YOU CAN TELL SOMEONE WHAT’S BEHIND THE CURTAIN OR YOU CAN SHOW THEM
Yesterday I had a low moment.
A pothole of sorts.
I have been working on something new and I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted to see, as quickly as I wanted to see them. As a result I started doubting myself. I started questioning whether I would FAIL. I started questioning whether it was worth all the effort I was putting in, or if I was better off giving up.
In order to get support, I shared this low moment with a tribe of wonderfully inspiring people, asking for help.
And I did get help, though not all of the help was exactly how I wanted to receive it.
One woman in particular gave it to me STRAIGHT, which I appreciated and didn’t like at the same time. I don’t even remember her exact words, but I do remember how I felt--LIKE SHE HAD PUNCHED ME IN THE STOMACH.
I don’t deny that I needed what she served me, but she served it with such violence and such hostility. I didn’t feel any love or compassion in her words.
As I was reflecting on the situation this morning, I was able to pinpoint exact why it felt so shitty. Instead of helping me to SEE who I was being in that moment, she TOLD me who I was being.
There is a difference between SHOWING and TELLING.
I can tell someone that they are being a JERK, or I can show them.
I can tell someone that they are being an EGOTISTICAL MANIAC, or I can show them.
I can tell someone that they are being MANIPULATIVE, or I can show them.
And it all comes down to the words I use and how I communicate them.
If someone is your life is driving you nuts with who they are BEING, telling them is only going to bring resistance, while SHOWING them opens the door to change.
When I was growing up, my parents taught us how to be good people. They taught us how to do the “right thing.” They taught us the importance of working hard and getting good grades, so we could one day go to college, get good-paying jobs, and provide for our own families.
I do not deny that that did right by me.
Unfortunately, it was HOW they taught me those things that I wish had been different.
I distinctly remember a time when we were all invited to go to my dad’s boss’s house, which was this huge mansion (with an indoor basketball court). Serious business. A lot of the day is vague, but the one moment that I remember quite well was when I met “the boss.” My dad introduced me and I probably said a shy “Hi” and that was it. The man wished us well and went back to his other guests.
Once he was out of earshot, my dad laid into me with a shit-storm of shame. I can’t remember the exact words he said, but I remember him reprimanding me for not being respectful, for not saying “Nice to meet you. Thank you for inviting us,” etc. I also distinctly remember feeling like the tiniest speck of a person. Feeling incredibly small.
Unfortunately, that way of speaking to me was the undercurrent of my childhood. If my parents didn’t like my behavior, my words, or my attire, they used shame, guilt, or fear of being punished as a way to “keep me in line.”
And it worked. I was a good girl. I got good grades. I went to a good college. I got a good job.
But it also had a cost.
To this day, I am still a little afraid of my dad. Afraid that he will again leave me feeling like a tiny speck of a person. Afraid to share my thoughts. Afraid to be myself.
Fear drove me, but it also disconnected me.
When I left my former job with my not-so-great boss, and dove into the world of coaching and personal development, I realized that I had inherited the same tactics for changing the behavior of others.
Over the 2 years that I had worked for her, I had used fear, shame, blame, and guilt to try to motivate her to change. I may not have done so directly, but I was still doing it. I encouraged others to go to HR to report her, hoping that FEAR would drive her to leave. I SHAMED her incessantly with others, and within my own head. I BLAMED her for my unhappiness at work. And finally, I used GUILT as a way to manipulate her to do it my way.
Because of all of my learning, it feels icky for me to think of that now. I hated it when my parents made me feel small, and yet I find myself doing it to others too, even if inside my own head.
And that is why I want to break the cycle.
I want my children to do things because they WANT TO (even if it does have a natural negative ripple effect), not because they HAVE TO or are AFRAID not to.
I also want all the other people I interact with to do things because they WANT TO rather than because they are afraid not to.
I want others to “do the right thing” in support of HUMAN CONNECTION and LOVE, rather than FEAR.
Now, I don’t know what your upbringing was like, but I wonder if you were also taught how to behave with fear, shame, blame, and guilt as motivators. If so, how did you feel when these tactics were used on you? Is that how you want to BE with other people? If not, how can you break the cycle?
