Moving Past The Past and Into Forgiveness

Moving past the past and into forgiveness. I’ve spoken a lot about the situations and circumstances of my past on this blog. But what I’ve come to realize is, that for all the work I’ve done on coming to terms with what happened in the past, I haven’t really forgiven the major players in the story of what has happened to me. I suppose I needed the time to understand how their actions effected me. But what I’m coming to realize is, that the more I focus on what has happened, the more I stay trapped in my past feelings and patterns .

So with this in mind, I’d like to move past the past and look towards the future, by forgiving those involved in my past story. I want to start by taking a look at the circumstances of my past, those involved and try to use what I’ve been practicing in this blog and extend a little forgiveness to those who’ve wronged me. So let’s see if we can’t move past these road blocks that’ve been holding me back and I imagine others in my situation as well : )

Respecting What Has Happened, Not Forgetting It

For me, forgiveness wasn’t something that was taught, well ever really. I can’t recall one instance in my family where a person admitted that they were wrong. Let alone us forgiving someone for doing something hurtful. This sent me the message that, admitting you’re wrong, as well as apologizing to and forgiving others, is a sign of weakness. And in my family, we used mistakes against one another to feel superior. Usually by making the person who erred look foolish and feel small.

So it was in this environment that I learned to navigate the landmine filled maze of my family members emotional spaces. It was confusing. I was constantly being hit with verbal shrapnel. Exploding from one of my family members mouths, all the while nursing one wound or another aimed to maim. And I learned to use the same tactics they were employing. To protect myself from what they were doing to me. It was a frightening environment to grow up in to say the least.

But Dragging Your Past With You Will Weigh You Down

So it was with these lessons that I forged a future for myself. Using the same tools I had learned to use to survive my family in my youth. But this lead to an unhealthy way of living. I couldn’t let my guard down for long enough to build trust with anyone in order to form lasting, healthy relationships. And those that I did call my friends, didn’t stick around when things got difficult. Because we were all using the same lessons to hold our relationships together, there wasn’t a substantial connection between us to begin with.

And those bonds we thought we had with one another, were really chains keeping us connected to our past ways of staying “connected”, though not necessarily with each other. We were constantly demeaning one another to look and feel superior while drinking, with the occasional drug use thrown in for some added avoidance of how we were being hurtful to one another.

What we were really doing was avoiding the tender parts of our relationships. The parts where we may have felt insecure about how we looked to each other. Or whether or not we felt a sense of belonging and basic support at all. God knows that we didn’t get it from our families. So we were left on our own to sort out how to feel a part of something larger. All while being held down by the chains of our past.

So The Past Was Difficult, How Do We Move Past It and Into Forgiveness?

This was/is the tricky part for me. Getting through the feelings of, “I should have gotten what I needed from those raising me”, wasn’t easy. Looking back at what I experienced and where I am now, there was a lot to process. But also a lot to be grateful for too. And that’s definitely a great place to start. In realizing that it wasn’t all bad.

Moving Past the Negative Experiences to Look Toward the Positive Ones

I’ve been lucky enough to have had some unique and wonderful experiences along with the difficult ones. I find that when you’re in the middle of remembering the difficult past, it’s hard to see those that were involved as anything but a bad person. Or some sort of monster. And there are some monstrous deeds that sometimes are too difficult to process on our own, for sure. But that doesn’t mean that we should allow those deeds to dictate how we live out the rest of our lives.

Or to make wise choices about who we allow to be a part of our future experiences. But it’s important to recognize that there will be good times again. And that if we set some boundaries and choose carefully who we allow access into our lives, we can look forward to happy and fulfilling times : )

Boundary Setting

An example from my life, in trying to rebuild some of the past connections with those who’ve hurt me is, that I’ve been making a habit of trying to stay in touch via text or group chat more frequently. This may seem like a small step and something that most of us do on the daily anyways. But for me and my family, we seldom talk to one another. And when we do, we use words as our preferred weapon. To keep the other at arms length.

This was something I hadn’t realized how bad it had been until only a few years ago. I had asked a family member to meet me at a local Whole Foods, so we could get lunch and catch up on what was happening in our lives. They agreed and we met in the café area on a day we both had free. We were a little nervous at first, having not seen each other in a long time. But things started out fairly normal.

We asked one another about how things were going, what we’d been up too and how other family members were doing. It all seemed to be going fairly well until they started belittling and making fun of me in the same judgmental fashion that we would poke and prod one another in the past. This was most likely to see where my boundaries were and what they could get away with. It left me feeling confused, a little hurt and sad that we weren’t able to meet without trying to wound the other.

Breaking Past Patterns of Negativity

This was something that we used to do, especially when we would drink together. We would be a few drinks in when inevitably the anger that had been seething just beneath the surface, of all the years of neglect and abuse, would come spewing out of our mouths in the form of resentments, judgements and insults. All aimed to tear the other person down. And nobody was safe once we got going.

I’m not sure how we got to this place, of feeling that it was okay to be so free with our resentments towards one another. Especially in the cruelest ways we could muster. But we had been practicing that way of being for a long time. Now, for me and my safety, I’m choosing how much of the conversation I’m allowing into my life. I’m choosing not to be a part of it. Or only on my terms.

