justice, self-acceptance, Uncategorized

Ladies, Do what you love and find you (a post on identity)

tableturning1

This past year I organized a rally/protest called Table Turning.  We held it on Holy Monday at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Seattle.  You can read more about Table Turning.  I want to write more about that event specifically sometime soon, but for this post I want to talk about identity.  I learned something about my identity through the organizing of the protest.  This post is for women who have struggled with their identity for one reason or another.

For most of my life, I have been not-so-lovingly referred to by family members as rebellious.  The tone of such comments are fraught with mild irritation and sometimes ascend to frustration.  And these labels and comments have had a shaming impact that I have to actively dismantle.

A year ago I started attending a spiritual community and a door opened to organize a protest for justice in the mistreatment of immigrants.  There were no second guesses– I enthusiastically took on the role.  A few months into the role as we started talking about titles one of our leaders said how about, “Lead Disruptor”.  And again, it just fit for the role as lead organizer and we incorporated it.  All the while, not completely sure what it would mean or how it would lead me.  People were down with the idea of “Lead Disruptor” so I tried it out.

Where I come from being a disruptor of anything was not nice.  It was not the nice, Christian, good-girl thang to do.  And the “Nice Christian girl” image was reinforced all throughout my childhood.  Being “nice” was more important than being truthful or having boundaries or pursuing what you want.

Women receive unsolicited feedback regularly about how they look, how they speak and what they do. It is like society conspires to give consistent and on-going feedback to fashion and frame women into a likeness that serves itself.

It-is-like-this-because-it-is-this.

Women are supposed to strike the perfect balance of easy-going, ready-to-help, palatable and compliant while also having a readily available opinion on the things that are okay for women to have opinions on like cross stitching, shopping or hair. When women show curiosity around science or technology or politics they are told to shut that shit down as it is certainly not their role or position or capability to know such things. If women use their voice they are told to not take up too much space.  When women show up they are told to shrink back– to fold into the shadows and be as low impact as possible.

And I know this all seems like this is in the past— I mean we have feminism now, but it is just as relevant today as it’s ever been.  And we need to talk about it, because it is still an unnecessary burden that we bear.

I just listened to a woman who said that after her parents observed her enthusiastic, persistent hand raising and questions in a science class she was told that she didn’t want to be “one of those types of people who are loud and bossy”. This feedback set her on a path of unnecessary self assessment and criticism that questioned her excitement or curiosity to speak up on a subject she was passionate about.

Another woman told me that relaxing and having a low-key day spins her on a path of anxious thoughts about what she is neglecting or not getting done.  The idea that staying busy and productive meant that she was always doing what she was supposed to be doing.

Another woman told me that when she is driven to get a project completed at work she is told that she is too abrasive and difficult to work with.  She is a direct communicator, states her expectations and sets deadlines and the feedback is that this is intimidating– she is intimidating.  She’s learned that this is code for “scary”.  And so she is being labeled negatively for being direct in order to complete the task successfully.

Well intentioned and uninvited feedback gets plunked in the same place as the negative psychological voice that says, “we are never quite doing the right thing or being the right way”. We are accustomed to turning that criticism on ourselves.

So last week when I did something I’ve never done before and led a protest to call out the heinous acts of harassment and mistreatment of immigrants by this administration and I.C.E. I felt not only empowered in my voice as a resistor in the cause— I felt empowered in my personal narrative. I felt an ease in myself as a lead disruptor— as though a part of my identity just clicked into place and finally made sense.

I asked myself, “how could that be”? And I concluded that it must have something to do with following my heart and doing what I love.  When I do what is in my heart and what compels me– I find my most authentic self.

Truth is, I’m a resistor and a disruptor. Looking back at my childhood I was the kid that did not take things at face value.  I wanted to know why and how. When people were mistreated and abused in the family I was the one to say something. I wasn’t a status quo kind of person. If the system or structure was hurting someone I spoke up.

When I’m speaking up whether that be as a therapist or a mother or a friend or an organizer (now I know ;)) I am most in my power. I am most me and it is a glorious feeling to be connected and know myself so clearly.

This is a lesson for all of us.  We have been managing the external expectations while holding our own hopes and desires for far too long.  How can we free ourselves to be who we are?    

Three things needs to happen:

  1. We need to be aware of the inner conflict.  What are the messages you’ve been told that are holding you back from yourself?  
  2. We need to prioritize our desires above all the societal ‘shoulds’. When you do what you love you experience yourself more completely.  And you can do this unapologetically.  
  3. We need to accept ourselves. Acceptance is an ongoing process.  You get glimpses of yourself and you learn to accept the things you see over time and this sets us on a path to be your liberated self.  

