“Judge less. Love more.”
A sentiment a friend posted recently that perfectly captured a theme so frequent in the therapeutic conversations had with clients. While her post was originally in context of how we treat others, the notion of “judging less, loving more” is also relevant to how we experience ourselves.
The critical voice that haunts our thoughts, taints our belief in self and doubts our worth is the epitome of judgment; self-judgment that is. And it’s a struggle woven into many of our stories.
“I’m not good enough.” “Everyone else has it all together, what’s wrong with ME?” “There are so many people who have it worse, I need to just suck this up.” “I’m an awful parent.” “I’m too this… I’m too that…”
This critical voice is harsh and slanderous, ripping ourselves away from the truth of who we are. Just as another’s judgmental words can hurt, so too can the judgments we direct inward. They cut. They sting. They trap us in a quiet yet powerful belief that we are somehow less than and that we are perhaps inherently defected.
I’d dare to put money on it that we don’t like it when others judge us. We might even react. We might get upset. We form widespread social movements in response to the judgments and oppressive actions from others. So why is it then that we endure our own judgment of self? How is it that we stand up for others while simultaneously attacking ourselves with scrutiny and criticism?
“Judge less. Love more.” A simple sounding response to the intricate battle described here. And yet it holds so much truth. So much opportunity. It’s a call to step off the battlefield with ourselves and tend to the hurt; to put down the weapons of comparison, perfectionism, name-calling, and “I should” and consider what it might mean to be our own ally. This isn’t about the overused notion of self-esteem or blindly focusing on our strengths. Choosing love is about acceptance. It’s about recognizing ourselves as someone worthy of care and kindness, and having compassion for the flaws and hurts we inevitably carry. This is the position of love. And we can take it up with ourselves.
Journeying with you,Laurie
Shhhhhh! Something I trust we’ve all been told at some point in our lives. Be quiet. Fall into line. Be good. Don’t say that . Consider those childhood times we’ve been told to sit still and be quiet and those adolescent days of being hushed in class. Sure, these may be normal life moments in which we are taught the importance of respect and safety. But when our personal experiences and our innermost being are, “shushed”… well, that’s a different story.
What do I mean be Shhhhh? It is that experience of being silenced, shut down in often devastating ways. Silencing occurs when others diminish, ignore, ridicule or powerfully override who we are and the voices, ideas and experiences we carry. The effect? We feel invisible and often less than. Anxieties and doubt get stirred up in big ways when we cannot be heard or seen for who we are. We may question anything we feel and experience, not believing it is in fact valid because others' responses tell us in some way they’re not. We may eventually silence ourselves… standing in the shadows of others or keeping our words within. When we are silenced, we are unable to live life as our best self. Let me be bold and say that living from this place is no fun at all. In fact, it's pretty awful.
History and world events reveal many populations being silenced through harsh oppression and violence. Silencing may not always be this explicit but it can nonetheless be toxic, within our relationships and to ourselves. What I highlight here are common tactics and relationship dynamics that can have a silencing effect:
· Being told your ideas and opinions are not important
· Pressure to stay quiet so not to rock the boat ie: “ yes, yes, I’m fine.”
· Eye rolls and the dismissive head shake
· Criticism and judgment
· Bullying and intimidation
· Offensive jokes and slurs
· Being directly told that things must not be spoken of
· Being indirectly shown that life experiences are to brushed under the rug and not to be acknowledged
· Having someone share an experience that one-ups whatever we have just shared (Not everything is a competition!)
· Negative reactions or the quick change in topic when discussing things that make others feel uncomfortable
· Having those feelings you just expressed being dismissed, ie: “Don’t be so sensitive” or "Get over it already."
· Being gaslighted: when someone twists information to make you question your understanding of reality, working to discredit and doubt your experience.
The tricky thing is that silencing can be very insidious, at times strategic and at other times, unintentional. The numerous stories I've heard (and experienced myself) that demonstrate this experience make me pause. Recognizing this list is not at all comprehensive, I write this in hopes of calling out those situations that trap us into crazy-making doubt.
