Numb It, Or Face It
I do a short radio show with Spencer each week where we choose a topic and chat about it on the path of personal growth. For an upcoming week, she selected the topic of numbing. As often happens, after we select our topic, it comes more into my awareness and it often leads to some valuable insight about myself.
Then I came across a new blog post from Brene’ Brown on the topic of midlife. Amazing, perfectly timed and very, very validating and affirming to say the least. The culmination of these two things got me asking myself a question… how am I numbing myself? I mean, there are the obvious ones that many of us use: food, social media, spending, being overly busy, work, alcohol, drugs. There are also ways we numb that aren’t so obvious like: gossip, perfectionism, being judgmental, blaming, being angry. Because numbing is about avoiding our own evolution that comes from feeling the hard feelings that come with what Dr. Brown calls “unraveling”, I can tell you I have used almost all of these routes at some point in time. Here's why...
I am a woman who has spent most of her life on the run. Running from feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, not being enough in some way, or just wondering “what the hell is ‘wrong’ with me?”. When I’m not running FROM the feelings themselves, I am running TOWARD what I think will ease the pain of these feelings I am trying to dodge.
What arrived for my examination today is some clarity: I use my intimate relationships as a way to numb myself from the feelings of inadequacy I carry around. I focus on care-giving, solving, supporting, to the extreme because if I can just help them be happy – then, I can relax because that mean I am okay, valuable and finally enough.
There are a ton of issues with this approach, here are just what I would say are the top three:
I am a firm believer in something I have heard Oprah verbalize. The Universe is speaking to us. First it whispers and if we don’t pay attention, it gets louder and louder. First you get a pebble upside the head, then a brick, then a brick wall. I additionally know that our bodies follow this approach as well. Our body is always sending us a message of what needs our attention. Right now, my body is getting a little louder with its message. Nothing life-threatening, just trying to get my attention. I think it’s saying “Sandy, you need to take care of you. It’s time to finally learn to love and accept yourself. I’m trying to protect you, but you have to remember who you are and stop running.” As long as I am uber focused on the well-being of someone else or my relationship with them at the expense of myself, I am on the run from my fear of my lack of worthiness with no good finish line in the outcome.
Our self-esteem is within us, it's in there, but sometimes it gets propped up on a faulty foundation of making other people happy. When that foundation is torn away, you get the opportunity to rebuild it, with new updated tools and in the way you really want it to be.
Construction always comes with delays and the trick is to not start thinking that the delays are a refusal for the project to be built. It’s easy to have a day (or ten!) where the idea of loving & accepting ourselves seems like a pipe dream and maybe we think we should just resign ourselves to getting by with the old crappy foundation. But then, the clouds will part a bit and we’ll see that the delay is behind us and we go forward a little bit more.
I know I won’t ever get a certificate of completion on learning to be okay with myself, it’s a process and I’ll continue to unravel my old system of over-giving and discounting myself – but I’m a pretty determined chick & my aim is to shine my light. When we numb our hard feelings, we dim our light. When your numbing method of choice fails to work – you can feel as though your light has faded to black. But that’s simply not possible.
I am super blessed to have a tribe of people in my life who are amazingly supportive, never seem to judge me and just hold space for me while I find my way through my stuff. THESE are people you can lean on without fear of becoming dependent on their approval for your own self-acceptance. That’s been a big lesson for me. Among those in my life who have shown me this grace is Don. He has shown me a lot about how to give someone the space to regain their own footing, yet still be there, cheering them on behind the scenes. It gives the person the opportunity to learn to give themselves the thing only they can give to themselves and have it really stick.
Yes, I see clearly that over care-giving can become a form of numbing, a way to feel like we are enough, a way to “save” others who don’t actually require (or even want) our saving. I see that now. When we over-give to those who are capable of doing it for themselves, we set both them and ourselves up for a lot of pain.
Brene’ Brown says everyone numbs sometimes. Addiction is when we numb chronically & compulsively. So, it only stands to reason then, to stop an addiction to numbing requires a recovery process. If you know anything at all about recovery, you know it is a moment by moment choice to show up for yourself. Becoming the observer of your behavior without judgement and choosing the most loving action you can take in that moment for yourself and for the greater good of all.
