Tag Archives: feelings

Why do we crucify ourselves?

I love early mornings, when I sit with my coffee and write, sometimes with a cat on my lap, sometimes just with a few fresh ideas in my head. After a good night’s sleep, my mind is clear, and sometimes the remnants of a dream come forth. Very often I forget them right away, and that is okay. My subconscious lets me know when I need to remember them.

This morning I had fragments in my head of a song by Tori Amos that I have not hear in years, possibly decades: “Why do we crucify ourselves?” So that was fascinating. It is a good question though. Why indeed?

Isn’t it amazing how some music imprints itself upon us in a way we cannot explain. This particular album was introduced to me by my best friend in college. The Little Earthquakes album was a staple of our music mix in those days.

“I gotta have my suffering so I can have my cross…”

Yeah. I guess some of us were taught to use Jesus as an example of behavior we should follow. I am going to risk offending people in this post, and probably confess my beliefs here and how they have changed over the years.

I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Jesus as a spiritual teacher, perhaps even a savior in a way. But I always puzzled at people who are so self-sacrificing that they neglect their own self care. The Bible says that Jesus died for our sins, that his suffering was our redemption. So why do we insist on suffering more than needed?

Every human being suffers. It is part of our DNA. It is part of what helps us have empathy for others, the understanding of sadness, of grief, of anger, of any depth of emotion. And yet when we are young, some of us are told “don’t cry, it will be okay” or “honey, don’t be sad.”

It reflects possibly our parents’ inability to deal with their own emotions that they asked us not to express our own. Everyone has sadness, anger or loneliness at times in their life. It is okay. Nothing has gone wrong. These emotions help us to connect with ourselves, and with others, and to let us know when things may need to change in our lives.

Anger is how we SHOULD react to injustice. It is something that can motivate action, though not necessarily sustain it. And yet many of us were taught not to express anger, but to fear it. Or we were not shown that it was okay to be sad sometimes. But being angry or sad is part of the human condition, nothing that should shame us.

When we resist or deny our feelings, that is when they cause more suffering. Our feelings are like vibrations in the body. They come, they move through us, and they complete themselves. Probably no other practice has helped me understand this than yoga and meditation. Every emotional state is temporary. Many of these states are a result of our thoughts rather than anything external.

Simply by feeling our feelings, possibly naming and acknowledging them, we allow them to move through us. They can be a guide to let us know we should reach out to friends and connect with loved ones. They can help us know when we are moving toward danger or toward joy.

As more people develop emotional intelligence, they may learn to identify and embrace their emotions rather than “buffer” them away with alcohol, food, Netflix or other addictions. Instead of piling on the guilt and shame over feeling sad or angry, they can release this added suffering and feel more peace.

I certainly have not mastered this, and have had to deliberately practice feeling my feelings, and identifying the thoughts behind them. But it has allowed me to stop crucifying myself over mistakes, or my own shortcomings. That serves nobody. I am pretty sure Jesus would agree with me on this one, and allow me to forgive myself.

 

 

 

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Adult tantrums

I am a little embarrassed to admit that Christmas Eve this year I indulged in an “adult tantrum” about all that I had committed to do to prep for the holidays.

It wasn’t pretty. My hubby and I had been sick with colds during the week, so we were behind our usual holiday preparations, and I was struggling to get some things done at the last minute.

Upon reflection, I realized that the reason I was upset was not that I *HAD* to do anything for the holidays. Nobody was forcing me. I choose to celebrate the holidays in this way with my family, exchanging gifts and creating traditions especially for the children in the family.

When I reminded myself that I was doing the best I could under the circumstances, and that it is not my obligation to create a “perfect” holiday for anyone, I could finally relax and enjoy the time. When I was able to take a breath and realize that the purpose of the holiday is to pause, to reflect, and to enjoy time with loved ones, I came back to reality.

