Last summer my mom and I were walking along Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta, CA. We were working our ideas through; solving our little corner of the world one conversation at a time.
We were talking about women and the choices we make when things get hard. When we don’t know what to do. When our fear gets the better of us.
Sometimes we say hurtful things. We ignore people we love. We hide until we hope it’s all over.
My mom said, “You seem to think that people who do hurtful things are still nice girls. They’re not. I think they’re mean.”
My response? “We’re all mean. We all have the capacity to be mean. They are nice girls. Truly. Maybe they got scared or insecure or confused and they used their mean.”
As people who are always trying our best we don’t want to admit our flaws. Sometimes it’s easier to blame someone else. To shift the focus from our behavior to theirs.
Sometimes people do crappy things. I get it. I’m not excusing bad behavior. I do, however, think we could miss a valuable lesson if we don’t ask, “What role did I play in this?”
It’s like rewinding a game and re-watching it play-by-play. Watch, pause, reflect, play, stop, ask. Keep combing through the material until you find a missed step. A conversation gone wrong. A slight. Something you overlooked. A series of events that led to the meanness.
Very rarely is someone just plain mean for no good reason. Maybe it’s a bit Pollyanna of me, but I think people are mostly good. Believing that people are trying their best has allowed me to cultivate meaningful relationships. It has given me hope when I hear about darkness. So in my world it’s rare that people would be mean at their core.
We all have the capacity to act mean. We can have a mean thought. Say mean words. Use mean behavior. We’re not mean, but we can do mean things.
But why? Well…we get out of alignment when shame is all up in our faces.
Here’s what happens:
Someone sets a boundary and we feel like we’re wrong
Someone doesn’t choose us and we feel left out
Someone is doing something really well and we feel like we’ll never measure up
That’s shame’s game. Shame will get under your skin and tell you that you’re not good enough. It will pulse through your body and make you believe that you don’t belong.
Shame never wants us to be our best. It invites us to be our worst selves. Shame will flare our jealousy, our pain, our doubts. Shame pokes at our insecurities until they take over. Fear will spike. Everything will get too loud.
We’ll want to put the problem way over there away from us. So sometimes…we’re mean.
Here’s shame at work:
If you hurt me, then I hurt you back
If you take space from me, then I ignore you
If you succeed, then I throw shade
Yep, it’s ugly. But we’ve all done it.
When we live in a space where compassion, and questions, and love don’t come first then we make way for shame to dominate. How do we make sure it comes first? We DO THE WORK.
I probably say the phrase, “Do the work” at least once a week. I mean it. I live by it.
What does “do the work” mean? It means you ask questions. You look at your own behavior. Maybe you go to therapy. Get coaching. Reach out to people that know you well. Ask yourself, “What did I miss? What can I learn from this? How can this help me grow?”
Mean is not our default, but it’s a cheap and easy option. Are we cheap and easy? Um…NO. Absolutely not. So we do the work.
Doing the work is hard. The answers might not be easy to accept.
A long while ago, I took a problem I was having in another friendship to one of my dear friends. After a decade and a half of friendship this friend has earned the right to tell me straight. No fluff. She told me what I had missed. She pointed out what I could avoid repeating in the future. She helped connect the mean dots. To be clear, I didn’t necessarily enjoy hearing the truth. However, I want to grow and that’s the price.
Ask hard questions. Get solid answers. Grow.
The alternative is far harder to live through. When we go the cheap and easy route we become stagnant, or worse, we devolve. In relationships this means that we’ll assume the worst about others. We’ll blame them. We’ll ignore them. We’ll say hurtful things. When people do well we’ll let our insecurities control our perspective. We’ll feel jealous. We’ll roll our eyes. We’ll make fun of them. We’ll be mean.
Mean is lonely. It feels terrible. It lies.
If you believe the mean things are true it’s like inviting an ill-tempered dragon to live with you. You’ll burn through your relationships, your dreams, your self-esteem. Mean will invade your thoughts and change the way you see the world. Mean will eat your compassion away piece by piece.
Don’t be mean. Instead, do the work.
When you are triggered by someone, take a moment to look within. Figure out what bothered you. Identify the story you are making up. Ask yourself what role you played. Be clear about your response.
This is a practice of softening. When a mean thought pops up we learn to hold it with curiosity. We ask better questions. We try out compassion. We learn. We grow.
Forgiveness Is Too Hard When You're Drowning In Grief
On the day of Forgiveness I’m not feeling very forgiving.
