Self Directed Guidance: It’s Not Always Easy

Guidance was something that I received very little of while growing up. And Much of the direction I did receive was either unhealthy or toxically Masculine. The emphasis in my family was more to the tune of dominance, not gentle or loving guidance. And I held to those lessons as law for a long time. They worked in our family for the most part. It was only when I stepped outside of my family dynamic, that I understood how dominance was not substitute for learning to work cohesively as a team. Not only that but also how destructive it could be.

And I feel as though I wasn’t the only one raised with these teachings. It feels like, from my perspective that, people for the most part are more inclusive and tolerant of one another in general. I also recognize that I live in a pretty liberal and progressive state. So my views may not be shared by most. But still, we’ve come a long way as a society in the past few generations alone. It’s not too far a stretch to recognize that we’re on an upswing as far as being more humanitarian goes.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about in this post. Focusing on the guidance that we may not have learned from our culture or families, but how we can cultivate the guidance we need to navigate our day to day lives. Keeping that sense of tolerance and inclusivity, keeping ourselves open to new experiences and people. Because it’s too easy to get caught up in the negativity that is happening around us. I know this from experience to be true. So let’s find some of that guidance we’ve been missing.

Guidance is Not Static, But Fluid

This is something I had trouble with when I first started looking to follow my values or other parameters I had set for myself. I took myself way too seriously and would not budge from the stances I took. I was unforgiving. A lesson that I learned early and would also learn to regret later in life. Unforgiving, unyielding, closeminded… All of these adjectives described my perspective in viewing my world.

And from this vantage point, it’s easy to feel as though your way is the only right way. And that everybody who isn’t following your lead is inept or inferior. This is an extreme example for sure, but it’s one that I know well because it was where I had set my standard. I needed to be better than others.

And what’s so strange about this was, I think I was doing it to be liked. Accepted. Of course I offended a lot of people acting this way, so I never did gain the belonging I so desperately was seeking. But what was so strange was, that I was completely blind to how offensive I was being. It didn’t even cross my mind that I was making enemies. My goal was to be right and seem as though I knew what I was doing.

Giving Up Being Right

For me, I had to let go the need to be right about whatever was on the table. Because needing to be right leads to aggression in communication. Expressing dominance over another who, as I viewed them, were “inferior”. This can lead to feelings of superiority, contempt, smugness and other relationship killing emotions if left unchecked. And most definitely severs connection.

What I decided to do instead of needing to be right was, listen. I say decided, because it was a choice I made. And not an easy one at that. In fact, I still struggle with it sometimes. Even the day I’m writing this article, I was in a meeting at work, hearing my coworker communicate disinformation in a vague manner. My first response was one of contempt.

But the more I listened to the conversation, the more I realized they were struggling with a difficult topic. They weren’t being willfully ignorant, they were expressing vulnerability in not knowing how to provide care for a certain situation. This is where I turned it around and started listening to the context behind the conversation.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Not Having The Guidance You Needed

And while I was listening to their conversation with a new perspective, the first thought that came to mind was, “man I’m being a jerk”. Insensitive maybe, but a jerk… I didn’t say these thoughts out loud and what’s more, these were the ways I was taught to be in relationship.

Most of all, I don’t want to turn that aggression inward after I’ve done so much work to notice and curb my aggression from judging others. So it’s important to remember to treat yourself with the same kindness and care as you would a dear friend. Because who are we to ourselves if not friends? And that’s not an easy task

For me, what helps is practicing kindness to myself. Especially when an emotion comes up, I inquire where it’s coming from, using soft and gentle guidance in asking what I need. Why is this emotion coming up now and how can I provide care for it? The part that’s most rewarding about this process is, the more often I practice this kindness inwardly, the easier and kinder I feel. It’s quite the change from my old ways of treating myself.

How You Treat Others is a Reflection of How You Treat Yourself

The ways I used to treat myself was with a sharp and demeaning criticism. Thinking back on it now, it seems counter intuitive. With all the ways I was practicing being critical of others while acting superior, you would think that I had a pretty high opinion of myself.

And outwardly that was what I was projecting for sure. But as I said above, I just wanted to feel belonging. So most of the ways I was acting were to gain approval from others. And when I didn’t measure up to my impossible standard, I tore myself down in the same ways I tore others down.

