Do you remember a time when you did not prepare adequately for something that resulted in a negative experience and then you spiraled into a pool of shame? I do! I’m an Adjunct Professor for Dr. John Townsend’s Masters in Counseling graduate school at Concordia University in Irvine CA. Recently, I was teaching a live class and couldn’t get a video I wanted to show to work. I did not prepare, I just assumed I would have no problem.
After class I started beating myself up for not having taken the time to prepare the video for class. I went into an accurate yet harsh spiral that moved into an inaccurate and harsh spiral. I could feel all of this icky energy in my stomach and hearing the message, “You should not be a professor! You are not good enough for this task!” I felt the all too familiar pull toward a shame spiral over it.
Eventually I also employed skills to battle the spiral. I reminded myself that I was using a harsh voice. The truth is I wasn’t prepared and it took away from valuable class time. The harshness came from a meanness toward myself which then shifted to inaccurate shaming statements that I shouldn’t be teaching and that I’m not good enough. I made a mistake, yes, but that is not a definition of who I am.
I didn’t magically feel better after battling the shameful harsh judge inside of me, but I did stop the powerful avalanche of all the ways I fail from dislodging and suffocating me. The next day, I shared this experience with my husband and later a trusted group of women (we had scheduled this gathering weeks before-I’m so grateful for God’s perfect timing!). It felt good to speak it aloud and also hear their encouragement. We all need it!
This reminds me of the power of Dr. Townsend’s book, People Fuel. We need others to hear our hurts and help us activate our healthy coping skills. Our healing journey is just that, an ongoing journey. For me to ignore or dismiss the disappointment I felt would only set me up for further damage and deny my actual experience. That denial would lead to stuffing my authentic experience and pretending I was fine. This pretending leads to disconnection with others because I then project the “I’m perfect” facade and no one can relate to that. The disconnection with others leads to unhealthy behaviors like quitting things I love after making a mistake (I have a history of doing this!). Instead, I embrace my reality because it gives me an opportunity to choose community over isolation, healthy over unhealthy, and growth over stagnation. This embracing also reminds me that perfection is unachievable and never what God intended. 🙂
Limbo. Fun, when it’s a game, not fun when it’s where you’re at in life. Most of us are working toward something the majority of our lives. We go to school so we can get a job, hopefully doing something we like. We work at our job so we can enjoy the present and save for the future. We get to retirement years so we can do all the things we didn’t do while we were busy working. We think we are only in limbo now and then when we’re waiting for something like a baby to arrive or the healing of an injury. I think, the time between our birth and our death is a limbo of sorts. We don’t really know anything about what’s ahead. I don’t mean to convey we shouldn’t be working toward goals. I do think it can be helpful in some instances to stop looking for what’s next, allow ourselves to be in the moment we are actually in, and not put too much emphasis on what lies ahead.
In Living in the Moment, I talked about making decisions with the information you have at the time. Here we are nearly six months later and Anna is wishing she had stayed in Phoenix. Her treatments stabilized her lung functions and she is hovering at 30% lung capacity. Not bad enough for a lung transplant, not good enough to have much energy, especially at 5200 feet in Colorado. She wishes she knew this is how things would be for her. If she did, she would have kept her apartment and only taken a medical leave. Instead she is sitting in Colorado waiting…waiting for her lungs to fail further so she can move to North Carolina and start the process for getting listed for new lungs.
The best we can do for ourselves when we have the view of the past from the present is give grace for the decision we made. Anna’s decision seemed the best at the time given the limited knowledge she had.
I just returned from two weeks in Uganda. I was there with Azmera, an organization that puts on retreats for women who serve overseas. One theme that kept rising again and again was the belief that negative thoughts of oneself needed to be removed by God. If the negative patterns/thoughts remained even after fervent prayer, God was choosing not to heal.
Our negative thoughts/beliefs/patterns are usually the result of neural pathways we have developed over the course of our lives. The antidote is not miraculous healing, although that is totally possible, I have yet to see it happen. It would be like getting a diagnosis of obesity due to unhealthy habits and praying to God to remove the extra weight. Each day the weight remains seems to be the message you are not going to be “healed” of your obesity. It is wise to seek God’s help but you must also do some of the heavy lifting, in this case perhaps literally through increased exercise, also by changing your eating habits to meet the nutritional needs of your body but not indulging in all the wants (unhealthy food, too much food, the wrong kind of food for your body…).
I am an advocate of taking control of our thoughts through awareness and intentionally changing the way we think. I know this approach works because I have changed my own neural pathways. I’m not perfect at it and at times slip back into old patterns. I have also experienced the freedom when I make wiser choices around my thoughts. I sometimes feel less-than or inferior to others. If I let those thoughts take hold and go unchecked I can spiral into depression and believing I am useless compared to others. This is not true! It’s a lie! I have value and worth on this planet. I’m not the expert in all things and there are many who are more effective in the very same work I do but that’s ok. There’s plenty of room for all of us. The way I communicate, the understandings I have connect with some people and that’s good enough. I don’t need to be the end all. If one person is affected positively by my blog posts, books, sessions, etc., I am content. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.
I want to encourage you to remember, we don’t change by praying or even just imaging ourselves as more healthy. We change because we do the hard work of living intentionally, understanding why we do what we do, sharing our story with others who compassionately love us where we are at, and taking the conscious steps necessary to create new and healthy neural pathways. God wants us to invite Him into the process, but I believe He wants us to do our part.
That was my theme of learning for 2018. As I look back over the year, that concept popped up repeatedly and in completely different arenas. I can’t say I was always successful at detaching from how things turned out, but I made progress.
Detaching from the outcome does not mean I emotionally detach from my life or shut down from feeling what I am experiencing. It does not mean I don’t care if what I do is any good. I do care about what I am doing and how well I am doing it. I put effort into my work. I just don’t stress out about the results.
This is a fine line to walk, being conscientious but not concerned. It’s easy to slip onto one side or the other, careless or anxious. When I am fully in the detached place, I feel freedom from the pressures of other’s expectations, even my own perfectionism (which is unattainable). In that freedom, I have more energy and creativity.
I am curious about two things. 1) As you look back over 2018, what themes of learning rise for you? 2) How are you doing with detaching from the outcome?
As we approach Thanksgiving in the US, it’s a good reminder to shift our thoughts toward gratitude. Sometimes it seems as though there’s very little to be grateful for. If you’re reading this blog chances are good you have electricity, internet, a smart phone or a computer. Be thankful for them. It’s also likely you have a roof over your head, somewhere warm to sleep, and food to eat. If it’s hard for you to find things to be grateful for, start with these. We sometimes forget to be thankful for the basic necessities of life.
Watch the sunrise or sunset and notice the beauty it casts across the sky. Take pleasure in what nature has to offer you, even a weed poking though a crack in the cement. Observe the unique qualities in the people whose paths you cross. Look around you and find what you can be thankful for.
This is an exercise in seeing the positives in your life rather than focusing on the negatives. When we shift our attitude toward gratitude we open up space within to find contentment and joy. Try it 🙂