5 Easy Steps to People Pleasing

Image by Pixabay

There are few character traits I have perfected in my lifetime–I’m still working on becoming perfectly loving, perfectly full of grace, or even perfectly honest. But people pleasing? I’ve worked on this one for many years to good success, I believe. 

Following are some of my most useful tools in pursuit of People Pleasing:

1- Think white Wonder Bread, or saltless saltine crackers. Work to achieve this level of blandness of opinion. Any food you might find palatable when suffering from a tummy bug, model your shared thoughts after these, for strong opinions are your enemy.

2- Learn to appear fascinated by the viewpoints of others, even if they are giving a detailed account of their bowel habits. This can be achieved by gentle head nodding and the occasional “Ah–” or “Mm” even if you are actually trying to guesstimate the length of that rogue nose hair of theirs rather than listening to their words.

3- Always laugh appreciatively at the jokes of others. You needn’t actually find them amusing. The teller will find you a person of rare intelligence, especially if even the joke teller knows it made absolutely no sense and in addition was in very poor taste.

4- Always defer to the other person’s tastes. This applies to anything you might do together. If you hate hamburgers, be willing to go to any beef-based franchise. This especially applies to vegetarian People Pleasers. Practice phrases like “Oh, I can always find something to eat.” Hate Tolkien? Prepare to embrace the extended versions of all of the Lord of the Rings movies, and the relentless repeated watching of aforementioned movies. Learn to do mental Sudoku or redecorating to survive said hours of “entertainment.”

5- If the other person prefers to be the only person with feelings, never let them know you’re having a down day. Keep the muscle memory of that forced smile front and center at all times. If they prefer you dependent, consider adding “What do you think?” to the end of every sentence. In restaurants this looks like, “I’m thinking of getting the Asian Salad–what do you think?” If deciding what movie to watch, “I’d love to see a comedy tonight–what do you think?” This gets trickier when pondering decisions like how quickly you need a toilet, so Your Mileage May Vary.

*These techniques are most effective with those who feel theirs is the Only and Superior opinion in town. Should you be dealing with a person who prefers people with an actual spine, these People-Pleasing Practices may simply cause blank stares and yawning, so choose wisely when to use them.

The not-so-funny truth of being a People-Pleaser is that it can wilt your soul, like that celery I feel compelled to buy but never eat, and if not caught in time, your soul will become like that celery–spongy, brown and smelly.

I consider myself a Recovering People-Pleaser. This is a process best practiced with people who love you and give an actual crap about your feelings and opinions. Safe people.

If you would like to join the society of Recovering People-Pleasers, go gently with yourself. Your skin is likely easily bruised and tender, but it will toughen with use. And it’s worth walking away from the People-Pleasing life. You’ll thank yourself for it–I know I have.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: If you are a People Pleaser, what drives that for you? How do you feel when you stop expressing your feelings? Is there someone you trust who you could try being honest with?

 

YOU HAVE WORTH, YOUR IDEAS AND OPINIONS AND FEELINGS HAVE WORTH. DARE TO SHARE.

Why I’m a Bad Christian

Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash

I have been asked on many occasions why I don’t write devotionals–I’m a Christian and a writer, right? Usually this is when I’m with a group of Christians who are writers, so I say something like, “It takes me more than 250 words to introduce myself, so I couldn’t possibly write devotionals that short!” There is a smattering of (polite) laughter, and the conversation is over.

What I don’t say but I’m thinking is, “Actually, I’m kind of a lousy Christian.” I feel like people who takes verses from the Bible and tie lovely slices of life to them to bring them alive should be of the more holy variety of Christian. I identify more as the unwholly-holy type. Let me tell you why:

