Thinking Outside the Box: Learning to love everyone…I mean EVERYONE

Trigger Warning: Self-harm, depression, suicide

 

Birds of a feather flock together, right? Or so they say (whoever “they” might be).

 

We as people like everything to be organized by any number of qualifiers, whether it be size, color, species, etc. – “the tendency to classify and categorize objects is a deeply ingrained aspect of human nature” (Kaufman, 2012). If it is so deeply ingrained, it must serve a purpose, right? If I didn’t know how to categorize colors, I wouldn’t know how to put a cute outfit together. If I didn’t know how to categorize animals by “safe” and “not safe”, I might bring home a poisonous snake as a pet instead of a loving puppy. If I didn’t know how to categorize food by “healthy” or “not healthy”, I might end up eating junk all the time. (We’ll ignore the fact that I do eat junk all the time. It’s an example, people!) The reason we have communities, clubs, churches, and work organizations is because unique individuals find something in common with others and they choose to build on those similarities. Countries are based on shared national pride. Support groups are based on a shared need that would otherwise go unmet. Categorization can be a very good thing!

 

However… “this fundamental skill can also be extremely damaging, especially when it comes to categorizing people” (Kaufman, 2012). A fact of human nature is this: people or things that are different scare us. Have you ever had someone come up to you who doesn’t speak the same language? It’s absolutely terrifying (maybe not for everyone, but certainly for someone with Social Anxiety like me). This person doesn’t communicate like I do. While I don’t see it as a bad thing, it’s still scary. It makes me uncomfortable. I start to panic and wonder how on earth this is not going to end in disaster. Are either one of us right or wrong? No. We’re just different. I should rejoice in those differences, but instead they make me shake in my boots.

 

That is a very literal way of saying someone scares me because I don’t understand them. I actually cannot understand the words coming out of their mouth. What’s the solution to this? If I am never going to interact with this person again (or anyone else who speaks that language), I might do my best to draw or mime until we get somewhere. Or I might just pretend I’m about to miss the bus and go running in the other direction as fast as I can. It’s hard to say. On the other hand, if I am going to spend time around this person (or others who speak this same language), it would be in my best interest to quickly devote some time to learning not only the basics of the language, but also build some general knowledge of their social customs and culture. Why are both important? First, learning the language will obviously foster communication and make interactions a little less scary. In addition to this, learning a bit about their culture will help me move forward with communication and interaction in a way that hopefully won’t come across as offensive or ignorant. The only thing I would ask from the individual(s) is that they have a healthy dose of patience and the ability to forgive as I inevitably make mistakes throughout the learning process.

 

I used to be very involved with the Deaf community. I was going to school to be a sign language interpreter, spent most of my time around Deaf people (including my then boyfriend, who was born profoundly deaf), and was planning a career around this beautiful language and culture. To become fluent in the language and comfortable with various interactions, I chose a total immersion approach. Besides interacting with my family and coworkers, I devoted all my free time to putting myself in potentially uncomfortable situations in which I would gain experience and exposure to the Deaf world. I put aside the idea that Deaf people need a hearing person’s help – I realized quickly that this perception would get me nowhere in such a tight knit community (never mind the fact that it is 100% false). Instead, I took on the mentality that I had a chance to grow as an individual and expand my comfort zone by mega proportions. Not only did I meet wonderful people (my best friend of 12 years is a perfect example!), I learned how to be comfortable with a form of communication that requires expressiveness to the extreme. Without dramatic facial expressions and big sweeping gestures, the meaning of some statements or words may be completely missed. This forced a very shy and introverted girl to become more comfortable in her own skin and with her own facial expressions. The amount of patience I received from Deaf individuals made my learning experiences far more positive than they could have been. This is a perfect example of how stepping out of our comfort zone can lead to incredibly valuable (even necessary!) personal growth. Although I did not complete the interpreter program, those experiences forever shaped my life and my ability to express myself in a more meaningful manner.

 

Now let’s take that concept and apply it to a different form of not understanding someone. Whether it’s because of differing faiths, cultures, health circumstances, political persuasions, sexual orientation, etc., there is no shortage of ways in which I may not understand someone’s experiences or their chosen lifestyle. Does that mean I should pretend they don’t exist or even demand that they change who they are so I feel more comfortable around them? No! If someone is different or I don’t understand them, it just means I have been given a wonderful learning opportunity. Instead of building walls and sticking within my very limiting comfort zone, I must learn as much as I can about whatever difference may exist between us. Hopefully they will return the favor, along with respect, patience, and understanding as I try to bridge the canyon that separates us.

 

I am specifically thinking about how we as a society and as unique individuals interact and react to individuals who suffer from mental illnesses. We all know there is stigma. We all know there are many mental health needs that go unmet or unnoticed. I’m sure we would all love to say that we would never treat someone with a mental illness any differently than any other person with whom we might cross paths. But if you think long and hard, this might not be the case. I struggle with Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and Social Anxiety, but even I react poorly to others with mental illnesses I don’t understand. I say this to point out that we all struggle, whether we have personal experience with mental illness or not. Let me give a few common examples – think about how you would likely react (not how you should react…how you would react). Think about the thoughts that would immediately jump into your mind.

 

  1. You are out to dinner and your server reaches for you glass to refill your water. You notice an abundance of scars on her wrist. She clearly was, or perhaps still is, a cutter.
  2. You just parked your car and noticed an individual kissing the roof of his car, walking away, then returning to do it again before finally entering the store.
  3. Your seemingly happy cousin attempts suicide.
  4. You invite a coworker to your Fourth of July BBQ, but they refuse to stay for the fireworks. They get sweaty and start acting strange when you insist.
  5. You overhear a girl who looks to be about 90 pounds complain that a certain dress makes her look fat.
  6. Your colleague brings their brother to a work-sponsored softball game. The man will neither make eye contact with you or shake your hand when you first meet, then later tells you that your hair cut is sloppy.
  7. You are at the store and witness a mother walking down the aisle while her child repeatedly kicks at her and tells her how much he hates her.

 

Are any of those scenarios similar to something you have experienced? If so, did you laugh or go home to tell your spouse or friends about the crazy person you saw or met? Do any of those examples make you feel uncomfortable by simply reading them? I’ll be the first to raise my hand. For the sake of conversation, let’s expand on each example.

 

  1. You are out to dinner and your server reaches for you glass to refill your water. You notice an abundance of scars on her wrist. She clearly was, or perhaps still is, a cutter.

When people see another person with cutter scars, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that they must have gone through a broody phase as a teenager during which they hurt themselves for attention. In some cases this might be true, but not in most cases. Self-harm is an extremely common coping mechanism. According to Psychology Today (2019), “self-harm, or self-mutilation, is the act of deliberately inflicting pain and damage to your own body and can include cutting, burning, scratching, and other forms of injury.” That means a cry for attention, right? Not necessarily. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains that “hurting yourself – or thinking about hurting yourself – is a sign of emotional distress”  and that “when a person is not sure how to deal with emotions, or learned as a child to hide emotions, self-harm may feel like a release” (NAMI, 2019). You might be asking, “How on earth could cutting, burning, or any other form of self-harm be a release?” Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that physical pain can go a long way toward relieving emotional pain. I thankfully never got into cutting, but I was a burner and have always been a skin picker. As someone who has always struggled with healthy coping mechanisms for emotional pain, I found relief in self-harm because 1) physical pain is something I can understand and 2) I was controlling what was causing me pain, which is typically not the case when it comes to emotional pain or trauma. I have found more socially acceptable forms of causing physical pain (i.e. tattoos), but that doesn’t mean I am not still tempted by other forms of self-harm. If you know someone or come across someone with scars, don’t judge them. Understand that they have been through things you can probably not comprehend and that they need kindness and support more than anything. Don’t treat them like they are lesser individuals. Encourage them to get help – therapy is a great way to learn healthier coping mechanisms. Sometimes even just providing them with a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on provides enough of an outlet that they don’t feel the need to hurt themselves. You may not understand it, but acknowledge their pain without being one more judgmental person in their life.

