The title of this installment of Sandy Chat is credited to my friend Shari (and comedian Kevin Hart). She says this to me often to bring me back around to what I know is true – but struggle to remember! As a platinum card member of the people pleaser club in relationships, I seem to lose sight of one fact that will never change… You can’t control what other people think, feel, say, do, experience. You only have control over your own stuff. Period.
Recently I found a new level of strength within myself. I was really getting it that I didn’t have the ability to control what other people are experiencing and that I also couldn’t make it okay for them. Then, in a split second, I lost it. I had a bit of an “ah-ha” in a counseling session and then, I found myself back in that old familiar place that I am working so hard to move away from… taking responsibility for how someone else feels.
This in and of itself is painful enough, and I, being the over achiever that I am, take it to an even higher level. I take responsibility for others feelings and then double down by trying to FIX IT for them, make it okay, get things back into a comfortable state for them and for me. When we take responsibility for the outcomes others experience – we suffer. When we add to that suffering by tap dancing around to fix it up and make it easier for them, we not only make it more painful for ourselves, we enable the other person and they come to depend on us to fix things up for them. At least that’s how it feels from the fixers point of view. The dang thing is – they never actually asked us to do ANY of this! We just take it on in what we veil as an attempt to help them, and make it okay for THEM. The truth of it is, we don’t feel good about ourselves and we are attempting to gain their approval so we can feel better about OURSELVES.
This seeking won’t work – in case you haven’t noticed – because it will never be enough to fill you up if you don’t fill yourself up first.
Do you know how mountain climbing really big peaks works? It’s not like most of us think. You don’t just one day start out to climb Everest and then take a straight shot to the top. It’s a long process of starting at the base camp, climbing to the next camp up the mountain, hanging out there for a little while, then going back down to base camp. This process takes around TWO MONTHS to get all the way up to the top. Alison Levine did a great Ted Talk about this process of climbing Everest and how it applies to life. When you are climbing the mountain you have to keep coming back down because you have to get used to the altitude. Even though it’s super frustrating to seem to be climbing in the opposite direction of where you want to go, but you ARE making progress!
When we are trying to learn a new pattern or way of being like letting go of taking responsibility for how others feel or behave, it’s not like you wake up and figure out how to break your pattern and then you are done going back to your old ways. You’ll get it for a few moments, and then you’ll lose it again and revert to base camp. Then you might find your way to your healthier pattern for a whole day! Then spend a couple of days back down in your old pattern. My counselor Joy says “Growth is a jagged line”. It’s not a straight assent to the next thing. This is an easy thing for me to teach, and so hard for me to learn myself.
So I fell back into my pattern of taking responsibility for how someone felt when they seemed unhappy and distant. If a friend of mine had done this, I would have said “hey, that’s o.k.! It’s gonna happen, you are doing great! You know how to get there because you found it once already. Be kind to yourself, it’s a process.”
Was that what I said to myself when this happened? Oh hell to the no! I kicked my own butt, was extremely angry with myself, frustrated that I had lost my footing on the climb and slipped back to base camp. Scared I wouldn’t find my way back up to that higher level. This is when I realized my greatest fear, what it really is… I am scared to death to lose myself in relationship. To abandon myself and become what I think is expected of me. To be the one who is responsible for the both of us emotionally. THIS is what I most fear and I have created what I most fear, over and over again.
Good to know.
So Joy took me through a cool exercise last week, where you list out the times when you feel most like yourself, whole, real, lit up. Then think about why you feel that way about those times. These things are your “sweet spot”. Then next think about what gets you there, into your sweet spot and also what takes you away from it.
Putting this knowledge down on paper is very powerful, more so than just chasing it around in your head. It causes you to notice when you are moving toward or away from who you truly are and who you want to be. You can use this knowledge to create boundaries for yourself in limiting those things and behaviors that cause you to move away from your true self and amp up the time your spend doing and thinking in ways that move you in the direction of who you want to be.