  • I don’t attend church on a regular basis. Honestly, in the last decade I haven’t attended even on an IRregular basis.
  • I have a passion for the well-placed used of the F word–a word I would have killed my children for saying. I would like to blame my long and difficult marriage for bringing on my potty mouth, but …
  • I have no set “quiet time” and no set space for one. I live in one room, people–the whole place is A Place. As for the daily discipline of aforementioned quiet time, let’s just say that discipline has never been my superpower. Plus I forget. I get in bad moods. Sometimes I don’t want to and you can’t make me.
  • As a writer I have actually gotten feedback that my piece wasn’t Jesus-y enough.
  • I want to love and affirm people who believe differently or have completely different lifestyles to me.
  • I can’t remember the street address of verses I like to save my life, and clearly I can’t remember what it’s called when you say the Bible book name and the numbers of the chapter and verse.
  • I forget to set down my troubles and “rest in the loving arms of Jesus.”
  • I whine.
  • I get mad at God.
  • Sometimes I’m in a bad mood for years.
  • I get mad and lose my shit.
  • I say “shit.”
— I whine.– I get mad and lose my shit.– I say "shit." Click To Tweet

BUT:

  • Sometimes I remember to rest in the loving arms of Jesus.
  • I’ve learned to love and respect people who differ from me in their beliefs and lifestyles, that each of us has innate worth as a created being sharing this planet.
  • I’ve realized that I will keep learning who I am and continue becoming who I want to be till my last day on this earth.
  • I’ve learned that being a Good Girl isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
  • I’ve been patient at least twice.
  • I hear God when I shut up.
  • Sometimes I shut up.

It turns out that lots of the boxes I thought I had to tick to be a Good Christian aren’t even strictly taken from the Bible, they’re made up of what we finite humans have used to make sense of an Infinite God.

I’m not saying that any person with a regular prayer time or who can quote sections of the Bible or attends church regularly isn’t sincere–I love lots of people who love Jesus and who do those things. I’m just saying that I’m a struggler. I’m perfectly imperfect. Unwholly-holy, with lots of not so holy bits left over. My head and my heart war. The Lies In My Bones fight with the Truth I know. My life’s journey is made up of a million bad choices–some mine, but some the decisions of others, and I’m left dealing with the consequences.

I'm a struggler. I'm perfectly imperfect. Unwholly holy with lots of not so holy bits left over. Click To Tweet

We are all strugglers on this planet. We all do better at achieving our goals on some days than others. We each have our own internal fights. All the things I don’t do coupled with all the things I DO make up my particular road trip on this Earth, my unique identity. I love the Creator of this globe we’re sharing, and I love His Son. Maybe I don’t think I’m a Good Christian, but I am a pretty good Jesus Follower, and that’s good enough for me.

In fact, that’s perfect.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation:Where have you taken on someone else’s idea of your identity and stopped looking at who you really are? How can you embrace the perfectly imperfect you?

*Be kind to you. The God who created the earth made you.

Aaron Gets Out of the Wobbly Chair

Photo by Allec Gomes on Unsplash

Today I’m having a guest post by a Twitter friend, Aaron. He and I have talked a lot about the common themes I write about here on The Lies In Our Bones–early trauma, Triggery Badness, the Lies we tell ourselves based on our early coping mechanisms, among others. Lest I make us sound like two wise and serious souls communing on The Meaning Of Life, we talk about plenty of stupid stuff too and laugh. Oh, and I mock him. Hard. A lot. (Really, I’m a good friend…mostly.)

He’s in a transitional time of life, one I remember so clearly after I left my #MarriageFromHeck 5 years ago. Everything was changing. Suddenly I was trying to shake myself from the lies I’d been telling myself for years…things like “There’s no such thing as safety” “I’m alone” “I’m worthless” and other fun stuff. My therapist kept nudging me toward becoming the keeper of my own safety, being my own friend, and telling myself the truth.

Since I could remember how tender I felt back then, it seemed only appropriate to catch Aaron tweeting about feeling sorry for himself and his situation and encourage him in my nurturing way…by telling him, “Pity Party of One, your tiny table and one wobbly chair is ready!” We ended up dubbing it “the wobbly chair” and pass it back and forth as needed. (If we both need it Aaron has to sit on the floor of Twitter.)

"Pity Party of One, your tiny table and one wobbly chair is ready!" Click To Tweet

He’s been journaling to process what he’s learning and sharing it with the Twitterverse, and this one hit home for me. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Take it away, Aaron………

Creating a Life of Meaning

Lately I’ve been feeling alone in the world. In my mind it’s as if everyone else has a life but me. I crave connection. I crave being with someone, and I tell myself, “Life is empty and meaningless without having someone special in my life.” But is that true? Is my life meaningless without having a special someone in my life? No!It’s yet another lie I tell myself. Or maybe it’s another lie that Satan tells me. Either way, if I focus on that belief and start incorporating it into my belief system then I’m all but doomed to feel unhappy and depressed. I will undoubtedly also feel very disappointed when/if that special someone does come along because they will not infuse my life with meaning, either. That’s not their job. That’s my job.