  1. You just parked your car and noticed an individual kissing the roof of his car, walking away, then returning to do it again before finally entering the store.

Lets talked about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s not uncommon to hear people say “I have OCD” just because they like their Tupperware organized or their piles of paper neat and tidy. This is not OCD. True OCD “is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over” (NIMH, 2016). I dated someone who had severe OCD. He was literally unable to walk away from his car without first holding his arms out to the side, leaning over, and kissing the room of the car. Likewise, he could not leave his apartment without kissing the door frame on the way out. When he would try to practice self-control and walk away from his car or apartment door without doing the kissing ritual, his subsequent anxiety was debilitating – he would either have to return to the car or return home to complete the ritual so he could continue with his daily life. He also struggled with obsessive thoughts about taking a large kitchen knife and stabbing himself. Look back at the NIMH definition, though – these behaviors and thoughts are uncontrollable. Can you imagine knowing how ridiculous you look kissing your car, but being unable to control the need to do so? Take care when flippantly saying you have OCD or laughing at someone who appears to be doing something bizarre. Remember that it is a truly life-changing struggle for many people – as many as 2.5% of our adult population have this illness (BeyondOCD.org, 2018).

  1. Your seemingly happy cousin attempts suicide.

How many times do you hear it said of people who attempt or commit suicide that “they seemed so happy and normal”…? Does this mean they were liars, really good actors, just seeking attention, or possibly so emotionally distressed that they couldn’t bring themselves to open up to anyone about their struggles? According to the World Health Organization, “close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds” (WHO, 2019). Do the math. How many people have died just while you’ve sat here reading this blog post? They may be strangers to you, but it is still a devastating loss of human life. Here’s the deal, though – “people can be so quiet about their pain, that you forget they are hurting. That is why it is so important to always be kind” (Unknown). Seriously…telling someone who feels suicidal or has attempted suicide that they shouldn’t be so selfish or that they have a lot to live for will only make them feel guilty and put them into even more emotional turmoil. Suicidal ideation is a very real thing, whether you have been personally touched by it or not. My best suggestion is to look beyond someone’s outward behaviors and words. Really look them in the eye. When you ask someone how they are doing, listen to their answer. You might be thinking to yourself, “How the heck am I supposed to know someone is depressed if they don’t come out and tell me?” I have news for you – people who are truly depressed and suicidal likely won’t come out and tell you. That’s why we need to be so in tune with those around us and learn how to see the signs – withdrawal from social interaction, absences from work, extreme pessimism, maybe even frequent references to death. And remember: just because someone has started seeing a therapist or taking medication, this does not mean they are out of the woods. Always keep an eye on people. Your kindness might just be what gives them enough hope to carry on for one more day.

  1. You invite a coworker to your Fourth of July BBQ, but they refuse to stay for the fireworks. They get sweaty and start acting strange when you insist.

It may very well be that your coworker has severe Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is triggered by fireworks or other loud noises. This disorder “can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault” (Psychiatry.org, 2017). Perhaps they are a war veteran who does not speak of his experiences because they had such a profoundly negative affect on his life. Perhaps he was a gunshot victim in a terrorist attack. Perhaps he was beaten by his father during a fireworks show. It could be any number of things. What’s important to remember is that people have a reason for declining invitations or saying they need to leave early. If they want to share those reasons, great. However, if they are clearly uneasy about doing something, don’t force them to do it if you do not know or understand their background or experiences.

  1. You overhear a girl who looks to be about 90 pounds complain that a certain dress makes her look fat.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “there is a commonly held view that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are actually serious and often fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors” (February 2016). Let me drawn your attention back to the words often fatal. I was surprised to learn that “anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder” (NEDA, 2018). Instead of judging someone for being too thin or self-absorbed, remember that true eating disorders can be incredibly dangerous and life-threatening. If you have children or are around children, look for the signs early. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that “the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness,” and lists bullying/weight shaming as a huge issue (NEDA, 2018). Teach your children to be kind to other children, regardless of how they look or how much they weight. Teach yourself to be kind. Yes, it is someone’s own choice to go down the road of an eating disorder, but if we aren’t teaching our kids to not bully others, aren’t we as much to blame as that individual? It is our responsibility to change the societal view that both women and men must be a certain pants size to be appreciated, valued, and loved. No one deserves to feel less than perfect.

  1. Your colleague brings their brother to a work-sponsored softball game. The man will neither make eye contact with you or shake your hand when you first meet, then later tells you that your hair cut is sloppy.

I came across this incredible meme about autism the other day:

autism

It moved me. It reminded me that just because I don’t understand what it’s like to have autism (or any mental health disorder or illness), doesn’t mean I should call someone weird or crazy for their exhibited behaviors. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) “refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication” (AutismSpeaks.org, n.d.). If you know or find out that someone has ASD, this doesn’t mean you should avoid them. This means you should pay close attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues. If they don’t feel comfortable shaking your hand, don’t force them to shake your hand. Also, remember that ASD is 100% unique to each individual – it’s called a spectrum for a reason. The Autism Speaks organization (n.d.) has this powerful quote by Dr. Stephen Shore on their website: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Read that again. Think about how that applies to ASD or to any other mental illness. You might know ten people with ASD, but that doesn’t mean the 11thperson you meet will have the same needs as any of the other ten. Doesn’t that apply beautifully to humans in general? We simply cannot generalize, regardless of the disorder – especially if it has anything to do with the human mind!

  1. You are at the store and witness a mother walking down the aisle while her child repeatedly kicks at her and tells her how much he hates her.

This example hits home for me for a number of reasons. I have witnessed this in the store before. If I hadn’t known someone who has a child with similar behavioral tendencies, I probably would have thought the boy was abused and/or the mother simply didn’t pay him enough attention. The mother I witnessed was simply continuing her shopping, despite the stares coming from all directions, and she kept telling him “I know” every time he stated that he hated her or that she was a horrible mother. So whose fault is this? Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the child is either spoiled rotten or completely neglected, could there be another explanation? I’ll give you a little hint: there can always be another explanation. Any number of mental illnesses could cause that kind of behavior. In this case, my heart goes out to both the boy suffering from something, as well as the mother, who has probably tried just about everything to get her little boy back – psychotherapy, psychiatric care, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, etc. Mental illness is particularly challenging with a child. How long should one experiment with medication dosages and combinations? How far should one push the child with therapy? How does one deal with the behavioral outbursts at school? How can one cope at home when there’s no escape for anyone involved? My point with this example is as follows: don’t assume the child is a spoiled brat and don’t blame the parent. You have no idea what they might be going through. You have no idea what measures they have taken to try to get any sort of behavioral issues under control. Show some grace. Show both the child and the parents that grace. They are trying and they didn’t choose this.

