To Women Who’ve Been Abandoned

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To Women Who’ve Been Abandoned

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It’s taken me 38 years, a bunch of the wrong guys, two waffles, this Kelly Clarkson song, and a strong cup of coffee to talk about it.   I’d like to talk about my Dad leaving me.  And your Dad leaving you.

Sometimes Dads leave one big time or two and then we never see them again. Sometimes they hang around and leave us over, and over, and over again.   Emotionally, physically, one thing is for certain – they. just. leave.

Just saying it makes me feel nauseous.

However it happened, when the one guy who’s supposed to have our back and nurture our heart takes a good look at us and says “nah”, it feels like a huge, gaping hole in our chest. We spend a lifetime of “how the hell did I get in this mess again” moments and wonder what we did wrong.  Either way, we feel unloveable, and either way, when any good thing happens, we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Here’s the thing: we keep replaying old wounds as many times as we need, trying to get the ending we want.

It took twenty years of relationships that hurt for me to grow enough, get mindful enough, and get enough counseling to realize I was just re-playing the relationship with my Dad.

I wanted that warm kind of love where the person is there for you no matter what. You can see it in their eyes.  You can hear it in their voice.  You can feel it in the words they choose to use when they talk with you.  They just… show up for you.

Even though I wanted that, I could never seem to find it. I analyzed the guys and criticized myself.  Maybe I should be thinner.  Sweeter.  Less opinionated. Work on my bitchy resting face (which was totally not even a thing 20 years ago BUT I HAD IT, YOU GUYS).  It’s so hard to be undiagnosed.

I wish, I wish, I wish I could find the most perfect way to say this that would pierce right through to the center of your heart. I want you to get it.  I want you to stop hurting.  I want you to see this.

It was not your fault.

The things he did, the things he said, the way he absolutely could not seem to get his shit together enough to be there for you in any consistent way….

It was not your fault.

In fact, it had nothing to do with you.   Like how the color of a plane will not make a person unafraid to fly.  The plane could be painted the most perfect, glittering color with the most perfect shading.  It could even have the most perfectly organized, safest flight plan to the most perfectly beautiful places on Earth.  Filled with the most perfect luxurious seats, tables, trays, beds, and staffed with the most amazing, charming, wonderful, people on Earth.  Every single person on the planet could be in agreement that this is the perfect plane to fly in. And it will still not make a person unafraid to fly.  They simply will not get on that plane.

And they will handle that decision in one of two ways: they will turn around and leave, or they will approach the door and step back over and over again unable to find the strength to stay or go.

It’s not the plane’s fault the person doesn’t want to fly.

It’s not your fault your Dad didn’t want to be a good parent.

It’s not your fault your Dad didn’t know how to find the strength to work through his own shit so he could be there for you.

It’s just not your fault.

And… PS…. you are not destined to be alone. You are destined to be loved.  And that journey, dear one, starts with the tallest mountain first: learning to love yourself.

You are so brave. And so, so loved.

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Breaking Through Emotional Unavailability

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This is Part 4 of a four part series on Expectations:

Part 1: Expectations vs Contentment

Part 2: Where Do You End, and Where Do I Begin?

Part 3: Never Get Hurt Again. Ever.

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Last, week, my best friend and I were eating fried chicken and minding our own business when… WHAP!

Our “whaps” are like Oprah’s aha moments, but with much less grace and a whole lot less zeroes on the check.

Here’s what happened.

We were talking about boys, ourselves, and relationships in general.   And, of course, the subject of emotional unavailability came up. Because we are experts. We are experts at dating these types of guys and we are also experts at being emotionally unavailable.

What is this mysterious condition? You might ask. Well, I’m glad you did – because it’s a whopper.

Emotional Unavailability (EU) is basically when the lights are on in someone, but no one’s home. In other words, the person may be physically present, but their heart and mind are a million miles away. They are disconnected from you emotionally and, despite your efforts, you cannot reach them to connect.

EU can happen for a short period of time due to a traumatic situation (recovering from the shock of a death or car accident) or it might last for a long period of time because there are complex, unhealed wounds a person feels the need to protect.

There are some great articles online about emotional unavailability and one of my favorite is here: Understanding an Emotionally Unavailable Relationship.

We typically think of EU as a person is either emotionally available, or they are not. We say things like “oh, well, he’s just emotionally unavailable.”

What we mean is “I am trying really hard to connect with this person and it feels like they are shut down and closed off.”

Here was the “aha” moment:

Maybe a person isn’t just emotionally available or unavailable. Maybe a person can be both.

