Self Confidence: Surrounding Yourself with Positive Messages can Help to Heal Old Wounds of Not Feeling Like you’re Adding Up

I’ve been thinking about how I view myself lately. Where I am in life as opposed to where I thought I would be. What I’d like to be doing for a career. How I’d be spending my days, who I’d be spending my days with. Where I’d like to be living… The list goes on. But I’m realizing now that I spend an awful lot of time focusing on where I’d like to be as opposed to where I am. This does not bode well for my self confidence.

Be Here Now, Accept Where You’re At

This isn’t a new story. For example, it’s what the meditation community means when they say, “be here now”. But it’s amazing how much of my time goes to focusing on where I think I should be. Especially since I know that focusing on the here and now would be so much more beneficial for my peace of mind. So why do I and most likely others, focus on the future? Or where we feel we should be instead of the where we are?

I find it’s because I’m not accepting where I am in the moment. I feel I should be in a different, better place than the one I’m in. So my brain makes plans and fixates on how I can change my current situation for the better. And we need to make plans for the future. It’s an important dimension of how we grow as humans. But when it’s all we think about we’re not allowing ourselves to grow into the future. Instead we remaining stagnant in the past and present.

Focusing on the Past Leaves Us Stagnant

It often feels like we’re focusing on how nothing is ever good enough in the here and now. We’re always working towards some brighter future instead. Lacking the confidence in ourselves to be happy in the present. And if we ease up and let ourselves enjoy the moment or take our eyes off of our goals, we will be failures. Doomed to live an unfulfilling life. Or at least that’s how I feel.

This seems a little dramatic, but that’s often how it feels most of the time when we get hyper focused on where we should be. There’s a psychological term for it that Tara Brach sometimes talks about. It’s called the negativity bias. It’s when your fear of the possible negative outcome of a situation takes control of your thoughts and emotions. And if you’ve dealt with trauma in your past, the negativity bias may be a stronger force for you than most and reek havoc on your self confidence.

I know this is true for myself. Especially when I’m building relationships with friends or new acquaintances. I was made fun of and belittled so often by my caregivers in the past and nothing was off limits. Living under the constant critical eye of my caregivers, I felt like no matter what I did it was never enough. I had no self confidence to speak of and to make matters worse, I had no one to tell me what to do to gain the approval I so desperately needed. I just wanted to feel loved and belonging. This was a confusing setting to grow up in.

When the Past Feels Like it’s Holding Us Back or Leaving an Unhealthy Legacy

As I said in my post about How we treat our pantries and how it’s related to how we nourish ourselves, one of the ways I was criticized for was being overweight. This was an area of great confusion. Since my caregivers were feeding me and criticizing me for being overweight at the same time. And all the while with no clear direction on how to properly feed myself. Or ways to live a healthier lifestyle. I’ve since learned how to regulate my body weight, but it’s been a bumpy road to say the least.

Consequences of a Difficult Past Legacy

In my more recent past, I would come home from a long day at work, run three miles and doing yoga for 40 minutes. And I would be fueled by only a small breakfast I ate at 7am. After one of these poorly structured days of under eating and over exercising, I got into the shower after my workout at 5:30pm and I passed out. I was pushing myself too hard for too long and with too little food to run on.

These were the ways I taught myself how to manage the feelings of lack of self confidence and being criticized and neglected by my caregivers. Those who were supposed to show me how to love and be loved. I ignored my body’s limits with little nourishment and a harsh exercise regiment. Instead of showing myself love, I pushed myself beyond what I could handle. And I looked at myself with the same critical eye that had been handed to me by my caregivers. I essentially became abusive to myself in the ways I was abused in the past. All so I could feel a sense of belonging because I didn’t feel the confidence of who I was. If I could look thin enough, be attractive enough, maybe then I would finally feel like I belonged. As though someone approved of me.

Changing the Script

I don’t want to belong that way anymore. I knew that something needed to change with the ways that I was relating to myself and my lack of confidence. But I wasn’t sure where to begin. That’s when I decided to start where I was. In the present. Taking an active role and finding out how I was criticizing and neglecting myself. I started by focusing on the areas where I either couldn’t feel anything, because I was so numb, or where I felt bad about myself and who I was.

As it turns out, there were a lot of areas in my life where I felt this lack of confidence. I had been punishing myself in the same vein as my caregivers for so long, that I realized I didn’t even know how to be kind to myself! And I needed to learn how to attune to my own needs desperately. Essentially, I was reparenting myself. Because I had no one to show me how and no map to guide me.

Reparenting Myself, Gaining Self Confidence

I believe my reparenting started with me saying affirmations to myself during my meditation. If you’ve read my post on affirmations, you’ll know that I say them daily. They’re like an anchor for me when I’m feeling adrift. A way to help refocus on what my intentions truly are and the positive I’m trying to cultivate in my life.

And almost as a natural extension of saying my affirmations, I leave them around my personal space as well. For example I make a lot of lists. I use Google Keep which is a great tool because you can make a ton of lists or notes and they update in the cloud. So if you take a note on your phone, you can read it later on your laptop.

