You’re Not Who I Thought You Were.

“When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” ― Maya Angelou

Update: Post-election and post-inauguration. This is only getting harder, sadder, and scarier.

Dr. Maya Angelou is/was one of the most influential teachers in my life. I use her words to chart my course when I feel stuck. I reflect on her talks on love when I feel hopeless. I believe she was a divine human and a gift to the world. However, the above lesson in believing someone the first time has always been the hardest for me. I want to like everyone.

Last night, I was visited by a dear friend. The theme seemed to center around wishing things and people were different. I think I struggle with this a lot. I recently had the painful realization that someone I thought I knew well was not the person I thought they were. It’s been heartbreaking to realize that I don’t think it’s healthy to share time with this person anymore. I don’t know what to do with this feeling of loss and grief.

When I reflect back on the relationship, there were things I looked past and ignored in an effort to maintain the connection. However, as this goes, those things became harder and harder to ignore. I had to deal with the fact that we did not fit together like I thought we did. This has been a painful realization for me.

This is not to say that this person is bad and I am good. It’s simply that what I thought was a healthy connection is no longer healthy. This person does not bring out the best in me and I am certain that I do not bring out the best in them. I could maintain the connection but I would be resentful when this person showed me who they were. That’s not healthy for either of us. It’s also not fair or healthy of me to sit in judgement of this person. We’re all built differently and this allows for all kinds of people in the world.

This is how it goes sometimes. We lose connections that we thought would last forever. We understand ourselves better and learn that some connections no longer fit who we’ve become. So, I’ve been letting go of the connection and it seems to be naturally fading into the distance. This is a deeply painful experience for me. It is a form of grief to lose a connection even if it is the healthiest thing for both people.

I am grateful for the conversation with my dear friend last night. I hope she is able to work through this process, too.

I am reminded of a song that another friend shared with me more than a decade ago:

“I want to be a good woman
And I want for you to be a good man.
This is why I will be leaving
And this is why I can’t see you no more.
I will miss your heart so tender
And I will love this love forever.

I don’t want be a bad woman
And I can’t stand to see you be a bad man.
I will miss your heart so tender
And I will love this love forever.

And this is why I am leaving
And this is why I can’t see you no more.
This is why I am lying when I say
That I don’t love you no more.

Cause I want (to) be a good woman
And I want for you to be a good man.” – Good Woman, Cat Power

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Are You A Porcupine or A Teddy Bear?

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

When I’m working with kids, I ask them if they are being a teddy bear or a porcupine. I realized that this question is also effective with adults.

What does it mean to be a teddy bear or a porcupine?

Humans are wired for love and connection. Our deepest desire is to be loved and cared for. This is the reason we buy big houses, desire lots of money, paint our faces, and drive fancy cars. We do all of these things because we think it makes us more attractive and desirable to others. This is actually not true but we are bombarded with this narrative from the time we’re born until we die. It’s hard not to believe that having things or looking a certain way is tied into how lovable we are.

The truth is, we are lovable just as we are right now. We are deserving of love no matter how we look or how much stuff we have. The challenge is so many of us walk around like porcupines as opposed to teddy bears we make it impossible for people to love us as we are. This only feeds the narrative that I am unlovable.

When a porcupine gets scared it pokes to stay safe. This is the same for some people. Some of us will lash out, get defensive, call people names, get self righteous, hit someone, and withhold love when they get scared or sad. This leads the person to a lonely life and a sad life. It’s hard because a lot of porcupines don’t know they are being porcupines, all they know is that they can’t get close to another person. This makes them more sad and more scared and more pokey.

Porcupines are hurtful because they are insecure and lonely.

When a teddy bear gets scared it reaches out for connect to stay safe. Of course, a teddy bear is not a real thing but it is in my head. A teddy bear will say things like: I’m scared I’m going to fail, I’m sad this happened, I need help, I don’t know what to do, I need you to just love me, can I have a hug, I’m so sorry I hurt you, I made a big mistake, I’m in a bad place. The teddy bear is able to reach out lovingly for connection. The teddy bear is vulnerable and accepts that it’s imperfect and will make mistakes or falter in life. The teddy bear doesn’t always know it’s a teddy bear either. The teddy bear is loved, loving, and usually happier.

Teddy bears are compassionate because they know life is hard and they can’t do it alone.

I think that we can all be teddy bears and porcupines. It’s hard when we get scared or sad not to try and defend or protect ourselves. The challenge is defending and protecting limits our ability to connect with others. We connect with others in our vulnerability.

There is a book called How to Hug a Porcupine related to raising adolescents. I think parents of adolescents understand why it is named as such.

