Tag Archives: expectations

The Difference Between

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In the history of all days, today is one of the most beautiful.  The sky is clear & blue, it’s literally 72 degrees, and there’s a slight breeze.

Perfect.

I have a friend who is sad today.  I mean, life changing, devastatingly sad.  He is “between seasons”, as our friend Pastor Rob Bell would say.  Or, more specifically, he is exhausted from white knuckle hanging on to something that’s already gone.

I’ve been there, haven’t you?

As I pulled out of Mom’s driveway this morning headed back toward my house, I thought about the beauty of this day.  And I thought about all the days just like this that I was so entwined in wanting things to be different that I could not see what already is.

I get caught there sometimes, in the gap between what I have and what I want.

I legitimately thought for years that I would feel content and happy if I could just have the right job, the right house, the right friends, the right relationship, the right family.

There was a picture in my head and heart of this beautiful home, filled with happy people, and peace.

I changed cars, I changed jobs, I changed houses, I changed furniture, I changed my yard, I changed my kitchen, I changed my weight, I changed my education level.  I changed everything.  Still, not happy.  Not content.

In fact, things just kept getting worse.

What I didn’t know.  What I couldn’t have known, is that contentment can only grow in the pot of ME.  It can’t grow in a house, or a car, or a marriage, or a child, or a job, or an MBA.  It just can’t.

There are some completely confusing statements about contentment out there, too.  #1 on my list is:

“Learn to be content with what you have”

This statement, dear reader, is complete bullshit.

The idea is good – contentment doesn’t come from exterior things.  But the advice is no good.  What if the things in our life are awful?  Or (even more confusing) mediocre and barely, occasionally, meeting our basic needs? And, most certainly they are because if we haven’t yet done the work to heal what hurts, we have hired people and situations to hurt us in a way we know best.

Someone important left us?  We hire people and situations guaranteed to abandon us.

Someone important hit us?  We hire people and situations guaranteed to devalue us.

Someone important verbally/emotionally abused us? We hire people and situations guaranteed to continue the tradition.

The “why” of this is another post (note to self).

Anyway, we do these things.  And we are just not going to beat ourselves up about it.  What we ARE going to do is try to understand how to feel better.

One of the first things we must do for ourselves – our very first gift – is to begin to name our feelings.

I started this process 20 years ago and it was surprising to me that I really could not tell what it was I was feeling.  I just knew I felt bad.  My heart hurt.  My head hurt.  My body ached.  I felt tired all the time.

“Our emotions are our body telling us the truth” – Pastor Rob Bell, Seasons

I began to try to say how I felt out loud and found I had no words.  Like, literally no words.  I had never before said “I don’t like that”.  It was surprising to me to learn I didn’t know what I did and didn’t like!  How do I like my eggs?  What do I like on my pizza?  What is going ON with me?! I had no idea.  I just felt numb and icky.

So, whenever I felt icky, I would stand in front of the mirror and practice saying my feelings.  I was trying to name them.  It was like being color blind all my life and slowly gaining sight.  I would pause and get still, sometimes close my eyes, put my hand on my belly, and this is what would come:

I feel angry.

hmmm… my heart aches.  I must feel hurt.

Why do I feel hurt?  Because I feel disappointed.

Why do I feel disappointed?  Because things didn’t turn out the way I hoped they would.

OK! Listen, the first time I landed on “disappointed” it was like I could jump over the Empire State Building.  I had no idea that those finer emotions even existed in me!  I had rarely (if ever) acknowledged them or felt safe to express them.

Fast forward 20 years, and this helped me work on boundaries after my divorce. (Read:  Never, Ever Get Hurt Again. Ever.)

Study after study has confirmed that when we can NAME something, it loses it’s power over us.  We stop running.  We learn to sit with uncertainty and keep breathing in & out.  We get up and take a few steps, or maybe we just get up and stand.

Whatever it is, wherever we are, it’s just ok.

We learn to give ourselves grace and hold space for whatever it is we may be feeling. Sometimes it won’t be pretty.  It will often be something that brings a feeling of deep shame.  It’s ok.  Many, many, travelers have stood where you stand.  Keep going.

When you feel like the waters of your heart and mind are muddy, find a quiet space, put your hand on your belly, close your eyes, take some steadying breaths, and say “what am I feeling?”.

You’ll know when you hit truth.  You’ll feel it in your bones.

xo

Michele

Cheerfulness Does Not Equal Growth

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“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.” ~ Pema Chodron

The last few days, my mind has circled around a question: Is there darkness in light?

Most searches produced everything from scriptures to some in-depth physics analysis regarding whether or not there is light in darkness.

I went back to the basics.  What is light?” I Googled it.

Light is made up of waves and particle packets.  Ok.

Wait.

Waves.  Packets. Part of what makes up a wave form is the space between the peaks.  There is space between the inner workings of a photon. It’s not just one solid mass.

Part of what makes up anything is the space between the parts.  The space around and in is what gives something definition; shape.

So, then, is darkness not only a part of light….is it a key element of light’s ability to exist?

I wonder if it’s the same with people.  I wonder if our unique kind of darkness shapes our own unique kind of light.  I wonder if it’s the darkness in a star that makes it twinkle.

I wonder if our own darkness – our fears, our vulnerability, our humanity – is the very birthplace of all that is good (creativity, love, light). When love can grow there in us there, maybe it can grow everywhere.

When our soul longs for something …..more….

it seems like it always dips it’s paintbrush in these colors first to show us the way.

 

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Saying No to “Almost Amazing”

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Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia       July 2015

 “There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.
But sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life. That is the sort of bravery I must have now.” ― Veronica Roth, Allegiant    

 It is so incredibly easy to slip into a life we don’t love.  Even when we just spend every last ounce of our strength to crawl out of the valley – it can feel exhausting and isolated when we have to tell wonderful, beautiful, valuable people ….. no.

I hate saying no.  I hate saying it to my kids, to friends, customers, strangers, even.  I just don’t like saying it.  I especially hate saying no when it’s something that I want.
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I have learned the oh-so-hard way that we can want something that would feel amazing today, and hurt later.  It’s not so much a choice between good and bad, but between how we want to feel in our lives, and how we don’t want to feel.
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The hardest hardest thing is when we have to say no to something that is so almost the exact right thing we can taste it.
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Like our dream job that won’t quite pay the bills.
Like the private school that requires your child to practice a different religion.
Like the free vacation we don’t have the ability to take.
Like the relationship with the perfect guy who won’t commit.
Like the best friend who sometimes talks behind your back.
Like the employee who you love but your customers don’t.
Like the family member who only comes around when they want something.
Like the spouse who still sleeps in your house, but is not in love with you any more.
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These are the days we put on our grown folk pants.  These are the days we either are ready to lay the pieces out on the kitchen table and sort through them a little more, or we aren’t.
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One thing is for sure.  You can’t be ready until you’re ready.   You just can’t.
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We have a tribal rule here – we are not allowed to beat ourselves up.  So if you’re not ready, dear one, you’re just not ready.
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I know you want to do something.  You want to make progress.
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Today, just practice.  Practice being aware of your own self.  Practice taking a moment when you feel something and giving your own heart the attention you would someone you love so dearly.  With tender eyes, a warm voice, and a soft heart, ask yourself “what is it you’re feeling right now?”   Naming what we feel is perhaps one of the most powerful stepping stones to awareness we have.  It creates ownership and a sense of strength.
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And I know you need to feel stronger right now.
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Try this today and let me know how it goes.
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You are so brave. And you are 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?