Embodied Heart

Questing After Validation: Refreshing an Unquenchable Need for Approval

Are my blog statistics improving? How many likes did I get on Instagram? What can I do to increase my Twitter follower count? As of late, I’ve found myself desiring more validation from other people: more likes, more followers, more engagement. Every time I get positive feedback, however, it feels like it only increases rather than slakes my thirst. As I contemplate the unmet needs I am experiencing, I perceive myself as lacking two forms of validation and compassionate witnessing. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I’ll be describing how I am being called to more fully provide necessary care and attention to myself as well as to go deeper in my sharing with others.

Self-Validation

There are parts of myself with whom I struggle to empathize; I conceptualize them to be needy children and rebellious teenagers. The children have often cried as they express fear or boredom. They’ve whine for attention and clung to me in moments where my focus was elsewhere. They have desperately searched for compassion in my eyes and have often found it absent. I’ve parented them in the ways I was parented: screaming, stifling and shaming them into submission.

My interactions with my dog, more than any other experience, have taught me how to respond to the needs of my inner little selves with more kindness. On the rare occasions where I yell at him, seething with rage in my voice, he physically shakes and appears frightened. Within seconds, I am brought to my knees with tears in my eyes, able to see in his reaction the reflection of my inner children who hide from me in terror as I did when I veiled my vulnerabilities from my own parents. He and I reconcile and another layer of compassion covers and soothes the disemboweled heart I was left with as a childhood trauma survivor. I still have much to do, however, to improve my inner gaze of compassionate witnessing when life becomes overwhelming.

The teenagers are my strongest critics. They see where I am flawed and delight in reminding me of these gaps in my façade. They act as protectors, silencing me through their mocking smirks lest I attract outward derision. Their contempt for me is paper-thin; it serves to cover their own insecurities and wounds. The more I allow them to have their ridicule and carry on anyway, the less effective it becomes in blanketing them from the inner work of healing in which I am engaged. Many of my talents lie with them; they have both the passion of youth and the eagerness of young learners necessary to engage inwardly and outwardly in reforming and mending the fractures of my heart. When I praise them instead of rejecting them, I see bright faces shining in pride, their cloaks of scorn tattering as they select capes of strength and hope.

Naked Validation

One of my most finely-honed skills as an individual is being able to appear to be both deep and open in how I connect with others without genuinely risking very much. Most people who meet me would describe me as authentic and direct in my communication. These are hard-won characteristics that stand in contrast to my experience in my family of origin. Although true, they belie the shrouds with which I cloak myself to avoid true detection and validation of the weaker and more child-like parts of self whom I conceal from onlookers.

In service of shadowing my scars, I have carefully crafted my blog to be general in ways that allow me to remain relatively anonymous and have avoided topics such as sex that are particularly difficult for me to discuss. I find that parts of myself are craving being seen through and through, although most of me is aware of the potential fallout of mingling, for instance, my professional and personal lives. I strongly suspect that my drive to stack up accomplishments in terms of readers and replies is a call to go deeper, rather than to cast a wider net.

My intention in terms of how I will address this need is to begin a new project, one in which I play at the layering of garments with which I hold myself secure. I have started writing a full-length non-fiction book in which I anticipate increases in vulnerability and fewer generalities in my sharing. I have discerned a clear message from Goddess that the purpose of the book is simply to create it; in other words, it is not about scribing a tailored and easily marketable product. Rather, it is meant to be an act of gifting of myself, including contributions by the little selves from whom I typically hide, as an offering for whomever She intends as its recipients.

There is a garden growing of my spiritual leadership. Some of the shoots will inevitably die off. Others may produce flowers or fruit. A particular tree or shrub may gain a long-lasting foothold. My traditional method of care-taking the products of my soul has been to over-plan, over-weed and to stand over each plant obsessively shielding it from any potential threats; these acts unintentionally block out the sun and the rain and pluck out potential growth at the bud. My relationship with Goddess is enabling me to settle myself at garden’s edge, intervening as minimally as needed and allowing to come to full bloom all that She has seeded.

Regarding the ways in which you share of yourself publicly, how vulnerable are you, and how does the level of vulnerability you reach square with your inner needs? What are the advantages and disadvantages of withholding aspects of who you are from scrutiny? What activities are you undertaking that may require more of you to surface in ways that allow others to see through your normal shields? Lastly, how do you direct your seeking of inner and outer validation?

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.

Embodied Heart

Alone in the World

For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I want to share about my experience of being a witness to aloneness. I am not totally, finally and in all ways alone in the world. I have friends and co-workers (and a dog) who care about me. But on the “most important relationships” marker, I am without, as I do not have a romantic partner or child and am not in contact with my family-of-origin. Rather than attempt to downplay my lack of familying, I’ve come into awareness of the power and value of this position.

What I saw in my mind’s eye was a circle, but it was entirely darkened without any light. I saw those of us there, the alone ones, furtively cowering and enclosing ourselves away, ashamed of our position. Society tells us people are most worthy when they are “good” children to their adult parents, married, and parenting their own children. For each of those conditions that are removed, worth decreases in many people’s minds. This can be very subtle—not an outright rejection but rather a no-holds-barred fight to help the person escape the circle of darkness.

We see it that way, I think, as a pit. Somewhere no one should be—alone—and certainly not for very long if it happens. I’ve witnessed people staying in relationships far past their expiration date to avoid falling into this pit, as well as denying that, for all intents and purposes, they were in fact in it.

In my vision, I saw myself striking a match and lighting a candle in this place without brightness—illuminating that which is often denied, discounted or maligned. A knowing settled into me as I did this that I am probably in this for the long haul. Most people I meet who are in a state of aloneness are there temporarily, after a major relationship shakeup or loss. They stay there briefly and then move through this place. I do not wish to delay them on their journey. Rather, I want them to know that even in a place of feeling abandoned—unheard and unseen—they are still witnessed. They are witnessed because I (and others like me) are there shining light, existing unabashedly in this small corner of human existence.

All it took was for me to write one blog post and to speak my aloneness in one public setting for this aspect of my journey to feel solidified. I have been in this place for a decade, by and large, and yet have spent almost the entire time shrinking from who I am and feeling distinctly less-than the familied ones. Now I know I’m not, and that treating this way of existing as something to be rushed through or forgotten desecrates the sacredness which with I think it is imbued. Not everyone is willing to stand in the midst of experience that bucks our evolution and desires and own being there.

I am not totally at peace yet with this place. I have voices internally (and sometimes in the real world) telling me that I am here to spare myself more grief—that I am “skipping” the hard parts of being married or of raising children. But this place is its own kind of sorrow. What I’ve seen as my purpose in life becomes clearer here—if I can speak myself whole in this way, I open space and give others permission to speak themselves whole in their places of grief. If we live long lives, we lose loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly and often too soon for our hearts to catch the blow. We are awful as a society at acknowledging, honoring and holding space for each other in these losses. Those of us who, like myself, are willing to simply stand, light in hand, and remind people around us that both they alone and their grief is seen, heard, holy and worthy, may not achieve the happy ending for which every story pulls, but we play a crucial role in the process of mourning.

What is your experience of being in a place of aloneness (without family)? How does it differ from the “in relationship but feeling alone” dynamic? To what extent do you, in whichever places your story has taken you, hold vigil for those who suffer similar losses or who grieve similar failures to find relationship?