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

Brené Brown

Am I For Real?

Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m working on developing a structured mindfulness meditation group and I found this story. I think it so beautifully and simply captures the importance of listening.
A family was out to dinner and the waitress asked the little girl what she wanted to order.
The little girl smiled and said, “I want a hot dog, some fries, and a coke.”
Without a moment passing her father looked at the waitress and said, “She’ll have meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and milk.”
The waitress looked at the little girl and said, “What’ll you have on that hot dog?”
With big eyes and a smile the little girl exclaimed, “She thinks I’m real!”
Love.

The Internet Empathy Epidemic.

“Mirror neurons have been hailed as the cornerstone of human empathy, language, and other vital processes” – Jason Marsh

I first wrote this post in the Fall and now I believe it to be true more than ever. We are lacking empathy at a rate that I have never experienced in my nearly 17 years studying and practicing psychology. When you comment on something or post something online – you are still responsible for the emotional impact of this comment. However, we are more disconnected than we have ever been and we lack empathy for this reason.

The 300, 400, 1000, 2000 friends you have on social media are not real friends. I’m not trying to be cruel, I’m explaining how social creatures like humans are built. We are wired for social connection. This means real-life social connection. There is no substitute for this. When someone looks you in the eyes and says “You matter” or “I love you” it has a significant impact on your sense of self-worth. This is not the case for social media and texting interactions.

We are addicted to likes and comments because they give us an immediate buzz but this is not the same as a real-life conversation with another human. Our brains are wired for human to human contact – this is why there is a significant lack of empathy. We are not connecting with people face to face anymore.

Our mirror neurons (empathy drivers) are activated by eye to eye, face to face, and human to human contact.

Have you ever said something to someone and immediately had the feeling that you hurt them? This is how our mirror neurons operate in the brain. This experience is on a spectrum with “empaths” feeling another’s experience more intensely but we all have this capability.

Months ago, the brilliant, beautiful, and talented Leslie Jones was harassed violently on Twitter for hours. This attack was led by Milo Yiannopoulos, a notorious coward and online bully. He was subsequently banned from Twitter for inciting this violence. People viciously attacked her looks by likening her to a gorilla and sending her pictures of gorillas attached with racial epithets. It was a horrific lynching made possible by human disconnection and lack of empathy.

Does this happen in real life? Absolutely but not to that scale or for that extended period of time without an escape for Ms Jones. There is a growing lack of empathy that makes these events more common and our feelings of guilt less likely. There is a social responsibility that comes with expressing yourself in front of actual humans that has been lost online or over text.

As Glennon Doyle Melton wrote in a blog last week, “Who you are online is who you are, there are not two of you”

This means if you feel comfortable calling me a dumb bitch, I’m an idiot liberal, or that I’m going to Hell – you are saying this. Not internet the you safely behind the keyboard – you, the real you is saying this to me, the real me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media, I’m writing this blog online but I spend time with humans in real life.  When I comment online I try my best to pause and think would I say this to their face? If not, I try to not say it. I’m not always perfect at this but I’m trying to be mindful that there is an actual human on the other end of that screen with feelings and emotions.

We have to mindful of the speed in which technology is evolving and how that is impacting our relationships both in positive and negative ways.

“Mirror neurons enable me to see you as an intentional being, with purpose and intention” – V.S. Ramachandran, Neuroscientist

Can You Forgive A Cheater?

“Betrayal is a riddle we want to solve”
Sascha Arango, The Truth and Other Lies

The other night I had a dream that my partner cheated on me. I woke up in a foul mood and a cold shoulder in his direction. When I shared this with a friend, he said I should probably take a break from Beyonce’s Lemonade for a minute. I think he might be right.

It had me thinking, if my partner did cheat on me, what would I do?

I came to the honest conclusion, that if staying in the relationship was still on the table, I would probably do whatever it takes to make it work. I can hear the gasps through the screen. I can also hear those of you that have been through this all to common experience whisper yeah in secret agreement.

Is this a permission slip for my partner to cheat: absolutely not. Believe me, there would be scorched earth for miles in all directions from my rage (I do really need to step away from Lemonade) but I would eventually calm down and make sense of the wreckage.

Forgiving infidelity is incredibly challenging. Trust is like a bank account and when you cheat it’s a lot like filing bankruptcy. The relationship has to start over in the red and it takes time (if ever) to get back in the black. But, it is possible and far more common than people talk about. This is, of course, if both people are willing to work at making the relationship better.