Engage in the relationships God has placed in my life.Reach out to family and friends I haven’t talked to in a while. Go visit them. Invite them out to do something. Catch up on the phone and see how they’re doing. Don’t just sit around idle.

I will undoubtedly also feel very disappointed when/if that special someone does come along because they will not infuse my life with meaning, either. That’s not their job. That’s my job. Click To Tweet


So then, how do I go about creating a meaningful life for myself?


Engage in the relationships God has placed in my life.Reach out to family and friends I haven’t talked to in a while. Go visit them. Invite them out to do something. Catch up on the phone and see how they’re doing. Don’t just sit around idle.


Reach out to people who are hurting or struggling or may just need someone to talk to.There are all kinds of people struggling with things in their lives. Some may be vocal about it, like on Twitter, and others may be suffering, and I don’t even know it. Whatever the case, reaching out to them and forgetting about myself for a while can make a world of difference.


Do things for myself. Engage in a new hobby. Attend a new group. Go for a walk. Find a good book to read. Clean up around the house. Do some things I’ve been putting off like going clothes shopping.


That’s pretty straightforward and simple isn’t it? It’s not complicated at all. I just have to stop sitting around on my wobbly chair feeling sorry for myself and take action to create the meaning in my life that I crave. As a bonus, these things will strengthen relationships and provide support for me when I need it. It’s a win-win situation if I put forth the effort.

And back to me, julie!

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Is there anything you’ve been sitting back and waiting for to give you a sense of worth? If so, what has held that place for you? What action could you take to move forward in your life and create your OWN best life?

I’d love it if you’d keep us off the wobbly chair and talk with us, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Remember to be kind with yourself. It’s a process.

Full Disclosure: I’m a Christian and I haven’t forgiven everyone who’s hurt me.

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

Are you horrified?

Picture this: I’m 9. I have my dolls in front of me, Margot, the dark haired one in my right hand, Cisette, the blond, in my left. I’m kneeling on the braided rug in the living room, my two dolls having a conversation. I’m deep in my imagination and deciding what they should wear to go to their friend Jill’s party.

My father comes quietly up behind me. I don’t realize he’s kneeling on the floor until he sticks his hands up my blouse and rubs my nipples. His daughter’s nipples. Who’s 9. My shoulders hunch and I turn around and say “No” and move away from him. He gets up, never saying a word, and leaves. I feel sick. I carry this secret in shame until I meet the man I will marry. In all our fervent sharing of our 22 year old histories, I share this. He acts understanding. I feel some relief, and a tiny bit of shame falls off like dead petals from a rose.

Several years later, I’m a young married mom of my husband’s daughter, whom I love more than I thought I could love anyone. I’m a marginal cook, a worse bathroom cleaner, but I’m trying to learn. The husband I once shared my deepest, darkest, most shame-filled secret with sneaks up behind me. He reaches around me, touches my nipples through my t-shirt. I turn, the rush of shame covers me and confuses my brain. He does an “I’m so funny!” face and backs away. “You know I don’t like that!” I say. “Oh, you know I’m just teasing,” he says, and laughs. I feel confused: am I overreacting if he says he’s “just teasing”? Is it okay that my body is now flooding with the shame of that 9 year old girl I once was whose father who was supposed to love her and protect her but has instead invaded her sense of safety? Over the years I shove down the emotions that say “No! It’s not okay!” and try to learn to brush off the sensation that pumps adrenalin fear through me. I am supposed to trust my husband, right? I must misunderstand him, I must be wrong.

Even now as I write this, my shoulders hunch protectively, and I brush my hands across my breasts to wipe away the creepy sensation the memory evokes.

I am now safe. I learned I was in charge of my own safety, and that it’s okay to say “I don’t like that. Don’t do it.” And that if those who are supposed to love you keep doing it time after time no matter what you say, it’s okay to leave that situation. And five years ago I did that. I ran when I was afraid enough of his bullying and intimidation to put my  safety into the hands of someone who was finally listening–me.