When you spend your energy on moving yourself in the direction of who you truly are and what lights you up, you aren’t as affected by the behavior of other people. You’re in your “sweet spot” and living life fully so what others do or say is just that – what others do or say. For my money, being a victim has the opposite effect. When we are victims EVERYTHING other people say or do is what we focus on. We aren’t creating our own experience, we are REACTING to others and taking responsibility for what they experience, which is impossible. No wonder it feels so hopeless to be in victim mentality. It’s a no win position with no power to be true to yourself.
When I think I am responsible for how other people feel, I chase, I dim myself to try and make things okay for them and that is never ever going to serve my Divine purpose. Other people are not who’s doing this to me… I am the one doing this to me. That is the only responsibility I need to take on – what I’m choosing to focus on and believe.
Who’s business am I in? That is the question I will be asking myself this week. When I am feeling pain it’s a pretty sure bet that I am out of my own business and in someone else’s. How can I possibly know what is true or best for anyone other than myself? If I focus on climbing my own mountain, I won’t have time to be distracted by where anyone else is on their climb. Maybe we can help one another and learn from one another, but ultimately you are the one making YOUR climb and the only one who can determine how it goes for you.
Big reminder to myself in my recent descent back to base camp… be KIND to yourself, you’re doing great! You ARE making big progress, this is all part of the process even when you feel like you are not moving forward – you are when you are wanting to grow yourself!
Just do you Boo Boo.
If you ever watched any Monty Python in the 70’s, you are familiar with the title of this chat. I was a Monty Python addict! Why? Well, I thought it was hilarious, but also because my boyfriend loved it – and I wanted to connect with him. There were many other things he was interested in that I studied up on, got to know details about so we could share and he would approve of me, accept me. This was likely the early stages of my approval seeking!
Fast forward 35+ years and that pattern, habit, flaw, whatever you want to call it, is something I recognize as something I need to let go of in order to bring my best self forward. When we work so hard to please others and gain their acceptance or approval – we end up a smaller version of ourselves. We dim our light to make others and ourselves more comfortable. What we don’t realize is that in doing that we actually don’t live our Divine purpose. We are all here to shine our Divine purpose into the world and if we dim that light to be more acceptable or approved of and trade in our authenticity to “hot wire” that connection with others, we actually forget who we are and what we want in life. As Kristen Brown says in a great article…
“We get comfortable being uncomfortable, then question why we are not truly happy.”
When we try to make everything o.k. for everyone around us but ourselves, we only end up hurting ourselves and we also hurt those we are trying to gain the approval of. They don’t even really know who we are, because all they have seen is our mask of approval seeking.
I am committed to breaking my patterns that no longer serve me. VERY committed. I want to bring the cleanest version of myself forward to the next part of my life – no matter what that next part looks like. I want my relationships to have the best possible chance of me being true to myself and not abandoning myself, and be whole with whomever I interact with.
My pattern is pretty firmly entrenched in performing for approval from others. I never used to see myself as a pleaser, I thought I was tough, sassy – that doesn’t sound like a people pleaser! Yet when I bring my MASK of tough and sassy because it’s what others have come to expect from me, that too is performing for approval. It’s totally fine to be tough and sassy! But bringing that out when it’s called for or what I feel is different than being that way simply because it’s Tuesday!
My counselor, Joy, told me a great story about how she was trying to learn to golf. She was really struggling and her grip on the club seemed to be the problem. She just couldn’t seem to break her pattern of how she grip the club. So she hired her nephew, who is a golf pro, to give her some lessons. She kept swinging and swinging and it wasn’t going well. Finally he said to her, “Here’s what I want you to do… just do ANYTHING different. Don’t worry about if it’s right or wrong, good or bad, just do anything different – mix it up.”
So she did irrational things like holding the club upside down perhaps, or switching to swinging from her non-dominant side, anything different! And it changed her game completely! She was able to break her pattern that kept her stuck in that loop of repeat.
