I’m babysitting my friend’s dogs. I find them super sweet: when I wake up in the morning, they greet me with excitement, puppy ears up, tail wagging, head a bit slanting. I can hear them asking: “Are we gonna play? Are we gonna play?”.
When we go to the dog park … it becomes, hum … a bit of a challenge … As long as there are other dogs, Sol is fine. He can release his energy by running around with them.
But today, there are no other dogs. Sol decides to run off by himself. Into the fields. Chasing whatever he smells on the ground. I can see the tip of his tail happily wagging above the tall grass.
Then I see nothing. Nowhere. For five minutes. For ten minutes. I call him. I squeeze his squeaky ball — no sign of Sol. I call louder, squeeze the ball harder. I get anxious. What if he ran to the river stream, apparently home to coyotes? What if he got trapped and dies?
My anxiety turns into panic. My calling becomes yelling.
A fellow dog owner asks entertained if I lost my soul. I understand the pun.
I am not amused.
Then I see his wagging tail, followed by his perky ears, and big, brown eyes. It takes me another five minutes to break his hunting spell and get his attention. When I finally do, he runs up to me.
Sure, I feel relieved. But mostly I feel ashamed and deflated, and full of self-critical thoughts about my “shitty” pack leadership qualities.
Then I think of Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings about taking things personally. His message is: whatever someone says and does is an attempt to meet their beautiful needs. It is NOT a reflection of who WE are.
I look at Sol: whatever he does, it is a reflection of his needs, not a reflection of who I am. He probably needs exercise, or express his innate drive to hunt. He is certainly not trying to demonstrate that I am a shitty pack leader.
Sure, I haven’t succeeded yet to channel his energy and innate drives, so he follows me, not a scent. I’m not yet trained to be a pack leader who supports both play and safety of the pack. But that doesn’t mean I’m less worthy of love, acceptance, and belonging. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Sol is in charge of my sense of self-worth. That’s still up to me.
When we are aware that any behavior is an attempt to meet needs, we can take things less personally. Without the self-judgment, we can learn to balance all needs as effectively as possible, instead of trying to avoid shame.
What helps you to not take things personally?
Let me know. I would love to read from you.
Cockroaches and Self-Compassion
My husband and I cherish our vegan household. We don’t eat animal products, we don’t buy leather shoes, we don’t spread poison to kill bugs.
As a result, we have our occasional cockroach visitor.
Since we don’t want to kill or harm them, we try to catch them and transition them to the compost pile in the backyard, hoping that’s nirvana to them.
It’s not easy. Cockroaches are fast, and have a magic ability to disappear between cracks I didn’t even know existed.
So when we spot them, we have to stealthily get a glass bowl from the drawer, put it over them, shove a piece of firm paper underneath the bowl, and run carefully to the compost pile.
My success rate is around 60%.
I am pleased with that, until a friend tells me it’s not difficult at all: you just pick them up and throw them outside.
Well, I don’t know which countries he has visited. Maybe Tibetan cockroaches have more equanimity and are happy to be picked up, but our Texan friends are fast, really fast.
Irritated at hearing his claim, I prove my point by acting out my catching strategy on the living room floor.
Exaggerating the speed in my demonstration, I land badly on my thumb. I can hear it pop. It’s extremely painful. I feel the blood drain from my head and I can barely get up. Still feeling the original irritation, I pretend as if nothing happened, waving him goodbye.
When he’s gone, I hear a roar of critical thoughts swell in my head: “You stupid idiot, you are unable to regulate your irritation! You made a fool of yourself by being caught up in your own self-righteousness! You deserve a sprained thumb!”
It takes a few hours, before these elements of self-compassion surface:
- Awareness. Just noticing my pain and suffering around these critical thoughts and my thumb. “Ouch, that hurts, that really hurts.” We cannot foster self-compassion, if we don’t acknowledge we’re suffering.
- Befriending myself, being on my own side. Just wanting myself to feel better, caring about my needs. Something like “I wished I didn’t suffer.”