These wounds remain as long as they're continually poked at with a stick by someone who is supposed to love you. Or by any ol' asshole. Click To Tweet

These wounds remain like third degree burns as long as they’re continually poked at with a stick by someone who is supposed to love you “like Christ loves the church.” Or by any ol’ asshole. I allowed that–I allowed my oozing, bleeding wounds to be stirred so they couldn’t heal. For serious decades. And that was my bad.

I must forgive, you say?

Please feel free to whisper that into the ear of the small child playing dolls in her living room, thinking she’s safe inside her home. Forgive him so he doesn’t take up space in your head, you say? Tell that to the young mom who has to experience the “I am unsafe” fight/flight/freeze adrenalin every time she’s touched again that way–go ahead, whisper that in her ear while she’s learning that even in her marriage her words, her feelings, her thoughts don’t matter. After all, he’s “just teasing.” Please, go ahead, recite a bible verse to her while every cell in her body is terrified as if she’s being chased by a bear. Go ahead.

Forgiveness? I keep that in my head–it will come. I won’t forgive as if it’s okay that either one of those men did that. I will forgive because I need my heart to stop pounding with the memories. I will forgive because it hurts to hold my breath that hard.

I will forgive so those men can no longer hurt me by the memories. But it’s a process. Know that.

I am changed forever in my trust of men, of anyone who claims to love me, because of those two. The adrenalin rushes, my thoughts scramble. How do I trust those words?

I’m working toward a sense of freedom in forgiveness. I’ve been slowly thawing and healing. But the thawing comes with great pain–as your toes burn when warming from being in freezing cold for too long, my heart, my gut, my chest, every part of me feels the burn as I slowly warm. I cry. I cuss. I get angry. I grieve.

I want to forgive, and I will. But I’m not there yet. And just because I know I want to doesn’t mean I can turn a page and Presto! be free.

* Immense thanks to the many people of Twitter who have become a healing place. Who can relate to the pain, to the burn of the thawing. To the cascade of memories as I thaw, to the cascade of realizations, the anger I feel toward myself and others. I want to especially thank Jennifer Michelle Greenberg @JennMGreenberg for a conversation we had today. She gets it. She’s been there, and she’s writing a book about it. She’s a safe place in what is a very scary world for the frightened child in me. 

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Are you a survivor? #MeToo #ChurchToo #IHaventToldAnyoneToo? Give yourself a hug and a break. Tell your story to someone. Start the healing, and then continue it. Are you someone who wants to preach to those in process? Don’t. Ask how they are, let them cry, and listen. Be a safe place. Be part of the healing, not part of the shame.

Are you someone who wants to preach to those in process? Don't. Ask how they are, let them cry and listen. Be a safe place. Be part of the healing, not part of the shame. Click To Tweet

Dancing with disappointment.

Some days are just plain more disappointing than others, right? I’m sure you can relate. My hair is curly, and some days I wake up and it’s doing some crazy dance up off the back of my head, and no amount of water will tame it. And I need to be somewhere in an hour.

Some disappointments are annoying, like nutso hair, or a zit on your nose. Some go much deeper and take longer to figure out, stuff I’ve wondered like, why didn’t the person who was supposed to love me more than anybody seem to like me?

My mother did some interesting things over time. She was this girl:

There was a little girl

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

When life was good and moving to her beat, she was happy and sunny and fun. When life was bad and not behaving as she wanted it to, she was not fit to be near. I felt loved, I felt hated. I met her approval, I was a failure. She seemed to like me and approve of me in the second part of her life when she was in love with my uncle-stepfather (story for another time) but once he got hurt at work and couldn’t support them as easily, well, we were all gonna suffer.

Because she hadn’t done enough while alive, she made sure to be The Gift That Keeps On Giving (sort of like an STD) and have her lawyer send me boxes after her death, returning things I’d given her, giving me things she wanted me to have, all with commentary on sticky notes, signed and dated. And the commentary? Not things like “Your grandmother gave me this and I know you always liked it so I wanted you to have it, love Mom.” No, more like, “I thought there might be hope for you once upon a time, but now I’m not so sure.” (Initialed and dated, sometimes years earlier.) It takes a special amount of planning to ensure that your child will not only grieve your death but feel guilty and worthless while doing so. If nothing else, Marge was a planner.

