I Never Needed A Makeover

A friend of mine is in town for the week (I love her ) and we were talking last night about a time in my life when I (significantly) lacked confidence and what that felt like. Honestly, I think we all struggle with confidence from time to time but there were times when I thought that I was just not good enough at anything.

This post makes me so sad for the person I was.

There was a time in my life when people would tell me how to dress, how to do my hair, or what I should act like or talk like. My laugh was too loud and my opinions were too much. When I shared these stories with my friend, I could see her sadness and that made me sad. It’s just not nice to tell people that how they are in the world is wrong. I never needed a makeover, I was good enough, what I needed were people that love me just the way I am.

If I want to wear sneakers with a dress, I will do just that.

If I want to laugh out loud, I will do just that.

If I want to share my opinions on issues that are important to me, I will do just that.

I was doing a training with adolescents last week and a table of young women were asking such incredible questions. One young lady asked why I did not have children and I answered that it was complicated. She looked confused and made some guesses that were sweet but incorrect. I summed it up like this:  it takes a lot of courage to live a life true to yourself and some people will never understand or agree with some of your life choices and that’s okay. If you pause and consider your life honestly, you will know what an honest life for you looks like for you. It’s scary but it’s worth it. It is so worth it.

When I was in first grade I wore fake glasses without lenses to school because I thought they looked cool. This is who I am.

Why is this such a radical way to be in the world?

If you are struggling with confidence and the people around you are always picking you apart, you don’t need new clothes, you need new people.

Love.

I Met Someone.

“And jump in
Oh well whatcha waiting for
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
(So let go) yeah let go
And just get in
Oh it’s so amazing here
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown” -Frou Frou

I made a new friend.

I often hear people say that it’s hard to make friends as an adult. This has not been the case for me. Wait for it…

I understand that I don’t have kids and that gives me a lot more time which is usually the immediate and reflexive response when I say I like to make new friends.

I am genuinely interested in other people. I LOVE hearing peoples’ stories and why they do what they do. I ask a lot of questions and listen intently to responses. I want to know more – always. I want to learn about you, the universe, the brain, and anything else that the world offers up to me. Please, tell me everything.

A Sissy Beard reader and commenter asked me “Why not let go?” after I wrote the I Hate You? post. I thought about that comment a lot over the last few days.

Basically, it’s hard to let go of people and relationships. I invest my heart and soul into my people and pulling out of relationships takes a great deal of consideration and contemplation. However, these last few months have offered up a lot of valid reasons to pull back. Politics are personal to me. I have spent my life dedicated to teaching compassion and love. It is why I do what I do.

When I was four years old I called my great grandmother a racist when she made awfully insensitive comments during Donahue. I literally followed her into the bathroom to talk to her about why what she said was hurtful. She asked me to leave the bathroom which was her right, I guess. But, she was racist and this conversation went on the rest of her life. I imagine that she delighted in our time together. Right, wrong or otherwise: I was born this way. No two ways about that.

Can I be a bit self-righteous? Probably my fatal flaw.

Compassion and Love are the most important values in my life. These values guide my decisions with conscious intention. I consider compassion and love when I decide how to spend my time and who to spend my time with. I teach a course in valued living. This forces me to be consistent with who I am and why I do what I do. I think we should all consider what we value and what matters most to us. When our values guide our life, we are much happier and more fulfilled.

That being said, I am letting go in the ways I know how. I appreciate the comments and readers. I started this blog with the intention of having conversations like this one. I think about the comments, messages, and texts related to blog posts. I think about them a lot. I appreciate any energy someone puts into reading my words.

Anyway, I made a new friend and we had a coffee date this week. She teaches mindfulness and compassion. She teaches courses on meditation. She asked me to sub and teach one of her courses. I really like her and I’m glad we crossed paths. I look forward to how our friendship will grow and how I will learn from her.

You guys, I met someone!

