Dead Suckers Strangling You?

The warm spring weather coaxed me outside to work in the yard. My neighbors have tasty raspberry bushes. The bushes happen to be just on the other side of our fence and within a few feet of our Aspen trees. Last summer I rescued the Aspens from the choking strangling grip of the trespassing raspberry suckers. Examing the Aspens this year, I noticed some of the dead suckers were still wrapped with a death like grip around the Aspens’ branches. Though no life existed in the suckers, they were still strangling the Aspens. I started thinking about how we let people who have hurt us in the past, who are no longer in our lives, continue to hurt us, just like those dead raspberry suckers.
Maybe the person in your life was a parent, teacher, neighbor, classmate, sibling, ex-spouse, boss… The list of options to choose from is long! Whoever it was in your life who spoke life sucking words to you is still affecting you today. Not because this person is still sending out strangling tendrils, but because you continue to allow those words to float around in your head. Like the raspberry tendrils wrapped tightly several times around the branches, it’s hard to loosen them, remove them and get them out of your head. I was shocked by how strong the dead suckers were. I worked hard to break them and unwrap them carefully from the vibrant Aspen branches. I didn’t want to add any more damage. I could see how the bark on the branches was indented, stunted from the raspberries’ tight grip.
How do we free ourselves from the tight strangling grip of past hurts? Slowly, deliberately and carefully. My common phrase is, it all starts with awareness. We simply cannot create change without it. For those who haven’t heard me say it enough, awareness is the intentional act of noticing what you are thinking, feeling emotionally and feeling physically. It’s being aware of the words you are using, the actions you are taking and understanding why you are choosing to say, act, feel and think what you are saying, doing, feeling and thinking. It’s developing curiosity about yourself. The opposite is living in autopilot. Just going about life without really knowing why you think, feel and act as you do.
From the place of awareness you can notice that you are reacting to old tapes (the sucking tendrils from the past). Maybe you were told you’re not good enough. The message may not have been that direct but again and again you perceived that someone wasn’t happy with you and your performance in life. The person doesn’t say those words to you anymore, but you sort of “hear” them each time you don’t live up to your or someone else’s expectation of you. You feel less-than, incompetent, incapable of doing things “right.” You may lash out at someone in defensiveness or shut down and withdraw. The “not good enough” part of you that feels exposed tries to protect. But guess what? The part that says you’re not good enough is attached to a dead plant. It isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. You don’t have to allow another to define you. So often we do. Like the caged animal whose door is finally opened yet the animal doesn’t leave.
Notice when you are allowing old messages to affect you. Stop your patterned response by doing something entirely different. Maybe say the word, “Stop!” to yourself (or aloud if you want to). Remind yourself that’s an old message. Tell yourself you are enough. We don’t have to be perfect to be enough. Perfect isn’t even achievable so give up that quest. Look toward growth and health but not perfection. When you go back to old ways, notice what that feels like. Look at the progression of your patterned response and think about what you could have done differently. Avoid beating yourself up for not handling things in a healthy way. Even the most seasoned awareness person is going to slip into old responses from time to time. The goal isn’t perfection, just a general, though not always direct, shift up and to the right.
When we don’t do things well, we are given a gift. We have the opportunity to look at the experience and grow from it. How can I do things differently? What can I learn from this? Stay away from, “I’m not good enough.” It will strangle and paralyze you. You are an adult. You get to decide how you are going to respond to things. Take that right, and do something productive with it. Cut off, unwind and remove the choking suckers (metaphorically speaking, of course!).
If you find yourself stuck and not changing, it may well be time to seek out the professional help of a skilled therapist or coach.

