Saturday, February 24, 2007


Jumping in Puddles asked a great question: How did I get from feeling guilty that people were stuck with me to knowing they are lucky to have me in their lives?

The turning point was when I found the right counselor. I found someone who listened, really listened to me, treated me with respect, and believed in me even when I had trouble believing in myself.

Because I could respect him, as well, I valued what he had to say. I know—in my last post I said I was afraid he would decide I was too much trouble and kick me out. That’s the irony of this process—we can believe two contradictory things at once. I knew he believed in me. I was afraid he would decide I was too much trouble.

Maybe that’s the core of it—when the knowledge I had began to balance and then outweigh the fear.

Because someone believed in me so profoundly, I began to believe in myself. As a result, I began to act differently. Now, when I would walk into a room, instead of trying to be invisible, I began to act AS IF I EXPECTED people to be happy to see me. And they were. That’s when I began to form my “fishbowl theory” of life. That is: We are all standing on the outside of a huge fishbowl. We can see people to the right and left of us. When we look straight ahead, the fishbowl seems full of people and we are shut out of it. The reality is that the people we think are inside the fishbowl are actually on the far side of it and they think WE are the ones inside the fishbowl!

I began to realize that everyone has self-doubts. I began to realize that our experience is what we create it to be. I began to understand how powerfully our expectations impact what happens. I began to risk sharing more and more of who I was and found so much acceptance that it became possible to believe in what I had to offer. Because I could see that one person believed in me, I could begin to realize that a lot of other people did too--even though I hadn't been able to recognize that before then.

My divorce helped, too. I ended up driving across country. Alone. Not knowing where I would end up living. I knew some of what I wanted but not where it would be. I learned a great deal about myself and my coping skills and my resilience. I learned how friendly people were everywhere I went. I discovered that judgments I had accepted about my character were flawed. (I still remember staying in a hotel in Austin and suddenly realizing that wishing I had an automatic coffee maker did NOT make me a terrible person after all! I’d been so brainwashed that after my divorce someone offered me a coffee maker—free—and I turned them down because I believed what I’d been told for so long!)

Another turning point was when I made a conscious choice to question every judgment, every assumption I held about myself. I decided to challenge every belief. There were some astonishing surprises. I discovered I wasn’t tone deaf—something I’d believed for decades! I discovered people liked me. I discovered I wouldn’t always get lost driving places, that I could follow a map, and if I did get lost I’d find my way to where I wanted or needed to be and it wouldn’t be the end of the world anyway. I discovered that I could believe in my intuition. I realized that what I’d been told were flaws were sometimes my greatest strengths. I realized that wanting joy in my life wasn’t a bad thing and didn’t make me a horribly selfish person. I realized that I could make mistakes and forgive myself and that most of the time other people would, too.

It is a process, part of the journey. I hope it never ends because my life keeps getting better and better all the time because I keep growing and learning. I’m sure I’ll have moments in the future when I realize I’m still holding onto assumptions and beliefs about myself that no longer serve me. That’s okay. It will just be another opportunity to become happier.

I hope that each of you out there can find someone who believes in you—really sees you and believes in you. Someone who treats you with respect and hears you when you speak. Once that happens, I hope you can realize there are lots of other people who can and will believe in you as well. I hope that each of you decides to challenge every negative belief about yourself and find ways to bring joy into your life EVERY DAY--even if it’s just a flavored coffee or lovely cup of tea, maybe a walk in a garden or a movie that makes you laugh. I hope that joy is part of your existence—even if you can only manage it for a moment at a time. Because we all deserve joy in our lives, we all deserve to find people who believe in us and treat us with kindness and respect.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Believing in Yourself, Pt. 2

One of my friends asked this past week why my daughter’s visit should have caused me to doubt myself. It didn’t work that way for her with her daughter. As I thought about it I realized it was caused by an assumption I really ought to question—one I’d thought I’d left behind me some time ago.

For years, I did everything I could for my husband and my children. In part it was because I felt so bad that they were stuck with me—as a wife for my husband and a mother for my children. I felt I had to make it up to them. And it wasn’t just with my family. I never made waves with my editor or my counselor, when I went into counseling, or with my friends or pretty much any other area of my life. I never dared challenge ANYONE. I felt, you see, that I had so little worth that at any moment they would realize I was too much trouble or get fed up with having to deal with me and they’d toss me away. It didn’t help that some people had walked away when I stood up for myself.

That’s where I was stuck for most of my life—in that kind of thinking and feeling. It shows you how far I’ve come that I had to really stop and think to realize that my reaction to my daughter’s visit was caused by a vestige of that.

Of course, once I realized what it was that was triggering my reaction, I found myself thinking: Screw that—I’m going to move to a belief that she is lucky to have me in her life!

I cringe as I write all this. It’s hard to let myself remember that this was my way of life for so long. NOW I realize that people are lucky to have me in their lives and that if someone walks away—for ANY reason--that’s okay too. There will be other people who do value me.

Now please understand that when I talk about standing up for myself, I’m not talking about angry confrontations! I’m talking about simply speaking up and letting the other person know what matters to me. I’m talking about respectful dialogue. And if someone isn’t willing to treat me with respect, well, I’M not willing to have that person in my life any more.

It's also important to realize that when we are so afraid of being abandoned, we are likely to speak and act in ways that are less than ideal. We may make the very mistakes that will cause someone to walk away, just as we fear. When that happens we may make the mistake of believing we have been abandoned rather than looking at the ways our behavior--that came out of our fear--created the problem. If we are not careful, if we are not honest with ourselves, we may believe that once again we have been abandoned when in truth it could have been avoided if we had not been so afraid in the first place.

