Tag Archives: Brene Brown

Perfectionism, the 20-ton Shield.

“When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun. And fear is the annoying backseat driver.” ~Brene Brown

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I do not like reminders—about anything. I’ve got to be perfect, so how can I do that if you keep reminding me that I’m not? Even if I have already done that thing you are reminding me about, I don’t like the reminder. It implies that I am not perfect, that you think I forgot something—or that I don’t know something I’m supposed to.

 

When reminded of anything, I tend to think things like, “Of course I already did that! What?! Do you think I’m stupid?!” Or, “No, I haven’t done that thing yet, but I’m not so stupid as to forget it!” Even though I may have forgotten it.

 

Brene Brown says that perfectionism is about fear. In her research on shame and vulnerability, she has discovered a few things about perfectionism that ring true for me.

 

“If I look perfect, live perfect, and work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame, and ridicule. I won’t get hurt.”

 

And while it may keep us from getting hurt, it also keeps us from being seen. Perfectionism is concern with what other people think instead of me doing what I think is right for me and striving for my own personal excellence. And as she points out, “You can never do something completely brave if you’re wearing the straitjacket of ‘what will people think.'” She calls perfectionism the 20-ton shield, because we use perfectionism to try and shield ourselves from hurt, vulnerability, shame, etc.

 

Perfectionism is trying to be beyond judgement, because being judged is too scary. But of course, there’s no such thing as a nonjudgmental world. And the irony of being a perfectionist is this: It makes me super judge-y—of others—and especially of myself.

 

My perfectionism probably comes from a not so pleasant childhood, where the only way to get positive attention was to be super perfect. And everything was a competition, therefore. I competed against my siblings, my classmates, teammates, teachers—the whole world—to try and be validated in some way that was good and positive. It was the only way I felt I had any worth. But as all responsible adults hopefully figure out at some point, it’s up to me to fix this shit.

 

“It’s not your fault you’re fucked up. It’s your fault if you stay fucked up, but the foundation of your fuckedupednes is something that’s been passed down through generations of your family, like a coat of arms, or a killer cornbread recipe…” ~out of the You are a Badass calendar, January 5, 2018

 

The impetus for me to begin thinking about my perfectionist tendencies came a few weeks ago when, during meditation, I heard, “What if you were good enough, Grace, right now and just as you are?” I felt my whole being—body, mind, spirit, and emotions—relax. And I really really really really really liked that unexpected relaxation. It felt so very foreign, but so very good. Because as a perfectionist, vigilance is a way of life—the only way. And it is absolutely exhausting!

 

It felt like taking off that stiff, painful, full-body, pinching girdle that has been holding everything in and up my entire life and getting to finally take a full breath and letting the cellulite fall where it may. But it was more than that too, because not only did it feel good, I flirted with the idea of being okay with all those freed rolls of fat—and even finding them beautiful. (Did I mention the really liking it thing?)

 

Just in case you have not been cursed with perfectionist tendencies and are curious, the perfectionist manifesto goes something like this. (Insert chronic pounding heart, elevated blood pressure, upset stomach/gut, your usual and favorite anxiety symptoms here) I can’t mess up. I can’t get it wrong. I can’t be wrong. I can’t make mistakes. I must keep up appearances. I must keep going. I must not let them see how upset I am. I must look good. I must appear to feel good. I must appear to be happy. I must not appear to be weak. I must be strong. I must always appear to be in control—especially when I am not. I. Cannot. Let. Down. My. Defenses. What will people think?!

 

And if by some horrible (normal), circumstance, I am wrong or make a mistake and my tight little weird world starts to tilt out of control? I can’t admit that—because that would mean I have no worth, wouldn’t it, if I can’t keep my shit together?

 

Then, my historical—and dysfunctional—recovery system consists of some variation of:  When confronted with making a mistake or being wrong or being out of control, make a joke of it, “Oh, I meant to do that,” with as much (covertly frantic!) manufactured-on-the-spot practical humility and sincerity as possible. Blame someone—even myself. Every mistake is a chance to find someone to blame, right? Get defensive and angry and then slide right into martyrdom and throw it back at the other person (blaming, again), “What, I can’t make mistakes? Why are you always such a hard-ass? Can’t I be human and make mistakes? Are you being a bully?”