 

I hope you’ve learned something, as I did during my research for this post. I hope you remember that categorization and labels don’t always improve a situation. What improves already difficult circumstances is education. Learn about the disorder, illness, etc., and learn how to talk about it and interact with those affected. Putting yourself out there in a non-offensive way will result in more kindness toward others, as well as increased personal growth and understanding. I hope that next time you are in public and see someone “different,” that instead of pointing and laughing, you hold out your hand, an open mind, and a willingness to learn about what makes them special and unique. Think outside the box. Celebrate the differences and the light we each bring to this world.

“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegrut

“…every single person on this planet has their own unique combination of traits and life experiences” (Kaufman, 2012).

 

References

AutismSpeaks.org. (n.d.). What Is Autism? Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

 

BeyondOCD.org. (2018). Facts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved from http://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts

 

Kaufman, S. (2012). The Pesky Persistence of Labels. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beautiful-minds/201210/the-pesky-persistence-labels

 

NAMI. (2019). Self-Harm. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/related-conditions/self-harm

 

NEDA. (2018). Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. The National Eating Disorder Association. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders

 

NIMH. (2016). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml

 

NIMH. (February 2016). Eating Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml

 

Psychiatry.org. (2017). What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

 

Psychology Today. (2019). Self-Harm. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/self-harm

 

WHO. (2019). Suicide Data. World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/

 

A Thousand Words (Part 2)

I realized the other day that I am not the only collector of sayings. I was reading a book that my best friend gave to me – Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed. In the book’s introduction, the author put my exact feelings about quotes into words. She says, “I think of quotes as mini-instruction manuals for the soul… I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt many of us have murmuring in our heads” (2015, p. X). Besides the fact that this is in and of itself a wonderful quote, it explains why I insist on taking pictures and making notes when I see or hear a meaningful quote. To hear my own heart’s contemplations in another’s words reminds me that life is a collective struggle. Obviously someone didn’t write a quote for me…they wrote it because their own heart is feeling its way through this ugly thing called life. You are not alone. I am not alone. We are in this together.


“Tears are words that need to be written.” – Paulo Coelho

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

I paired these two together because, in my mind, they are essentially saying the same thing. As someone who has always best expressed herself through the written word, I can very much relate to the idea that my writing is simply my emotions and internal battles laid out using letters, words, and sentences. My best writing usually comes when I am the most emotional. I often cry as I write. It’s like my tears are crying out to be heard. They have a story to tell. Who am I to not tell it? I also believe that in order to write well, I must be willing to open up emotional wounds and poke at bruises on my heart. I write to dissect my spaghetti mess of jumbled up thoughts and feelings. For anyone out there who doesn’t trust their ability to write or think they will do it wrong, I’ll tell you what I tell myself: Be real…be honest…be kind. Close your eyes and compose a masterpiece.


“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve been there. Oh, how I’ve been there. The is an almost indescribable moment when the penny drops – when you know that your life will never be the same. Regardless of inklings or evidence to that effect, there is that one moment when you realize the truth of your situation. Fitzgerald is right – in that moment, the rest of the world seems to fade away as you are faced with something coming to an end. It might be your job, your health, a relationship, your living situation, or the life of someone you care about. It might be a million other things.

For me, I think back to the time I found out that my husband of five years had been cheating on me and had a child with her. It was complete coincidence that I found out – a friend of a friend was taking a class with her. My friend opened up Facebook to show me a picture of my husband with her. I remember feeling like I was in a tunnel. There was a roaring in my ears, yet everything seemed silent. I remember holding my breath. I remember focusing on that picture, while the rest of the world faded away completely. I remember thinking, “This is who he really is. I’m married to a monster. I am now free.” It’s strange that I vividly remember that thought: “I am now free.” It was like I replayed our entire relationship in that millisecond – our life together literally did flash before my eyes. All the signs I’d been avoiding were brought to the forefront. His behavior suddenly shone with clarity. It’s bizarre how the rest of the world truly does disappear in a moment when you receive such devastating news. I remember my friend saying, “Will you please say something or cry or get angry? Do something!” That’s when I stopped holding my breath, looked away from the picture, and told her I needed to go home. I knew I had to start over and that it had to happen that day. Life would never be the same. I would never be the same.


“I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames with buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire.” – Unknown

I value the idea that, while struggles are there to make me stronger as an individual, they are also there to make me more empathetic and kind toward other people going through something similar. Consumed means to “completely destroy” or “use up” (2019). Not only have I felt consumed by anxiety, depression, and grief, I feel consumed by them. I am not out of the woods yet. The most important thing I have learned is that my struggles with anxiety and depression are worth it if they teach me to look outward instead of focusing on myself. By recognizing that I am not the only one who suffers from a chemical imbalance in my brain, I also recognize that I am not the only one who wonders if I am going to survive one more day. With that recognition comes a sense of faith in the power of solidarity. Who am I to mope around when so many thousands of other people are feeling similar thoughts and struggling with similar fears. Why not use my experiences to reach out to people and remind them that they aren’t alone. And in doing so, I remind myself that I am not alone either. We’ve all been to hell and back as a result of some experience or situation. Let’s acknowledge that fact and use it to positively reinforce a community of support. My pain may be different from yours, but we are both experiencing pain. Let’s help each other out. I’ll douse you with buckets of water, but only if you douse me as well. We’re in this together, friend! Don’t ever forget that.


“Have a heart soft enough to give love and mercy, but that is wise enough to know boundaries.” – Kayil Crow

This quote resounds with me for a number of reasons. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a pushover. I go above and beyond to do anything for anyone, even to my own detriment. I am realizing, though, that to show true love and true mercy, it is not necessary to sacrifice myself. If I don’t protect myself, I will be unable to continue showing love and mercy in the future. True kindness does not come at the cost of self. It’s taken me a long time to see the wisdom in the establishment of boundaries – I still struggle with it on a daily basis! At least now I see that having boundaries can make me an even more loving and kind individual. Only when I take care of myself can I truly take care of others. I’ve always hated the saying “Look out for number one,” but it might actually be the best advice out there. If number one gets burned out, loses faith, and dies a painful death of the spirit, there will be no other number anything to watch out for. It’s okay to tell people you aren’t up for hanging out. It’s okay to tell someone you can’t afford to go to dinner with them. It’s okay to say no! Believe it or not, the world won’t fall apart, implode, or go into civil unrest. (I know! I was shocked to find that out too!) Be good to others by being better to yourself.


“The broken will always be able to love harder than most. Once you’ve been in the dark, you learn to appreciate everything that shines.” – Unknown 

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” – Hafiz

Realizing how well these two quotes go together kind of blew my mind. Read them over again a few times. While we are lost in darkness, other people see this vibrant light that somehow still manages to break through all that black fog. As long as we are surrounded by the right people – the people who are willing and able to remind us that we have goodness and light that outshines the dark – we will not only learn to recognize and appreciate the light in others, but also in ourselves. I firmly believe that the true lesson in many struggles is to learn and respect how strong we are because of (not in spite of!) all we go through. We do shine bright. Everything, including ourselves, will seem so much more brilliant and beautiful after dawn finally breaks. If you have been trudging through the dark, feeling lost and alone, let me be the first to tell you that you are beautiful…you are brave…and your light is showing! I see it. I see you.