Don and I have tried many things to improve our relationship over the years. We have done counseling three times in the course of our dating and marriage, three different counselors. Watched several video/DVD courses to understand our challenges. I’ve read about ten thousand books, taken about that many classes to learn more about relationships and why we do what we do and don’t do. The list is lengthy! I’ve spent plenty of years blaming Don, blaming myself for our challenges. What I’m coming to believe is that no one needs to be blamed, I just need to see what I can learn about myself and my patterns and if there are those that are keeping me stuck – I gotta break them! Well, maybe HEAL would be a kinder word.
The hell of it is, none of us have any control over anyone or anything other than ourselves. If you think you do – you suffer. If I seek the approval of others there is almost a 100% chance that I don’t approve of myself. We all seem to seek the thing we are not giving ourselves.
If I abandon myself and what I know is true for me, in order to gain the approval of someone else – I am causing my OWN depletion. I water down what I can bring to the world that would make a difference.
So, my pattern gets triggered – (and this is my own doing!) by Don’s pattern. I have trained myself to get his approval is more important than my own approval of me. That is not the recipe for a healthy, full relationship. So… we are going to TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT. A radical shift to break the pattern of our intense emotional habits. Neither of us knows what this will lead to, yet no matter what, it will be better for both of us, we both are in agreement on that I believe.
I just finished Glennon Doyle Melton’s new book “Love Warrior”. It’s a memoir of her life and marriage and it’s a story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. Being in our truth, being our authentic selves, and how avoiding pain is actually what leads to massive amounts of it.
In the book, she writes about how when she would tell people her story of the pain she was going through in her relationship, most often they did what we all do… AVOID the conversation because it hits a little too close to home and we’ll have to face our own story of pain. Or we try to FIX it, give the person in pain all the answers because we can see so clearly what they need to do or how they should feel! Or maybe we COMPARE, which is just another way to avoid hearing the pain of the other person. We switch the story to be about ourselves, or someone we know who “went through that same thing”.
As Glennon says, people who are hurting don’t need avoiders, fixers or comparers. What we need are patient loving witnesses. People who will sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain. Rather than letting our own discomfort with their pain cause us to distance ourselves from it with platitudes or “it will all work out”. It WILL all work out – yet we must feel the pain first in order to get to that other side of it.
What If Being Love = Giving Someone Space To Evolve Through Their Pain?
What if the most loving thing you could do for someone going through something hard is to give them the space to FEEL their FEELINGS? And by space I don’t mean leave them alone. I mean you just love them, be with them, don’t try to tell them that what they feel is wrong somehow or “sell” them on looking at the bright side.
I’ve been through some murky crap in my personal growth the past couple of years. I’ve had plenty of evidence that would help me write a story of shame, hopelessness, feeling alone and like a victim. My dear friend Kelly has some of the greatest advice for me and I am so thankful for her patience to repeat it over, and over, and over again… “You get to feel however you want to, how you feel is NOT wrong.” “Love yourself.” And my personal favorite… “So?”
She gives me that space to feel what I feel, not trying to hurry me up to get “better” or solve the puzzle. This is possibly the biggest gift we can give someone we love. That space to work through the feelings without a focus on the outcome. This is such a huge gift because it helps our loved ones learn to find their own way through the dark night of the soul. It helps them know that there is someone there holding out their hand if they need it, yet willing to let you do it yourself without judgement.
“The journey is learning that pain, like love, is simply something to surrender to. It’s a holy space we can enter with people only if we promise not to tidy up.” -Love Warrior
Surrender means, by definition, giving up attachment to results. I know my next phase of the journey will have plenty of pain as it becomes more real. Yet I also know that as Joy said, trying something different can transform everything in a way that is better. Pain does not equal failure. Being approval addicted or any self-destructive pattern certainly leads to pain, not only for the seeker, but also for those that only see that mask we wear to gain the approval.
The path to empowerment is all about changing ourselves FIRST in order to create change in our lives. Self-approval/self-love is a way of living that not only causes you to stand in your own light, but also gives everyone you come into contact with – permission to do the same. Will you give YOURSELF permission to stand in your own light... full beam?