I realized that my inner dialogue was responsible for creating this idealized version of a holiday, in which I was falling far short. Also I know that I suffer from decision fatigue quite often. It is part of coping with an a.d.d. brain, and it is part of my reality. During the holidays, with all of the gift giving choices to make, this fatigue tends to be magnified.

Our expectations during the holidays are what typically get in the way of our joy. In recent years, I have tried “turning down” my expectations, so that I can focus on what is really important. I still wish my family might refrain from gift-giving and do something charitable instead. But I also realize that giving gifts brings people a lot of joy, and some people really do enjoy selecting gifts for loved ones.

I have explored the concept of emotional adulthood, and I realize it applies in these situations as well. We are responsible for our own feelings, and not the feelings of others. I cannot control whether others have a happy holiday. Since it is our thoughts that drive our feelings, having thoughts about “I have to…” or “I must…” tend to leave us feeling trapped, resentful, and Scroogey.

If we have thoughts instead of gratitude, for the opportunity to travel to see family on the holiday, or for all the abundance we have enjoyed in the past year, we feel joyful. If others in my family rely on me to provide their happiness, either by my getting them a perfect gift, or following family traditions to the letter, that is their business. I am not responsible for their thoughts and expectations of the holiday. I certainly hope and wish they enjoy it, but that is their own responsibility.

Holidays can be stressful for many reasons. But when we understand emotional adulthood and take responsibility for our own feelings, we can minimize our stress. That is certainly something to celebrate!

 

 

 

Un-buffering your life

We are often taught that going “outside our comfort zone” is where the most growth happens. I believe this is true, to a large extent. Our human species evolved to seek comfort or pleasure and avoid pain. These impulses largely kept us alive, along with developing communities which could provide protection and safety in a wild world.

bird rising watercolor

But as humans evolved to go beyond our basic necessities, we must also evolve in our consciousness. We must make different choices beyond survival day-to-day in order to respect the long-term sustainability of ourselves and of our planet. I write this knowing that many people around the world lack clean water, or sufficient food to eat, and I am aware of my privilege in writing these words.

The practice of creativity and if making things purely for own pleasure is one magnificent part of our existence. Whether composing songs, decorating one’s home, writing a story, or playing with color on canvas, we are a species that delights in using our imagination and creating something from nothing.

Liz Gilbert writes and speaks so elegantly of this in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and in her podcast Magic Lessons. I am grateful to have re-discovered her work, along with uncovering the Joy Diet book I have by Martha Beck last fall. Also around that time I found the work of Brené Brown on vulnerability and courage, Daring Greatly among them, but I recommend any of her books.

As I confronted my habits of “buffering” my emotions through alcohol, food, over-working, etc, I realized that I needed to slow everything down. Right before I reached for that drink, or chocolate, or “buy” button to get myself out of my feeling of discomfort, I needed to pay attention to what was going on in my body.

tissue healing watercolor

Typically what I discovered was that an uncomfortable emotion was present. It might be loneliness or fear. It might be a response to avoidance I had about doing certain tasks at work, or anticipating a difficult conversation and not knowing how I wanted to speak my truth, while respecting another person.

Mostly what I found is that I used my buffers to avoid or resist the truth that I was feeling in my own body. When I learned some tools like meditation and yin yoga to help me get “comfortable with discomfort” I realized that I could sit with a feeling and just experience it all the way through, without resisting it and without attaching to it.

Once I acknowledge the emotion, named it and thoroughly sense where it resided in my body, I can move on, and not let it hijack me or my behavior. But that process of slowing down, feeling an emotion all the way through, without reaching for my phone, something in the fridge, or some other distraction, has radical implications.

Paying attention and becoming fully aware of what is happening not just around me but within me feels like a “magic” tool. I accept things as they are, embrace the suck, or just note when I feel fear, uncertainty, doubt, rage or discomfort. That allows me to examine what thoughts and stories feed these feelings.

variable infinities

When I back up and understand that emotional and physical cascade that resulted from certain thoughts, I can question whether those thoughts are even true. Sometimes I can do this from a “thought download” or a hand-written journal I use daily to get out all the junk that piles up in my curious monkey mind. Other times, it is locked in there pretty deeply, so I use some other medium, like pastels or watercolors to tease it out.

