Relationship: Two people, two stories

I can tell you the first and last names of almost all these kids. Nolan is the swagger in the middle of the second row.

When I was in the 4th grade at Faith Lutheran School, Mr. Johnson was thrust into our combination 4/5 class, his first year of teaching. I was a first year teacher once, so I understand that it can be rough that first year, but I think it is safe to say that Mr, Johnson had it worse than most. His class control was so bad that I can still see scenes in my 53 year old brain of my class running around, having too much fun for a Christian school education. During one of those times, a kid named Nolan was swinging his arms around, and by accident, his fist landed square on my face. Later a doctor told me that it probably was fractured but I was a kid in the days when you didn’t go to the doc for just anything, so I think it just healed on its own over time and now I have a little bump to remind me of that day.

Mr. J’s solution, to what must have appeared to him to be a fight…(why he thought I was fist fighting is of concern to me at this moment)…was to make Nolan and I put our desks side by side for the rest of the day to work it out. While I remember not totally blaming that kid for accidentally punching me, I also remember being irritated that I had to sit so close to him, as he still wasn’t my favorite person, since my nose hurt and he was the cause. But, sit there I did, because I am a rule follower most days…and, of course, there weren’t cell phones in the 70’s, so I couldn’t call my mom. By the end of the day, he and I were chatting and having a great time. Maybe Mr. Johnson wasn’t as clueless as we thought. Nope…he was. But, whatever, it is kind of funny now.

Sometimes, between people, there are disagreements about how things should be handled. But it doesn’t always mean that one person meant to hurt the other one or that someone has to be wrong. Nolan was swinging his arms and I was probably running, and sadly, I got a splintered bone out of the deal. But when we were made to sit next to each other and each made to apologize for the part we played, we ended up getting along just fine. I can almost hear the conversation when Nolan told me it was an accident and how he felt really bad and then he reenacted the whole thing so I could fully get a picture of his intentions.

Obviously, Nolan isn’t the last person to hurt me. Over the years, I have had lots of times where infractions have occurred in relationships, apologies exchanged and life continued. I have also had situations where people have hurt me, or I them, and there has not been reconciliation. I know I prefer the times when the relationship was recoverable.

We are in a historical time where tensions are high, opinions differ and people are getting very hurt. Some people are willing to sit next to their friends who have different perceptions or solutions to problems, and others are hell bent at getting everyone else to say, do and act exactly like them. There might be some value in sitting next to another person, to hear their story, to see if there are more similarities than differences in our viewpoints, as we navigate controversial issues and the approaches to solving the tough questions. I have a gut feeling that many of us have good intentions and want similar outcomes.

Hopefully, one day we will look back at this time and we won’t remember the fighting as much as remember the healing. Hopefully, we will remember good people, trying to do good things in a hurting world.

With love,

Sonia

Empathy: Love yourself, love others

 

A couple years ago, my brother did a DNA test that resulted in me finally understanding where my crazy-curly head of hair came from. We have some African lineage, that is obviously determined to be passed along from generation to generation through whatever DNA is linked to hair. You can only imagine some of the playground comments I got, in those sad days before real hair products. I often joke that it is a good thing I never met Farrah Fawcett in a dark alley, for what she did to me in junior high. I was so jealous of my straight-haired, blonde friends who could use one of those flimsy plastic curling irons to get results that took me hours to achieve and then didn’t last if the humidity markers were above 1%.

I realize now that my mom hated her hair too. I will never forget her pulling up to take me home from piano lessons, with a new wig on. It was the 70’s and I guess that was the solution for bad hair days back then. I didn’t know it was a wig, so I burst into tears when her new “frosted” wig had blonde streaks in it. I thought I was going to be alone in my brown-frizzy-curly-haired world. I wept all the way home. When she finally removed It so I could see that it wasn’t real, she told me that should would not wear it anymore if it hurt me so much. Of course, once I knew it was removable, I was good to go.