If you are/have been silenced, identify this experience for what it is… and not a reflection of who you are. When you’re told in some way to “Shhhhh. Don’t speak that. Don’t show that. Don’t be that,” step back and create space to find your truth. Then Stand up. Speak out. And be you. Let your story be told. Let your truth be shared. Let yourself be heard. You’re undoubtedly worth this.Journeying with you,
Some time ago I had a personal epiphany I’d like to share
with you in the hopes my growth and learning could be of use, or that you might
find some of your truth in my own.
I have always really sucked at setting boundaries and not been entirely clear why that is. In most instances, boundary violations were small, like paper cuts, and never seemed worth the potential conflict to address them. So I would sit in my discomfort and resentment until those paper cuts grew to gaping wounds. From there I tended to respond in one of two ways: cut and run far far away from the relationship, or flip-out and come across as an irrational, crazy person. As you can imagine, neither of these responses have been particularly helpful for my personal growth or the development of healthy relationships.
Before I disclose much more, it might be helpful to share my definition of boundaries with you. It is:
The ability to set limits with people about what is and is not acceptable to protect the various dimensions of our lives including (but not limited to): our bodies, relationships, time, emotions, life stories, money, roles, physical space, and belongings. (I’m going to break this down those dimensions in more depth at the end of this post; you can read more about it if you’re interested.)
If you apply this definition to your own life, you might realize that in some of these dimensions, setting boundaries comes quite easily. You can say “no” at work to protect your home life, if someone borrows something of yours and wrecks it, you can ask them to replace it, no problem. However, you might also find that in particular dimensions of your life, or with particular people, setting boundaries invokes a whole lot of fear and discomfort. In my case, when people overstep my “role” boundary of being a mother, or in close personal relationships where I fear losing that connection, setting boundaries has been near impossible.
Reflecting on this dilemma brought forth a light bulb, life-changing epiphany.
For those of you who took Psych 101, you might recall learning about Cooley’s “looking glass self.” The general idea of this theory is that the way we perceive ourselves is based on the way others see us. Our perception of self is reflected back to us in the thoughts and feelings of others. Our brains are also wired to remember the bad and disregard the good, so typically those negative reflections stand out much more profoundly than the positive.
In my life, not only did those negative reflections stand out, but I believed them to be TRUTH . Not in every area of my life, but certainly in judgments about my motherhood, and certainly in close relationships with people who know me very well (notice these are the areas where I struggled the most with boundaries). Thus to maintain my sense of self, and sense of self-worth in these very vulnerable areas required ensuring the looking glass always reflected positive things about me. Otherwise I was flooded with shame, an emotion one typically tries to avoid at all costs. And that is a tiring dance, my friends, a dance that also gives away a lot of personal power. Plus, sometimes people just aren’t going to like you. I had to learn to stop giving these people the power to define who I was. I had to fix the broken looking glass so that at the end of the day, only my perception of self mattered.
This is how my story connects to boundaries: setting boundaries is nearly impossible if you lack a sense of self and self-worth. This is the foundation of boundaries, the first and most important step. If you have not developed a strong connection with self, the skills to self-validate, and the confidence to keep you rooted in who you are, you will struggle in this area.
My process of connection with self has been a slow one. It grew when I became a mom. It thrived when I found passion in education. It blossomed through meditation and connection to spirituality. It continues to flourish through passions and interests, and grows deeper and more rooted surrounded by a few good people who know and love all of me.
And I’m happy to report, boundaries aren’t so hard these days.
I hope some of my journey might illuminate some of your path as well.
Until next time,
* Read on below if you are interested in more information about boundaries
Escape. We all do it from time to time, in different degrees, and with varying consequences. Escape to Netflix for hours and days, escape to our smart phones, escape in too much wine or whiskey or maybe drugs. Escape to flirtations or affairs, to online poker, or real life poker, or shopping, junk food or just too much food, sleeping, sex, pornography. Some of us escape into our work, into video games, even into exercise. Most use a cocktail of the above.