It’s been a long season. Last year I was pulled down into the muck. I’m still finding mud footprints all over my mind.
You see, loss is a tricky thing. One day you’re riding the wave and feeling all Zen-like and the next moment you’re seething with anger or crying or rehearsing conversations.
In her book, Rising Strong, Dr. Brené Brown describes how her research participants recounted losses that were difficult to identify or describe because they weren’t necessarily deaths or separations. She writes, “These included the loss of normality, the loss of what could be, the loss of what we thought we knew or understood about something or someone.”
This long season has included losses. Today (of all days) is Easter. The revered forgiveness holiday of the year. It’s the day when the betrayers, backstabbers, haters, and false friends are set free. So maybe I’m still stuck on the darker part of the story, yeah? I’m decidedly in the midnight of my loss today.
The day started out bursting with love. We enjoyed candy-filled Easter baskets, homemade lemon pound cake donuts, and morning snuggles. We danced in the kitchen and sang hip-hop songs. All of the love was bubbling up to the top. Good energy filled our home and our hearts.
Then we got in the car and my body had time to settle. You know those moments of stillness where your mind tells you exactly what’s going on with your heart? Yep, that’s what happened. I began driving and finally had time to feel what was going on. I started rehearsing conversations. It went something like, “Well, if she says this then I can list my ten thousand (correct/right/absolute) reasons for doing what I did. And then if she says that then I can remind her of this. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” I noticed the story, because my heart was racing and my jaw was clenched tight.
Rehearsing future conversations that will likely never happen is not helpful. Stressing myself out over imaginary conversations is not wise.
I reminded myself to stop the story. I breathed in through my nose and out my mouth. I sent the story and person away with love and peace.
But I’m still mad.
To tell you the truth, I’m brokenhearted. I’m deep in the loss of something that I thought I knew and understood. I’ve been deeply misunderstood. Stories have been made up about me. I have no control over any of it. I’m upset that I can’t direct the narrative. I’m shaken by having loved someone that doesn’t know me or chooses not to see me. It’s a loss of the oddest sort. Perhaps I’m even grieving something that was never there? I don’t know. My heart is telling me that it’s tired, and overworked, and sad.
So this is where I’m at today. I’m in heartache. The deep, dark, pulsing heart of grief. I’m stuck in the whirlpool of frustration, anger, sadness, forgiveness, and love. I’ve touched on all of those emotions today and they just keep cycling through.
I’m not sure that forgiveness is an actual state that we reach. For me, it’s been more of a process. I keep lovingly releasing the person until my relationship with them or the story changes. Time is always a magical factor in letting things go. At some point new routines and relationships become strengthened and the loss becomes less piercing. Distance from the experience also changes my relationship with the story. I begin to see the lessons, the wisdom, and all of the love that lived within the story.
In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes, “Forgiveness is so difficult because it involves death and grief…The death or ending that forgiveness necessitates comes in many shapes and forms. We may need to bury our expectations or dreams. We may need to relinquish the power that comes with “being right” or put to rest the idea that we can do what’s in our hearts and still retain the support or approval of others.”
Last year, I made a clear decision. I trusted myself and acted from a place of self-care. I have scrutinized this decision and my communication around it. I’ve had to look closely because it caused a tsunami of loss. Loss with such gravity that I felt pulled under the ocean waves. Disoriented. Lost. Pure darkness.
Now I find myself gripping and bracing for impact. I can almost predict when another wave will hit and I’m trying to be ready for it. Ready for the flood of anxiety. Waiting for the pain. Predicting the anger that will surge up.
Grief is a lonely place. Even though I know that I have a team of swimmers by my side, the loss still pinches me at unexpected times. I might be totally in my joy and a brief moment too close to the loss will pull me down.
I want to be on top of the water. I want to be riding the wave. If it were sunny with clear blue skies for a while that would be awesome, too.
Right now I want to be driving my car to see my favorite person with my kids giggling and talking in the back seat. I want to be all peace and love on this glorious day. But I’m not. One foot is still in the murky water.
I’m imagining myself facing the ocean as a torrent of waves prepare to knock me down. I’m resisting getting hurt. I’m pushing against any potential for softness or love to get through. I’m armoring up to avoid feeling vulnerable. I’m trying to be tough, because inside I feel so broken. One giant wave could crack me open.
I think I could do this differently.
I could be softer.
More understanding of myself.
Instead of resisting this grief I could be open to it. Instead of rushing through it or diving over it, I could wade slowly. I could let the water lap against my thighs. I could float along with the waves. I could be present to what grief is teaching me.