Those Lies In my Bones were dug deep–deep and early. They’ve stayed long but are becoming more shallow as they heal. It’s taken eons of therapy and an acceptance of my own worth as a created being on this planet to get where I am, but I still struggle and fall.  It has taken good friends to believe in me and a lot of tears to get as far as I am today. And a fair amount of falling, and a bunch of getting back up.

I’ve apologized for a million things to my children, to the point they tell me to stop, but I want to be a parent who can take responsibility for my lacks, for the ways I’ve let my kids down. I’m not gonna beat myself up about my decisions-gone-wrong, but I’m at least going to mention them when I realize them. How much healing would it have been for my soul if my mother had even said “Hey, I know we didn’t always agree, but I loved you every single day!” But narcissistic, damaged people don’t seem to have that capacity, and those of us who grew up that way are left to figure out our worth the best we can.

So on days when you’re dancing with disappointment and having trouble finding your way forward, remember:

You have worth simply for being on this earth. 

You can make a small difference on the planet any day of the week by smiling at a stranger or recycling your candy wrapper. Even if you can’t get out of bed, you have worth. It matters to somebody somewhere that you are here. At the least, it matters to the Creator who made you.

Fight the negative words of others, surround yourself with those who feed healing into your soul. Get a mental health professional to talk to. Fight for your own healing. You’re worth it. I’m worth it.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What is one small thing you can do today to honor your own worth and take care of yourself? What is one small thing you can do to honor someone else’s worth? It may be as simple as holding a door for someone whose hands are full or taking five minutes to breathe deeply.

In pursuit of mental health

Lately on social media I’ve been reminded of the small, scared girl I once was. She called the shots in my life for decades, hobbled by fear, looking for someone else to give her a sense of security.

Fear ran so much of her life that she ended up missing out on a lot of life. Crushing Fear said that she couldn’t even think about it, and its friend Overwhelming Anxiety came along for backup. Don’t try, don’t fail. Opportunities missed. Life was a competition, and she just wanted everybody to get along.

That scared little girl is finding some love, healing and acceptance that she couldn’t get from the parents of her childhood. The pain of that lack of parental acceptance runs deep in many of us, etching itself into our bones and causing us to make unbalanced choices, in my case to be a people pleaser and gauge my worth based on whether or not I could make someone else happy. (Hint: Not My Job.)

I used to be angry at that terrified little girl–why didn’t she protect herself in better ways than withdrawing and disappearing? But when you’re 5, you do what makes sense at that age. Author and speaker Mary DeMuth, after being raped at age 5 by neighborhood teens, slept for safety when the adults in her life failed to protect her from continued assault. 5-year-olds do what 5-year-olds understand. How can I stay mad at my little girl who carried on the understanding of safety for a small child into her grown years? She did what she knew until she learned differently.

Years of therapy plus one divorce later, I’m learning that I’m capable of moving about in the world on my own. That I can be the mama to that scared child within me, be responsible for my own safety without hiding in a closet to do so. I can take risks knowing I may fail and fall and get bruised. I can enjoy life, go to the beach with friends, drive ten hours to see one of my daughters, or choose to eat chocolate for dinner (for the magnesium, of course). I’ve learned it’s okay to grow up, to find a different safety than I understood at 5. That growing and learning is healthy and leads to freedom.

I couldn’t have done this journey without my Favorite Mental Health Professional, my LCSW. If I can leave you with one thought, it’s that there is no shame in Pursuing Mental Health. If you feel off balance, seek help. You deserve to be healthy.

The bring your own beverage conversation: What belief have you carried from your childhood to your adulthood that doesn’t seem to be serving you well? 

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN THE TRUTH AND LOVE YOURSELF. (And who doesn’t need a picture of a happy puppy?)

 

 

 

Daring to have a need, and wilder yet, meeting it!

I’ve been writing in my head all morning. Writing essays about my frailties and how my past impacts my present in the way I think, about how I’m trying to change those thoughts. About how easily the old thoughts come.

All because I stepped in a hole.

