Magic & Phrase

Patience

Maybe if I run, I’ll escape this place.

Get far away where the ghosts won’t find me.

Brown and black fuzz funneling across pavement. The hedge promises new life, quick before

Bird standing sentry, he of bright red stripe and black feather, swoops in for a taste.

 

But all the distance hasn’t changed the past.

Every reminder pulls me right back in.

Pause, breathing flowers floating aside lake.

Pause, until fish surfaces, flicks flea down, and retreats into murk.

 

What boundaries can hold if we are all stardust?

Is it all of me ever-present, even the unseen?

I find shade, and my steps slow.

Path littered with plump flesh and berry seed.

 

Every piece of me may be torn apart, some lost in wet hollows.

And She will spend millennia calling each back.

Pause, tasting blood-purple globes.

Pause, with stained hands and belly full.

 

Every time we think we’ve found the line of Self and Other.

See the particles scatter and buzz.

Not to dredge to bone, not to segment, defend.

No, all we can do is to widen and open. Contract and hold fast.

Holy embrace where sun meets water.

Embodied Heart

Defeated by a Door Handle (And Other Sacred Glimpses)

“…how innocently all of us seek experiences, when either way, it’s the same. It’s the same Source which is love. So right here and now, right where you are, this is holy land, and this the holy moment.” ~Francie Halderman, interviewed by Rita Marie Robinson in her book Ordinary Women Extraordinary Wisdom: The Feminine Face of Awakening. pgs. 160-161

How I’d anticipated my first week-long vacation I was to have in years, spent relaxing at a bed and breakfast tucked into the countryside. They even allowed dogs! I loaded my entire car with books and paints and all manner of supplies and headed off.

Upon my arrival, it was rapidly apparent to me that it was not to be. There were already two significant strikes against it working out by the time I saw my room—the owner’s dogs came bounding up to my car without collars or leashes, scaring my dog (who then barked at them), and the interior of the house smelled ferociously of an undetermined repulsion. We reached the room in the attic in which I was to be staying, and, as we turned to walk back down, I inquired about the key for the door. I was told the door had an antique handle so there was no lock. I knew I would get no sleep and so I cancelled the reservation, forfeiting my deposit.

As I drove away, I burst in sobs which I at first attributed to the frustration of the situation. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with hysterics, barely able to maintain myself on the road. Although I discerned enough to know I was no longer simply upset my vacation had been cancelled, I could not make heads or tails of exactly why I was feeling what I was feeling. I mentally reviewed the events that had just transpired; when I got to the door, I knew.

We’d had antique door handles in the house in which I spent my childhood, most of which failed to lock properly. The memories are jumbled, but there were at least two incidents of sexual abuse that occurred in our attic.  The prospect of being in a similar room with walls narrowed by the half-floor, into which anyone could walk in at any time, was untenable for me.

Unspoken and unprocessed terror, purified as it is, muddles past and present on the tableau of our physicality. I’ve fallen away from actively processing my trauma as directly as I would like to, and I know now that I need to redouble my efforts. I was struck by the fact that my primary reaction was one of sorrow, as this is atypical for me and feels like I was perhaps able to reach a layer deeper than I usually can into my psyche. As soon as I was able, I opened to embrace the little selves that needed comfort.

I am a proud person, and it is hard for me to recognize and admit when I’ve reached the end of myself. A part of me wishes I’d stayed and “fought” through my fear, as I know I’ve only made it harder for myself to travel again. This is the second trip I’ve cancelled this year and I am concerned about the stifling quality my inner protectors seem to have on my life. At the same time, I am glad that I didn’t force myself to endure an unpleasant vacation.

As I reflect further on the experience, I find that shame still underlies my “no.” In determining something did not meet my needs, I feel wrong for having needs at all. I actually apologized to the innkeeper for “inconveniencing” her, when in fact I was also very much inconvenienced. I returned home and set up a tent in my living room, making my own form of a staycation complete with a pile of books in which I found the quote above that struck a chord with me. Perhaps the “holy” moment is happening wherever we are, so long as we consciously perceive it. And, for me as a trauma survivor, conscious perception, meeting the stillness, is a rare and elusive gem, one I seem to have unearthed for a time by honoring my body and my needs.

What has been your experience when you’ve honored your “no”? To what extent does the idea of each moment being sacred connect with you? What happens when you open to your inner needs, and when you greet the day with conscious awareness of the present moment?