This new relationship reminds me that life comes together and falls apart at the same time and it is what you focus on that matters most. There are relationships in my life that are pulling apart and there are relationships that are coming together. “So it goes” – Kurt Vonnegut

Love.

You Make Me Brave.

“If you need a friend
Don’t look to a stranger
You know in the end, I’ll always be there
But when you’re in doubt
And when you’re in danger
Take a look all around, and I’ll be there” The Promise, When In Rome

I’ve been thinking about writing a post reflecting on a year of blogging. Then yesterday, a woman I adore wrote me the kindest message and I knew exactly what I needed to write about.

I love writing. I always have. It’s my way of making sense of the things swirling around in my head. I have journals and secret journals. I have scratch pads and post-its. My office is filled with stacks of notes and a tac board of ideas and thoughts. However, I was scared of sharing my words publicly. In fact, this blog is actually three years old and went through several “starts” before I actually had the courage to share it like I have this last year.

About courage. I’m not the kind of person that can set out on something like this without at least a handful of people in my corner. I recently rewatched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy (say what you will about that show but I’ll watch it until they rip it from my hands). At the end of the episode Christina said to Meredith, “You make me brave.” Needless to say, I started sobbing.

To my husband Bryan and my best friend Josh: You make me brave. You’ve shared every single post I’ve written and some you’ve shared twice. Each time you share a post I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. You both make me brave. This blog is and always was because of you.

Now for those of you that have also shared a post or sent me kind words, please know you make me brave as well. I keep your messages and read them when I feel a little less brave. Your kindness made and continues to make all the difference in my world. I learned that kindness and generosity are so much more powerful than cruelty. When people said to me “Oh no, I don’t read that thing” or “That’s not really my kind of thing” or comments I will not share because they hurt my feelings. People are well within their right to have those thoughts or opinions. But, when they did, I thought of the kindness and generosity and all the badness and fear faded away.

I learned this last year to support the people you love. It’s incredibly powerful to verbalize support and share kindness with the people in your world. The world is not a bad place. I believe that most of us are just fumbling around doing the best we can with what we have. I think that most people are kind and good. I know this because I’ve put myself out in the world in vulnerable ways and the response was so much more kind than it was cruel. Yes, the internet can be a toilet and some people will say things that are hurtful but most people will not. The kindness, love, and gratitude in the world can snuff out out the darkness.

Finally, I can never say thank you enough to those of you that have shared in on this journey with me. I just can’t find words to express how much your kindness means to me. So, in the words of the great and powerful Shonda Rhimes: You make me brave.

Love wins.

“If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you I’ll be waiting
Time after time” Time After Time, Cyndi Lauper

Live Long And Gossip!

“Harmless gossip with a girlfriend can do wonders for a woman’s mood and a University of Michigan study says they have an answer why: feeling emotionally close to a friend increases levels of the hormone progesterone, helping to boost well-being and reduce anxiety and stress.” – Science 2.0

I once had a friend say, “I’ve never talked about you behind your back” I didn’t disagree with them but I knew they were probably lying. If they weren’t talking about me they were certainly talking about someone else. And, not only is that just fine, it is likely healthy for your other relationships.

There is a difference between gossip and betrayal. If you spend your time sharing information with people that may cause the person you’re gossiping about challenges in their life, that’s not healthy and it’s not okay. I understand that the line between gossip and betrayal can be thin. However, the idea that no one will ever talk about you behind your back is delusional. I do find comfort in knowing that most people don’t really think about me enough to gossip about me. We mostly gossip about people in our sphere of influence (close friends and family) or celebrities. There is really no in-between.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”- Carl Jung

It can be painful to know that people are gossiping about you but one should remember that what we gossip about says everything about our values and what’s important to us and nothing about the person we are gossiping about. I’ve talked about this before on the blog. For example, someone said to me, “John (not the real name) is always on vacation, when does he work?” and I thought to myself, the person gossiping probably needs a vacation.

If I’m observing your life, I’m going to naturally focus in on the parts that reflect what’s important to me. I will then make comparisons and gossip about where we differ or where I’m jealous of you (it’s always about the person speaking). We make sense of ourselves and our lives by finding where we fit in context of a larger social circle.

