The Nothingness of Depression.

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I am depressed today. And I don’t know where it comes from.

Is it a chemical reaction to something I’ve eaten? Is it related to my yearly battle with Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD)? Is it because I’m not being “true to myself,” and I’m stuffing emotions that I should be expressing, taking out and examining for a deeper meaning?

I don’t know. And I don’t care.

Years ago I was at my chiropractor’s office getting an adjustment. As he was asking about what was going on in my life, I mentioned I was somewhat depressed. His condescending response held the phrase, “…when you start feeling sorry for yourself…” I never went back to his office, even though I had been getting adjustments from him for years.

It was obvious he had no experience with depression. It was obvious he though “feeling sorry for yourself” was the same as depression. It is not. For me, even sadness has nothing to do with depression.

Depression is about “nothingness.”

Fast forward to just about a year ago. As a Hypnotherapist, I was learning a new technique to acquire a new tool to help my clients. This type of technique involves assisting the client to reprogram their thoughts and responses. As a part of the process, the client is encouraged to choose a better way of thinking (a “preferred response”), and to really make the new, better response very intense and active in their mind.

During the training, the instructor, while going over methods to use with clients who are depressed, said something about how “depressed patients are lazy,” because they don’t want to think of anything better.

Again, obviously he’s never been depressed. Because nothing could be further from the truth. It has nothing to do with wanting. It has everything to do with unable. Feeling sorry for yourself is light years away from true depression.

Depression is when there is nothing but deep darkness. I can’t even rise up enough to think about thinking of something better. “Something better” does not exist in depression. Depression is it’s own dark abyss where nothing else exists and movement is difficult, if not impossible.

Light and “preferred responses” cannot penetrate the lethargy, the fog, the thickness. “Something better” does not compute from within depression. It is not that depressed folks are lazy and therefore can’t remember a happier time; it is that happy does not exist; the past and future do not exist. Only darkness exists—in an eternal, deep, sucking Now. There is no direct route from depressed to happy.

The depressed person cannot move—in thought or body. Depression pushes down and pulls down, all at once, sucking me further in. It is stagnant and dark and terrifying, but I am too lethargic to react, too drugged with heaviness and apathy, to even express the terror. I get pulled in so deeply, that it physically hurts to open my eyes (my mind’s eyes, as well as my physical eyes) to try and look for something other than this black Now.

I usually find myself begging out loud for mercy, asking, “please…please…please…,” not wanting to continue the descent. The begging is as close as I can get to movement, to doing something proactive, to praying. I begin begging because, for me, there are levels of depression, and I don’t want to keep sinking. I beg for at least a full stop. I beg because I know how horrible it is further down in there, and please God I don’t want to go to that level again—please, not this time.

Depression sucks the will out of me. It sucks faith out of me. Reasoning goes next. Aversion shows up, and I am convinced that no one—not even my best girlfriend or my sweet, patient man—wants to take a desperate call from me right now. No one wants to put up with such a wretched person as I am right now.

Embarrassment is next, as I begin berating myself on how I should be able to pull myself back up out of this morass. And if I do somehow make it back up and out of this, how am I going to face everyone who noticed me sinking so deep and far away, who saw how worthless I was/am?

I am worthless, talent-less, lacking in reason and therefore have no place to go but further down, deeper into the abyss. It is the only place where I feel welcome, where I know no one will be forced to endure me, and so I let it pull me further in.

Is it a habit—like an addiction? Am I addicted to depression somehow—maybe on a chemical level that I am not consciously aware of? Because it is seductive, in a way. It is quiet, at least. It is a form of Now.

At least I don’t have to talk to anyone here. I don’t have to listen to anyone tell me how wonderful my life is and how I shouldn’t feel this way, how I shouldn’t succumb to the darkness, how I should be strong and resist it, how foolish it is to go so deeply away, to be so… absent.

That is what it feels like. It feels like I am not in the real world; I am absent. I am separated from the world by a thick, heavy fog that I can only barely see through to observe other humans.