At her 4th birthday party, my daughter Emilee came running in the house bawling her eyes out. I pulled her into my lap to check for scraped knees but she wasn’t hurt. She sobbed into my chest, “I hate my hair!”. I was ready for this. I told her how Jesus made everyone different and that our family had curls…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…. She looked up at me and said, “No mama! I LOVE my curls! I hate my BLONDE hair. You, Azile, Daddy and Maddy (her little bestie at the time) all have BROWN hair!” I looked down at her beautiful platinum blonde hair and thought to myself, “How many people would love to have this color hair?” BUT WAIT…did my daughter say she loves her curls? Could I learn to love mine?

On my drive to get my hair done, I was nervous. I had never ventured into the world of blonde. I had never felt like it would fit. But my baby did not feel part of our family. So I added some blonde streaks so that my hair color would be the color of both my children. I remember Leelee touching those strands over and over when I got home. Years later when I tried to go back to my real hair color to save some money, people would ask me if I felt well. They would tell me that I didn’t “look myself”.

We all have voices in our head that tell us we aren’t good enough…that we don’t belong. I also know that this example is just hair…but almost every person has, at some point in their life, felt excluded because they were not like other people, because of physical appearance, or belief system, or family of origin, or where they lived, or WHATEVER!

What piece of yourself are you willing to give up, share, let go of, or offer as a gift to another human so they feel included, loved and part of a family?

When my oncologist was giving me my treatment plan 6 years ago, I think I shocked him when I told him I was less afraid of losing my boobs than I was of losing my hair. It had taken me a lifetime to love it and I wasn’t ready to lose it now.

 

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However, I am willing to give parts of myself, while I work through my story, for the emotional healing of others. As we all are living in this turbulent time, I encourage everyone to dig deep and find how you can be part of the solution for others feeling whole. And who knows…in that process you may find a YOU, that fits you even better.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

You did me wrong song: Boundaries after forgiveness

As I walk beside people in the counseling setting, I have found that forgiveness “in the moment” is difficult for most of us. It is hard to look the other way when someone has made us hurt, or move on from a toxic situation where we keep getting burned. There is a struggle between wanting to get over a situation and wanting to give it every available inch of your mind space, 24 hours a day until you feel good and ready to release it. Sometimes that inner dialogue is hard to turn off when you are feeling pooped on.

It is important to understand that forgiveness can walk right alongside the execution of good boundaries, allowing people to forgive almost immediately. It is possible to feel confident to move on from blows that are bound to come, if you live in this world where miscommunication, unfortunate life circumstances and dishonesty in relationships can bring painful interactions. I have found that it is possible to forgive, even forget (although not at the risk of losing the wisdom that comes from remembering what you have learned). No bill-paying, full-fledged adult has to put themself in a position to be clobbered by the same person or situation if they choose not to! Forgiving and walking away is an option!

In life, there are situations that occur when people you think have your back, just don’t. Depending on how much you invested in the relationship, the pain of betrayal can feel like a big ol’ kick in the stomach. I feel like I have had this experience in life plenty…enough to know that the pain is real. But I also know that it does not have to be debilitating. To be clear, I can look back and remember times where I was so debilitated by people wronging me that I experienced situational depression…bad enough to sit and stare at a wall for days on end. But not today…not today. Forgiving and walking away is an option…did I already say that?

Forgiveness is not saying that what happened is okay. Forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we all screw up at times and grace is an important gesture if we are all to live, work and grow side by side in the journey of life. But any person with good boundaries has a responsibility to self protect after the extension of grace and in some situations that means it is best not to interact for a time or for forever.