Even when it’s hurtful, I know it’s not about me. Like, when people say I’m selfish for not having children, I know that the person speaking is likely feeling one of two ways: 1) they get a lot of satisfaction and joy from having children and/or wanting children 2) they wonder what their life would be like if they didn’t have children. Again, your opinions on me say everything about you.

Sometimes it’s beneficial to the relationship to get some of the feelings out with someone else first. If I hurt your feelings and you vent to your partner about me, it may take some of the edge off when we talk about what happened at a later time. The challenge with this comes when we don’t talk about how I hurt you (I can’t read your mind) and resentments build. It’s best to try and talk about it directly with the person at some point even though it’s hard.

It helps to be confident in who you are and know what’s important to you at this point in your life. This way, if you hear about people gossiping about you, you will be able to see that it’s not about you. Humans love to make things personal and a majority of the time it isn’t. It can be hard to accept my insignificance in the world. Although, I find it quite comforting.

“In small towns, news travels at the speed of boredom.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Well That Must Be Nice!

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.”

– Marianne Williamson

(Side note: I am super into Marianne Williamson right now.)

Few words frustrate me more than the phrase, “Must be nice!”  When I share something I am excited about or an adventure I am planning, and someone responds with, “Must be nice!” It really hurts my feelings.

Why does this hurt me? 

One, happiness is a choice. A choice I try to make every single day. Happiness entails concentrated efforts to identify that which makes you grateful. It is a way of life. Two, I have been through plenty of times in my life that were not easy, great, or even manageable. Three, I worked my tail off (and still do) to live a life I love. Put simply, if you think “must be nice” fits my life: you do not know me at all.

But beyond my hard work and effort, a person should not have to share with you their struggles (or lack of struggle) for you to be happy for them and with them. We cannot assume that we understand what a person went through to reach where they are now. It is true that some people have it easier and better than others. However, resenting how good someone else has it will only make you miserable. If you want to have a “must be nice” kind of life than please spend your time making that life as opposed to resenting others.

Finally, I know that I will still face struggle and hardship. And, there are struggles I am facing right now. I know that life is not fair and the bottom can drop out again. I recognize how fortunate I am to have the things I have. Countless people work harder than I work and have a lot less. Because I know these things to be true, I will delight in the good when it presents itself. I will use any excuse to be happy. I would love to share these moments with you. I love when the people I care about do the things that they love. Goodness, the world needs a lot more happy people doing what they love and a lot less resentful people trudging angrily through the daily grind. I will not dull my sparkle and I beg you to let your own light shine. Life is not a competition and when you let go of that thinking it feels a lot better.

Spoiler alert: We all die in the end.

“Every time a friend publishes a blog post. Every time an acquaintance’s story gets viral. Every time a colleague gets a better job. Every time a childhood friend posts about his travels to the end of the world. Every time.

Every single time, I need to remind myself: Their success is not your failure. Just because they are succeeding, that doesn’t mean you are failing. Just because they climb higher steps, that doesn’t mean you are walking two steps behind.”  – Marcella Purnama

Love.

 

Delete Your Facebook.

“Social media spark a revelation that we, the people, have a voice, and through the democratization of content and ideas we can once again unite around common passions, inspire movements, and ignite change.”
Brian Solis, Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web

I read yet another post about the People On Facebook You Should Defriend Immediately. The list included: The political ranter, the baby pics poster, the oversharer, the bragger and on and on. Hypothetically speaking, say I did this, there would be no one left to be friends with! I think we miss the point of social media – it’s social. Meaning, that you are sharing space with people that feel and think differently from you.

What is particularly curious are the people that hate on social media while on social media. You can close your computer or put your phone down at any point. It seems to be the cool thing to say you hate social media. Or, that the relationships are not real? I’ve actively maintained a lot of relationships by way of Facebook. That may not have been possible 15 years ago.

