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Goddessing Self Care

Self-Care for Rejected Parts: Processing Setbacks

How many times in the past week have you cursed your “bad luck?” I’ve examined how to respond to judgment and to failings in previous #GoddessingSelfCare posts. For today’s third and final “Self-Care for Rejected Parts” discussion, we’ll be looking into how to determine the degree of control we’ve had over a situation, as well as how to cope with it if it is an experience out of our control (aka, a setback/bad luck). I have taken a practical and psychologically-oriented approach rather than a spiritual focus for this discussion.

When Bad Luck Strikes

The cause of setbacks tends to be more external and situational when compared to failures. Setbacks occur in experiences that are largely out of our control. Note that some people see everything as a setback and nothing as a failure, which limits their growth potential because they feel powerless to better their lives. Others see everything as a failure and nothing as a setback, which causes unnecessary guilt and shame because they believe everything can and should be preventable.

We are bombarded with the message that life isn’t about what happens to us, rather, it is about how we respond to it. There is of course some truth to this, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have respective areas of privilege and oppression, suffering and ease. For example, as I’ve begun inner work to dismantle my privilege, I’ve come to a hard realization that I can be obtusely ableist. I get instantly enraged in day-to-day situations when someone does not listen well; for instance, when I’m asked the same question repeatedly or someone gets my order wrong. I tend to be able to absorb a lot of information easily and quickly and so I assume everyone who does not show the same behaviors lacks not capacity but “try.” What I fail to hold in my mind in those moments is the fact that others may process differently than I do and that they may be facing unseen difficulties that are affecting our interaction.

My graceless behavior extends itself to setbacks. I don’t perceive myself as experiencing them, as I think everything that went wrong for me was a failure because I could have prevented it if only I’d been smarter or faster. This creates a feedback loop where I amp myself up when I in fact need to slow down. If I’m being brutally honest, I have to admit that I struggle to emphasize when others face obstacles that are difficult to surmount. I typically hold that things would have gone better for them if they’d only planned better or thought things through more fully. There may be some truth to my opinion in particular instances, but, if our shared humanity is my bedrock, my rejection of their vulnerability rejects all of us in our vulnerable areas, harming where I want to be healing. The first step to experiencing a setback is to see it as one. The absurdity of life coupled with its inherent injustice means we will face unexpected events that require us to deepen into love rather than to wall-off in frustration.

Setback Characteristics to Consider

My thinking here aligns with theory and research on the characteristics of stressors and their corresponding effects on coping. In general, negative events which we think are due to bad luck that impact many areas of our lives for lengthy periods of time and which compromise our personal sense of mission are likely to be perceived as major stressors. Those we think we can overcome quickly, which are periphery to our life goals, and/or which affect only one area of our life tend to be easier to digest and manage.

How Long-Lasting Is the Setback?

To what extent is the setback temporary versus permanent? Unpleasant situations that are likely to be long-lasting tend to wear on us more than short-term stressors. Sometimes all the scared or angry parts of me need to hear is that whatever is going on that I don’t like will be short-lived, if in fact that is the case. For situations where a setback is likely to persist, I’ve found it most useful to remind myself of everything that is under my control that I’m doing to try to adjust to or to rectify the situation.

How Much Surface Area Does the Setback Cover?

Is the setback covering one area of life or does it seep into many areas? Reminding ourselves of all the things that are going right or over which we do have control can be calming if the setback is limited in scope. For more widespread calamity, adjustment may take more time.

How Integral is the Setback to Your Life Goals?

How significantly will your sense of purpose in life be impacted by the setback? I am personally very sensitive to negative interpersonal feedback and feel highly distressed when I receive it. However, staking my well-being on it doesn’t align with my core self or purpose in life. Knowing this fact helps me cope. Difficulties in peripheral areas that do not hit at our major life goals are likely born more easily than those that threaten the values we hold dear.

After analyzing the time-frame and significance of a setback, we will likely be left with a better understanding of whether it is something that needs simply the passage of time and patience to overcome, or whether we will need to shift our perspective on life itself as a result. Serious set-backs require more than a spa day or shopping binge to overcome, as we may find ourselves asking “who am I with(out) ___.” In other words, our very identity may be shattered or shaken. We will consider both insignificant and grave setbacks as we look into self-care for our affected parts of self.

Self-Care for Setbacks

Minor Setbacks

As a trauma survivor, I find it difficult to gain perspective on small instances of bad luck. Before abuse occurs, there is something a build-up, warning signs or other blips. After living through such events over the course of years, anything going off course for an instant can bring up an expectation of “here it all goes again.” I think we do well to show each other kindness (but not to enable) each other when we “over-react” to stressors; what you experience as “no big deal” may feel life or death to another.