This video explains more of that process.

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Who I say I am: Living with Imagination

trevornoah_bookcover.jpg

I’ve been in the habit of surrounding myself with people who have this drive– this knack for defying systems and norms that have placed restrictions and limitations on their being.  I find these folks both in my personal and professional circles and I can’t think of a better habit to get caught up in.

The lessons I learn and the courage I experience from these revolutionary folks who face odds that are stacked to topple them astound and inspire me.

In my research, I meet domestic violence survivors daily who refuse to settle for the standard of worth that their abusers and society place on them.

In therapy, gender non-binary people who defy the system by being visible despite a world that seeks and attempts to erase them.

In my personal relationships, women who push back on beauty norms that claim that to be lovable you must be this; look like that; attain a heteronormative kind of love.

Brothers and sisters of color digging in and fighting a system that denies them basic human rights of equality and dignity.

This is a bold kind of living.  To boldly live one must have an imagination that reaches beyond the bounds that are placed on one’s existence.  Some of us have others show us the way of boldness and some of us have to carve out a bold space for ourselves and sometimes it’s a combination of both.  This is all grounded in an imagination of possibilities and opportunities– even when met with closed doors.

I’ve been reading Trevor Noah’s book and the following segment resonated with me.  In one of  the most brutal systems in the world, apartheid, Noah describes living beyond the limitations of the system– living beyond the limitations people placed on him… living beyond how people saw him– living beyond what they said he could do and who he could be…

“My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do.  When I look back I realize she raised me like a white kid– not white culturally, but in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster, that I should speak up for myself, that my ideas and thoughts and decisions mattered.  We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited… Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that my mother started her little project, me, at a time when she could not have known that apartheid would end.  There was no reason to think it would end; it had seen generations come and go..  People thought my mom was crazy… So many black people internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own… Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom, “Why do all this?  Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?”  “Because, ” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world.  If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough”.  

Damn.

Bold living is not just having an expansive imagination, but it is the courage to allow oneself to live with an imagination.

And to live boldly with an imagination– an imagination that reaches beyond and defies cultural and systemic limitations and oppression is hard ass work.  It is a deconstructive to reconstructive kind of all encompassing work that can leave us exhausted, disoriented, confused and lonely.

And because this an all encompassing kind of work it usually requires us to remember some things regarding the process and our self-care.

When you are exhausted:

Yup– you’re going to get exhausted, weary, worn-down and tired.  It is not because you are flawed or incapable or weak.  You get exhausted because 1) this is hard work.  It takes a great deal of emotional, mental and physical energy to navigate the world while essentially liberating yourself from stereotypes and norms that are in place to force you to conform.  And 2) you are a human with a finite amount of energy and capacity.  Everyone eventually drains that well… It’s part of our human cycle and as we grow in self-awareness and insight we can do more to preserve that well or reserve before it runs bare.

But we have to be aware… we have to be listening to our bodies and our hearts and respond to our exhaustion with kindness, grace and compassion.

I think we all can do a better job of establishing a foundation of self-care.  What’s your eating look like?  Are you feeling nourished?  How are you sleeping?  Do you have a sleep routine that supports what you’ll need from one day to the next?  What’s play look like for you?  What activities energize you?  Who are your people?  I’m talking about the people where you find mutuality, equality, respect and reciprocity.

When you hit that point where you may be depleted it is okay to unplug.  It’s okay to sleep.  It’s okay to turn the off or pause button on and take a retreat for yourself.

When you are confused/disoriented:

When you defy norms, you essentially are acknowledging your authentic self while also building yourself from scratch outside of the system.  The thing is there are no blueprints to follow and show how one should go about the building process.  There may be some folks, some ancestors that have modeled this kind of work that have gone before us…  I think of people like Rosa Parks or James Baldwin or bell hooks or Ellen DeGeneres or George Takaki.  These folks, among others, provide a picture of resistence and reclamation, which we can draw from.  Even still, a blueprint is not provided and so in the process one may feel confused, lose sight of the big picture and feel lost.

Usually when we are confused we try to equilibrize– we try to get balance and typically while trying to gain balance we look outside ourselves to calibrate.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  What becomes problematic is when we compare ourselves to others, because typically we are not able to objectively compare and contrast our situation to someone else in this state.