Reconnecting with the True You

Sitting here thinking about all the aspects of being connected and our productivity, I had a moment of being overwhelmed with the enormity of this subject.  I will do my best to keep it to one post but it’s going to be long! J
When we lock away parts of ourselves because we think they are unacceptable, we don’t just lock away the negative parts.  We lock away some good parts, too.  This is true for our emotions and our productivity.  I’m using the word productivity to encompass the doing part of people.  We feel, we think and we do.  The “do” part includes our connections with people, involvement in activities and work.
When I was young I shut away the parts of me I thought weren’t perfect (read the previous post “Moving from Disconnected to Vulnerable”).  When I was in 7th grade I discovered I could act and sing.  I thoroughly enjoyed being on stage.  It was gratifying to me to see that I could make people smile.  As I got older, the acting world got harder.  I wasn’t comfortable taking risks.  It was as if the perfect part of me wouldn’t let me.  In the acting world, a person has to take risks; she must put everything she has into a role or it won’t be believable.   I did not see this back then but as I look at all the pieces of the puzzle from this vantage point, I can see it clearly.
When I started looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to attend a school that would further my acting career.  My parents weren’t excited about my desire to enter the world of theater.  I interpreted this as displeasure with me.  I dropped the idea immediately and chose instead to go to the college my mom attended.  I wanted to make her proud of me; I wanted her to accept me.  Since the acting part of me wasn’t acceptable, I put that part away.
As with my emotions, I wasn’t aware I did this.  It just happened.  As I think about it now, I remember having no idea what I would major in.  I chose psychology because the classes fascinated me, but I never felt truly settled.  Part of me wanted to be in business, part wanted to be a teacher, part wanted to be a doctor, part of me wanted to be a child psychologist and part of me didn’t want to do anything.  I was very confused.  When we aren’t connected, when we shove parts of ourselves away, it is very difficult to choose the right fit.  The parts of us that are put away aren’t really gone, they are just in hiding.  When dissatisfaction bubbles to the surface it might be a result of the part put in hiding.  It’s trying to get out, to tell us that we’re working with an incomplete set of skills, interests and desires; there are other valuable parts with lots of duct tape on them to shut them up.  Eventually the duct tape starts to loosen, and we start hearing those hidden parts.  I’m not saying this is always the reason for dissatisfaction with the doing part of our life, but it might be.
Are there parts of you in hiding?  Think about your life.  Do you have an underlying belief that parts of you aren’t acceptable?  I’m not talking about the parts that want to hurt people or destroy things.  Those parts need restraints.  I’m talking about the truest parts of who you are.  The parts, that if no one would judge, you would feel safe to let out: your creative self, your intellectual self, your playful self, your inquisitive self, your free self…  Journal about all of this; sometimes when we write things down, then go back and read the words, we get some clarity.
Think about your young self, way back before too much hurt had been heaped on you and before you shut parts of yourself away.  That’s a hard task for me because I think some of the hurt started pretty early.  I love, love, love my parents.  I am thankful for them, but they were not perfect.  I have some scars from things they did or didn’t do.  It wasn’t intentional.  They didn’t set out to hurt me, but in their humanity they did.  Do your best to remember the uninhibited you.  That might help you get a sense of who you really are.  Think about the things you really enjoy and why you enjoy them.   You may find activities you thought you enjoyed but when you give them some thought you realize you only do them because you think others will accept you.  Perhaps you will re-engage with a part of yourself you put away because you thought you had to in order to find acceptance.  Be gentle with yourself and others as you go on this journey.  You may have to go through a time of mourning as you grieve the past.  Eventually, as you heal from the grief over lost years and lost parts you can begin to celebrate the awareness you now have and the opportunities that await the connected you. Take your time with all of this; it’s not an overnight task.
Some can process through this all on their own with the help of trusted friends.  Some will need the guidance of a trained counselor/therapist or coach.  If this stirred something within you, I encourage you to get the help you need.  I used all of the above in my journey and I am incredibly thankful.  I might be messy, but all of me is present. J

Moving from Disconnected to Vulnerable

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.

