When is enough, enough?

Life is about balance, and this includes relationships. Knowing when to fight, when to back down, and when to retreat doesn’t come written down in a handbook. There are very few situations where there is a black and white, wrong or write answer. They do exist, they are just far and few between. Knowing when to move away from a relationship is not easy.  When do I let go of personal needs, wishes wants and would-likes and help my loved one, even if it causes me pain or problems? When do I walk away, admitting that my loved on is an anchor around my neck that is drowning me? These are questions to which there are few easy answers.

We will all struggle with something throughout our lives. Any time two or more people get together the struggles of one will affect the other. Many of these struggles will come and go, and some of them will be life-long struggles. Because we are social creatures we want to be with others and have their support and sponsorship as we move though struggles. We often turn to each other for validation and help. We all balance giving support when asked, and setting boundaries to make sure our needs are taken care of. In general giving this validation feels good as we help partners, friends and loved ones move through difficulties. When the support begins to weigh on us, or requires that we sacrifice our own identity, that is when the decisions get more difficult.

We enter in to relationships with someone that we love and care about, thinking that we can handle anything that comes our way. Then life happens. Accidents, illness, mental health, job loss and addiction are just some of the things that can change a partner or create difficulty in the home. When we signed on with our partners we signed on to be supportive and sponsors through thick and thin. We didn’t sign on to bail at the first sign of trouble. We also didn’t sign on to sacrifice our identity, our values and needs, or even our health and safety.

A situation in which you are in physical danger, especially in which you feel as though your life or the life of your children is in danger is a black and white situation in which you need to leave. There are safety plans http://www.womenshealth.gov/violence-against-women/get-help-for-violence/safety-planning-for-abusive-situations.html available online that will help with packing lists and exit plans to keep you safe. It is often a struggle to leave a partner in times of abuse because we often know why they are doing what they are doing. We know their pain and their struggles. We know their insecurities that lead to their actions. Their pain, insecurities and struggles never excuse or OK physical assault or rape. A situation in which you or your children are in danger is not one to stay in.

A situation that is a little less black or white is when addiction is involved. You wouldn’t bail on your partner struggling with cancer, and like cancer addiction is a disease. At the same time drug and alcohol addiction creates strong personality changes in partners and can lead to emotional, physical and financial burdens. It can tax families to the limit, especially children. In addiction people lose a part of themselves. A part that can be regained, but in the interim the actions of the addict can destroy a family. They key is the willingness of the addict to get help. An addict can’t be a good anything but a good addict. They can’t be a good parent, a good employee, or a good friend. The addiction is a monkey on their back that takes over and demands to be fed at all costs. Only you can decide if the price is too much. The danger aspect applies here as well. If you are in physical danger, you must protect yourself. If your partner is wild and aggressive when they are using but great when they are sober, you still need to leave. When you signed on with your partner you agreed to help them, and a strong supportive partner can make the difference between sobriety and addiction. It all goes back to your partner’s willingness to get help. If they won’t get help, it doesn’t matter how supportive you are, they won’t change.

If you are ever asked to give up a big part of who you are for another partner or a relationship, it probably isn’t a healthy relationship. Now, if you are asked to give up your drug use, or your unhealthy habits, that is different. But if you are asked to give up your identity, if you are asked to suppress your wants, wishes and would-likes long term, the relationship probably isn’t healthy. There are some situations in which the relationship is so amazing in other ways that it doesn’t matter that you have to forgo or let go a part of your identity. It should be pretty darn amazing and have a lot of perks in other places to compensate for the requirement of suppressing who you are. Only you can decide if the relationship is worth losing part of who you are. It is rarely worth losing a core part of you, such as your spirituality, your sense of humor, your sensuality / sexuality or your body image. If you are OK with your body, but your partner wants it to be different (bigger breasts, better abs, better bottom, etc) then it is a good indication that your partner likes you for your body and not who you are. If you are the right person for them, and you are confident in your body, then your boobs shouldn’t matter.  I personally would not give up my cat that I’ve had for 16 years for a relationship. She is important to me and a part of my identity. Again, only you can decide what part of you is worth sacrificing for someone else. And again, there had better be some darn good compensation for that sacrifice. In most cases, being asked to suppress or sacrifice who you are for your partner or your relationship means you aren’t with the right partner.

Illnesses and accidents throw curve balls at the person that goes through them. They also throw off the friends and partners. I’ve worked with clients that have partners that have had motorcycle accidents with traumatic brain injuries, degenerative diseases, even depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. When we marry we make a vow: In sickness and health. What happens when your partner gets in an accident that changes their personality, and they are no longer the person that you fell in love with? This happens in cases of brain injuries. It can also happen after a tragedy or when people are in great amounts of physical pain. There are resources for those with partners that are no longer able to take care of their basic needs that can help caregivers feel less overwhelmed. There are also support groups, both online and in person that help with feeling less alone. In most cases the partners and caregivers I work with stay with their partner. There are times though, in which leaving is a viable choice. If you are in danger, you are allowed to leave. If your partner has become someone that expects you to manage or tolerate behavior such as drug use or cheating, you are allowed to leave.