Keeping it Positive

I’ve been in the habit of putting short affirmations in with the titles of my lists or notes. On my todo list I’ve written, “never give up on your dreams”. This helps me to stay focused on the goals that I set for myself. On how I’d like to live my life. On the note I keep for my journal, when something comes to me and I don’t have my bullet journal to write it down, I put, “I’m here, I care.” I also have a few more scattered around to help me keep with a positive mindset.

My parents keep a daily affirmation calendar in the kitchen and will often leave pages laying around that strike a chord with them. I took a page from their book and hung one near my night stand that says, “work hard, relax harder”. It’s a little cheesy, but the message is something that I definitely need to heed more often. Read about my exercise regiment above as reference 🙂

I also put the pictures of two of my role models as wallpaper on my phone, Dana from Minimalist Baker and Adrienne from yoga with Adrienne. They’re to remind me of not only what my goals are, but also that there are healthy role models. Growing up there weren’t many healthy adult role models in my life. Knowing now that I can choose to surround myself with the presence of those who inspire me and bring me confidence and comfort is a great source of strength. Feeling that connection, even if only online, is a huge resource for me. Especially when I’m feeling low or a lack of confidence. When I turn on my phone I see one of their smiling faces and it brightens my mood almost instantly. My confidence come back. It’s a slow process, but I’m healing.

Stay Focused on Your Goals

In the same vein as my phone wallpaper, my laptop screen saver is a half dozen or so photos of how I’d like my future home to look. Like the messages on my todo list, these photos help to keep me focused on my future goals. They also bring the added comfort of knowing that I’m actively working towards these goals. That I’m not giving up on them, no matter how far away they seem.

Pinterest has a similar feeling and approach to affirmations in the ways I use and talk about them. Visualizing what you are dreaming of as a way to bring them into fruition. Visual affirmations, aka vision boards. For example it’s one thing to know that you’d like to live in the mountains some day. But if you keep some of your favorite photos from hiking trips around, you have the pictures as reminders of what the hard work you’re putting in towards your future goals could manifest.

Practice Self-Care

A self-care routine is another great way to practice affirmations and build confidence. When I cook dinner for my self-care Sundays ritual, I’m sending myself the message that I’m here, right now, to take care of my emotional and physical needs. To build the emotional support around the areas that I was criticized and neglected for in the past. Such as food and cooking while building self confidence in being able to meet my needs. And knowing that you’re here for yourself is so important to knowing that you are worth your time and effort to take for yourself. This is what self love looks like.

Don’t Forget Your Relationships

Also the relationships we keep are a huge part of the ways we can boost our confidence and feel more supported. But if we’re not careful, it can be a quick way to tear ourselves down. As I mentioned above, I was cut down so many times by the people that were supposed to show me how to love and how to love myself, that I had almost zero ability to maintain a healthy, supportive relationship. First with myself, then with others.

First with myself in that since I was never shown how to be kind to myself. Mostly what I had were the old negative messages bouncing around in my mind. So I picked up right where my caregivers left off. By taking those messages of criticism and replaying them over and over. If a feeling of fear came, I would tell myself, “a real man could handle this. Are you a real man?” And when I couldn’t handle the fear, I would turn to some other way of self soothing. Either with lots of coffee in the morning or beer at night.

Repairing the Damage

And when you’re dealing with neglect and verbal abuse, it can feel like you’re being bleed to death by a thousand tiny cuts in the form of negative messages. These small but effective affirmations are akin to fixing a thousand tiny bandages to those cuts. It isn’t always easy and it’s definitely a practice. But the more often you patch up these tiny wounds by way of these small affirmations to yourself, the more your affirmations come to soothe and protect you.

Hurtful Reminders of Past Relationships

Another aspect of the relationships we keep are those of close friends and family. My caregivers and support system growing up weren’t held together by feelings of love and belonging. There aren’t many times where I can look back and say, “those were some good times”.

For the most part we were mean, critical and judgmental towards one another. Most of the ways we communicated with and to one another was through making someone feel less than you. Or by making them feel excluded. As though they didn’t belong. This was a difficult environment to grow up in. And I imagine it would have hurt emotionally if we weren’t so numb from all the alcohol we were drinking to keep ourselves from feeling the extent of our actions and attitudes towards one another.

Bonds that Erode Confidence Weren’t Meant to Last

And the friendships I cultivated weren’t much different from the ways I learned to belong with my family. This isn’t too much of a surprise, but it’s one that left me alone. I would go out drinking with my friends and we would say and do the most hurtful things to one another. But by the time we had another drink, we would have almost completely forgotten about it. But this worked to erode confidence as well.

This was fine while we were drinking. But when I stopped drinking to excess and focused on living a healthier lifestyle, I realized that almost all of my friends had vanished. Without the alcohol to hold us together we drifted apart. It’s sad to think about now, but the relationships I was keeping weren’t sustainable in the least.