My New Rules of Engagement

I text on a semi-frequent basis, but also know that I’m able to put down the conversation if it takes a turn for the abusive. Now that I am no longer practicing that type of connection, I see how corrosive that type of resentment can be in relationships. I’m choosing to keep myself safe by setting the boundaries of being able to pick up and put down the conversation on my own terms.

There will be times in the future where I’ll be more flexible in how someone wants to direct the conversation, for sure. But until we can prove that we’re going to treat each other with respect first and foremost, I feel good about taking care of myself in this way. Respecting myself by respecting my boundaries. For more on setting healthy boundaries, this article written by John Amodeo on “Psychology Today” does a beautiful job of explaining what boundaries look like and how to maintain them. Good read, highly recommended.

When To Relax Your Boundaries

While forging these new relationships, it’s important to remember that the end goal is to have a mutually respectful, but also enjoyable experience with one another. This is unlikely to happen if our boundaries are turned all the way up to ten on the dial. Though this maybe necessary when you’re first forging these bonds as I am.

So if you’re rebuilding these bonds, go slow. Give it some time to see how the other person responds. A few questions to ask yourself while you are trying to create new connections may be; are they listening to me when I ask them to change or stop the direction of the conversation? Are some old patterns of connection resurfacing and are you both able to recognize them without getting wrapped up in them? Does the other person acknowledge that the old ways of connecting are unhealthy and do they want something different?

These can be difficult areas to explore. But if the answer is yes to these question, then after a little bit of time and practice, maybe you can begin to relax some of these boundaries. Then maybe you can feel a little more free and open in the relationship. Maybe allowing a playful gest into the fold without taking it as insult. These interactions will hopefully come more and more naturally to those in a relationship that is mutually respectful. Then you may be able to enjoy each others company without feeling so guarded. Or as though you have to protect yourself and your emotions.

Relaxing Our Judgements

Judgements aren’t all bad. We make judgement calls all the time that effect our day to days regularly. I think where we get hung up on being judgmental is, when we substitute another’s negative judgement of our character as the truth of who we are. This was something that we did on a consistent basis in my family.

One of the ways we tried to control each other was through our constant and cutting judgements of one another. However, this only leads to resentment, which is corrosive to relationship building. So how do we take care of ourselves in the face of other’s critical judgements of us? Well I think it starts with us feeling solid in ourselves and our belonging, while setting aside the harsh judgements we’ve dispensed in the past.

I jumped on the judgement train at first to keep myself safe. I was being judged so often and feeling subsequently so small for it, while simultaneously watching my judgers hold a smug and superior air about them, that I felt the only way to get some power back was through judging others in the ways I was being judged. This, however, did not work as planned.

Judgements Leads to More Judgements

My judgements lead me to feel judged in my relationships. And in my experience, this type of judgement leads to resentment. But now that I recognize how I was feeling while I was being judged, and why I chose to pick up that tool and use it as a way to keep myself safe, I can now understand and recognize that what was really happening with those who were critically judging me was actually a deep sense of them not feeling belonging in our relationship.

For example, if a family member chose to make fun of me for my weight, say they called me a human garbage disposal as they often would. My caregiver was often made fun of for their weight growing up as well. And it’s then I’m able to see that they were insecure about their weight and how they were treated because of it. In a way, they were trying to shame me into making a positive change, however backward their attempt may have been. So now that I see where they are coming from, it’s easier to be more forgiving of their ridicule. Seeing how it stemmed from them feeling a lack of belonging.

Finding Belonging Through Forgiveness by Giving Up The Ghosts of Our Pasts

And for the most part, that’s what it really comes down to. Finding a sense of belonging. In a strange way, we were just trying to belong to one another. Through all the harsh judgements, the resentment and anger, we just wanted to feel like somebody wanted to be around us. That we were worth being around. And this is why I’m choosing to forgive those who’ve hurt me in the past.

I know that they want to belong just as badly as I want to belong. And nobody is going to feel like they belong if we keep holding our acceptance of one another just out of reach while we’re trying to buy ourselves some time to find a way to feel loved and belonging. And we know that we can’t live up to some of the impossible standards we’ve set for others. The ones we use to pretend that we are better than others because, by virtue of having that standard, we are better than the other.

Instead, I’m choosing to accept that I’m not perfect and that nobody is. So why hold it over somebody else’s head as prerequisite for belonging? For me, it’s just not worth it. So if you’ve found yourself in a place where you’ve been reliving some of the patterns of your past, know that you have it in you to move past it. Be a new you, forge a new path. As Rumi said, “be melting snow, wash yourself of yourself”. Wash yourself of the bonds holding you to the past and let your past, be in the past. You’ve got your life to live, go and live it. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Forgiveness” by Neshika Bell is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Updated: 1/21/23

Fear and Judgement: Fear of Being Judged

Judgement is a tough one for a lot of folks, including myself. It’s ubiquitous in American culture and can be used as a means to evaluate someone’s worth, though usually with a negative bias. In a lot of ways it’s used as you would use currency. To deem if someone holds value measured against your standards.

Using Judgements to Control & Feelings of Inadequacy

People fear judgement to be sure, and for good reason. It’s often times associated with guilt. Usually that guilt comes in the form of “what’s wrong with me that others are seeing me as bad or undeserving?” The idea of feeling like a criminal comes up and paying back society for a debt that’s owed.