We humans all have lots of things in common. It seems to me one thing we don’t seem to think others share with us is the fact that we ALL suffer. Painful things happen in every single life, no one escapes the commonality if you are human.
People who are loving or compassionate, ornery or sad, awful things come to everyone and for some pain comes many times in a lifetime. I’m starting to think those who get the opportunity and gift of suffering several times in a lifetime are those who are really here for a very special reason.
I sort of see myself as a kind of human science experiment. I find myself in pain, I seek ways and tools to help me sort it out. Then what I try to do is “make my mess my message”. I share what I learn in the hope that it might be of service to someone else who comes up against the same kind of suffering.
So rather than asking “Why the hell is this happening to me!?!?” I try to remind myself to reframe it… “Why is this happening FOR me?” or “What is being made of me? What is this here to teach me about ME?” Sometimes it takes a few days of suffering before I get myself to that reframe, yet the more I practice, the faster I seem to be able to get myself there. Learning what the suffering is here to teach me is where the magic happens.
In a recent bout of painful thinking, I stumbled across several articles, inspirational e-mails, and just flat out signs that had a theme: Your relationships are mirrors – reflecting YOU back to you, over and over again. As Byron Katie says: “To think the person you are in relationship with is anything but a mirror is painful.” I think the reason it’s painful to think that it’s all THEM and not you, is because we are so quick to blame and find flaws in the other person. Yet if you look closely, you can be sure that any flaw you see in another is also in you – it just may manifest a little differently. By blaming and pointing fingers we dis-empower ourselves and become victims. This is ALWAYS painful. To become the victim is to dim yourself and that always feels like crap BECAUSE IT’S NOT TRUE. When you dim the light from within yourself, it’s a lie, and that’s why it causes us to suffer.
A very recent installment of the Daily Flame went like this…
So when we can pause, and notice what irritates us about others or causes us pain, and rather than blaming them or going on and on about their faults we see it as information that can help us become who we are meant to be, I gotta say at least for me – I feel a zillion percent better when I go the route of learning vs. blaming. And the second part of this work is to also drop blame of YOURSELF.
Ken Wilbur in “Meeting The Shadow” said this: “Projection on the ego is easily identified: if a person or thing in the environment informs us, we probably aren’t projecting.” So let’s say you see someone being rude and you merely receive that as information without judging it, you’re probably not projecting. “On the other hand, if it affects us, chances are that we are a victim of our own projections.” So if you are upset or angry or feel you must point the finger of blame – you are probably projecting an unhealed aspect of yourself.
If you are willing to see that what irritates you about someone else, is also in you, then the next step is NOT to eliminate that part of yourself – but to accept it. The goal is not to get rid of some part of yourself, it’s to merge those unhealed places in yourself with those parts you DO accept so you can become whole. As long as we won’t accept our negative qualities, we will continue to project them on to others. Seeing them in everyone else but ourselves. If we work to integrate and befriend those parts of ourselves we’ve deemed “bad”, we can become whole. All it takes to do this is to treat ourselves with the same kindness and understanding we give to pretty much everyone else we come in contact with.
Taking back our own projections and taking responsibility for them empowers us to come to a new place in the present. Whether we want to see it or believe it or not, the parts of ourselves that we hate the most in ourselves (and others) are running the show in our lives.
I’ve been so quick to accuse of those I love of poor behavior in some way. “If only he would _____.” “Why can’t he see that he’s being ___________.” The list goes on and on. Then I received this gift in the past week. An awareness that I hadn’t seen before. EVERYTHING the people I love were doing… (the stuff I blamed them for and was angry or frustrated about with them) I do the same damn thing – it’s just packaged a little differently, OR their behavior that I don’t like is something I don’t accept about myself, but I do it in some way that looks a bit different. Sometimes it’s hard to see that we are doing the same things that drive us nuts in other people. Let’s say someone lies to you and this infuriates you. You think “I would never lie!” Yet, it’s very likely that you are lying somewhere in your life and it may be that you are lying to yourself.