The escape I am referring to has one purpose: to hide us from our suffering , to avoid the painful and uncomfortable emotions of loneliness, shame, fear, anger, boredom, powerlessness, and grief.
Escape on its own is not necessarily a bad thing. When life is overwhelming, it’s normal, and can even be healthy, to engage in activities that distract us from our emotions. This is particularly relevant for people who feel their emotions very deeply. The body needs time to calm down so we can engage with any given situation with a little wisdom. Also, sometimes to function in day-to-day life means we simply can’t open the box where we’ve stuffed our big bad feelings. To pay the bills and feed the kids we must adopt some form of compartmentalization and escape strategies. Yet escape is a slippery slope, and unresolved emotions have a way of surfacing in ugly ways.
The issue with escape is that it disconnects us from ourselves . It removes our actions from our inner truth, our highest self, and from who and what we want to be. And it often creeps in gradually, in increments, and takes us by surprise. Suddenly we notice the disconnect between our values and behavior. And it’s not pretty. Well, in fact it’s usually pretty shameful. And shame, my friends, only begets more shame, and more harmful behavior, and more escaping, and more mess. This is a dangerous way to live. Because although the consequence might be minor (no groceries and a messy house because you fell down the Netflix rabbit hole), they can also be grave (think broken families, lost employment, relationships and self-worth).
Therefore, we are called to face those things we avoid. More so, we are called to face ourselves. We are called to experience and process our pain. And it hurts, and it’s frightening, and it’s raw. Yet the alternative is worse.
Here are some thoughts on what this looks like:
Please know that when facing big emotions, often we feel worse before better. All of those escape strategies have served to keep us safe and protected. With those removed, pain can feel overwhelming and hopeless. This is normal, and yet please seek support. Don’t go it alone!
My wish for you is that you feel grounded, calm, and connected to yourself and others. There is peace there.
Take good care,
*Disclaimer - If going through this process brings up suicidal thoughts or feelings, please contact a professional or tell someone who you trust so you can be cared for appropriately.
Too many relationship atrocities are committed in the name of love. I’ve seen it in my own life, and I’ve seen it in the counselling space. Partners who judge, criticize, control, demean, betray, and ignore. Couples who treat each other with complete and utter disdain and contempt. When I meet these people I always ask: “Why do you stay? What keeps you together?” More often than not, if it’s not for the children, the response is: “Well, I love them.”
Now being humbly and imperfectly human, I cannot claim to be an expert on love. In the deepest part of my spiritual self, I believe love is the ultimate life lesson. A life lesson that often seems impossibly hard to achieve in the face of such challenging demands on our physical and emotional selves. Nevertheless, I think it is what we should each aspire towards, each day.
Now this will come as no surprise to anyone who has actually been in a long-term relationship, but we have been fed a whole lot of garbage about love and romance. And the greatest lie of all: love is a feeling.
People! Feelings are fickle creatures. With our partners we can feel passion, affection, intimacy, anger, resentment, emptiness, and then back to passion again, all in the same week. Plain and simple, love is much more than a feeling.
Love is a verb. Love is an action. Love is a choice. One we make every day. Love is something we give . And hopefully, when we are out there picking our life partners, we pick one who is capable of giving love back in return. Now that, my friends, is the makings of a happy, healthy, relationship.
What are the actions of love? The best description I’ve come across is from an often cited biblical verse that I think holds relevance for everyone, regardless of spiritual beliefs. About love, Corinthians 13:4-8 says:
And I’d like to add:
Love calls us out of a pattern of taking, blaming, and victimhood (no easy task given our programming), and instead requires us to embody those above characteristics.
If you are in a relationship that is on the rocks, or maybe you’re struggling with the thought: “I don’t even know if I love them,” or simply, perhaps you recognize there’s room for growth in your relationship, there are some questions you can ask yourself to guide you on this journey.
