Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master. In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew. Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.
These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.
And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control. Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…
I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me. I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically. Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow. Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.
And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought. In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up. I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.
When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over. I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.
I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.
I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death. (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)
I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.
And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now. I have today.
A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff. I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth. I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.
In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace. It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes. And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You have today. You have this moment. Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment. Don’t let it slip away. Bask in it. Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.
Intimate relationships take a lot of work. In partnerships there are always two sets of needs, desires, hopes, dreams, etc. How does one balance one’s own needs, as well as their partner’s needs?
A problem that comes up often in figuring out a balance is when an individual hides her/his personal needs to meet the needs of their partner. This gives off the feeling that the relationship is balanced. However, what many find is that in hiding personal needs they realize their relationship is not balanced and this leads to resentment, frustration and loneliness.
It’s true there is no balance in a relationship where one is hiding his or her personal needs from the other. This dynamic tilts the relationship toward one end of the relationship.
There are a variety of reasons why people hide their own needs:
1) Trauma- one can’t identify personal needs because abuse and trauma have embedded a message that her/his needs are irrelevant, unimportant or non-existent.
2) Family of origin issues- family of origin modeled a communication style that was restrictive and repressive. The family did not communicate openly, authentically or honestly about their feelings, desires and thoughts.
3) Belief systems—some believe that to have needs is to be selfish, self-centered or self-serving
4) People realize that to have needs and to communicate those needs complicates the balance dynamic in a relationship. Additionally, sharing one’s needs (especially when it’s not in alignment with the partner’s needs) can invite conflict. It takes much more communication and work to identify one’s own needs, communicate them and listen and receive your partner’s needs.
I hear people say all the time, “I don’t share my needs because I don’t want to make waves”. What if my partner gets upset with me or worse, yet, thinks I’m selfish. As a therapist this tells me a few things: 1) It’s really scary to be vulnerable– even in the safest relationships. 2) it takes a lot of work to accept that as human beings we all have needs that are valid. It’s not a selfish thing—it’s just a human thing. Figuring out what those needs are and meeting them is complicated, but worth figuring out with your partner and 3) many folks do not feel that they have the skills needed to communicate in a way that honors both sets of needs.
Your needs are important. It’s worth figuring out what they are and acknowledging them. Part of the negotiating aspect will be to figure out how, when and where to meet those needs. Your partner can be a supportive part of that process. Identifying needs doesn’t necessarily mean that those needs get met immediately, but there is something relieving/kind/compassionate about taking time to figure out if, how and when they can be met.
Try it: take a moment to write down a need that you haven’t told anyone about. Maybe it’s something you’ve been hiding for fear it would be interpreted as selfish. You can write it down or draw it. Give yourself the free space to completely explore this need.
– What is your need?
– Why is this important to you?
– How can this need get met?
– What resources can you identify to aid you in this process? Is there a financial cost? Will there be a sacrifice of time or energy?
– What’s a timeline?
Remember this an exploratory process. At this point, don’t get bogged down in logistics. Just have fun with it.
I always encourage couples to identify their personal needs and learn skills to communicate those needs with one another and here is why:
Identifying needs bring greater clarity and empowerment in the individual’s life. This exploration allows the individual to know her/himself more deeply. This is a meaningful process as one becomes more aware of self. I have seen nothing but liberation, freedom and acceptance in people who allow themselves to go through this process.
When people do the work of understanding themselves and they are transparent about who they are in their relationship it brings deeper intimacy in the relationship. I really think that the reason why we couple up is because we desire to know and to be known. Unfortunately, when we hide certain aspects of who we are our intimacy with our partner is cut short.
Yes, it is scary, vulnerable and hard work to live in a transparent relationship, but it is also beautifully satisfying to take the risk and find love on the basis of being known for who we really are.
This was posted on Psychology Today and I really felt it helpful. It speaks to all the multi-faceted aspects of self-value and how it’s played out in our culture and the individual.
Self Esteem or Other Esteem?
In my previous article, Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis, I proposed that a devaluation of one’s self lies at the heart of most psychological and emotional disorders. Let’s now explore more deeply what the term self-esteem denotes and come to appreciate what we mean by it as well as what gets in our way of attaining it.
I have come to believe that the way the term self-esteem is used is actually a misnomer. The first half of the expression, self, would seem to indicate that esteem, the second half of the expression, is derived from one’s self. Yet if we look closer, we find that most people seek a sense of worthiness from that which lies outside of them. For a student, it might come from good grades; for a businessperson or worker, it’s derived from a promotion or a raise; and for most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide a temporary increase in esteem. Our society generates billions of dollars in revenues from inducing people to seek the quick fix of vanity as a means toward feeling better. Yet none of these actually contribute one iota to self-esteem. Ironically, they may even get in the way.
I loved watching this video today. It’s been on Ted Talks for awhile so you may have already saw it. I appreciate Brene’s vulnerability and humor in talking about something that is really so risky (and well vulnerable) as the topic of shame.
The main points that stood out to me we’re the following:
1) Know that Innovation, Creativity & Change happens at the birthplace of vulnerability. Which means you have to take a risk to try and try again– no matter how much you fail or come up short– in order to self-actualize and change you must try again.
2) Shame is about what you believe about yourself. a) that you’re never good enough and then once you’ve succeeded in believing in yourself shame lies in the question b) who do you think you are?
3) Shame is organized by gender in these two ways: for women: it is the idea that you are to do it all, do it all perfectly and never let them see you sweat and for men: shame is– do not let them perceive you as weak.
Shame is dehumanizing and the ways in which we perpetuate shame in society tears at the very fabric of an individual’s self-worth and self-dignity.
We all suffer in shame.
In shame we see, higher incidents of self-harm through suicide, depression, eating disorders and addiction.
I am accustomed to being in communities where the value of an individual has been on the emphasis of success, achievement & productivity. Perhaps that’s what we are all accustomed to in a driven, consumeristic culture, but I’ve found that I have no interest in this way of being in the world. It’s not to say I don’t struggle with these realities– that I don’t have to ward off the struggles I have with privilege that a consumer environment affords me, but what I’ve found is that what is central to my values is this: authenticity, vulnerability and openness.
It essentially means we can come as we are, share our struggles and sorrows, joys and feats and still maintain a valued member of our community. Shame has a little less power when we are able to honor these spaces.
This has not been my experience and I’ve fought and struggled to create new relationships and community that values this way of existing, as well.
This week has been a challenging week. My mother who I mentioned in earlier posts has been very ill. Since December she has had to be hospitalized several times and now she is back at Harborview.
My mom has struggled with Lupus. Lupus often attacks all the organs in an individual’s body– including the brain. They call this lupus cerebritis.
It has been difficult to watch her go through this.
We’ve been working with every specialist you can imagine from the psychiatric team to the neurological team to the rheumotolgists and so on…
There is shame in brain and mental health disorders… There is shame in lacking resources. There is shame in the failure of getting the correct treatments.
So I thought I’d take the vulnerable step and share the shame. It feels a little less powerful and in the weakening of that shameful power it opens the door, if ever so slightly, the possibility to try again.