Social media isn’t for everyone. In some cases, it can cause significant conflict and challenges in relationships. I think people say things online that they would not say in person because there are little if any social consequences. In the real world, if I call you a name, I have to deal with the consequence of seeing your face and knowing I hurt your feelings. And, if I’m not a sociopath that will hurt me, too.

Social media is a place for all of the life stuff. I think it’s fine to brag, overshare, talk about your kids, talk about your pets, talk politics, and rant about nothing. If something bothers you, you can scroll right on past it or you can block seeing that person’s updates without defriending them. I cannot handle seeing pictures of abused animals, even if it is in an effort to raise awareness. So, if you posted those pics, I probably don’t see your posts anymore. But, if I’m curious to what’s happening in your world, you’re still there for me to peak in on.

Social media is like a big party and we’re all invited. You don’t have to talk to everyone at the party. You don’t have to go to the party. And, if it upsets you to see what people are talking about, maybe put your phone down for a minute and take a break from the party. I just think it’s silly to say what your friends should post and not post.

Who am I to say? I think I might have a Nickleback CD buried in my closet and I am a fierce supporter of social justice. Maybe you should defriend me. Or, maybe I will keep my lovely conservative friends so I can share in what’s happening in their lives and they can share in mine. It’s rather perfect for me as an introverted extrovert to chat with people that live in different parts of the world (or down the street).

I don’t always like what people post and sometimes it upsets me, but I want to stay connected. I want to see your kids grow up. I want to see your sunsets. I want to know that your job is going well or that you suffered a big loss in your life. I want to see your fun adventure because I might not have thought to travel there without first seeing you do it. Remember, humans are wired for connection, that’s why Facebook is a billion dollar industry. And, it’s okay to admit you like being connected.

I think what happens is that we get into comparing our lives with others. That’s just useless. We all struggle. We all face hardships. Some people are comfortable sharing their challenges online and others are not. But, there is no use thinking that someone has it better than you because they posted their new car or their engagement. Celebrate their success and get back in your own lane.

Anyway, I probably won’t defriend you unless you’re vulgar, cruel, or crass. Or, if you inbox me something inappropriate. I might deactivate from time to time to focus on other things, but I’m sure I’ll be back to the party. I’ll miss you and that’s okay.

Love.

“Now, see, that’s why everybody wants Internet friends. You can find people just exactly like you. Screw your neighbors and your family, too messy.’ Dovey’s phone buzzed, and she laughed, ignoring it. ‘The trouble is, once you filter out everybody that doesn’t agree with you, all that’s left is maybe this one retired surfer guy living in Idaho.”
Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior

 

The Bully Is Calling From Inside The House.

“People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.”
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

Bullying is serious issue plaguing schools. It is also a complicated area of concern. It is curious to me that we address bullying in schools, but we don’t connect that behavior back to what is happening in the home. In my experience, children who bully are often experiencing one or more of the following:

1) Being bullied/abused/neglected in the home by parents/caregivers

2) Witnessing bullying in the home (e.g., parents calling each other names or acting violently towards each other)

3) Listening to their parents verbally bullying friends or family in front of them (e.g., that idiot, what a slut, he can’t do anything right, your sister is a bitch, your brother is a moron)

4) Viewing bullying on the television (pick any news channel)

5) Watching their parents or older siblings laughing at Vines or YouTube videos that include mocking, teasing, and/or physical mistreatment

6) Being bullied by an older sibling, cousin, kid on the bus, etc.

The lesson the child learns: The people that I love and that love me and take care of me think this behavior (bullying) is appropriate (and even funny). They find a vulnerable kid in the classroom and act according to what they witness playing out in the home.  What is worse, the vulnerable kid they target might also be experiencing bullying in the home, but instead of acting out they retreat inside their own heads.