I could let myself be angry. Sad. Upset. Lost. Loved.
I could move with my grief instead of charging against it.
I could be like the water instead of fighting it.
Recently, my cousin passed along some wisdom to me. She said, “Flow like water, Baby.” Yep, I think that’s the key to my healing. Maybe it will be a part of yours, too.
We’re all after the resurrection. We want a peek at what our lives will be like once time has washed away our wounds. But we can’t skip the hard part. The darkness is speaking to us about love and loss and growth. It’s showing us why forgiveness has so much value. It’s not because it’s easy to come by, it’s because it’s incredibly challenging to get to. Getting to forgiveness will cost us our peace, our righteousness, our precious time. But when we get through the darkest part of it (and I know I will), we will be reminded of all of the light that exists in the world. We will deepen our capacity to love. We will become stronger and softer in all of the best ways.
If you’re in the well of loss right now, here are some gentle reminders:
You don’t have to be right. It takes so much effort to prove yourself.
You don’t have to get better quickly. The heart takes it’s time.
You don’t need to forget the good stuff. Love is at the center of it all.
And lastly, “Flow like water, Baby.”
With Love & Backbone,
P.S. Check out the Chai Talk Podcast, “Let it Go” for more support on healing from loss. P.P.S. Sign-up here to get the podcast, blogs, and free videos delivered directly to your inbox.
How Old Wounds Can Influence and Damage Our Friendships
If you’re breathing then you have a whole lot of stories bumping around inside of you. When hard things happen some of us deal with them by shoving them down and ignoring them until we think they’ve gone away. Other times we work through them by talking about what happened, thinking each step through, and developing some sort of understanding about the whole thing. In either case we think we’re done. Like, “Nothing to see here, Folks! I’m perfectly okay.” Then a new person scratches at the old wound and you realize you’re not. You are SO not okay.
The earliest memories that you have are filled with stories. These stories influence how you think about the world and how you think the world feels about you. To be completely general, if you grew up in a safe, loving, supportive home you’re more apt to think that the world seeks to guide you. If, however, the opposite is true then you’re likely to think that you’ll survive a cruel world by being suspicious, guarded, and mistrustful. These early formed beliefs will become our filter for how we experience other people. The people that we’ve chosen will have their own preformed stories and we’ll keep bumping up against them until we learn how to untie the words with our own hands.
Story is very important for us. We are hardwired to survive by making up stories about people and situations. In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes, “We make up hidden stories that tell us who is against us and who is with us. Whom we can trust and who is not to be trusted. Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty. When we depend on self-protecting narratives often enough, they become our default stories. And we must not forget that storytelling is a powerful integration tool. We start weaving these hidden, false stories into our lives and they eventually distort who we are and how we relate to others.” Well, if that’s not enough to freak you out then I don’t know what will!
So let’s get to the juicy part. We’ve all experienced conflict with our friends. To be in a relationship is a set up for potential rumbles and disagreements. We’re all built differently (and have our own stories) so a flare up is bound to occur at some point. I’ve had conflict with girlfriends that was upsetting, but not earth shattering. I’ve also had conflict with girlfriends that resulted in the relationship ending. Each time I have chosen to end a friendship it was because the situation poked at an old wound. A wound that I thought I had cared for, bandaged up, and healed. My friend would repeat a triggering behavior and I would screech in horror at the wound being ripped open again. Oh gawd, someone call a doctor because it’s about to go down.
Part of the healing process is being our own detective. Holding the wound with both of our hands and asking, “What happened here? How are you feeling? Is this situation bumping up against an old memory?” To look at what happened, we need to write out the facts. Remember, these are just facts (not well she must have thought…so I figured…and she probably feels like – nope, just facts).
What are the facts?
5:55 p.m.: I was sitting at the restaurant waiting for my friend. 6:05 p.m.: Friend has not arrived at the restaurant. 6:07 p.m.: I check my phone to review the texts and to make sure that I have the correct date and place. 6:08 p.m.: I confirm I’m at the right place at the right time. 6:10 p.m.: I text my friend and ask if everything is alright. 6:16 p.m.: Friend calls and says that she can’t make it. She states that she’s sorry. She says that she had a fight with her husband and one of her kids has a cold. 6:20 p.m.: I leave the restaurant.
Next, we need to examine how we’re feeling without censoring ourselves.
Next, is this experience bumping up against an old story?