Courage. Compassion. Connection.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at my PEPS meeting and one of the other moms was talking about how she can’t put her son down anymore and expect to find him in the same place when she gets back. I responded with, “Totally, Anouk usually moves like 5 or 8 feet.”
What?? She doesn’t move at all. She can’t even roll over yet. Why did I just say that? I tried to back track. I had just completely lied, and for what?
As a new parent I am getting completely caught up in the Joneses. What other babies’ do, I want Anouk to do. When they talk about how much their baby sleeps, I talk about Anouk’s sleep (which is superb, by the way). When they talk about their toys, I go out and buy the same ones. And when they talk about things that Anouk doesn’t do yet, it seems that I have resorted to lying.
My husband and I were talking about it the other night and I was baffled by it. I really don’t understand why I lie to make my daughter look good.
It’s not really about her looking good, though, it’s about me looking good. If Anouk is doing something well, that is a reflection on me. And if Anouk isn’t doing something well, that is also a reflection on me, right? Not exactly. My husband pointed out a place in one of our parenting books, which says, “Parenting is not a race.”
I think that needs to be my new mantra.
The fact of the matter is that I have been comparing and racing my whole life. Way before I even became a parent, I was racing. Racing to be the top of the class. Racing to be popular. Racing to be skinny. Racing for the guy. Racing to compete. Racing to keep up with the Joneses.
No wonder I am tired…too much racing.
I wrote a blog post a while back titled, “Comparison is the Thief of Happiness.” Here it is again.
I can’t say that comparing is always wrong, though. Sometimes our comparisons spur us to grow, which is a good thing. We need to push ourselves to do new things, to stretch to new heights. Sometimes comparison helps us do that. More importantly, sometimes comparison allows us to see where there may be a real problem that needs to be handled by an expert.
We are in trouble, though, when we compare so that we can prove that we are better and someone else is worse. When comparison leaves us feeling jealous and resentful. When we compare and then forget our values (like “don’t lie”). When we compare and judge negatively. When we compare and it disconnects us from others. When we compare because we are in an imaginary race against the Joneses.
This reflection has led to two new commitments to myself:
1) Admit when I am racing.
2) Stop racing.
A couple of weekends ago, I found myself lying on our living room couch, dealing with the debilitating nausea that comes with pregnancy, while also in tears. It was a beautiful sunny day, and my husband was outside working in the yard, while I was inside feeling sorry for myself.
Inside my head were thoughts like:
I tried the mind over matter trick and went outside to help my husband for all of about 15 minutes before I was back on the couch, with my legs curled up, hoping not to vomit on our living room carpet, or our dog. My husband came in shortly thereafter to check on me. When I lamented my sad state, and all my “shoulds,” he gave me a hug and reminded me that I was working really hard—that I was actually growing a human being inside of me!
As the day progressed, I found myself still on the couch, unable to beat the nausea away with my mind, or even a large baguette of French bread. Eventually I succumbed to the realities of what was, and you know what happened? I actually had a really great day! Despite the fact that I couldn’t do anything “productive,” I ended up reading the most amazing book, a book that I was about to return to the library unread, and probably never would have remembered to check out again.
When I finally let go of what I thought I was supposed to do, and pushed all those “shoulds” to the side, I enjoyed myself immensely. The guilt disappeared, the heartache and sadness vanished, my tears dried up, and I actually found myself laughing out loud during certain parts of the book. I was able to let go of needing to do something, and could just be. It felt so liberating, and I wasn’t even on vacation!
As I was reflecting on this moment, I kept thinking back to other moments in my life when my “shoulds” took over and tried to direct me where to go and what to do. In each of those cases I can remember being pretty miserable. The same goes for when I “should” on other people.
When I am constantly “shoulding” myself, and “shoulding” those around me, I can never be happy to just be. Things are not enough. Things should be better. Instead of living in the moment, I am living in some unreality. Instead of embracing what is, I am stuck on what I hope to be. I am left feeling bleak and depressed.
Another example of why I shouldn’t should myself, and you probably shouldn’t either :)
You know those books that you pick up and then just can’t put down. Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist was one of those books. The book is a collection of stories about life around the table. It is about food, but it more about life, with all its ups, downs, ins, and outs. Shauna shares herself in a way that really allows you to see inside of her, while also seeing inside of yourself. I connected with her on a very deep level, despite the fact that I have never met her.