It always feels like I’ve sunk too deep down into the rabbit hole to return.

the elephant journal version:  The Difference Between Feeling Sorry for Yourself and Depression

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The Emergency Shame Toolkit.

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The response most needed by those in a downward shame spiral is empathy.

As a survivor of childhood abuse, even at my old age, I still get new, devastating memories that show up sometimes, seemingly out of the proverbial blue. I know, from my own personal experience, from my hypnotherapy training, and from working with clients, that the subconscious will only serve up what the conscious mind is ready to know, deal with, and heal.

I’ve seen it time and again with clients. It’s just how the subconscious works. The client and I talk awhile and then agree on their healing path. I hypnotize them and start down that agreed-upon path, and then their subconscious will take us down another path, expertly and easily—with perfect timing and to a perfect “ending” (which is really a beginning)—circumventing our original path.

The subconscious always knows what it’s doing and where it’s going. I have learned to simply trust the client’s subconscious and follow where it wants to lead, letting it reveal itself and its secrets in exactly the perfect way. I am just the mental Sherpa, in a way, outside the client’s mind and able to keep them moving toward their own resolution.

It is a fascinating journey—always—and I have the utmost respect and admiration for the subconscious and the pathways it takes to healing.

So I must respect my own subconscious’ journeys too—even when those journeys are seemingly unexpected and initially seem way too difficult to be navigated, even when I don’t want to respect them, and even when I am dragging my proverbial mental heels, the brakes fully on.

Every memory that has presented itself this way—seemingly spontaneously—is more than difficult. When first presented, they are overwhelmingly devastating. The shame they produce feels like more than I am able to shoulder.

Afterward, I usually spend the first day or two in hiding, too ashamed to speak, wondering if I can live with the shame of it. Yes, I know the shame is not really mine—that it belongs to the abuser. Nevertheless, there it is, and shame is shame, no matter its origins.

This last memory was no different for me. It seems to be the worst memory I’ve ever recovered, but they all seem like that to me. I suppose my subconscious is slicing off and serving up the really bad ones—now that I’ve years of coping skills and tools to heal myself at their appearance. The subconscious is brilliant like that.

This time, however, instead of swallowing and holding on to the shame, I took Dr. Brené Brown’s advice, and a few minutes after the memory’s surface, I called a trusted girlfriend.

Brené Brown compiled a shame resilience model that she learned from years of interviewing people that handle shame well.

First:

The first task is to recognize shame. Hopefully, I will have done my homework ahead of time and know what shame looks and feels like for me. I need to know what my personal shame triggers are. Most importantly, I need to recognize my own shame signs, so that when it happens, I can get myself back down into my body and start moving through it by saying to myself something like, “This is shame. It hurts. It is horrible.”

Second:

The second step is to not react, in that moment, toward the person or incident that started my spiral down into shame. It does not matter, at this point, whether they deliberately tried to shame me or not—just get away from them. Don’t stay in the conversation. Don’t make that call. Don’t send that email. Don’t allow the instant reaction. Don’t let the shame talk me into blasting someone with a shame screen: anger, rage, guilt, posturing. Walk away.

Third:

The next step is to share the shame. From her research/interviews, she found that shame thrives in an environment of secrecy and judgment. So call a trusted friend and confide in them.

Important!

Only share shame stories with someone you trust completely, those who have earned the right to hear your shame. Hopefully you have this someone. If you are blessed/lucky, you have more than one person you could call.

Brené stresses that there are six types of folks to not confide in:

  1. The friend who actually feels shame for you, gasps and confirms how horrified you should be.
  2. The friend who responds with sympathy (“I feel so sorry for you.”) rather than empathy. (“I get it, I feel with you and I’ve been there.”)
  3. The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity, who can’t help because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections.
  4. The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds, “How did you let this happen?”
  5. The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually make terrible choices. (“You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad.”)
  6. The friend who confuses connection with the opportunity to one-up you. (“Well, that’s nothing. Listen what happened to me…”)

And if you are the recipient of a shame call from a friend? The response most needed by those in shame is empathy: “I feel you. I’ve been there too. I’m here for you. Let’s get through this together.” And those comments like, “Well at least… ” don’t help at all. In fact, those type of comments shut people down rather than help.

