Category: Healing Process

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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Anatomy of Ambivalence: Story of Self-Sacrifice

One particularly powerful example of my dad’s courage occurred when I was around 7 years old.  The whole family was sitting at the dinner table when there was a loud knock at the door.  We had a lovely door-bell, but as I recall, the unexpected visitor banged on the door rather than press the bell.  I remember being instantly alarmed.  My dad went to the door while the rest of us remained at the table.  I could hear his voice and another man’s.  Normally my dad would immediately invite people in, but this time I heard him go out.  The other man’s voice sounded angry and my dad’s sounded urgent.

I ran upstairs and watched out a bedroom window.  I could see the man and my dad.  Dad had taken the conversation to the front curb near the man’s car.  The other man had a gun!  It was a big gun; I think it was a shot-gun or rifle.  Learning later who it was, I imagine it was a gun the man would have used for hunting.  The angry man was yelling at my dad and initially pointing the gun at him!

I knew instinctively that my dad’s body posture was oriented to calming and consoling the man.  It looked like my dad had spread his arms out as if to show he had nothing with him.  After a while, the man lowered his gun, and dad reached out to him, maybe to take his hand.  I couldn’t hear or understand what they were talking about, but I could tell that my dad was showing the man great understanding.  Eventually the man put his gun down completely and my dad hugged him.  The man was crying.  I learned later that the man’s wife had been a patient of my dad’s.  The wife had died and the man blamed my dad.  She had some sort of cancer, and in those days there weren’t the cures or treatments we have today.

As I watched from the window, I saw the man drive away.  My dad watched him drive away.  Then I heard my dad come back inside and I ran downstairs.  My dad looked very alert yet completely worn out.  He came back to the table and we all finished our dinner.  I don’t remember how much my dad explained to all of us then and how much I learned at a later time, but I know I didn’t tell anyone at the time what I had witnessed through the window upstairs.  In fact, I don’t think I talked with my dad about that until decades later.  I do know though that at the time I believed my dad had saved his family from the angry man with a gun by taking all the risk on himself.  I can’t over-state the enduring power for me of my dad’s example of heroic courage that day.

Anatomy of Ambivalence: Basic Background

Today I want to tell you a little bit about my ambivalence towards my pacifist upbringing.  From my vantage point, I would think that anyone who understands the experience of sexual abuse on the part of the victim at all, would likely understand the goodness and necessity of boundaries.  And if you value boundaries, then you have to address the issue of self-defense or self-protection.  And if you acknowledge the correctness or healthful-ness of self-defense, then you have to contend with what it means to “turn the other cheek” and all the other teachings of Christ on which the Anabaptist stance of Pacifism was formed.

It might be helpful to give you historical background on the Anabaptist formulation of Pacifism.  But I’m not going to do that.  It’s a huge topic.  You can research that for yourself if you’re really interested.  You might also wonder what Mennonites and other Anabaptists believe and teach on that topic today.  I don’t pretend to know that; I’m no longer Mennonite; I’m not a spokesperson for those groups.  What is pertinent here is what I was taught by word and by example, mostly by my parents, and by the local Mennonite community of my childhood.

To be fair, I can’t even really say what others intended to teach me; I can only tell you what I learned, what I absorbed.  The point of this is not to assign blame (or credit).  My purpose is to articulate what it is I observed, learned, absorbed, and what is now an “issue” for me.  To begin, I will say that most of what I observed of my parents, I framed in my mind as positive, to be emulated.  Their behavior tended to exemplify what they taught.  Given the apparent agreement between their words and deeds, their teaching was potent.  My memory of my impression of the teaching/ example of other Mennonites in my childhood community (as individuals and as a group) is that others were mostly conformed to the official teaching of the Mennonite Church, but weren’t quite as powerful an example to me of how to live it.  I viewed my parents as mostly heroic in their discipleship.

I saw my parents give not only out of their bounty, but also sacrificially.  I saw them give their time, talent, and treasure to others in need, out of their love for and obedience to Christ.  I’m not saying they were perfect people.  Yet, although I know I idealized them as a young child, their actual characters and behaviors were genuinely and consistently Christ-like enough that even when I began to see them as real people (in all their wondrously flawed complexity), I continued to respect and admire their choices.  They were living their beliefs as well or better than anyone else I’ve ever known.

So, naturally, I have long admired the pacifist ideal and wanted to be a pacifist.  Sometimes I’ve even said “I AM a Pacifist; I’m just not very good at it!”  But the crux of the matter is: what do I really believe about self-defense?