And not all judgements are loaded with fear. For example we may make a judgement call that it wouldn’t be safe to drive if we had another drink. This type of judgement is necessary for our survival. Also to keep us safe. But what if judgements were placed on us because a caregiver wanted us to be different? In an attempt to control who we are and who we would become. What then?

This was the case for me growing up. I was criticized and judged so often that I just assumed that I would never add up to my caregivers expectations. And to make things worse, I was never really sure what I could do that would be acceptable to my caregivers. Thinking about it now, there was never any direction on how to improve. Only their negative judgements of me. So I copied their behaviors and habits, hoping I would stumble upon the “correct” way of being.

Trying to Belong to Avoid Judgement & Rejection

We were big drinkers in our family. This was the first habit I picked up that was modeled for me. Also treating other people as though they were disposable wa another habit modeled for me. As though I didn’t really need their friendship. This was a toxic habit I inferred for sure. I burned a lot of bridges acting this way. Though I wish I hadn’t now, some of the relationships I had during those times were unhealthy to say the least. And partially modeled after unhealthy familial relationships.

Knowing what I know now, I could have ended some relationships in a more amicable way. But I just didn’t know any better. And either did they (my caregivers) for that matter. We were operating under faulty instructions and doing the best we could with what we had. Which wasn’t much.

And that is one of the biggest issues that comes with consistent critical judgements. Being left with the paralyzing fear of either not belonging or of feeling rejection. When you are rejected by those who are supposed to love you unconditionally, you are left with absolutely no direction on learning how to have a felt sense of belonging. You just never feel like you belong. Aimlessly adrift.

Unhealthy Habits in a Search for Belonging

For me this happened very early on. I remember me feeling such a loneliness and wanting to belong that I turned to anything that would bring me a sense of feeling apart of something. Regardless of how reckless or self destructive it seemed.

I can remember listening to The Grateful Dead’s, “Touch of Grey” in 1987-88 and connecting with the lyrics, “I will get by”. Later on when I was in high school in the mid nineties, hippy culture was making a re-emergence. I took to the culture so quickly that I was making my own clothes and growing my hair out for dreads in less than six months. Everything I owned smelled of patchouli and I began drinking at the age of fourteen. All because I heard a song that had a seemingly positive message, mixed with the culture being popular at the time.

I was looking for someplace to belong. And if it wasn’t for those fond early childhood memories of feeling a little bit of optimism and hope while listening to the Dead, who knows where I’d be. I also imagine there was a draw to the gypsy culture that the Dead represented. A feeling of homelessness. Or at least a sense of misfits coming together who have been roundly rejected by others to create their own sense of community and belonging.

Finding Guidance in a Healthy Way

But what’s so startling about the life choices I was making at fourteen was, that I was basing them on song lyrics I randomly heard when I was much younger because they gave me a sense of hope, however small. Instead of the loving guidance from capable caretakers, I had Jerry and hippy culture to show me how to “get by”. I had some good times for sure, but I’d trade them all for some love and support from those who should have been there for me.

Not Feeling Like I’m Adding Up

This brings up another aspect of fearing not belonging. The maddening fact that my caretakers had gone out of their way to make sure I knew I was not adding up with their consistent criticisms about aspects of my personality or physical appearance they did not approve of. This led me believe that there was a thread of hope. That if I could somehow managed to please them by living up to their impossible standards, then I’d belong. What I hadn’t realize at the time was, that the reason their standards were so impossible was because they themselves didn’t know how to belong. And if they felt as though they weren’t adding up, how would they be able to teach me to?

So if this fear stems from not knowing how to belong, why then all the judgement? From my experiences with my caregivers, the judgements came when we were too vulnerable to let one another in on a deeper emotional level. This was partly due to feeling as though we didn’t belong. But also as defense to keep each other at a distance. So we wouldn’t be seen as our authentic, vulnerable and hurt selves. The self that felt like we weren’t good enough to be a part of a loving relationship. Because we had been hurt and abandoned so many times that we felt as though we deserved not to belong.

This Leads to a Legacy of Brutality

This was a legacy we were handing down to one another. First because we didn’t know how to break the cycle. And second we were too scared to let people get too close because of all the damage we inflicted and incurred during our past attempts at bonding. So it became the foundation of our unstable relationships. Built on fear of not belonging to something bigger. A more supportive family.

Which is what I imagine we all wanted. But our negative judgements of each other swooped in, keeping us from getting too close to one another. Mostly for fear the other would see our authentic yet “damaged” selves. The one that had been torn down by ourselves and others all too often. This was the cycle we were trapped in.

So if this was the legacy we had been handing down through the generations, and no one was feeling healthy, loved or supported, why haven’t we been able to go in a different direction and break the cycle? What was stopping us from giving up the ghost and finding the healthier, more supportive versions of ourselves and our relationships? The short answer is, because it’s difficult.

Making a Change for the Healthy is Difficult Work

My experience was that I needed to feel through a life’s time worth of collected emotional wounds from those I was told I could rely on. And when our trust is abused, by mixed messages about who we’re able to rely on, there’s a lot of confusion around who we’re able to trust. And when our trust is taken advantage of, that’s when our defenses take over. There’s a line from an Iron and Wine song, “Sacred Vision” that fits this mindset for me, “forgiveness is fickle when trust is a chore”. I was being critical of others, using judgements to distance myself from those I wanted to trust but couldn’t.