 

Wow. Ouch. I cannot express how embarrassing this shit is.

 

“In those areas where we feel most vulnerable to shame—those are the areas we’ll be dealing with perfectionism.” ~Brene Brown

 

To keep from going into shame about how much of a perfectionist I actually am, I remind myself that I am in good company. Brene Brown admits to being a perfectionist too. “I’m like a recovering perfectionist. For me it’s like one day at a time,” she says. Me too. All I can do is be aware of it and stop it in its tracks when I experience it.

 

I don’t expect to necessarily be able to “cure” myself of perfectionism. If the queen of all things vulnerable and shameful, Brene Brown, talks about taking her perfectionism one day at a time, what chance do I have? What I do expect is to always be aware of it, to stay in awareness and know I have those tendencies. And to be aware of the areas where shame is likely for me, and know that my perfectionism will be strong in those instances when a shame button gets pushed. It would also be a great thing to get past my shame, at some point, at being a perfectionist—maybe even be able to develop some sense of humor about it.

 

So far, the thing that is working for me? I feel the defensiveness and impulse to make someone else feel inferior (because that keeps me superior and perfect, right? Oy!), and I make myself stop, drop, and breathe before I open my big mouth. Then I think of that voice, that sentence, in my head, “What if you were good enough, Grace, right now and just as you are?” And I am able to relax, tell myself, “Okay, this is how my perfectionism manifests itself,” smile, and speak in a way that still feels defensive, but at least doesn’t sound defensive and superior as it comes out.

 

I am hoping to reach a point where I don’t even feel the defensiveness. A girl can dream, right? Because as a perfectionist, as someone trying to avoid being less-than, making mistakes, being wrong, etc., it is actually hard to admit I am less than perfect by having the flaw of being a perfectionist. Hay-suse! So, into the looking glass we go—again (ugh!).

 

Hello, my name is Grace, and I’m a perfectionist.

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Stand Your Sacred Ground: Owning my Shame.

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Shame is all the proverbial rage now, right? Brene Brown is a household name. Everyone is conversant on shame and vulnerability. It’s trendy. And I love that Dr. Brown’s goal of creating a world-wide discussion on shame has been a success.

 

I love her work, and I applaud just about everything I read or see that sports her name. I even went to see her last year in person. It was awe-inspiring and Real and something I can cross off my bucket list. I can die happy now. She is one of my (s)heros—and I don’t have very many.

 

So I can honestly say I think it is so very wrong to try and shame someone else—or even ourselves—on purpose. I even have problems when I find I have shamed someone inadvertently, when I say or do something totally innocently that causes another person to go into a shame spiral.

 

It makes me have to do some personal soul-searching when I find out that has happened. Did I do that passive-aggressively?! Were my motives truly innocent?! WTF?!

 

And in all this soul-searching I have done–on both sides of shame, I have discovered one very important thing:  I have to own my own shame. We, as humans, have to own our own shame. We have to own our triggers and our buttons. When someone pushes our buttons—purposefully or accidentally—it is not on them to heal that shit.

 

It’s on me.

 

When someone says something to me that pushes my buttons, that triggers a PTSD flashback, that drops shame in my lap so suddenly that I am disabled in that moment, it is not on them to apologize and make it better and heal it and fix it.

 

Again, it’s on me.

 

Sure, they are definitely fucked up if they have decided shaming and triggering someone on purpose is some type of sick fun—but it is still not their circus, not their monkeys. And don’t get me wrong in any sense of the interpretation of this rant. I am never okay with shaming—no matter how it happens.

 

What I am saying:  It is time to own my shame. If someone says or does something from which I get triggered or feel shame, it is my responsibility to own that, to explore that button, that shame trigger, and heal it.

 

I don’t get to play the trendy shame victim card and blame my shit on someone else and never dive in to find out why that particular word, phrase, attitude, tone of voice, etc. pushes my buttons. They are my buttons, and I cannot expect anyone else to even know of their existence, much less try and avoid them.

