Tag Archives: compassion

Practicing Equanimity

“Equanimity is not indifference, and compassion is not pity. True spirituality requires us to be fully present for life. For us to begin to look directly at the world situation is not a question of ceremony or of religion. Meditation helps us to look deeply at the sorrow that exists now in our world, and to look at our individual and collective relationship to it, to bear witness to it, to acknowledge it instead of running away. Without mindfulness and compassion the suffering is too great to bear. We close our minds. We close our eyes and our hearts.”
~Jack Kornfield.

I have seen this quote and similar ones several times recently, but I need to be reminded. Frequently. I have never had difficulty with feeling compassion. But because I feel so much, I have felt the need to tune out and distance to protect myself.

I had a dream recently that showed me what I have been doing, versus what I need to be doing. Rather than viewing the ocean from atop a hill many miles away from it (distancing), to instead stand just above the water where it can be experienced more directly, yet still safely.

This is mindfulness. I am not immersed in the water (sorrow, suffering), overwhelmed and drowning. Yet I am much more present with it than seeing it from a great distance.

This is a journey for me, I am learning to bear witness without being overwhelmed; to allow what is happening into my consciousness without allowing it to destroy me.

The Blue Heron Wisdom Internet TV Show Goes Live Today!

If you have enjoyed reading my posts here (which I will continue to do), you might also enjoy tuning into the inaugural episode of my new Internet TV Show, Blue Heron Wisdom.

To find out more about the show and to watch the archives, go here: http://www.realcoachingradio.net/content/blue-heron-wisdom

To tune in live at 7 PM Pacific / 10 PM Eastern click here: http://www.realcoachingradio.net/content/live-studio-call-vip-show-hot-line-303-872-0503

So, you’re probably wondering what this show is all about. Let’s start with the name of the show: Blue Heron Wisdom. The blue heron is a symbol of self-determination, discovering and walking a path of authenticity. My mission is to inspire you to want to be more of who you truly are, to enlighten you on how to move forward on your own unique path, and to encourage you along the way.

In my weekly radio show I will share information about ways to work through common problems and stuck-points, including exercises and tools that you can use at home. We’ll then open up the phone lines for live coaching on any questions or situations you need help working through.

On the first and third Thursday of each month I will introduce you to a practitioner who offers an alternative approach to discovering and walking your own unique path. Some of the guests scheduled include hypnotherapists, EFT practitioners, acupuncturists and a Kundalini yoga instructor. There will be time in the last half of the show for you to call in with questions for the guest, or for me. Or why not get input from each of us?

I hope that you will be inspired by my stories and the stories of my guests, that you will find enlightenment in the ideas, tools and techniques that we offer, and that you will feel encouraged and supported through receiving live coaching for your own questions. My ultimate hope is that by experiencing this inspiration, enlightenment and encouragement, you will in turn inspire, enlighten and encourage others to be more of who they truly are.

Here is the schedule of topics and guests for the first four episodes:

June 14, 2012
The Inaugural Episode with Wendy Wagoner
I will be interviewed by veteran broadcaster Wendy Wagoner. We’ll be discussing my hopes and dreams for how the show will make a difference in the world, how I came to be doing the show, and sharing what’s in store for the coming weeks. We’ll be sure to leave time for you to call in and get some help with situations in your life.

June 21, 2012
Psychic, Medium and Teacher Melissa Peil
Melissa will share how she became aware of her own intuitive gifts, how using your own intuition can help you move in the right direction, and how she uses her gift to help others find the right path. Call in and to get Melissa’s input (or mine) on a problem or decision you need help with.

June 28, 2012
Overcoming Perfectionism with Ina Stockhausen
Join me and my friend and colleague Ina Stockhausen to find out what perfectionism is, why it interferes with being authentic, and what to do about it. Ina and I will address questions you may have about how to set your perfectionism aside and be more of who you truly are.

July 5, 2012
Astrologer and Writer Rhea Wolf
Rhea will share some information about an upcoming astrological event that will require us to call upon our skills to live with change and uncertainty. We’ll have a conversation about resiliency: what is it, why is it important, how to develop it. Call in to ask for an astrological perspective on current events, or for coaching on a difficult situation.

I am incredibly excited (it seems like I use that word a lot lately) about this new chapter in my business. I look forward to your feedback, and talking to you live!