A child learns more by watching the people in their world than they do by listening to directions. We need to do a better job connecting the home environment of the child and the behaviors of the child in school if we want to fully address and eventually eliminate bullying. For example, an adult cannot make fun of homosexuals (condemn them, say they are going to Hell, call them sissies) in the home and then scold their child for doing the same thing at school. Moreover, the parent sometimes sides with the child in private, saying that people are too sensitive. Imagine how confusing that is for a child. The child does not know if bullying is bad or good.

Many people are incredibly self-critical (I am not good enough, I am fat, and I’m dumb) and critical of others (my boss is an idiot and my coworker is a bitch). Complaining and criticism begets complaining and criticism. When left unchecked, this outlook leads to misery, anger, and resentment. And, it is often paired with “It’s not my fault I’m unhappy, it’s that idiot I have to work with (or I’m married to).” The child adopts these same thoughts and beliefs (spillover). And, the child learns that their happiness is not their responsibility and/or they do not have the power to make themselves happy.

When I am working with children, I hear these adult expressions coming from their mouths and I know exactly where they are really coming from. Frequently, adults do not appreciate how closely children are paying attention to the events occurring in their world. I promise you, they hear and see it all.

Why do I feel so passionately about this? Children are impulsive. Their brains are not wired to think long-term. So, bullying leads to suicide. My message to all the adults who think political correctness is for wimps: Your children can hear you. Be nice. Be nice to others. And, for pete’s sake be nice to yourself!

What to do if you find out your child is bullying another child? Compassionately and kindly explore what is happening with your child. Ask a lot of questions. Find out who and what is influencing this behavior. Be willing to take responsibility for how your own behavior may be influencing your child. Be willing to adapt the culture in your home and other places your child spends time to be less critical and more safe and compassionate. Be willing to get other people involved in the conversation to help support efforts to eliminate this behavior.  Most importantly, intervene immediately and take the problem seriously.

What not to do? Don’t criticize your child for being a bully. This only shames them and perpetuates the problem.

Spare the rod, spoil the child is not healthy parenting advice. At all. Ever.

“Bully-related suicide can be connected to any type of bullying, including physical bullying, emotional bullying, cyberbullying, and sexting, or circulating suggestive or nude photos or messages about a person”

Love.

Monogamy?

“Why would so many risk their reputations, families, careers—even presidential legacies—for something that runs against human nature? Were monogamy an ancient, evolved trait characteristic of our species, as the standard narrative insists, these ubiquitous transgressions would be infrequent and such horrible enforcement unnecessary. No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature.”
Christopher Ryan, Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships

This post contains topics related to sex and sexuality. 

Before we get to the topic of infidelity (coming in the next few weeks), I feel it is necessary to first discuss monogamy. Let me explain why this is important. Many couples partner without having an explicit conversation related to what monogamy means for their relationship.

In the early weeks and months of a relationship, it is important to establish the expectations related to exclusivity. It is also critical to revisit the expectations as the relationship grows and develops over the years. Sometimes, one partner feels like they are following the rules of the relationship and the other feels that the rules of the relationship have been violated.

Isn’t it obvious what monogamy means?

No, it is not. 

There are some aspects of monogamy that are often assumed. For example, many people assume that monogamy means that sexual intimacy is limited to the people in the relationship. The problem is that the definition of sexual intimacy is not clear. Are long physical embraces with some people (or anyone) a violation of the expectations in the relationship? Is kissing breaking the rules? Is desire or attraction a violation?

What about other types of intimacy? Does this mean that other forms of intimacy are acceptable? Is it okay if your partner has a close emotional relationship with past partners or people they may feel some attraction? What about spending more time with close friends than with your partner? Even if there is no sexual component?

Is it a violation of monogamy to view pornography? What constitutes pornography?

Is it acceptable to carry on a in-depth conversation on social media with old or new friends? How about having a back and forth with someone across the world while playing video games? Is it okay to text photos to friends? What kind of photos or snap chats are appropriate for whom?