Debbie Ford had a great tool for making peace with ourselves in her book “Spiritual Divorce”. (Which is a great book by the way!) The first step is to identify what you like and don’t like in your partner. She says in order to do this, you must distinguish between qualities and behaviors. Let’s say your partner is distant and grouchy and you dislike this. You must go a step further and ask yourself what KIND of person would be distant and grouchy? Everyone will come up with a different set of words. You may come up with “mean”, “insecure”, “angry”, “closed”, “fearful”, “self-protecting”, “hurting”. List all the words you can come up with that describe what you are seeing.
It’s vital that you keep asking yourself what KIND of person would engage in the behavior that you dislike so that you’ll be able to see beneath the behavior. The next step is to look for where WE OURSELVES are not owning that we too have these same qualities in ourselves. Amazingly enough, most of us find a partner who demonstrates the very qualities we’ve tried so desperately to stay away from. With this awareness, we are at a crossroads – a chance to heal ourselves and embrace our whole selves, shadow and all. If we choose to turn our backs on this opportunity, we have to live with the fear that it will show up again, in another place. And it will.
This awareness that I can learn MY lesson by noticing what triggers me in the behavior of others has flipped a switch in me from suffering, to being excited about what I am learning about MYSELF. I have these glimpses that are lasting longer and longer that I am 100 percent responsible for my own happiness. And this is great news! I don’t proclaim that I will be able to maintain this awareness at all times, yet now that I have found my way there by looking for my own lesson about myself in the things that trigger me about others, I know how to find the path at least. I have come to understand that pain in my life is inevitable. When I use the circumstance that I see as causing my pain as a tool to heal myself in some way, I grow and things get better for me. When I use the circumstance to blame something outside of me, I keep pouring salt in my own wounds.
We all go through really tough times. Things that challenge how we feel about ourselves and we can easily be tempted to buy into what others are saying about us. If we can remember that what others say about us is a reflection of THEM, maybe we can think of ourselves as providing a service! Showing others who THEY are through what they project onto us.
The really great news is that you also contain in you the things that you admire in others as well. All you that you see and conceive is a reflection of our inner world. When you see qualities in others that you admire and love, you are seeing aspects of yourself that are wanting and ready to come forth in you.
As Robert Holden says “your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every relationship you have.” If this is true, when we are hard on others, blaming, unforgiving, finding fault, there is a good chance that this is also how we feel about ourselves. If you can’t let yourself off the hook, there is no chance that you can do that for anyone else in your life. If you’re hard on yourself, it’s incredibly likely that you will also be hard on those you have relationships with.
Let me be clear, once you realize that you too have the same things in you that you can’t stand in your partner or others, it’s crucial that you not go into blaming yourself. Taking responsibility for your whole self means NOT blaming yourself. If you kick your own butt, for kicking your own butt, you just keep the storyline going by judging yourself instead of your partner. It’s the same thing in a different pair for shoes.
Are you willing to look in the mirror of the people in your life you are in relationship with? They are there for a reason, a gift to help you heal and become whole if we are open to receiving the gift.
We all suffer. We all go through painful things. Sometimes it’s a sudden event, sometimes it’s a dull river of misery that we live with and become numb to over time. Either way, we have a choice to make – what will this condition make of me?
Martha Beck has a great six minute video on the idea of how suffering transforms us - when we allow it to. Invest 6 minutes in yourself or pass this on to someone who is going through something tough right now. I think you'll find it helpful.
Holding our own emotionally, in spite of what’s going on – it’s a great goal that we would all love to achieve I’m guessing. I suppose my hope for myself is that I study and consume a lot of personal growth information, so maybe I have a better chance of not allowing what is happening or other people to set my tone. When I made a call to my mentor Jim Taszarek a couple of years back to talk to him about something I dreaded telling him, I will never forget his first comment… “Well, welcome to the human race.”
Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug. We are ALL impacted by what’s going on around us, that’s the way it’s supposed to be to a certain extent. So what do we do when we feel like we’re simply not enough? Those times when you seem to be gathering piece after piece of evidence that confirms that you must have missed some very important days in school where you learned things about how to survive being human and what to do when things hurt.
My go to strategy is often to “suck it up”. Get tough, put a steel cage around my heart and gut it out. That used to work pretty well for me but what I didn’t realize is that there is a heavy toll with that tactic. You forget how to feel your feelings. You forget how to access your vulnerability and as Dr. Brene’ Brown says – the only way to get to courage, is THROUGH vulnerability.
One tool I have used and learned about is called “The Work” created by Byron Katie. It’s a series of four questions and a turn around to help you let go of pain through investigating it. The four questions are:
So let’s see if I can demonstrate by using the feeling of not being enough that I mentioned earlier. The statement might simply look like “I’m not enough, I lack what I need to be enough.”
The Work is very powerful also when you are shoulding. When you're thinking you or someone else SHOULD do this, they SHOULDN’T do that. An example might be something like “Sandy SHOULD appreciate me”
When I’m feeling like "the bug", my counselor Joy tells me to “breathe and observe. Give it time to unfold”. Letting things unfold and not forming the outcome as a means of protecting myself and my heart... is super challenging for me. There’s no way to know that the painful thing that is happening may lead to. Perhaps it is here to open the next door to the greatest good in your life. The Divine has its own way of doing things to get you to what is best for you and it’s usually NOT on your time table or plan. It makes me think of this story you may have heard before…
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "May be," the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "May be," replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "May be," answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "May be," said the farmer.
Something I think is important in this story, is that the farmer never BLAMED anyone or anything for what appeared to be something bad happening. When we feel like we’ve been squashed like a bug, it’s a strong tendency to find someone or something to blame. When we blame and criticize others, we are avoiding some truth about ourselves. It’s hard to accept personal responsibility sometimes, yet no one is doing anything TO us, we are creating it ourselves. So to try to blame when we get squashed we just end up making the pain worse than it already is by abandoning ourselves and giving our empowerment over to the “villan”. I try to remember to ask myself “what frequency am I on that I am drawing this to me?” or “What is there here to teach ME?” We get what we are, not what we want.
One thing that always seems to get me back on track when I am playing the role of the victim is to get myself on the frequency of what it is I desire. If I am focused on what is, I will likely get more of what is. If I can get myself in the feeling state of what I want, things always feel better. To do this, I ask myself "what is the next right step I can take to move me closer to what I WANT to feel?"
On the days we feel like we are the bug smacked into the windshield of life by events, other people, or anything that seems to hurt – try doing The Work on the painful thought. It is never the event that causes our pain. It’s the meanings we put on the event is what causes the pain. Examining the thought through inquiry of The Work is very powerful.
Or some other tools that help me are listening to music… LOUD music! Or dancing, running doing something physical and changing my physical state. Or journaling/writing. My former life coach Delia Knight said that the act of hand writing out your thoughts and feelings on paper is very powerful and she is 100% right about that.
Or if we can take a few breaths, open our heart, and do our best to let go of the outcome, the storm will pass through. You may need to physically stand up and expand your chest or do some yoga poses to open your heart when the emotional pain is intense. I have a tattoo to remind me of this. It was the most incredibly painful tattoo I’ve had done so far. Maybe that is appropriate. When the pain is the most intense, that is exactly when we must open, love and let go.
A big thing I learned from my counselor Joy is that it’s not about avoiding being “the bug”. It’s not about trying not to fall or feel pain. It’s about can I recover faster WHEN it happens? Because it’s going to happen. If you are a human being and you are actually participating in life, there WILL be pain. What next step can I take to get back on my own frequency, love myself, be there for myself. And who knows, just maybe that painful event is what leads to the next great thing for you. May be.
"The Bug" song by Dire Straits
Sandy Edie Hansen
I use this space to "Chat" about things I am working through and learning in my life currently. Join me!