Here are the links again:

To find out more about the show and to watch the archives, go here: http://www.realcoachingradio.net/content/blue-heron-wisdom

To tune in live at 7 PM Pacific / 10 PM Eastern click here: http://www.realcoachingradio.net/content/live-studio-call-vip-show-hot-line-303-872-0503

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

I was reminded today of an old TV commercial, I think it was for shampoo, where the model displays her luxurious hair and says, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” She then goes on to tell you how you can be beautiful, too, by buying whatever the product was.

This afternoon I received an email that was a response to a newsletter I emailed out yesterday. The sender was a potential client who had scheduled a session, but then had not followed through with actually meeting with me.

His email said, in part: “Great! You should find a new profession, build something for yourself rather than living off of others’ wealth.”  Huh? I was shocked! Where did that come from? He hadn’t even met me, hadn’t even spoken to me by phone, yet here he is attacking me for my profession as a counselor and coach.

I immediately went into defense mode in my head. I started by picking apart what he had said. It didn’t make any sense, because every profession lives off of others’ wealth. That’s how we make a living. We, in turn, buy products and services from others, and round and round it goes. This guy was obviously an idiot!

Then I started defending what it is that I do (again, only in my head). I know quite well that my clients get value from what I provide. I have numerous testimonials to support this belief, plus I have a number of clients who have come to me multiple times. They wouldn’t do that if I didn’t provide a valuable service. And…he came to me to engage my services! Why would he do that if he thought my profession was a joke (as he alluded to in another part of his email)?

Next, I thought about the content of the newsletter to which he was reacting. In it I announced new services and ventures I had in the works. I immediately got scared that I was getting too big for my britches and this newsletter was “bragging.” When I realized that I was actually starting to believe I might be getting too big and bragging, it drew me up short and my racing thoughts came to an abrupt halt. I have worked too hard at overcoming keeping myself small to revert back based on this email.

I suddenly realized that I was on the other side of my issue of not being able to express appreciation for others’ accomplishments. I have been struggling with giving kudos to others who have accomplished something I want for myself. I feel envious and resentful, rather than happy for them.

I recently realized that I felt this way for several reasons, (see post: https://blueheronwisdom.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/why-do-i-resist-showing-appreciation-to-others/ ), but primarily because I felt like if they were winning, I was losing. I’m in the midst of a 30 day campaign to express appreciation to everyone I meet every day, to overcome this false belief.

I realized that this man felt like he was not good enough, or less than, and my email newsletter about my grand vision for my practice gave him an opportunity to place the focus, and the blame and resentment, outside himself and squarely on me.

This is what I have been doing when I have felt resentful of someone else’s success. Having the shoe on the other foot has helped reinforce for me that whatever anyone else achieves means nothing about what I am capable of achieving. Wishing others well and celebrating their successes does not diminish me.

Prior to this negative email, I received several very positive and supportive emails about my new endeavors. These are the people I want to model myself after. I don’t want to be bitter, resentful and blaming of others for not creating the life – and career – that I want.

I am grateful to this man for holding that mirror up so I could see what it looks like from the other side.  It is bewildering, and makes no sense. Having been on the receiving end, I can see even more clearly that my resentment for others’ who may have already achieved what I desire makes no sense, either.

I won’t hate you because you’re beautiful, because I am beautiful, too! I will celebrate your beauty, because it inspires me to unwrap and share my own beauty.

Are Authenticity and Compassion Sometimes Mutually Exclusive?

I recently took a trip with my mother. I knew that this time with my mother would be fertile ground for my continued journey towards being more authentic. What I didn’t know, but soon discovered, was that it was also an opportunity to practice being authentic with compassion.

Since my late twenties I have had a difficult relationship with my mother. I don’t know that she realizes that this is the case, but I have struggled mightily to separate from her. I can remember conversations with my therapist more than 25 years ago about how to interact with my mother and how to shift the relationship to more of what I wanted it to be. It’s been a long road.

During this recent trip I kept a daily journal. It was pretty interesting to see how from day to day my feelings about my mother and my relationship with her changed.

One day I’d be focused on all the things she did that had irritated me, many of them long standing complaints, and I’d be sure there was no way I would ever take a trip with her again. The next day I would have had some insight into what her experience was and feel compassion and even sadness for her.

Writing this blog about becoming more authentic has been amazing for me. The freedom that I feel saying what is true for me has spurred me on to be even more authentic in real life, off the written page. I knew that when I returned from this trip that I would want to share my experiences and learning in written form.