 

My mission, if I choose to accept it, is to first, get myself out of shame safely. Brene Brown has an excellent shame resiliency method. Second, after I can function again, my mission is to get real and honest with myself and do some exploring to find out why I felt shame.

 

Lastly, I need to heal that button. I need to do whatever is needed and possible to heal that in me. I need to know that that time my father, in my childhood, said, “You don’t know what you are doing! Let me do it!” in a shaming voice, does not mean that every time someone says, “Let me do it,” I have to feel that same shame it originally produced.

 

I can grow. I can heal the past to stop the shame in the present and future. I can own my shame. I can own my triggers. I can heal them. And if they are not heal-able right now, they might be in the future and with more work on my part. And if I can’t heal them, even with all the healing work I can put into the problem, I can at least be aware of their presence and navigate my life accordingly.

 

What do you do after the first, hot, immediate, horrible flush of shame has passed?

 

Do you “puff up” and want to get aggressive and shame them in return as your response? Do you “shrink” and want to people-please and start apologizing? Or do you “stand your sacred ground,” and get out of the situation as quickly as possible and have a look at it later to heal yourself?

 

“Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your sacred ground.” ~Brene Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story I am Making Up in My Head.

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“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” ~Maggie Kuhn, Social Activist

When we allow for vulnerability and reach out to others, offering our love, offering our real self, and people ignore, shame, or reject us, it is easy to feel crushed. It is easy to decide to let that feeling of being crushed keep us from showing up.

And it feels like self-preservation to withdraw and shut down—to lock that door to our heart. We are embarrassed, crushed—sometimes even ashamed, because we dared to think we were worthy of connection and love and that person’s reaction (or lack thereof) seems to have proven those things untrue.

But remember that when we do shut down and withdraw from life, love, and people, we also withdraw from the self. We shut down our connection not only to other people and their love, we also shut down our connection to Source and to our big “S” self.

Brene Brown’s research has shown us that when we numb the bad things, we also numb the good stuff too. We cannot selectively numb ourselves.

So that act of extreme courage it takes to allow yourself to be vulnerable again after being rejected and feeling crushed, is actually an essential, necessary act. It is what we must do—unless we want to end up walking through life like a zombie.

It has to be done. We have to allow vulnerability again. Even in the face of possible repeated rejection. Otherwise, we cannot live that wholehearted, albeit painful, life we desire—because we would be closing the door to joy along with the pain.

And what about those people who continue to reject and shame me? Why would I continue to be around them? And are they really rejecting me or is that just the story I am making up in my own head?

In her book, Rising Strong, Dr. Brown introduces a brilliant life hack that has proven so very useful, simple—and non-threatening. She talks about how it might be beneficial to do a bit of spelunking into our first, knee-jerk reaction to find out what button is actually being pushed. Then, instead of choosing to believe those stores and be angry/hurt/shamed, she suggests we (kindly) share the stories we are making up in our own minds.

She even suggests we use those very words, “The story I’m making up in my head when I felt you mentally withdraw from me is that you think I’m a bad mother because I forgot it was my day to pick up the kids.”

Then the other person is invited to share the story they are making up in their head. This hack is proving itself invaluable, because it means I don’t have to accuse anyone of anything. Instead, I am readily admitting I am probably not correct and please correct me if that is the case, but here’s what my over-active left amydala is telling me.

So instead of an accusation, it becomes a conversation about how real and vulnerable we are trying to be and how we are sometimes incorrect about each other, about life, about how your brain works differently from mine—and about how I fit into your life, thoughts, and heart.

Because I am finding when I share my made-up stories, I find out that they are mostly incorrect. So it’s not that you think I am a bad mom. Instead, you explain, you were preoccupied in thinking about the kids’ pick-up schedule and whether you could manage to pick them up one more day a week in order to give me some more wiggle room in my own schedule.

In other words, you were actually trying to help me.

What stories are you making up in your own head—about me, about yourself, about your partner, your boss, your child, the friend who seemed curt with you the last time you talked?

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

Why I Might be a Bully.

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I am eating humble (crow) pie today.

