Tag Archives: vulnerability

Finding Beauty Again.

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My daughter recently got married to a wonderful, wonderful young man.

They had dated—and even lived together part of the time—for a little over four years. The proposal, the engagement, the planning, the wedding shower, and the wedding were beautiful things to behold, as my daughter set about, in her very organized (learned from me?) way, to make the wedding of her dreams manifest.

And it worked. Her dad helped them some with the money part, but she and her man paid for most of it. She planned and worked and created for almost two years, and it was the most beautiful wedding I have ever been too.

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(I have intimate knowledge of both of these dresses, as I did all of the alterations—and additions—to make hers fit her so beautifully, and I made mine from scratch.)

It was fun, loving, and profound. I got to connect again with my brother—who I have not seen or talked to in 17 years. I got to authentically and really connect with my daughter’s dad, who I have not been married to since my daughter was about two years old (that’s about 26 years ago now). I got to “give” my daughter to a trustworthy, hard working, good, good man. I got to see my child and her new husband surrounding by so much love and admiration and respect.

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I am so very happy, happy, happy for—and with—her. Throughout her life, she has constantly amazed and delighted me (dare I say? she might be the perfect daughter!).

And I am devastated. Emotionally wrung out. Read: crying jags, depression, anxiety, joy, anger, confusion, raw, relief. Etc.

I am back to where I was when she moved three minutes (literally three minutes from my house, driving) away into a condo from where she went to college to get her undergrad. I was devastated.

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At that time, I spent a lot of time to try and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my now-on-the-tail-end-of life. I started my Etsy shop, I started dating again, etc.

Apparently, it’s time to do that again. And I don’t want to. But I will. I am.

I remind myself, with this latest emotional tornado, that nothing has changed with her and her man. They still live in the house they bought a few months ago, in the same place, work at the same place, do the same things, etc., etc., etc. I talk to her the same amount. I still see the lovely photos of them on Facebook on their adventures.

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The only difference? She added a new (beautiful!) ring to her left hand. She is not even going to legally change her last name until next year, because they are traveling internationally part of the rest of this year and already have tickets booked in her maiden name.

But still I feel like I have somehow “lost” my only child. . . tears threaten every time I think about it too much.

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And now here I go again! Who am I? Am I no longer a mom? What kind of mom am I now? What do I want to do with my life? Why is this so hard?

Help is on the Way?

On Friday mornings, I usually take some time to wander around the internet and find inspiring blogs and websites. I sit with my morning smoothie and let myself be lead to wherever I land. I veg, relax, take my time, enjoy myself.

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This morning I found a blessing of a blog, and much of it sounded like I was reading my own mail. I am in love with Tamera Beardsley‘s lovely, authentic, hit-me-in-the-heart blog. I want to run away with her blog and get married to it on a beach somewhere with just the starry night as our witness.

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Check out her blog and be inspired and blessed and renewed—and humbled—by her strength, her insights, and her willingness to be vulnerable. I took her advice and once again started taking photos of things I find beautiful.

So, with her blog as a new inspiration, and with my recent tornado still whirling around me, I must begin again to define myself. Ugh! And. Yay! (But really, Ugh!)

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Today I am going to immerse myself in upcycled fabrics and create a pair of “don’t get out of bed pants” out of a thrift store sheet—or maybe a table cloth (pattern from Tamera Frampton), because that’s how I feel these days. I’d rather just stay in bed—but when I can’t, I’d rather be creating.

Let’s see where this journey takes me this time. . . (she said nervously).

Love and light and Godspeed, my lovelies.

What is your emotional journey these days?

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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.

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?

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 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?

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.