I appreciate that my body is trying to get my attention with some uncomfortableness. It is demanding that I do some self-care rather than being consumed with “other-care” for those who will also benefit by caring for themselves. I don’t want to numb my way out of the chance to learn to appreciate myself for who I am and what I came to offer the world. The best way to give to others and be compassionate is not to lose myself, but to 1. Get better at caring for and accepting myself AND 2. Caring for and accepting others. I have some catching up to do on the first part.
Change Versus Transformation
Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way up front: I am not a licensed psychologist, scientist or psychiatrist. These are indeed, just words from a chick who’s on her path and has had a lot of life experience in relationship studies – some of it, pretty rough study. When I come up against something challenging or painful, I try to learn from it, learn about it, and grow.
Now that we have that out of the way, I have a theory that I find to be pretty solid in my own experience that I am hopeful you will find helpful. Change is inevitable. Everything changes – it’s gonna happen and its level of difficulty is on a spectrum from easier to somewhat hard. Most often, change does not stick. Its sustainability is rocky because often we try to change others or ourselves out of fear. More on this in a bit.
Transformation on the other hand, is NOT inevitable. It’s a choice and it’s much more permanent. Think cocoon to butterfly. There anin’t no goin’ back into the cocoon once you transform into the mariposa. Transformation is way, way harder than change – actually it totally sucks for the most part on the way there. It requires you to unravel things that you have all cross wired in your thinking, beliefs, emotions, & your body. It’s facing down the demons you have created for yourself and exorcising them. You look right into the valley of your own shadow side. Things we all have and acquire on our journey, but often there comes a point when these cross wired systems and avoiding our shadow no longer serves us. It’s super painful, and for this reason most will choose the easier route, of either staying the same or making a less painful change versus a transformation.
Here is my theory; change doesn’t usually stick because it comes from fear or from those emotional states on the right hand side of the above diagram. In order to truly transform, the emotional driver must be from the higher feeling states on the left – like love. Only love is powerful enough to cause transformation. Let’s see if I can give you an example or two…
When you nag, shame, blame, critisize someone into changing their behavior, does it seem to work? I mean does the other person say “Gee, I feel so motivated by your badgering me into submission – I will gladly do what you ask.” Nagging, complaining, blaming - these feelings have their roots in fear. Fear that our hopes won’t be fulfilled. Fear that the other person’s behavior reflects on us in some way that we are not enough. Fear that we are vulnerable and we want to avoid the hard feelings that are coming up in us. Blaming and demanding change from other people is just us trying to avoid our own difficult feelings.
Conversely, what if we approached this same situation from love, hopefulness, and empowerment? We would open up a discussion and talk about what we feel and experience when the other person is behaving in a way that brings up hurt in us. We’d approach it not from blame and trying to shame the other person into being what we need, but from an empowered, responsible adult angle instead of our powerless, wounded child. So many times it's not the conversation in the moment that is causing our pain but a lifetime of a similar conversations that gets triggered and we aim our pain at the person in front of us.
Now, let’s take this one step further and apply it to our own inner mean girl. Nagging, shaming or any of the emotions on right hand side of the chart above in our self-talk don’t work any better on ourselves than they do on other people! You cannot shame yourself into transformation. Only love is powerful enough to handle that kind of gigantic shift. Telling ourselves how fat or unattractive or stupid or whatever crap judgement you lay on yourself – MIGHT get us to change for a little bit, but it won’t be sustainable. Shame is not a transformation facilitator. Weighing ourselves daily to see if we have earned the right to feel good about ourselves… that’s shaming yourself into staying in line. It’s relying on externals to know we are worthy and those externals are flaky! They are unstable and have no loyalty to you!
I recently heard relationship expert Ellyn Bader say in an interview with Jayson Gaddis that we should never say what we NEED from our partner. NEED repels. It can be shaming and it indicates that you have an expectation that the other person is responsible for your happiness. Think about it for a second… if your partner says “I need you to talk to me respectfully” they just told you that you evidently aren’t doing so currently, and this is going to likely bring up shame or guilt in you. It makes it almost impossible for the other person to give this to you generously. (I encourage you to listen to the link above after you read this Sandy Chat for some insightful relationship stuff on this topic!)
