So today is for those of you who want to feel better. Last week I wrote about making sure we’re taking care of ourselves. I was reminded that sometimes, despite taking care of ourselves, we still have really bad moments or days. I was reminded of this by my own experience. I have been intentional about taking care of myself. Despite that, on Saturday I had what I like to call a downward spiral. Later, after sifting through the debris of the day, I started calling it my “2 year old day”. I had an internal temper tantrum, the kind you see a two year old throwing when she doesn’t get to have the cookie she wants. Outwardly, my husband was the only one who received any direct hits from my 2 year old. It wasn’t catastrophic on the surface. What he experienced from me was hurtful but did not accurately reflect the intensity registering on the internal richter scale. I could have destroyed him if it had.
It was all about a wicker love seat. Yes, that was my cookie. It was at a garage sale, in excellent shape and only $20. In the end, it was sold literally out from under me. I am generally not super attached to things. For some reason, and without any warning signs, something inside me snapped. I could feel myself recognizing the healthy ways to process this and yet watching myself choose a different path. I kept to myself most of the day. I warned my husband to steer clear of me, that I was very negative. Sunday morning, I woke up to internal peace. As I sat outside, drinking my ritual tea and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, I soaked in some reality. I read Melody Beattie’s “Language of Letting Go” and realized I had been too attached to an outcome – getting my way – and that ultimately, I didn’t trust God.
This wasn’t about a wicker loveseat, it was about the part of me that likes to control things and make them happen my way. The part that rebels and pushes hard sometimes against reality. Reality is we have little control of the goings on in the world. Not that we shouldn’t stand up for things we believe in, but that we can’t ultimately control the world, even our small corner. Control is an illusion. What happens when you don’t get your way? Your negative reactions to things not going your way are a sign that you are too attached to how things are going to play out. Let’s say you want a significant person in your life to appreciate all the hard work you put in each day but you don’t hear the appreciation. Being hurt is natural but how far do you go with it? Do you yell at the person? Do you tell him how horrible he is because he isn’t responding the way you want? Do you punish him with silence? There you go, you’re attached to an outcome: how he responds.
My temper tantrum came out of a build-up of disappointing outcomes. Maybe I wasn’t taking as good of care as I thought. Maybe I haven’t been acknowledging and processing my unmet expectations. How can this help you? For now, simply notice your own attachments to how things work out or how people respond. Ask yourself what you are feeling, wanting, thinking and feeling physically. Keep track of what you discover. Next week, I’ll post a follow-up so you know what to do with your disappointing outcomes.
This morning my husband and I were reading Melody Beattie’s daily journal, “The Language of Letting Go.” Today’s tidbit was on acceptance of our thoughts and emotions. My husband brought up a great question, “What about irrational thoughts and emotions? Are we supposed to accept them, too? What do we do with them?”
I believe we must accept all thoughts and emotions no matter how irrational. Acceptance isn’t approval. It doesn’t involve judgement. Acceptance is simply allowing something to be what it is. Let’s say the irrational thought is, “No one likes me.” Unless every person we have ever come into contact with has told us they do not like us, this is an irrational thought. What emotion is attached to this? Usually something along the lines of sadness. OK, how do we practice acceptance with this irrational thought? Just notice it. “I’m thinking no one likes me. I’m feeling sad about that.” Give the thought and emotion space. It is what it is. Let it be what it is without judging it for a time. Keep it isolated to this thought and feeling at this time. Watch the tendency to snowball — adding more and more examples or irrational thoughts. Snowballing will tear you down and isn’t useful. After a few minutes of acceptance, ask yourself what you want to do with it. Do you want to simply let it go? If so, take a deep breath in and as you exhale, imagine the thought and emotion just disappearing. Move on with your day. If the thought and emotion show up again, just do the same thing you did the first time: acknowledge, accept, release.
Next week I’ll follow-up with how to process the irrational thought and emotion if you don’t want to simply let it go.