Making Healthier Choices About the Friendships We Keep

It’s worth mentioning that I had to sever a few ties I had with friends who were just unhealthy for me. They aren’t bad people, but how they live their lives runs counter to the ways I am now showing up for and taking care of myself. I didn’t do this lightly. So if you plan on reevaluating some of your friendships, do it with care. It’s painful to cut ties. My advice would be, for your own peace of mind, make sure there isn’t something you can do to salvage the relationship. But don’t hold on to something that isn’t working at the expense of your self worth. It is definitely not worth it.

Pay the Compliment

As a part of learning how to be in healthy relationships, I’m now in the habit of complimenting people more often. Especially friends. When I enjoy something someone took time and effort to put together, I let them know. Or if someone does something well at work, I’ll mention it to them. It may not seem like much, but these small interactions and comments add up over time. These are the foundations of feeling like a trustworthy and supportive friend. They also help to build confidence in each other as well.

Someone who is there when you need them and not afraid to show their affection. Someone who will not withhold their love from you to feel more desired. Especially from those who are supposed to be our support network! This is what healthy connection looks like. I had a girlfriend who would often say, “pay the compliment”. And she was right, it makes a difference.

This type of support is so important to feeling a sense of self value and confidence. Feeling confident in who we are, as friends, husbands, wives, parents, co-workers… We need one another to feel this value. To build one another up. To be the love and support for one another that will help us to be and live the healthiest versions of ourselves and our lives.

Tending to These Connections

It’s worth mentioning that finding your tribe is something that takes effort to do and sustain. It’d be nice if once you’re friends with someone, all they’re ever going to be is loving support. So you have that covered 😀 But the reality is, we all do and say things that rub each other the wrong way sometimes. Maybe someone’s having an off day or being insensitive to how we’re feeling.

Those times will come up, and it’s especially important to keep an open mind in those moments. Try not to focus on how you were hurt. Instead, try thinking of ways to communicate how you’re feeling to your friend. Most likely they weren’t looking to hurt you. A simple, direct conversation will most likely leave everybody feeling a bit more at ease. And this will also work to build a stronger connection in your friendship. Patching up the cracks together and working to resolve problems usually leads to tighter bonds.

Healing Our Confidence in Ourselves and Each Other

Healing from the ways that our confidence has been abused is not a simple task. It takes a lot of self-care and support to feel like you are valued again. And usually the person that is holding ourselves back is ourselves! But it’s possible. And with the support and love from friends and family, also showing up for yourself in the form of self-care and positive affirmations, we can learn to give ourselves the value and confidence that we never had. It takes time and patience, but don’t ever forget that you’re worth it.

I hope this helps in some way. Tara Brach has some dharma talks on healing self doubt if you’re looking for some more support. Her talks helped to keep me company when I felt completely alone. Knowing that there is a community of people out there doing good work for the sake of helping others feels like a warm hug. Seeking the help of a professional is also an excellent resource. I worked through some difficult emotions with the help of my therapist. And I am grateful for their kind natured ability to listen without judgement. Let me know of any resources you found that work for you in the comments section below. Maybe we can be each other’s resources together 🙂 Peace, and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Nervous?” by Freddie Peña is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Updated: 8/2/22

Finding Your Emotions in an Emotionless Family: What Happens When They are not Only Taboo, but Just Plain Feared

I was having breakfast with a friend a few days ago when I found myself feeling very uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure why at first, but then it came to me after I had left the coffee shop to go for a walk in the woods. He was talking about vulnerability and how self compassion was different from self confidence. At the time this seemed reasonable enough. His wife had just sent him an article about self-compassion and how it leads to success. But the language he was using was making me feel frightened.

Realizing You Don’t Know How to Talk About Emotions

This seemed strange to me. I often explore my own emotional states. So why should talking about them bring up such a reaction? I tried searching my memories for other times I felt uncomfortable discussing emotionally charged topics. It was then that I realized that I don’t talk about emotions. With my family at all and friends seldom. I was stunned.

Growing up in my family, we never spoke about how we were feeling. Or how a situation had an affect on us. I actually only recently found out there was a difference between the words affect and effect. I should also mention that I have a degree in English and writing! So it was no surprise that I was as uncomfortable as I was. My friend was speaking another language completely. One I had no idea how to navigate.

Using Emotions as a Weapon

I’m realizing now that in my family, emotions were something to be used. Or they were manipulated to get something from someone. This bred a distrust and fear of emotions. Especially vulnerability. It was like opening a wound over and over again, to get the lifeblood of the other while leaving the person to bleed out. It was uncomfortable to say the least.

And with this type emotional practice between “loved ones”, it’s amazing that any of us were able to feel anything at all. We were all so hyper-vigilant about what the other person was going to say about us, that it was close to impossible to build trust and love in our relationships. Fear and resentment were the result of this type of connection. I also remember feeling as though I was never meet their expectations.

Covering Over the Wounded Emotions

So, in lieu of love and understanding, my family fell back on the old standby of drinking and other forms of distraction to numb the pain of not feeling accepted or belonging. Shopping was another way we chose to numb the hurt. The thought was, maybe by fitting into whatever trend was popular, we could feel the acceptance we were lacking from those that were holding it back.