Goddessing Self Care

Self-Care for Rejected Parts: How to Respond to Judgment

Have you ever been unfairly labeled by someone? Called out unexpected? Told you needed to change? As we explore these topics for today’s #GoddessingSelfCare post, I will be using a series of questions which can serve as a quick reference for evaluating situations in which you feel triggered by someone’s interaction with you. I will be returning to this topic in a future post as well to investigate how to engage in self-care for ourselves when we experience failure and setbacks.

Processing Judgment from Others

Judgment as I will be discussing it here refers to verbal and non-verbal communication from others expressing disagreement directed at self, criticism, disapproval or negative feedback. Judgment can be a direct conduit to shame, especially if we are not rock-solid in our inner relationship with Self.  In order to best approach the nuances of judgment in a way that caretakes the vulnerable pieces of who we are, I believe we do well to study the nature of the communication, as well as its intention and true target.

To What Extent Was the Judgment Invited?

It is vital to have at least one person in your life with whom you feel safe enough to have an honest and open relationship. This includes, to me, knowing that you can ask the person to give you feedback, even if it isn’t the easiest thing to hear, and trusting that they will tell you their opinion as directly as possible. We can be lured into a false sense of security by “yes” people in our lives—those who concern themselves solely with ingratiating themselves to us by flattering us no matter our actions. If we allow these types of relationships and behaviors to flourish, the hard truths still tend to make themselves known, but it can become much more difficult for us to accept them. I’d rather get a sense from a loving and caring friend that maybe something has more flaws than I’m seeing rather than to only discover the defects after a lot has been invested and after there is much I stand to lose. All this to say, I think it is good to invite constructive criticism into our lives, and to open to it as one data point, one person’s opinion, when it is shared.

It can be an entirely different affair to receive unsolicited advice or criticism. When this occurs, I believe we do well to consider the questions below such as the person’s intention. We can also take our own boundaries into account. Did we in any way indicate that critical advice-giving, especially if it is repeated or intense, is unwelcome? If not, perhaps all that is needed to let the person know how we feel. One of the most useful questions I’ve ever been asked and have asked of others is “How can I best be here for you in this?” By doing so, I am prohibiting myself from seeing advice-giving or “tough love” as necessary or welcome when a person is relating a struggle unless I am explicitly told such. It is also important to consider the extent to which we feel safe in the relationship. Can we tell the person that what they said didn’t sit well with us and have that be received, or will it trigger a defense reaction? If the other person gives harsh advice often, fails to heed boundaries or requests to stop, and is unreceptive to feedback, I am very likely to curtail the extent to which I express vulnerability with that person and/or to have a go-to response such as “oh, I may look into that” if they continue their behavior in a setting in which I cannot fully disengage.

What Is the Intention Is Behind the Judgment?

Is the person being spiteful/jealous, or, are they trying, in their own way, to give constructive criticism? I believe we owe it to the parts of ourselves who are vulnerable and fragile to stand unyielding against judgment that is coming from an unhealthy place. Even if it is in relation to an area on which we know we need to work, we do not need to be led there by our noses by someone who wishes us ill. It can of course be very difficult to discern someone’s intention, as many times the person offering feedback from a less-than-supportive mindset will go out of their way to act as though what they are saying is in fact a kindess. Here, I think our gut is our best reference point; I think most of us have relatively accurate radar for sniffing out communication which, at its heart, strives to undermine us in order to elevate the one giving it.

A shade of intention to me is also the framework in which the information is couched. Is the person sharing it as “hey, this is what I think” or is it “hey, this is how it is, full stop?” I make very little room in my head for people who think they know the Truth about anything, and especially about intimate aspects of who I am as a person. In addition, when we assess a thought, feeling or behavior that another individual is having as right/wrong and fail to link our belief to a social norm, we are basically playing God/dess in our evaluation of ourselves and others. I often stop when someone makes this type of all-knowing remark and reply in a way that redirects their focus back to themselves and to the fact that they are the one who is holding a norm or belief. With the obvious exception of the legal system, we get to decide if any particular passage from another’s Book of Things Everyone Should and Shouldn’t Do is interesting, relevant or important to us as an individual. If I determine I’m being judged by a moral system to which I do not ascribe and with which I disagree, I state such as plainly as I can—“I know this matters to you because you believe in X, but I don’t follow this religion/philosophy/generally restrictive way of living, so I don’t see it the same way. Here’s how I conceptualize it..” I do this more for my own benefit than the other person—it is actually a way of drawing a line in the sand and refusing to internalize someone else’s system of belief. The other person will likely walk away thinking I am unworthy or doomed, but I am left with my dignity intact.

To Whom or What Does the Judgment Really Refer?