Enter my fear, and consequently my dilemma: how would my mother feel if she read what I wrote?

It is important to me to be authentic in my experience of and with my mother. This authenticity is not about making her wrong and me right. It really is a reporting of the process I have gone through not only on this trip, but over many years. And, I feel that I know my mother well enough that if she were to read what I end up writing that she will feel attacked.

Even though my intention is not to attack my mother, not to make her the bad guy, I believe that she will only be able to see where I am criticizing her in whatever I say and not be able to see that the story is not about her, but about me.

This thought occurred to me a few days ago, and I am still working on what the “right” answer is. I am not willing to forgo writing about my relationship with my mother. It is what I need to do to continue my growth in this area.

So far I have not shared my blog with my mother, and I feel okay about that. However, my ultimate intention is to write a book that uses the evolution of my relationship with my mother as a guide for others struggling with similar issues. Would it be inauthentic of me not to share this life accomplishment of publishing a book with my mother? Would I be doing the opposite of what I am espousing in this book to hide from her something that I am proud of achieving?

But what of compassion? If I believe that reading what I have written will be hurtful to her, is it compassionate to tell her about it? Or by trying to protect her, am I taking on her feelings instead of letting her own them herself (a lifelong pattern I have with her)?

It is indeed a sticky wicket, as they say. Right now I’m leaning towards not telling her about it. But is that the easy way out – the way I have always dealt with my mother when I fear a bad reaction?

I would welcome your input, comments, insights and thoughts about this dilemma.

I’m Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea, And That’s Okay

I’ve been dealing with some situations over the past several days where others have been angry or upset with me. I get a visceral reaction to others being upset with me: my heart races, I feel like I want to throw up, and my mind immediately goes to what I did wrong and how I am to blame, and of course how I can fix it.

I feel threatened, as if my life depends upon appeasing whoever is upset with me and making sure they know I didn’t mean them harm. Given this strong reaction, it’s no wonder that I feel a sense of urgency to set things right immediately.

As I was pondering (i.e. obsessing about) the latest instance of someone being angry with me, it occurred to me that at the core of my reaction is a belief that how others view me is the correct view, the way it really is. If I have acted in a way that seems fine to me, but someone else is upset by it, then I must have acted incorrectly.

Intellectually I know that this is not true, that it is a matter of perception and of our own filters and preferences. But in my gut it feels as if it is absolutely true. And not only do I believe that I have acted incorrectly when someone else is upset by my behavior, but I also believe this bad behavior on my part says something about my character, about who I am as a person. It says that I am bad, or uncaring, or mean.

With this understanding also came the understanding at a deep level that just because someone does not agree with how I acted, or something that I did, doesn’t make them right and me wrong, just as it does not make them wrong and me right. This is where “agree to disagree” comes from. Again, I have understood this concept for a long time, but somehow I suddenly got it at a different level.

In disagreements I always feel attacked, and this feels like an attack not on my behavior, but on my character, on the core of who I am. In these situations I have vacillated between feeling like the worst person on the planet and feeling outraged that the other person was blaming and attacking me.

Now I see that there is another way. I can agree to disagree. I can feel and express compassion for the other person’s viewpoint without becoming defensive and without acquiescing.

Of course there will be times when the other person has a valid point and I should apologize or I should make a change in my behavior. Doing this also becomes easier when I believe that making a mistake does not mean that I am a vile and worthless human being.

Another realization I had is that the times when I am most upset and feel the most threatened, is when the other person’s demand for my apology or admission of wrong-doing goes against my authenticity. Seeing this at play in the most recent situation is what led to this revelation.

How can I apologize for something I don’t believe is wrong, and still be authentic? Obviously I can’t. But I can tell the other person that I’m sorry that they are upset, because as soon as I stop feeling like I need to defend myself that is true and authentic.

So, to summarize, the key for me is first of all to check in and see if I think the other person has a valid point. If I believe they do, then I can sincerely apologize and correct my behavior. Whether or not they accept the apology is beyond my control, but I am at least acting from a place of authenticity.

If I decide that I don’t agree with their assessment then I can still express to them that I feel badly that they are upset without saying that I did anything wrong. My experience is that frequently this will not be enough and they will demand that I agree with their viewpoint. If this happens I can again express compassion for how they are feeling while firmly maintaining my own perspective.