Though, those methods didn’t work to ease the pain of not feeling belonging. Drinking however worked to make us mean. Something my family excelled at. Drinking was a way for us to turn off our filters, so we could let loose on the other and say how we were feeling. But in a way that would make the other feel as unloved and afraid. And how we felt was cut apart. If you’ve ever seen Bacon’s “Figure with Meat“, it was akin to feeling like this. Split wide, tender and vulnerable.

In a State of Emotional Shock, Not Being Able to Feel

And as I’ve said in previous posts, I didn’t know what feelings were until my early thirties. This has mostly to do with the traumatic events that I’ve experienced. This left me in a state of emotional shock. But add on to that a life’s time worth of critical, cutting and mean natured remarks, intended to wound on impact and you have a different type of trauma.

With the quality of our relationships, it’s no wonder that we were so afraid of our own emotions and those of others. Why would you want to explore the areas of yourself that have been so thoroughly wounded, rejected, abused and manipulated by those who were supposed to love and support you? This was how I learned to abandon and neglect my emotional self.

Learning to Leave

Every time I had an emotion that reminded me of the ways that I cared for my family, fear came up. Front and center. This made it almost impossible to feel comfort or care for myself. Because anytime those feelings would come up, I would then be bowled over by fear and anxiety for not feeling like I was worthy of self-care and love. But also because I had few memories of what it meant to feel loved by those who were supposed to show me how.

So after I realized I was leaving my emotions, my job then became learning the language of my emotions. Especially those closest related to love and care. Without knowing what they were without being entangled in fear and anxiety. It was like trying to give shape and names to what was right in front of me, but hidden from my senses. It was maddening.

Leading the Way Without a Map

But I made the journey regardless of how difficult it was. Having faith that things would work out. And I had a lot of help along the way too. Without which, I don’t like to think about where I would be. But my journey began with giving up what Tara Brach calls, the false refuges. One of the biggest ones for me was drinking. Because that’s when I was most self-destructive, mean spirited and critical of others.

I now have a beer with my Self-Care Sunday dinner, and once and a while when I’m out with friends. But the difference between now and then is, now I’ve set healthy boundaries with my drinking. Meaning I only have one or two. I also check in with how I’m feeling while drinking. Because my boundaries were so poor and self-destructive, I needed to regain some trust in myself. To do the right thing when it comes to the areas of my life I had abused for so long.

Walking Away From the Chaos

And it was jarring. Reawakening to my emotional life was strange, scary and at times just plane terrifying. And it took time. It wasn’t a one shot. Where I felt loving and gentle to myself and others and never again felt fear or relived past traumas again. It takes time. Because healing is a process. There’s a phrase in the meditation community that goes, “sit, stay, heal,”. I love this saying because it encompasses this sentiment with such accuracy.

Learning how to be patient with myself was probably the turning point for helping me to learn and give name to my emotional life. It was the one tool that helped me to allow the emotions to just be. Without using something to push it away long enough for me to give it name and know it’s presence. It was then that I was able to recognize them for the emotions they were. And not the fear provoking trauma they were attached to.

And finally, it taught me to go slow. Emotions can be overwhelming. So when in doubt, stand back and give yourself some space to see a little more clearly. If I could give one bit of advice to you on your own healing journey, it’s to be kind and go slow. It takes time to learn to love again. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Closeup on the Linen Book/Mummy Wrappings of the Lost Etruscan Language” by Curious Expeditions is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 7/29/22

Selling Image, Selling Belonging

Buying Into Belonging

Finding Belonging isn’t always easy. So naturally there are many ways to take advantage of our not feeling belonging. For example, there’s a store nearby that sells all things home related. Bedding, mugs, kitchen wares, furniture and the like. And, as part of my evening routine I’ve been in the habit of burning candles. I find they set a relaxing tone with their ambient light and they help to ease some of the stress from the day. So off I went, to said local store, in search of some candles.

As I was looking through the candles on the shelf, opening them up to see if their scent was something I’d enjoy, I came to one that had “Namaste” written in playful cursive across the front. I enjoyed the scent so I picked it up and walked to the check-out line. I was feeling a little off buying the candle for some reason that I couldn’t place. The message seemed to be in line with my meditation and yoga practice, so it wasn’t the phrase. If anything the word should have brought me some peace of mind.

Image and Belonging

I bought the candle anyway, brought it home, unwrapped it and left it on my shelf next to some plants. I looked at it again and still found I had some aversion to the lettering and the word. It vaguely reminded me of something my sister would purchase. It was white, floral scented, nothing assumingly off about it. Then I understood what was bothering me about it.

The candle itself was fine, it was what it was trying to sell me that bothered me. The image of what it feels like to have the divine in me, recognize the divine in you, that had me feeling a bit off. I was being sold a gender specific version of how the world should be viewed according to the ethos of the company that made the candle. I was buying into the image of the store who was selling the candle and supporting the message with my purchase, all to feel belonging.