This post is going to be a little different than most, because instead of sharing my words, I am going to share hers. Here is some of what she had to say:
“The extra pounds didn’t matter, as I look back, but the shame that came with those extra pounds was like an infectious disease. That’s what I remember. And so these days, my mind and my heart are focused less on the pounds and more on what it means to live without shame, to exchange that heavy and corrosive self-loathing for courage and freedom and gratitude. Some days I do just that, and some days I don’t, and that seems to be just exactly how life is.” (pg 37)
I urge you to buy the book or check it out from the library. In addition to the stories, there are fabulous recipes throughout. I laughed and cried off and on during the entire reading, and started again when I picked it up to write this post. It is a must read, especially for women. It is truth-telling and vulnerability like you haven’t experienced it before.
Have you ever secretly been happy to get sick?
I don’t mean the running nose and slight cough where you still have to go to work. I am talking about the full on cold or flu where it is miserable enough where you can’t really function at work, or catchy enough that you will make others sick too.
For me, when I worked a “regular” job, those days were amazingly awful. The sickness itself sucked, but I got to finally take a break. I could stay in bed all day in my pajamas and not feel guilty. I could watch any movie I wanted, even the bad ones that my husband or friends would never watch with me. I could ask people for help and support, without worrying about looking too needy. Of course I need some warm soup, or another box of Kleenex, or more cough syrup from the pharmacy.
Sickness actually requires that we take care of ourselves.
What about the rest of the time, though? What would our lives be like if self-care was actually a part of our every day, instead of just our sick days?
Last week I was talking to a woman whom I recently met, and she was telling me about her weight-loss journey. She told me that at one point she was 30 pounds lighter, but it completely messed with her head. She was describing how when she looked in the mirror she wasn’t seeing herself anymore. She struggled with seeing herself as this thinner person because she had always defined herself as being heavier. Eventually, she put the weight back on because it made her more comfortable. When we ended the conversation, I gave her a hug and told her, “You are not your body.”
“You are not your body,” is a phrase or mantra that I repeat to myself a lot these days.
A few months ago, I was attending a coaching seminar program, and was called up to the front to be coached. (At the time I wasn’t up for it, nor did I really think I needed it.) Anyway, during my coaching the facilitator asked me if my husband and I were planning to have children, and then I started to cry. (Little did he know that I had just had surgery for a miscarriage 2 days prior.) When I told him that, he was taken back at first, but then honored me for my courage in being in the course. Then he went on to tell me something that I had never thought to be true.
I define myself by my body.
Although, I really wanted to argue with him and tell him that it wasn’t true, I know deep down that I do. I am not just Theresa. I am my body. My body has become an extension of myself, or maybe I have become an extension of my body. My strength of character is also matched to my physical strength. My rigidness in character is also demonstrated in my physical inflexibility.
“Holy Crap! Is this just me?” I asked myself.
When I engaged in the conversation with the women I spoke of above, it made me realize that I may not be the only one. How many of us do the same thing? How many of us define ourselves by our bodies, whatever that may look like?
Some of you may think that it doesn’t really seem like such a big deal, but I have to disagree.
Defining ourselves by how we look limits us. It keeps us from embracing new ideas and new possibilities. It causes us to morph our personalities to match our physical presence, or to compensate and change our personalities because of how we look.
So, I ask you to break free from your body.
You are not your body.
Yesterday, I finished listening to Martha Beck’s memoir, Expecting Adam, and can’t get this one part out of my head. (Unfortunately, since I was listening to it, I can’t quote it exactly).
She described a day when she was running along the Charles River and spotted a pink object in the grass. Thinking back to her younger days, she remembered searching for Rose Quartz, and was excited to find a piece of it lying randomly in the grass. When she picked it up, though, it was too light to be Rose Quartz, and she discovered it was “just” pink Styrofoam. She immediately threw it to the ground in disgust. When she thought it was a piece of Rose Quartz she felt wonderful and energized by it, but as soon as she discovered what it really was, her experience turned negative. The object itself hadn’t changed one bit, but her perspective and label of it had.