Listen, I am not condoning cheating, lying, or deceit but life is long, if you’re lucky, and a lot of stuff happens in a lifetime. Let me also highlight that I am not referencing serial cheaters and liars. The old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” is absolutely not true. With that said, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, so if your partner has pattern of behavior associated with cheating and lying (they’re the same thing) I would never, ever, encourage staying.

There is a clear difference between a lapse in judgement over the course of a long life and a personality defect. If you don’t know the difference, please go talk to a professional. 

Infidelity is packed with shame so we don’t talk about it, even with our closest friends and family. Most people don’t share the infidelity with anyone for fear that it will change how people will view the offending party and the relationship (because they often want to make it work and they don’t want people to hate them).

There is this misconception that when you partner with someone you somehow own them. This is simply untrue. My partner always has the choice to stay or go. I hope he stays but he doesn’t have to unless he wants to. I would never want him to feel forced to stay or obligated to stay against his wishes.

The more complicated and heartbreaking issue is when someone falls in love with someone outside the relationship. When this happens, reconciliation is rarely possible. In my experience, the physical acts of infidelity are seldom the death blow to the relationship. It is when your partner opens themselves up to an emotional connection that they can’t stop reaching out for the other person. Sexual intimacy is important in a relationship but not as important as love.

Nothing ever is.

“Forgiveness is not an event. It is a series of decisions made over and over again.”
Karen Salmansohn

 

This Goes Out To My Enemies.

In trying to please all, he had pleased none.”
Aesop, Aesop’s Fables

You can travel the world
But you can’t run away
From the person you are in your heart
You can be who you want to be
Make us believe in you
Keep all your light in the dark
If you’re searching for truth
You must look in the mirror
And make sense of what you can see
Just be
Just be – DJ Tiesto

I believe if you are living your life honestly, you will inevitably piss a few folks off in the process. It’s just the way it works. We are all built differently. However, I’ve always thought the idea of enemies was a bit narcissistic. I can’t believe that anyone would think of me enough to consider me an enemy. If they do, I suppose I’m better off not knowing.

I know that I have thoughts, opinions, and values that some people don’t agree with or even feeling strongly the other way. If I went out of my way to hide or pretend I didn’t feel the way I do, parts of me would shrivel and fester I would end up not liking certain parts of me because other people didn’t. I would feel bad about myself all in service of getting another person to like me. I would do this without considering the real question: Do I like them? 

I believe denying your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs is an act of self harm. 

For much of my twenties. I ran around trying to make everyone else “happy” without consideration for how I felt. And, it was a miserable mess. It’s confusing because you end up sharing time with people you’re supposed to like or you want approval from and you end up feeling bad about yourself (of course I did!). This should have been a clue to consider what I want and need.

Like I’ve said a million times before, humans are wired for social connection. It’s normal to feel bad if someone doesn’t like me. But, just because I feel bad (or guilty) does not mean I need to change who I am to get their approval. I can take a deep breath and remind myself that life is long (hopefully) and liking myself is much more important than another person liking me.

Some people argue that this is a selfish way to live. I strongly disagree. When we are happy and whole we are much healthier, kinder, compassionate, giving, patient, and loving. If we are not living our lives honestly, we are resentful, cruel, jealous, hateful, and angry. Living life honestly makes you happier and this has a ripple effect on the world around you.

Happy people make other people happy. And people that are hurting, hurt other people. 

The magical thing that happens when you recognize this, is that you start to surround yourself with people who like you for you. And, you are able to establish healthier boundaries with people that don’t like/approve/agree with the way you live your life. This does not give you permission to be cruel to people that live their lives differently. In fact, denying love, care, affection, compassion, and connection in an effort to get people to agree with you never works. We covered this in post Conditional Love.

Each  of us are constructed beautifully and uniquely and some of us fit together nicely and some of us do not. It’s like when you’re putting together a puzzle and you try to shove two pieces together that don’t fit: it doesn’t work, it looks awful, and it messes up the rest of the picture. So, live honestly, find your tribe, trust yourself, and know that sometimes you’ll try to shove the wrong pieces of the puzzle together.

“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.”

Shel Silverstein, Every Thing on It

Validation: You Matter.

“What is an example of an invalidating experience? Let’s say a child is hungry and says, “Mommy, I want to eat.” The normal response is that the mother feeds the child. However, if a mother repeatedly denies the validity of the child’s experience by saying, “No, you are not hungry,” that child learns to distrust her own inner voice, her own physiology, and her own emotions.” -Sheela Raja

Today’s post is simple in text but complicated in feeling.

When we are children (birth to at least age 25) we are developing our sense of self. And, we develop our sense of self by interacting with the people around us. This is primarily done with parents but also with other family members, teachers, clergy, and anyone that a child interacts with.