Gender Roles and Image Branding

If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know that buying into gender specific roles such as self-care being a woman’s job, were the teachings I received from my early caregivers. And something I’ve been re-parenting myself around. Knowing that feelings and emotions are not gender specific, but part of the human experience. Also that self-care is just part of it, has not been easy.

And the feeling that this candle’s branding seemed to embody is that emotional peace and well-being are only available for a specific demographic. Most likely active, young and fresh smelling women. Who are probably successful, tan, wear a lot of white, and burned the types of candles I just purchased. Probably in an immaculate house, next to a freshly washed and folded stack of white linens. This all seems absurd to me. Or at very least, that I need someone who filled that description to provide for me the care I could not give myself. Which seems equally as absurd.

How We’re Raised and How That Effects Our Views

I recognize that I have a biased view considering my upbringing. And if someone finds peace of mind by burning that candle, I’m happy for them. But I feel there is a large gap in the yoga community, where men aren’t represented. This too can be a loaded topic. I’m sure women have found yoga to be a healing outlet. One to get in touch with their bodies in a healthy way. Especially after experiencing trauma or abuse. Most likely at the hands of men. But this still leaves men in my situation of not knowing whether or not they belong.

If we believe the gender specific ideas we are being sold by companies like the one who made the candle I bought, then yoga and that form of stress reduction belongs squarely in the realm of the feminine.

And I don’t mean to argue that the yoga community is gender bias. I’ve always felt welcome at every class I’ve attended. I’ve also had excellent instructors both male and female. But the idea that I somehow got a gender specific correlation with the candle I bought was unsettling. That I was sold a gender specific sense of belonging to a community where, according to the candle company’s sales team, I don’t belong.

Feeling Belonging is Important

I could be reading into this a bit. I have a minor in communications so the critical side of me comes to the forefront whenever I see advertising involved. Especially involving something I’m interested in. But I feel like this candle is part of a larger problem. If we hear time and again that something we’re interested in is exclusive to a certain demographic, we may begin to feel like an outsider. Like we’re not worthy of belonging.

The term “yoga pants” comes to mind as I’ve never heard them in reference to men, always how a woman looks in them. And if some of the joy we derive from our interests involves being a part of a community, then we could be missing out on the quality of our experiencing what brings us joy.

Repetitive Messaging and Our Belonging

And having a constant reminder on display is a good way to let a message settle in and get comfortable. Not to mention the advertising that we are inundated with day in and day out. While companies vy for our resources at the expense of excluding large groups of people. Their message being that you don’t belong. You’re not welcome here unless you fit our standards.

I could have just left the candle on the shelf. I could just chalk it up to not being in line with my personal taste. But it doesn’t feel right just to let it stand. The way I’m sure it doesn’t feel right the way some women may feel uncomfortable when they decide to put on a pair of yoga pants for fear of being ogled on there way to a yoga class or a coffee shop. The coercion of being corralled into thinking that you don’t belong to what you find enjoyable. That and feeling manipulated into unease around what usually sparks joy.

What We Can do About it

And I did like the candle. It was simple, white and had black lettering. I just didn’t like the implied image it was selling. So what’s the solution? How do we undo what advertisers and large corporations have successfully accomplished? Using an impressive amount of resources to brand their products to a target demographic? How do we shed our targets and live a little truer to our authenticity? Let’s look at some of the ways we may be taken advantage of, to understand better how to recognize and sidestep the trappings we often find ourselves in.

What’s Trending

Trends can be fun. It can feel nice to be part of something that is just for enjoyment. For instance, liking a new band for their hit song can be a pleasant way to remember a time and place. And the people you connected with at that time without going too deep. But there are a lot of ways that our wanting to feel belonging can be taken advantage of. Usually for someone else’s profit.

Trying to Buy Belonging

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was kind of obsessed with Pottery Barn. I liked the clean lines and muted tones they used while still feeling rustic. It was how I pictured my future home to look. Filled with a clean, conservative aesthetic. At the time I was planning to go to school for journalism. So I imagined I’d have a serious and important role to fill. Informing the masses of misdeeds and lapses in morality from those who held positions of power. And of course I needed a desk that would look as important as how I felt my duties would be.

So naturally I spent a large sum of money on a desk that held little more than a decanter of whiskey or scotch. Also don’t forget about the matching chess table which sat next to it. As though my desk was so important that it needed an assistant. I was just barely scraping by working as a social worker and had probably just enough money for groceries. More like beer actually. Buying an expensive desk from Pottery Barn that I barely used was definitely not in the budget. But there I was, with an expensive desk in an empty room. How did this happen? How was I so manipulated into feeling that this desk would not only help me to achieve my goals, but help conjure them into fruition? It starts with what we find value in.

Finding Value In Ourselves Not Our Things

What I didn’t realize at the time was, that the desk I purchased played to my perceived values. I thought that buying something that looked like those who had those values would have, would then thrust me into the mindset/mentality of the values that I wished to embody. Along with underlying currents of confusing taste and style with what I valued.