People that have been through abuse as a child can struggle to trust and bond as adults. This struggle affects loved ones because no matter how hard they try it can feel as though their love will never be enough.   It can be a challenge living with someone that wants to feel close but has barriers and boundaries that have been put in place before you ever met them to keep them emotionally safe. Childhood trauma often includes betrayals by people that were supposed to protect them and they had to learn to live with that in order to survive. This can include keeping themselves from trusting.  Being able to feel connected can be difficult. Because of the betrayals as children people with childhood traumas can be very sensitive to the possibility of betrayal as an adult, and this can lead to defensiveness in partnerships. This defensiveness can make partners feel very distanced and alone. They best way to be able to stay in such a relationship is to remember that their self-esteem and identity is not yours to fix. You are allowed to set boundaries with them, kindly, even if it hurts their feelings. You are allowed to take care of your own wishes, wants and would-likes. If ever you are not allowed to it isn’t a healthy place to be.

Relationships are hard work. They require patience, and understanding when your partner isn’t at their best. Relationships aren’t about bolting at the first sign of trouble. They also aren’t about losing who you are and sacrificing your identity to keep your partner happy or to keep the relationship happy. The lines between the hard work of making your relationship go and losing yourself are blurry. There are rarely easy answers. If you feel as though you are losing yourself the first thing to do is talk to your partner, without criticism, contempt or blaming. Talk to them about your wishes, wants and would-likes. Work with your partner to find a way to get your needs met as well.  If it is unsafe for you to do so because of violence, or your partner just blatantly couldn’t give a rat’s ass about you or your needs it’s probably time to go. Remember, you never have to make the decision by yourself. Talk to a counselor about your needs, talk about your fears, and talk about how to get your needs met in a healthy way.

Letting go of attack and defend

In relationships we have an investment to have our partners see us as loveable. We all have a fear of being left, and it is reasonable to believe that if our partners don’t see us as loveable they may leave. When our partners come at us with the revelation that they don’t see us as awesome, fear rears its ugly head and our first instinct is to want to defend ourselves. In this moment, the moment our partners come at us with criticism either constructive or not, we feel attacked and possibly fearful of being left. When we start to defend we start a cycle. Our partner feels as though they have to defend their position, get their concerns heard and possibly get their needs met. We start to listen to each other only in as much as we are getting ready to defend ourselves. We perfect the “Yes, but….” We have now hit the attack / defend cycle. If you fast-forward a year, or 10, we don’t even have to have to hear our partner’s criticism, we just defend or attack.

One way to step out of attack and defend lies on the shoulders of the person feeling attacked. When our partner comes at us we have an instinct to defend ourselves. Instead of turning back to defend, admit to yourself or to your partner, or both, that you feel attacked. And then ask for more information. That step is counter-intuitive to everyone that has ever been in a fight. To a lot of people it seems like getting punched in the fact and asking for a second punch. Imagine you are the one with the point to make, and imagine your partner asking you to give them more information about what you mean. Or asking why it is important to you. Or asking you how you felt. Would the next statement be another punch? Or would you feel validated and maybe be able to explain why your point of view is so important to you?

Another way to step out of attack and defend lies on the shoulders of the person that wants to get their point across. Learn to step in with a gentle approach. Avoid criticism or contempt for the other person, and work to avoid blaming. I think by now everyone has learned what an “I statement” is. Avoid anything that starts with “you”, and identify what your feelings are, and what your needs are. “I’m frustrated and I would like more help with the dishes”. “I’m feeling very unappreciated lately, and I would like….” Notice how these statements are very different from “you never help me with the dishes” (criticism) or “You don’t see anything I do” (blaming).

The steps for both sides include being able to identify your feelings in the moment. At times this is the most difficult part, as what most people are able to easily identify is angry. “I’m angry”. What else are you feeling? Abandoned, afraid, defensive, confused, betrayed, unloved, un-loveable, criticized, and hurt are common feelings during fights, all leading to anger. When you are able to identify what you are feeling, after taking a second to soothe the feeling yourself, the next step is to identify what you wants are.

Fights are a dance with two people trying to lead. If we can back down and be more gentle in our approach when asking for something to change, and if we can take a second when feeling attacked and try to dig deeper to get a better understanding of our partner the dance changes. It becomes less volatile and less hurtful to both partners. It becomes more validating and each person walks away less angry, less hurt, and less betrayed.  When we can change the dance we will feel closer to our partners and safer in our relationships, with greater intimacy.

Finding your path

“All beings—from humans to insects—have the innate capacity to become enlightened. Yet we are like penniless people living on top of a gold mine; we live in spiritual poverty because we don’t tap our inner riches. To do so requires effort. We must undertake constant learning, examination and practice; we must combine knowledge and compassion. Ultimately, this awakens our primordial wisdom, allowing us to truly see.”

We are all working to achieve happiness. From your best friend to your worst nemesis, everyone is working to achieve happiness. When we understand this it can help us be more patient with others, even if we don’t agree with the path they take. It is difficult to see this when a person’s path includes exclusion, hurting others, or hurting themselves. It is hard to understand when a person’s path to happiness includes taking happiness away from others. These people are just as desperate for enlightenment as we are, but with less of an understanding of how to find it. There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but most religions believe in similar paths. The teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Buddha are very similar.