When we feel judged by someone, it is up to us to first determine if we want to look at the issue in question based on factors such as the person’s intention. If we decide it is worth pursuing, I believe it is also incumbent on us to sit with the judgment and find the nugget of truth it contains. To a large extent, someone’s critique of us reveals more about them than it does about us, as it shows us what preferences they have and the assumptions they make about others. They may be projecting their needs and desires that hide in their shadow onto us. If, after processing the information, we find there is a behavior in which we’ve engaged that is worth addressing, we also have freedom in terms of the extent to which we allow the person who shared the judgment into our journey of “fixing” the issue. The more I’ve stewed on this, the more I’ve realized I hit on a truth I wish I’d known a long time ago—even if someone sees something in us we’d dislike or struggle to own, we don’t owe them our story or our process. We may learn from our experience with them without their knowledge.

It is also worth considering whether what we perceive as a judgment is in fact a boundary violation. By this, I am referencing whether the behavior in question is our own to address, or whether we have in fact overstepped our welcome. If what feels stifling from another is their “no,” we need to stop ourselves and discern whether we proceeded without an invitation or in another way broke trust. I am very sensitive to people’s boundaries, so it doesn’t tend to go well for me if someone hints that I’ve crossed them, but I’m learning to sit with my discomfort and press through it to learn how to more fully navigate close relationships. It is easy to experience a boundary being established as a rejection of the entirety of who we are, but I view it (in my best moments) as the person honoring both their own needs and my needs by letting me know how close is comfortable for them.

Self-Care for Sensitive Wounds

When we are in a situation where we’ve felt criticized, I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves to explore the self and relationship dynamics involved. Solely focusing on making ourselves feel better may leave many pages unwritten in our life story. At the same time, we do not need to analyze the situation ad nauseum or deny our little selves feelings of comfort, understanding and protection. In the immediate aftermath of a difficult interaction, the following behaviors may be helpful:

  • Express your thoughts and feelings before you focus on the behavioral aspect (confession: I skip this way too much!). This may take the form of artwork, poetry, dance—any kind of creative action that is less focused on fixing and more focused on being. It could also include a conversation with a trusted friend. What would it feel like to talk about the way the feelings you are having are sitting in your body, instead of how unfair it was when she said…?
  • Seek and be present with nature. Engaging in mindfulness in a natural setting, without an expectation of immediate change, may help to release the tension you are feeling.
  • Care for your physical being. This includes exercise, healthy eating, good hygiene and adequate sleep, all of which can be especially challenging if you are dealing with other physical ailments or mental health concerns. To whatever extent it is within our power to control, I think showing care to our physical bodies is a form of self-respect, which may be particularly important if we feel disrespected in another arena of life.

Very few people revel in hearing about what they are not doing well at and how they should do better. As a result, we are wise to be discreet and selective in our constructive criticism that we offer each other. Deep, trusting relationships allow for a healthy exchange of concerns as well as boundary-setting in a manner that does not reek of blaming and shaming. With time, practice and dedication, this type of relationship can be achieved, and we can learn to allow unsolicited, harsh, ill-intentioned projections to fall at our feet, un-sniffed and un-absorbed.

Surviving & Thriving

Awaiting an Invitation: Personal Boundaries in Relationships

My daily life provided inspiration for today’s #SurvivingnThriving Tuesday. As in I strongly desired to move to an impenetrable castle in the sky surrounded by an alligator-filled moat today when my neighbor decided it was a perfect time to host a live band in his backyard on the one day of rest I have. I decided to channel my frustration into examining why we have boundaries, how they may be experienced by trauma survivors, and how we can establish and manage them in real life. I’m also investigating local bagpipe musicians for hire (j/k)!

The Purpose of Boundaries

Boundaries in relationships convey safety. I see them as twofold: offering an invitation and granting permission to a request. We all have aspects of our physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and mental being that we cherish, that not everyone gets to access, that we elevate to the VIP section of our being. If people want in, they either need to wait for us to invite them in, or they need to ask permission. It is entirely within our rights to say no at any time for any reason. It should go without saying that this is also how we should treat others. I get weird looks occasionally when I ask permission for things most people would just take; I do it not out of a submissive personality but instead because it is how I want to be treated.

Boundaries and Trauma

One of the core features of an event that crosses from an everyday occurrence to a trauma experience is that it often involves a threshold of personal safety being desecrated or obliterated. This could be on a physical, sexual, verbal or emotional level. The individual emerges from the experience with some aspect of their very being shaken and betrayed. Concepts like complex PTSD and moral injury lend themselves to this type of experience.