“You have to meet people where they are

and sometimes you have to leave them there”

– Iyanla Vanzant

The first part of this quote is important. It is the definition of empathy. Regardless of where we are at, we have to be able to walk up, down, backwards, or sideways to get to someone right where they are. As soon as we stand up and act all high and mighty, that person is going to be running the other direction. By getting on eye level, offering unconditional love and acceptance, we may find the opportunity to make a rare difference in someone else’s life. That being said, the second part harkens back to that other quote about setting boundaries. Sometimes, no matter how hard I want to make a difference in someone else’s life, I just can’t. Regardless of how much love, empathy, or respect I feel I have to offer, they do not return the sentiment. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that if you just keep trying and trying and trying, they will eventually cave and let you love them. Some relationships, whether platonic or romantic, just aren’t meant to be. And it’s 100% okay to accept this and move on. Don’t burn yourself out trying to prove to someone that you empathize. Don’t put your own mental, emotional, or physical health on the line to love someone who doesn’t want or appreciate your love. It’s just not worth it.


“Finding your passion isn’t just about careers and money. It’s about finding your authentic self. The one you’ve buried beneath other people’s needs.” – Kristin Hannah

Hmmmm. I’m starting to see a pattern in my own collection of quotes. Clearly I have had (still have!) boundary issues. I have a tendency to put aside my own hopes, dreams, and aspirations so that I might help someone else realize theirs. Now that I am once again single and trying to start life fresh, I am for once seeking my own personal passion. For far too long I have tried to find joy and meaning in someone else’s passion. I lose myself in whatever hobby or interests my significant other or friends might have. I think that if I mirror their passions, I will possibly feel more whole or complete. I also have let the opinions of others influence whether or not I do more of what I love. I’ve never been with someone who likes wine, so I’ve always confidently said that I dislike wine. Well, guess what? Now that I don’t have anyone else’s opinions to hide behind, I’m realizing that I love wine! Now that I’m not spending every weekend with someone else’s friends or at whatever sporting event I’m expected to happily attend, I’m realizing that I love to paint! I’m realizing that it’s okay to work on a craft for myself. The world doesn’t come crashing down around me if I don’t gift everything I make. Now that I am able to manage my finances in a way that is both responsible and wise, I was able to quit my second job and focus on pursuing my new interests. What I’m getting at is this: your identity and your passions matter too. Don’t hide behind what everyone else wants, needs, or desires. You. Matter. Too.


“You can survive losing a piece of your heart without losing the core of who you are” (Hollis, 2018, p. 157).

Not to sounds dramatic or pathetic, but I feel like I have lost way too many pieces of my heart. I give them away like I give away almost all of my crafts. I have always done that because in my heart of hearts, I believe that people are basically good. I have faith that they will take that piece of my heart and be kind to it. Unfortunately, not everyone has good intentions. Also unfortunately, never once has my piece of heart been returned to me so that my heart becomes whole again. There are quite a few people walking around this planet with a part of me forever in their grip. Here’s why I love this Rachel Hollis quote: each little piece of my heart does not make up who I am. When you pull a grape off a big cluster of grapes, yes you have one less grape, but you still have so many more. Who you are is not defined by the small pieces you relinquish to other people. Your identity is not tied to that tiny bit of you that you will never get back. You are a vibrant, resilient individual. Hey…you heard me…your resilience is showing.

 

I see you.

 

References

Bishop, Gary. (2016). Un#@%! Yourself. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Consumed. (2019). In online English Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/consume

Hollis, Rachel. (2018). Girl, Wash Your Face. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books.

Strayed, Cheryl. (2015). Brave Enough. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

An Arduous Journey: Letting go of what should be and loving what is

not broken

“Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.” – Joubert Botha

 

You could beg someone to heal you

In all the ways you can’t heal yourself.

But other people are not bandages.

You are your own journey.

The pain belongs to you.

(Peppernell, 2018, p. 72)

The most common definition of the word Journey is simply “an act of travelling from one place to another” (Journey, 2019). There is a secondary, weightier, definition: “A long and often difficult process of personal change and development” (Journey, 2019). Change is never easy. There are always growing pains, the fear of the unknown, grief for what may be lost in the process, and a constant ache for that which is familiar and comfortable. Physical journeys, as in travel or change in residency, can be challenging; however, I would argue that personal journeys are the most difficult. Like the above quotes suggest, what can be most difficult is the sense of aloneness when others don’t quite get it or simply can’t help. But they have their own journeys that they should be worrying about. What is important in personal development is you.

So what do you do when it’s you who doesn’t understand your journey? It is for you, so clearly you should understand it, right? Not so fast. I think if we fully understand the why and how of personal development, it wouldn’t be difficult. We would just do it and call it a day. For me personally, my lack of understanding stems from my inability to let go of what I think should be so that I am free to love what is. I view myself, in particular, as I feel I should be. This makes it impossible to cherish all aspects of myself. My goal this year is to learn how to let go of how perfect I feel I should be, while learning to love the imperfections that make me the unique human I am.

I explained to my therapist this week that I know where I want to be as far as self-love and a greater appreciation for my own worth, but I don’t know how to get from Point A to Point B. I see Point B, but don’t have the roadmap to get there. She encouraged me by saying, “Recognizing point B is an important first step. However, don’t discount the journey from one point to another. You figure it out as you go.” We talked about how the journey along the way is what teaches us, stretches us, and grows us into the person we want to become. If we rush the journey, we may miss many important and fulfilling growth opportunities – some may be more difficult than others, but they will all be vital in allowing our personal development to take place.


“I know this transformation is painful, but you’re not falling apart; you’re just falling into something different, with a new capacity to be beautiful.”     – William C. Hannan


My Point B looks a little bit like this: I have achieved a level of self-love and self-esteem to either embrace being single and enjoy being alone with myself, or to have the tools and self-respect I need to be a contributing partner in healthy relationship. Note: by “healthy relationship” I mean one that involves equal amounts of give and take from each partner. Ideally, I would love to say I end up in a wonderful relationship with someone who, for once, respects and love every side of me. I am realizing, though, that I would again be getting stuck in what I believe I should be doing. That may never happen. If I am looking for it to happen, I will be more likely to force something that isn’t meant to be. I believe this would continue the cycle of broken and unhealthy relationships, which is the last thing I want right now or in the future. Enough is enough.

I keep coming across sayings about love and relationships. It’s almost like life is throwing my new goals back in my face. It’s saying, “You think you can learn to love being single, well here…have this to think about what you’ll be missing.” I have been able to take these sayings, however, and really dissect their meanings. I see bits and pieces of my own journey towards self-love.