Buddhism believes that the path to enlightenment follows 8 paths. These paths are what the Buddhist Monks follow, and as you move down the paths they become more and more difficult. I have yet to give up meat, and I have a feeling that my husband would be unhappy if I gave up sex. This blog isn’t about following the paths completely, as I have yet to do so, but to give you and understanding of a possible way to move through life and find happiness and enlightenment.

The first path is the Right View. With this path we have to create an understanding of what SUFFERING really is, the difference between pain and suffering, and work to move through life without hatred, greed and delusion. Hatred general comes from fear of the unknown or fear of losing the things we believe we need. Greed of course is wanting to make sure our needs are met, and gathering the resources we believe are necessary, but gathering more than we really need. Taking and taking when what we have already is enough. Of course letting go of hatred also includes letting go of the hatreds we have toward ourselves, letting go of our hatred of our perceived imperfections while continuing to strive to be the best we can be.

The next path is Right Intention. Right intention is moving through life without ill will and without intent to harm others or ourselves. This is followed by Right Speech, avoiding divisive or abusive speech, and Right Action. Right Action includes avoiding taking life, taking things that were not given (stealing) and illicit sex. The next path is Right Livelihood. This includes avoiding jobs that include weapons, humans, meat, intoxicants and poison. Then Right Effort, avoiding evil and continuing to learn new skills while letting go of un-wholesomeness and preventing it within yourself as well.

The final two paths are about concentration, and look at Right Mind and Right Concentration. These look at being able to put away thoughts of greed and distress, and finally letting go of the mundane. I think the final path is the most difficult for me, as it involves the full understanding that nothing in live is permanent, so letting go of attachment to things that you cling to. Within Buddhism this means letting go of all physical attachments; your TV, your clothes, your cat and your partner. Attachment causes grief and suffering when the thing we are attached to is lost, and nothing lasts forever.

How I personally manage this is to be willing to move through the pain of loss, knowing that I will be OK once the thing I am attached to is gone. This has been proven to me when I lost my first marriage, when I had to put three of my cats to sleep, when I was laid off from my job, and every time a client successfully finds their own peace and moves on. I was OK when I left the safety of my parent’s house for college, and the safety of the place I grew up in to move to a new State and City. I won’t give up the mundane to find complete happiness, because it will bring pain and suffering to do so. So I will be OK with the pain and fear that comes with attachment. I will be aware of the pitfalls of attachment that lead to more suffering, such as hate, greed and delusion.

We all want happiness. If we aren’t careful the way we try to find it can actually cause more pain. Anytime we try to find happiness at the cost of other’s happiness, it causes us suffering. Any time we try to find happiness through judgment or hatred it causes us more suffering. You don’t have to agree with someone else’s path to happiness. You need to find your own, find the one that works for you and stick to it.

Understanding the ego

I was once told that the ego is the part of the self that regards itself as real. This implies that the ego is not the self, it is the idea of the self that defines what is. The ego defines if something is good or bad, likeable or not, right or wrong. It also decides what you can and can’t do, correct or not.

An interesting example of this is women and math. There is a belief put out that girls are bad at math, and boys are good at math. Because of this belief boys are taught differently than girls in school. A review of 100 classes across the country found that boys will be walked through the problem, while girls will be shown how to do the problem. When a girl struggles with a concept they were often told “Don’t worry about it, a lot of girls aren’t good at math”. This affects how girls see themselves when it comes to math, affecting their belief in their ability to do it, reinforcing the concept that boys are good at math and girls are bad. The ego, the self, starts to believe this creating anxieties about math, leading to teens and women believing that they are bad at math. This is a belief that isn’t necessarily true, but the self that regards itself as real does.

It is important to begin to differentiate between what you CAN do, and what you CAN do, but the ego is afraid to do or thinks it can’t. Think for a second about going to see a movie on your own on a Friday night. Some of you will think “No problem, what’s the big deal?”. Some of you will look at this as an inconceivable challenge that you would never be able to do. What is the difference between the two of you? Your ego.

We think of someone with a big ego as being full of themselves. We see a big ego as cocky or narcissistic. What it takes to go to the movies by yourself on a Friday night, braving couples and judgmental teens is a strong ego. It takes a confidence of self that you are OK, even if you are the only person sitting alone in the theater on a Friday.

The ego is the part of us that can get in the way. It gets in the way when we want to try something new and when we aren’t sure of ourselves. It says that you’re enough, or not enough. It says that you will succeed or that you won’t. When your ego has decided that you aren’t going to succeed the decisions has been made. The trick to trying new things with confidence is either getting your ego on your side, getting the ego to believe that you can be successful, or getting it out , of the way.

Getting the ego out of the way means working with the part of the self that is afraid and convincing it to trust you to keep it safe. Some people ignore their anxiety when moving in to a new situation, and often the anxiety rears its head in unexpected ways right in the middle of what you’re trying to do. Getting your ego on your side, trusting you to be OK even if you fail.