Some people read the list above and believe that the answers are pretty clear cut. Others believe that it’s all grey and that it depends. The problems arise when there is no conversation related to these topics and lines get crossed. This is a challenge for couples at any point across the life-span. There is a growing number of older couples that find “old friends” on social media and violate terms of monogamy. Basically, you never reach cruise control in your relationship where you don’t have to talk about these things.

I hear all types of definitions of monogamy. Each couple gets to define what that means for them. And, some people have no desire to be in a monogamous relationship. It is best to be honest in your relationship and have these (sometimes uncomfortable) conversations as opposed to assuming you are both on the same page. You might be, but what if you’re not?

“Marriage requires a special talent, like acting.  Monogamy requires genius”. -Warren Beatty 

I’m Not A Mom, I Can’t Understand.

“There comes some pressure in your mid-30s, and you think, ‘Am I going to have kids so I don’t miss out on something that other people really seem to love? Or is it that I really genuinely want to do this with my whole heart?’ I didn’t feel that my response was ‘yes’ to the latter. You have to really want to have kids, and neither of us did. So it’s just going to be me and Ellen and no babies — but we’re the best of friends and married life is blissful, it really is. I’ve never been happier than I am right now.” —Portia de Rossi

To have children or not to have children, a question (and pressure) that hit me like a mac truck when I turned 30. No one prepared me for the barrage of comments, assumptions, and attacks that awaited. I was also not prepared for my own painful ambivalence towards the issue.

This is not a post to  defend my decision (and my partner’s decision) to not have children.We have no need to explain how we arrived at the decision to not have children. I also feel no need to say things like, “There are a lot of ways to mother things.” I love my pets, but they are not children. I can leave them unattended for hours with no worry. I love my writing and my work, but I am not mothering them in the same way one mother’s a child.

I fully understand that the pressure to have children is not limited to those of us with partners. In fact, I’ve witnessed people become frantic when faced with a single person in their late thirties that does not have children. The expression, “Time is running out,” seems to slide out of peoples’ mouths without much consideration.

For me, the intensity around this topic turned way up when I reached thirty. I was presented with some panicked responses and some concerned responses. For the most part, the responses were well-intended. There was a period of time where my partner and I took the approach, “If it happens, it happens.” That is really no way for me to make such an important life decision. The thought, “What if it happens” kept sneaking into my mind.

My own ambivalence pushed me back into therapy. I begged my therapist to help me sort through this ambivalence around having children. I felt crazy for not desperately wanting what I was supposed to want. I love my therapist for patiently helping me arrive confidently at my current location. In my relationship with my partner, this involved a lot of honest communication about what we wanted for our lives.

To the shock, awe, and disbelief of some, this does not leave me feeling empty, purposeless, and with regret. I love children. I work with children every day. I love my nieces and nephews. I love watching my friends have children. I love the giggles and the joys these families experience. Most importantly, I love my life with my partner with all my heart.

There seem to be some themes related to parenthood.

-When I hear the phrase, “They don’t understand, they’re not parents” I think two things. One, you are correct. Two, if you want me to understand what life is like for you, please try and explain what it is like for you. I may not understand how it feels, but I can only truly understand my experiences. This leaves a lot of life for me to learn about.

-Each person/couple decides for their own reasons why they want to have children or not. It is not appropriate to assume you understand why. It is also none of your business.

-Some people/couples try desperately for years to have children. Please do not assume all people without children do not want children.

-There are a lot of ways to be parents. If you or your partner gave birth to your child that is incredible. But not every family is created that way. There are adopted families, step-families, blended families, half-siblings, foster families and more than I can list here. There is no hierarchy in terms of,”the best way to be a family.”

My philosophy: Do you love each other? Great! You’re family!

– A couple is a family even without children.

-It is not selfish to not want children. It might be the healthiest decision for the person/couple for reasons you do not know and you do not get to know. And, have you ever met a parent that wishes they had never had children?

-People who do not have children might still know how to love someone unconditionally. Do they know the kind of love a mother knows? I don’t know and neither do you. I’ve known some amazingly loving mothers and I’ve known mothers that have done horrible things to their children. Again, let us avoid making assumptions about what love is or means to an individual.