What if instead your partner said something like “When you talk to me in an angry tone, my experience of that is that I feel disrespected. I hope that you care about my feelings.” No need, no blame, simply what you are feeling and experiencing and what you are hoping for. Notice that hopefulness is on the LEFT hand side of our chart above. It has the power to lead to transformation instead of just change. It’s about staying vulnerable enough to state what feelings YOU are experiencing - without blame or judgement of the other person because YOUR feelings are YOUR responsibility. This will require you to get clear with your OWN feelings and be willing to be vulnerable rather than blame and shame the other person. Our feelings aren't "wrong", so discounting them in yourself or others is not helpful and only adds more shame to the equation. How we feel and experience people and conditions IS our responsibility, and making those feelings bad or wrong can cause them to stick around for a very long time.
You won’t be clear headed enough in the heat of the moment to think this clearly! You have to practice when you’re not in the middle of an argument or difficult situation. This is big: stating what we want, rather than a focus on what we DON’T want will go a really long way to helping you not only in your communication with people you are in relationship with, but also with your self-talk.
When we talk to ourselves from a needy, demanding sort of place, change may be possible for a short time, but we don’t transform out of that kind of fear based place. “If only” is a needy, victim mentality place that gives our power away. When we focus on what we don’t want, we get more of that very thing. We end up creating the very conditions we are opposed to.
“No matter where you go there you are.” This was a favorite line of an old friend of mine and it’s really all about this same idea of change and transformation. You can change your address, change your job, change who you sleep next to – but unless you TRANSFORM you will simply be taking your same junk to the new location or the new relationship. Until you transform your relationship with YOURSELF, you will repeat your same reality over and over again, even if you change the players or the places.
I get it why most people will choose to change without transforming their relationship with themselves –it’s ridiculously hard!!! You have to stand in the face of the storms that come at you over and over again, wave after wave. Your own shame shit storm will try to beat you down and there may even be those that you love who will toss some serious shame at you for not meeting their expectations or needs. This is probably why most people will take the easier route and just lose their freakin’ minds or give up and settle in to a life being less than they had hoped for. Believe me, losing my mind along with other options based in fear, have certainly sounded easier at times for me than to keep aiming at transformation of how I feel about myself. Running away and joining the circus was an option I seriously considered!
What I’ve realized is that everything that has happened FOR me is a perfect opportunity for me to learn to give myself what will fill the empty parts of me. To not need externals, other people to fill me up and to know that I am okay, enough, worthy - just as I am. Then! when I come together with someone, they are the cherry on top rather than my needing them to fill up my self-created inner emptiness.
What if the super hard stuff that is happening is exactly what has to happen for my transformation to fill up my own empty spaces, so I have that in my backpack for the rest of my journey? What if my transformation into shining my light fully is what helps someone else to find the courage to find their light and shine it? What if it has all been about helping me have a better, more loving relationship with myself? That makes taking myself through hell and back seem worth it!
Shaming others or ourselves into being different in some way doesn’t work. Have you noticed??? Forgiveness, Love, acceptance, freedom – these are the only forces powerful enough to facilitate transformation. Tell your inner mean girl “Thanks for your input, I got this, you can do sit down now sweetie.” It will take telling her this many times, again and again till she gets the message. Actually all she wants is love, so fight the temptation to talk smack to her in retaliation and she will relax much sooner.
My Own Double Standard
A biggie is coming clear for me recently and I can’t say that this realization has happened very often in my life. That clarity that the thing I have been complaining about in someone else is the very same thing I am doing to them. I suppose most of the time my righteous anger wins out and I just stay focused on the “wrong-doings” of the other person. I mean, can't they SEE how "wrong" they are and how "right" I am??
The above quote kind of makes me say "Ugh." If I sit with it though... I can see for sure that the way I feel I am treated in relationship is also how I treat myself on many levels. As I mentioned to someone recently who said they felt they were in an abusive relationship, "How is your own relationship with yourself?" They admitted to being pretty abusive in their own self-talk.
Now, intellectually, I totally get the concept that other people are our mirrors, that they are often reflecting something about ourselves back to us or that they are offering us information about ourselves in some way. In fact I have written a Sandy Chat on that very topic and how others can also reflect to us that we need to treat ourselves with more love and care. Very recently I have come to the eye-opening awareness that I have been trying to change another person – by complaining to, and about them, Now get this…I've been railing about how they are trying to change ME! I have this mantra that other people’s feelings about me and my choices are not my responsibility – that they choose those. YET! I have been upset at how their behavior causes me to feel. Hello double standard. Hello mirror. Ironic, ain't it.