Here’s why.

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We all bring our past experiences to the table. In every relationship, including romantic ones. We build boundaries (framework) to protect ourselves from pain. That’s all ok, healthy, and good!

Do you have a friend or partner who you trust who you can tell absolutely anything to and know they would never intentionally hurt you?

Are you that kind of person?

I hope you feel like both of the answers to those are yes. If not, no sweat.. we can chat about that later and unravel that knot, ok?

Now, do you also know people who you would not tell your deepest, darkest secrets? People whom you do not trust?

Sure! We all know folks who we feel that way about.  Here’s the math:

  • When we feel safe, our guard comes down.
  • When we feel unsafe, our guard goes up.

In this sense, we all have the ability to hold space for being emotionally available when we want to be (when we feel safe), and emotionally UNavailable when we don’t (when we feel UNsafe).

#mind.  #blown.

So, dear one, the next time we think to ourselves “she/he must be emotionally unavailable” please consider adding the words “to me” at the end of that sentence.

Then, we can begin to ask really interesting questions.  Clarifying questions.   Truth telling questions.

And we may choose to find our way to intimacy. Or, not.

Onward….

Never, Ever Get Hurt Again. Ever.

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In our last post in this series on expectations, we started a conversation about framework.

Framework is basically the rules and structure that we use to sort through the events of our life – both the little day-to-day stuff and the really big stuff.

Here’s the thing about us. At first glance, it seems like we would build this framework based on what’s happening now to help us deal with whatever is happening now.

Surprisingly, it’s different. We build framework based on what’s already happened so we can try to predict what’s going to happen next.

Let’s say you go through something really hard, like a relationship that doesn’t work out. It could be romantic love, a friendship, a work relationship, anything. What is the first thing we do when it’s clear there is a separation we can’t fix? We call our best friend, or hit the gym, or eat some fried chicken and ice cream. And, we analyze. Oh, do we analyze.

We ask ourselves questions like:   What happened? What did I do wrong? What did they do wrong? Why didn’t I see this coming sooner? How can I make sure this never happens again?

I mean… this is a burning desire in us. We are driven beyond belief to try to prevent this pain from ever happening again, aren’t we? We talk with our friends, family, a counselor, even complete strangers about our story until we can make sense of it.

We are hard wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

What is it that we are trying to do with all this information?

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First, we look for a blueprint that will fit our current belief system. We hunt diligently, feverishly for patterns, clues, nuances, and scraps of information that will outline for us what this framework – our new, improved protective structure is supposed to look like.

This is a very big deal. It’s the latest, most updated version of something that is going to keep you safe and shelter you from breathtakingly painful events. Your body’s own “fight or flight” system is activated and you must protect yourself. It’s a survival instinct.

Your clues and patterns may look like this:

  1. Something someone said, wanted, or withheld from you.
  2. Something you said, wanted, or withheld from someone else.
  3. Something that happened immediately before you felt blindsided.

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Once you have an idea of what this structure is supposed to look like, you must look for building material. This is super important because you’ve got to make sure that your protective structure is strong enough to withstand whatever has already been hurled at you, and (egads) what is still out there waiting to be flung at you when you least expect it.

Your building materials are you looking for things that will withstand a terrible force. They will likely look like this:

  1. Shutting down
  2. Sleeping a lot or hard to sleep
  3. Reluctance or refusal to make new friends
  4. Withdrawal from your current friends & family
  5. Increased time spent alone
  6. General mistrust of others

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Lastly, you need to pick up your tools and build this thing. Have you ever noticed how when you learn something new, it seems to crop up everywhere? It’s a psychological process called Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

This same thing is going to happen when you build your structure.  You are going to feel all this “aha” new discovery wonderfulness and renewed vigor.  “I’ll never be hurt again!” will be your glorious war cry.

And, at first, it works fabulously.  The more you build, the more you see and hear clues from the world around that you that this thing is really going to work!! It’s so genius.  Why didn’t you think of this before?  You joyously beat away at this structure until you arrive at the final, amazing moment after which you can dust off your hands and be done with pain forever. You need to hang the door on your structure.

You stare at it for a moment, and try to make sense of it. What is this all about? There’s no doorknob on the door. How am I going to get in & out? How are others going to get in & out? You stand outside your structure and look up at the tall, massive walls. Holy crap, there are no windows in this thing. WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? HOW AM I GOING TO GET IN AND OUT?

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Deep breath.  Here’s the thing about external, rigid framework.  Nothing gets in, nothing gets out.  What we don’t realize when we start building is that everything goes in and out the same door:  love, pain, joy, sorrow, belonging, fear… all of it. What’s happening outside in life shines through the windows – sunshine, storms, hail that breaks the glass, little baby birds that sit on the windowsill and chirp.. all of it.

Stop and cry, or your version of pounding a pillow, if you need to because this sucks. It really does and it’s ok to feel however awful it feels about seeing that. To me, it was disappointing, incredulous, infuriating, embarrassing, and exhausting to think I had to start all over.

How do you protect yourself then? I remember actually physically and emotionally feeling like one of those metal balls in a pinball machine. Punched and jabbed from every side. It was so awful, but I don’t feel like that any more and you can, too.

What we do, instinctively, is we learn from nature and the world around us that, in order for things to be safe, there needs to be a hardness on the outside to protect the soft insides. We see this in hard bricks that house our families and the people at work, hard metal cars to protect us, armour worn in battle, shoes on our feet, jeans that our tougher than our skin, bicycle helmets on our heads and kneepads on our knees. We see this everywhere. And it’s true everywhere, except with ourselves. You know – the inside of us – our hearts, our spirit, the essence of who we are.

Seriously? You want me to stop protecting my heart!? That’s the whole reason this mess happened in the first place.   

Except, it’s not. Have you ever met someone who was prickly like a porcupine? Tense, got offended easily, not able to communicate freely how they felt about something they liked or didn’t like? That is the mark of someone who is soft on the inside and hard on the outside. They have built that hard, exterior structure with no working door or windows and nothing.. I mean nothing is getting in or out. Their guard dogs, Anger, Emotional Unavailability, and Withdrawl are fed a steady diet of shame, fear, and self doubt and are absolutely fat with it. And there they sit in the middle of that bare structure with no warmth, no meaningful human contact, no healthy food or emotional support. We wouldn’t let someone treat a human being or animal that way – so why on earth would it be ok to treat ourself that way?

Our strength must come from inside, not outside. Picture some of the strongest heroes you’ve seen. They are very likely strong, courageous, kind, inspiring, honest, and wise.

Are these qualities that are going to grow and flourish on a bare floor in a dark room? Nope.

Our mind, body, and spirit needs fresh air, sunshine, and even storms.

So what’s the answer? How do we protect ourself from pain?

It begins with awareness. When I felt like a ping pong ball, desperate to get out of harm’s way, I began to follow my curiosity on Google. The first thing I Googled was “what is a healthy relationship?” and, in two years of research and study, it seems like the questions have never stopped for me. Through that first search, I started seeing the word “boundaries” and really had no grasp of what those were.

Boundaries, my friend, are internal framework. They say “Whatever happens around me and with other people is outside of myself, I can only control two things:

  1. How close I let people get to me
  2. How invested I let myself get in something

We will talk more about boundaries next time, and I also highly encourage you to Google it if you’re curious. It’s a life changer 🙂

Onward……

Up next:  Boundaries:  Get Happy & Stay That Way

Expectations: Where Do You End, and Where Do I Begin?

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Our last discussion about expectations sparked new questions, radical brainstorming, and some heated debate.

Words like should and general gasping came up a lot.

Like this:

What are expectations anyway?

Well, they’re basically things you can predict from someone or something.

Does everyone agree on what those things are?

Ummm…. PAUSE. Obviously not.

So, what are expectations?

PAUSE

PAUSE

PAAAUUUUSSSEEEEE

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Right.

But… but…. We SHOULD be able to expect things from other people? How else do we know what to … uhhhh…      expect?! I mean, a person can’t treat us any way they want to!

Actually, a person can treat us any way they want to. And they do!

The interwebs are littered with statements like:    c3216c2d89fa7ed967b479e87915bf76

Alright… so if no expectations, are we all just flailing around out here willy nilly?  Fortunately, not.

The question then becomes “Where do you build your framework?”

We all have framework – it’s a basic need for our brain to be able to not process a million pieces of data a day. We establish assumptions, rules, and predictions based on experience.   We see a piece of metal coming toward us at a fast pace. Our brain flips through categories and quickly slips the incoming data in one – bullet (RUN!), car traveling reasonably on interstate (no reaction), spoon thrown by our 2 yr old (duck or catch it before ketchup gets on the wall).

Framework makes us feel safe. It lets us know what’s going on now and what’s probably coming next.

There are two places we can build our framework – internally (inside) or externally (outside).

  • External (outside) framework says that I must make sure everything around me is as I need and want it to be. Then, I can feel happy and safe.
  • Internal (inside) framework says that I must make sure everything inside me is as I need and want it to be. Then, I can feel happy and safe.

What do we have control over, really?

I mean…. really.

It’s a freaky thought, isn’t it?

Here is what we have control over, in a nutshell: we have choices.

Most of the time, those choices determine how we act when something happens. It does not control the “what happens” part of that sentence.

Goodness, this is just getting so good.  But I must sleep 🙂

Onward…

Next up: Internal and External Framework: Where do you build your strength?

Expectations vs Contentment

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Something happened today and it caused me to think about expectations.

In total fairness, my first reaction was surprise.  Then hurt.  Then blame.  Then shame.  Then, as the pain passed I was able to think about what I want.  Not about what someone else has to offer me…. but about what I do and don’t want in my life.

It occurred to me that people we know & love are just going about, living their own lives.  They have hopes, dreams, fears, and hang ups all their own.  Enter, us and our agenda.  Our expectations.  Our assumptions.  Our hopes, dreams, fears, and hang ups.

it.  gets.  messy.

Like, really messy.

I was really thinking about blame.  It’s my go-to deflector for discomfort.  “Well, I wouldn’t be hurting/embarrassed/upset if YOU had done… what I expected you to do.”

Who died and made us the boss?

I mean, really?

Who are we to have any expectation of another person?

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People make promises, and sometimes they don’t keep them.  That’s totally their stuff over there.  This is my stuff over here.

We assume that if someone says they love us, that means the same thing to them as those words to do us.

But it might not.

Expectations feel like control. It feels like they might be an excellent bridge to carry all our emotional baggage straight to someone else’s front lawn and dump it.

“Here”, we say. “You love me? You wanna be friends? Great. Now, you are responsible to please me and fill my pre-formed idea of what love and relationship should look like. Here is all my stuff. Please sort through the debris, drop your own issues like a hot rock, and present yourself to me confident, whole, and ready to make me happy.”

Are we serious with this shit?

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What if….
◾We expect things to be kinda messy.
◾We have compassion for someone else’s journey.
◾We take time to calm down and get some perspective when our own stuff gets triggered.
◾We get clear about what we want for our life.
◾We stay open, warm, and loving – especially when we are saying no thank you.

In moments where we feel our most loving, whole self, we are able to let relationships, opportunities, and life events ebb and flow in and out of our lives.

In a grace full, grateful way, we can sit in the green field of our own life and appreciate the simple goodness of breeze in our hair, the sun on our warm skin, and watch in love as time weaves its unique tapestry through our life.

It’s beauty takes my breath away sometimes – the joy, the pain, the peace, and always… always… the love.

Onward…

PS – I am quite sure there will be a follow up to this about what expectations are ok.  If there are any.  Research, here we come.

Meet Brene, the Queen of Shame

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If you have not yet watched Dr. Brene Brown’s TED talk about the power of vulnerability, I highly recommend it.  It’s a fantastic way to spend about 20 minutes and she will introduce you to concepts that will likely leave your mind blown and your heart in a new, amazing place.

The past 30 days have been a total technology buffet over here.  I discovered the awesomeness of podcasts (who knew?!) and, last week, Udemy.  Oh my goodness I love the access we have to amazing thinkers!

I want to share something from a course I took online last night from Brene. (She just seems more like a Brene than a Dr Brown).

In her research on shame, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness, Brene has uncovered a whole host of data that helps us get a better grip on how individuals experience love & belonging.

In the course last night, she talked about how we want to feel a sense of belonging, so we try to fit in.  She said that fitting in is the exact opposite of belonging.

Wait.  What?

Fitting in, as she puts it, is when we assess the group around us and trying to mold ourselves to what we think they will like.  When we examine how we feel later, we typically feel like we totally failed at fitting in.  Because what want (and don’t really know how to get there) is a sense of belonging.

Brene’s theory is that if we can hold space for ourselves to be authentic (don’t get small / don’t puff up) and vulnerable (show up & allow ourselves to be seen), then when we reflect back on the group experience, we feel a high sense of belonging.

It’s an amazing course full of how to deal with feelings of being enough, how to handle the carpool moms whose projects look just like Pintrest and say “bless your heart”, and how to work through some pretty heavy hitting stuff around shame.  Here’s a Google search for coupon codes for the course.  I think it’s normally about $70 and with the coupon I registered for roughly $29.

Onward…