The act of validation is one of the single most important things an adult can give a child and it looks like this:

Validation

Child: “I’m sad about Charlie not wanting to play with me”

Adult: “I understand that you’re sad, you care a lot about Charlie”

Child: “Mom, put your phone down and look at me”

Mom: (puts phone down) “You have my attention”

Child cries

Dad hugs child and comforts child

Invalidation

Child: “I’m sad about Charlie not wanting to play with me”

Adult: “It’s not that big of a deal”

Child: “Mom, put your phone down and look at me”

Mom: “Hold on, let me finish this email”

Child cries

Dad: “Stop crying! It’s not that big of a deal”

If you are validated quite a bit as a child you learn to trust yourself and your feelings. More importantly, you learn that your feelings are valid and they matter. If you are invalidated as a child you may seek a lot of external validation from others (from the wrong and unhealthy others that may not be able to validate due to their own challenges), you may often feel “crazy”, you may feel like hysterical, and you may feel misunderstood.

Invalidation as a child, may also lead to an inability to validate another person. This is when someone is always contrary or looking for an argument. This is when someone takes an opposing view all the time. They were never taught that it’s safe to agree or validate.

You can learn to validate yourself and heal this part of you. First, you have to notice how you are thinking and feeling and practice saying to yourself “It’s okay to feel this way, I’m human and I have a lot of feelings and emotions. I don’t need anyone else to tell me how I feel is right or wrong. I am allowed to feel how I feel.” It’s hard work but it is some of the most important work you can do to live a happy healthy life.

We talked about validation in adult relationships in a past post: Validation! The Ninja Skill.

“Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.”
Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey

“The one person you’ll be spending the rest of your life with is you. Treat yourself with love and respect.”
Elle Sommer

Words Are Things.

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” 
 Paulo Coelho, Brida

I wanted to take a moment to consider the words/phrases/ideas/thoughts that have washed over me and shaped me.

The Good

You only live once – Trina

Trust yourself – My grandmother

My Dear, you have to learn how to take care of yourself – My grandfather

Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth – The opening quote in Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s okay to be sad sometimes – My husband

What are your values, what is really important to you – Josh

Most people won’t remember this – My mother-in-law

I am so proud of you – My brother

Cry yourself to sleep all you want, you’re not going to that party – My mom

Don’t cheat, people won’t want to play with you if you lie to them – My dad

Think critically about this. It’s never simple – Dr. Krishnakali Majumdar

You have to always be examining your own biases and prejudices and how they influence your thoughts and behaviors – Dr. David Pilgrim

You have to use laundry detergent, not just fabric softener! – My sister

Don’t forget the spiritual aspect – Kevin

The Bad

Are you going to eat that?

You eat after 8pm?

Are you going to have another glass of wine?

What will your boyfriend think about this?

Shhh, your laugh is too loud

You’re too opinionated

You care too much

I think you are acting this way because your parents divorced

You grew up in a home with a lot of conflict and you don’t know how to communicate (that’s why my son hit you)

Relax

Calm down

Everything happens for a reason

Your writing is awful

I should give you the “I like to show a lot of skin award” – Middle School Teacher

I don’t know why you feel that way

You’re crazy

You don’t have kids, you don’t understand

Your husband wants kids and you won’t give them to him?

Are you some sort of lesbian?

Stop talking already

Summary

Words are powerful. What we say matters. I am not innocent; I know I have injured people with my words. The aforementioned phrases, both good and bad, left a permanent imprint on me. They shaped my experiences and I carry them with me.

What phrases shaped you?

Love.

“Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”

― Maya Angelou

 

 

Dust to Side Chicks

“You can taste the dishonesty, it’s all over your breath” – Beyonce

This is not a review or critique of Lemonade. I don’t have the skill set for that task. Frankly, I’ve listened/watched the album more times than I can count. I love it, I love how empowering it is, I love how honest and vulnerable it is. I love that it started so many different conversations. She’s most definitely the Queen. In fact, I’m listening to the album right now.

This post is about one of the concepts addressed in the album: Infidelity. I’ve discussed this topic before but I’m going to come at it from a different perspective this time. I want to address intuition. 

I am am firm believer in the scientific method. But, if given a choice between facts and intuition, I’m trusting my intuition every single time. In my experience as a marriage therapist, I work with infidelity every day. And, I always ask the question “How did you find out?” and almost every time it is met with “I just knew something wasn’t right.”

I believe the power of “I just know” is primal. When we partner, we create a life together that involves many moving parts (money, mortgage, animals, pets, retirement, furniture, history). It’s like a nest. Then, someone comes along and takes a look at the nest and thinks they want in on some of that life.