On most given days (taking into account some days are less than our best, and certain life seasons requires one partner gives more):
I won’t offer up advice on how to proceed once you’ve worked through these questions because each relationship holds within it complex histories and dynamics. What I can say, is that both you and your partner deserve a relationship where you can answer “yes” to the above questions. If your answers lean towards “no” or land in grey areas, it’s likely a signal that personal work and/or relationship choices need to be made.
What I also want to make clear, is that it’s not a personal failing if you cannot answer “yes.” If we are in relationship with a person who is unable to embody the characteristics of love, and unwilling to acknowledge the harm they are causing, it is okay if we love ourselves enough to say “no.”
What I also want you to take from this blog is that love is not an elusive thing. It is within you, always.
If you are struggling in relationship, I can’t overemphasize seeking support and guidance. Relationships can be both the hardest, and most beautiful thing in the world.
Wishing you peace,
Let’s be honest. There are moments when life becomes too much: too hurried, too chaotic, too overwhelming, too much of a grinding climb… just simply too much.
Whatever your story may be, these moments come. I might even say they are inevitable. This is not because I have a bleak perspective on life, but rather an honest appreciation for what life involves and a deep admiration for those who face it straight on. Work demands become overwhelming. Family gets sick and face critical diagnoses. Loved ones pass. Kids face challenges. The roadmap to parenting gets lost. Bank accounts don’t balance. Roofs leak and cars break down. Friendships change, marriages struggle, and breakups hurt. Injuries slow us down. Insecurities bubble up. Houses need to be sold, bought, or rented (which means purged, cleaned and packed). Permission slips need to be signed and sports games coached. Reports written, meetings facilitated, and oh, don’t forget that medical exam that has been taunting you for the last two months. And why is it that old emotional wounds come screaming to the surface during these already trying times?
Ok, so assuming I’m not the only one nodding my head to some of this, let’s sink into the idea that we all face crunch times that are chaotic and disorienting. But what do we do when we’re gasping for breath as we face our “this is too much?” This post carries no quick fix or catchy 3-step process to alleviate this weight… an expected staple of any successful blog post, I know. Rather than the typical to-do list of self-care, I invite you to become curious of what helps anchor you in turbulent seasons.
Anchors are those things that provide stability and security. They are those people/places/things that bring about comfort, a feeling of home and an experience of peace. Without strong anchors, the storms of life can derail us.
So the challenge: What are those things that help steady us when we’re being tossed around in the winds of life?
What core values and beliefs do we cling to?
In what activity do we escape to gain perspective and connect with ourselves?
Whose voice calms the heart?
Whose words speak affirmation and encouragement?
Which quote or piece of writing cuts through the chaos with words of truth?
Whose embrace helps silence the noise?
What goals remind us of what we’re striving for?
What memory needs to be relived to bring calm to the moment?
Which place is our safe haven in which we seek refuge?
Which friends can we seek out to fill us with laughter and adventure?
Who might we need to be vulnerable with and share the struggle?
Connecting to anchors won’t necessarily make stormy moments disappear but they definitely help us ride out the waves. They can hold us firm and allow us to stand a little stronger. I invite you to consider what your anchors are and tether yourself to them. Safety can be found here.
Journeying with you,
In the past two weeks I have sat on the periphery of two heartbreakingly tragic and unexpected deaths. Deaths that have left permanent gaping holes in the hearts of people I love. Death has always served as a bit of a wake-up call. We all say “you could get hit by a bus tomorrow” but deep down don’t really think it will happen. So we take the day for granted. We take our relationships for granted. We complain about things that don’t matter like the traffic and Monday mornings. We wait. We wait for the next best thing, for this to settle down or that to work out. We live in the past and the future and not in this moment.
Although this quote is more negative than the ones I usually gravitate towards, it just rings such truth to what I am trying to convey today:
“We are all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by our trivialities. We are eaten up by nothing.” - Charles Bukowski.
So today I’m reminding you:
I know my words are nothing more profound than something else you ventured across in your daily facebook scroll, but I implore you to stop and listen, reflect and act. As much as we think we are entitled to grow old, the Universe doesn’t always work that way. Find the extraordinary in today. Today is your life.