Uh totally…like that time in college when everyone cancelled one-by-one for my birthday celebration. My brother and my best friend took me out to dinner at the designated birthday restaurant to find one of the invitees already there with her friends and boyfriend (for her own personal get-together) and her telling me that she was sure that my birthday celebration had been scheduled for the following day! Whoops! (Sadly, this is a true story and I had to convince my bestie not to tell her off!).
Okay, so that birthday experience got to me way more than I let on. I felt humiliated and abandoned on a day that I had been really looking forward to. It dug into my body in a way that only a wound can. I knew that I had amazing people in my life. Cognitively, I knew that my life mattered and that I was worthy of attention. But my heart learned to avoid birthday celebrations and planning events that focused on me. I absolutely didn’t want to ever experience that memory again so I avoided it. However, some friends have a way of reminding you of previous heartbreak. Sometimes it’s in how they speak to you. Sometimes they trigger you with their actions. All at once it’s there. Suddenly you are feeling: unimportant, annoyed, angry, disappointed, mad, betrayed, small, abandoned, discarded AGAIN. The old story has made its way into your new relationship.
“Oh for the Love! I graduated college with that girl four years ago (plus or minus ten years)! It’s such an old and done story, right?” Well, apparently not. Look at your last major conflict with a girlfriend. What were the facts? How did you feel? What did it remind you of? If you spend enough time on it you’ll be able to recall a person or situation that influenced the belief that lives inside the wound. If we go back to the original scenario about the friend standing you up at the restaurant we all know that it was a crappy thing for her to do, but what we believe about the situation will influence what happens next.
Imagine that you’re collecting all of your memories in this one moment: your relationship with your mama, each girlfriend you’ve had from preschool on, all of the heartache that’s ever happened to you. Your brain is doing all of this work in less than the time it can take you to say the word, “story”. Just like that your brain gets a dopamine hit for figuring out the mess and how your friend really feels about you and actually (not actually) what happened that day. In a flash you choose to lash out, to shut-down, to talk about her to the rest of your people, to ignore her at future get-togethers, or some other unhelpful tactic to create disconnection between you and her.
We’re just trying to survive, Girls, really. We don’t mean to be hurtful or calculating. We truly don’t. We’re just trying to protect ourselves. That’s why we have to do the hard work of heartwork. We need to be brave enough to peer under the bandages and ask, “Hey, Love, what happened here? Let’s take a closer look and try to understand. Let’s heal this wound again.” This way is much harder. I won’t create an illusion that it’s all peace, love, and butterflies. Looking back at difficult memories is hard. Allowing the old feelings to surface and connect with the new feelings is even harder. It’s challenging, but I encourage you to do the work.
When we choose to avoid this part of the healing we’ll often re-wound someone else. We will repeat the old story and reinforce it. New situations that closely resemble it will be categorized and locked down. No questions asked. The old story wins and we lose the opportunity to really look at our own hearts.
If you’re brave enough to hold your wound up and ask the 3 questions, you’ll know yourself more deeply. You’ll be closer to understanding the layers of your heart and the type of people that it needs to feel safe. Maybe at the end of it you’ll choose to let go of that friend who stood you up at the restaurant. Maybe you’ll choose to talk it out and set new boundaries. The gift of heartwork is that you’ll be responding from a place of clarity, not bouncing off of the hurt from an old memory. We’re made for this. We will heal ourselves first and then share that healing with the people that mean the most to us. Wholeheartedly.
With Love & Backbone,
Did you catch my blog post about breaking up with a friend? Read it here.
Breaking Up Showed Me The Importance Of Speaking Up
I was thirty-one years old and standing in my kitchen when I got the zingy text from a close friend. Just the day before I had spoken with her for over an hour (which was really like four hours in mom-with-little-babies time). We had discussed work stuff and life stuff, but there were still words to be said. I told her that I would call the next day. But the thing is, I didn’t.
Every hour had been filled up and I didn’t have the time or the energy to be fully present for another adult phone call. Though I thought my friend and I were on the same page, I soon found out that we weren’t. She was upset with me. Furious.
When I read the zingy text I felt it in my gut. The experience was hollering a big “NO!” to me. We had been friends for several years. We had shared life events and cheered each other on through moves, jobs, and marriages. We were going to be those friends who stayed connected through every season.
That’s why I was shocked when things deteriorated so quickly. It was like watching a war between the Starks and the Lannisters. It was bad. Reading her texts and emails literally made me shaky. I kept asking myself, “What is happening?” I invited a close girlfriend over to help me check my crazy meter. I let her read the exchange between us and she confirmed: The situation was crazy.
