Why are you doing this to me?

Why are you doing this to me?

In any kind of relationship we are going to step on each other’s toes. Friendships, business partnerships, romantic, and family; It doesn’t matter the kind of relationship. When two or more people get together they are going to have different ideas, values and goals that are going to clash.

Think of your place of work. What are your goals when it comes to your job? Often they are to find value in what you do, feel accomplished at the end of the day, and make some money in the process.  Are these your companie’s goals? At times your company is going to make decisions in an effort to reach their goals that are going to affect you in ways that you may not appreciate, from implementing a new policy all the way up to a reduction in force that terminates your job. The company is not doing this to you personally, they aren’t doing this to you, their actions just happen to affect you.

The same thing happen at home in closer relationships. Being able to learn the find distinction between something that our partner or friend is doing intentionally to us, and something that they are doing for themselves that happens to affect us, is important. It will change our reactions to the situation and will give us an ability to communicate our wants wishes and would likes more coherently.

 

The other night my husband and I had a disagreement. Because of the disagreement he went to the office for 4 hours, and astutely ignored me. It did not feel good to be ignored for 4 hours. It felt lonely and punishing. The energy in the house was tense and thick. Luckily I knew that he wasn’t ignoring me to punish me or to hurt me, he was taking space and time to calm himself down and soothe his anger and frustration with the situation. This made it much easier to be able to take time and manage my own hurt, anger and frustration with the situation (by baking cookies). If the belief had gone the other way, if I had taken his actions as a personal attack against me, the evening could have gone a very different way, with anger, resentment and escalation.

 

Our partners will take actions that affect us. These can be as benign as going to the gym instead of making it home in time for dinner, or deciding to go back to school to advance their career, to being lost in addiction.  There are times that our partners are doing something specifically to hurt us through spite and anger. It does happen. Just as often, if not more often our partners are just trying to take care of themselves in a way that steps on our toes, even if they way they are trying to take care of themselves is unhealthy and does some extensive damage.

 

When we find the distinction between “they’re doing this to me”, and “they’re doing this for them and it affects me”, then we have choices to make. Then we have to figure out what we need to do to take care of ourselves.   The first thing to do is to identify to yourself how your partners actions are affecting you by identifying the emotions surrounding their actions.  For example, being able to identify the feelings of hurt, betrayal, dismay, fear, etc will allow you to start to put a container around your emotions.  You will be able to say to yourself “I’m feeling afraid and angry right now” without necessarily blaming or acting on them.  Next you can start working to soothe the feelings by either finding something to do that you enjoy, or alternative self talk.  “I know I’m feeling really frustrated and scared, and I know that I will be OK.  I know that he/she is isn’t trying to make me feel angry and scared on purpose.”  Then you can ask yourself if there is anything that can helped by communicating these feelings to your friend or partner.  If you tell them you are really scared and frustrated, will they be able to change what they are doing, or even just confirm that their actions are affecting you even if the actions can’t be changed.  Often that confirmation, that recognition that their actions are having consequences elsewhere is comforting, even if they are unable to stop what they are doing.  Finally, in extreme cases such as drug use and sexual infidelity, which is not about you but about the other person taking care of themselves in unhealthy ways, you have to decide if you are able to stay in the relationship.  The dynamic of the decision when you have a full understanding that their actions aren’t personal, even when you have to protect yourself from the consequences of their actions, changes how you feel.

I’m not doing this to you, I’m doing this for me.  In most relationships, especially when they are overall healthy,  partners aren’t spitefully trying to make each other hurt, angry, scared, or feel abandoned or betrayed.  If you are with a person that does such things, then there is a completely different conversation to be had.  If they are taking care of themselves however, and how they take care of themselves is affecting you, move through the above steps.  Let go of the personal aspect, which will help you think more clearly, and take care of yourself without acting spitefully toward them.  It will help you be more at peace with your friends and partners, and more at peace with yourself.

Kindness – a poem

Kindness – Naomi, Shihab Nye

 

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things.

Feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

What you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

 

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he was too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow,

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

 

Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

it is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

 

We have forgotten what kindness is in this world, as our news works to show us only suffering.  We forget that we are deserving of kindness, and those around us are doing the same thing we are; working to move through the world.  Today, find to places where you can be kind to yourself and two places where you can be kind to others.  Make this your habit every day, kindness toward yourself and toward others.  The world needs a little more kindness.

The comparison trap

We compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel

We all get stuck in the comparison trap. We either pat ourselves on the back, knowing we are doing slightly better than a person or a group of people, or we start beating ourselves up because we don’t meet the standard we believe someone else has set. Either way we have set up life that we are either better or worse than the person next to us. We have set life up with winners and losers. This is a losing game.

We know clearly what is going on in our own heads. We see our intentions, the thoughts and neurosis behind the outcomes. We then judge all the information we have about ourselves and how we got to our outcomes as good or bad. We then look at what we know about the person next to us and their outcomes. Because we don’t know for sure what their thoughts are, we judge by their outside presentation and make assumptions about their confidence and thought process, then finally deciding how we measure up against them.

We generally assume the best about other people’s motivations and thoughts when we see their outcomes. We see their successes, and from there extrapolate how they got to that point, and assume it is with the grace we want for ourselves. We know our own struggles, and then we decide that we are “lesser” even when we have the same outcome.

We all have our inner demons. They taunt us as we move through life, causing doubt, distraction and insecurity. We generally only share this insecurity with the people closest to us, and sometimes not even them. The people outside of our inner circle see only the successes, not the work and the inner struggle that goes on behind them, just as you see for everyone else.

When we compare our path to someone else’s we are stuck in a trap, stuck in a game in which we cannot win. There are many paths to the top of the mountain. We all slip, fall and stumble on that path, and comparing ourselves to others when we see them reach the top without knowing how they got there is a good way to drive ourselves crazy.

Raising Teenagers

I have a joke I tell the parents I work with.  Your child does have a diagnosis.  It’s adolescence.  It is not called the “terrible 2’s / terrible teens”‘ for nothing.  This is a period where teens are working to learn who they are in their environment, if it is trustworthy and safe, or hurtful and demeaning.  They crave the safety of their parents while working to step away and determine their worth and value on their own.  This is a confusing time for both them and you.  There is fear and frustration for everyone involved as the teen steps further and further away testing both parent’s and societies limits and boundaries, at times stepping over the line.    Just look at yourself for proof.    Remember what you did, how you acted, and some of the bonehead things you did as a teen?  I have several “For the grace of god” stories of my own. This does not mean we do not protect, teach and consequence our beloved teens, but have less fear and more understanding for their behaviors.  We were there once ourselves.  The fears we feel as we watch out teen venture out in to the universe are natural.  At the age of two, we run over to keep the child from grabbing the handle of the pot of boiling water as she curiously explores her environment.  As a teen this is more difficult, and those pots get more serious with larger consequences.   With teens we also have less influence or control over their actions.  Their peers are now the primary influence.  But as you cringe while watching them make mistakes, test limits, and be general boneheads, remember this is natural and normal.  We cannot learn in a bubble and sometimes getting burned is the best way to learn not to do something again.

There are times when raising a teen that you are going to feel like you want to put them in a zoo.  You are going to feel like you want to check yourself in to a mental institution just for the vacation.  A sense of humor is paramount when raising a teenager.  Being able to see their outrageous behaviors and joke will save your sanity.  The fear will eat your soul away, you will watch their behavior and wonder how your parents didn’t kill you if you pulled the same crap you did.  You wonder how your kid doesn’t die pulling the crap they are.  Remember, you lived through your bonehead moves, and so will your teen.  

Adolescence is not a terminal diagnosis.  It does end, and you can get through it with your sanity.  Learning how to move through with grace and humor will save your relationship with your kid, help them learn, and save your sanity.  You have to trust in the basics that you taught them when they were a kid, and if they go to drop that metaphorical pot on their head sometimes you have to just watch and hope and trust. 