What happens next involves a lot of different variables, like: the strength of the relationship, openness, honesty, trust, security, boundaries, and priorities (to name a few). If the nest is threatened, the other partner can feel it. In some cases, people have identified the moment they “knew” and the other person admits that was about the time the other relationship crossed some boundary.

Historically, (evolutionarily) we needed that nest to survive and for our young to survive. So, of course, “we just know” if someone is threatening the nest. Although times have changed and we can survive the loss of the nest and even create new (happier and healthier) nests. Our instincts and intuitions are still wired to protect the nest.

Sometimes, we are paranoid and there was no actual threat to the nest. Some of us are hypervigilant when it comes to protecting the life we’ve created. However, infidelity is fairly common and the threat to the nest is real. This results in fear and rage (as highlighted in the visual album).

Let me briefly address the concept of gaslighting. This is what happens when your intuition says “something isn’t right” and the other person convinces you that you’re crazy or seeing things that aren’t there. I will expand on gaslighting in the future because it’s another common practice  used in relationships where one partner uses “you’re crazy” in an effort to maintain deceitful behaviors. It’s a form of emotional abuse.

Intuition and infidelity are complex issues that can be addressed from multiple perspectives. Let me end by saying, trust your intuition. But, before you go through their phone, ask the hard questions. Try to be direct. It’s messy to go the other way.

“You’ve been makin’ your brags around town that you’ve been a lovin’ with my man
But the man I love when he picks up trash he puts it in a garbage can
And that’s what you look like to me and what I see is a pitty
You’d better close your face and stay out of my way
If you don’t wanta go to Fist City
If you don’t wanna go to Fist City you’d better detour round my town
Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground
I’m not a sayin’ my baby is a saint cause he ain’t
And that he won’t cat around with a kitty
I’m here to tell you gal to lay off of my man if you don’t wanna go to Fist City” Fist City, Loretta Lynn

Why You Gotta Lie?

“I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

I read an article yesterday about how almost half of the population in the United States would not be able to find $400 dollars right now if they needed it to handle an emergency situation. The struggle is real and so many people are faced with impossible financial challenges. What’s worse, is that we shame people for their financial challenges making it impossible for them to get the help they need.

I believe that this shame around life’s struggles and sufferings (financial and otherwise) is at the heart of so why so many people lie. Humans are wired for connection and we will do almost anything to establish and maintain social connections. Our social connections are valued at $133,000 a year (Barker, 2014). This means that having healthy and consistent social connections is worth it’s weight in gold. And, we will do whatever we need to do to keep those connections.

This sometimes involves lying about our lives. We’re petrified to say: I’m depressed, I’m broke, I’m unhappy, I’m scared, I’m suicidal, I’m in trouble, I made a mistake, I was fired, I had an affair, or I want out of my relationship. If we say these things we risk disappointing the other person and/or losing the connection. I would love to say that people don’t disappear when a friend or family member discloses a shameful vulnerability but it happens a lot.

A lot of people don’t want to be guilty by association. I can’t be friends with the broke person or the depressed person or the cheating person. What if others found out that I was your friend/family? I’d might lose my connections too, and that’s just not a risk many of us are willing to take.

The only option that remains is for me to lie to you about my life. I tell you I’m fine and life is good. I tell you that I’m on top of my game and there are no struggles here. I hide my pain and suffering because I don’t want to lose you. Then, the truth comes out, as it often does, and I’m labeled a liar in addition to my struggle.

I’ve been a therapist long enough to know that everyone does this in some way or another. Sometimes, the shame is so dark and so deep that the lies compound and the person lying doesn’t even know what’s true anymore. What I know to be true, is that if you have not dealt with your own life shames, you will not be able to deal with anyone else’s (Brene Brown). If you can’t accept that you are an imperfect person living imperfectly in an imperfect world, you will not have the capacity to hold the space for someone else’s imperfections.

So often we only ask “Why did you lie?”

without honestly asking ourselves:

“Am I a safe person to be honest with?”

“Would I respond with compassion and understanding?”

“Do I make fun of (trashy, weird, moody) people without consideration for my audience?”

“Have I ever left someone (ghosted) when they shared a shame/struggle/suffering with me?”

“Have I accepted my own human imperfections?”

This post is not written to excuse deceitful behavior. But rather to highlight that we’re all very complicated (so much more complicated than this post goes into). Ultimately we all want to be loved. Sometimes, we’ll sacrifice the truth if we believe it will keep us lovable and connected (and safe).

Love.

“The best lies about me are the ones I told.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind