Tag Archives: connection

Tell Me if I’m Wrong…Because I Want to be Right– Part 2

13 May

Listen and LookIn my previous post I posed this question:

In science, researchers seek out data than can disprove their hypotheses. Contradictory evidence shows them where their biases lie and signals how a new direction might need to be explored. They search for plausible rival explanations. Do you? Do you challenge your first thought and work at discovering alternatives that might prove you wrong?

Brene Brown, a social scientist, psychologist, and researcher at the University of Houston, calls this ‘showing up’ behavior, an act of vulnerability. In essence, it’s inviting in the discomfort that could ultimately prove to bolster your creativity, connection, and sense of belonging. Because to err is human, without the courage to experience failure, and to trust others to be with and hear our shame when we fail or make mistakes, we actively build a wall around the most basic psychological needs that determine our desire to be bold, to be resilient, to step into the arena, to show up even when we’re scared, and to keep trying despite numerous falls.

These needs include autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Take a few seconds to let these three words sink in, and recall the moments when in an effort to “fit in”, to feel accepted, to feel a part of the group, you’ve let go of your uniqueness. In essence, to enhance one need you’ve actively disengaged from another. I know that you feel the inner twinge that goes along with relinquishing what’s true to your core self though. Moving closer to one need does not demand that you leave the others behind. In fact, what we call those individuals who can intentionally create experiences in which they are both proactively indulging their desires to achieve uniqueness and authenticity, and demonstrate their core talents, virtues, and values outside of whether they are congruent with those of others and simultaneously dive into activities that connect, require empathy, and relate on a deeper level to others even if their views are discrepant, is differentiation. In other words, a person who is differentiated has the ability to  maintain a solid sense of self (i.e. non-negotiable values) within situations of stress and among relationships. Someone who lacks differentiation falls apart or becomes fractured when there is disagreement or when others feel or think in contradicting ways. But you can be so tied into who you are right now, feeling compelled to protect your self as a consequence of perceiving that a difference of opinion means you are “wrong”, that the ability to remain objective and unemotional disappears. Increasing differentiation requires a We do not see things as they are...defining of your principles and values– what makes you, you. Don’t mistake this, however, for “finding” a way and then rigidly clinging to it “because it’s who you are.” A rigidly differentiated person is inflexible, unyielding, and unwilling to explore how or why others believe differently. You might actually, through discovery, realize that what you’ve believed no longer resonates with you anymore, and through a process of filtering, you may redefine your principles or beliefs or “refine” them. Can you imagine how your life would change if you didn’t actively avoid others who might disagree with you?

In my final year of graduate school I wrote my thesis on differentiation and the first year of marriage. Care to guess why I was compelled to research this topic? I had never experience more internal and external conflict than during those 12 months after being married, and I needed to understand what was happening for me. What was this incoherent, chaotic, messy, craziness that had infiltrated what felt like every fiber of…me? I challenged myself during the next year to engage and disengage in new and often uncomfortable ways. I walked into the swamp land of mucky emotion, of tumultuous disagreements, and of quicksand-like consumption, and the whole time I actively pursued to discern what was mine and what was his and how I was well-practiced in entangling the two to the point that my heart-felt ripped to shreds. (Keep in mind that this feeling can be quite normal in relationships– you’re so close to a person that of course you’re going to feel a tremendous amount of emotion. But there is a very salient difference between a fractured, splintered, torn to pieces, completely disintegrated heart and one that has broken but is still open).

In my first year of marriage I was far, far from understanding myself or from understanding the foundation of who I was and how to weave my intricacies into the fabric of another life that I was to share. I had entered into the relationship initially because I was scared and uncertain and, just like I At any given moment...described at the beginning, desiring security and certainly. Well, I found it. This man not only had his life, but mine also, planned out for the next 50 years. As I embarked on the process of dissecting the words of my story– the one I had been telling, the one that had been told to me, the one I was currently writing, and the one I wanted to write–the lens I was looking through became clearer, the fog seemed to dissipate, and I experienced a sense of clarity. Comfortable? Not even close. But something in my spirit was recaptured despite it.

Brene Brown is the first to admit, and in doing so, reveals tremendous vulnerability, that she “doesn’t do vulnerability.” She has spent decades researching it, and still finds herself activity avoiding it. In her TED talk, she explains how it is not in her nature, but how the data she has collected on human connection, vulnerability, and shame has changed the way she “lives, loves, works, and parents.” I would argue that it’s not that she doesn’t do vulnerability– she recognizes and has shown through her research that we can’t avoid it  because it’s there, inherently, and we know when it’s there because we feel it–it’s that she doesn’t do it as well as she’d like to. Vulnerability is that “deer in the headlights”, “oh shit”, “what do I say?”, “how do I respond?”, “I can’t believe that just happened…I just want to hide” feeling.   You know it. We have all experienced it. So as Brene explains, it’s part of humanity. But many of us are great at– or think we’re helping ourselves by– numbing it. In my first year of marriage and in the years that preceded it, I numbed vulnerability, and in turn, anesthetized my heart.

In his inspiring book entitled Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer describes his experience of feeling “like a displaced person in my own land.” I recall vividly describing to a friend post-divorce how I had lost my self in the marriage and the immense and liberating grief and freedom I experienced when I listened to my heart and made the decision to move out of the land I had built with this person and set off on a  new, growth-oriented journey that would undoubtedly present more obstacles and scary detours, but opportunities that I would gladly unveil. I grieved for what I had lost and the time I had spent closing doors on my heart for four years, and I grieved out of gratitude for finally seeing my power to be courageous enough to open every door from that point forward. I don’t believe now that I had “lost” my self.  I believe that I’d not done the work to ever “find” my self in the first place.

Courage is what is takes...Palmer reminds his readers in the prelude of his book, after unabashedly yet carefully and humbly explaining his tendency toward depression and using his experience to create a meaningful foundation for describing how to nurture the essence of life, that the word heart stems from the Latin root cor, where the word courage comes from. When I read this the first time I had to pause. The familiar heavy, pressing intensity of emotion I feel in my chest when tears are planning their escape cued me to pay attention. “Listen,” my body reminded. Cor— when spoken, is the sound of me– the name my mom has called me since I was a little girl. Cor, as Palmer defines it, is where our emotions, intellect, intuition, intelligence, and the physical, relational, experiential, and imaginative aspects and centers of our lives converge to create the cores of who we are.  I had realized that my core was expanding. And retraction no longer seemed like a viable option if I was to engage in the “finding” of me. Even after the friend I had confided in said she no longer wanted to associate with me, the doors didn’t close. Comfortable? Not even close. And I still find myself wounded from what at the time I perceived as a rejection. But I was not fractured.


Would I Have Done That?

11 Jan

Why is it that I learn more about myself in the aisles of a grocery store than any other place? I’d like to count how many times my blogs begin with a description of an experience in Walmart!

This one starts out much the same, except I decided to go to a new store. As I approached the carts, I noticed they were all hooked together by red cords. Strange looking  boxes were attached to the handles of each. I was perplexed. I pulled the cart nearest to me only to find that it wouldn’t move. I stood there, blankly. “What is going on here?” I thought. I yanked on the cart again. Nothing. I don’t know what I looked like to the other people walking into the store. Did everyone have such trouble getting a cart? Suddenly a woman walked up behind me, “Here hon, take mine,” she said.

“Oh! Thank you!” I replied. “But what exactly is going on here?” I asked, gesturing toward the red contraptions.

She smiled like it wasn’t the first time she had answered this newbie question. “You have to have a quarter to get the cart. They do it so you’ll return them. When you’re done shopping you hook it back up and you get your quarter back.” She pointed to the quarter-sized slot on the front side of the crimson box.

fear and the number of things you hide“Ohhhh!” I laughed gingerly, thanked her again, and held back tears. Yes, tears.

Revelation #1- it’s okay to not know things, it’s okay to ask for help, and  there are good and genuine people in the world. 

“You’re very welcome,” she said. “You’ll learn fast. You come here once and you’ll know what to do next time!” she said cheerily and scampered off to her car.

I drove the cart into the store, slowly navigating the aisles. I wanted to make sure I had a good lay of the land. If I could avoid making a trip to two other place, all the better. “I hate shopping.” The words weren’t audible, but they sounded like it in my head.

I picked up some of my staples– heads of cauliflower, eggs, cans of green beans. And I came to the checkout counter excited with my finds. Not only did they have the things I bought on a weekly basis, but everything at this store was far cheaper than I had been paying. I removed the items from the cart and organized them on the belt.

“Twenty-one, seventy nine,” the woman said to me cheerily. At one point someone had told me that this store didn’t take credit cards. I was ready with my checkbook. No sooner had I scrawled the date in the right top corner when the cashier looked up from her register and said quickly, “Oh, we don’t take checks!” I looked at her quizzically. “We only take debit cards or cash.” That same watch-out-tears-are-coming feeling crept up my chest and into my chin.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t have either. My card is a debit card b….” She cut me off. “You have to have a PIN with it.”

“I don’t.” I replied. “I’m really sorry. I can’t buy these things then.”

“So put them back?”

“Yes,” I said so quietly I’m not sure she heard me. I swallowed hard and fumbled with my checkbook, shoving it back into my purse and took a step toward the door.

“I’ll get them for you.” A woman walked up next to me with a smile.

I looked up. Was she talking to me?

I must have looked stunned, confused. “Really.” She turned to the cashier and put her debit card through the reader, entered her pin, and concluded with “There!” Now the tears were at the bottoms of my eyeballs. In a split second the dam would break.

Don't Believe Everything You Think“I will write you a check,” I said,somehow finding a foundation of strength to hold up my words. “Wow, thank you. I’m so thankful. This was so kind of you. Who can I make the check out to?” I felt like a child…a stammering child. The uber-controlled, confident woman I was so used to being was brought down to what felt like a level of desperation and need. Over the inability to buy her own groceries.

Revelation #2: – it’s okay to not know things, it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to accept help, and there are good and genuine people in the world.

I pushed my cart over to the counters lining the  back wall of the store. This was what appeared to be the bagging area. But there were no bags. The benevolent woman leaned over to me from her own cart and said, “Here! Keep these. You’ll want to bring them back with you next time. I’d have hated for you to have a bad experience here. This is a wonderful store. Everything is so expensive these days. I want you to come back!” She smiled and continued chatting with me about a trip she recently took to the Caribbean, what gas prices were like there, and how we are quite lucky to live where we do.

Yes, yes, we are, I thought. Now more than ever this is clear to me.

She looked up from her bags and said, “Do you need another? Can you get everything in those two bags?”

“I think it’s perfect,” I said. “Thank you again. So much, really. It was nice meeting you.”

She smiled and drove her cart away, the sliding doors capping what felt like a fantasy.

ConnectionAs I slid into my car the tears finally came. They collided down my face with gratitude, with grief, with disappointment in how hardened I had become. Was I really so surprised that there existed such generosity in people? Would I have done what they did?

I recognize now it’s not that I don’t believe there is goodness in others. I wouldn’t be a therapist if I believed that. My life’s work revolves around helping others realize their gifts so they can live more fully, more vibrantly, and out loud. It’s so easy to get swept up in our own little insulated worlds that we forget what is truly important though. Connection, fellowship, love, vulnerability, authenticity.

The teacher became the taught in the grocery store that day. The teacher who lives by learning herself but can obviously be surprised by her unthought known.

Revelation #3: it’s okay to not know things, it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to accept help, it’s okay to be uncomfortable, vulnerable, and forget what we already know, and there are good and genuine people in the world.

Vulnerability Just Ahead

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