Finding Love

Love is such a difficult concept. What does it mean to love someone? What does it mean to be loved? Does it mean sacrifice? Does it mean losing yourself to their needs and wants? If they love you does it mean they lose themselves to you?

I often find people with the belief that love is filling. Love is about filling each other and being filled. There is a belief that love is about taking away the emptiness. This ends up being a trap. This kind of love is about taking from someone to fill holes, and love is never about taking.

The base of love is about caring enough about someone that you want them to be the best them they can be. That means sometimes watching them struggle to learn their own lessons and walk difficult paths. Even when those paths push us in directions we don’t want to go.

This can feel very empty as we watch our partner struggle through a difficulty that we can’t help with. It can feel even worse when they struggle through a difficulty that takes them away from us, even if only temporarily. Love is about wanting to help your loved one as they walk their own path, and learning to fill the emptiness in your heart through your own compassion and care.

We have a desire to be loved by others as part of a survival instinct. We are pack animals meant to live in groups, and living in groups requires caring about the people we live with, loving them. We are now so removed from each other. We live in small family groups and only come together to worship, work, and sometimes play. It seems as we move further and further from having strong community groups we start to rely on our partners, children and friends more and more to feel loved and loveable.

Love is about supporting each other as we work to find that place in ourselves that we believe is loveable. When we let go of the belief that love is about feeling filled then we can start down a path of kindness, support and intimacy that lead to strong relationships and belief in ourselves and our own ability to be loveable.

Learning to know what you want

What do I want to have happen?

This question is about outcomes. When I move through this situation, what to I want to have happen for me and those around me? When this situation is finished how do I want to feel? This question is about not only what I want now, but the bigger purpose and bigger goals you want to accomplish.

We often get lost in the immediate goal of feeling better in the moment. That doesn’t always move us toward success in the long term, or feeling better overall. In fact, if we aren’t looking at the bigger picture trying to just feel better in the moment can actually set us back.

Think of a situation you are struggling with right now. In the long term, what do you want to have happen? What do you want the long-term outcome to be, how do you want to feel about yourself, and how do you want to feel about the situation when it is finished? Are your short-term goals moving you toward your long-term goals?

I’ll use a common example of wanting to lose weight and decreased depression.   The long-term actions to meet the goal are to eat healthy foods and exercise on a regular basis. Foods are related to mood, and if we eat mostly junk our bodies will struggle to run, like putting bad gas in your car. Eating healthy will be like putting premium gas in your car with fuel boost. It will give you more energy and more fuel to run on. Exercising will help burn calories and help with weight, as well as release endorphins and improve serotonin and dopamine production to help with mood overall. The long-term goal of losing weight and being healthy sometimes call for sacrifices in the short term. After a long day though, a cheeseburger and a beer can sound really good.

Kids that I worked with who were on probation would often sacrifice long term goals of finishing probation (and sometimes getting out of treatment) for the short term goal of not feeling powerless. Sometimes they either didn’t know what they wanted to have happen overall, or they didn’t believe they could accomplish the bigger goal. They would use aggression, theft, self harming and drugs to try to feel less hopeless, helpless and powerless. These can distract or hide the pain in the short-term, and long-term make more problems.

What do I want to have happen? When I start to believe that it is possible, and I start to identify what the overall goal is, I can start to work toward making it happen.   Identification of our larger wants isn’t always as easy and we make it sound. The short-term wants are often siren calls distracting us. The larger goals often seem too big and too scary, making them elusive. Being able to recognize our strengths instead of just our limitations will help make those larger goals seem less impossible, and make them less elusive.

We aren’t as lost as we feel. We all just want to find peace, happiness and meaning in our lives and relationships. Being able to figure out what that means for you individually and believe that you are worth it means you can start finding the bigger goals and start taking the steps to reaching those goals. Understanding that taking power from others, hurting ourselves or others, and distracting from pain will not move us closer to our goal helps begin to identify what we can do to start the journey to peace happiness and meaning.

I want to feel more connected to my partner. I want to feel loved. I want to feel useful. I want to feel at peace. I want to feel happy.  I want to enjoy the work I do.  These wants are often masked by surface wants.  I want my husband to do the dishes. I want my boss to stop being a jerk.  I want

Zebras, Ulcers and you

There is a fantastic book out there called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Did you know that zebras have the exact same stress response we do? They have the exact same chemicals go coursing through their bodies when they hit that moment of fight or flight, and it takes the same amount of time that it takes for us to purge those chemicals from their bodies (about 4 hours for every 5 minutes of stress).

So what makes it so that they don’t get ulcers? After the lion’s attack is over, they let it go. They don’t think about the last attack and how if they had zigged left instead of zagged right they would have been lion food instead of Bob. They aren’t thinking about what they should have said to the lion and how next time they’re going to….. They just go back to eating grass. They don’t plan for the next attack, they don’t worry about zigging left or zagging right. They don’t worry about it, they think about the grass they’re eating.

How much time do you spend ruminating, chewing a thought or an experience over and over again in your head? My most usual time to ruminate is between 4:00 am and 6:00 am. When I have woken up and can’t get back to sleep, and some experience is spinning over and over in my head. I go over all the things I wish I had said, or what I believe the other party needs to hear, or what I’m going to do the next time. I spend time obsessing about the past or the future instead of being present with what I am doing. (BTW, the cure for this at 4:30 in the morning is to get up and go do something for 30 minutes. Read a book, do a puzzle, knit, whatever brings you pleasure. Then when you have reset your brain, try going back to sleep.)

We of course do need to plan for the future. We live in a world where we need to study for tests, we need to plan for retirement, we need to prep for interviews amongst other things. We do need to use our “superior” intelligence to remember facts and figures that we use in our daily life. Part of what has helped us survive so successfully as a species is our ability to use our past to learn for and plan for a future.

What we don’t need to do is ruminate. Spin around and around on a wheel like a hamster going nowhere. This does nothing to help plan for the future, and it can’t fix the past. While we can prepare in general for a metaphorical lion attack, spending our time obsessing about when and where and how it will come does nothing but stress our bodies. Zebras live their life not knowing when the next attack will come. They don’t obsess about the last attack or the next one. They can peacefully chomp on grass 50 yards away from their buddy that is getting eaten by the lion, or drink water 100 feet from the lion without living in constant fear. We need to take a page from the zebra’s book.

Take a breath. Now take about 10 more. There are no lions attacking right now, so it is the perfect time to work on getting some of that adrenalin and cortisol out of your system.  Let yourself be present here in the moment and let go of what you have next. Being present in the now does not mean ignoring the future, it means being present with what you are doing right now, completely present, even if it is planning for the future. Living in a constant state of fear does no good. Be present with the grass you’re eating now, and worry about the lion when it comes.

 

 

Click to open expanded view

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping – Now Revised and Updated [Kindle Edition]

Robert M. Sapolsky

Just be you!

I was speaking with my chiropractor (AKA my torture guy) and he was talking about how his wife talks in her sleep, and will answer the questions honestly through her subconscious that she will lie about while she is awake.  Now, as far as I can tell he is playful with this and doesn’t use her sleep-talking for nefarious purposes, but he did share something that he thought was cute and funny but can create large difficulties in relationships.  He asked her if she really wanted to go to Canada, and she admitted in her sleep that she doesn’t.  When awake, because she knows he wants to go, she says yes.  This folks, is a relationship killer.

 

It seems harmless, doesn’t it?  Telling your partner what they want to hear helps us validate them and make them feel more connected to us.  Right?  But what happens when they go to Canada and do his chilly outdoor adventure, when she really wanted a tropical paradise.  The first, second, even 4th time this happens it probably won’t be a big deal.  But if she never says anything, never stands up for her own wants, wishes and would likes and instead always allows him to have his, she will eventually become resentful.  The anger will build.  I have watched this happen in couples, and then all of a sudden one partner is raging at the other. When asked why, the raging partner usually yells something the equivalent of “Because we always do what YOU want to do!”.  Yes, well, did you ever say what you wanted to do?  Did you ever stick up for your wants, wishes and would likes and he just ignored them, or did you just ignore them yourself until the frustration built to a boiling point?

 

I see this not only in relationships but in friendships as well.  We have this belief that we need to validate each other.  We have a belief that we need to have the same likes and dislikes or our partner or friend may decide we aren’t what they want and then we are left alone.  We fake desire or interest in something to make ourselves move attractive and desirable.

 

A repeated topic in the therapy sessions this week has been the work “acceptable”.   We will do a lot and contort ourselves in to strange emotional positions to be considered acceptable by others.  We will lie about who we are, our likes and dislikes, even our hair color just to be “accepted”.  The difficulty with hiding who we are to be accepted is the resentment that comes when you keep sacrificing yourself for others over, and over and over. It also creates problems when people that like you for the lie that you show them all of a sudden have to find a way to accept the new you. In all reality they probably would have liked you for the real you (and if they wouldn’t have, then you probably like them for the wrong reasons anyway) and will just be frustrated that you lied to them.

 

If you are attracted to someone and they won’t like you for who you are, it isn’t going to work. There is no way around that, no way to make it work. You aren’t able to lie forever, no way to sacrifice your identity forever. It will make you resentful and angry, and is a disservice both to yourself and to the person that you like.

 

We all want people to see the best in us. We want to be accepted and liked. For most of us, who we are as individuals is actually not that bad, and when you show your true self, people will like you. If there are parts of you that people really don’t like, instead of hiding them and lying about them, change them. Be honest with who you are, it will make you and your partners and friends happier in the long run.

Recovering from betrayal

Each of us has been betrayed. We have all trusted someone or something or some company and that trust has been misplaced. We learn quickly that some betrayals are bigger than others, and some betrayals are harder to recover from. Learning to recover from betrayal requires learning to trust again. Sometimes that learning to trust just takes time to put distance between you and the betrayal. We see this in regular break-ups, when we are left reeling but within a year or two life moves on again, we trust ourselves and start to branch out and trust others again. Sometimes learning to trust takes a bit more work.

As said above, betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes. What happens when these betrayals are bigger, and it takes more than 6 months of pizza, beer and Hagen Daaz? How do we learn to trust that the world can be safe, that there is good in the world?

Believe it or not, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising is key to recovering from any kind of life difficulty.  Our body is our temple, and if we aren’t treating our body with respect our mind will have difficulty working toward recovery.

We need to find someone we can be safe with or even someplace anonymous, and tell our story. There is power in telling our story when we are heard without judgment. This can be a counselor, a friend, a parent or even just a letter than gets thrown away. It is important to use very careful judgment about with whom you disclose to. Sometimes parents and friends can be the most judgmental, and sometimes they are even more invested than you may have been in keeping the betrayal secret. They can be harsh and cruel in if this is the case. Words like “liar” can be just as traumatizing as the initial betrayal. Counselors are often a safe place to disclose because they have no emotional attachment to the betrayal or the betrayer, or even to you.

We have to learn to trust ourselves.   The first instinct when we have been betrayed is to believe that we are at fault for the betrayal, that we should have known. This is tricky, because even if we did know, there are times that knowing would have been dangerous or we would have lost more than we gained by seeing the betrayal, so being able to forgive yourself for not seeing or not doing anything about the betrayal is important. We have to begin to pay attention to when we have made good judgments about people and situations (usually this is more often than not) and start to trust in our own ability to judge something or someone.

In addition to trusting yourself learning to care for your own heart is crucial. Other may people have taken your heart and played badminton with it. You may have had people that expected you to manage the pain in their hearts. The truth is the only person that can manage the pain in your heart is you. Learning to look at the hurt you feel without judgment and give it the care and comfort that you wish you could get from others will be a big step. Knowing that you can recover your own heart when it is broke makes it easier to trust others.