When forgiveness and boundaries work hand in hand, a person who is trying to spend less time lamenting and more time living life, can forgive whole heartedly, but also realize that there are times when people and situations are not meant to be. Sometimes we can forgive from across the room, or across the city or across an imaginary world from the person who betrayed us. Sometimes the best way to keep the situation from taking over our mind space is to literally move on with life by acknowledging that hurting people hurt others, and you can choose to not be the human punching bag for the family member, friend or co-worker who makes you their target. Removing yourself prevents the toxicity from taking over your life….it gives you freedom to be the positive-you that you want to be.

When I counsel people, I liken this to standing on a train track when there is an oncoming train. The first time it hits you, you might blame the train. Maybe the conductor didn’t see you on the track or tried to put on the brakes but not in time.  But if you stand in the same spot and get hit again, the responsibility might lie on you to get off the tracks and get out of the train’s way. People who get hit over and over by the same oncoming train might need to get away from the train. Yelling and screaming at the train, thinking they will for sure stop THIS time is not healthy for anyone. Remember:  Forgiving and walking away is an option. (The teacher in me knows that if you read this 3 times, you might remember it for the test. The bold print should help with that too!)

Being able to forgive and move on is freeing. It enables even the most wounded of people to remain positive and life-giving in a world that can be exhausting. Forgiving others allows you to get your sleep back and enables you to focus on the people and situations in your life that motivate and encourage you. If you have a situation in your life that is taking up your mind space and keeping you from being all you were made to be, ask yourself if it might be time to get off the train tracks…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Personal Boundaries: They Are Still My Boobs

BoundariesSo if I walk into your house, take off my shirt and put on a robe that opens to the front, please understand that repetitive actions turn into habits. A breast cancer diagnosis, even one with as much hope as my own, changes life in an instant. I now have my daily appointment with either a surgeon, oncologist, geneticist, radiologist or my plastic (that is the hip term for plastic surgeon, for those who are not part of the “Cancer Club”). They each require, of course, that we talk about and take a peek at, and either touch or stick a needle into the very part of my body I was taught from a young age to cover. Add my supportive and protective husband to the mix, looking on as all this occurs…it could really be a Saturday Night Live skit, if it wasn’t such a serious situation. Because I am a psychotherapist, I cannot help but debrief each of these sessions, with thoughts about the dynamic that occurs, with each doctor and their staff. I cannot help but notice how human interaction can be powerfully motivating and it can also be debilitating.

I am grateful that this diagnosis came at a time in my life where I have some developed personal boundaries. I went through infertility treatment in my twenties and still look back at that time and regret my lack of self-advocation. I have to remind myself that there are reasons we become human doormats, at the times in life that we really need to act as warriors. When faced with difficult challenges, the actions necessary to receive help from others, often requires us to become uncomfortably humble as we have to share our intimate issues, with those who can help. Being an advocate for oneself, when you are in a compromised position, can be hard, whether it is an illness, a severed relationship, a traumatic event or a financial hardship. There is a feeling of helplessness that comes with life challenges that often makes people feel unworthy or even embarrassed. That innermost need to feel taken care of, can take over and we can cling to the hope that someone might see our desperation and respond to it. We hope that we won’t have to muster up more courage when we already feel so depleted. It does not matter if the situation was brought on by poor decision-making or just a “that’s life” blow. It becomes difficult to believe in our own worthiness or that our time and effort to seek better options will ultimately change anything.

Coming from an occupation that rests on compassion and empathy, it is something that I relate to and appreciate on the receiving end. In the past two weeks, I have met some of the most compassionate, empathetic people who use their intelligence and skill to offer hope and healing to those facing a deadly disease. For example, I can honestly say that even though I never want to go back to the Sally Jobe Breast Imaging Center in Golden, Colorado, where I have now had multiple mammograms, ultrasounds, MRI and biopsies, the doctors, nurses and technicians there will forever hold a place in my heart. They know about my diagnosis but they also know my family and I know a bit about theirs. We have shared funny stories and they don’t have to ask anymore which juice I prefer after procedures. At no time did anyone end an appointment before I felt heard and had my questions answered. I am one of many people they see each day but they acted as if they have waited all day, just for me. When I left after yet another biopsy yesterday, I received multiple hugs and well wishes. They gave me hope.