So, at 6:30 a.m. in the morning, I called a trusted friend—and barely able to get out the words because of the crying and extreme shame, I began, “I don’t want to be talking about this at all, but I know that shame thrives in an environment of secrecy and that I should tell someone, so here it is…”

The elephant journal version.

I Hate Change.

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I hate change. I hate surprises too.

I even hate good surprises – like surprise birthday parties.

When my man planned my last birthday party, he consulted with my (grown) daughter ahead of time and later he relayed that during that conversation she agreed with him that they couldn’t do a surprise party.

She demonstrated excellent mom knowledge and even better judgment when she replied, “Yeah, don’t do a surprise party. She would probably get there and start crying because she wouldn’t be able to handle it.” He agreed.

Embarrassing.

But also comforting to know the two people I love the most in this world know and understand me to that very embarrassing and vulnerable degree. And it proves I raised a child who pays attention and makes good decisions—and those are good things.

I also hate change—even change that turns out to benefit me—and even when I know, ahead of time, that it is a good change, a change that will bring me good things. Welcome to life, Grace—geez.

A few years ago, I heard a friend describe herself as a “rut queen”—meaning she gets in a rut and she likes it there—and I instantly recognized that in myself too. For instance, I have been known to eat the very same food, everyday, for over a year—because I like it, and it’s easy to fix. It’s no wonder I have so many bloody food allergies! I also like routines and familiar people, places and practices.

Change is scary for me. It always has been. I don’t like it. I resist it. I drag my proverbial heels. I avoid it. I dread it. It terrifies me. I don’t like feeling out of control of my life. I’m just wired that way:  jumpy. I get anxious and feel overwhelmed when I think about changes happening. When I get overwhelmed, I pull into myself and become even more introverted than usual.

I get short-tempered, blunt and “hard,” because I’ve gone so deep inside myself, I find it difficult to surface in order to interact with those around me. It is not that I don’t want to come up and out and be with other humans (I do), it is that I cannot come up and out—I am unable.

It is one of the things I like least about myself.

I think it’s because I value comfort, certainty and security over variety. Tony Robbins talks about the six human needs: certainty, uncertainty/variety, significance, connection/love, growth, and contribution, and I hold on to “certainty” long after I’ve fearfully choked the life out of it.

My poor man. He has to put up with this.

He has learned well how to combat this in me, though. Hat’s off to him. He grabs me and holds tight. He repeats, “Everything is going to be okay,” until I can breathe normally again. And when big changes are likely, sometimes it is a long time before I can breathe normally again—sometimes it takes months. This last bout has taken about six months of whining, crying, foot dragging, dread—and not breathing normally.

I know change is inevitable in life. I know I can’t stop it from happening. I know I should get over it. I know I sound like a big baby (I feel like one too). I know I should suck it up and be an adult and “Just Do it.”

So after a lot of self-encouragement—and patience on everyone’s part—I do eventually come around. I get to a state where I can actually think and talk about it with something close to normalcy. I finally get to this state, because I have forced myself to sit with it long enough and often enough that I get accustomed to the change/idea.

And then suddenly…I’m ready to go. I’m ready to change. I’m ready to move in the new direction. It always takes me too long to get there, but once I’m there and ready, I don’t back down or second-guess myself. I just do it. I have to have time to get past the fear and into the this-is-going-to-be-a-great-adventure mode, but once I’m in the big adventure mode, I’m mostly good—mostly.

My next adventure? Well, most probably, I am going to have to get out of my house of ten years. We’ve tried to refinance, but the Universe—in very weird ways—seems to be conspiring to take a short cut I hadn’t seen before now, to move us from point A to point B without the refinancing step that I was assuming was absolutely necessary.

So big change is on my personal horizon, and I need to jump on that moving train and stop crying about how I don’t like train rides, and about how it’s moving much too fast, and do we know where it’s headed, even?

How do you handle change? I sincerely hope you have a better handle on it than I.

The elephant journal version:  Even if You Really Hate Change There’s Still Hope

I Have Boundary Issues.

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I’ve been having boundary issues in the last few months.

I began looking at boundaries when, a few weeks ago, I was preparing myself to spend an evening with a group of folks that included a person I don’t really like.

I don’t have a good, solid, logical reason for not liking this person. I just know I don’t. And I am hopefully learning to simply honor that gut instinct and let it be what it is—without questioning myself, without beating myself up for not having a good, ready reason.

Before that evening, I was trying to figure out why I don’t like that person. In my musings, I came across this: They want to be too friendly too quickly. Their questions are too personal. From there—and via a long, difficult trail—I hiked over to: They lack boundaries.

The problem was put before me again when an acquaintance very kindly told me I had offended and embarrassed her in front of some other people by something I had said. I was most impressed with the kind, sweet—and yet very assertive—way she started the confrontation. I thanked her for being honest, kind and assertive in telling me; I sincerely apologized for my mistake.

But after my apology, I could tell from what she continued to say that she assumed I was a careless person without respect for other people’s boundaries. She seemed to think it necessary to point out why it was rude, careless, etc. She went into some detail, making it clear that she had put much thought (and drawn many, perhaps false, conclusions) into the matter.

I really wanted to take offense, and I was hurt by her assumption. I found myself unable to be offended, though, when I looked at it from her side. She had drawn an incorrect conclusion (in my opinion) from my innocent mistake. We did not—and still do not—know each other.

Indeed, I consider myself to be very aware and careful when it comes to other people. Then I made an assumption (in my own mind only) about her: Well, she’s just too uptight. I quickly and easily recognized this assumption as knee-jerk and defensive on my part, and it did not last long, thank goodness.

But after a lot more thought on the subject, I realize that the problem is that we all have very different ideas about what constitutes healthy boundaries. And there is a really broad and relative idea of what constitutes right and wrong in this category.

Brene Brown points out that her research has shown that boundaries are simple to define, but not so easy to enforce. In explaining them, she says boundaries defined are when we know what we can and will tolerate and what he can’t and won’t tolerate: “This is okay. That is not okay.”

The problem comes when we need to enforce what’s okay and not okay for us, she expounded. And we do need to. No one wants to seem unkind and bossy by clearly pointing out what is okay and what is not—especially in that moment when someone has just done something that is not okay. It can get tense.

But she goes on to point out that empathy, compassion and vulnerability are not possible without well established and enforced boundaries.

When we let someone breach a boundary (do or say something that is not okay with us) and then try to silently pretend it is okay, we often become bitter and resentful—and then blame the other person for stepping on our boundaries.

But how can they know they’ve crossed a boundary—and where those boundaries are—if we don’t clue them in and show them our boundary maps?

As I think more about it, it seems kind of disrespectful to not make our boundaries clear. It would be like forcing someone to take on an expedition in a new, uncharted land—and glibly and condescendingly telling them they have to do it without any maps.

And oh yeah, the maps exist, but you can’t have them.

We’ve probably all commented at one time or another—whether out loud or to ourselves—about some person we are having difficulties with: “They have no boundaries.” Or, “They have boundary issues.” Or, “They have uptight/rigid boundaries.”

All we’re really saying is that everyone has their own, specific ideas about what is okay for them and what is not. Which seems reasonable to me. It also seems reasonable for everyone, including me, to have the right to enforce them—in non-violent ways.

And having come to that conclusion, it is also a good idea, I think, to point out that there does seem to be some folks who are not very aware or respectful of boundaries—even when those boundaries have been clearly pointed out—and who don’t seem to have or enforce any boundaries for themselves. In my introversion and privacy, I find these folks difficult to be around.

So really, my problem seems to be two-fold:

  1. The problem is not that anyone else has boundary issues and is asking me too-personal questions, for instance; the problem is that I don’t make my boundaries clear and then enforce them.
  2. I need to avoid those folks who choose to trample boundaries that have been clearly defined, who choose (for whatever reason) to ignore them.

My solution seems really clear to me right now: Establish and maintain my own boundaries—kindly—and let other folks do the same.

At elephant journal:  Do You Have Boundary Issues?

From Death to Forgiveness.

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I have a few things that I can’t seem to forgive.

I live with these things bumping around in here—bruising and hurting—have lived with them a long time—some longer than others.

I, like Brene Brown—who says she worked on forgiveness for 10 years—have been letting the notion of forgiveness steep inside me for a long time, mulling it over, periodically pulling out my still-needs-to-be-forgiven incidents to see if I can fit a square peg into that round hole once more.

I was relieved when I heard her say she had been rumbling with forgiveness for ten years. I was beginning to lose hope for myself and forgiveness, beginning to think we would never hook up, never even be able to be in the same room together. To find out that someone else had also been struggling with it for so many years, put me in good, albeit stubborn, company.

I am aware of the famous quote: “Holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I know I should forgive. I know it only hurts me and not my forgivees. I want to forgive. But I just can’t seem to make/let it happen in some situations.

“In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die.” ~ Rev. Joe Reynolds

So, a few mornings ago, when I once again heard Brene tell the story of how she had worked on forgiveness for 10 years and then heard her pastor in church say the “something has to die” line, so that the pieces finally fell together for her, I found myself wondering if maybe that was the piece that was missing for me too.

I felt some hope—mixed with dread at the thought of death and grieving—that forgiveness might be possible for me. So what is it that needs to die so that I can forgive?

Three days later I was still thinking about the dying and trying on the grief that must necessarily follow death. I didn’t want to grieve. But I thought Joe and Brene might be correct. I think I might have to let something die in order to be able to forgive.

There are incidences from the past that still bring up pain and anger, even though I understand why the person did what they had to do. Is that forgiveness, the understanding of the cause? Or maybe some form of forgiveness? When I agree with them and see their point and am even kind of glad they did it that way, but still feel the pain it caused me at that time?

Maybe I don’t understand what forgiveness really is. A quick search brought up:

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), pardoning (granted by a representative of society, such as a judge), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).

I am finding that there is in me a small, hard-to-pin-down, part that thinks my lack of forgiveness provides me with something useful and justified. It provides me with a type of book/place mark, a reminder, of sorts.

By hanging on to the resentment, pain, anger, etc., so that it brings up the pain every time I think of it, I don’t ever allow myself to forget to protect myself against such instances. I think, after many years of working on this for myself, that that is what lack of forgiveness means for me.

And indeed, to let go of my pain and anger, almost seems like a betrayal of myself. Because if I succeed in letting those place markers die, mourn the loss and manage to be able to forgive and move on, don’t I leave myself wide open to further pain and possible hurt?

If I forgive that person, then what defense do I have to stop them from harming me again? What reminds me that I must keep my guard up against them and those like them?

And why do I think that my defensive stance would stop anyone from hurting me again? That’s not going to stop anyone from offending or harming me. It’s just stopping me from living fully.

Lack of forgiveness holds the pain that never lets me forget—and never lets me rest. And I am tired; I want to rest from this lifelong vigil.

Lack of forgiveness also allows me to feel superior to the offender. Even if I never say it out loud, I get to think things like, “Well at least I never did that!” when I somehow hurt someone else. So apparently, I have degrees/hierarchies of offense, and if I judge their offense/faux pas as worse than mine, then in some sick, convoluted way, I win.

Is it a simple tit for tat, then, for me? I can’t let go because I might need that pain for ammunition some time in the future to use against them—even if it’s only in my own mind?

Wow. Yuck.

So, more determined than ever to resolve this lifelong dilemma after those lovely discoveries, I am still exploring what might need to die. After much thought this last week and after watching Brene’s video several times, I think it is ideas I hold that have to die.

Here’s the first list:

  1. The idea that those who love me will never hurt me.
  2. The idea that I will always be able to avoid hurting others.
  3. The idea that people who hurt me are always wrong.
  4. The idea that if they do hurt me, they must not love/like me.
  5. The idea that anyone who hurts me is against me and is out to get me and must be my enemy.
  6. The idea that anyone who hurts me is doing it deliberately (it must be personal).

Why has it taken me so long to realize and face the fact that it is not possible to never hurt anyone?

Sometimes we must make difficult, hard-won, unpopular decisions based on our ethics, morals, obligations and beliefs. When we make these decisions, perhaps choosing the lesser of two (or more) evils, we can expect that not everyone is going to like our decision. And we can also expect that our decision may hurt someone. That someone may be a person we dearly love, respect and admire—someone we are close to.

I cannot ask anyone, even someone I carefully love, to go against what they know is right for them, in order to keep from hurting me. I just can’t justify that in any way—even when the pain it might cause may be bumping around in here for years afterwards.

Enter Death. Grief. Pain.

Hopefully followed by Forgiveness and Release, those two bedfellows who travel closely, gracefully and mercifully together.

The elephant journal version: I Can Never Forgive You

What is the One Thing that Will Make all Your Relationships Last?

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“Be kind. No matter what happens, you will always be proud/glad you took the high road.” ~Steve Horsmon

Yes, even when you don’t want to be kind—even when you are blind with anger—actually especially then—because, usually, that anger is coming from some other, deeper emotion/feeling/cause.

For me, anger usually presents itself first and right up front, masquerading as a sense of injustice, so I feel that I must defend myself against the “attacker.” But I am finally learning to hold my tongue and unpack the anger before letting that first quick burst of anger flow out of me in words.

When I do this, I find that my anger nearly always comes from feeling like a failure. And upon inspection and conversation with the “attacker,” it has never been their goal to express that I am a failure.

So I have been forcing myself to get into the practice of saying kind things and doing kind things. Then the difficult part for me is to have the self-discipline to actually do that, to walk that talk—even when I don’t want to and even in difficult conversations/confrontations.

And it is especially difficult to do when I don’t want to—when I get triggered into anger and want to allow myself the “luxury” of not having to do any mental and emotional digging in myself before speaking.

It does indeed satisfy some selfish, childish, impulsive need I have here deep inside me when I simply let anger instantly burst out, unfiltered. But later, I regret it so profoundly, that I have learned that this first, instant gratification of having “spoken my mind” is so not worth that rash impulse.

It requires self-discipline. It requires me actually, physically putting my hand over my mouth sometimes. It is choosing to control my impulses—to say nothing or say only kind things. It is not easy—not for me anyway.

I came into my present relationship as a much older and hopefully kinder person, determined to not make the same mistakes as my younger self. And do I always accomplish this? Gawd no!

But I am more aware, and I recognize when I’ve failed myself.

And it really is myself I am failing—not him, not the relationship. It is me who decides my own standards and ethics, and when I make a stupid decision to go ahead and be mean or passive aggressive or speak in anger, it is me that judges myself most harshly later.

As soon as I let anger exit my mouth, I regret it. I regret in the moment, and I regret it even more later.

Being kind means not pointing out when I think someone else is wrong when it’s not important if they’re wrong—when their being wrong will not harm them or me. And when it does matter—when they are in some sort of danger because of being wrong, it means pointing it out very gently and carefully.

It means I don’t have to be right at someone else’s expense and just because I have some ego-need to be right. It means letting someone else be right. It means letting someone else feel good and not feeling like I have to ruin that in any way—even when I don’t feel good and it rubs salt in my own emotional wounds to hear about their happiness.

For me, it means remembering others and asking about their issues without them having to remind me. It means paying attention. It means forcing myself to come up out of my introverted-ness enough to really see and hear them, to offer them my empathy—and even sympathy—when they need that.

It means finding something good, handsome, pretty, sexy, sweet, beautiful competent, funny, masculine, laudable, etc. about someone (it’s really never hard to do) and then telling him or her about that.

It means choosing my words; emphasis on certain words; and tone very, very carefully when I am angry and/or stressed out.

It means taking a stand against hurting anyone—myself included, because it is going to hurt me greatly later to look at the regret at having not been kind. It means giving up blame and remembering forgiveness.

“Blame is described as a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” ~ Brene Brown

It may mean saying nothing at all. It may mean leaving. It may mean never going back, because it is certainly not kind to continue to let myself be hurt by someone and stay in an abusive, hurtful situation/relationship.

But it also may mean leaving and only coming back when I am not angry and can speak without anger.

It also may mean sometimes staying and listening to someone else’s anger without getting triggered into anger myself—which is so difficult for me! When someone is expressing anger at you, do you instantly get angry in return? I usually do, even though I believe that is no good reason to ever get angry.

“I am starting to think that kindness is the closest one can get to God.” ~Peggy Christiansen

I have been working for years on changing the deplorable (embarrassing!) habit I had of saying things in a passive aggressive manner. Like saying something seemingly innocent and kind, but saying it just the right way so that I know it will actually make that person feel guilty instead.

Gag! Yuck! Sick!

So many times in the past, I would find myself angry but too much of a coward to own it and say it directly, so I would “say” it by a few well-placed words or word emphasis instead.

Passive aggressive much?

Years ago, I enacted the self-rule that I’m not allowed to do that anymore.

It takes paying very carefully, close attention to my motives—especially when I am angry or feel threatened in some convoluted, habitual way. It is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, this careful, self-inspection of motive each time I get triggered.

I’m trying to be gentle, too, in my digging, trying to be kind to myself. That is the most difficult, frustrating part for me.

So, what is the one thing that will make your relationship—and indeed, all your relationships—last?

Kindness.

“My religion is kindness.” ~His Holiness the Dalai Lama, XIV

The elephant journal version.

When for no Specific Reason, You Just Don’t Like Him.

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Have you ever instantly not liked someone but can’t figure out why that is?

Have you ever not trusted someone—without them having done anything to you to warrant that mistrust—and don’t know why?

I recently spent an evening with a small group of people that included a person that I neither like nor trust. I did this at the urging of a friend who disagrees with me and tries to convince me that this person is totally trustworthy.

And did this mistrusted person do anything throughout the evening to prove me correct—or even incorrect? No.

But I spent the entire evening silently berating myself for being so unreasonable, judgy and unfair. Every time they spoke or I looked over at this person, I asked myself, “Now what is it, again, about this person that is so very horrible, Grace? Why are you judging them so harshly?”

An answer never came. What did appear though, was a continued feeling of mistrust and aversion. It grew even stronger throughout the evening—to the point that I started doing my mind-escape thing of going to my happy place inside to get away from them and the situation (which also meant I wasn’t very available for socializing, which was why we were there in the first place).

And from there, I began to feel very childish and dysfunctional. I started in with more self talk like, “This won’t kill you, Grace, just buck up and do this. Be an adult!”

Indeed, I felt like an impatient, recalcitrant child in formal clothes at a formal event who sits in the corner grimacing, chaffing, itching sweating and pulling at the stiff, scratchy clothes, with nothing on their mind but escaping, as quickly as possible, this hot mess of torture.

This person appears very nice, polite, funny, well adjusted, etc. But from the first time I met them, I have never liked this person. And I have continued to question and berate myself about these feelings.

I see this person in my social sphere of acquaintances only occasionally, and I am uncomfortable with this person always. In my concentrated efforts to pin down the origins of my discomfort, I have come up with a few vague things about this person with which I am uncomfortable.

This person wants to be way too chummy, way too quickly. There seems to be a “neediness” or desperation or something similar that I find overwhelming coming from this person. They ask way too personal questions, and I find myself in a constant, tacit struggle with them to redirect the conversation to something less personal without seeming rude.

So is this just a difference in social/personal boundaries? I am a very private person. They are more open? I have explored this possibility too.

So the next day after my experience of self-interrogation in this person’s company, I was still belittling myself, still trying to figure out what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t give this person the benefit of the proverbial doubt.

I mentioned my confusion to a friend—who also happens to be a preschool teacher of over thirty years. I asked, “Have you ever not liked someone, because of the feeling you get from them, but have no real reason not to like them? I mean, I want to be a loving person, a person who is kind and patience, even with those I don’t seem to like.”

She nodded in understanding, and in a very serious voice, said, “Yes, everyone does. And I’ve always taught all my children (in her classes) to honor that feeling in themselves. “Stranger danger” doesn’t really make much sense, because most kids are hurt by people they know—close or extended family, “friends” of the family (she made quotes around the word “friends” with her fingers in the air between us), etc., so I teach them to pay attention to what they feel in here,” she pointed to the middle of her chest.

“I tell them they don’t have to figure out in their heads why they feel that way. Just trust that feeling anyway and stay away from that person and tell someone they trust about that feeling.”

As she spoke, I felt myself releasing something I’d been holding on to way too tightly. A big breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, whooshed out of me; my shoulders dropped. I felt tears of relief wash up and out at being validated.

I had spent so much time alternately defending my gut/heart feelings about this person and then swinging back to, “Why are you being so unreasonably, effing judgy, Grace!?” that I had not even considered a middle ground where I could simply trust myself without having to defend those feelings.

She went on to briefly explain that this was the same way she lives her life. She lets herself pause enough to get a feeling about everything, then she chooses the one that feels best—even down to the choice of her route to work each day.

It was then that I had my a-ha moment.

I too live that way—in every way, except apparently, when it comes to trusting how a person feels to me. I too do a mental/heart check about my route to work, my route to the grocery store, which pair of shoes to buy, what to eat for lunch, as to whether I want to go out and dance or stay in and veg and watch a movie or just meditate.

Why have I been excluding using that heart-centered approach to the feelings I get off of people? And why was I beating myself up about not getting the “right” feelings—like that is somehow my fault?

Does this mean that this person—the catalyst of this whole query—is a bad person?

Not necessarily. Maybe we just have different ideas about what are comfortable, appropriate boundaries. Maybe as an empath, I am picking up on some unrelated, energy/wounds that are deeply buried and that have nothing to do with me. Or maybe that person is wearing a social mask to hide his or her own insecurities, and I am picking up feelings of inauthenticity.

Maybe we have a past lifetime where we didn’t get along with each other. Maybe we were enemies in that lifetime. Maybe the stars aren’t aligned correctly. Maybe my chakras are all out of line, and my aura is just too cluttered, my shoe came untied, the sun was in my eyes, I lost my keys and I was really missing my momma that day…

Regardless of reason—simple, convoluted, unconscious, deliberate, personal, multi-dimensional or not—my mission, if I choose to accept it, is to simply be aware of those feelings of discomfort and mistrust, acknowledge them, honor them and stop feeling like there’s something wrong with me that I can’t like someone, stop feeling like I have to justify myself in some way, stop feeling like I’m a bad person for not liking someone who brings up revulsion in me.

I will now use these feelings as the tool that they are. Just like I use them to choose my path to work every morning, I will similarly use them to choose who I want to hang out with—and not.

Without question. Without having to figure out why.

Have you ever had this experience? What do you do with it?

The elephant journal version.