In the end what it comes down to is that I won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that doesn’t mean anything about me as a person. We are all different; we all have preferences and filters. The best I can do is to be as authentic as possible and to act from a place of compassion and caring. If they don’t like me, they don’t like me. And I’m still a good person.

Others Provide a Mirror for My Own Issues

A couple of days ago I met with the intuitive healer I’ve been working with. Most of the session revolved around my family of origin including my sister, my father and my mother. My mother and I are leaving in a few days to take a trip together for two weeks. I was told that my mother wants us to be closer, and that this trip was an opportunity to become closer to my mother, and for me to really see her for who she is.

I have extremely mixed feelings about becoming closer to my mother. On the one hand, it’s something that I have yearned for all of my life. My dearest dream is for my mother to see me for who I really am, and for her to love the real me.

On the other hand, being close to my mother has not been safe in the past. I grew up very enmeshed with my mother and have spent a lot of time and effort in my adult life to separate from her. I’m currently in a place of keeping her at arm’s length. The idea of being close to my mother feels threatening. I worry that I may disappear once again into her vision of who I am, or who I should be.

Additionally, I still harbor some anger and resentment about how she parented me as a child. I struggle with knowing how I really feel about her. My need to protect myself from her and the knee-jerk reactions I often have when I interact with her keep me from being authentic with her. I realize that without being authentic, I really can’t know what I feel for her.

Putting all of this together, you may understand that hearing this news about my “mission” for this trip with my mother was pretty uncomfortable for me.

Enter my mirror.

The next day I was co-leading a gathering with my friend who is also the intuitive healer that I work with. We have recently started a Meetup to share information with others and do group coaching to help the members move toward changes and results that they want for their lives.

At this meeting there was a woman who had not attended before. Initially she mentioned that she was there because she wanted to overcome her stage fright. However, as the meeting progressed she brought up an issue where she was not as close to her adult daughter as she wanted to be.

Raising this issue came from something that had been brought up by another member of the Meetup regarding his mother and how her lack of support and criticism of him in childhood continued to affect him now. We were discussing how with each generation we try to do better than our own parents did, and I shared how I had compassion and understanding for why my mother was the way she is and that I consciously chose to do things differently with my own child.

This woman joined in the conversation which eventually led to her sharing her sadness and frustration at not being closer to her own daughter. As more was said it became clear that she had very specific expectations of what her daughter, now 40 years old, should be doing and how she should be expressing her caring and involvement in the family. The daughter’s reaction has been to remain distant and angry with her mother.

My co-leader and I suggested ways in which she could be different in her interactions with her daughter, which in turn might lead to her daughter reacting differently. I had become aware during my meditation earlier in the day that one of my objections to the way my mother approaches me is that her requests are in the form of a demand or an expectation, and that I don’t feel that they are requests or invitations at all. I know that if my mother approached me differently I would react differently.

I could see that this woman was approaching her daughter in the same way as my mother approaches me. The woman believed that she was issuing invitations to her daughter, but they really were expectations and demands. I used my relationship with my mother and this insight I had about it as an example for this woman.

Unfortunately she could not accept this idea, saying “I don’t believe you” about the idea that if she was different her daughter would be different as well. She wants to hold on to her desires and expectations and even stated that she had a right to have expectations. Well, I don’t dispute that she has the right to have expectations. My point was just that they were not getting her what she said she wanted.

The woman got angry with me and with my co-leader. I realized later that she was treating us like she treats her daughter. She had expectations of what the Meetup would be like and expectations of how we would interact with her. When we did not meet her expectations she became angry and blaming, just as she is with her daughter.

The biggest learning for me that came out of this situation, though, is that this woman is my mother. Hearing her desires for her relationship with her daughter, witnessing the pain she feels, and seeing that at this moment she does not have the capacity to make changes that would create the relationship she wants gave me greater insight into my own mother.

I also realized that the suggestions I was making to her about changing how she interacted with her daughter can also be applied to me changing how I interact with my mother. If I take the first step in interacting differently I can open the door for my mother following my lead.

I have kept my mother at arm’s length because I am afraid of being overtaken by her (there’s that boundary thing again). As I am consciously striving to be more authentic in every area of my life I have to trust that I will be able to keep myself safe even as I reveal who I really am – not only to my mother, but to everyone in my life.

I have not shared the real me with my mother. It has felt too dangerous. After meeting this woman yesterday, I see that if I give me mother what she longs for – being close to me (the authentic me) – that she can stop demanding and expecting. She will have what she wants. Right now my mother is striving for that closeness in the only way she knows, by demanding and expecting. She doesn’t know the path that will create the relationship she wants with me.

But I do.

So, with a deep breath and not too little trepidation, I decide that this trip with my mother will be the opportunity to create the relationship we both want.

And I thank this woman who came to the Meetup yesterday for providing the mirror that allowed me to see things from my mother’s perspective.

Maintaining Appropriate Boundaries Requires Contemplation and Trust

Yesterday I had an opportunity to decide where to set my boundaries and how to react to a situation where they were crossed. This situation involved my ex-husband. He and I have not had an easy relationship since our divorce many years ago, but have to maintain some sort of contact because we have a teenage son together.

My son has been living with his dad this school year, and is with me every other weekend. On my weekends I pick him up at his dad’s house on Friday afternoon. Yesterday I was ready to leave the house about half an hour early, so I texted my son to see if he wanted me to pick him up early and got no response. I was irritated, but decided that no response was equivalent to an answer of “no, don’t pick me up early.”

When I arrived at my ex-husband’s house at the appointed time, I texted my son to let him know I was there. When he didn’t acknowledge my text or come out of the house I called him and got a message that his phone was disconnected, so I went to the door and rang the doorbell.

As it turns out, my son had done something that my ex-husband had told him not to, and as punishment his dad had taken his phone away.  I was really irritated with my ex-husband for not telling me about this. My primary way of communicating with my son when he is at his dad’s is by text, like it is for most teenagers.

In addition, my son told me that my ex-husband and his current wife had gone away for the weekend. So if something had come up around me picking up my son that afternoon I couldn’t even get hold of my son by calling his dad.

Here’s where the contemplation comes in: should I say something to his dad or not? My immediate reaction was to send his dad an email (and cc my attorney) raking him over the coals for taking away my mode of access to my son and not providing another one. Legally he is required to allow me access to talk with my son.  The righteous me wanted to jump right on that train and ride it to the final destination of rubbing my ex-husband’s nose in this legal error.

We are currently in the midst of revising the parenting plan for the change of custody that occurred eight months ago. As everything seems to be with my ex-husband, something that should have been simple and easy has not been. It was very tempting to use this situation as leverage in the legal issues we are dealing with.

Additionally, this situation triggered a fear that I have always had when dealing with my ex-husband: that he will deny me access to my son. We have been divorced for 11 years now, since my son was 4. For the first several years we had joint custody with an every other week schedule. During the weeks when our son was with the other parent we called every night to talk with him. When my son was seven or eight my ex suddenly stopped answering the phone when I would call in the evening, denying me the ability to talk to my son.

This feeling of helplessness and powerlessness was overwhelming for me. Although it was 7 or 8 years ago when this was happening, that fear of being denied my child has never left me. So as I was contemplating whether or not to say anything to my ex-husband – or what to say if I did say something – this fear also played into the equation.

If I didn’t say anything, was I setting a precedent that would lead to greater infractions? Realistically, what was the worst that might happen? As it is, I rarely talk to my son during the time he’s at his dad’s anyway. Had there ever been a situation when I was supposed to pick my son up and couldn’t get there and needed to notify someone? Not that I could think of.

My ex-husband has been manipulative, secretive and underhanded in our dealings during and since our divorce. He is not trustworthy. And at the same time I don’t want to live my life constantly looking for the presence of a threat from him. Where is the balance between doing what is right for myself and my son (setting a boundary for the right reasons) and me acting from a place of unreasonable fear and/or revenge (setting a boundary for the wrong reasons)? This is a lot to think about.

I find this particular situation to be an example of broader issues that I have with setting and enforcing boundaries. Whenever a boundary is crossed, or there is the threat of it being crossed, I overreact. I become very rigid about the boundary, and angry at the person who has crossed it. I had a work situation earlier this week where this became very clear to me.

I realize that this automatic overreaction is based in fear, just as my immediate reaction to my ex-husband’s boundary violation. Having lived much of my life feeling that my boundaries were not honored, I have become hyper-vigilant about enforcing them. I would like to move into a softer space where I can maintain a boundary that I have set, but also consider the circumstances and be more flexible.

Being more flexible and less reactive requires trust. Trust that I will not allow myself to be overtaken by others. Trust that I can keep myself safe. Trust that when it is time to set a rigid boundary I will know that.

