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?
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:
- Something someone said, wanted, or withheld from you.
- Something you said, wanted, or withheld from someone else.
- Something that happened immediately before you felt blindsided.
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:
- Shutting down
- Sleeping a lot or hard to sleep
- Reluctance or refusal to make new friends
- Withdrawal from your current friends & family
- Increased time spent alone
- General mistrust of others
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?
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:
- How close I let people get to me
- 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 🙂
Up next: Boundaries: Get Happy & Stay That Way