“Crow is presumably foul-tasting in the same way that being proven wrong might be emotionally hard to swallow. The exact origin of the idiom is unknown, but it probably began with an American story published around 1850 about a slow-witted New York farmer.”

A few months ago, I manifested someone into my life who has offered me the gift to look at my reaction to—and association with—aggression, anger and verbal violence.

Enter the adult bully.

That this person offers me anger, aggression and verbal/emotional violence tells me that it must be time for me to take a look at the same in myself.

Granted, this person was (and is) pointing the aggression at me, and they have also been inviting me into their drama to play some passive aggressive, personalized head games starring yours truly—games that I have recognized and refused to play (at least, so far, and thank God).

And I’m not happy—or proud—to admit that it has taken me several months to understand that even in this case, the anger and aggression really have nothing to do with me.

For many months I saw the behavior as personal and specific to me—and saw myself as some kind of poor victim to that aggression. It’s easy to assume the other person is just being aggressive, devious and mean, to assume it’s personal and that I am the victim.

It’s handier, easier and makes me look wonderfully non-violent, innocent and spiritual, doesn’t it?

Superior martyr much?

Two weeks ago, before I started this specific mental quest, I would have told you that I was not a violent person. I cannot say that now, after only a few days of self-examination.

I took a look/meditation and assumed my fearful reaction to anger originated from being repeatedly exposed, as a child, to a particularly nasty variety of instant, unpredictable, rage.

But unfortunately that’s not the whole story.

I also found a co-dependent part of me that not only accepted the anger and saw it as normal, but would take on the anger as deserved—encouraged it and even welcomed it—to keep the aggressive person from feeling too guilty about being a bully.

Ew. Sick. Enable much?

When I closely examined my reaction, I found that I am sometimes, even as an adult, afraid of anger—often more like terrified. I run or freeze—if not physically, then mentally. I get afraid. I disassociate. I can’t think, be myself or talk intelligently.

I even panic, without trying to show it outwardly, of course, because I have learned how inappropriate it is, as an adult, to run from a confrontation.

By association, I also freeze up around anyone who is loud, bossy and putting off confrontational, aggressive energy. Someone who I perceive might, without warning, suddenly turn into a bully (product of that “instant, unpredictable” thing).

Even if it’s not pointed at me, I get nervous and jumpy just being in the general vicinity of said person or behavior.

And please, how does one handle an adult bully?

I got online and searched for posts about it. Most of the articles dealt with adult bullying in the workplace, which wasn’t very helpful, as this person is not in my workplace.

Anger as Protection for Vulnerability

A couple of weeks ago, as I hunkered into the task of unearthing and healing this issue for myself, using the tool of writing, I speculated:

“They (the aggressive ones) might do that as defense, a habit, so therefore they must feel threatened in some way. Do they have a need to always be stronger and more threatening than everyone else, and to “prove” that right up front by always being louder and more aggressive than the people they address?

I’m pretty sure they aren’t aware that they come across that way. Or maybe they want to come across that way to scare off would-be attackers?”

All of this made me wonder if I give off aggressive vibes without being consciously aware of it—if I have something in me that feels so unsafe that it must automatically and instantly “put up its dukes.”

After finding the origins of that personal button and then speculating that aggressive behavior might be the product of what started as protection, but might now be habit, I reluctantly asked the Universe/God to (gently!) tell me how I might be showing up in violence—how I might be a bully.

Because sometimes, after the panic and to cover up any vulnerability, I meet anger with anger—warranted or not—because it seems somehow safer.

The Universe didn’t take long in coming up with examples of my own aggression.

Within just a couple of days, and with someone I dearly love, I realized (after the anger and argument) that I had been in an emotional shame spiral but was not conscious of that and had tried to make them feel guilty instead of owning and working through the shame.

To my disappointment, the anger and blaming came easily, informing me about the habitual, unconscious, knee-jerk nature of it.

The vulnerability that would have been required to admit to feeling shame was too scary. It also meant that I would have had to admit that I am flawed/unable to handle life/weak/wrong/scared/imperfect—insert your favorite inner critic’s usual harangue word here.

The next instance was another form of using anger to protect my vulnerability—only this time it was passive—and theretofore subconscious.