***

Let me back up a bit.  My parents did indeed teach me to “turn the other cheek,” and I understood that to mean: 1) If some-one strikes you, don’t attempt to stop them with any sort of violent force, and 2) Don’t retaliate.  They also taught me that “living in peace with others so far as it is up to you” meant 1) Look out for others’ needs, and if you can contribute to their well-being it’s a good thing to do so; 2) Intervene for the under-dog; try to help others resolve conflict if you’re in a position to do so; 3) Be just with everyone and if the balance of cost has to fall one way or another, let it fall on you; 4) Root your sense of security in Christ; 5) Value living fully in God and relationships and experiences, not so much things and acquisition.

Whether my parents intended it or not, I also absorbed a distrust of military, police, and government in general.  I got the idea that what gives those institutions power is force, and often violent force, sometimes even lethal; and the fact that those entities considered lethal force a legitimate option made them for me “wordly” which meant not godly, not of Christ’s Kingdom.  All “worldliness” was to be avoided; I was not to “yoke” myself with people who had made “worldly” allegiances.

I remember having many discussions in our family about hypothetical scenarios where one would have to choose between using force to stop an attacker or accepting their actions.  The message I always got was three-fold: 1) It’s okay to explore ways to avoid harm (run, hide, stop the attacker with less-than-lethal actions); 2) But never ever kill another human-being, no matter what; 3) Pray the Lord keep us safe from such situations.  I don’t remember ever being counseled to call the police.

As a young child, this teaching of how one should face danger contributed to my sense of being a minority (I saw Mennonites as a minority even though my town was a mini Menno-mecca because I knew that our teachings were not popular in the general public.)  It also greatly enlarged my sense of vulnerability.  I knew I didn’t have the normal protections which I thought most of the world had available to them.  To some extent this made me even more vulnerable to victimization in any situation or relationship.

However, I was also taught courage.  Not only did I hear my parents tell stories of past experiences when they were spared harm (either by divine intervention or by their creative maneuverings), but I also witnessed their peace-making in real-time.

Read in my next post of a time my dad consoled an angry, armed man.

Intro to Anatomy of my Ambivalence

Ambivalence: having both attraction and aversion for something.  Most people would think this is a bad thing.  Usually it is at least problematic.  For me, it is something I experience more often than most people I know, more than they admit to me anyway.  Ambivalence is often judged as a weakness, as if the person feeling it can’t make up their mind.  When I experience ambivalence, it’s not that I can’t make up my mind; it’s that I’ve decided to give equal consideration to two opposing views, at least for a time.  It’s actually a sign of the strength of the flexibility of my mind, and my powers of imagination.

Usually when I’m willing to harbor ambivalence, it’s because I’m seeking a “third way.”  I’ve actually made a strong decision to look for a new paradigm.  Sometimes I find (or create) that new view; other times I don’t and I accept that I have to make a choice much like others before me.  Even so, I really don’t see the world as filled with dichotomies.  I believe there are a few absolutes that form the context for our thinking, experiencing, believing, choosing.  But within that frame of What-Is-Real, there is a multitude of spectrums.  So why not explore new nuances, creative combinations of unexpectedly compatible complexities?

There you have my briefest of introductions to my view of “ambivalence.”  My particularly puzzling issue, something important to me that continues to cause me much ambivalence, something I have yet to resolve or re-frame for myself is: Pacifism.

Next post will give a bit of background on what I was taught regarding a pacifist lifestyle by my Mennonite parents and childhood community.

 

Self-Soothing Strategies

Every person needs to know how to self-soothe.  From new-born babies needing to know how to return to sleep to newly pubescent teens coping with surging hormones, to every adult whether they be survivors of any sort of abuse or not, we all need ways cope with uncomfortable feelings.

“Soothing is what good parents do when their children are upset. It often involves soothing touch that is warm and comforting. It can involve words that are reassuring, empathic and hopeful. It may involve activities that are physically, intellectually or sensorially nourishing, such as taking a walk, reading a favorite book or sharing a special meal. It can also involve daily practices that are spiritually uplifting and inspiring, such as meditation. When you can perform this type of caring for yourself whatever your chosen activities may be then you have learned to self-soothe.” (from ASCA’s “Survivor to Thriver” Manual — On-line Version)

Ways I self-soothe:

  1. Take a nap.  I can sleep almost anytime anywhere if it’s silent and dark, but an afternoon nap is especially luxurious.
  2. Pray; praying is always comforting for me.  No matter what else I’m feeling, no matter what my concern, I feel anchored when in conversation with my Abba-Creator, in communion with Jesus, abiding in the Spirit.
  3. Listen to music (usually classical or comtempo-Christian, sometimes blues).  I like to start with music that is the same mood I’m feeling and then transition to music expressing my desired feeling.
  4. Play my piano.  I enjoy playing repertoire I know, reading new scores, practicing challenging pieces I’m working on, my own compositions, and sometimes improvising.  I won’t improvise for anyone else; that’s an extremely personal activity for me, but it’s sometimes a way I pray.
  5. Journal.
  6. Light a candle.
  7. Read an engrossing book.
  8. Put on a perfume or lotion with a relaxing scent like lavender or rose; I also really like the original Jergens because it reminds me of my mother when I was a very little girl.  She often carried a small bottle of it in her purse, and when at church, sitting in the pew, she would let me put some on my hands.  I felt like such a lady!
  9. Take a steamy hot shower, or if it’s a steamy hot day a cool one.
  10. Repeat a short prayer or mantra, like:
    1. Jesu juva; soli Deo gloria; or
    2. The Glory Be (Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be; world without end.  Amen.  (It’s amazing how, no matter my circumstances, praising God for Being God is uplifting to my whole being.)
  11. Sometimes when I have felt over-whelmed, experiencing no particularly bad feeling, just a little disoriented, or possibly on the verge of panic, I simply take note of What Is.  I observe my surroundings and list mentally what I see in concrete terms of What Is.  It’s remarkably effective for me.  No-one taught me to do this.  I remember the first time it occurred to me to do this.  It was when I was walking to my first class on my first day at graduate school.   I was so aware of so many new things, all at once; it was helpful to list them to myself, one at a time.
  12. Simply breathing very deeply and very slowly is extremely helpful.

My goodness!  It is quite lovely to think about how effective are these techniques/ strategies, and most of them are entirely without cost.  Thanks be to God!

Lights! Coffee! Music!

older-couples-lets-dance (How I might look)

You know how filming movies starts with “Lights! Camera! Action!”?  For me, moving into my day starts with “Lights! Coffee! Music!”  I can rise at any hour if I really NEED to, if there’s a specific thing I’ve committed to do at a specific time that requires the early exit out of dream-land.  However, I am naturally a late-riser.  I’m not proud of the fact.  In my milieu “sleeping-in” tends to be looked down upon.  But I’m no longer truly ashamed of the fact that my natural wake time is 9:00 a.m.  I’ve always been this way.  Although most of my life has required I get up around 6:00 a.m. and I have managed my sleeping and waking accordingly, now that I am “retired” from “external commitments” I let myself return to my natural rhythms.  I usually stay up until mid-night or 1:00 a.m..  My body seems to prefer 9 hours sleep.  Whatever my waking hour, get me going is greatly facilitated by music.  When I hear music, it is as if the interior, essential Me wakes up; without music, much of me remains dormant.

I’m thinking about this because my “hot spot” or area where I need to work on bringing a healthful balance into my life is my physical health.  On my scales at home I weigh 165.  At the doctor’s office I weigh 159.  (I think they should really record 160, but the nurse is likely sympathetically taking a low reading!)  I used to be 5 feet 3 inches, but I’m a little bit shorter now.  I have a smallish frame (bone structure).  So I think my ideal weight would be around 115.  In college I weighed 110-115 and I felt great.  I ate well and I was naturally very active.  By “naturally” I mean that my daily activities incorporated a great deal of walking and other gentle-yet-constant activity.  I would be very happy to lose 40-50 pounds of fat, and gain some muscle weight.  I don’t really care what number the scale reads, I just know I need to lose fat from my midriff.  And I’d like to be physically stronger.

The approach I believe I SHOULD take in addressing my health is to eat better and to incorporate regular exercise into my daily routine.  So why don’t I do this?  Why haven’t I done it yet?  Simple answer: because other things have been a priority.  Why aren’t I doing it now?  Well, I’m starting to look directly at the issue; so, there’s no more “not doing it.”  Even so, my top priority is addressing my emotional health, healing my self-regard.

I think this is a good ordering of priorities because I’ve noticed that now that I am letting myself put my Self as my top priority, I have had more energy in general.  I “feel like” doing more things.  I want my approach to all self-care to be one born out of love and joy, not fear or shame or obligation.  I want to develop an attitude of joy and celebration in feeding myself, rather than dreading food as a danger.  I want my chosen modes of movement to be just that rather than dreading dutifully doing demanded daily drudgery!  So what’s my next step?  Find a great dance-inducing CD, and dance!  As for eating: find a few recipes for easily combined fresh ingredients.  Maybe have a theme for each day.  Somehow make the plan fun.  Maybe more on that next post.  Time to dance!

children dancing (How I feel!)