I also was surrounded by others who were just as judgmental as I was. So our relationships were founded on a never ending cycle of judging and being judged by one another. We were stuck in unhealthy relationship with no clear guidance on how to steer ourselves clear of the constant wounding we were inflicting.

So what’s the catalyst for change that we so desperately need to break free from this cycle? How do we make the change from judgmental critic to kind and attentive listener? For me, it started when I felt truly heard.

Feeling Heard is Healing

I used to work in the food industry. I did this because I didn’t have any guidance in searching for and fostering interests that would later bear fruit in the form of a career. So I did what was easy, which was working in a kitchen. These were some pretty tough environments. Physically demanding yes, but also relationally.

We were relentless in our insults towards one another. Arguments were the norm and usually fueled by inflated egos, lots of caffeine and uppers as well as alcohol. It was an unhealthy environment to say the least.

I later would switched from kitchens to bakeries, which were slightly less aggressive, but only physically. There was still the same amount of petty arguments and hatred that was present in the kitchens I worked in. So it was in this environment, that to my complete surprise, that I felt heard for the first time since I was a child.

Coming to Terms with Feeling Heard

And I wish I could say that I felt heard and everything was alright. But the truth is, things got a lot worse before they got better. I hadn’t felt heard in so long, that when I did, I was flooded with all of my neglected emotions. Ones I had been ignoring for decades and that I just hadn’t been given the guidance to know how to handle them with the care and sensitivity they needed.

At first, I felt elated. I couldn’t believe that somebody was paying attention to me. And what’s more is that they seemed to like me for who I was. This came as a shock, because as I said above, I surrounded myself with people who were just as critical and condescending as I was. To be liked without the judgments was a whole new experience for me.

Making Poor Choices While Learning How to be with My Emotions

So I ran towards that feeling. All I knew was that I didn’t want to let the source of that feeling get away. This was where my poor choices came into play. I hurt a lot of people in the process of running towards what felt good and ultimately was left by the person who made me feel heard. This was the last thing I wanted to happen.

But it gave me the chance to stop running long enough to feel what had been neglected for so long. I was able to learn to sit with the uncertainty, of not feeling belonging, not feeling lovable. And I was able to do it with Kindness.

This kindness was something that awoke in me after I had felt heard again. I was learning how to listen to myself and my needs and in turn, learning how to give myself the guidance I so desperately needed to manage my emotional world. These were the lessons that I was never taught. On how to listen, be kind and love myself.

Love is Something Given From the Inside Out

And it was from this place of feeling heard and listening that I could feel love. I needed to feel loved first, with somebody else, before I could know it intimately in myself. It was then that I was able to practice it with myself, by listening to my emotional needs with kindness and then practice that same love and listening to and with others.

But it is a practice. It’s something that you need to cultivate in order for it to become second nature, strong. And to cultivate love, you need to give yourself the boundaries and structure necessary, to give guidance to your emotions. Because love is strong, but if you let other emotions take hold, they will crowd out and smother the seeds of love.

It Helps to Find Others Willing to Listen

And none of this is possible without finding people who are willing to listen and mirror what you are wanting to cultivate. With my old friends, I was practicing contempt and judgment. Now I’m choosing friends based on how supportive they are. This took some getting used to as well. But it is worth the transition to feel a deeper connection than bonding over how attractive we found some woman. Or how much we drank the night before.

I have a photo on my desk of me with friends of mine. We’re at their wedding in a small town in Western Mass. They had just gotten married and we are pumping our fists in the air. These are the people I think about when I think of support, unconditional. They are kind and always willing to listen when I need an ear.

Friends like these are essential to helping give our emotions the guidance to be the best version of ourselves in a kind and loving way. And they’re out there. But you need to do some digging. So practice in yourself what you’re looking for in others and you will naturally attract those who will compliment you.

This can seem abstract too. When you talk about guidance and kindness as a “practice”. But it’s something that’s a felt sense once you understand what to do. So keep practicing! Don’t be discouraged if you still feel judgmental or are feeling unkind to yourself and those old feelings come bubbling up. As I said above, the more you practice kindness, the easier it becomes. Like second nature. Peace : ) thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “arrow” by alandberning is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Reparenting: How We Can Give Ourselves the Guidance We Need From Our Loving Hearts.