“It’s all about falling in love with yourself and sharing that love with someone who appreciates you, rather than looking for love to compensate for a self-love deficit.” – Eartha Kitt

This one definitely hit home. It literally is my journey. My entire adult life has been spent trying to invent a sense of self-love and self-worth through my relationships with others. Obviously this is not healthy or successful. The definition of insanity, which may or may not have come from  Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (brainyquote, 2001-2019). I know I am a little bit crazy, but I’d like to think I’m not insane. Having three sets of divorce paperwork in my possession, as well as my bad habit of jumping straight into another unhealthy relationship, would suggest otherwise. My desire to find identity in who I can be for someone else, instead of finding my own identity and then going into a relationship with self-confidence, has simply not been effective. Unless I want to go on with this insanity, I need to stop doing things backwards. That is why this journey is so important. If I can learn to love myself – the good, the bad, and the ugly – then it won’t matter if I end up single for the rest of my life. If that ends up being the case, I will spend the rest of my life with the one person who loves and appreciates every aspect of me. What more could I ask for?


“I don’t want my idea of you. That’s too easy, and it isn’t real. I want you, faults and all. And I want you to want me, faults and all, not any ideas you have about love.” – Waylon H. Lewis

I’d love to say this to someone special, but for now I need to learn how to look in the mirror and say these things. I will never find happiness in the quite moments with myself if I am unable to let go of who I wish I was and embrace who I am. Until I can say this to myself with confidence, it will never be an honest statement to anyone else.


“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” – Thomas Merton

Much like the quote before this, these words resounded with me because it involves embracing how perfectly imperfect we are. If I am to accept others and love them because of their imperfections, not in spite of them, I must first learn to do the same with myself. My struggle in the past is that I have always been very forgiving and accepting of my significant other, but do not demand the same in return. The reason I do not demand the same in return is that I do not see myself as worthy of forgiveness and acceptance. My mindset has always been that other people make mistakes because they are human, but how dare I make any mistakes. It’s not that I don’t view myself as human – that truly would be insane – but rather I do not view myself as worthy of love because I am not perfect. I had a conversation with someone the other day in which she said her goals for 2019 are to be more empathetic and to show more forgiveness. I told her I am able to offer that to others, but not myself. As my therapist told me later that same day, realizing that is half the battle.


“You must remember that you are human. Filled with thoughts and feelings that will make you ache until the pain feels it might stay. But it is not here to ruin you. The ache is here to remind you that you will survive, in anything you do” (Peppernell, 2018, p. 82).

 

“You aren’t the things that haunt you. You aren’t the pain you feel. You aren’t defective or broken. You’re human, you’re doing the best you can, and you have so much more to offer the world than the demons you’re fighting.” – Daniell Koepke

I am doing the best I can. I’ve always hated that statement because it feels like an excuse. I didn’t manage to meet that deadline, but I did the best I could. I didn’t get 100% on that test, but I did the best I could. I couldn’t save my marriage, but I did the best I could. In my mind, doing the best I can is just a cop out – it’s an easy way out when you simply don’t want to put the effort in. Christina Perri’s 2014 song Human reminds me that “I’m only human and I bleed when I fall down…I’m only human and I crash and I break down.” Why is it okay for me to accept that of others, but not of myself? If someone asked me to describe myself and my life right now, I would probably say, “I struggle with anxiety and depression and have been divorced three times.” But that’s not who I am! I am a human with struggles that have broken me down, but I am also kind, compassionate, and have a heart big enough to swallow you whole. Why do I not automatically include that in a description of myself? Because 1) I haven’t figured out my identity, 2) I focus on all the negative things, and 3) I don’t love myself enough to give myself a little credit. I am not defined by my mistakes. I truly am doing the best I can. Sometimes that takes more effort than anything else.


Her Time

She has been feeling it for awhile now – that sense of awakening. There is a gentle rage simmering inside her, and it is getting stronger by the day. She will hold it close to her – she will nurture it and let it grow. She won’t let anyone take it away from her. It is her rocket fuel and finally, she is going places. She can feel it down to her very core – this is her time. She will not only climb mountains – she will move them too.

Lang Leav

I am a firm believer that God and the universe place you exactly where you need to be. Whether or not you then take your first step forward is up to you. The option to turn around and run back in the direction of the familiar is an option as well. There may be nothing but regret and discouragement there, but hey…at least it’s familiar. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right? I realize that it’s time to stop running back to the familiar. It’s my time to climb mountains. I’d love to get to the point where I can move them as well, but for the first few steps of this difficult new journey, just climbing a mountain will be difficult enough. I don’t know that rage is the right term for what’s simmering inside me. I would rather replace that word with hope. To have a gentle hope bubbling inside me sounds so much more powerful to me. I have hope that I will learn to embrace my anxiety, and in doing so, love myself a little more. I have hope that I will learn to value my depression, and in doing so, love myself a little more. I have hope that I will learn to love others without sacrificing my own body, mind, and soul in the process. I have hope that I can somehow learn to love all aspects of my mind – if I cannot do that, the fear of those aspects will allow them to control my life. Hope and faith are, to me, essentially the same thing. Matthew 17:20 reminds us that even just a tiny amount of faith can move mountains. So I am acknowledging that with hope and faith simmering away in my heart, I will someday be able to move mountains.

Finally, I am leaving you with two quotes that give me goosebumps. Having such a big heart has unfortunately come back to bite me several times over. That being said, I don’t feel that is a good enough reason to shut that part of me down. Instead, I am hoping that a byproduct of this arduous journey towards loving who I am, rather than who I feel I should be, is that I can love those around me with an even greater passion and effectiveness. If I can learn how to protect myself from being used and abused, my compassion will be able to reach out and touch even more people. It’s exhausting to have my cup emptied time and time again. That exhaustion steals me away into a depression that tells me repeatedly that I am not good enough…that I don’t deserve to be happy…that I am the reason the relationships fail. I begin to believe those words and tell myself that I should be more giving, that I should be more accepting of the abuse that I receive in return for my acts of generosity and kindness. As the below quotes suggest, I am beginning to realize that being a good and loving person does not mean being a sucker. I realize that I can give of myself freely, but must understand that others should be giving to me in the same manner. Relationships are destined to fail if one gives all and the other gives little or none. Maybe someday I will find my person. But until then, I am going to do my best to find myself. And in finding myself, I hope to be able to give of myself to others in a more natural and healthy manner. How exciting this journey will be.

“Be the love you never received. Be the acknowledgment you never got. Be the listener you always needed. Look at the younger versions of yourself within you and give yourself what it is you always needed. That is the first step of healing. If you want others to see you, you must see yourself.”  – Vienna Pharaon

“Be the person who cares. Be the person who makes the effort, the person who loves without hesitation. Be the person who bares it all, the person who never shies away from the depth of their feeling, or the intensity of their hope. Be the person who believes – in the softness of the world, in the goodness of other people, in the beauty of being open and untethered and trusting. Be the person who takes the chance, who refuses to hide. Be the person who makes people feel seen, the person who shows up. Trust me when I say – be the person who cares. Because the world doesn’t need any more carelessness, any more disregard; because there is nothing stronger than someone who continues to stay soft in a world that hasn’t always been kind to them.” – Bianca Sparacino

 

 References

BrainyQuote. (2001-2019). Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/unknown_133991

Cover photo: http://www.unsplash.com

Journey. (2019). In online English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/journey

Peppernell, Courtney. (2018). Pillow Thoughts II: Healing the Heart. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Perri, Christina. (2014). Human. Head or Heart. Lyrics Retrieved from https://genius.com/Christina-perri-human-lyrics

In the eye of the beholder…

unique

In conversation with my dad, he mentioned the song This Is Me from the 2017 movie The Greatest Showman. The song was nominated for an Academy Award – after listening to it, I can certainly understand why. The songwriters, Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, definitely know how to convey a powerful message through lyrics and music. If you haven’t already listened to the song, do. It just might change your life.