But this had the effect of breading distrust. First with myself, then with others. With myself because I would often turn that critical voice inward and tear myself down. And with others in that I was keeping them at a distance by saying hurtful things so as not to get hurt letting them in again. But they were still feeling the hurtful affects of my critical judgements of them.

Feeling the Hurt of Past Judgements

In order to break the cycle, and let people get close, I had to feel the hurt I was avoiding by keeping others at a distance with my harsh judgements. And those were some of the most difficult emotions I’ve ever had to feel. Sorting through those emotions was a kin to untangling a knot of live wires. Every time I seized one, I’d get a shock from a past wound. But the more I untangled, the easier it became. The more I allowed the emotions to flow, the more I was able to feel them as they came. Without the anxiety or feeling overwhelmed.

And it takes patience with yourself, as well as persistence. But when I started, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no healthy role models so I needed to find some stat. I started with the people I admire. It was important to start with people I didn’t actually know personally, so that I could feel the safety of distance, while experiencing their wisdom and trying it out for myself.

Finding Guides

The people I thought of most were Oprah, Tom Hanks, Buddha, Adrienne from yoga with Adrienne and Dana Shultz from Minimalist Baker. I chose them because it feels like they’re consistently projecting a positive and even tempered demeanor. Their characteristics are ways that I’d like to project myself in the world. Mixed with their work ethic and vitality, these are the people I want to model myself around. Also the characteristics I want to use as a foundation to build my relationships on. A firm and solid foundation based on support and caring interest, instead of harsh and critical judgements.

Building Healthy Characteristics & Creating Strong Values

And with these new characteristics, I was then able to build my values. Being loving support was one value while learning how to trust others and myself, another. When the characteristics of love and support are practiced, that is how trust is created. That is how a characteristic builds a value.

But this is all new territory for me. And with this new and steep learning curve, came a fair amount of fear and emotional rawness. With no one around to show me what were the types of characteristics that built lasting and sustainable values feel like in person, I felt adrift again. But once I started to practice these characteristics with the people I knew, I was able to set anchor and build the strong foundations that would be able to support lasting relationships.

And with the foundations of my new relationships built on mutual respect, I found what I was missing in my old friendships. There was no effort put into building our bonds, so we didn’t value them as I would something that took time and effort. Also emotion, understanding and forgiveness. All we had to build on in my past relationships was a lot of alcohol and a few good times. What I’m finding now is, building my relationships from my new set of values is that there is a greater amount of respect.

Putting in the Effort to Care for Our Relationships & Ourselves

We appreciate the time and effort we’ve taken and Given to one another. And the effort put into the experiences we’ve had and are continuing to build. We value one another as a source of support and kind, genuine caring. We know that we can trust one another with what we’ve built together, because we did it with love. And that’s what was missing from those relationships that were built on only the good times.

Support and the felt sense of belonging that comes with knowing that you are supported, trusted and cared about. The random text messages that get sent throughout the week as a way of checking in on how the other is doing. Not just to finding out where you will be drinking that night. Asking for help in building shelves together to make a house feel more like a home. Instead of cutting down a “friend” in front of a girl in hopes that you’ll hook up with the girl later that night. Feeling belonging and trust built on stable characteristics go hand in hand. Try to build them on anything else and it would be unstable at best.

Care Starts With Ourselves

And none of this would be possible if I didn’t first come to terms with the fear of my critical judgements. Of others, but mostly from myself. If we use critical judgements to keep others away for long enough, it begins to corrode our ability to connect with anyone. Critical thoughts work in the same ways acid does. Circulate in and around the bonds we try to build. Leaving the bonds weak and frail. By turning inward and realizing how weak and frail all of my bonds had become with myself, I understood how important it is to actively work towards healing them. By attending to the bond with myself.

This is arguably the most important bond because it paves the way for all of our other bonds to take shape. And this is where the tough work comes in. If you’ve left your internal landscape fallow for too long, the worry then is, “I’m afraid of what I might find.” Incase this is where you are, let me say that there are no monsters lurking here. Only the parts of us that are badly in need of some love and support 🙂

Building a Stronger You

And there’s another benefit of practicing love and support. You become stronger in the process and are building stronger bonds within yourself. When you’re checking in with a friend who has had a tough day at work, you’re caring enough about someone else’s well being to check in on them. This is also a way of attuning to your feelings of empathy. You are strengthening your empathic abilities by checking in with how you’re feeling about your friend. And acting with kindness with someone is a way to practice being supportive.

These are the healthy patterns that are possible when we choose to practice sustainable, healthy characteristics. We are then able to sustain these new relationships with healthier patterns. Using our characteristics and values as a guide. It isn’t always going to be easy, but it is definitely worth the effort. And with some luck you’ll be surrounded by friends and family that are, sure irritating at times, but also a source of love and support. And this will outweigh any habit that may irritate you.

Making the Turn

Turning from critically judgmental to loving support is difficult. And maybe the most important characteristic that will have the biggest effect on how you make this change is through kindness. To yourself first and others as well. The more we practice kindness, especially toward ourselves, the more our actions, thoughts, moods and behaviors will naturally lean towards a kind disposition. And this will in turn affect how we connect with ourselves and with those close in.

These are only my experiences in trying to rebuild the relationships in my life after what feels like a life’s time worth of avoiding and neglecting my bonds. I hope this has been of some use to you. If you, like me, have found yourself in a reconstruction phase of life, my advice is don’t give up! You’re much stronger than you think. And help has a way of finding those who are in need, as long as you are open to the opportunity. Be well, good luck and peace 🙂 thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Mean looking Eagle Owl” by webheathcloseup is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 8/27/22

When Feeling Loved is Scarce: How do We Find Care in Our Relationships When Love is Finite

It’s no secret that I grew up in a household that confused feeling loved and belonging with how we were seen by others. There were undercurrents, okay maybe tidal waves of insecure self-image that ran through my family. Starting with weight and extending to the clothing we wore. Or how clean our house was, whatever the focus was, there was always the feeling of being judged. And who we were was written all over us by the things we did and owned.

Growing Up in a Cold, Unloving Environment

This was a very cold environment to grow up in. Or rather I imagine it would feel cold if I had the ability to feel anything. There was always a numbness that came with the lifestyle. A heavy feeling. As though the air were ripe with criticism and it was only the work of a moment for someone to descend, dispensing with whatever it was that I was doing wrong. There’s a line in a song by Peter, Bjorn and John’s, “The Chills” that sums up this feeling, “your tongue is sharp, but I miss the taste of it.”

And that’s how it felt. There was a maddening search for approval from someone who constantly held it just out of reach. And feeling approved of was a precursor to feeling loved and belonging. But the game was rigged. I would never meet my caregivers impossible standards, because they in turn never met the impossible standards set by their caregivers. You can’t give what you don’t have. And in this case it was approval for reaching a standard they themselves never reached.

Lack of Feeling Loved is Generational

Looking back now, I’m able to see with some clarity as to how this has played out from generation to generation. Also the sheer amount of emotional manipulation my family has endured and doled out simultaneously has help me to piece together that, we all probably feel a little like frauds when it comes to feeling love and belonging. That’s how I felt for a long time.

The feeling still pops up from time to time. Something I’ve come to expect. You don’t experience years of neglect and abuse and suddenly expect those feelings of inadequacy to go away overnight. It takes years of self-care and reparenting to even begin to feel again. This was the case for me anyways. Then you’d better buckle your seatbelts because all those feelings come crashing in like the aforementioned emotional tidal-wave, taking with it just about all of your stability and core sense of self.

Navigating Expectations and Practicing Feeling Loved

So if we’ve only really experienced critical judgement from caregivers and the moments of care, love and tenderness were fleeting if present at all, then how do we chose love? From my experience, it helps to practice the actions that add up to feeling loved. The patience, with yourself and others. Keeping a nonjudgmental state of mind is another piece of the puzzle. Or at least not getting wrapped up in the story you tell yourself about what you’re doing wrong or how you or somebody else isn’t adding up to someone’s expectations.

And none of this is easy. So another aspect of practicing feeling loved is being forgiving. Of ourselves and others when we’ve stumbled. It’s inevitable that we will make mistakes. Maybe by judging somebody else for making a mistake, instead of asking if they’re experiencing stress in their lives that may be impacting them in the here and now. Or beating ourselves up for overlooking a task we should have gotten to. Where we could be appreciative of how much we’ve accomplished during the day.

Patience and Understanding Leads to Forgiveness and Change

So if patience and understanding are the pieces to feeling loved, forgiveness is the glue that binds them together. But don’t forget to be open to the feelings we have that follow, when we practice patience. Or how we feel when we’re being accepting of and listening to others. Because those are the spaces where we change. When we “be the change you want to see in the world” or ourselves.

And of course like anything worth the while, this all takes time. Another way to practice patients with yourself. When I started noticing how often I was judging others, it took some time before I could look at someone and not automatically deem them as overweight. Or unattractive. Two main areas of focus in my family when it came to being judgmental. And it still happens. The difference now is, that I can recognize the thoughts that come to mind. And now I can let them be, without judging myself for having them.

When Your Thoughts Aren’t So Loving

Tara Brach said something that really hit home with me in one of her talks. To paraphrase, she said that you don’t have thoughts, your mind secretes them. Saying you’re having a thought is like saying you’re circulating your blood. They just happen and the mind has no shame. And from my experience, I can get pretty worked up over the thoughts that are popping up.

Especially if you’ve experienced any sort of verbal abuse or emotional manipulation from those closest to you. Self-doubt, fear and frustration are only a few of the emotions that come to pay a visit. And the thoughts that accompany them just as unpleasant. So it’s nice to know that the thoughts that run through your mind aren’t a reflection of who you are. Or that you’re being too judgmental.

Once we begin to cultivate these traits in ourselves and with others, we then can have the experience of feeling loved. Also feeling caring and ease in our relationships. Emotions that may not have had modeled for us in our youth. It may not be easy, but it’s worth the while. To foster these aspects of our relationships in order to feel a deeper connection and maybe more fulfilled. So stay the course! It’ll be difficult at times, but it gets easier with practice. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Scarce blood enough in all their sickly veins” by harold.lloyd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 7/29/22

Slowing Down the Over Achiever: Speed and Efficiency Aren’t Always Correlated

The drive to achieve in us is great. And it’s not such a bad trait to have. But sometimes the over achiever likes to take control while we’re not paying attention. This can be an area of great distress, especially if you have a long todo list and not enough time in the day to get it all done. Or you get wrapped up in trying to help somebody else that you neglect your own needs in the fray.