For example, I was a hippy in my late teens. Something I haven’t really shed. Mostly because of the feelings of when I was first introduced to the culture. Also the aesthetic was so positive, along with many of the values that most modern day hippies embody, are still in line with my current values. I.e. recycling, organic farming and living sustainably while fostering open and caring community. All aspects of the culture I value. Also values I wish to embody in my day to day life. Including my clothing and style.

Knowing When You Are Embodying Your Values and Not the Values of the Things You Own

There is also a serious side to me that very much likes order and to bring structure to chaos. So the rustic feel of the desk, looking as though it were made from reclaimed barn wood. Blended with the clean polished lines of the industrial, flat black, minimalist metal frame and the wood’s mirror finish, the desk appealed to both sides of me simultaneously. My enjoyment of a caring, natural community, represented by the look of reclaimed barn wood, mixed with the clean metal and highly glossed wood finish that filled my need for order. Both lead me to believe that this desk represented my values.

But it was not substitute for them. This is the trap that most people fall into when purchasing things they feel are in line with their values. The same ways I did with the desk. The wood was not reclaimed. In fact it was most likely harvested in a way that was environmentally unsound. Something not in line with my values.

You Can’t Buy Your Values

So it was no surprise that after buying the piece of furniture, I was left with my manipulated values sitting at my desk wondering, “why do I feel empty”. As though something didn’t add up. This was the other message that was being sold to me. That you could buy your values. Values from my experience are, something that you work to embody. Something practiced. Not something bought. In order to feel fulfilled from your values, you must first put the hours in.

But that takes work. Something I was not inclined to do in my twenties. And if I could buy a desk that looked the part, while allowing me to avoid the work I could have been putting in, then that was what my younger self would do. Of course at the time I was unaware of the dynamic at play. I was just trying to fill a part. One that looked most appealing and trendy at the time. Luckily for me there are plenty of stores willing to aid me in looking to avoid work.

So therein lies the danger. Being told that buying something that seems to embody your values is just as good as putting the work in to practice your values. And companies spend a lot of resources in order to sell you an image. Of what it feels and looks like, to embody your values by using their product.

The Perennial Problem

I’m not stating anything new here. And I hope I’m not blowing any minds. But I’m often surprised at how it feels like every generation finds another way of buying into this system of buying values. I feel a large part of this cycle is perpetuated by the feeling of a lack of belonging. If we’re trying to fill our sense of self worth with the values we hold closest but only have a desk to represent our values, then we’re left as I was. Behind a desk, feeling confused and a little empty.

Feeling confused and a little like a empty left me thinking “why do I feel this way?”. Which led to me feeling slightly guarded, not wanting people to see that I wasn’t confident in myself and the values I was trying to represent. The vulnerability of not knowing that the things I buy don’t guaranty my belonging, but also of not knowing what would if I couldn’t buy it.

Where Are We Learning These Lessons

These feelings and beliefs are deeply entrenched in our society. I know I’ve learned them not only from companies with assistance from large advertising firms, but also from my family. I mentioned this in my Search for a Blog page. When you question your own belonging to the people who are supposed to accept and love you unconditionally, there’s usually a fear that comes with the uncertainty.

“Who will or could love me now”, may take the place of love and belonging. And if we let it, it will dominate our thoughts and actions in our relationships. This is where I believe Brene Brown’s phrase, “hustling for worthiness”, may take control of our reasoning selves. If we feel we’ve been rejected by the people we love most, than the most important goal becomes how do I get back what I lost.

That’s when we turn to whatever feels good in the moment. Or somebodies “answer” to your feeling a lack of belonging. What Tara Brach refers to as “false refuges”. This could be anything from alcohol to shopping (as were the cases with me and my family). But also drugs or even using other people, are also examples of false refuges. And unsurprisingly, they aren’t sustainable and they usually cause harm to ourselves and others. Which is why they’re named false refuges.

Finding Our Way To Belonging

So how do we find our way out of these trappings of the false refuges or hustling for worthiness? One way is through acts of self-care. If you’ve read my post on why self-care is so important, you’ll know that it’s a way of dialoguing with our emotions. And also getting to know who we are and what we need to feel belonging. Most importantly to ourselves. Or as my dad likes to say, “be yourself, everyone else is already taken” -Oscar Wilde. Showing yourself that you care, you’re a priority, gives you the courage to find what your values are. The you without the “hustle”, or the “false refuges”.

Be Patient

Other ways to avoid the hustle is to be patient. After you know what your values are and you’re embodying those values by practicing them, dialogue with how something new makes you feel. After the excitement of something new subsides, is what you’re doing a way to practice your values? Or is it just novelty?

More often than not, the things that you do to bring joy to you practicing your values, won’t cost money. For instance, if you value spending time with friends, cooking a meal together can be more intimate and enjoyable than eating out. Or a rowdy night at the bar. But going to see a concert together can be a joyful experience as well. So it’s important to take a deeper look as to why you’re doing something. And ultimately it’s you that will know the answer. AKA, trust yourself.

Be Trusting and Forgiving

And sometimes we’ll make mistakes. After all, advertising is a large industry designed to make you spend your money. So be forgiving when you do stumble. Just because you’ve been fleeced, doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to feel unwanted or unloved. Stay true to and trust your values, they’ll guide the way.