Start to learn your own trigger levels. Begin to understand where you are at in general, and work to bring your level down to a consistent green. It is more difficult to trust others when you are consistently activated, as we are always ready to be attacked. The levels of distress are:

Subjective Levels of Distress (Melissa Bradley-Ball, MS)

Green: 0-3

Neutral or low activation

At this point you feel calm, centered and grounded with diaphragmatic breathing. Even if slightly annoyed or anxious things are good.

Yellow: 4-6

Activated

You’re “on alert”. Either through anxiety or frustration your more focused on what’s going on around you and your breathing has gotten shallower.

Red: 6-10

High Intensity

You’re running on adrenalin. You’re in fight, flight, freeze or fold and your breath is shallow and fast. You have scattered or impaired concentration and are more prone to paranoia.

 

When you are yellow or red you are less likely to trust because you are more alert for threats around you. This means you may start to see threats that don’t exist, start to feel betrayals that didn’t happen, and stop trusting your own judgment. Knowing when you are triggered is the first step to being able to soothe. If you can’t even recognize when triggered you aren’t able to put your coping skills in to practice to begin with.  When we don’t know we are triggered we often try to get other people to soothe us instead of doing it for ourselves, and become hurt, feel betrayed, and ultimately feel more miserable when they ultimately can’t.

The final step is to trust someone else again. There is a level of vulnerability in trusting someone. It leaves us open to being hurt.  Fides tamen quin – Trust but Verify.   Begin to see what characteristics generally mean people are safe, and take time to get to know them. Allow yourself to move slowly in to relationships and friendships to allow yourself to know that while no one is perfect, there are safe people out there. They won’t always be able to keep from stepping on our emotional (and sometimes physical, believe me) toes.

When we are betrayed as young children or teens, repeatedly betrayed, and betrayed by our supposed rescuers this has a strong effect on how we build trust. It can also affect how we process and understand other people’s actions, at times causing us to feel as though we have been betrayed when there has been no betrayal. Examples of this are:

  • Parents setting limits
  • Friends setting limits
  • Friends not liking pictures / posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Parents / friends / partners giving painful feedback
  • Partners saying hi to friends of the opposite sex
  • Partners spending time with co-workers / friends of the opposite sex
  • Partners / friends having their own hobbies that exclude you
  • Partners / friends not being interested or invested in an event in your life
  • Partners / friends not understanding triggers
  • Therapists giving painful feedback / setting limits
  • Situations in which you have to set limits with parents, friends or partners (If they loved you they should just know what your limits / triggers are, right?)

These situations often feel just like the betrayals of the past, and we often react to them in a similar fashion. This often confuses our parents, partner or friends and creates cracks in relationships. There are often fights in which both you and the other party go back and forth, probably neither knowing what the true problem is.

To be clear, these are not betrayals. They feel invalidating and attack the parts of us that hold our deepest fears. This often includes fears of worthlessness, being un-loveable, having done something wrong, and not being enough.

Being able to understand the difference between a true betrayal and what feels strongly of betrayal is an integral part of developing trust and intimacy.

Being able to tell the difference between traumatic betrayal, self-care betrayal, and non betrayal will increase your own self esteem, you own feelings of worth, and your ability to open yourself to vulnerability in healthy relationships.

Self-care betrayal is when our parents, friends and partners ignore our needs to take care of their own. This is not selfishness, this is self-care. At times this is going to make us feel abandoned, hurt, invalidated and unloved. We have to learn to do this ourselves. Not make our partners feel hurt, abandoned, invalidated and unloved of course, but to be able to see ourselves as valuable enough to put other’s needs, wants wishes and would-likes to the side to take care of our own.

Trust is an integral part to building intimacy. We have to be able to not only be able to keep someone else’s heart safe when they let us in, we have to let people in to our hearts. This means finding people that are safe to be let in, knowing how to manage our own stress and distress levels by understanding your triggers, and most importantly trusting your own judgment. Recovering from betrayal trauma is a series of steps, some of which are life long. The results are worth it.