I grew up in a system that, whether intentional or not, praised only perfection and joyful emotions. When I was very young I was aware of this system. Somehow I knew I had to put away the parts of me that made mistakes, were hurt, angry or scared. I don’t remember consciously doing this but it became a way of life for me. I thought I was normal. I thought people who expressed anger, sadness or fear were out of balance. I thought it was normal to be disconnected. I would not have used that word, but that’s what it was. I went along merrily this way until I was about 36. Then, I had an affair. The disconnected part of me could do this. At times I would come into the feeling place and realize what I was doing was horrible on many levels. But I didn’t stay in that place and would bob back down into the disconnected place. After my “perfectly disconnected” life fell completely apart, I went to counseling. I worked with a variety of counselors and coaches over the next few years. Each one was part of healing and weaving together all the parts of me: the scared parts, the angry parts, the sad parts and the joyful parts.
I am not as tidy anymore. That seems strange. I was tidy before and I thought that was better. Now, when I am not tidy, I feel a bit uncomfortable. In the earlier stages of my healing I would feel really uncomfortable as I let out the real me. In the earlier stages I needed to get used to really feeling, even if it was super messy. It helped to experience messiness and learn to be ok with it. When we shut down parts of ourselves, when we are unwilling to be vulnerable, we are only partly present. Our relationships are only partial relationships, our connection with and enjoyment of this world is only partly connected and enjoyed.
It’s scary to connect with all of who we are because there can be some really painful stuff inside. I recommend if you haven’t felt all your parts…if you identify with being disconnected, find a good therapist or coach who can help you navigate the waters of feeling. A few recommendations are Shadow Work (shadowwork.com), EMDR (emdria.org), Henry Cloud and John Townsend books: “Hiding from Love,” “Changes that Heal” and “Boundaries” are just a few (cloudtownsend.com). I learned and processed a ton in the Cloud and Townsend Ultimate Leadership Intensive (their definition of a leader is very loose). I attended a recovery group for co-dependency. Mine was at my church (celebraterecovery.com) but you can also attend a CODA group or any recovery group similar to AA (coda.org and aa.org). I read Melody Beattie’s “Codependent No More” and continue to read “The Language of Letting Go”. I’m sure many other helpful ideas are out there. This is just a short list of options. These were the tools I used in my recovery journey. Yours will be unique to you.
In my messiness, I now have fabulous connections with other messy people. They welcome all the parts of me. We are vulnerable with one another, we encourage one another to continue on our journey, and most of all, we accept one another. That was my biggest fear as a child, that all of who I am wasn’t acceptable and loved. That’s why I hid away my parts, the ones I thought weren’t acceptable and lovable. Surround yourself with people who accept and love all of who you are and are willing to journey with you as you knit back together.
A note on this acceptance piece. Parts of me need refinement. I can be harsh in my delivery sometimes. While that is a real part of me that I choose not to put in hiding, the people who love and accept me speak truth into my life (with a heavy dose of grace!). They encourage me to delve into why I am harsh at times, to work on softening my edges. That’s just one part of me that needs refinement. I can be highly critical, shaming, jealous, greedy… I want and need those parts to be accepted and loved but not condoned. This is tricky. We often assume if someone points out a part in us that needs refinement they are not accepting us. This isn’t necessarily true. Listen to the words of others; allow them to speak into your life, process through the words. Are you being given a gift of finding out “what it’s like to be on the other side of you”? That’s a John Townsend quote that I love! If the person is just being mean, don’t take that on. Put a lot of weight on who the messenger is. Is this someone you trust, someone who has your best interest in mind? If so, listen to and process what you have heard. Use the information for your good and continue on your journey of staying connected.
PS There is so much more I want to say on this subject. Especially how our disconnected selves affect the productive parts of ourselves, like our creativity and interests. I try to keep my posts short and to the point. This one is already longer than I would like so, I will write my next post on the connection between disconnect and productivity.