- Shared humanity. I start thinking of all the other people who hurt themselves while trying to impress others. I breathe in their pain, heaviness, and suffering. I breathe out love, light, and relief to them. “May all beings be happy, peaceful, and light in body and spirit.” Myself included.
Working with these elements of self-compassion, I feel better. I see myself for who I truly am: an ordinary human being, whose behavior is sometimes a tragic expression of unmet needs. I don’t need to judge myself for that. I need to reaffirm that I am still unconditionally worthy of love, acceptance, and belonging.
How could these elements of self-compassion help you to accept your mistakes and learn from them?
Let me know. I would love to read from you.
“I feel frustrated with my marriage. I am done with it! I don’t want to deal with his anger and resentment anymore…”
“What would the absence of his anger and resentment bring you?”
“A sense of peace. Someone who is available to me, someone who is willing and able to listen and support me. Maybe just enjoying life… You know, I am 43 and I don’t want to spend the second half of my life with someone who is constantly dissatisfied with life. That was not my vision when I married him.”
When you are married to someone who struggles to hold his unmet needs in a way that respects your needs, you might take it personally. You might start losing your self-respect and self-worth, and think you are at least partly responsible for his anger and resentment.
If so, Steven Stosny suggests four choices to reconnect to your own basic goodness, your core value as a human being:
- Appreciate. When you appreciate what brings you joy, a sunset, the flowers of the plant you carefully nurtured, the smile of delight of your baby, you reinforce your values, your sense of self. You reinforce your inner goodness by appreciating outer goodness.
- Connect. When you connect to people who stand by your side no matter what, you realize you are lovable enough to receive love, acceptance and belonging. Even if your husband doesn’t meet those needs. It doesn’t really matter whether your friend is a human being, your pet, the nurturing part within yourself, God or nature. Any connection with someone who has an unconditional, positive regard for you helps you connect to the place of positive regard within yourself.
- Improve. When you improve your life, you restore your sense of self-agency. You are not in control of how your husband feels, thinks or acts. You are in control of improving your own life, whatever he does. It might be cleaning up your room, finishing chores, weightlifting, taking a class in ceramics: anything that makes your life a bit better. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to get better.
- Protect. Protecting what you care for, something that is vulnerable and precious, calls upon your inner warrior. The one that protects and defends. Not against anyone, but for someone. It is not reactionary, it is pro-active: “This is important to me and I won’t let you contribute to harm, because I care for this and for you.” You appeal to the compassionate core value of your husband. You call upon him to be more than his unmet needs and act from the place within himself that wants to contribute and protect.
Try these strategies out and see if they help. I also suggest you read “Love without Hurt” by Steven Stosny. I find it highly valuable to maintain your core value.
Have you ever met your inner child?
At the Mindfulness Retreat I attended with my Thich Nhat Hanh Sangha last weekend.
I was enthralled by the workshop Gale and Curt organized for us. I valued the support for deep self-connection, the safety of our group, the sharing in our circle, the individual and pair work it offered.
I cried a lot.
And yet, I was not suffering. I was not even sad. I was just touched to spend time with my inner child.
My inner child has a sense of innocence, happiness and excitement about life. She is curious and eager to learn and contribute. She is satisfied with where she’s at and doesn’t need much.
She certainly doesn’t need the forcefulness of a protector — a protector who lives in the fear and responses she created when I was around eight years old. A protector who still thinks it is 1973 – who believes she has to scramble to get a pancake before they are eaten by her siblings. A protector who still carries the fear that her siblings will start to talk over her as soon as she starts to tell about her day and stutters.
My inner child knows better.
She knows that was then and now is now. She doesn’t fear that there isn’t enough, or afraid that she doesn’t matter. She simply trusts that we share our basic goodness and that the world is a fantastic place – waiting to be explored and enjoyed. My inner child engages people and life with openness, authenticity and vulnerability.
I am so moved to meet her.