What makes a boundary violation traumatic may be rooted in the power difference that frequently occurs in traumatic events. When a parent, teacher, coach, religious leader or other authority figure takes advantage of the imbalance of power to violate boundaries in such way as to induce shame, we are left feeling helpless and hopeless, not to mention estranged from ourselves. I’ve come to believe that some measure of us, perhaps called our soul, remains unvarnished no matter what our body, mind and heart have had to endure. This view has given me comfort in that the sense of something pure and whole lying at my core gives me the strength to reassert myself in the world.

Establishing Boundaries

We do well to speak our needs aloud before they become pressing. Giving those whom you encounter a fleshed-out synopsis of who you are in a casual way allows those who are emotionally competent to pick up your preferences and “no-go” zones. For example, I tend to try to find a way to mention my values, likes/dislikes and habits to people as I get to know them. I’d much rather they decide our level of compatibility or how well-suited we are to work closely together from the start. This approach will likely be much more successful if you are comfortable with who you are. If your outward stance on things is based on adjusting to what those around you think, it’s very easy to find yourself frequently offended. Others will walk all over your true values because they aren’t visible or known to them.

Not everyone has the capacity to discern what you are communicating through how you present yourself. Some individuals may have conditions that affect their ability to perceive social cues. Others know full well what you want but don’t care. In these cases, I think we need to be direct, unapologetic and unambiguous regarding where our conditions of relationship are located. For instance, there have been people I’ve had to tell more than once that I wasn’t interested in a certain type of relationship, with increasing bluntness until they finally got the message.

Handling Boundary Violations

When I first learned about the concept of boundaries, I naively thought that all it took to set them was to know what I wanted and share it with others; the potential conflict was the ending point in my mind, rather than the start. My life experience has taught me that many people respond negatively when a boundary is laid out. It can be very hard to hear a ”no” from someone else.

I think the reason we may respond to someone setting a marker with us in a defensive manner is that we are often conditioned to have to know what others want without them telling us. This means that someone needing to tell us that they don’t like or want something means we have failed in our minds, and this leads directly to feelings of shame. People tend to struggle to manage feelings of shame appropriately. It is significantly easier to call others “oversensitive” “emotional” or “demanding” if they express their true desires to us, rather than accept the limitations they are placing on our behavior towards them.

I absolutely hate it when my actions lead another person to feel shame, but I know in most of the specific cases where it’s occurred that the alternative was for me to act in a disingenuous way that would have caused me feelings of bitterness and resentment, and would have damaged the relationship more severely in the long run. If you find yourself often offended at others’ behaviors, it may be a sign that you are allowing yourself to proceed into situations that might have been preventing if you had established your limits with the other person earlier.

To circle back to what this means for trauma survivors, it is possible that we can do everything possible to cordon off aspects of ourselves as sacred, as our own, and desire to let others into those areas only when trust has been established, only to find that all the self-knowledge and empowerment in the world can’t withstand every threat. Sometimes we are too small or young or vulnerable or simply human to protect ourselves. It makes my blood boil to think of people taking advantage of others in this way. I’ve talked about my perspective on justice previously; all I will say here is that I think no one can take possession nor damage the core of who we are, and I think there are many more people in the world who would help us heal than hurt us.

Negotiating Boundaries in Relationships

I’m not sure if there is something inherently individualistic about the self-definition that comes with healthy and flexible boundaries. Many proponents of Goddess Spirituality emphasize the communal aspects of life and the interdependence which allows for reliance on others and work towards common goals. Even within this framework, I think there is a potential for each of us to have emotions, thoughts and behaviors that are our own, while also celebrating the interweaving of our lives.

Personal boundaries may be an artificial creation from a metaphysical perspective. If we see ourselves as one speck in the web of life, carefully carving out the diameter of our “speckness” may seem an exercise in pettiness and futility. At the same time, as I mentioned above, I cannot overemphasize the degradation and annihilation of self I’ve experienced being in relationship with those who lack the ability to acknowledge and respect boundaries. Being subsumed into another’s psyche is not healthy nor life-giving.

With these dialectics in mind, I think the key concepts here are fluidity and evolution. Visualize your boundaries as made of water rather than stone. Enough water moving in the same direction can be an incredibly strong force, knocking buildings off their foundations. Water can also be a gentle kiss on a misty morning. When our boundaries are fluid, we can respond to the specific situation in which we find ourselves, while also adhering to our general preferences and expectations to relationships. Maybe the particular issue facing us will work best with a soft stream redirecting the energy, and maybe it needs a waterfall torrent of strength to establish our presence. Liquid in nature is constantly evolving in response to the energy and forces surrounding, and so can we.