With all my love to those deep in grief, you know who you are.
Have you ever wondered, “ What the #$*! was I thinking?” in response to a past decision?
Yup… Me neither ;)
I said once in a previous post: life is messy. What may not have been mentioned is that at times, it’s our own decisions that make it messy. It’s true. We are human. We are imperfect. We make mistakes, as shown by the many life twisting, heart hurting, crazy-making situations we create and face. Sure, some of these “What the heck moments” may be trivial, embarrassing and may have even become the source of much laughter. “ Remember that time …(insert impulsive and perhaps juvenile decision here). These are the moments that can be shaken off or become crowd-pleasing stories that are strangely nostalgic. But there are also those decision-making moments that seem to color life with deep shades of regret and shame. You know those decisions that seemingly alter the course of life, perhaps bring about a sinking feeling of failure, or are maybe carried around like heavy chains to a past that can’t be undone? These are the “what the #$*! was I thinking” experiences I want to bring to attention.
Why? Well, I promise it’s not to compare our questionable moments… while I have no doubt that could make quite the collective narrative! No, the reason is because it’s a perfect context to introduce the idea of self-compassion.
Self-compassion is simply being kind and understanding of ourselves, even when we fall short of our ideals and screw up. Think: Gentleness. The warmth we may extend to someone else experiencing distress, we extend to our self. We all have moments where our inadequacies lead to messy and maybe painful experiences. Rather than hammering ourselves with self-judgment, self-compassion asks what we need to comfort and care for ourselves. It’s about turning compassion inward.
Self-compassion is not a wimpy, spineless or pity filled self-indulgence. It’s not about letting our self off the hook for things we need to take responsibility for. But it is a practice that frees us from turning the boxing gloves on ourselves; a way of sidestepping the hits of judgment and criticism that no doubt push us into a corner of shame, doubt and even self-loathing.
If you were to consider a “what the #$*! was I thinking” moment you’ve confronted, what feelings, thoughts, and judgments come to mind? While the details may differ, I suspect some of us would come up with versions of cold, harsh, and condemning reactions to ourselves, adding insult to injury.
Self-compassion is a practice, a hard practice that may seem foreign if we’re used to the rules of self-criticism. Yet, when one takes on this way of being, good things happen. Research cites that self-compassion in fact leads to resilience, strength, happiness and overall wellbeing. Self-compassion results in increased motivation/productivity, increased responsibility for our actions, and decreased stress, anxiety and depression. This work by Dr. Kristin Neff, a main go-to in the study in this area, will inform a later post on the components of self-compassion. Stay tuned.
A final word for now: Let us step out of the nasty game of self-criticism, a game I trust many of us have mastered. Let us not be ruthlessly harsh with ourselves when wrestling with mistakes and imperfections. Let us instead practice the art of “being kind to self” and deem ourselves worthy of this gentleness. Let us look to create safety within and around ourselves. Such compassion can ease some of the pressure of being… human.
Journeying with you,
This blog really has two purposes. Laurie and I want to provide you with some thoughts and ideas to help you tweak those places in your life that aren’t going as well as you’d like. We want to help reduce your suffering, in whatever form it takes, and inspire hope and courage to live your best life. The other purpose is so you get to know us. Then, when you or someone you know could use some counselling support, you feel like you know a few good people with some skills.
I’d like to share my own personal “Vision Statement” with you, for the purpose of meeting those two above objectives. The first relates to living a rich life, free of regret. Often, in the midst of daily to-do lists we miss the big picture of our lives. I often ask clients: “At the end of your life, what will have been important? What do you want others to say about you?” What experiences must you live so you can die without regret?” Taking time to write your own vision statement, or think deeply about these questions is one way to ensure you are living your life on track. The second, as I mentioned above, is because I want you to know me, and honestly, this statement is the heart of who I am as a human being. Plus, I am pretty darn proud of this piece of writing :)
So enjoy! And take some time to ponder your own vision, for your own precious life.