It wasn’t a large hole, just an ordinary,  dog’s-been-digging kind of hole. It was in the grass at the dog park, and not surprisingly I was looking at dogs instead of where my feet were landing. And so into the hole I went with my right foot as it scrunched in several unpleasant directions. And I’m down and staring at dirt. You know, just a typical Day In The Life sort of thing.

Out loud I say “I’m fine!” to the people nearby, and in my head I say you idiot, you’re so clumsy! If you weren’t so fat you wouldn’t be so clumsy and fall so easily! 

None of this is true. I’m NOT fine, I’m in pain, and I’d be clumsy at the weight of a four-year-old when I’m inattentive. This has been demonstrated over and over in my life while tripping up stairs, falling down stairs, tripping over curbs, etcetera etcetera etcetera. I see a dog, a baby, a cat in a window, a child laughing, think of a line for a poem, you name it, and I’m distracted by the sheer pleasure of the moment. My feet have not, however, been informed of this distraction, and they continue on their not-so-merry way.

That was yesterday. Today I awoke feeling sorry for myself while simultaneously beating myself up. I felt weepy. I’ve been trying so hard to get out and walk every day, trying to take care of myself in healthy ways. I’d rather administer self-care in the form of ice cream or watching movies, but Every Health Professional Ever says it’s better for me to take a walk.

My old thoughts came to haunt me: You’re just trying to get attention. It’s no big deal. People hurt themselves all the time, and much worse. This is just a silly little injury. Why are you such a whiny baby?

The Lie in this: I’ve let people speak hurtfully to me over the years, worse yet, I kinda believed them. Like about my Fibromyalgia. Or my depression. Or about the fact that it made me sad when they spoke to me with mean words. I’ve allowed myself to believe that I’m just trying to get attention when I speak up about my hurt. I’ve allowed myself to believe that it’s safer to numb out or disappear in some way rather than make a fuss.

The Truth about this: No matter the reason I’m hurt,  I need to take care of the wound properly to the best of my ability. There’s no shame in being physically/emotionally/spiritually injured, it’s up to us to see what we can do to improve the situation. Let me repeat that–I need to hear it again myself–there is no shame in being physically, emotionally or spiritually injured. Our job is to get the help we need to heal the wound. Sometimes a hot bath with Epsom Salts does the job. Sometimes we need to let a doctor check it out. Sometimes, depending on the severity of the wound, we may need 17 years (and still counting) of therapy with a Mental Health Professional who has our back. Wounds are all different, but they still boil down to being some part of us with an owie that needs healing.

Today I’m tossing as much of the old nonsense out of my head as possible. It’s only taken me half a day to work through the old crap that comes to visit when I Dare To Have A Need. Half a day is a vast improvement over what previously could have kept me trapped in indecision and self-blame and shame for days and weeks and longer, all while the wound worsened as I ignored it.

SO–in a couple of hours I’m seeing a doctor who has gone to school for years and years in order to understand ligaments and muscles and other such bodily thingies. They will know the best way to treat and heal my throbbing foot and ankle.

Now, who doesn’t love a good Action Point? (I do! I do!) Here are mine from today:

  1. Have your feelings. They’re gonna happen anyway.
  2. Recognize your wound. Pain tells us that something needs attention. Is the wound emotional in nature, or physical, or mental, or spiritual? In other words, don’t see a yoga instructor about a bleeding head wound.
  3. Make a plan for healing. This might only mean planning the first step, since until the injury is assessed you won’t know whether you need an orthopedic boot or 17 years of therapy.
  4. Live the rest of your day in a No-Shame, No-Blame kind of way, realizing that even if other people want you to feel Less-Than because you Dare To Have A Need, this is what Self Care looks like.

THE END. 

Talk amongst yourselves.

Trauma Informed Living

I know teachers. Teacher friends, teacher daughters. I had a bunch of teachers in school. Some of those teachers from elementary school through my Some College days seemed to See me differently–like they knew how afraid I was all the time, how I felt wary and watchful, why I cried when I Wasn’t Good Enough, why missing one word in a year of 4th grade spelling tests was cause for High Anxiety. I didn’t know those were things for them to consider in their treatment of me in the classroom because those were my Normal.