It’s good to be selfless and to help those who can’t help themselves. But I feel that we often overlook that to effect real change, we first need to change ourselves. However, there may be some pitfalls along the way while we attempt this. Such as, if we’re not careful the over achiever can pop up, pushing ourselves to focus too intently on just one area. And I know from my experience, that I sometimes feel that the quicker I go, the more efficient I’m being. But this most definitely is not the case.

Speediness Isn’t Always the Answer

One trap I often fall into is, wanting to obtain my own desired outcome with a clear map in mind and black and white thinking to get me there. This often leads to dead ends and being unwilling to vary my course to get to the final destination. When I eventually need to vary my plan because my map didn’t accounted for unknown circumstances, I find I feel lost and without direction. One of the ways I get caught in black and white thinking is, by trying to over achieve and confuse speed with efficiency. I feel as though this alone will lead me to success.

But this sort of speed equals efficiency and I need to be as efficient as possible, doesn’t usually give me the expected results that I think it will. That being said, there is something about working with a quick, controlled focus. Like when you watch a master at his or her craft, moving with agility and dexterity to create something. This can be unbelievably satisfying. But this type of speed and accuracy aren’t necessarily correlated with efficiency. I believe it has more to do with the time that the master of their craft committed to their task. And yes they move fast but they are also agile enough to change course if they need to. And they are more than likely experts at that as well. Staying fluid.

Staying Fluid Means Making Mistakes

So if it’s the fluidity of the work that is so impressive to watch, while speed is a product of repetition and practice, where does that leave efficiency? From my understanding efficiency is achieved after trying a varying degree of deviations from the main method and being able to adjust for the current circumstance in real time. How do we get there? By trying a bunch of different techniques and seeing what works and what doesn’t. A.k.a, lots of mistakes. The Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show comes to mind, singing along while blindly bandying things about until something is created.

I’m joking, but doesn’t it feel that way sometimes? Like we’re just throwing it together and praying that it works? It does for me for sure. Until I get a few successful attempts under my belt and then the confidence starts to build. And this is true for me for most of my endeavors. From trying a new recipe, to taking a new yoga class, taking on new responsibilities at work, or life responsibilities… there is always something new to try and get better at.

But also, something for us to make mistakes at. And this isn’t news to anybody hopefully. We know that to “make an omelet, you must break a few eggs”. But sometimes our idea of what we feel is the acceptable amount of mistakes to make is. And usually we feel our mistakes are something to be ashamed of. Which is a shame because then we miss an opportunity to stay fluid in our search for mastering a task and finding new, efficient ways in doing just that.

Finding New Paths

One of the ways we learn new paths while staying fluid and where we’ll find another pitfall is, working with others. Often times when we view mistakes as an embarrassment and we’re locked into a, speed is priority mindset, wasting time can be a shameful experience. Especially for those of us that feel that we have to be good at everything we do and on our terms.

So in the search for being efficient, and viewing speed as being priority while mistakes are seen as a weakness, we will often times reject help from others out of feeling judged or embarrassed. We insist that we have to do everything on our own in our own way. Feeling too proud to ask for help and ashamed of being seen as someone who can’t handle their task. But a situation such as this can benefit from two minds understanding and approach a problem from different perspectives, allowing for the type of growth that makes a change for the better. In other words, be more efficient by collaborating.

Working With Unreasonably High Standards, When the Over Achiever Takes Over

I work with someone who exemplifies this sort of speed is priority mindset and is an over achiever as well. And what was so eye opening about watching them work and actually hearing them say, “we have to be as efficient as possible” is, how much they reminded me of myself not to long ago and the over achiever in me. My co-worker is usually a reasonable person. But when they have something set in their mind on how things should be done, they are blind to all other ways of doing the task. An example of this type of mindset in action I feel, was present in one of our more recent interactions.

We were making baguette, shaping the familiar cylindrical loaves we know and love. While I was flipping the pre-shape (a round piece of dough before it’s formed into its final shape) from the bin to the middle of the table, crusty side down so that the soft side didn’t stick to the table, my co-worker asked, “could you please not flip the bread when you move the pre-shapes”. When I asked why she responded with, “the crusty side is down, so when someone shapes it, the crusty side will be on the outside of the loaf.”

Her over achiever was already anticipating that someone was going to make a mistake and wanted me to adjust for the person who may shape the loaf incorrectly. This didn’t make much sense to me since everyone on the team was experienced and knew how to shape a baguette. But she was taking responsibility for someone else’s actions, before they happened.

Over Achiever in the Form of Taking On Too Much Responsibility

What it seemed to be their issue was whether or not their over achiever could trust their co-workers. Or rely on someone else to do the right thing when they needed to. On the other end of the spectrum, I was thinking from a collaborative perspective. Trying to anticipating what would be most convenient for the team. When you have the mindset that everyone around you isn’t trustworthy or able to do their job well, then you take on the role of responsibility for the outcome of the entire team when you make judgement calls like the one she made. This is not only unreasonable to a certain degree, but also unhealthy. What was so unsettling for me was, how much of my former self I saw in my co-worker.