While being (good-naturedly) teased about something, I began teasing that person in return. But it felt horrible, like an argument, almost—like a contest of some sort, a competition.

When I paused to dig at the feelings coming up, I realized I was feeling embarrassment and shame again. I was surprised and shocked to find I had knee-jerked into “teasing” them about something I unconsciously hoped would shame them so much that they would stop teasing me.

Wow. So much for non-violence, huh?

To say I am embarrassed by my own thoughts and behavior is a drastic understatement.

So, after all the embarrassment and shame at having not allowed the embarrassment and shame in the first place—and how I handled it so dysfunctionally—I am beginning to move forward again.

My usual remedy: First, I give myself time to get over the shame. Next, I briefly explain and apologize.

If I’ve thrown this awful brand of angry, blaming defense at you at any time for any reason, I apologize. Please forgive me.

Third? That’s the hardest part: I have to continue to monitor myself and change this defensive, negative, violent, angry habit and behavior by allowing myself to be human, flawed and vulnerable—to admit this to you, myself, the World—while I am so fearful in that moment when it’s happening, instead of angering-up.

Meanwhile, Back to My Private Bully.

And how do I now handle a bully—or even just a loud, aggressive person—that person who may not even be consciously aware, like me, that they are projectile-vomiting aggression on everyone around them?

I stand, the half-eaten slice of humble crow pie in hand, ready to offer understanding, even as I am also ready to stop offering myself up to be their enabler and victim.

“Don’t shrink; don’t puff up. Just stand your holy ground.” ~ Brene Brown

Because perhaps they too have a part in them that feels so very unsafe that the first, instinctive, habitual, most important thing to always do is throw all the defenses they’ve got at it—at everything and everyone around them.

“The proper pairing of wine and food can heighten one’s appreciation, but in the case of eating crow, wine selection becomes even more critical.” ~Wine for Eating Crow

And I am ready now, please and thank you Universe, to step out of this specific karmic production.

A version published at elephant journal.

Photo courtesy of Artisan Vineyards.

Communicating with Men.

DSCF4131Why would you read these posts? Why would you do these things? Isn’t this anti-feminism?

When I get these questions from clients, my first response is always: Are you happy with your life/relationship(s) as is? If so, you have nothing to worry about. If not, what have you got to lose in learning how to respect and communicate with the men in your life?

In this post, I discussed the timing of inviting your man back into love. In the post before that one, I wrote about some differences in men and women’s brains and why it’s important to offer your gift of love, why it’s important to invite your man back into his heart and belly—back into love.

In my last post, we looked at some specific techniques to get your man out of his head—out of his driven, focused, “work” mode—and into his heart and belly, where he can share in love, where he can get a break from the driven, obsessive energy of masculinity and where he can notice and appreciate your feminine energy.

If you followed some of the instructions in that last posts, now you have his attention.

Now that you’ve got his attention and focus, how do you communicate with him most effectively? We’ll cover some of those ideas in this post.

Remember, his brain works differently than ours—not “less than” and not slower and not more shallowly—just differently. Learn the differences and begin to respect those differences.

Just because his brain works differently than ours, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with him or his brain or the way he thinks. You can choose to be angry or upset or hurt by this, or you can realize he is a man with a man’s brain and you can work with it, being respectful of how different he is

Please leave your prejudices behind and stop rolling your eyes at him (or behind his back). Be respectful and kind. See him and men and how their brains work as a lovely new land to be explored. Be willing to learn and enjoy—bring your sense of adventure.

“Be mature. Be kind. Be honorable. You will never regret taking the high road no matter what happens.” ~ Steve Horsmon

Get in the Same Zip Code

The reason he doesn’t respond to you sometimes? Because you haven’t gotten his attention, so that he can switch “boxes” in his brain. He is not ignoring you. The way his brain works makes that impossible.

Don’t just yell out the back door, “Dinner’s ready!” or “Your brother’s on the phone!” and expect him to respond. He is focused out there, doing his guy thing.

Go out to where he is and do this first. Then tell him the information. He might be irritated at the interruption, but be respectful enough to know that the way his brains works makes being in physical proximity to him necessary, and he needs that from you.

Being in the same zip code is especially important if you are conveying significant information—meaning you are talking about something that’s important to you and that you want him to remember.

Don’t walk off, or start doing something else while you’re talking to him. If it’s important, convey that by staying right there and keeping eye contact. Put your phone away, close the laptop, wait until you’re not cooking or sorting bills. Tell him, “This is really important to me.”

Make an Appointment Ahead of Time

Men need to be able to switch into the appropriate box in their brains. Be kind and give him a chance to do that. Let him know ahead of time what you want to talk about and set an appointment. Put it on his calendar.

Ask him, “It would make me so happy to talk about this with you. Is this a good time?” If he says no, don’t take it personally, simply ask, “Okay, when would be a better time? How about Wednesday after dinner?” If that works, get it on both of your literal calendars, so that he has a reminder.

Men are goal-oriented and are driven to accomplish those goals. When you get on his calendar, not only does he have a reminder, you and that discussion are now a goal to be accomplished.

Remember, don’t be offended by the way his brain works, learn about it, respect it—use this knowledge to promote peace and ease between the two of you.

He will be so much more open to giving his attention to you if you respect his needs. Tell him what you want to talk to him about—don’t keep him guessing and nervous. There’s nothing respectful about that.

Remind Him Nicely

You will have to tell him things more than once—remind him. That’s just the way his brain works. He is always so focused on right now, that he is unable to think ahead in that moment. He needs to be reminded—kindly.

Alison Armstrong suggests something like this. As you are both waking up and getting out of bed, say something like, “Wow, only four days until my birthday! I am so excited this year!”

And then maybe the day of, “Happy birthday to me, the birthday girl!” as you smile and hug him. He gets to celebrate right then and there with you, and you have reminded him kindly.

Tell him What you Need

Women need and like to talk and rant out loud. We just do. That’s how we process and figure out how we’re feeling about something. That’s how we understand and make sense of our world.

“I believe that when women stop emasculating men, men will give us everything we ever wanted…”   ~ Alison Armstrong

Don’t expect him to be your girlfriend. Don’t expect him to be able—or willing—to talk to you like a woman would/does. He shouldn’t be expected to learn and then execute that.

To insist he do that is actually a subtle form of emasculation. When you refuse to let him talk to you like a man talks, you are demanding he be a woman, and you are saying there is something wrong with him being and talking like a man.

If this idea doesn’t sit right with you, pushes buttons or otherwise pisses you off, think of the opposite.

Think of just how pissed off you’d be if a man refused to talk to you until you “cool off and become more rational”—in other words, until you can communicate more like him, more like a man.

Men can get overwhelmed by all those words if he thinks you need him to fix it. And most men are fixers—it’s a guy thing. If you need to just rant and talk out loud and just need him to listen, say so.

Try something like, “Baby, I really need to just vent/rant right now about this. Could you just give me the gift of letting me talk it out? I don’t need you to fix anything. I simply need your ear.” And when he does this for you, let him know how happy that makes you!

Learn to Listen

But learn to listen not like a woman needs to be listened to, but like a man does. You know how we talk together, ladies. We finish each other’s sentences, exclaim out loud to empathize and talk over each other in our excitement and intensity, sometimes gesturing wildly and emphatically.

Ask a question of a man and then put an invisible piece of duct tape over your mouth and just sit and wait and listen. You will get the most wonderful, deep, incredible answers. It is beautiful.

While he talks, let him know he still has your attention, but without interrupting—just nod or make small sounds. Remember, men focus on one thing at a time (I am so envious of this!), so don’t derail him by being too verbal in your responses while he’s talking.

Then after he stops talking, use Alison’s 10-second rule: after he stops talking, wait. Wait another 10 seconds before saying anything or asking the next question. Give him time to add on to his original answer if he chooses to.

In stressful/critical situations, men often like to take the information/question you’ve given them and then want to process and come back to you with their answer or their condensed version of what is needed.

They often will want to give you just the end result of their analysis rather than talk it all out and come to an out-loud, verbal decision right in that moment.

I know it can be difficult to wait for him to do this—especially in the middle of an argument or uncomfortable confrontation, but he really does need to do this.

