Tag Archives: friendship


I Don’t Have to Blame Others to Choose What is Right for Me

Sometimes (okay, many times) in order to justify my choices, I have made others “wrong.” I am discovering that I can choose what is right for me independent of others. I don’t have to rationalize or justify my choice intellectually. Feeling its rightness is all that is required.

Who Am I When I’m Part of a Group?

I recently attended a weekend goddess retreat with about 35 other women.  I was really excited to go to this retreat because I have been struggling to find or create a group of like-minded women where I could develop some strong relationships. This was an ideal opportunity to meet some other women who are similar to me, and perhaps some new friendships would come of the weekend.

Just before I left home for the retreat on Friday afternoon I got some news that led to me feeling anxious. All the way to the retreat center, which was about an hour away, I was obsessing about this situation that I had allowed myself to become upset over. This is not the way I had wanted to arrive at the retreat.

I arrived about 20 minutes before the retreat was scheduled to officially begin, and there were several other women there already. Aside from one of the leaders who was registering people, I didn’t yet know anyone else. I knew a few of the people in the overall group very slightly, and didn’t know anyone well.  I tend to be rather shy when in a group of people that I don’t know, and my anxiety increased as I entered this environment.

The retreat began by each of us placing an item on the altar and explaining its significance to us, then having dinner together.  After dinner we did an exercise of setting an intention for the weekend. During this exercise we broke into small groups of 5 or 6 people.  I was designated as my small group’s leader because I was doing a presentation later in the weekend.

When it was time to reassemble in the larger group I got up from the table where we were sitting and crossed the room to my place in the larger group.  As I walked across the room I noticed that the rest of my small group was still sitting at the table talking with each other.  I felt a stab to my heart as I felt left out and excluded.  I returned to join my small group, but felt an outsider. This was a very familiar feeling for me, going all the way back to childhood.

I had been trying to fulfill my designated leader role by following the rules and rejoining the large group when we were told to. I was being the good girl and doing what I was supposed to do. By doing so I alienated myself from the smaller group.

As the evening progressed and we did another exercise that was less structured I felt more and more isolated.  Although I was sitting with other women working on a collage, I did not feel part of them.  When we gathered again in the large group to share our collages I began to feel another familiar feeling.  I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to run away.  Just leave.

On Saturday morning I woke up with a sore neck and a dull headache. I get migraines on occasion and this is how they usually start. I began fantasizing about getting a migraine and having an excuse to leave the retreat. How quickly I had gone from the dream of this retreat as a way to become part of a community of women to dreaming about once again isolating myself because I was feeling uncomfortable.

During the morning we did Kundalini yoga. I had never done it before, but my understanding is that it accesses and processes emotions.  After about an hour the leader asked if any of us wanted to share anything. Several people shared and I was feeling like I wanted to talk about how the previous evening I felt like running away, but I ended up not saying anything.

As we went into the next round of yoga I was beating myself up about not saying what was true for me. My intention when I decided to attend the retreat was to show up as myself and allow whatever happened to happen.  Not speaking what I was experiencing was not showing up. In fact, I noticed that I had even physically put myself in a place where a number of the other women could not see me during yoga.

I realized that what I was struggling with was that I did not know how to be part of a group when I was not the leader. I felt uncomfortable when I was not in charge and I didn’t know what my role was.

Ah…my role. I guess what this says is I didn’t know how to be me in a group; I only knew how to be a role. When I was the designated leader it was clear how to interact with the group. When I was only me, I struggled.

The roots of this go very deep for me. When I was growing up it was very important to follow the rules. It was important to do things the right way. These were messages I received from an extremely early age. My mother once told me that when I was two years old a friend of hers told her she was being too hard on me and making me a nervous wreck. Two years old. Very deep roots.

As much as I have become attuned recently to being myself authentically and speaking my truth, it has frequently been in a leadership role: as a counselor and coach, as a teacher and speaker. I see now that my real practice is in being myself in a group where there are no defined roles, there are no rules about who I’m supposed to be, there is no right way to show up. Where the only right way is to be me.

Finding and Setting Appropriate Boundaries

As I’m becoming more and more authentic, a lot of the work is around discovering and setting appropriate boundaries.  In the past I have swung like a pendulum between giving myself away – having no boundaries – and setting my boundaries so far out that no one can get in (a reaction to having given myself away).

I’ve realized that this pattern comes from having been enmeshed with my mother and carrying that into my adult relationships.  I have believed that in order to be loved and accepted I have to become what the other person wants me to be.

In friendships, work relationships and romantic relationships I have allowed the other person to run the show, to the point of not getting what I want or need from the relationship.  I have also suffered some significant betrayals in close relationships.

In order to protect myself I’ve gone to the opposite extreme: no one gets in.  I put walls up and avoid situations that might end up in  hurt like those in the past.  I make choices about what I will and won’t do in a relationship (any type of relationship) from a defensive position.  I expect to be taken advantage of and used for the other person’s benefit with no regard for my own needs and desires.

This is not what I want in my life.  What I want is to have genuine intimacy with close friends and a romantic partner.  Intimacy where I am safe being myself, and I am truly seen and loved.

For less intimate friendships and work relationships I want to choose what I’m willing to do based on what I want to do, not as a defensive move.  I want to be able to give and compromise freely, not always being on the lookout for how I’m being manipulated or fearing that if I give an inch they will take a mile.

My awareness of this pattern of mine became really clear when I started grad school six years ago.  The school I chose was set up in such a way that there was a lot of group interaction both structured and unstructured.  There were lots of opportunities to attend optional seminars or just hang out with the other students.

I felt myself contract in this environment.  When my roommate would go off to one of these evening optional seminars, I would stay in the room and read.  When people were hanging out in the lobby (class met in 5 day stretches at a hotel), I’d be in my room.  When other students were planning a study group, I wasn’t interested.

At the same time, my friends outside of school no longer fit me.  I was growing and changing by leaps and bounds and my friendships were not what I wanted or needed anymore.  But I didn’t have anything to replace them.

I did make a few close friends in grad school, but as soon as we graduated from the two year program, they disappeared.  I felt again that I had been taken advantage of.  I was there to support them as we went through this sometimes difficult process, and once I was no longer needed I was out.

This has been the story of my friendships up until now.  What have I done for you lately?  If the answer’s nothing or, heaven forbid, I actually disagree with you about something you want, then I’m out.

This pattern is all about my belief that I’m not good enough.  That I have to be what someone else wants me to be, or provide a service for them in order to be wanted by them.  Realizing my wholeness has to mean that this is not true.  It has to mean that I am a valuable person, friend, partner and worthy of love just because I am here.

I’m finally in a place where I get that, and I believe that in my heart.  Yet, old habits die hard.  So I’m choosing to be aware when I’m making choices based on defensiveness and look at how I can do it differently.  I’m choosing to be aware of when I give in on something and it doesn’t feel okay to me.  I’m choosing to look for ways that I can give and not feel resentful or look for the quid pro quo.

It’s a process.  The more I can come back to feeling grounded in my heart and deep knowing that I am a worthwhile person no matter what I do or don’t do, the easier it is to find the right boundary.