Alone: Being Resilient While You’re with Yourself

Being alone isn’t easy. Take away the distractions that we often pump into our day to day and it’s nearly impossible. People expend a lot of effort to get away from the life they find right here. This is what Tara Brach calls “the unlived life”. And it’s aptly named, because this is the life that is usually filled with concern, worry or anxiety. All emotions that nobody really wants to be around.

What happens if I disagree with my employer, or boss at work? What happens when I feel differently than what most people feel as being “normal”, or status quo? These are some difficult questions, and ones that come with a host of feelings, all revolving around feeling excluded or alone in your experience or emotions. These are vulnerable places to be.

And this is where we have a choice. A lot of people, including my past self, choose to run from these places inside ourselves. It’s easier to do what is expected of us in order to keep the order of the existing established rules. Even if this order, and sometimes, especially if the order is dysfunctional. Because those that are keeping the order sometimes need the added validation of their existing situation, of running from their vulnerability, to feel as though they are doing what is best, all in the name of avoiding their unlived life. I.e. the vulnerability of the difficult emotions of uncertain and unanswered questions.

And, all of this isn’t easy. That’s why it’s being run from in the first place! If it were easy, I’d imagine we’d all have many more healthy relationships and the world would be filled with a lot less conflict. But the truth is that we live in a world that is fraught with these types of relationships. And on top of the vulnerability, these habits and ways of being can sometimes be difficult to see, making them even more insidious as the root cause of much of our anxiety around varying relationships.

When you are stuck in the middle of the uneasy feelings, i.e. perceived expectations or mind reading, established relational roles or pigeonholing, most often it is difficult to see past the immediate dis-ease of feeling vulnerable, alone and uncomfortable, and instead we stay the course of what has been historically accepted, avoidance. In other words, the path is clear to follow, but it’s not always the healthiest path.

And this intricate dance, this confusing maze of expectations mixed with emotions and perceived expectations, can be the cause of much miscommunication. From my experience, when you expect a person to behave, act or take on/conform to certain unspoken standards, this is where people feel as though they are never adding up to another’s expectations, or just plane don’t feel enough. And a life’s time worth of feeling as though you’re not adding up is a lonely place to be.

So if we are constantly trying to live up to somebody else’s standards, and we feel as though we’re coming up short, how do we break the cycle of handing the responsibility of living our own lives to others by trying to live up to what they expect of us? I found, for myself anyways, that setting goals and owning my feelings are paramount to taking the leading role in living my own life.

I was so used to deferring the responsibility of the choices that needed to be made during the course of my days to somebody else, that it just became second nature. And there are no shortage of people that are willing to take up that role if you let them. So I first had to recognize what it was that I was running from, in order to take up the reigns of my life again. And this takes patients.

Patients first with you’re emotional experiences and second with finding the ways to best take care of yourself and your emotional needs. If this is something you’ve been leaving for someone else to manage than it is going to be a steep learning curve for sure.

For me, I had left that job for the person I was in relationship with. I had learned this from my caregivers, so I actively sought out this relationship dynamic. And as I’ve said above, there was no shortage of people looking to live my life for me. It wasn’t until I had ended these relationships that I was left with the unsettling truth that I needed to show up for, and live my own life. This was a shock for sure, because it was a dynamic that I was almost completely unaware of until I was left with myself.

I had to make all the decisions for myself, by myself. Everything from grocery shopping and cooking to budgeting, exercise and work decisions. All were left to my better judgements. It was scary and overwhelming at first. I remember feeling as though I couldn’t possibly take on the entire task of living my life all at once. But what I found made the biggest impact, which helped me to make these decisions without being overwhelmed by the scope of them was, patients, and taking things one step at a time.

Taking things slowly was important to learn. To recognize that I didn’t need to do it all at once, that I could take each task on slowly and deliberately. This helped me to not only make healthier choices, but I also had a clearer presence of mind while making the decisions. So I was also making better choices.

And also learning how to be patient with the emotional experiences as they were happening. Knowing when that little voice that pops up, the one that tells you that you need to act immediately, or else! And how to let that voice have its piece, but also not responding from that voice by being patient enough for the feeling of urgency to wear off, in order to then respond from a place that is more calm and able to see the situation from a more clear perspective.

And instead of feeling stressed out and as though you are frantically looking for answers to a situation by yourself, patients with ourselves allows us the time and space necessary to feel comfortable with the connectic feelings of urgency and uncertainty, while also allowing us to take a responsible and grounded approach to taking care of any situation that needs our attention.

For me, one of the ways this has played out in my recent past is in my professional life. I’m currently in the middle of picking up a new role and responsibilities at a new place of employment. I went in for a shift, and it was unlike the experience I was used to in a similar role at a different agency in the past. My first reaction, instinct was to walk away from the role. I thought that “this is unacceptable” and I was unwilling to compromise. This was, for me, the voice of urgency telling me I was in a situation that wasn’t safe.