I don’t know much about the ins and outs of Trauma Informed Education, but I’m hearing ripples of conversation about it throughout the teachers I currently know. When an educator can look at a child’s behavior as more than Good or Bad and instead view that student as a child who may Come From Crazy (me!) the dynamics change. And like with those teachers who could See me, the classroom becomes a Safe Place, a place where the student feels free to make a mistake, to be less than perfect and still be accepted and receive kindness.

It was hard to notice when my reaction was not your average reaction while in the grips–the very physical grips–of a trauma response. I remember in my high school creative writing class when the job of editing the class’s compilation was offered to me. My whole body began a hard trembling, my head became a confused, swirling buzz, and I fought tears. All I could do was to shake my head and say “no”. The teacher and the students smiled and urged me to accept, and I can only guess that I was well thought of, but every ounce of my will was at capacity just keeping me from bolting from the room. My face was hot and I was losing the fight to not cry. They moved on to pick another girl, a funny, artistic and more composed girl. She did a great job, I remained Invisible–and disappointed.

This wasn’t the first and it wasn’t the last time my body’s response called the shots. I’ve stood in stores, at church, and in my front room, unable to move, waiting for the panicked breathing and full-body trembling to subside. Slowly as I learn to name the Lies and replace them with Truth, I have less Triggery Badness engulf me. And I’m working toward quicker recognition of the signals so I can breathe and tell myself to save the STOP, DROP, and ROLL! for when I’m literally on fire.

I don’t know that I have some huge take-away from this post. I do wish I could thank the Mr. McMahons and Mrs. Swansons who treated me with perhaps a bit more gentleness than other teachers without making me feel like the weird bundle of nerves I was. And I’m thankful for the acknowledgment by the education system that when a child is acting out or withdrawing, they may be dealing with some bad mojo at home, and not just label them Bad or Dumb or Over-Sensitive. Those are horrible Lies for a child to carry in their bones.

The bring your own beverage conversation: Have you had experiences with labels being applied to you, and if so, how did those labels cause you to see yourself?

What tools have you found useful when dealing with a trauma response? I love using belly breathing to calm myself in the moment, and therapy with an awesome Mental Health Professional for the long haul, the deeper understanding, the overall changes.

Laughter is healing! I highly recommend the movie High Anxiety with Mel Brooks.

 

Invisible.

Today I thought I’d revisit a post from earlier in the life of The Lies In Our Bones, Invisible. If you’re feeling Invisible today I hope you know you’re not alone–I’m a recovering Invisible girl myself. 

 

I was standing beside my mother in line at the grocery store. I looked up at the full skirt of her dress.

I bet I could spin in that! Such are the thoughts of a 4 or 5 year old girl. I gazed up at the pretty brunette lady who was my mom, and my heart filled with warmth.

“I love you!” I said with happiness that she was my mommy, this beautiful lady.
No response.

I didn’t tug on her skirt that was waiting for a good spin, I didn’t poke my chubby little finger into her side. I knew better than to be a bother, so I stopped. I gave up being seen.

I knew the tightness in my chest and the ache in my tummy went with the feeling I didn’t have words for yet: Invisible. Unseen. My body was sad, and it was telling me through the sensations of pain and discomfort. And in time I learned to be glad for the times I was Seen, to save them up and hold the time that my sister told me how cute I looked, to absorb the kindness in a teacher’s eyes. I saved them, but in the long run I began to believe that Invisible was better. If I remained unseen by backing away and being quiet, and by trying to keep the peace by not bothering to even see myself and my needs, I didn’t get those troublesome feelings. Rather, I quit looking at them. I became Invisible to myself.

Our bodies are smart. While I was busy being Invisible to myself and realizing that with some people trying to be Visible brought more roaring and more pain, my body was trying to get my attention, to again become Visible. It was yanking on my skirt, poking me repeatedly in the side. And I kept ignoring it.

One day my body said “Enough!” and BOOM. Fibromyalgia. Constant pain and fatigue that could put me in bed, unable to cope with my regular day. BOOM. Terrible sleep became my companion, leaving me feeling like it was always 2 in the morning and I should be asleep. BOOM. Burning in my body, the feel of fire coursing through my extremities, and aching and more aching in my back, my shoulders, my torso. Simply getting out of bed in the morning was a massive act of my will.

I had to pay attention.

My flaws and frailties, my inability to stand up for myself, had landed firmly in my lap in the shape of a physical disability.