I remember having a tough night at a bakery I used to work at, when I got into an argument with the owner about something. What, I’m not to sure of now, but knowing me it probably wasn’t a big deal. Though I’m sure I made it out to be. In the middle of our argument I told the owner that my bake looked like garbage when actually it was a very respectable bake. And to the owners credit, he told me that my bake looked great. I think a few loaves may have been misshapen, but I blew up those two to three loaves into a complete failure for the entire night.

It was this type of black and white thinking, mixed with the impossible standard I set for myself and others, that isolated me from those I worked with. And something I see now in my current co-worker’s actions.

And The Outcome Ain’t Good

The over achiever mindset is very isolating from my experience. And the way out of this mindset is through kindness. To ourselves and others. My former self and my current co-worker had and have the best of intentions. We’re good people and it’s important not to lose site of that. But that’s just it, they always have to be the best. This is where the over achiever takes shape. There is no room for error and anything less than perfect will be dealt with swiftly and with extreme prejudice. This is the very definition of an over achiever and turned inward, can result in self-harm and negative self talk.

It’s like being in an abusive relationship, only there is nowhere to run where you won’t find yourself. The over achiever is always there, ready to pick apart whatever perceived failure or mistake you see or make. And there is always an underlying feeling of something being wrong. Like you’re not quite safe but can’t figure out why. From my experience this was the attitude that is cultivated by being in this over achieving state. Hyper vigilant and distrustful of yourself and others.

But Being Kind Helps

And again, the way out is kindness. It’s amazing how much a little self care goes toward reversing this critical state. Self-care and kindness, towards yourself and others, when practiced will cultivate a loving attentiveness to the spots that are raw when we pick ourselves apart. Staying with those raw feelings and being kind to them is the key to cultivating a loving and accepting mindset.

On the other side, when we see these raw places in others, like the over achiever, we judge them as mean or bad in some way. Our instinct is to distance ourselves from them and become guarded against them. Or we can be actively hostile towards them. Neither is ideal and fosters hostility and resentment in the relationship.

What I wasn’t taught about being kind to others was and what I imagine most people haven’t been, is that these are not emotions specific to the individual. The ones that we are judging as other or less than for having. They are human emotions. You can’t kill or completely rid yourself of select emotions. Being human means that you sign up for the entire package. Pleasant and difficult emotions alike and all the shades between. So when you judge another for having a certain emotion and when you eventually feel that emotion, you will most likely judge yourself with the same harshness you did another. And this is why being kind to yourself matters, because it helps you treat others with kindness.

Healing Old Wounds Through Kindness

But sadly, the more we practice judging ourselves and others, what immerges is a low self esteem and self doubt. The Buddha said “what we think, we become”. So it stands to reason that if we are filled with judgmental thoughts towards others, we become outwardly hostile and unpleasant to be around. The Buddha also said, “hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed”. So the more kindness we show to ourselves and others, the more we cultivate a loving state that is capable of healing ourselves wounded by judgments.

So the more we slow down in those moments of harsh judgement and over achieving and see ourselves honestly as we are. Either as struggling or lost with a lack of direction and the more kindness we are able to bring to that lost, struggling self, the easier it will be to pull ourselves out of that judgmental, over achieving state and into a place that is more flexible, kind and understanding. More loving.

Slowing Down to Get More Done

In the end, we will accomplish more by slowing down and bringing a kind, loving attention to the places that feel raw and judged. A good way to loosen the grip of the harsh judge and over achiever is to come up with a resource list. This is a list of things, places, people or events and activities that you enjoy doing or being around or participating in. This is a good place to go when you need to bring some warmth and kindness to yourself. Because it’s not always easy to think of taking care of yourself when you’re in the midst of tearing yourself down. I have one in my Bullet Journal and it’s nice to look at once and a while, especially when I’m in need of a quick pick-me-up.

So now that we have the resources we need to show ourselves some kindness when we don’t feel we, or someone we know, is adding up to our standards, those that are more than a little unreasonable, who knows what we’ll be able to achieve. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

An update on my relationship with my co-worker: Our relationship has changed for the better due to me actively listening with kindness to what was bothering them. The more kindness we bring to our interactions, with self and others, the better off we all will be for it : )

Image Credits: “Stress” by topgold is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Edited: 6/1/22

Self-Care Emotional: How do You Relate to Your Inner-Critic?

“Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We all have an inner critic. The voice that says we’ll never finish that degree, or I’m never gonna land the job that would be just right for me. I’m never going to find the woman/man who’s my true love or I’m just plain not adding up. I know mine well. It took some digging but when I finally realized who was behind the wheel and where he was steering me, I can tell you it was a real eye opener.

Getting to Know Your Critical Voice

My inner critic has taken the form of my abusers past, and I can actually pinpoint it in my body. Of course this took years of work to even begin to unlock my frozen tundra of emotion. And this was after decades of not being able to feel my body, or to even know what my emotions were. Also that I was the one in charge, not my emotions.

My inner critic will often tell me things about myself that just aren’t true. Such as I’m overweight even though I weigh 185 and am 5’10”. I’m unable to find and do meaningful and fulfilling work even though I’ve excelled in all my positions and graduated Cum Laude from college. I need a another to take care of me because I’m incapable of doing so for myself, regardless of my well organized and healthfully curated my lifestyle… The list goes on.

But what’s most important to understand about all our critics is, asides from the content being untrue and damaging to our psyche, how often we get lured into its siren’s song. And allow ourselves to be led astray from what our heart’s true aspirations are. If you’re reading this then you’ve probably come to some of your own healthy conclusions. But in case you haven’t I’m here to tell you you are not the contents of your inner critic. And the only control it has over you is the control you give to it.

Our Critic Takes its Cues From Our Pasts

I know from my own early childhood experiences of trauma, that my critic has grown strong from repeated infractions against my sense of self worth. And it may seem as though these experiences are relegated to those who’ve experienced some sort of trauma. But the numbers of those who have experienced trauma are staggering. It’s reported that “nearly 14% of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.” That’s about one in seven! That’s a lot of people.

But even those that haven’t experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, ways of coping with stress such as peer pressure and people pleasing have real consequences. And not to mention are a source of frustration for many. This all sounds pretty sad. And it is, but there are ways to identify our inner critic and create a caring cushion around it. To soften the blow when it does strike. This is where the hard work lay. In knowing how your inner critic has infiltrated your day to day routines and the patterns that we’ve cultivated in relating to it.

Recognizing Your Tells

Do you know the subtle signs of the transition between when you’re behind the wheel and your critic has taken over? Is there a low level of anxiety that is prevalent? Feeling as though you’re not adding up in some way for no reason? Are you believing things about yourself you know just aren’t true? These are just a few examples and they vary from person to person.

There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to knowing how you and your own personal inner critic relate to one another. Or the ways it has taken control in your life. But there is a commonality in coming to understanding who and what your inner critic is and needs. And it starts with listening.

When are the times you feel down on yourself? Or feel bad about a specific behavior or something you feel like you should be doing? Times that you are measuring yourself to another and feel as though you are coming up short? Those are the times and opportunities to listen inward. To feel where you feel them in your body. The places you are trying to avoid. That’s where you’ll find your critic.

Your critic is trying to tell you something but it’s afraid. Underneath that fear there is a protective quality, one that is trying to keep us safe. For me it’s, “I had better conform to certain expectations or else I’ll be rejected and unloved”. Listening to the message of what it’s trying to tell us and deciphering it from the fear will yield great rewards.

Finding What’s Underneath The Critic

Because once you find the message that is behind the fear, you can relate directly to the unattended hurt. The source of the wound. Though I should say when dealing with traumatic fear, this is something that should definitely be done in the care of a professional. And with the support of trusted family members and friends when possible. Tara Brach explains in one of her talks on relating to traumatic fear called, “Healing Trauma: The Light Shines Through the Broken Places” that it may not be safe to take in all the fear at once. It may end up retraumatize us.

I know from my own work with my therapist that learning the art of just this much, finding your window of tolerance is, is invaluable. Especially for those of us who have been trying to live up to our own imposed and impossible standards. Go hard or go home. The insatiable voice that keeps telling us we need to do more and accomplish greater deeds. And the critic doesn’t only focus on us. Others as well need to live up to our impossible standards or something terrible will happen. Or so we often times feel.

You’ve Met Your Inner Critic, Now What?

So what do we do when we finally come toe to toe with our inner critic? For me, it was about slowing down. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to work myself to death, to live up to the impossible standard I had created, that I realized it was never going to be enough. No matter how hard I worked, how I ignored my needs and those of others. No matter how critical I was of the job I was doing or others were doing, I was never going to meet the impossible standard I had in my mind of how things should be.

This took some doing because I was drinking 5 to 6 lattes a day and going hard to avoid coming home (figuratively). It wasn’t until I started meditating and switched to tea, one caffeinated cup a day, that I was able to create the space necessary to slow down and hear what my body was telling me. Instead of telling my body how to feel. It was a shock though. I won’t go into details but it hit hard. I was feeling all sorts of unattended emotion from my past. I had been ignoring not just the attic of my life but most of the useable square footage!

But that brought me to the second step of reckoning with the unfelt emotions. It was crazy at first. But my feelings began to slow down until they were manageable. Small enough to take in without being overwhelming. I needed a lot of support during that time too. And a lot of kindness. Mostly from and to myself.

I had been beating myself up for such a long time that there was some animosity for sure. But the more kindness I showed myself, the easier it became. Not only easier to bear but the inner critic began to lose it’s bite. When he would show up, which he still does sometimes, I could recognize him and treat him with kindness. Knowing that really it’s just the product of the ways I’ve been maltreated by myself and others.

So when you’re relating to your inner critic the key is to be kind. Kind to yourself, kindness to and from others as well. Because it’s that kindness that will then create the cushion around our hurt selves. The places our critics are protecting in order to make space for them to heal. And it’s not easy. People will say and do hurtful things and we will do and say hurtful things too. To ourselves and others. But it’s a practice. And the more we practice the better we become at being kind. And the more tame our critic will become. It’s doable, just don’t give up. Peace :] and thanks for reading!

Image credits: “Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Updated: 2/3/22

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