Be patient and kind and respect that they want to bring you their best answer, their best selves, and that is why they are requesting your patience. Trust him (and maybe call a girlfriend in the interim and get her to talk you down off the ledge while you wait).

Just the Facts, Ma’am—Keep it Short and To-the-Point

When you need something other than just to rant, choose your words wisely. Focus on efficiency. Men can get overwhelmed by all the words and emotions coming out of us, and when men get overwhelmed, they tend to want to retreat to their “nothing box.”

That’s not how they communicate effectively. Their brains work quickly and comprehensively, taking in information in big, often visual, chunks. They don’t need or want all the fluff. Help them help you by sorting through all that ahead of time.

A good rule of proverbial thumb: talk sticky stuff out with your girlfriend(s) first, then take the boiled-down reduction to your man to discuss.

Tell Him the ROI (Return on Investment)

Get his attention and tell him what the ROI is for him if he listens to you.

Try something like, “When I feel listened-to and heard, I am able to relax and concentrate on you and on having a good time with you. I will be the normal, happy woman you know and love. I will have more confidence. I will be easier to live with. I won’t feel crazy and isolated. You will be my hero for listening to me rant/talk/emote and being my support. I feel like I can go out and conquer the world when I know you hear and respect me by really listening to me. I love that feeling of knowing you have my back and that we are a team this way. I’ll want to connect with you more deeply. I’ll want to have sex more often.”

Why Men Don’t Tell you the Truth

“Men are not devious like women—unless backed into a corner, men will always tell the truth and say what they mean.” ~ Alison Armstrong

If you find out your man has lied to you, the question you might think about asking yourself is not “Why is my man a liar?” but rather, “Why does he feel backed into a corner? Is it because my reaction to this in the past has been not very pleasant, so he is avoiding that again, perhaps? Do I emasculate him on a regular basis in this type of situation, so that he needs to avoid that?”

And remember, many men pretend to be vulnerable, and don’t tell us the entire truth, so that we women don’t kick the emotional shit out of them, according to research by Brene Brown.

I’m not saying a woman is responsible when a man lies to her, I’m just saying that in an otherwise, seemingly normal, relationship where lying is unusual, these might be questions to think about. And it might be time to learn how, as a woman, to respectfully sit with and honor his true, deep (scary!) vulnerability.

And gentlemen, why are you lying to her? Is it because you don’t want her emotions, her femininity? Is that too scary?

“One of the deepest feminine pleasures is when a man stands full, present, and unreactive in the midst of his woman’s emotional storms. When he stays present with her, and loves her through the layers of wildness and closure, then she feels his trustability, and she can relax.”     ~ David Deida, The Way of the Superior Man

Do You have a Great Ask?

Alison Armstrong, who has studied men for over 25 years, encourages women to use the Great Ask with men. Figure out what you need instead of just complaining first. Then ask him for that. Example: “I really love birthday parties. Could you plan a birthday party for me this year?”

Then ask him, “Now what do you need from me to make this happen?” Then put the invisible duct tape over your mouth and wait and let him tell you what he needs from you.

He may need to be reminded nicely, or he may need you to tell him more about what kind of party you want. He may need you to witness him putting it in/on his calendar, so he has a reminder.

Then do that for him, so as to help him get you what you need/want. That is the Great Ask.

“When we share our emotions with our man, it inspires him to protect and help us. Share the specific emotions and then ask for what you want/need, ‘When we don’t get enough time together, I feel sad and I miss you. I would love to have more quality time with you. And what do you need from me to help make this happen?’” ~ Alison Armstrong

Is this manipulation?

Some folks will see this information as manipulation. And indeed, if that is your motive, then it is manipulation. And some will recognize it as the informed route to the relationship that they have always wanted to have but either didn’t know how, or didn’t have the courage, to do.

Tony Robbins talks about how you don’t just want your partner to be a fan, because satisfied fans/clients leave. He says we should create raving fans of our partners, because raving fans just keep coming back for more. It’s the difference between worshiping and loving someone.

We’ll talk more about whether this is manipulation or not in the next post.

A version also published at elephant journal.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.