This Is Me

I’m not a stranger to the dark

Hide away, they say

‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts

I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars

Run away, they say

No one will love you as you are

 

But I won’t let them break me down to dust

I know that there’s a place for us

For we are glorious

 

When the sharpest words want to cut me down

I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out

I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ‘cause here I come

And I’m marching on to the beat I drum

I’m not scared to be seen

I make no apologies, this is me

 

Another round of bullets hits my skin

Well, fire away ‘cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in

We are bursting through the barricades

And reaching for the sun (we are warriors)

Yeah, that’s what we’ve become

 

And I know that I deserve your love

There’s nothing I’m not worthy of

When the sharpest words want to cut me down

I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out

This is brave, this is bruised

This is who I’m meant to be, this is me

That song essentially outlines my struggles, as well as my hopes and dreams for myself and the world around me. Listening to it (I mean really listening to it) inspired me to write a little bit about perspective. While I agree that in many ways, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is most importantly in the eye of the beheld. A dandelion may see itself as beautiful, even though the majority of the world sees it as a weed to be eradicated. A tiny cat might think its grace and power rival that of lion, but the majority of the world only sees a small house pet. A person might see themselves as lovely on the inside and out, while the majority of the world sees someone awkward or plain. A group of people might see themselves as cherished and empowered by their collective identity, while the majority of the world sees a minority to be dismissed or even mistreated.

Who am I or you or anyone else to tell someone that they are not beautiful, unique, and worthy of love exactly how they are. Not “exactly how you are…once you get braces and fix those teeth.” Not “exactly how you are…once you lose a few pounds.” Not “exactly how you are…once you get rid of all that acne.” Not “exactly how you are…once you learn to speak English.” Not “exactly how you are…once you fix your depression.” Just “exactly how you are…right now.”

Sure, some of those things might be goals that an individual clings to – straightening teeth, losing weight, or conquering mental illness are all lofty goals, but they should never become a barrier to love and acceptance. And the inability to make any of those so-called improvements should certainly not become a form of identity. Who you are – who you should be proud to introduce to others – is not determined by the bathroom scale, your grade point average, or the number of prescriptions in your medicine cabinet. You are your own beautiful self. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

I used to work with a therapist who was excellent at gently helping others think outside the box. One day he told me, “Every day I sit in a different place in my office. Some days I sit at my desk, some days I sit on the couch, and some days I sit in the other chair. I like to constantly see my office from different perspectives.” That will probably stick with me until I’m old and nothing sticks to me except my dentures. Keeping life in perspective, as with so many other things in life, cannot be passive. Comfort can be dangerous. As soon as we become comfortable in our beliefs and the way we see the world, we are more likely to become blind to the differences that make others unique and beautiful. One of my all-time favorite movies is Dead Poets Society (Weir, 1989). At one point, Robin Williams’ character, an instructor at a prestigious school for boys, begins teaching class while standing on his desk. After asking students to guess why he does this, he finally explains, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. See, the world looks very different from up here. Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way. Even though it seems silly or wrong, you must try.”

I firmly believe that having a flexible world view, as well as a flexible view of self, is a sign of strength, rather than weakness. Flexibility is what drives empathy. Empathy, in my humble opinion, is ultimately what drives the world. Empathy has a rather lengthy and descriptive definition, which the creative writer in me loves!

“The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner” (Empathy, n.d.).

How could this require anything but flexibility? I’m not saying you should condone murder or anything that involves breaking the law or doing harm to yourself or others. Be reasonable. What I’m saying is that you have to have enough perspective…enough flexibility…enough empathy…to accept others as well as yourself. It is my dream to be able to confidently put my whole self out there, as the song This Is Me portrays. Having perspective, or empathy, requires that we show ourselves as much forgiveness and honor as we show others, and vice-versa.

How can I say that I deserve to be loved and accepted for who I am, while silently judging someone else for how they look, what country they were born in, or how many failed marriages they have in their past? We all make mistakes. If we are to accept ourselves in spite of those mistakes, we must learn to look at our own life and our own issues from alternate perspectives. Only then will we begin to discover possible resolutions or even just the ability to grant ourselves the same grace we would grant anyone else experiencing something similar. If we are to accept others in spite of so many different variables, we must practice flexibility and empathy so that we might understand what makes them who they are and what motivates their words and actions.

Positive self-talk and positive talk to and about others can be a difficult first step towards a flexible perspective. I recently had an epiphany about the crafting I love so much. I am a huge fan of cross-stitching, knitting, and crocheting. What is the first thing that came to mind when you read that? That those are all things your 200 year old grandma does, right? For that very reason, I have always kept those hobbies to myself. I didn’t want people to judge me for doing, no loving, hobbies that are stereotypical of old women. I have always ignored the fact that people are usually ecstatic to receive a homemade gift like a blanket, a wall hanging, or even dish cloths. This aside, I find crafting to be therapeutic. SO WHAT THE HECK AM I ASHAMED OF?! People love it…I love it… it’s all in how I choose to look at it. Perspective, people! With a little flexibility, I now don’t get embarrassed to say that I crocheted for two hour last night instead of going out and partying with all the other “kids” my age. That being said, I’m inching towards middle age, so soon I will actually be the old lady sitting in a rocking chair with her knitting needles.

The sooner we realize that if we want to believe that we should be loved for every single piece of what makes us who we are, we damn well better believe that other people deserve that same exact thing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes? Choose to see your own beauty. Choose to see the beauty in others. Also, choose to crochet. Life is short.

 

References

 

Empathy. (n.d.). In online Merriam-Webster dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy

Paul, Justin, & Pasek, Benj. (2017). This is Me. The Greatest Showman. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/greatestshowmancast/thisisme.html

Weir, Peter (Director). (1989). Dead Poets Society. United States: Touchstone Pictures.

Cover photo: http://www.unsplash.com

The F Word

silence

There are words in the English language that make me cringe. For example, the word varicose makes my skin crawl. Scabies is another word that makes me want to take a bleach bath because I find the sound of it to be so disgusting. I have a love-hate relationship with the word weenus – part of me thinks it’s fun to say, while the other part of me can’t stand it. Yes, weenus is a real word…a part of your anatomy, in fact…go look it up.

There is another word…the F word…that absolutely scares the living crap out of me. We all know the F word. We all struggle with the F word. Some go their entire lives without experiencing the F word. Certain people don’t know how to express the F word. Others don’t know how to ask for the F word. It is a terrible and powerful word. It’s absence can cause relationships to end, while its presence can change the world. In the end, every single one of us must embrace the F word.


Forgive (Verb): “Stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake” (n.d.).


Why is the concept of forgiveness so difficult to wrap our brains around? The short answer, I believe, is that is requires us to let go. We as humans like to be in control. We like to hold onto things and to own them, which allows us to feel in control of our world. It’s easier to be angry and know what’s going on than to be vulnerable and face unknown emotions.

angry

According to Thesaurus.com (n.d.), which pulls its list from the 2013 Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, some antonyms for forgiveness include: condemn, accuse, blame, sentence, charge, and punish. Ouch. Those are some heavy concepts. When I think of the opposite of forgiveness, I think of a festering resentment that is seeping into the deepest corners of my being. It is a disease – a disease that will likely be fatal if left untreated. I like how the Mayo Clinic describes what happens if forgiveness is withheld: “If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). Oh…and guess what can happen if you hold onto a grudge? You can “become depressed or anxious” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). Seems like an important detail, so I’m just going to tuck that away for future reference.

Although the list of situations resulting in a need for forgiveness are too numerous to count, in my world there are only two main types of forgiveness. Those two type are forgiveness of others and forgiveness of self. I personally think the latter is much more difficult for a number of reasons. Before I get into those reasons, my stream of consciousness is telling me to turn left at the fork in the road. In case you were wondering, left takes us to the topic of forgiveness of others.

Saying F You to others.

At some point in our lives, we have all been hurt by another human being. The fact of the matter is that many things in this world hurt because this world is ugly, but some things cause significantly more pain than others. For example, if someone snatches up the parking spot I had my eye on and then flips me the bird, I may be less likely to hold a grudge than if a significant other were to cheat on me with someone else. Two uncomfortable situations with two vastly different resulting pain scales.


Grudge (noun): “A strong feeling of anger and dislike for a person who has treated you badly, especially one that lasts for a long time” (n.d.).


Look at the parts of speech for forgive and for grudge. A grudge is a thing. It’s alive. It’s feeding on your resentment and thriving on your anger. Forgiveness is an action. You can’t passively forgive. It is a conscious decision that must be acted upon. In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Alex Lickerman says, “To my way of thinking, forgiveness involves recognizing that the person who harmed us is more than just the person who harmed us… At its core I believe forgiveness is an acknowledgement that a person who’s harmed us still has the capacity for good” (2010). I mean…wow. I can’t say I’ve ever really broken forgiveness down to the point that I see one broken person acknowledging another broken person. Forgiveness has a lot in common with namaste. We are looking at someone who has wronged us and saying, “Hey…I’ve messed up plenty of times before too. I owe it to both myself and to you to find peace with this situation.” You are looking past the wrongdoing and seeing the humanity that surrounds it on all sides.

humanity heart

What’s more, “as you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). Speaking from personal experience, there is something so degrading and humiliating about being hurt by another, especially if it is a conscious act on their part. There have been times in the last few years when all I can see in front of me is the action of another, and how it drastically changed my life forever. Infidelity is a big one. Finding out that my husband of several years had been actively cheating on me with the same woman for nearly all of those years made me feel like a character out of the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids or Antman. Tiny. Insignificant. It’s hard not to see it as a reflection on yourself when someone carries on in a way that they know is going to cause irreparable damage to the relationship, not to mention the wellbeing of the souls involved. But what he did to me does not determine who I am as a person. It certainly has no bearing on my worth as a woman, as someone’s potential partner, or as human being. Likewise, I would argue that is has no bearing on his worth as a man. I would certainly think twice about being his partner, but he is human and no less worthy of forgiveness than me.

The important thing to remember is that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to let them hurt you again. If you want to give them another chance, more power to you. But forgiveness does not mean turning a blind eye and painting a target on your back so it’s easier for them to hurt you next time. You do not forgive at your own expense, but rather for your own sake. “There is great value in mastering the skill of forgiving but not forgetting,” says author Dr. Kurt Smith, “Taking good care of ourselves requires regular forgiveness of others. Remember, we do it for us, not for them. And we don’t obsess, but we don’t forget, either, so we can take the valuable life lesson with us” (2014). Always forgive, but guard and protect yourself too.

guard

I remember sitting on the couch next to my soon-to-be ex-husband after finding out about his secret “other” life. We were sitting in silence because…really…what is there to say at that point? When life as you know it ceases to exist, it’s hard to find any words. I remember looking at him and saying, “I forgive you.” And in that moment, what took my breath away was that I realized how deeply I meant it. I can’t even begin to describe the weight that was lifted. I still grieved. I still hurt at a depth I had never experienced before and will hopefully never experience again. But I was at peace. I forgave and moved on with my life, making sure he was not part of it so that I could heal and find out what I was truly made of. I still haven’t found out what I’m made of, by the way, but each year seems to chip a little more of my façade away and I’m starting to catch glimpses of who I am.

Saying F You to yourself.

This. This is the hardest task of them all. I was able to forgive my ex-husband and the pain got easier because he was no longer in the picture. Out of sight, out of mind. But when it comes to forgiving ourselves? There is no escaping ourselves. There is no running away from our thoughts or self-abuse. When it comes down to it, “it’s easier to forgive others. After all, they don’t live in your head, reading you the same old riot act” (Lawrence, 2003).

We have all done things we are ashamed of. We have all hurt other people, whether we care to admit it or not. As someone with a self-proclaimed guilt complex, it comes as no surprise to me that “difficulties with self-forgiveness are linked with suicide attempts, eating disorders, and alcohol abuse, among other problems” (Breines, 2012). Figuring out how to forgive ourselves is kind of a big deal and may have hefty consequences.

As with any good apology, I think the best place to start is to say “I’m sorry.” And we have to mean it. A truly heart-felt apology is one that acknowledges the pain and suffering caused. We may have apologized to the other person, but we also need to apologize to ourselves. I feel this is important because it is the first step in recognizing that, yes, you screwed up big time, but you are human and will only poison yourself by starting a long term relationship with self-hate and regret. I find the following statement incredibly encouraging in my own battle to forgive myself: “Importantly, self-forgiveness need not be all-or-nothing. It’s a slow process that may not result in a full release of negative feelings or an exclusively rosy view of oneself. Rather than being a form of self-indulgence, self-forgiveness might be better seen as an act of humility, an honest acknowledgment of our capacity for causing harm as well as our potential for doing good” (Breines, 2012).

For years I have had the unhealthy perspective that I have been paying an ongoing penance for wrongs done to others in the past. I have accepted each bad or painful thing that has happened to me as karma’s way of making sure justice is done. Combine that with my knack for overthinking, a raging guilt complex, and a depression streak a mile wide. Probably not a healthy outcome. I’m working on it. I have reached out to specific individuals I have wounded in the past and expressed sincere apologies. I felt better after doing that, but still have been unable to reach the point of fully being able to accept my human flaws. In the meantime, I try to do my very best to never cause that kind of pain again.


The emotional impact of withholding forgiveness can be devastating. If we refuse to forgive someone else, it can cause bitterness, anger, and maybe even a sense of entitlement. If we refuse to forgive ourselves, it can cause our self-worth to plummet and may take away our fragile belief that even broken people can make a difference. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that the good I do now is for the sake of the here and now – I am spreading love and goodness to those around me in this moment, not because I need to pay for my past sins. This is life…not some purgatory. Forgive others so that you may live without bitterness. Forgive yourself so that you may see your own worth and then spread love and joy in a world that so desperately needs some TLC. Go on – don’t be afraid of the F Word.


