Month: April 2018

Understanding My Fears

The Nut Gatherers (Credit: “The Nut Gatherers” by Bouguereau)

My “fear of not being understood” is really a fear of being misunderstood.  Surprisingly there’s a big difference! I have a longing to be “understood” but what I actually fear is being positively misunderstood.  And the worst is when someone thinks they understand me or “have [me] all figured out” and in reality they have jumped to conclusions, assigned a label for me and a box in which they can contain me or cast me away.  Possibly everyone does this to some extent in our genuine attempts to become acquainted; we look for what we know, and what we don’t, we explain to ourselves in terms of what’s familiar.

I very consciously and actively try to let my understanding of others be a blank book in which they write the chapters they choose to share with me.  Not only do I hope to let them be the authors of my knowledge of them, I assume they are sharing only part of their story.  It’s wrong for me to draw too many conclusions.  I can’t claim to do this perfectly or 100% because I am human and as it’s a natural or instinctive way for humans to learn by comparison of what’s new to what’s familiar, I realize I am going a bit against the grain of what’s a natural way of functioning. However, I find it is much more fun and interesting to let people reveal themselves to me rather than to make assumptions and then try to force their round gifts of self into any square holes of stereotype I might have on hand.

So when I try to count the people who have done this for me, persons who have allowed me to reveal myself to them and I think have really understood me as well as anyone not in your own skin could possibly do, I find the list is shockingly small.  In fact, I find I recognize gradients of being known.  Which is really what one would expect; only God knows us through and through, totally, without buffer or distortion.

“For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

~ Psalm 139: 13-14a

When I consider how this “being understood” manifests itself to me in these relationships, I realize that they actually have acknowledged they don’t know me entirely, they are open to getting better acquainted with me, they recognize and honor that I am the author of my story or the expert of my personal experience, they value me for who I am, and (it tends to be true that) they love me as unconditionally as any human can.  Given that I define this group of people in my life with such rarely fulfilled criteria, it’s no wonder my list of Those Who Understand Me is so small!

Considering all that, I recognize the relationships I have with each of those people are wondrous gift.  Being “known” like that is extremely rare in this world.  The other thing I realize is that as I mature, I find I don’t need an abundance of such benevolent intimacy.  I am content to be mostly unknown with most people.  The thing I have to work on is two-fold: First, don’t assume others should understand me.  I am (as my dad sometimes said) “not your average bear”!  Truth is, none of us are!  But maybe some of us are less “average” than others?  I don’t know.  I choose to view each person as terra nova.  At any rate, it’s up to me to reveal whatever I want understood by others.  And another truth is: very often being “understood” is not a prerequisite to being accepted!  I know many people who accept me even though they know they don’t understand me.  That too is great gift!

So my fear of being misunderstood is now a recognition that it is my responsibility to communicate what I choose, to correct when necessary, and to accept that most people don’t really care how accurate they are in their perceptions of others, and that’s actually mostly okay.  Society gets along pretty well without everyone understanding everyone else.  I think the human family needs more empathy than it does actual understanding.  In fact, it’s more often willingness to be empathetic that opens the door to understanding, than it is the other way around.

It’s so lovely how analyzing my fears dissolves their power!

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

~ Lau Tzu

There are so many great quotes and scriptures (and by the way, all of Psalm 139 is a lovely and encouraging passage) about the wonder of being known but one of my favorite songs about this is “On A Clear Day” by Alan Jay Lerner:

On a clear day,

Rise and look around you,

And you’ll see who you are,

On a clear day,

How it will astound you,

That the glow of your being,

Outshines every star,

You’ll feel part of,

E’vry mountain, sea and shore,

And you can hear,

From far and near,

A world you never heard before,

And on a clear day,

On that clear day,

You can see forever

And ever more.

 

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Rejecting Fear

If I hold any superstitions, I’m not conscious of them.  I am aware of many superstitions common to others, and I sometimes wonder if my mere acknowledgement of them indicates a little bit of belief they have some kind of merit or influence on reality. For instance, I know today is “Friday The Thirteenth” and that many believe unlucky things will happen on this day.  So I take a different tack; I celebrate all that’s good on this day, or seek out what I can learn…  Does that give the day some sort of special power over me?  Maybe I indeed give the day some significance, but I think I exercise the power!  The worst kinds of fears are those for which we have no awareness. So today, on this lovely Friday the 13th, I want to examine some of my fears, do a fear-scrutiny if you will!

First fear of which I’m very aware is the fear of rejection.

Monsters Inc (Credit: Monsters Inc.)

It’s a bit strange that I have this fear because I really like being alone, and I admit, I most often prefer my own company to anyone else’s.  But there are a handful of people in my life I highly respect, and if I were to be totally rejected by one of them, I would feel a terrible loss.