I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way. It isn’t always easy, but don’t worry, the work becomes easier the more you do it :] Good luck and Peace.

Image Credits: “1960s Advertising – Magazine Ad – Campbell’s Soup (USA)” by ChowKaiDeng is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Self Care: Taking Care of Your Professional Needs

Being professional. For some, careers come naturally. From an early age, some may know what they want to do and pursue that interest in a professional setting. Others may take a little longer to find where their passions lay. Maybe they read an article that sparked their interest and with it, a desire to understand and learn more. Others may have admired a role model or someone who exemplified the spirit of who they want to become. Others may not have been so lucky.

Finding Your Barings

If you were like me you had no idea what you wanted to do as a professional and no one around to tell you how important it is to find fulfilling work. I was talking to a friend recently and she summed up what it was like for both of us growing up. She said she had no problem going the traditional college route, but there was a turnoff on the career path that wasn’t clearly marked. Showing her how to convert what is interesting to her and to borrow a sentiment from Marie Condo, what “sparks joy” into a fulfilling and professional career.

This isn’t a new story for sure. That’s why popular phrases such as, “that’s why it’s called work” or something another friend of mine’s wife said to him, “you act as though your the first person to not enjoy their job” are prevalent. These may be true statements and there are aspects of every job that may be less than palatable for those doing them. But what about finding meaning in the work we’re doing. Or at least getting behind the values or moral compass of the company we work for. Shouldn’t that make our work, regardless of how tedious some tasks may be, more fulfilling?

Know Your Values

I would argue yes. And to use an extreme example to illustrate my point, if I worked for a company that was knowingly destroying the environment I would feel less satisfied than if I worked at a place where all our single use disposables were compostable. Now we all have our own standards by which we judge fulfillment, but there is a common thread. And that is a sense of joy and even pride in our contribution to something larger.

If we’re left in the category of, I don’t know what I want to do and I don’t know how to get there, then there are a few things you can do to help find your path. For starters we can ask ourselves what our values are. There are tests out there that can help with this aspect.

You Want Me to Take a Test?!

Carl Jung’s personality type test is a good place to begin. It starts by breaking down your tendencies and illustrates the patterns you are most likely to fall into by placing you in four of eight possibilities. If you’re not familiar with them they are, introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, feeling/thinking and judgement/perception. There are 16 possible combinations and it’s best to not read them until after you take the test. There are a number of places online where you can take the test and for free as well.

Then there’s the enneagram test. This test shows you which archetype you most resemble. Some examples of archetypes you could be classified as are, lover, thinker, leader, reformer… There are also free resources online for this test as well. I’m not as familiar with this one but it seems to help some people so it’s worth looking into if you’re starting from scratch.

These tests can be helpful to finding your values but they are just aids for self discovery. These test methods have devoted followers and can be somewhat polarizing. Don’t forget that no one test should be able to define who you are or your values. It’s worth remembering that even though you may fall into a certain personality type that you very much connect with, in some way you are all aspects of each type.

It’s Not All About the Money, But It’s Nice to Know How Much to Ask For

Now let’s say you have a career you are passionate about and find joy and fulfillment from. Do you know how much you should be compensated for the work you do? Often times people don’t know what they should be asking for when it comes to pay and benefits. Or that this area is even negotiable.

It took me a long time to understand that the experience I have is worth something to my employer. I was always taught that I should just be grateful that I have a job and to work as hard as possible. Sacrificing myself and time for the people I worked for regardless of how they treated me. I was taught that loyalty was most important and self sacrifice was a given.

This type of dedication isn’t inherently bad. There’s a lot to be said for someone’s character who holds these values close. It’s when these values are taken for granted and expected as given while being taken advantage of by either abuse of time or compensation. If you don’t know how you should be compensated there’s a good chance that your employer does and may be willing to take advantage of your ignorance.

That being said there are a lot of fair employers out there. But it’s best to be prepared and not leave something this valuable up to chance. And even with a fair employer, I’ve worked many a place where someone held some resentment for the sacrifices they weren’t asked to make because of the unfair standard they held themselves up against.

Legacy of Secrecy: When Your Role Models Don’t Role Model well

In my family, money wasn’t just not talked about, it was treated as a secret so volatile, that the mere mention of the subject set everybody in the room on edge. This was a topic that was downright feared in most people’s families from the generations of the 70’s and prior. I’m not sure what the reason for this was, but it got in the way of my family building trusting bonds that would be able to withstand difficult times.

My advice, if you’re coming from a similar background is, to talk openly and often about your financial situation. Now this doesn’t mean telling everybody your checking account number, but talking about promotions, pay scale, debt and other broad strokes of your financial situation shouldn’t be grounds for being ostracized from your family unit.

For starters, being open with your pay to others is a good way to gage what your cohort is making. It also acts as a way to keep employers honest. If everybody has an idea of what everybody else is making, then those who don’t know their monetary value will be less likely to be taken advantage of.