The ego is the part of the self that regards itself as real. When you are aware of the ego, when you are aware of the self that says that you can or can’t, then the ego isn’t in control. Being aware of the part of the self that isn’t necessarily right about what you can and can’t do allows you to work around the ego. This allows for greater exploration in your life, a greater willingness to see more of the world, and explore some edges that you may not have been willing to explore when the ego is in control.

Divorce with children

Unfortunately we are divorcing each other at an amazing rate.  Though lately the saying “more marriages end in divorce” seems to not be holding up (the divorce rate has fallen in the last 2 years), there are still a good deal of families that are splitting up.    I was blessed that my divorce was “easy” with no bitterness or anger (notice I did not say painless) and my ex-husband and I maintain an easy friendship.  I work with clients and have friends who are not so lucky.

Divorce on its own is traumatic.  Even a divorce as “easy” as mine was still is a trauma.  There are always hurts, feelings of abandonment, loss, and at times betrayal.  Adding children to this mixture adds another layer of uncertainty, frustration, hurt and fear.  Even the best people are able to become monsters around their ex-partner at this time of in-stability. Unfortunately often the children are thrown in to the mix and the trauma can be devastating.

A divorce is traumatic to a child.  Children are at a stage in which they are learning if the world is to be trusted, and part of that is based on the stability of their family.  If the parents are stable and display consistency children learn that the world is stable and consistent and approach life with optimism.  If parents display instability they learn to fear the world and tend to be more pessimistic.  Realize, these are generalizations and do not apply in all cases, but overall these themes tend to play out. Divorce adds a new mix to the concept of instability. Childadvocate.net  gives a great deal of information on this topic, but generally children generally jump to the following questions :

·  What if they both leave me?
·
  What is it that I did wrong?

·
  Did I cause the divorce?

  • Now what’s going to happen to me?

Divorce is painful.  It is a severe trauma that strongly affects both parties in the divorce.  Unfortunately, divorce with children is like being sick with children.  The kids don’t care that you are hurting,  or don’t feel well, that you are angry and feel abandoned.  And it is not their responsibility to be your support through this trauma.  Let me repeat that, as it is amazingly important. Your children are not supports for your divorce!  Just as if you are sick, you need to to continue to be strong, stable, caring and loving.  The worst case scenario unfortunately is often the norm today.  Children are placed in the middle, asked to pick sides and used as leverage in the fight against the other person.  This has drastic results that are life long.

Basic rules to interacting with your children in relationship to your divorce:

Do not burden them with information about reasons for the split.  Children will want to know.  Children are naturally inquisitive, and they generally feel the same fear, powerlessness and panic that you feel and  they know that knowledge is power.  The problem  is that in the middle of the painful emotions we are unable to be unbiased and we give information based on our own perceptions.  I know through my divorce I actually placed more blame on myself than my ex, but often people do the opposite forgetting that it takes two to tango.  Children can feel responsible for getting the parents back together, they can be placed in a parent role for their parents, and take on more than necessary.  It also puts them in a position to pick sides. When they want to know, switch to a nurturing role.  “That’s not stuff you need to worry about, what you need to know is that Daddy / Mommy and I love you, will always love you, and will always be here for you”.

Do not ask them to pick sides.  In doing this you will imply that they will loose your love if they don’t pick you.  If both parents do this it will cause panic.  Children still think in fight or flight, survival and death. This doesn’t make sense to us as adults, but they are still very primitive in their emotions without the ability to rationalize.  There is a distinct fear that “If I don’t pick mom, she won’t love me, she will leave me, and I cannot survive without her.”  This is very subconscious, and they probably can’t verbalize these fears. We all want validation that we are good people and in divorce we want to know that the reason we are being rejected is because of the faults of the other instead of our own.  Using our children for our own validation and to resolve our feelings of loss or fears of being unloved, or just vilifying our past partner is not OK. It creates feelings of abandonment and panic and can lead to behavioral problems, drug use, school difficulties, anxiety and depression.

 

Do not manipulate the children emotionally. This technically falls under trying to make them pick sides but deserves its own section.  Telling kiddo that you can’t make the rent because daddy divorced you causes confusion and hurt.  Even if this is the case, kiddo doesn’t need to know until they are older.  The kids are struggling to see where they are going to be safe in the world.  What they need from both of you is knowledge that the world won’t end, that they will still be loved even with the divorce.  Manipulating them in an effort to sway them away from the other parent, or get them to try to manipulate the other parent creates an unsafe situation and will cause a great deal of anxiety.  It can actually rebound on you, and make the child resentful toward you.  We think kids won’t necessarily see through this behavior, but they aren’t stupid, just young.

Do not fight in front of your children.   If you do find yourself fighting in front of your kids, either work to find a resolution then and there (one of the great disservices we do to our children is we do not teach them how to resolve an argument, we fight in front of them, but we never resolve anything in front of them.) or end the discussion until a time when the kids aren’t present (not sent to their rooms, but not present all together).  It is too easy to drag the children in to the fight, and that will exacerbate all of their fears instead of reassuring them. Sending them to another room does no good, as yelling travels very well through houses.  It will also display that there are weaknesses that kids are amazingly apt at manipulating.

