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.
Sandy Edie Hansen
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