What will  I do for myself today? I will listen to my body. I will risk being Visible. I will stand up for myself.

As of today, October 12, 2017, I can add one more thing I’ve learned: what’s the point of spending time with those who don’t want to see me or hear me anyway? The energy of both brain and body is a precious commodity–let’s spend it where we get the most value for currency, in relationships that build us up.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Can you think of places in your life where you feel unheard and unseen? What about ones where you feel built up and encouraged to be the person you want to be? Which should get more time and energy?

Can we train our brains to let go?

When I read the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I identified strongly with a character. May, one of the sisters in the book, feels the pain of others so strongly it’s as if their pain, grief, horror, is hers. Attempting to manage all these overwhelming feelings, she scribbles names or descriptions on small rolls of paper and pushes the roll into the crevices of a stone wall she’s built–that way she tries to externalize the pain and get it out of her own head.

I’ve felt something similar over my lifetime, but more selfishly, usually the overwhelming feelings have been my own emotions of pain, grief, or horror. At my most generous I’ve felt a strong urge to help someone else feel less pain. Even that has often  been driven by the fact that their emotional pain hurts me. If I can help them feel better, more at peace, then I am more at peace myself.

I want to be an empathetic person, a truly empathetic for the right reasons kind of person. I just want to be able to do it with some balance and flair, like one of those people in a circus flipping from high trapeze to high trapeze in a shiny leotard. (Mine would be aquamarine. With feathers.)

Here was the major roadblock: I didn’t even know I could practice my emotional trapeze technique. I thought I was stuck with the techniques I had at that moment. And being stuck in a constant state of Big Feelings is exhausting.

Better late than never, right? If my life thus far has been in thirds–first third childhood/college/single, second two thirds marriage/divorce–does that make the next twenty years of my life the fourth third? However the math works out, I’m hoping to practice practice practice my way to balance and poise in my emotional state. I want to learn to handle my emotions differently, handle the emotions of others differently. I want to be more authentic in my responses to someone else’s harsh situation and the resulting feelings. This means my motive has to be about them, their pain, not mine.

Knowing how to respond to someone’s emotional upset helps me focus on them, their need, and gets my eyes off my own bellybutton. When we don’t sit with the unpleasant feelings that have rushed in, we won’t process all the way through to closure and acceptance. Here are two similar tools I’ve learned and personalized for ways to deal with the Big Uncomfortable Feelings and Words of life:

Observe those feelings. Feelings come and go. Sometimes they feel like we will never get past them, and maybe there are certain ones we default to because of the way we see the world and the people in it. Without trying to change or judge my painful emotions of fear or sadness or grief and so on, I use a visual image–I am a large rock in the middle of a stream or river, with the water carrying my feelings as it runs constantly over my head and around me. As the rock I notice the feelings as they come rushing toward me, over and around me smoothly. “Yup, there’s my sadness in this situation. There goes my anger at the unfairness of it…and my grief that the situation will never be the way I wanted it to be.” We can sit with our feelings as long as we need to for them to run their course, as they do. It’s calming and somewhat meditative to simply observe them.

In the same way but with a different visual, we can observe the negative words put on us by ourselves and by others. I touched on this in a previous post. The wind is hitting my face, and I see pieces of paper with the negative words I’m hearing, no matter who we may have received them from. Close your eyes and picture the words on the pieces of paper: Foolish. Stupid. Less-than. Too loud. Incapable. No voice. etc.. As the wind blows these notes against your eyes and mouth and cheeks, visualize them hitting but not sticking to your face. Those words of self and other judgment are being swept away by the wind. Keep picturing this in your mind until the words run out and you realize they’ve gone and are now papering somebody’s back garden fence.

Both are simple to do. Either could work for words or emotions. I’m a pretty visual person, so this type of exercise is helpful for me.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have repetitive words and phrases in your head or on your lips that label you negatively? Write a list of them. Do you have any big emotions you wish you didn’t have? Write a list. Use your list with either visualization, sitting quietly for 5 or 10 minutes and letting them clear out your mind of the labels, the painful feelings, and help you move forward. How did you feel after completing the exercise?

 

Remember that you have worth simply because you’re on this planet! #Ihaveworth