I began to feel extremely stressed out. The timing was terrible. It was right before the holidays and there had been some intense family and worldly events that happened at the time. I was totally wide eyed and depleted. It was like drinking too much coffee and feeling keyed up yet drained at the same time. I knew that I needed to implement a pause button.
We agreed on a cease fire.
I looked inward. I tried to dig into what in the world happened. The answers weren’t simple and they didn’t stack nicely in order. My feelings zigzagged as I waded through the history of our friendship. We had been good friends and I really loved her. But as I picked these layers up and looked at them closely, I saw what had been missing all along: my voice.
I could vividly remember experiences when my values were squished and I chose to stay close to her rather than ask, “Is this right for me?” I could see myself getting smaller and smaller like Russian dolls closing in on me. Somewhere down the path her feelings became more important than my own. I wanted to make sure that she felt seen and accepted at all times. I needed to be open and available. I needed to be perfect. This perfect, however, meant that I needed to be quiet and bendy.
Part of my work in The Daring Way™ is helping people to identify their core values. Knowing what is important to us helps us to stay on our path. When we’re living with our values at the forefront we feel good. When we don’t honor our values, things get dark. By staying true to ourselves we get to live wholeheartedly. Our chosen values, our priorities, our real selves showing up every day.
When I got the zingy text I understood on a deeper level that things were going to be different. It took weeks to understand that things would never be the same again. The old friendship had to go. My hope was that a new friendship could be born. My fear was that it would end.
In those weeks alone, I began to understand a little bit more about who I was. My priorities moved from awareness to something that I lived out loud. Here’s what mattered to me:
My family The wellbeing of my people My work
And something new…myself.
Look, I was never actually bad to myself. That wasn’t the thing. What I noticed was that I tended to put the needs of others before my own. I didn’t say anything when I had questions or feelings about certain situations. I was often silent when I should have shown that I was outraged. I never was my whole self.
Maybe it comes with age or perhaps it was the season that I was in, but it was clear that I could not go on this way. I could not continue to show up for someone in the same way, because I wasn’t the same person.
Everything would need to shift in a new direction.
You see, my life looked much differently than it had nine years before when I met my dear friend. Of course, that makes sense right? We understand that we change, but we’re quick to ignore how this change alters a friendship. When we’re not who we were originally, we have to figure out how to move forward. Do we grow together and adjust? Ebbing and flowing until the rough edges run smooth again? Maybe there’s a wedge that stays in place and diverts the flow until the streams move farther and farther away from one another?
I think the latter is what happened all those years ago. Our lives had both changed us, but we tried to use the same dynamics and roles. We held tightly to what had always been because that seemed like an easy option.
It wasn’t working.
Every time I would get my feelings hurt, I would tuck it away. When situations that were about me suddenly became about her I was shocked and upset, but I said nothing. I was becoming resentful, because I had been silent for too long.
When I took that pause to look inward, I saw that a major new line of communication needed to be established. I had to tell her how I felt and how I was different.
In the middle of winter, I sat huddled in my car gripping my cell phone. I was shivering more because I was nervous than from the cold. I dialed her number. The conversation was short.
She said who she was and what she expected from me.
I said who I was and how everything would be different, because I was different.
Like lines drawn in the sand we concluded that we were no longer a match. I couldn’t be who I was before and the new me didn’t have a place in the old friendship. We said goodbye. We haven’t spoken since that day.
But it wasn’t the ending that I had feared. It was the beginning of a new era in friendships. I began to pay close attention to the women around me. I slowly grew friendships like seedlings in miniature pots. In time they that got transferred to larger containers, then gardens, then in the earth itself. These new friends learned who I was. They were keen on what I loved and also what upset me. I learned to say how I felt when it mattered. I understood that I had to be fully myself or the connection wouldn’t last. It would fade with the season if I stayed silent.
Though the healing has taken years, I am filled with gratitude for my former friend. The old friendship is still thought of with love, but now there’s awareness as well. When we shrink ourselves there’s no way to bring our whole selves to the relationship. That isn’t fair to us nor is it best for the friendship. For this, I am sorry. It’s a pattern I don’t want to repeat again.
This is my plan from this day forward:
I will show up with my whole heart. When it is hard I will use my voice. When I stay silent, I will circle back and open the conversation again. I promise to honor who I am. Wholeheartedly, truly, me.