These situations are all too common and can be avoided by setting healthy work boundaries. Unfortunately this isn’t often talked about and something not everyone is taught to do. There are websites such as Salary.com and PayScale, where you can determine what your rate of pay should be. And hopefully avoid situations like these altogether. Or try reaching out to a friend and asking their opinion who is in a similar situation.

Take a Breather, You’ve Earned It

And don’t forget to take some time to yourself. Take a long weekend, go visit a friend or a place you enjoy. Or discover a new city. Take in the sights and enjoying a relaxing dinner. Don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor and develop your personal likes and interests. No matter how much fulfillment you get from your work, if you don’t balance it with some time to yourself you can become drained and one dimensional.

Hopefully, with the right attitude and drive, you will be doing the work that brings you joy and you will be compensated fairly for your time and experience. Also setting healthy boundaries for yourself by being honest with how much you are able to give, and when to take time for yourself. Just remember, it’s possible and don’t give up. Peace and thanks for reading : )

“Notabli Offices” by brettchalupa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 2/13/2022

Self Care: Do you Know What you Want?

Here’s a question that you may hear when you are out getting coffee or something to eat. “Do you know what you would like?” We’re asked this question often enough but if you’re like me I’m willing to bet that you often go on what you are used to instead of what you actually feel like having. Some of this has to do with the degree of importance of the task at hand.

For instance, we don’t have to search our feelings everytime we get to the counter at our favorite coffee shop to find out what our deepest self wants to drink for a morning beverage. If you like mochas, it’s probably a safe bet to order a mocha. But somethings are worth the time to investigate.

Learning to Listen Ain’t Easy

If you’ve read my post, “Self Care: Spiritual, Meditation, Am I Doing This Right?” you’ll know that I was raised in a man’s man family. This included most of the macho cliche standards of what it means to be men. Among them, not having feelings, getting what they want when they want it and that being vulnerable was a sign of weakness… the list keeps going. But basically what this meant for me was some things men just didn’t do.

This was tough for me, because one thing men didn’t do in my family was raise children. This was a job done by women. So to my chagrin when my mother told me she didn’t know how to raise a man, that left me pretty much on my own. What this meant for me was, I had know idea how to pursue and develop interests or even to find out what I liked. I was so focused on whether or not I fit in that I didn’t stop to think, “am I doing what I like?”

On top of that when I found out what I liked ran counter to my learned ideas of what men “should” like and act like, I was confused. In the world I knew, men weren’t supposed to like yoga or the Grateful Dead. Men weren’t supposed to be vegetarian or vegan or like running.

They were supposed to lift weights so they could be strong and in charge and hold their own in a fight if they had to. Men weren’t supposed to be about peace and love but they showed anger freely and often. The world I grew up in, men hunted and grilled, drank beer and swilled scotch while watching football. I’m not trying to say that any of those ways of being or personal interests are inherently bad, but when your acceptance hinges on whether or not you fit a specific mold or set of criteria, therein lies a problem. So now that I’ve explored some of the pitfalls of how I didn’t know what it was that I liked, I’m going to take a look at how I found where my interests do lay.

Taking the Deep Dive

It started with knowing how I felt. Truly felt, without the influence of drugs or alcohol or the threat of being cut off from belonging by those who “loved” me. But that took some digging.

First, I had to change the ways I was doing things. I had to slow down first, which meant not drinking so much coffee to force my way through the day. Second, I slowed down on my alcohol intake which was my way of winding down from drinking all the caffeine, to avoid being present in my feelings as they happened. Then I had to stop and listen to my feelings as they were happening.

It was a mixed bag. As feelings usually are, but the more I listened the more I understood what my interests really were and why. For example, I love The Grateful Dead. But the more I explored my love the more I realized that it was the culture I loved. The freely expressed emotions of love and acceptance that I so longed for. I like the blues, don’t get me wrong, but they can be tough to listen to if that’s all you’re listening to. You end up, well, blue.

I liked watching football with my friends. We’d get loaded and scream at the T.V. for a few hours and get into trouble or at least have a good story to tell for the next week. But the violence of the game always made me a bit uncomfortable and reminded me of how I never felt like I quite added up as a man to those that held my belonging in their judgements by expecting me to fit in with what’s expected.

Yoga and running were ways of getting in touch with my body in a way that was soothing. I could take care of my physical needs for exercise while pushing my personal limits and grow in a safe way. They also have a meditative quality to them. You can get lost in the cadence of your heart beating in rhythm with your feet against the pavement. Or get lost in your body as you’re flowing through downward dog to plank, to upward facing dog. All of your body parts moving in a succinct language, freely expressing itself. And you won’t get a hangover from a heavy night of yoga.

Change On the Rise

Getting in touch with our wants isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to pull them apart from others expectations and your own perceived or anticipated expectations of “if” you’ll be granted acceptance from others. But it’s worth it to find the things, people and places that bring you peace and a feeling of belonging. Not at the expense of what you are like but because of what you are like. And to quote someone really famous, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” -Oscar Wilde

Image Credits: “Playing withthe Bombay Mix and asking ‘Why?'” by Supermum1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

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