Because of my own very long-held, (primal?), “issues” (emotional wounds/ weaknesses), I have sometimes “tested” the love or loyalty of the people I most want in my life. There’s really only one person however who temporarily rejected me (because I indisputably went too far in my testing of them), and later we “reconciled.”  However, our relationship was never again as close or as friendly and comfortable.

I must say though that there were some boundary problems (for me) in the relationship and I think my acting out was an indication that the other person had nurtured an attachment that wasn’t entirely appropriate.  I’m not talking about the teacher who abused me.  I am talking about a mentor who treated me like a much beloved daughter/ protegé and while I appeared old enough, I wasn’t mature enough to  be aware of (let alone define) the boundaries that would have been healthiest for me.  I wouldn’t say that mentor did anything immoral, but clearly it wasn’t right for me — and it was hard to “grow out of it.”  So I rebelled. By the time I did, I would say that I was definitely old enough to know better.  I understand what I did in terms of a larger emotional crisis.  However, while I understand the complexity of dynamics that triggered my “acting out,” I would still say I was responsible for my actions because I was old enough that I should be held responsible.  So I asked forgiveness of the mentor, and he later forgave me.

The challenge for me (even later) was that there really were things the mentor should not have done (should not have done in relation to me regardless of whether or not it was acceptable w/ other protegé), but I had again failed to define my own boundaries, so when I was finally aware of the conflict for me, I rebelled — I acted out what I should have spoken much earlier.  So I never really got to address w/ the mentor, in an appropriate way, what-all was not good for me in our relationship.

Because I’m not giving particulars, this might be confusing to people who haven’t experienced any side of this, but those whose boundaries were violated in formative years will likely understand what I’m talking about.  Repeating various dynamics in later relationships is very common to those who’ve been abused in childhood/ youth.  From my vantage point, it’s as if my subconscious was trying to work out things until I “got it right.”

The really tragic part (for the whole human family) is that there are so many flawed adults in society, especially in positions of leadership, who help create those unhealthy dynamics in relationships (even when no behavior goes to an extreme that would be defined as abusive or immoral).  They have absolutely no conscious intention of harming another.  So when others call them out on trespassing their boundaries, they don’t understand their role in having created harm, and they sometimes fail to learn their responsibility in PREVENTING harm; instead they feel themselves to be some sort of victim.  This is especially true any time there is inequity of power in a relationship that develops any form of intimacy beyond the definitions or demands of the outwardly defined relationship.  Most common examples of this are found between teachers and students, bosses and workers; maybe there are others, but these are the types of which I am familiar.

While I was gaining more and more awareness of my true feelings about my experiences, (at least from the time I got away from the abuser and progressively onward), it wasn’t until my 30’s that I was able to have enough perspective (and freedom/ safety) to understand my feelings, reactions, responses, choices, and gain significant control over my reactions & responses — and thus gain ability to exercise my own will.

Now that I have had more time and life-experience to reflect knowledgeably and wisely on all this, I don’t have much interest in working out anything between myself and persons of past relationships.  In relation to former relationships, it’s sufficient for me to understand all I can, to make better choices for myself now, and to forgive all I can as I’m ready.  I have the luxury of not having to relate at all with anyone who has abused me, or violated my boundaries in lesser ways.

For those who have been abused by family members or people with whom they don’t want to cease all connection, I admit I don’t know how you manage it.  I can’t imagine having to accept the regular presence of an abuser in my life.  To have to exert much energy guarding necessary boundaries I’m afraid would leave me insufficient energy to live positively my life.

By this point in my life I realize this old “fear of rejection” isn’t really about me fearing others rejecting me; it’s more about me wanting to have secure boundaries and knowing I have to set them for myself, but I’m not always sure I will know how. The fear is: will I be able to define my needs soon enough and will I be able to communicate those needs to the pertinent people in appropriate ways commensurate to the situation? With experience I get better at this, but it also helps that I realize I can survive and rebound from rejection when it happens.  I’d rather be my true self and rejected for it than to be accepted by others only because I conform myself to pleasing them.

For more fears I’ll explore see next posts:

  • Not being understood
  • Being judged
  • Being in the spotlight
  • Not being able to control my “negative” emotions
  • My own power
  • Apathy (within myself)
  • Not knowing my purpose in something
  • Vomitting
  • Failure to protect a child in my care
  • Not being prepared, if I’m the one in charge
  • Poisonous creepy crawly creatures or flying things that sting (especially hornets)
  • Crashing in a car (because I’ve experienced this twice now, & I hope to never again!)

Anecdotes to fears (see later posts):

  • Faith
  • Prayer
  • Meditation
  • Gratitude
  • Affirmations
  • Exercise
  • Review past successes
  • Review experiences of survival
  • Direct confrontation (if you are equipped to be productive)
  • Humor (especially finding the frailty in faux monsters)
  • Beauty
  • Purposeful attention to what gives you bliss
  • Breathing!

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