I have also met just a couple of individuals that were able to use their position of having something I need, to make me feel as alone and emotionally unsafe as I have ever felt in my life. My head reminds me that hurting people hurt people and that insecure people are often the ones who behave arrogantly. But that does not do much for me when I have to deal with their behaviors that feel just icky on the receiving end. Can I just say how much I hate it that I come up with the most amazing retorts, as I am driving away, instead of in the moment, where I continue to practice the stunned, deer in the headlights look, because I find it so hard to believe that people can care so little about anyone but themselves? I am determined to use these experiences, both the good and the bad, as a better-than-any-classroom-lecture, in my practice.

How individuals treat others effects not only the dynamic between the two interacting individuals but also the people in the web of the dynamic. It is the reason that children who observe domestic abuse often go on to abuse. Being an onlooker to poor behavior or watching someone be treated poorly and not feeling empowered to do something about it, can be harmful too. I remember in elementary school being forever changed when I observed a teacher who actually really liked me, humiliate another child in my class. I remember feeling the tension of wanting to support the other child but not lose my standing with the teacher. Most likely I was not alone in my feelings that day and every child learned from that experience. Some learned to bully the weaker member of the team, some learned that you gain control momentarily when you humiliate another, and some learned that mean people are not good motivators and leaders. When I became a teacher, I vowed to never be like than man. He did not offer hope.

People experience tensions like this every day as we journey along in life: in our jobs, our social circles, our families. Sometimes the interactions that give or take hope away are subtle and we aren’t even aware they are happening until the hope is apparent, or lost. One narcissistic, insecure, hurting person can ruin a work environment, a social gathering, a family, if they are allowed. However, while it is often self-soothing to point to another person as the reason for the dysfunction, everyone must take responsibility for the part they play in the dynamic. While it may feel easier at times, to not advocate for ourselves or for another person, when we are silent we allow the abuse. When we allow such action, over and over, it becomes less obviously a problem and eventually a norm. Repetitive actions create habits.

What habits do you see at work in your daily walk of life that you might have more power than you think to change? What norms are you allowing to happen through your own passivity or because you are hoping someone else will miraculously see the need and respond? Do you need to be reminded that setting personal boundaries is good for both you and the other people in your life? In many life situations, we do not have to allow people like my fifth grade teacher to determine the course we take. Learning how to appropriately and respectfully set personal boundaries is empowering. By setting boundaries, you protect yourself and you demand the best from others, which in turn makes them better people as well. Doing this over and over again….yes, you know…say it with me…CREATES HABITS and thus, new norms and healthier, happier, interactions with friends, co-workers and family members and all the other people you encounter.

Sixteen years ago I would have told my today self that a couple bad experiences in a week of good, was good enough. I would have said that I have to put up with a disrespectful doctor because he comes highly recommended and is locally considered the best at what he does. I would have had a good cry and then sucked it up. Today, I believe that I do not have to support bad behavior. I can advocate for myself, ask more questions, do what it takes to open communication. And if that fails, as it did, I can walk away. I can decide that I choose to put my body, my life, my emotions, in the care of someone else who offers me hope rather than discouragement. It was obvious by the way that the staff in the office of which I refer operated, they were used to the norm and were a little shocked that we didn’t stick around for the abuse. And I won’t lie, I cried the whole way home. But then I realized that because I had tried to communicate well, I had done my part. No regrets. And because I was willing to walk away, the situation will not repeat itself over and over again. My team of doctors won’t be mostly fantastic, it will be completely fantastic. Why? Because life is super hard and I need all the hope I can get.

Who are you getting your hope from? Who are you giving hope to? What are you doing to learn how to communicate in a way that lets others know that you are worthy? It is something to think about.

Moriah Ventures, LLC