I joke with my husband that these always turn out like 2nd grade art projects (I posted some examples today). They are not really for anyone but me, but at the same time, they sometimes give me clues to what is really going on in my psyche. Words can do this for me, but sometimes they fail me. That logical, rational, ego-driven part of my mind can protect me mightily from my inner truth.

The ego knows some truths may be painful, and require me to make certain changes in my life, definitely stepping outside the comfortable world I know. Since my brain is trying its best to take care of me, to keep me ensconced in safety, it does what it knows best, seek pleasure and avoid pain.

after the rain watercolor

And yet, this is not the path where personal and spiritual growth happens. Often it takes a painful life event to get us to a place where we MUST make some change. Sometimes there is a powerful realization within us that we have become too comfortable. In my past, I find that I tend to “make trouble” for myself when things are a little too comfortable.

Looking back, I see how many times I was running from something, rather than facing up to it. Or how many times I tried to avoid my discomfort and fear, by keeping myself from know some truth that was billowing up within me. I feared as soon as I acknowledged it, I would need to change MY WHOLE LIFE and would disrupt my loved ones’ lives around me. I did not realize I could take action steps toward what was next, at a pace that worked for me.

Sometimes we must leap into the fire and destroy the previous life (or lie) we have lived, if it was not authentic to the essence of our being, who we really are. And I believe sometimes this fire burns from within, and allows us to rise from the ashes of our prior belief systems which no longer work for us.

As we un-buffer, and become comfortable with discomfort, we develop courage and determination to rise up and do what our soul calls us to do. May you, dear reader, slow down and know when your buffers are getting in the way of your highest purpose.

 

 

B minus work

To those of you who are waiting for your blogs to be perfect to publish them, here is some advice I got originally from Brooke Castillo of the Life Coach School podcast. Do B minus work, but get it started ahead of time. It echoes advice I have received from other authors like Anne Lamott and Brene Brown: settle for shitty first drafts the first time out (SFD’s – aka stormy first drafts).

This is great advice for those of us who suffer from perfectionism. Often we procrastinate because we worry about our idea not being good enough or our final product not being polished enough. This is especially true for women, it seems, so we delay holding up our hand when we already know the answer.

We may need to practice greater confidence when it comes to starting things. Just getting started, and getting it out, we overcome the “activation energy” it takes to get the momentum moving. For me as a writer, I seldom struggle for a topic. Give me a topic and I can rattle on all day about it if you want.

But when it comes to telling a story or constructing an argument effectively, I know it takes me more time to get it right. Even if the words flow out, and they typically do when I give myself uninterrupted time to write, the final product is not complete.

It is best when I allow the words to flow and not worry too much about structure or ultimate form of a piece. When it comes to blogging, it is inherently a shorter form, but I struggle with not going on for TOO long, so I often write a first version during half an hour in the afternoon and then return to edit in the morning when I am fresh.

At that point, I typically add graphics, correct grammar, perhaps cut out sections or paragraphs or sentences that wander and make sure the idea makes sense. Occasionally I do not have the time for that, due to my travel schedule. I just set myself a timer and get to work on a quick post, writing it in the morning before a shower and then editing afterward.

Not worrying too much about the reception of an idea is another way to get the work out there quickly. We can only know what is in our own minds, not what will resonate with others. So it is best not to worry and obsess about what they want, and focus instead of what we want to say.

What I realize now is that my blog has become a place where I can try out ideas, play around with stories I find interesting, or concepts I am trying out in my life. I have nothing specific to “sell” out here, and sometimes I have gotten useful feedback on my ideas.

I plan to keep writing every day, and putting short pieces here, at least through next June. The practice of sitting down once or twice a day and getting those ideas onto the screen has helped me clarify some of the questions I ask myself. Over time, the answers get refined, and the focus gets clarified.