-I belong to one of the first generations where individuals/couples get to openly decide whether or not to have children. I literally had someone say to me, “You think you have a choice?” I answered, “Absolutely.” I appreciate that this is generational.

-Having children may have been the best thing that ever happened to you. I absolutely believe you and I am happy for you. I also believe that my life can be incredible without that experience.

-Yes, we are missing out on the experience of having children.  I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have children. Life is full of choices that lead down different paths.

-Some posit that I would be a conservative or have a deeper sense of purpose/faith if I had children. It was my experience working with at-risk youth that solidified my socialistic democratic orientation. Being around children makes me so liberal it’s ridiculous. I want them to have all the money and the resources. 

If you feel so inclined to remind me that I do not understand the life of a parent, I hope you are saying this because you want me to understand more about you and your life experiences and not because you want to make me feel badly about my life. I hope you are happy with your choices and I hope you wish the same for me.

“You don’t have to feel guilty or bad for loving your life exactly as it is. You are not weird, broken, or deficient as a woman for not having the desire to be a mother” –  My Therapist in 2013

I’m A Runner And Not The Good Kind.

Amy worked in a bar in Exeter
I went back to her house and I slept beside her
She woke up screaming in the middle of the night
Terrified of her own insides
Dreams of pirate ships and Patty Hearst
Breaking through a life over rehearsed
She can’t remember which came first
The house the home or the terrible thirst
She keeps having dreams”

When I was in graduate school a professor noted that when topics became stressful, my eyes went towards the door. This perceptive professor was correct. I am a runner. When I feel stressed, overwhelmed, sad, or scared I look for a literal way out. I think it’s important for all of us to know what our brain/body tends towards when we are triggered and sent into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.

“And on the worst days
When it feels like life weighs ten thousand tons
She’s got her cowboy boots and car keys on the bed stand
So she can always run
She can get up, shower in half an hour
She’d be gone”

Fight: push people away, act aggressively, physically act out, and verbally act out.

Flight: leave the situation, disconnect, shut down, and isolate

Freeze: disconnect emotionally, disassociate, go limp, and shut down

Fawn: people pleasing, smoother, devalues their own needs, makes other people happy at the expense of themselves, and present in codependent relationships

For example, if I’m in conflict (even perceived conflict as opposed to actual threats) I will likely try to leave the situation as soon as possible. This is not always healthy because if you don’t stick around, you can’t sort out the problem. I’m also likely to get quiet or shut down and go inside myself as a way of escape when there is no out. I’ve had to learn how to calm myself during times when I feel like I need to run. Running is of no benefit to me unless I am in a life or death situation.

Because “fight” is my least preferred of the three (it scares me), It is hard for me to partner or friend well with people for whom this is their default (or I perceive that it is their default). I arrived at this self-awareness only recently and when I reflect back on my life, it makes complete sense that those relationships suffered. It is not that there is anything wrong with the fight default. I’m not sure that we get to choose between fight, flight, or freeze as to which is our preferred default. Depending on the situation, your brain’s preferred survival mode might change.

“And on the worst days
When it feels like life weighs ten thousand tons
I sleep with my passport
One eye on the back door
So I can always run
I can get up, shower in half an hour
I’d be gone”

In fact, recent research related to sexual assault demonstrates that victims are likely to freeze. This is why some people will say “Why didn’t you fight back or run?” It’s because once you are in survival mode you do not get to direct your body as to a preferred way to survive. Many survivors will freeze when they are triggered and reminded of the assault later. This makes testifying and interviewing challenging for some victims. “For example, sexual assault survivors frequently disclose “losing the ability to move and/or call out” during the attack which has sometimes been referred to as “rape-induced paralysis” (Marx, et al., 2008, p. 78).”

If you notice that you experience these threat responses regularly, please talk to your friends, family,  and/or seek professional support. Ask the people you love what they think. We’re not wired to sort through this stuff alone.

Love.