It’s difficult being people. We’re emotional, irrational at times, and sometimes we make bad decisions. But at least we’re doing it together? It’s no secret that the state of the human condition can and has been scary. With all the violence and oppression that’s happening, that we are imposing on one another on an individual level, it’s difficult to remember that there are even greater problems that we are in the midst of dealing with. Problems that are threatening our survival as a species. It seems like things are going from bad, to worse. This is where I believe reparenting can come into play to create a healthier way of being.

Okay Things Are Bad, Now What?

With what seems to be a pretty bleak outlook on our collective futures the big question is, “what can we do about it?” Most of us are wrapped up in the same cycle of uncertainty, fear and anxiety that perpetuate these emotional states. And in turn, we end up taking out our difficult emotions on one another. But maybe if we take a closer look at how we’ve cultivated these states and find out where the source is, we can begin to create a healthier approach to how we respond to ourselves and our emotions. And in turn how we relate to one another. This is what I believe is possible through reparenting ourselves. And maybe along the way we can extend our healthier habits to include our world, and in it the animals and natural resources as well.

Reparenting

So it is in this vein that the focus of the next few posts will explore ways that we can change the unhealthy cycles we’ve cultivated. I’ll be referring to these changes as reparenting. From my experience we’re not born fearing the uncertainty that creates these anxiety provoking cycles. It’s usually inherited from our caregivers. I inherited a mountain of toxic lessons that were meant to arm me for my future, but instead left me emotionally unstable and unable to care for myself.

Though it wasn’t my care-givers faults, they themselves were taught these toxic lessons that they in turn handed down to me. Like a cursed family heirloom of sorts. Something that would imbue the holder with the inability to cope with the stress that happens to us all in life. Leaving me/us emotionally unable to Handle what was happening.

And without healthy lessons to rely on, we’ll turn to pretty much whatever seems right or whatever feels good to us at the time. Not knowing the price we may have to pay down the line or the ramifications for our actions. I know I did. We just free float in an area of moral ambiguity. Where every decision has a hazy outlook accompanied by the question, is this okay for me to do?

I’ll be focusing on a broad spectrum of areas that we all come in contact with day to day (the short list I haven’t exactly settled on yet). Where without a strong sense of healthy boundaries we could easily get waylaid by whatever seems easy or appealing at the time. One of the areas I’ll be exploring is budgeting money.

Which is an apt analogy for creating healthy boundaries because so much of what we chose to do day to day involves some sort of budgeting or self-restraint. Should I have another serving of fried chicken, or maybe I can skip this run, just this once… I’m not saying that there aren’t going to be times to enjoy the occasional indulgence or take a much deserved break from your everyday routine. But if your goal is to lose weight and you indulge in soda every time you get thirsty, you’re going to have difficulty reaching your goal. And put yourself through unnecessary frustrations at the same time.

In the next few posts I’ll be sharing with you my experiences of reparenting the ways I used to do things, using the unhealthy lessons and boundaries I was taught. I’ll compare them to similar times in the present where I’ve gone a different route, using healthier tools to get there. But more importantly how I developed the tools I used. Because it is ultimately about the ways we get to our destination and the intention behind the outcome that really defines our character and personality.

Using Healthy Tools To Navigate Our Lives With

We all have had some times in our lives where we could have used a little more guidance. Some of us have not been so lucky as others when it comes to being given thoughtful and loving direction from an adult role-model. One who had our best interests at heart. But whether we need a little more healthy reparenting in our lives, or a complete overhaul, we can always make time to give ourselves the resources, love and wisdom we need to move forward in a healthier direction.

It may be a bit of a struggle at first when we decide to step out onto the path. But it’s one that gets easier with practice. And I hope you’ll find, as I did, that there are loads of resources available to those who make the endeavor. I’ll be listing the resources I reference in my posts and on this blog on my Community page, along with other sites that I’ve found to be useful in some way. As always, I encourage your feedback and would love to hear of any resources you have found useful on your path. Together we can carry each other through the good times and the bad.

Image Credits: “‘Parenting'” by Carol (vanhookc) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Edited 5/26/22

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