If I do not start with B minus work, there is no opportunity to shape and polish it to become “A” work. But one of the great secrets to adulthood is that there are no grades anymore. We do not have to rely on others’ evaluations of us to be successful.

Every day we can decide how we want to assess our own success, and the quality of our days. That is probably the best news ever. If we can be kind to ourselves and acknowledge that we did the best we could for that day, it is always enough.

 

Emotional adulthood

Did you grow up being told “not to hurt others’ feelings?” Many of us were taught that we should not say things to hurt other’s feelings. By extension that meant we are responsible for other people’s feelings.

It was a pretty radical discovery for me last year when I learned in more details how thoughts cause chemical cascades in the brain that result in “vibrations” in the body we call feelings. I encountered this concept from podcasts by Brooke Castillo. While I had studied this concept back when I first learned about cognitive and behavioral therapy in college, I had never fully applied it to my life.

I will use an example, because I think this helps make the concept more accessible. Say someone tells me I’m a smart-ass and nobody really cares about what I write. It’s a waste of time and I should stop doing it. I have a choice about how I respond here.

pain image

Photo credit link

If it this a person I respect, I will probably want to ask some questions and get more feedback. (That’s how I am, researchers want more data and we often get curious.) If my self-esteem is not very strong, perhaps I will take their comment seriously and start criticizing myself: why would I think I have the right to share my thoughts or have a valid point of view?

Since I am fairly confident my opinion is at least as valid as anyone else, and because I write for myself, not for them, my response is likely to be different. I will perhaps speculate on their lack of efficacy and creativity in their life and I will dismiss their opinion. My new favorite way to re-frame this is: it is probably more about them (the reason they said whatever it was) than about me. It is a nice way to gain a little distance from what could have been perceived as a hurtful remark, and realize I still feel confident in my own work and process despite their words.

Granted, when we are actively seeking feedback from a trusted colleague, we sometimes have to be open to things that may not be comfortable to hear. This helps us gain valuable insight that might improve our work. That can be important if we want to hone our craft, or become better managers, or excel in our fields.

When I started taking ownership of my own feelings, and realizing that my thoughts were what created those feelings, it was very liberating. In order to feel different feelings, it is necessary to choose different thoughts. If we are in the habit of thinking certain thoughts, this takes some conscious effort at first, because we are re-structuring those neural pathways in the brain. Some of our old habits may have created deeper “grooves” if we have repeated those habits many times. But they are not fixed, they are flexible, and modifiable.

blue brain

Photo credit: Getty Images

I am so encouraged by the latest research in brain science, that reveals that neuro-plasticity, or the ability to change our own brains is actually more possible than we used to believe. You know the old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” that we sometimes employ when we do not want to learn something new.

But in fact, you can teach an “old” human new tricks. It takes practice, and it takes commitment. But fortunately it is possible and it is why we humans, using conscious thought and practice, are so remarkably adaptable to so many situations.

I do not encourage you to say things to people that intentionally try to “hurt” their feelings. I also know that my own fear of speaking my truth has decreased. If others are living in emotional childhood and hold me responsible for their feelings, it is unfortunate for them. And when I have feedback to deliver, I try to speak carefully and from a place of caring and concern. If I catch myself reacting out of anger or my own hurt, then I sometimes have to apologize later for saying something I do not truly mean. (We all have our defense mechanisms.)

But I have found this concept of taking responsibility for my own feelings to be game-changing. We are the creators of our own story, in charge of the narratives we bring to our own lives to make sense of them. Why not choose stories that are brave and courageous rather than casting ourselves as a victim? 

If you have been through trauma or other difficult experiences which make it difficult to assess and influence your own emotional state, or are suffering depression, having the help of a therapist or counselor can be an amazing resource. I am not ashamed to admit that I have had wonderful therapists to help me during difficult struggles in my life. It is their insight and caring that allowed me to develop a more evolved understanding of myself. To me, there is no better investment.