Holidays, Family, and Boundaries

With the arrival of the holiday season comes a variety of stressors. Where to spend the holidays is a big deal. For some families, the decisions made by a renegade can spark World War III. We typically don’t enjoy doing that and so we quietly acquiesce and do whatever we are told all the while dreading the holiday. Is that really how you want to spend the time? Continuing on with my most recent “boundary” post, remember that boundaries are about protecting and defining. You are the keeper of the gate when it comes to your boundaries. You decide what comes in and what goes out. This applies to families and holidays in addition to everyday life.
My family has a tradition of gathering together for Thanksgiving. We usually go to Aspen, where I grew up and my family owns a hotel. It is actually the perfect situation because we all have plenty of room at the hotel. My parents, seven siblings, and I gather together with all our spouses, significant others, and children. Most of the “children” are now adults and have added the fourth generation. We generally love gathering together. We have our issues now and then, but it’s usually a good time for all. The best part: we get to choose if we are going to be there. No one pressures us and tells us that we “have” to be there.  It’s no surprise that most of us are there every year.
Christmas has been different. Christmas is a popular time in Aspen. There usually aren’t rooms available at the hotel so we choose other locations. I can think of three Christmases when we travelled to my in-laws in New York (this was during my first marriage). Although my mother-in-law expressed a desire for us to be in New York more often for the holidays, she never demanded it. She said what she wanted and honored our choices. She never brought it back up as a way to “punish” or coerce us to be with them. I so appreciated that, more so now as I see others struggling with demanding, manipulative parents or in-laws. We typically made the trek from Colorado to New York in the summer when it was a better time for us to travel with the kids.
If you are the adult child of a manipulator/punisher, my words are this: do what you (and your immediate family) want to do. Talk about it. Do you feel pressured to travel when really what you all want to do is be at home? Is the reason you are travelling to someone else’s house because you feel obligated to be there. Obligation is not choice. Obligation comes out of an expectation that has been directly communicated or you are assuming exists. Give this idea some time…let it percolate in your mind and heart.
If you are in a significant relationship or are married discuss the ideas in the following paragraphs with your spouse or significant other. The ideas may be helpful in making a decision. Remember to process this together. It is important to honor one another’s opinions and desires. Coming to a solution may be trickier than just deciding by yourself. This may take a lot of time. Be patient with one another and figure out how to be responsible for your own boundaries while being respectful of the other’s. Spend time really listening to each other. Try to understand the other person’s point of view. This will not guarantee a solution to your problem but it will help you stop demanding your position and shift your stance to understanding the other person.
So, here’s the process. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do? Where do I want to spend the holidays?” It is your life that you are living, so why not live the way you want. If being with extended family is more stressful than you care to deal with, create your own holiday traditions. Free yourself to live your life in a way that is satisfying to you. Chances are pretty good there will be some hurt feelings. Be gentle and kind as you speak your desires. Let your family know that you love them, but you are choosing a different way to spend the holiday.
If you are choosing not to be with your family because being around them usually ends up in some sort of battle or manipulation-fest, you can address that. “When you berate me, manipulate me, criticize me (or whatever it is they do that is hurtful), I feel hurt, sad, angry, (your emotion). Since this happens during times when we are together, like holidays, I am choosing not to be there. I love you and I want a healthy relationship with you, but until that happens, I will spend my holidays in a way that works for me.”
Be assured, you will not likely hear a “thank you” after that statement. You are drawing a solid boundary that clearly states what you are OK with and what you are not OK with. Usually manipulative controlling people do not appreciate when others set boundaries. They thrive off the control of others. You do not have to own this person’s issues or responses to you. If he is angry, let him be. You do not have to listen to the insults or barbs sent your way to hurt you with the intention of manipulating you to change your mind. It will be hard but you can do it. It’s all for the purpose of regaining the reins of your life. Take a deep breath, tell him you hear his anger, but you will not continue to listen since it is becoming hurtful. You will be ready to talk when he is ready to work out how you can have a healthy relationship that honors one another. The end. No more listening, emailing, or texting. Let it go for now.
The barrage will probably start up again. Get really good at what parenting experts Jim Fay and Foster Cline say, “become a broken record” by calmly repeating yourself and ending the conversation. Most likely, you are dealing with someone who is sort of stuck as a two year old. You know, the temper-tantrum-having kind. She demands to get her way now because something went terribly wrong for her when she actually was two or at some point in her development related to setting her own boundaries. You are not responsible for that. It may be by you modeling healthy behavior and not owning her responses and feelings that she may decide to change; however, the decision for her to change is not up to you. You are taking care of your own boundary.
I’m hoping that you enjoy the holidays this year with people who sincerely encourage you and embrace who you are.
Cheers to healthy holidays spent in ways that honor your unique self!