As I look at her, I understand Thich Nhat Hanh’s Second Mindfulness Training in a whole new way:
True Happiness: “…I can live happily in the present moment, simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy…”
I always thought that those conditions referred to my material well-being, my physical health, my marriage and friendships. This weekend I learned they do not. The conditions of my happiness are the unconditional acceptance and love I receive from my inner child. With her I can relax. With her I can manifest my true self and realize my dreams.
Contact me 512-589-0482 to understand and nourish the conditions of your happiness.
Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this blog at such a late notice. My life is richer by your support.
I struggle listening to her.
Doesn’t she see you don’t get more harmony and collaboration by putting your child in time out? Or that slapping him in a “pedagogically way” doesn’t bring more understanding? Let alone peace?
She should do the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet by Byron Katie. So she can learn how to accept him as he is, instead of wanting to change him. If she connects to her own triggers that come up in this relationship, she can take responsibility for her own feelings and needs, instead of blaming her child for them.
I get more and more anxious and frustrated and find it more and more difficult to listen to her. If only she would see the world from my perspective…
Wait a minute…
I want her to accept people around her as they are and accept responsibility for her own triggers? I want her to stop blaming others and wanting to change them?…
Didn’t I just try to change her myself?
What if I do the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet? What if I accept her as she is? What if I work on my own triggers as they come up, instead of wanting her to be different?
I pause. I take a deep breath. I express myself. “I got triggered as I listened to you. I need three minutes to listen to myself, so I understand what’s going on for me. I want you to have the empathy you need, and I am not sure if I am a source of support for you in this moment.”
She stops and gives me space.
I realize I might not be up to listening to her strategies. And I might be up to respectfully understand the feelings and needs behind those strategies.
After a few minutes I ask her: “Tell me about your frustration.” She starts crying. She tells me about all those times she felt overwhelmed, lost, and scared. All the times her sense of support, understanding, acceptance, love, contribution were unmet. As early as a young child.
I listen. I get her. I totally get her. I get her pain and suffering and my heart softens.
Empathy isn’t difficult at all. As long as I focus on our shared human experience of feelings and needs. I might struggle at the level of strategies. If I do, I can always focus back on those precious feelings and beautiful needs. I bet you can too and find the connection, closeness, and understanding you want, when you focus on feelings and needs.
You want to learn to empathize with yourself if you are triggered when you empathize? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.
How often did I tell myself to stand my feelings? How often did I proclaim that this is the indispensable first step to connect to the needs underneath those feelings and recognize them as precious and beautiful? How often did I tell people that standing your feelings is crucial to find strategies that are truly supporting all needs, yours and those of others?
I don’t know. Maybe a couple of 100 times?
And now that I am in this rage of anxiety and fear, I hate the idea of standing my feelings. I hate my racing anxiety, my accelerating heartbeat, my running away urge. I want to find the culprit (and guess what, I already found her) and get rid of her (yep, the whole strategy is laid out in my head). I want to make sure that nothing triggers my anxiety, and if there are, that they are minor triggers, like the fear of a cockroach.
I do want to practice what I preach. I take a deep breath and return to this simple tool of mindful breathing. Which, by the way, sucks. It is no fun to focus on my breath, when a boa constrictor is wrapped around my chest. Just so you know.
I focus on my second breath. No fun either. I’ll stop saying that I hate standing my feelings, but I can’t think of another way of saying how much I dislike it.
I focus on my third breath. BANG. Rudimentary, old fear. If I don’t stand up, the Nazis will come and take away those that I care about. I have to speak up. I have no choice. I have to save those that will be excluded.
I continue focusing on my breath, hand on my belly. The first panic attack dissipates. I am a bit more aware that I am here and now. That she is a human being, not a Nazi. That she is doing her best to serve the greater good, within whatever limitations she is facing.
The fear is still present. More tender now. More caring. More longing to connect, understand, be heard. The fear is willing to speak up for the needs unmet (safety, inclusion, transparency, dialog, fairness), and give me space to act in alignment with my aspirations, values and dreams.
Standing your feelings is not a command. It is not a trick to get rid of them. It is an invitation to listen, deeply listen, to what is true for you and make choices that are grounded in your values.
You want to learn to stand your feelings? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.