But I decided to give the issue some more thought. I talked it over with a trusted friend, and came up with some thoughtful and direct questions that would communicate what my concerns were and how I was feeling about everything I was experiencing. But I had to do it on my own. Sure, I got some advice and guidance from a friend, but it was a new perspective that I gained. I still had to go inward and explore what I was feeling about the situation I was getting myself into.

What are my thoughts and feelings about what I’m about to do or plan on doing, and how am I going to address and attune to my feelings. This is where resilience is cultivated. Because essentially, these are the places where you meet your fears, feel them and find out what they are telling you, and then make some decisions about how you’re going to accept the fear, but move through it anyway to a place where you are confident in your ability to progress.

And like most ambitions in life, it’s not always easy. In my taking on a new role in a new position, I had some fears about the role, some concerns about how things are, and how I was used to them being in the past. I then had to be patient with my initial response which was to walk away from it out of fear. And then feel the fear and understand what I was trying to tell myself by exploring why I was uncomfortable. Once I explored my concerns, I then came up with a plan to take care of and attune to my feelings so they didn’t grow unchecked and take control of my actions.

Another step to this process is, being present with the discomfort of the feelings that are arising when I’m exploring and encountering new situations that provoke fear and uncertainty. Because if it wasn’t for the ability to stay with the feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones, then you would be constantly running from the situations that provoke these emotions. Keeping yourself in a comfort zone where you are unable to grow.

And this is how we learn to navigate our fears and anxieties, while moving forward with our lives in a positive direction. Staying flexible enough to face each new feeling that rises to meet us, but also holding our ground and knowing that we are enough to meet and grow through these new situations. Again, not always an easy task, but there’s something to be said for overcoming a challenge.

These are the decisions that we need to take care of, that come into our lives that we all have to face on our own. As I’ve said above, I used to defer this part of self-care and life responsibility to others. I can remember vividly Living with an ex-partner, in an apartment they had found, working at a job I wasn’t very happy with and going to school for something I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do. I had no idea what I was doing in life, but regardless, I just kept on going being propped up by those around me.

And it’s not as though I’m not grateful for those who helped me along the way. But I wasn’t allowing myself to come to terms with where I was in life by surrounding myself with those who were happy to be in a position of caretaking for me. And this is where we had been trapped in an unhealthy cycle of relationship. Me by not facing the emotions I was running from because I thought the responsibility of living my own life was too much, and my partner who was more than happy to tell me what to do and how to be for her own reasons.

And when the relationship finally ended, it came as a surprise to all parties. We were all finally forced to confront what it was that we were avoiding, but what came as the biggest surprise, to me anyway, was that I realized I was strong enough to change.

At the time, it was the affection of another that woke me up, to realizing that I had the ability and strength to face my own fears, but where it really took shape was when I told my partner about my feelings. How someone else’s affections had woken my emotions, something that had been dormant since the trauma, and that I was willing to work on what was right here, the relationship in the unhealthy form it had taken.

Ultimately my partner had said she was unwilling to work on our relationship. I don’t blame her for ending the relationship, only knowing that she, like me, was running from the difficult work of understanding the whole relationship, including the places of fear, vulnerability and uncertainty makes me sad for what we could have been if we had faced those emotions together. But first we need to do the inner work, to know what we are bringing into the relationship.

So if you have found yourself in a similar situation, or know this one well as a place you keep returning to, take heart. Resilience is possible as long as you are patient with yourself and stick around while you’re going through and sorting the difficult emotions. Feeling alone while you are sorting through these emotions is common. But it’s something we all have to face eventually and it also helps to know that you are not the first.

Many have come before you and have done the difficult work of coming to terms with their fears, vulnerabilities and anxieties. And it doesn’t last forever. It may take some time coming to a place of understanding these feelings, but we all get there eventually. I hope this has been of some help to you, and as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Niagara Falls Peaceful Solitude” by ***Bud*** is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Self-Care: Listening to Ourselves When We are Asking for a Rest

When I wake up in the morning, I know I’m usually going to have a pretty long list of things to do during the day. From my hour and fifteen minute commute, to the demands I have to meet at work. The workouts I like to get in, at least twice during the week, to all the budgeting, cooking, cleaning and laundry I have to squeeze in during the week, it gets pretty stressful.

I meditate everyday, for about fifteen minutes, and it’s been invaluable for my mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s taught me patients, how to slow down what I’m doing and listen inwardly to what’s happening inside. I used to react immediately to my emotions, which lead to a lot of regrets and hurt feelings on either end of the relationship and was unconducive to feeling at ease. In fact, the more I sped up, the faster the reaction, the more likely I was to do or say something I would later regret.

So the faster I went, the more hurt I felt, which left me feeling tired and neglected. And I didn’t know any better, it was what was taught to me by my caregivers. And they in turn didn’t know any better either. So we had just been passing down this hurt from generation to generation not really know why we were, or how to stop.