My Life Fix

A year ago or so I was asked to share my story.  I was told it would be videotaped and later put on a website that was in the embryonic stages of creation.  The purpose was to create a site where people could go to hear about the pain others have gone through as well as their journey to find healing.  That site: MyLifeFix.com is now live and there are amazing stories of hardship, pain and healing.  These are totally real people, like me, who don’t get paid a penny to share our stories.  We did it because we know that someone out there needs to hear they are not alone.
The link I have pasted below is to my interview but there are others on the site as well.  Please, check them out and pass the site on to everyone you know.
http://mylifefix.com/adultery/counselors-story-of-her-affair/

Forgiveness: A Process Not a Step

One of the hardest actions in the healing process is forgiveness. This may be due to the fact that many of us don’t really understand what forgiveness is. We think of it as letting the person who hurt us off the hook. We think we are saying to them, “It really doesn’t matter what you did” or “It’s ok.” Forgiveness does not mean we are saying something someone did to us is acceptable nor are we communicating in any way that the person’s hurtful actions are ok. Forgiveness does not include remaining in or reconciling the relationship, either. Sometimes that is what happens, but reconciliation is not always the wisest action. Some relationships are so toxic, as in situations of abuse, that reconciliation is not recommended. Reconciliation and forgiveness do not have to go together. Forgiveness allows us to be free.
At times, when someone hurts us, we allow that hurt to turn into bitterness. This is what happens when we don’t forgive. The bitterness doesn’t hurt the other person, it hurts us. I think of it like a suffocating weed that intertwines itself around and within us. Another visual I have for this is Spiderman. When the black suit creeps its way onto him, it gradually takes over his entire body with a bitter, hateful, strangling pulse. I have heard not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Often, the person we harbor the lack of forgiveness toward isn’t even aware of the pain we are in. Sometimes, when we see the person we think that our passive-aggressive ways will “show them.” Really, that behavior just makes us look immature and bitter. Many times, we no longer have contact with the person who hurt us. We are miserable and the person just goes on about his life without much of a thought of you and how you are hurting and being sucked down by your bitterness.
How do you find freedom? It’s not a one-step event. Forgiveness is a process. Think of someone who hurt you in some way. It is ideal if you can go through this process speaking each part aloud. If that’s not possible, say it in your head. First, say how the person hurt you. Next, validate the emotions you have associated with the hurt. It’s normal to feel anger, sadness, and even fear. Let yourself feel the emotion. If there are tears, notice what it feels like to have droplets of water trickling or streaming down your face. If you feel something inside, a tightness, clenching, or knot-like sensation, describe it to yourself. Be in tune with the emotion for as long as the wave lasts. Usually an emotional wave lasts between 5 seconds and a few minutes. If you find that 5 minutes have gone by and you’re still feeling the emotion strongly, take a deep breath while counting to five then release it while counting to five. Step outside and get some fresh air or splash some cool water on your face and then continue with the process. Tell yourself that you are finished holding onto what the other person did to you. You are choosing to be free of the bitterness that is keeping you tied to the hurtful action’s negative power. You are forgiving the other person for what she did to you. It helps to visualize letting the bitterness and unforgiveness go. I often see it rising out of my body, detaching its life-sucking tendrils from me, rising into the air like a helium balloon, and drifting completely out of sight. Take a deep breath and as you release it say, “I forgive you.” Soak in what it feels like to be released from the strangling hold of unforgiveness.
It would be so rewarding to never feel that bitterness creep in again. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work that way. Nope. I do not live in a delusional world rather the real one that you live in. I know it’s not that simple. You will need to go through this process each time the bitterness comes up. Be aware of it and go through the steps to let it go and forgive the other person, again and again. Eventually, you will experience a decrease in the amount of bitterness you are holding to the point that one day you will remember what the person did to you, know that it was hurtful, and bask in the freedom that you no longer hold bitterness for him. You have forgiven him. You are free.