In addressing insignificant experiences of bad luck, such as a broken windshield or a cold that leads me to cancel a fun event, I have found it useful to center myself on who I really am and what I really want from life. I let myself have the meltdown if it feels like it was “one too many things today” but I then try to put it into perspective. I personally do not find it even the smallest bit helpful for others to try to do this for me, as all I experience their “but remember ‘insert good thing’” as is invalidation. I have to work my way back to myself and to my purpose, both as a responsibility and as a necessity.

For negative interpersonal stressors over which I had little control, I find body-based self-care to be particularly useful. I easily dissociate if someone is unexpectedly rude to me, so it makes sense to me that grounding and returning myself to my physical being is calming. Exercise, a long walk in nature, breath-work and stretching tend to be my mainstays here.

It may not always be in my best interest to do so, but if I find stress and/or bad luck has built on itself and nothing is going my way, I tend to succumb to a bit of overindulgence. This includes eating out more than I would like to and/or purchasing crafty, self-care or luxury food items that I don’t really need. In moderation (which I definitely do not always have), I think there is a time and a place to live a little, but I also hope to weave my “treating” of myself more fully into other methods of coping so that it does not become or stay my default.

Serious Setbacks

My thoughts here are limited to perspectives I have personally found helpful in facing setbacks. I detest the idea of being prescriptive or of pouring shame onto fresh wounds of someone who is experiencing a major life setback. We cope in different ways; you finding your way through in your own time and space is all that matters.

I do believe that one way to honor ourselves (and each other) in dealing with significant setbacks is to allow for grief and mourning. Modern society often gives us the message that we must succeed and exude confidence, beauty, wealth and health at all times. When this doesn’t occur, we may feel like failures. Knowing it is okay to allow hurt and disappointment in, as well as sorrow and pain, and to bear witness to it for each other is integral, in my opinion, to a well-lived life. Bites of bitterness sensitize our taste-buds to the sweet moments.

As part of our grief, we may find ourselves opening to the full experience of life and experiencing gratitude. I desire safety, security and comfort above all in life, but a single-minded attachment to these outcomes can numb me to the wider range of feelings and possibilities that my experiences contain. Near-misses, especially, jolt me into increased hope and happiness for the moments in which I can be present.

Major setbacks may lead to a necessity for us to realign our values and sense of purpose. The dreams onto which we held may no longer be possible; who we thought we were or would become may no longer exist. This doesn’t mean, though, that we are meaningless. Instead, it can offer a window into a new construction of self that can be—although not what we envisioned—our truest and most authentic version.

Stressors, even major ones, do not have to compromise the good we can do in the world. The only way I’ve even glimpsed this reality is when I first open to the parts of self I’d rather reject, and secondly when others in my life have shown me compassion for the pain and suffering I’ve endured. It is a process to which I return on a sometimes daily basis. Finding nourishment in what feels like the breadcrumbs of life, thereby transforming them to plenty, requires time, social support and a mindset that welcomes one’s whole self.

How do you differentiate between bad luck and personal failing? Which characteristics of these stressors make them particularly challenging or easy to address? How do you cope with minor and major stressors?

Embodied Heart, Inner Work

Bog and Peak: Welcoming Mystery

“Perhaps we should reconsider the importance of swamps. They are the meeting place of earth and water, a liminal space between the surface, the conscious world, and the depth of the unconscious. When we dare to venture into the forbidden forest, the soft ground where waters are dark, or the house of the witch, we engage with adventures and learn more about ourselves.” Eila Carrico, The Other Side of the River, pg. 47.

Trauma survivors face many mysteries—making sense the specifics of their experiences, as well as relating to self and others when core beliefs have been shattered and determining what being “healed” really entails. For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I’ll be examining our response to the unknown. I recently shared a poem that I wrote which blossomed into this post.

I thought the purpose of inner work was evaporation; to remove all traces of murkiness from the bogs of my heart and memory, exposing all that I am to the light. But life holds mystery; pure awareness would bore us instantly. No, I think now life is the film on water surface, the pebble-lined shore bed, the dip between road and grass. Rising and sinking, knowing and unknowing, holding and releasing, body and soul. Dwelling in the space between reality and fantasy, solid and mist, sensation and perception, allowing form to pass into the formless and back again.

I widen myself to include the bits of me I do not know. I pull myself in around the same pieces when they make themselves manifest, forming a protective hedge. This cycle of movement births a mothering of inner trust.

When Self meets Other, magic ensues. The edge, teeming with activity, evolves, grows, dies back and reforms. Boundaries exist in nature but are not created or fixed. We can have confidence in ourselves, as we mature, to feel them from the tips of our fingers as we approach Other, rather than to erect them as solid steel fortresses into which none dare enter or to run rampant through any we meet.