Do not use your children as a tool to manipulate your spouse. This is nothing more than emotional assault both on your children and your ex.  There is no excuse or justification for this.  Unless your ex is a danger to your child there is no reason to limit their access, and using your child as a manipulative tool is nothing less than child abuse.  You are turning your child in to an object to cause pain, while it is not criminal, it should be.  If you can’t tell, I feel rather strongly about this. Don’t buy your child the cell phone your ex told them they can’t have just to piss him/her off.  Don’t manipulate to get more child support just to hurt your ex.  Don’t make it excessively hard to do things like visitation and communication.  These behaviors are childish and unacceptable.  This hurts more than just your ex, it hurts your child and ultimately it hurts you too. Being a mean and spiteful person is  a poison that slowly kills you. But most of all it hurts your children.  They learn unhealthy patterns that they carry through their adult relationships.  Moral?  Do not use your children to get back at your ex.

Don’t tell stories about your ex to your kids.  Children don’t need to know who daddy is supposedly sleeping with or that he didn’t pay his child support on time.  The don’t need to know that mommy is throwing tantrums and not able to pay her bills.  They don’t need to know how horrible mommy is, or how bad her friends are.  This is transferring your frustrations and fears on to your children.  If your ex really is that horrible, let kiddo find that out on their own.

Do nurture, support and reassure your children.  If there is fighting in the home they frequently believe that the fights revolve around them not realizing that their parents are fighting because of their relationship, not them.  If that is the case and all of a sudden mom and dad are splitting, it is natural to believe that you are divorcing because you always fight over the kids.  Even if they are not aware of the conflict (which is relatively rare) they now know that their world is being thrown about and they are probably terrified. They need all of the support and reassurance you can get.  If possible, reassure them together as a team.  They need to know that even though you will not be together anymore  you still love them and you are still a solid team when it comes to parenting them. They need to know that even with the divorce they are safe. 

Do be a united front for your children. As they grow this will be more important than you realize. The one thing you can both still agree on is that your kids are amazing, that you love them, and they come first.  Well, put them first.  You have to put aside all of the anger, hurts and frustrations.You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids.  You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids!  If you do not the fallout is amazing.  You will see behavior problems as they seek structure and stability.  If you think they split and manipulate you now as a solid couple, wait to see what they can do when they know that you aren’t together in your parenting. Kids will feel unstructured and unsafe.   They will seek out their friends for their support instead of their parents.  They will resort to drug use, eating disorders, stealing among other things to resolve their hurts and frustrations.  It is a loosing battle.They will also turn in to little terrorists, manipulating and scheming to get their way, going to the parent from whom they know they can get want the easiest.  They will play you like a violin and turn in to brats that don’t mind either of you.

Do work to resolve your differences in a healthy manner. Just because you are splitting with your partner does not mean that you have to teach hate to your children.  I will cover how this effects you as a person in greater detail in another post, but even if you feel hurt and hate right now it is important to teach your children how to resolve hurts and frustrations in a healthy way.  This is going to be a difficult time for you.  If you hit a point where you don’t feel like you are in control, leave until you are in control again.   Remember to always think what you are teaching your children with your behavior.   

Being a parent means being responsible.  I know throughout my divorce there were days that just keeping myself going took all the energy I had.  I know that putting that aside that pain and going about with  my daily life was like swimming up a waterfall. I fully understand the hurt and the trauma that this is causing you.  I know first hand the feelings of abandonment, hurt, fear, loss and loneliness. Divorce with children is not the same as divorce without. When you have kids you don’t get sick days, you don’t get hurt days, and you don’t get bad divorce days.  Because you have children you have to put your big-girl / boy panties on and be a parent.  That means putting your child first and your hurts and angers second.  Hopefully in doing this you will be better able to pull yourself through your divorce as you force yourself to work with your partner, resolving your hurts and create a healthier world for you and your children.

Resources :

Helpguide.com;

divorceandchildren.com; 

Childrens books;

Cooperative Parenting 

 

 

Act Confident

Getting our needs and wants met is a skill. It takes a finesse and a confidence that we think we should all know instinctively. Instead it is a learned skill that we start learning as a kid. As a kid we learn from our environment how to ask for wants and needs, and we learn specifically from our parents and family. If our family supportive and kind, then we learn to be confident in asking for our needs and wants. If our family is assertive, we may learn that we need to be overly assertive in asking, and if our family is abusive or domineering we often learn to be more passive or shy in asking for wants and needs.

When we approach people with aggression they feel put off and often resentful. When we are too un-assuming or shy people don’t take us seriously. I had a client walk in the office the other day with a grin, looking at the ground, shoulders slumped. She looked guilty as sin of something. She struggles to believe that she is worth having her needs or wants met, and as such does what a good deal of us do. She is passive, tender and quiet for a good deal of the time. She thinks “It doesn’t matter” and lets other people have their way over and over, and often is stepped on because she doesn’t set limits and boundaries with others. She works to see things from their point of view and only thinks of how they will be angry or mad at her if she stands up for herself or asks for her own needs to be met. Until she hits the tipping point. Then the raging bear comes out and instead of being tender, fierceness and aggression spew forth.

We all struggle with the balance of tender vs fierce. Tenderness is where we are kind and work to nurture others. Fierceness is when we set limits and boundaries. Tenderness without fierceness is victimization. We will be walked on even by the most well-intentioned of people. Fierceness without tenderness is aggression, either physical or verbal. Being fiercely-tender or tenderly-fierce is a skill. Being able to set limits on kindness is difficult, and we often worry that the person or organization we are setting limits on will be angry and punish us. If we don’t give our friend the $5 they asked for, they will be frustrated. If we ask for the last $5 back before giving them more money they will be mad. If we don’t work 60 hours a week for our job (when we only get paid for 40) they will fire us.

I work with so many people that don’t believe that they are worth having their needs or wants met. They either don’t bother to ask for their needs, wants, wishes or would-likes (secretly hoping that their partner / friend / job will just do what they need), or they hint and passive-aggressively try to get needs met. People either don’t understand these ways of communication, or intentionally ignore them. It is uncomfortable to be straight forward and say “I need this”. As a culture this is a taboo, especially for women. The struggle is that eventually when our needs, wants, wishes and would-likes aren’t communicated or met, we get angry and eventually resort to fierceness. And when we go at people like a raging bull, they tend to defend themselves and fight back instead of listening.

The client that came in to the office head down, shoulders slumped and shy grin on her face got a lesson in confidence that day.   As you read this, do the following: Lift your shoulders up to your ears, pull them back along the shoulder-blades and drop them down. Lift your head to where your head is at neutral, not looking up or down. This is what she and I practiced for an hour. We also practiced asking for what she wanted in terms of “I need”, “I would like”, and “I want” in a confident voice, without giggling. We practiced “I would like you to respect our house. I need you to pick up your trash and not leave it for my husband and I. This is important if you are going to live here.” A perfectly reasonable request, right? It was a struggle to find the confidence to say it.

There is a skill called DEAR MAN (Marsha Linehan, DBT).

Describe the situation

Explain how it makes you feel

Assert what you want

Reinforce

 

Maintain Focus

ACT CONFIDENT

Negotiate

 

I’m not going to explain the whole skill in this blog, but one of the key components is acting confident. Not cocky, not shy, confident. If I go in like an angry bear people will be defensive. If I go in shy and quiet, I probably won’t be taken seriously. Finding that place where I know that I am OK asking for what I’m asking for (even if I can’t get it, for whatever reason I’m still OK asking for it) gets me most of the way there.

Ultimately, if I don’t believe I’m worth it, no one else will. For whatever reason we have forgotten the skill of asking for what we want. As women we are seen as needy or demanding if we express our needs, and men are often seen as weak. I have personal found that while people may be surprised when I am comfortably forward with asking for what I want or need, they are rarely unreasonable.

Dating Hell

For those of you that have been thrown in to dating in the 21st Century you are probably very well aware that dating today should be one of Dante’s circles of hell. Online dating is a series of rejections and crazy people, trying to sort out someone that actually fits your concept of attractive, healthy and interesting. After my divorce I was active  in the dating pool for about 4 years. Moving through the dating scene was probably one of the worst things I could do for my self-esteem, and from everything I have gathered from clients most people feel the same way.

It is difficult to stay centered and confident when the people you are interested in don’t respond to your messages, or you get a date and never hear back.   With online dating you have one chance to make a first impression, and both men and women begin to objectify each other in to attractive and unattractive and only when someone meets the criteria as “attractive” does anyone bother to look beneath the surface to see if they like what’s under the cover. Some people don’t even bother to go that far, but just message anyone they find attractive. It is a new world where you aren’t seen for who you are, but who you portray yourself as and you can be dismissed for the lack of ability to be perceived as perfect.

Programs like Tinder make this even worse, where if you aren’t viewed as “attractive” you are summarily dismissed. People become nothing more than a slab of beef to be auctioned off, and your self-esteem depends on someone giving you a “thumbs up”. With this program you can’t even see what they are about until you reply with a “thumbs up”. A saying about books and covers goes somewhere here. I know, I know… many of you will think that without an attraction there can’t be a relationship. And. Some of the most amazing people I have known have come in average wrappers, while some of the most vapid, ignorant, hateful people I’ve known have come in pretty ones.

Online dating has allowed us to spread our nets further than ever before, bring us in to contact with people we never would have met. It gives us an ability to find people with shared interests that never would have crossed our paths. It also gives us the ability to dehumanize ourselves and others, hiding our fears and pathologies behind a keyboard and a screen. When you move in to the online dating pool you are thrown in to a virtual meat market that can strip away your understanding of people and decent interaction, learning to look primarily at the packaging and not what it hides beneath. You know that you are seen the same way, and as time moves on and you don’t find the person this perfect for you, a fear starts to develop that because your outside isn’t perfect enough to find Mr. or Mrs. Right.

It is easy to start to doubt yourself, your attractiveness and your desirability as you move through the online world. So many people have related a feeling of emptiness that comes from having people they are interested in not reply, or walk away after a few interactions with no thought to their actions and how they affect others. People can be unnecessarily cruel and hurtful, and people can be unnecessarily crass and ugly, hiding behind the safety of their keyboard. Remember that this is a reflection of them, and a reflection of the system that we have created. This is not a reflection of you. A level of patience and self-confidence is a must as you wander in to the waters, knowing that they will be full of sharks and other creatures that don’t have your best interests at heart. It is also filled with thousands of people that aren’t right for you, but are looking as well. Don’t allow yourself to drop in to the world and become one of the sharks. Stay true to who you are. There is someone out there that will be your kind of perfect. You have to find the patience sort through all of those that aren’t the one, to find the one that is.

 

We’re all a little weird, and life’s a little weird. When we find someone who’s weirdness matches ours we fall in mutual weirdness and call it love. Dr. Suess.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue  is when the caregiver is struggling.  When most people think of compassion fatigue (if they have heard of it before) they think of the caregivers for those with terminal or prolonged illness. They don’t think of those that care for family and friends with depression and anxiety. It can manifest in several ways, though the first one to be displayed is often irritability and criticism toward the person to whom they are giving care to. Followed by anger, depression and hopelessness.

The best way I’ve ever heard depression described is it is like wearing a 100lb backpack, with 20lb weights attached to each wrist and ankle. Even brushing teeth is a struggle with you are carrying so much weight, let alone exercise, working, cleaning, and spending time with friends. By the time a person with depression makes it through their day they are exhausted, and rarely have energy even for niceties at home. They often ask for help and prayers from friends when feeling overwhelmed or helpless.

In the beginning being the friend or partner that is sponsoring and supporting someone with depression actually feels empowering. It feels good to provide care and support to someone, to feel as though you actually matter. When the depression keeps going though, it starts to take its toll on both the person with the depression and the caregiver.   When the caregiver hasn’t experienced depression themselves they don’t have a good frame of reference, and often feel frustrated when it appears like their partner isn’t even trying. They offer advice and support, only to have it turned away and the depression continues. The caregiver starts feeling as though their love isn’t enough, that they aren’t enough, creating their own feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Then the irritation starts. Instead of feeling compassionate a supportive the caregiver starts to feel irritable and resentful. It starts to feel as though nothing they do is ever enough and they start to give up hope.

Anxiety is very similar. Instead of feeling weighed down with every movement it feels as each task requires jumping through fire. In every moment there is some anxiety and fear. Sometimes, moving through the anxiety or fear is easy, until hitting a wall. After pushing through their anxiety throughout the day, but at moments a terror hits and makes taking another step forward the scariest thing they have ever done. People who do not suffer from anxiety struggle to understand. The times they have been hit with anxiety they have “dug deep” and just kept going. They don’t quite understand constantly living in a state of fear, and they think that the person with anxiety can do the same thing. There is confusion when the person with anxiety hit walls that the sponsor can’t see, and from the outside it looks like the person with anxiety just isn’t trying.

The anger and resentment builds with the impression that the person with anxiety or depression is just dragging them down. The person that is trying to be sponsoring and supportive starts to be feel contempt and starts making critical statements, which just exacerbates the problem. The person that started out as a sponsor is now one of the problems. They are struggling with compassion fatigue. This is when the works begins for the caregiver.

The first step is to take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating healthy and exercising regularly. It is easy to get lost in your partner’s or friends problems and forget basic self-care. The caregiver is then often quick to become resentful, believing that they are giving and giving without getting anything back. Make sure that you are working toward your own goals and doing your own hobbies. Make sure you are doing the things that you usually do to pamper yourself, following your usual exercise and work routine. Make sure you are spending time with your friends. If you aren’t taking care of yourself then there is no one to blame but you.

One of the worst struggles of a partner struggling with depression is the lack of support for you. Make sure you aren’t just bitching to your friends, but some kind of professional support for yourself. There is a good deal of emphasis on finding outside support for the person struggling with depression, we don’t think of outside support for the supporter. This can include support groups found through NAMI or finding your own therapist. These resources can provide education and the knowledge that you aren’t alone in feeling the way you feel. They can help remind you to take care of yourself, and give you tips on how to move through their struggles and remain supportive. As much as your partner and friend need help and validation while they move through their struggles, you need some as well.

In the process of supporting a friend or partner that is struggling with depression it starts to feel like you don’t know where you stop and they begin. You feel guilty when you are happy or enjoying yourself while they are obviously miserable or terrified. You don’t feel as though you are able to tell them where they are pushing you too far, or tell them when you need to take care of yourself. There is a fear that if you do, you will be struck down by the universe for being a bad person. After walking on eggshells for a while you the irritation spikes until blow up on the person you are trying to support. The eggshells aren’t as necessary as you think they are. The person with depression or anxiety doesn’t think you have to lose yourself for them, or that you should never have your needs, wants, wishes or would-likes met. It is your responsibility to figure out what your needs are. It is your responsibility to know what your wants, wishes and would-likes are. It is also your responsibility to ask for them. Nicely. If someone is struggling with depression or anxiety they have enough difficulty taking care of themselves without trying to read your mind. There is no need to snap at them because they didn’t figure out what you needed and give it to you.

Living with depression and anxiety is a struggle. Both for the person struggling and their sponsors and supporters. It is easy to get dragged in to the struggle and start to experience frustration, anger and hopelessness, even depression and anxiety of your own. It is easy to see your partner or friend as not trying and feel resentment. If you take steps to take care of yourself; find your own support, take charge of your own needs, set personal boundaries, and find support of your own you will find a much smoother path for yourself, and even possibly for your partner or friend.

 

Finding Forgiveness

Dr. John Gottman identifies the four killers of relationships as criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. If we want to make a relationship work, we have to get rid of these four things. What about your relationship with you? If I want my relationship with myself to work, do I have to get rid of the criticism, contempt, and defensiveness towards ourselves as well? The answer is yes. These four things will lead to anger and resentment, no matter at whom they are aimed. If I only greet myself with contempt and criticism, I will become angry and resentful and the world. If I only notice where I struggle, or put the blame in the wrong place, I will struggle to do well.

The opposite of contempt is compassion. Take a moment and think of someone you are really frustrated with or hurt by in your life. Now try to find a place where you can hold any kind of compassion for them, seeing them as more than just the asshole that is making your life difficult. For anyone over the age of 25 that is usually pretty easy to do. We see the whole picture and know that even though this person may not be our best friend, they aren’t a complete and total horrible person. Now find a part of yourself that you consistently hold in contempt. Find one thing about that part of you that you can hold compassion for, even for a second. Much more difficult, right?

When we look in the mirror and see nothing but the warts and the problems we aren’t finding compassion. We aren’t seeing the whole picture, only the parts that are bad and ugly.   Often we hold ourselves in contempt in as an effort to force ourselves to improve things, but it doesn’t actually work. It creates depression and pain and often creates stagnancy.

Criticism often starts with a “why” question. In a past post I discussed why “why” is a problem. It is accusatory and judgmental creating automatic defensiveness, no matter who you are. “Why don’t you ever do the dishes?” “Why are you such a jerk all of the time?” “Why do you never get off your ass and help me?” “Why don’t you have a job yet?” These create anger and resentment and defensiveness when we ask them of other people, and at the same time we throw these questions at ourselves all the time. Often we add a little bit of contempt in there as well. “I don’t know why I can’t get off my fat ass and go to the gym”. “I don’t know why I’m so lazy.” These statements often do the exact opposite of what we want them to do, which is to motivate us. We think “Well, if I call myself a fat ass I will move and it will change”.   But what they really do is encourage shame and depression.

The opposite of criticism is what Dr. Gottman calls the soft start-up.   This involves changing the statement to a wish, want or would like that comes from a neutral tone. “I would like you to help me with the dishes more.” Identifying feelings about what or isn’t happening. “When you don’t help with the dishes I think you aren’t invested in keeping the house running, and I feel alone and overwhelmed.” We can use the same skills with ourselves. Instead of using shame to try to motivate, change the language you are using and identify what you want. “I want to exercise more and spend more time with friends.” Identify the feelings that are related to the lack of success, and that often get in the way. “I’m feeling very dismayed and ashamed right now and they keep me from doing what I know I need to do”. Changing the way we approach talking about difficult concepts, moving from judgment to desires changes the dialogue.

The opposite of defensiveness is accountability. This will mean something very different from the judgments that you’ve already been throwing at yourself. You already tell yourself how horrible you are. This isn’t accountability, this is shaming and damaging. Accountability is difficult and scary, because it means seeing what the problem actually is. It means being able to look and identify the reason that you aren’t able to meet up with friends is because you’re embarrassed about something and you are afraid that they will judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. You struggle to go the gym for the same reason, but tell yourself that you’re just too lazy to go. It’s admitting that you struggle to stick with a diet because you feel that the only good thing in your life right now is the food you get to eat and you are afraid that if you give it up, there will be nothing. Accountability is being honest with the things you’ve been avoiding and a way to move past the avoidance instead of using shame, criticism and contempt.

I titled this blog “Finding Forgiveness” and until I haven’t mentioned the concept. These three things: defensiveness, contempt, and criticism all get in the way of forgiveness with ourselves and with others. They keep us stuck in a cycle of shame and anger, fear and judgment. When we are in that cycle, we aren’t able to find peace or forgiveness for others or ourselves, and we can’t find health. Letting go of the judgment that leads to contempt, criticism and defensiveness is difficult. It is rewarding. When you can find compassion for our own short-comings we are better able to face them and improve. When we learn to let go of the language of shame and learn a language of motivation, we move forward. When we take accountability for the truths in our lives instead of the hurts in our lives, we aren’t as angry. This is what forgiveness is.

Finding our way back to each other past shame

Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.  Think of that statement.  We are so scared of being seen as weak, and having others take advantage of our weakness.  Every single one of us has had someone take advantage of our vulnerability in the past.  We have been stomped on and hurt through our vulnerability, and so we start to associate vulnerability with weakness.

Brene Brown is a renowned researcher that found that vulnerability is the key to living a full life.  One of the roadblocks to vulnerability is shame.  Shame keeps us from each other and from ourselves.  This 20 minute ted.com talk is revealing, and throws our beliefs and our fears in our face.  Take the time to watch, think, and wonder what you need to do to move past shame to vulnerability and connection.