When one is confused it is important to ground oneself.  Grounding can mean incorporating objective voices in our experience.  It can also mean quieting onself and taking a break from all the noise.  For some, this can mean meditation or taking a walk in nature or turning off one’s phone and internet accessibility or listening to music.  It looks different for all of us.  Ultimately, grounding allows us to get back in touch with ourselves– helps us to see ourselves and our path again.

When you experience loneliness: 

This can be lonely work.  There are moments, days and weeks that feel isolating and lonely.  Our stories and situations are unique and diverse from others.  Sometimes we feel misunderstood or alone in our unique process– left to wonder does anyone understand?  I just want to say this experience is legit.  Be incredibly tender with yourself in these moments.  These moments pass.  Sometimes we are completely surprised by how someone does show understanding or compassion to our circumstance.  We also surprise ourselves in these moments because we can see our own personal strength and the incredible ways we are able to show up for ourselves.  This is resiliency and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.

Additionally, find the humor in it all.  Wherever you find a space to laugh– take it!  Today I met with my 83 year old mentor who has seen it all and who has carved her own path despite being raised in a time when women were programmed to live in a particularly restrictive way…  She could not emphasize enough how we need to be able to laugh; to laugh at ourselves; to laugh at our humanity– ya know the places where we stumble about and yet, we are trying so hard– these can be kind and endearing moments to chuckle over and it can lighten our load– if only for a moment may we have lightness.

 

Uncategorized

Tweaking survival life skills…

Image

It’s probably not obvious from the picture, but the tools in the picture symbolize the life skills or tools we use in every day life.  Sometimes these tools are developed in childhood and do not progress, especially when trauma is involved.  

In trauma work I notice that many of the emotional skills (tools) developed by clients worked at one period of their life to survive an abusive situation and now no longer work.  I hear stories of trauma or harm done to clients in childhood by an abusive parent or in an intimate relationship by a spouse or lover.  What I’ve observed is whether the person has incurred the abuse as a child or later in life this remains true: trauma is a deep wound sustained by the betrayal of safety in the most intimate relationship(s) of the individual’s life.  

Survivors of trauma develop skills to respond to the danger in order to survive– one manages to learn to survive emotionally, physically, financially, etc.  For one woman, this meant making sure everything was perfect in the home before her spouse returned from work– house cleaned, dinner on the table, children quiet.  She found that if she was able to replicate this formula that her husband was less likely to yell at her, belittle her or physically push her around.  And yet, there were times that even with this formula in place her husband would go off– reducing her to nothing with his attacks.  

If people have the fortune to leave damaging relationships, they often apply their survival skills from the previous situation into current circumstances and relationships.  For the woman mentioned earlier, this meant a kind of hypervigilance of keeping everything in her home perfect, controlled and in place– even though she now was in a loving home, which did not place the same restrictions and limitations she experienced previously.  She was compelled to continue her routines to ensure control of her environment.  It makes all the sense in the world– maintaining safety, security and protection within familiar patterns is very common for all of us.  

Often times what happens is the survivor begins to find that the survival tools do not fit their current situation.  Again, using this woman as an example: she felt so controlled by the need for hypervigilance and control over her environment that she reported being anxious most of the time.  She found herself to be agitated and irritated.  She didn’t have joy in any of her relationships.  She was angry at herself, which fueled a self-contempt.  Her critical attitude toward herself began to overshadow her current relationship with her partner and kids.  

The depression and anxiety became so acute that she eventually reached out for therapy.

Now, I could go into all the helpful trauma therapies out there…  There are some really helpful therapeutic tools to assist someone through this process.  Okay I’ll throw one out there… DBT.  Mindfulness… awe, yes very helpful to someone who is experiencing acute stress or PTSD symptoms.

But what I really want to say is that if this is you…  If you’ve been through a traumatic life event through abuse know that there is nothing wrong with you.  You may be in a place where you are triggered by a stress that brings all that trauma to the surface and you feel flooded, alone and fearful.  Or perhaps, you’ve been dealing with the residual symptoms of trauma in your everyday life and you are trying to cope with survival skills that no longer serve you.  There is nothing wrong with you.  

It may be time to address the trauma though.  It might be time to tweak the survival life skills to better fit your current situation.  It may be time to go through a healing process for the traumas you’ve sustained.  It might be the time to invite other people into your struggles to join you in carrying this burden.  

There is nothing wrong with you and you should not have to do this alone.

If you find that you could use more help with a trauma you’ve experienced here are some places to connect in the Seattle area:

Crisis Clinic: (866) 427-4747 or http://www.crisisclinic.org

My PTSD forum: https://www.myptsd.com/c/

The Fremont Community Therapy Project (DBT Groups and Therapy): http://www.therapyproject.org

Image