This is where patients with myself made all the difference. Slowing down enough to feel the hurt I had been running from using whatever I could, but mostly keeping myself busy and tired, so I didn’t have to feel what was being neglected. But turning around and feeling so vulnerable in front of what felt like an insurmountable pile of fear and hurt was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to endure. But I did it, and most importantly, I didn’t do it alone.

I now have a long list of tools or resources I’m able to pull from, when I’m feeling tired or like I’m not enough, but that wasn’t always the case. I started with what felt like nothing. Running on empty. Mostly because I was using old resources to fill myself back up. If I could just work hard enough, throw everything I had at how well I did my job, then I could feel worth something. Then I would be accepted. But that hasn’t work for me, and I’m willing to bet a lot of people run into similar results. It mostly left me feeling physically and emotionally hurt and exhausted. And it didn’t stop with work. I was trying to prove myself in all sorts of ways with the same outcome. I was just wearing myself down.

So I was left with what felt like nothing, and on my own, because I was too afraid and wounded emotionally to reach out for help and I didn’t know how, even if I thought it was a good idea. What helped me to wade through the fear and hurt was something I heard later on in my journey, but made immediate sense as soon as I heard it. “Start where you are, with what you have.”

I felt like I had nothing and nobody. What I had was a phone, some headphones, hundreds of hours of podcasts and a handful of loving and supportive friends and family.

The podcasts (thanks again to Tara Brach who really put trauma into perspective for me) helped me to learn how to trust people when it felt like too much to reach out in person while also reinforcing positive messages, that I was strong enough, that I could count on myself and that others were trustworthy. This helped to lighten the load of the negative thoughts I had that had taken up residency in my mind. Knowing that I could tune out the negative while listening to some positive reinforcements, and also that it wasn’t just me feeling the weight of a life’s time worth of emotions, actions and thoughts, but I was doing it with thousands of others, for an hour at a time helped me to feel a little more sane in an otherwise chaotic world.

By the time I felt as though I was strong enough to reach out to others, like I had the resources, the few friends and family I had, that stuck with me were there to start to build the relationships I needed to become stronger than I was on my own. And this is where the load really started to lighten. Knowing I was enough as I was, without having to reach some unachievable standard helped to build strength. Instead of constantly tearing myself down for not feeling as though I was worth someone’s time or effort, mostly my own.

It’s been a crazy journey that’s for sure. And it’s not over, but the weight doesn’t feel as heavy. I now go into my day knowing that even if I’m physically tired or just not up to it, I can rely on the resources and people to help me through the day, or whatever I’m heading into. It doesn’t seem as difficult knowing I can count on them to be there for me when I need them.

But there’s another side to counting on people as resources that’s worth exploring. If the friends or family you do have close in, if they have poor or no boundaries, relying on people as support can feel uncomfortable, like you’re a burden to them, or like you’re using them. This is where it’s important to choose those you keep close carefully. If someone makes you feel as though you are constantly bothering them with your problems, or they ignore or disregard your own personal boundaries, it may be time to take a closer look at the relationship.

For me, I had to evaluate all of my relationships because I had no idea what boundaries were. Salvaging some and severing many, I lost a lot of friends that I thought would be there with me for the rest of my life. I remember vividly, getting together with an old friend at a local Whole Foods to talk and catch up. As we settled into the conversation, I realized she was consistently saying hurtful comments, and it seemed as though she wanted me to return with as much venom. This, I realized later, was the pattern of our old relationship, and she was establishing ground rules, to make sure things hadn’t changed.

Luckily for me they had changed. I forgot how mean spirited I could be, and it was a shock to see my old ways of being so clearly in action. I haven’t spoken much with her after that day, and it’s sad. Sad because there were good times, and people are people, they aren’t objects you can just toss aside. But for me, it’s best to honor the good memories I have while keeping my distance and respecting my boundaries by not allowing myself to be treated with disrespect. Because if you don’t define your boundaries, somebody else will do it for you.

This all seems pretty abstract, but coming up with your own resource list can help you to manage difficulties that come up. For me, I make a selfcare dinner for myself once a week, I have a few friends I reach out to when I’m feeling lonely, a few playlists of songs that remind me of the positive times in my life, running and yoga to help keep me feeling my best, and a few types of teas I enjoy during the day. Sleep is important too. Making sure you’re well rested and have healthy meals are all resources you use to keep yourself at your healthiest version of yourself.

And there’s one more thing that’s worth mentioning, it’s not a race. When I was learning how to care for myself again, I threw everything I had at it. I was going to be the healthiest version of myself and do it in record time! But most of what makes us healthy takes time and patients. Building supportive relationships doesn’t happen in a weekend. You need to tend to them over time and consistently to yield fruitful bonds. And rest often, there’s no sense in being the healthiest version of yourself if you’re too tired to enjoy it.

I hope this has been of some help. It can be difficult when you first start out, looking to make things better for yourself. Just know that if you are consistent and show patients toward yourself, you will be alright in the end. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Exhausted Salaryman” by hiromy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0