Edges require invitation, both across and down. To know ourselves in the places where we are hidden, we must near the drop and stay our feet until eyes surface and request our presence. Forcing parts of self out into the piercing light is just as traumatic as shoving them into the algae. In connecting with Other, voice ringing over range reigns. Asking and receiving permission to sit with another, as well as calling ourselves away as we leave, signals to loved ones that their Self will not be overrun or abandoned by our Other.

We will never know ourselves or another wholly. To awaken is not to perceive, rather, it is to sense not only what the body experiences, but to lift eyes to the mountaintop—the periphery of Other—and the turbid waters—the depths of Self—and to hold in consciousness the awareness of Secrets. To the fullest extent possible, learning to vigil these Unknowns, table set and heart open, instead of demanding their presence or rejecting their existence, enlivens the edge and entrains its spirals and eddies to soften. What bubbles up, what casts down ladder, is both stranger and old friend.

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

Releasing the Narrative

Everything was planned out. Flying high in an aerial yoga class. Sporting a new haircut, shopping and hitting the town. Sacred ritual and intuitive creativity time. My vacation was going to be epic! About 48 hours into it, “disaster” hit in the form of a positive flu test. Based on the myriad of bodily dysfunction which ensued for the next week and counting, I can safely say I’ve never come down with the actual flu before. All the good times I was going to have, the stories I was going to write into my life experiences, had to be tossed or at least postponed into choppy, disjointed future moments. Building from this experience of having to rewrite the script, for today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I want to spend some time with the themes of how we narrate our lives, and, in doing so, will focus on telling the story as it is, rather than as it should have been or should be.

I feel confident, likely too confident, that I know the story I would like to tell of my life. The one that would wrap up the loose ends and redeem the broken parts of myself. I feel shame and a desire to hide though, when I start to consider the content of the real story. Not solely because of failures on my part, but also because the deep wounds of my childhood are still ragged and visible to anyone with an eye for such things. I am not healed and all is not forgiven. Justice has not been served.

What harm it does a person, when betrayal throws off any veneer of civility and cracks any illusion of someone being in charge. Especially when the soul-shattering betrayal comes first, not after a long string of snapshots filled with love and protection to build up one’s defenses. I knew from a very young age that no one was going to shield me from pain, and that terrible things happen in the dark.

The themes of my life—meagerness of love, betrayal, self-preservation and reinvention—seem to lend themselves to a never-ending cast of characters. I dig into a relationship, hopeful that it will meet my deeper needs. The inadequacy of it to do so eventually starts to make itself known in the majority of cases. In time, I choose myself over the relationship, and we are on to the next casting session. I will always choose myself in the end, because I have seen time and again the destruction that results from favoring the relationship over one’s wellbeing.

The parts of the chapters I want to highlight and foot-note and dog-ear are the ones where I don’t have to choose; the person with whom I’m in relationship and I are well-suited enough for both of our needs to be met to a substantial degree. For some reason, I continue to expect every new entry, each new buildup of an individual with whom I think there could be a connection, to be worthy of reading and re-reading. But life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes we spend years writing and crossing out the same few lines, thinking that if we just say it right or pause at the correct moment, it will flow perfectly, when in fact that particular association was never going to be worthy of more than a passing mention.

It seems easy in hindsight to want to edit, to go though and delete or redirect entire storylines, but the only way the story can ebb and flow and has any chance of building to a moral or crescendo or at least a worthy conclusion is to recount it as honestly and promptly as we can. In my case, I have fallen far short on this account. I denied the abuse I suffered for a few decades, burying it in the recesses of my mind while attempting to keep my family as a part of my lived experience. I always knew the story wasn’t a pleasant one, but the degree to which there were skeletons in the closet proved quite significant. And, at least at this point, I am the only one interested in cataloging the bones.

Many of my interactions hold this thread. Whether it is (on my part) intellectual arrogance or intuition or both, I tend to believe I can see right through most people I meet to perceive the cracks in the façade they present. The unpressed seam or askewed collar of their narrative glares at me, begging to be noticed. I then wish in earnest for them to tell the story as it actually is, not as their defenses would have it rehearsed, and feel like my efforts are wasted when they repetitively turn the same three pages they’ve convinced themselves are worth reading.

Denial of the nature I faced in my family and through which I had to pierce, once deflated, has proven intolerable. These are the people I want in my storyline—people who see themselves and their situation for what it is, and whose acceptance of it spurs them, as it does me, to both tell the truest story possible of their past and to write into being the most hopeful and evolved version of themselves. To what extent does the metaphor of a narrative connect with how you conceptualize your life experiences? Whose narrative are you proud to recite? What signs let you know someone belongs as a central character in your story? How do you respond with compassion to your own or other’s denial?