I am grateful for these two opportunities that presented themselves for my learning over the past two days. Having them come one right after the other highlighted that this is an area of growth for me.

Setting boundaries is good. Enforcing boundaries with compassion is good. Contemplation and trust is the key.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

My next door neighbors have two miniature greyhounds.  I’m sure they are very nice dogs, but they bark. Every time they go out into the backyard.  My computer is in the kitchen, which is at the back of the house, so I spend a lot of time there.  My bedroom is also at the back of the house.  You can see where I’m going with this.

A little over a month ago I finally got annoyed enough, after being woken up once again by the barking, to talk with my neighbor about this problem.  He and his wife are a nice young couple and have lived in the house for a couple of years.  I told him that the barking had become a problem, and he said they would figure something out.

The barking subsided for the most part, and after two weeks of not much barking I left a thank you card for the neighbors and dog treats for the dogs.  Goodwill.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last.  I’ve noticed over the past week that the barking is back to the level it was before we had the conversation, and twice I’ve been woken up by barking, most recently last night.

I obviously have to talk to them about it again.  I hate conflict.  Really, I do.  My pattern with conflict is usually that I avoid the discussion. I hope the problem will go away, or I try to tolerate it. I examine over and over whether my complaint or concern will be perceived as a valid one. If someone approaches me with a conflict, I usually accommodate them.

And when I just can’t stand whatever it is any longer, I explode. After all the avoiding, tolerating and accommodating, the pressure builds up and I get really angry.  Sometimes way out of proportion to whatever the issues is.  I would like to be more comfortable with approaching a conflict in the early stages before I’m ready to explode.

Last night after I was awoken by the barking for the second time this week. I laid in bed thinking about talking with my neighbor – again – about this problem.  I felt angry that I needed to talk to them again. Why couldn’t they have just kept doing whatever they had been doing for the past month?

I felt angry that they were so inconsiderate to allow their dog out at 11 o’clock at night.  It seems like common sense that when our houses are less than 10 feet apart, and the doggy door opens right next to my bedroom, that you would not let your dogs out that late.

I felt anxious about talking to them about the dogs barking again, even though I have a valid reason. I considered calling instead of going in person (kind of distancing).  I considered leaving a note (definitely distancing).  But I know that I need to speak to them in person.

It took me a while to go back to sleep.  Not because the dogs woke me up, but because I got upset about being woken up.  To begin with, I was angry that it was even an issue.  Then I slipped into worrying about talking with my neighbors about the problem.  After I went back to sleep I even had dreams about it.

This is silly!  It’s just a conversation with my neighbors, and even if they are unhappy about what I have to say the worst that could happen is that they will not make any changes in what they do with their dogs, and that they will be angry with me.

This last part, them being angry with me, is the core of my anxiety about conflict not just with the neighbors, but with anyone.  It is a very deep-seated fear for me; it feels emotionally unsafe for others to be angry at me – I will be abandoned, rejected or hurt in some other way.

I understand some of the reasons I have this fear, yet understanding why does not change those feelings.  I believe that the only thing that will change this fear is putting myself in situations where others may be angry with me, and dealing with the results.  This is part of being authentic and speaking my truth.

In many cases I will not be abandoned or rejected for approaching conflict with someone else.  In fact, they may not be angry at all.  In other cases my older experiences may be repeated where I am rejected because someone is angry at me. Intellectually I know that this does not make me wrong or bad, and I need practice and experience of detaching from others’ reactions. Truly knowing and accepting that their reaction has nothing to do with who I am as a person or whether I am a good or valuable human.

This is big practice for me.  But if I am truly committed to being authentic, then it is practice I must do.  I must say what is true for me and ask for what I need, even when I fear the other person’s reaction.  As long as I act with authenticity, love and compassion I can let others own and take responsibility for their own emotions.

Learning to be Angry in a Healthy Way

Recently I’ve been getting input from several different sources that I have a lot of unexpressed anger.  Believe me, I do get angry, but it’s usually in the form of irritation or impatience.  I’m angry about a stupid choice someone else makes while driving.  I’m irritated that my son didn’t put his dishes in the dishwasher.  I’m annoyed that the person in front of me in line can’t make up their mind what to order.  But real, deep anger is something I have a lot of difficulty accessing.