So I am asking myself this question… do I really want to be responsible for how I feel? Or is my real desire for the other person to change? Dang. Truth – I want them to change then life would be awesome. Breaking news… this just in… you can’t change other people.
I read a great blog post on this idea by Dr. Margaret Paul and this was pretty eye opening. If I need someone, anyone else, to change in order for me to be okay, I am not taking responsibility for myself. What if that other person never changes? I must either accept them as they are, or leave the situation – but blaming, complaining, judging, or my favorite: being a victim of that other person and the conditions – none of these things are being a loving adult to myself or to the other party.
But this is what we do isn’t it. We focus on the things the other person needs to change in order for us to feel okay. If they would just change, be different, if only they did or said X. I have not always been super great about owning that I do this and it has caused me plenty of pain and suffering due to my own thoughts – not due to the choices of others. It's not what is happening that is the cause of our pain, our guilt, our anger. It is the MEANING we put on things that causes it all.
Giving Away Our Power
“It’s about standing in your own light.” This phrase has been passed on to me something like a zillion times by my coach Joy. I’ll be super honest… I really had no idea what she meant by it at first. I looked through my notes from our sessions I’m sure it’s in there damn near every other time. More truth… I’ve even Googled it to try and really understand the importance and meaning of this sentence.
What I am coming to understand is that our “light” is that Divine spark within each of us. It’s what we came into this world to give. We all have it and free will dictates that it is our choice how much to fan it. We can let it remain a spark or we can create a flame, a beam of light, our power.
I recently heard Deepak Chopra make some statements about how we give our power away and how to reclaim it. “We give up our power when we shrink to other people and circumstances.” So this speaks to wanting other people to change so we can feel okay. If you think about it, complaining, blaming and judging feels more powerful than being depressed or a victim for sure – yet it is not nearly as powerful as love, hopefulness, empowerment, freedom. So, we can do better if we wake up to how we are dimming ourselves when we make others responsible for our happiness.
He also talked about two of the biggest ways we give away our power and dim our light… putting ourselves and others in a box – a.k.a. labeling. Secondly by having dualistic thinking. As in, it’s this or it’s that. It’s black or it’s white. I’m “right” and you’re “wrong”. These two mindsets: putting ourselves and others in a box and believing it’s this or it’s that – cause us to feel TRAPPED. When we feel trapped we will either step into our light, or we will dim ourselves.
Our internal power comes from standing in the center of our own lives, taking responsibility for OUR side of the street. We must stay conscious and awake, speak our truth in a loving way and know our worth – simply because we were born.
When we blame, accuse, label, and go to sleep in our lives… we give away our power. We step right into victim mentality where we are TRAPPED and at the will of others and circumstances. Here’s the thing… we are NEVER at any other person or circumstances will, but when we focus on how other people or the circumstances must change in order for us to be okay, we are not taking care of ourselves. It’s simply an attempt to not feel the difficult feelings we have about OURSELVES. If I’m busy blaming you or complaining about you, I get to avoid becoming self-actualized and feeling vulnerable.
If we are really ready to be responsible for ourselves and our feelings, we’ll have to let go of focusing on the stuff other people are doing that we view as “wrong” and supposedly making it impossible for us to be okay. This is far from an easy thing to do. When our set-point becomes fear, anger, feeling like a victim, etc. - it takes some real conscious effort to break that addiction and you can only do this for yourself, no one can do it for you - although having a supportive tribe is amazingly helpful.
Yeah, all the things I complain about someone else doing that caused me pain and suffering… I’ve done those same things either to myself or to them. I’m trying to just observe this without judgement so that I can learn from it and not go into kicking my own backside – which is how the cycle typically goes.
It’s a hard habit to break. I have a big intention to drop blame from my relationships and still, I find myself going right there and before I know it I’m on a rant of how the other party is so “wrong”. If I can grab the wheel and get myself back on the road when I’m veering off into the blame ditch, I very often can find a glimpse of information about myself being shown through the behavior of the other person. Either something I too am doing, or that I need to take better care of myself in some way. As long as I need anyone else to change in order to feel okay or have a better experience, I am a victim and I don’t think that’s what I came to this world to be. I am Sandy Edie after all. ;-)
Sandy Edie Hansen
I use this space to "Chat" about things I am working through and learning in my life currently. Join me!