Self-esteem is an issue for so many people—whether they were ever abused or not. We live in a society that uses artificial values rather than recognizing that every soul matters, every person is worthy of respect and love. And I truly believe that the greatest harm is done when someone feels a total absence of love and respect—especially self-love and self-respect.

As adults, we create the world we live in by how we see ourselves first and then how we see others. We begin by being hostages to the messages we took in as children—about ourselves and about the world around us. The thing is that we can rewrite those messages! And that’s all that healing is—rewriting those messages.

I cringe when I look back and realize how little I used to value myself. It’s hard to believe that’s how I really felt—but it was. And these days, when I find myself reacting in old patterns, it’s so much easier to stop and rewrite the message that drives the pattern.

What messages can you rewrite, beginning today? What patterns can you change just by changing how you see yourself?

Can you see that each of you out there is deserving and worthy of love and respect? I do.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Believing in Yourself

I’ve talked about this before—how we often listen to the negative voices in our lives rather than the people who believe in us. If we are with those who claim to love us and disparage us, we may believe it even more.

I’ve been thinking about this because I generally (these days!) have a fairly good opinion of myself and my abilities. daughter was visiting and I started to fall into old patterns of second guessing myself when she disagreed with me about something. I started feeling less than my usual confident self. It was rather eerie to feel it happening.

The irony is that for the most part, her actions and words were statements of how much she believes in me. She asked me for advice on dealing with some challenging people and situations in her life. She listened carefully as I deconstructed with her what the obstacles were and how she could optimize her position. She was grateful for the win-win strategies I was suggesting.

My point is that we often fall into old patterns and perceive ourselves through someone else’s eyes in a negative way long after their perceptions of us may have changed. And when we give that power to someone else we are cheating ourselves.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not my daughter understands or approves of everything I do and every choice I make. What matters far more is that I do.

Mind you, it can be very empowering to find someone—friend, counselor, partner etc.—who believes in you when you have trouble believing in yourself! If someone doesn’t believe in you, do you really want them in your life—or if they must be in your life do you really want to give them any power to determine how you feel about yourself?

These days it’s simple. If someone doesn’t believe in me, I don’t need or want them around me. They just don’t get who I am.

And that’s what I remind myself when I start to worry about anyone’s opinion. They just don’t get me. And that’s okay. Not everyone has to approve of or like me. Bottom line is that I believe in me and I like me—even if I occasionally slip back into old patterns from the days when I had no faith in myself. I just pick myself up, dust myself off, and go back to believing in myself.

This is a journey. We have a right and a responsibility to ourselves to make it a joyous one. It won’t happen overnight if our experience up until now has been mostly unhappy. But every step we take toward believing in ourselves and bringing joy into our lives moves us in the right direction.

I believe that each of us has a spark of the divine within and therefore when we are truest to ourselves we are living the way we are meant to live. All joy and self-respect honors that divine spark and brings us closer to being the best person we can be. After all, someone who is happy and feels self-respect is never going to feel the need to harm another person—except perhaps in self-defense. Not verbally and not physically and not economically.

So...believe in yourself. I believe in you—each of you reading this. I KNOW that within you is a divine spark and that you are worthy of happiness and self-respect.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Monday, February 05, 2007


Anyone who has lived in an abusive situation knows the damage that’s done when boundaries are crossed. And if we stayed in that situation for any length of time, then odds are we may have to stop and think about boundaries. We may not know how to set them or always recognize when we are crossing them.

I find myself thinking about two types of boundaries today because of things that are going on in my own life. One is about setting boundaries with those we love in terms of behavior on their part and the other is about setting emotional boundaries so that we do not take on the pain of others or responsibility for how they are living their lives.

My friend with breast cancer has had some set backs. She is an intensely emotional person and this would be an intensely emotional situation for anyone anyway. When I got off the phone with her, part of me wanted to do what I often did in the past when someone I loved was scared or hurting—swallow up her pain and fear and hold it inside me as well.

What I realized is that I can be empathic, I can show her support, and at the same time maintain an emotional boundary that recognizes this is HER pain and her fear. I realized that I could be of more support if I was able to step back and keep that boundary.

Let me be clear—I did NOT minimize her feelings! Nor did I claim everything would be fine just because I want to believe things always will be. I acknowledged how anyone in her situation would be scared and upset. When I spoke of reasons to believe things could still turn out okay, I spoke about what I know of her, of her doctors, of the support around her, of her past success beating the odds. And I acknowledged the reality that these ARE setbacks for her. By the end of our conversation, she was feeling better about her situation.

I could help the most by keeping the boundary that her pain and fear was hers and did not have to be mine.

The other kind of boundary that’s been on my mind is that of coping with behaviors of people we love. My daughter is visiting. She is a wonderful and extraordinary young woman! She also grew up never seeing me treated with respect by her father. Since my divorce a few years ago, we’ve been redefining our relationship. There are times when I find myself still reluctant to ask her to follow some reasonable guidelines when she stays in my house—for fear that I’ll lose her love. There is a part of me that can fear losing love so much that I can find myself afraid to say: This really matters to me or I really would like you to do that.

Part of redefining my relationship with my daughter is to sometimes say: I know you’d really like to do that but I’d really like to do this. It’s been learning to say: Please clear your dirty dishes off the table (instead of doing it myself). It’s making time to do things with her while she’s here but not putting everything in my life that’s important to me on hold until she’s gone.
Like anything else, the more we practice setting boundaries and respecting them, the easier it gets. Like anything else, there will be times we slip up. The key is to go back to setting and respecting them as quickly as we can. Our lives and the lives of those we love will be better if we do.

So...what boundaries might you want to practice setting and respecting? What would make your life better if you did?

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),