Up until recently I have thought, or at least I have told myself, that this is because I’m not angry.  But on some level I think I’ve always realized that these irritations and annoyances are there because I’m not allowing myself to feel or express this deeper anger.  It has to come out in some way, and the impatience I feel with someone who isn’t doing things the “right” way (i.e. infringes on me in some way) is one way it shows up.  It’s my safety valve and allows me to divert attention from the anger that’s hidden deep inside me.

When things happen that I have reason to feel angry about, I frequently feel hurt instead.  When I was being trained as a psychotherapist we were taught that anger is a secondary emotion, that it usually is on top of hurt or fear.  Even before I was taught this, I believe that I had discovered that where there is anger there is hurt.

So the question remains: is it good to go directly to the hurt beneath the anger, or should the anger I have be acknowledged and felt and maybe even expressed in some way?

I understand that the reason I have gone to hurt over anger is that feeling angry means that I am blaming the other person, saying they did something wrong.  I have a PhD in blaming myself.  Somehow, whenever someone does something mean or bad to me I believe it is my fault.  I search for how I deserve what they did.

Having had this insight recently I struggle with a couple of things.  First of all, I do believe that we co-create what we experience.  When someone treats me badly I do have some responsibility for having created that situation.  But does that mean that what the other person did was okay?  No, it doesn’t.  But it does mean that my inclination is to look for what I could have done differently, or what I did that contributed to the situation.

In general, I don’t think this is a bad approach to take.  I can’t change anyone else; I can only change myself so that’s where my energy is best spent.  Unfortunately, I tend to take it beyond taking responsibility to blaming myself – and there is a difference.  Any anger I feel about the situation gets turned on me, which is not a good way to handle it.

Secondly, I can usually feel some compassion, or at least understanding, for the other person and why they acted the way they did.  Intellectually I don’t think this absolves them of bad behavior, but it makes it more difficult for me to feel angry at them.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that to be angry requires me placing blame.  The difference between blame and responsibility is this: blame is about character, responsibility is about behavior.  If I am going to blame someone it means I think they are a bad person (myself included).  My tendency to feel compassion for the other person makes it hard for me to blame them.

And yet…I do have this anger that is inside me that is not being accessed, acknowledged or expressed except inappropriately as annoyance and irritation at the wrong people.

Can I change my perception about the relationship between blame and anger?  Can I allow myself to feel angry about an action someone took without labeling them as a bad person?  Can I learn to be appropriately angry with people I care about?

I welcome input, ideas, feedback.

Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself, But Love Thyself First

I attend a Unity church, and this past Sunday the message was about love.  One of the songs we sang kept running through my head yesterday, and in particular the line “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  As I was going about my business yesterday morning with this song repeating over and over, I realized that if I don’t love myself, loving my neighbor as myself is not a good thing!

I immediately connected with the idea of projection, and how we each project on to others our beliefs about ourselves.  I know that for me there has been a lot of work around criticizing myself (and others) and judging myself (and others).  I thought it was really very beautiful that this ideal of “love thy neighbor as thyself” really starts with loving myself.

Over and over I’ve heard that you can’t really love someone else unless you love yourself and I couldn’t really wrap my head around that until recently.  I certainly have loved other people in my life.  And no one could ever dare tell me that I don’t love my son, especially.

But I can see that as long as I continue to judge and criticize myself, and to do this to others even non-verbally or just in my own head, that this is a limited kind of love.  I do love my son unconditionally – meaning that no matter what he might do I would still love him.  But I also see that I have certain expectations of him and wishes and desires for him that when they’re not met I do judge him as lacking (again, not necessarily communicated to him verbally).

Maybe it’s more true to say that it’s about self-acceptance and acceptance of others.  For although I love my son no matter what, I don’t always choose to accept him as he is.  I want him to be himself, to find who he truly is, and yet I still worry about who that will turn out to be.  I would like to be able to rest in the truth that whoever he turns out to be will be perfect.

In my life I have been exceedingly critical of myself and of others.  My intention now is to be more gentle and compassionate with all of us, and it is a process that hasn’t been fulfilled overnight.

Learning to love and accept myself has been huge for me in this process of being more authentic.  If I don’t love and accept myself, it means that I don’t believe that I am already whole.  This in turn means that I believe that there are parts of me that are unacceptable and unlovable, and if others were to see them I would be rejected.  Who would risk authenticity if that were true?

So if 100% authenticity is my goal, I must love and accept myself, otherwise I would find it an impossible task.  In turn, the more I love and accept myself, the more I love and accept others just as they are.  For they are all already whole, too, and fully lovable and acceptable.