Resources

Breines, Juliana. (2012). The Healthy Way to Forgive Yourself. Great Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_healthy_way_to_forgive_yourself

Forgive. (n.d.). In online English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/forgive

Grudge. (n.d.). In online Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/grudge

Lawrence, Jean. (2003). Learning to Forgive Yourself. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/learning-to-forgive-yourself#1

Lickerman, Alex. (2010). How to Forgive Others: The freedom forgiveness brings. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201002/how-forgive-others

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692

Smith, Kurt. (2014). 4 Reasons to Forgive but Not Forget. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/4-reasons-to-forgive-but-not-forget/

Thesaurs.com. (n.d.). In 2013 Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus (3rdEd.). Philip Lief Group.Retrieved from https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/forgive

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I See You.

i see you

“The real warriors in this world are the ones that see the details of another’s soul. They see the transparency behind walls people put up. They stand on the battlefield of life and expose their heart’s transparency, so others can finish the day with hope. They are the sensitive souls that understand that before they could be a light they first had to feel the burn.” Shannon L. Adler


One of my favorite words of all time is Namaste. I wish it’s because I’m some super fit yoga master, but it boils down to a love of the concept. Namaste essentially means that my soul honors and respects your soul (Spiritual Science Research Foundation, n.d.). Regardless of your own spiritual persuasion, how simple and yet utterly powerful is that? What’s even more amazing is that it is a common greeting in India. Can you imagine someone coming up to you, looking you in the eye, and saying, “I see you. My broken and beaten spirit respects your broken and beaten spirit.”

Besides the fact that this would be way out of the norm and borderline creepy, think about the implications. That person is acknowledging that there is more to you than just skin, bones, and some gooey insides. You aren’t just social status, a political party, or a mental illness. You aren’t a religion, a sexual orientation, or even a gender. Strip all that away and you are a soul – a soul that deserves respect and love in equal parts. You deserve to be seen.

Here’s the kicker, though – the only way to truly see someone else is to look outside of ourselves. How true that “when we zoom out, we start to see a completely different picture. We see many people in the same struggle” (Brown, 2010, p. 68). We are all human. We are all stumbling around in the dark looking for meaning and hope. It should not be a solitary, lonely journey to find the light that does exist. If we hope to come together, this will require a great amount of respect, empathy, and compassion.


“When compassion wakes up in us, we find ourselves more willing to become vulnerable, to take the risk of entering the pain of others.” Sue Monk Kidd


give

Respect is a noun: “Esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person” (n.d.).

Empathy is a noun: “The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation” (n.d.).

Compassion is a noun: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering” (n.d.).

We all learned in school that a noun is a person, place, or thing. I like to think of respect, empathy, and compassion as living, breathing things. They must be nourished, cared for, and exercised on a regular basis, otherwise they will become emaciated and possibly even die. This society is sinking fast because we have lost sight of the humanity – the souls – that surround us every day. We don’t acknowledge and respect each other. Empathic actions are few and far between, rarely without some sort of agenda.

The sooner we realize that life is a level playing field, the better equipped we will become to face our challenges together. Brené Brown says that “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” (Brown, 2010, p. 16). I love the almost negative vibe this statement gives off. It would be great if a little compassion would kick start a revolution that would make life happy and full of butterflies and unicorns. But we live in a broken, dank, stinking world full of lonely hearts. True compassion brings lonely hearts together. It may not bring happiness or even joy, but it will bring shared hurt and darkness to the surface so that status, income level, or politics are no longer a barrier to camaraderie.

Misery loves company. Empathy brings our miserable selves together so that we can face the uphill battle as a team. I may carry you today, but tomorrow you will need to support me.

love breeds love

Empathy breaks down walls. Whenever I am feeling upset or frustrated with someone, I try to take a step back and consider times in my life when I have behaved in a similar manner. Again – the key is recognizing that we are all fallible, imperfect humans…kindred spirits in our brokenness.

An everyday example is when someone makes a mistake while driving in front of, behind, or beside me. Instead of diving head first into road rage, I think about the time a few months back when I did something similar. I have failed to start right away at a green light. I have failed to use my blinker when changing lanes. I have unintentionally swerved into the lane beside me while fiddling with the radio. Who am I to get upset with them for doing something I myself have done (probably more than once!)?

Another example is if a server at a restaurant is running behind, seems distracted, or makes a mistake. I’ve noticed that people who tend to fly off the handle about these things have never worked in the restaurant business, so they don’t necessarily understand the many possible causes of a delayed order or a drink mix up. Also I/we don’t know what’s going on in their personal life. For all I know, they may be going through a particularly traumatic divorce, are mentally preparing for some grueling finals at school, or just had to put their pet to sleep. I know when I am stressed or just went through an emotional experience, my memory suffers and I have a more difficult time keeping track of things. Knowing how I feel when I’ve had a rough day/week/year, how can I judge someone else for not smiling or for taking 10 minutes to bring me my salad instead of five. Unless you know exactly what is happening in someone else’s life, it’s so much better to see the humanity in their actions and acknowledge that they are no different from you or me.

If you see a homeless person, a drug addict, or an alcoholic, don’t get on your high horse and behave as if they are a lesser human than you. Likely, whatever caused them to go down their chosen path is a combination of genetic disposition and some sort of traumatic life event. When stigma is placed and stories are forced underground, we end up alone and seeking out unhealthy coping mechanisms. Just because I am currently living with a roof over my head and don’t self-medicate with alcohol every night doesn’t mean my own coping mechanisms are any healthier. We can judge a person until we’re blue in the face, but ultimately, they are no different from us.

Another thing worth pointing out is that, just because you disagree with their lifestyle or don’t condone some of their choices, it does not give you the right to treat them with anything other than respect, empathy, and compassion. It’s like saying the color blue is better than the color yellow. Why? Because it’s my favorite color and I like it better. But yellow is just as beautiful a color, but because you are biased, you declare that blue is right and yellow is wrong. That may seem like an absurdly simple example, but it dumbs down a tragic epidemic that has been sweeping this nation for years – the loss of respect for every human’s beauty and the appreciation for basic human goodness. We are all in this together, folks. The sooner we as a collective group can see the beauty in that, the sooner our society’s rifts will start to heal.


“Allow beauty to shatter you regularly. The loveliest people are the ones who have been burnt and broken and torn at the seams, yet still send their open hearts into the world to mend with love again, and again, and again.” Victoria Erickson


I’ve felt a growing sense of urgency about this post over the last few days, especially going into Christmas. I challenge myself and everyone else to make a conscience effort to live in a way that spews forth love, not hate…mercy, not malice…forgiveness, not blame.

A message to the hurting (which is basically everyone): You are not alone. You don’t have to face your mountains and valleys by yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. A little vulnerability has the potential to save lives. Don’t give up. Hold out your hand and someone will take it. I see you. Dear, sweet, struggling person….I see you.

Namaste.

References

Adler, Shannon L. (n.d.) Retrieved from Goodreads.

Brown, Brene. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Compassion. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/compassion

Empathy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/dictionary.cambridge.org/us/amp/english/empathy

Respect. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/respect

Spiritual Science Research Foundation. (n.d.). Definition and Meaning of Namaskar (Namaste). Retrieved from https://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/spiritual-living/how-should-we-greet/define-namaskar-namaste-meaning/

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