Process of Illumination

Thanks For Listening

Since last week’s post (“A Scapegoat Story”) I have had some truly illuminating feedback. 

It started with a direct comment I received on my blog page. I didn’t respond right away because I wasn’t sure I understood it and I wanted to get clear on what the reader was saying. I also wanted to be sure how I felt about receiving it. 

However, before I was even able to take the time to reflect on the comment, I began to get phone calls and messages from friends and acquaintances, each with their own unique response to my post. Some reached out because they were worried about the fact that I sounded so angry. Some shared how they related to what I wrote but wanted to know what they should do about it. Others went straight to offering me advice about how to deal with my anger so I didn’t have to feel it anymore.

Perhaps the most interesting response I got was this morning when I was having coffee with a close friend. When I began to tell her about the responses I had been getting, she shared that when she started to read my post she immediately thought I was talking about something she had done to upset me. 

I was so grateful to my friend for being aware of her feelings in response to my post and  for being honest with herself and vulnerable enough to share it with me. Her experience absolutely confirmed a phenomenon which I’ve been noticing all week, but I’ll share that with you further on…

After my last post, I’ve been paying attention to the “scapegoat” theme in my life and how I have been contributing to this dynamic in my close relationships. What I realized is that I have been victimizing myself in those interactions because the feeling of being blamed, whether I am at fault or not, causes me to relinquish all my power to whomever I feel is in judgement of me.

In other words, when I let myself “believe” what I’m being told… that it’s my “fault”… I lose my power to do anything about it. This sense of powerlessness only serves to reinforce my limiting belief that other people’s perceptions should trump my own. If they say I’m “wrong” it must be true and therefore I’m not “enough”. From this belief of not being “enough”, there is nowhere to go. No possibility of growth or repair.

The truth is, I fear judgement more than just about anything else.

This must be because I believe, on some level, that I’m “bad” and it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures it out and, when that happens, I’ll be abandoned for good. Therefore, to avoid judgement, I assume responsibility or accept the blame, hoping that it will be enough to redeem me and restore my connection with the other person. It also gives me a false sense of being in control of the dynamic… for a while, at least.

The problem with this is that is never lasts for long. The cycle continues because I still believe, deep down, that my needs and my feelings don’t matter as much as my kids’ or my partner’s.

Pretty bleak, I must say.

But what if I challenged that belief?

Of course, on a rational level, I know my feelings and my needs are completely valid and that I, as much as anyone else, am worthy of love and belonging. It’s the unconscious programming that I have to target. 

So, this week, part of that work has included a mindful exploration of how I’m feeling in certain situations and then having the courage to share my feelings and what I’m noticing, openly and honestly, with no defensive filter. At the same time, I’ve had to be careful not to take on the responsibility of what my doing so might trigger in others, and that’s where it gets tricky… and VERY interesting.

This played out on the weekend when I was having brunch with some people who are very close to me. Long story, short: We were having a lovely time until I decided that it was important for me to tell our server that I felt we should not have waited so long for our food (we had waited for about an hour). Because I have been accused, in the past, of being “high maintenance” at restaurants or “condescending” to servers when I have a complaint, I checked in with my companions about it first and everyone at the table agreed that it was a totally justified complaint. When I (politely) told the server, she seemed stricken and was very apologetic. She explained the problem was out of her control but still assumed full responsibility. She came back and said that one of our meals had been comped and I thanked her.

The thing is that, when she walked away, I felt horrible. At first, I thought is was probably shame about being out of line in some way but, as I sat and thought about what was causing my reaction, I realized that my feelings were not coming from an old wound or limiting belief but were actually justified and related to the present. What I was struggling with was that, even though she was our server and was the obvious person to complain to, she was not the cause of the problem we experienced with our food being late – it was the kitchen’s fault. It wasn’t fair that she should have to assume the responsibility. It didn’t sit well with me at all but I wasn’t sure what else to do. I had been polite. I tipped her well. Still, I was really uneasy about it.

I thought about it some more and decided I’d feel better if I shared my feelings with my companions about how it isn’t fair that patrons have to complain to servers directly about concerns that may have nothing to do with the server’s skills or demeanour.

What happened next was truly fascinating. 

As we began to discuss what happened, one of my companions became extremely agitated, to the point of shutting down the conversation altogether. It was clear that the topic of my feelings and the fact that there might be people at the next table listening to us express our strong views about the issue, was extremely triggering. The other people at the table began getting defensive and it began to escalate. Honestly, it was as if I was watching a movie, playing out the very theme that I had been considering so closely all weekend.

It was really uncomfortable. 

I managed to resist my default reaction to get involved and fix the situation and simply conveyed to them that nobody would be able to appreciate each others’ perspectives until everybody calmed down. That managed to diffuse the situation, and everybody stopped talking. It was like magic. Still, I felt I had to drop the topic for good and let it go, which meant that my idea of possibly going to speak to the manager to set things right, was not an option.

As we were walking out, the manager ran after us, asking if there was anything I wanted to share with her about the service. She had already comped my meal, but I was relieved that I could tell her that the server had been great and share what I thought the real problem had been. I also told her that I felt it was unfortunate that servers have to run interference for an area of the business that they have no control over. She understood and promised me she would let the server know that she had not done anything wrong.

I felt SO much better after that. 

So, here’s what I’ve noticed: 

  1. Something about me sharing my feelings regarding the restaurant issue while other people were in earshot caused one of my companions to become extremely uncomfortable and react by shutting the conversation down.
  2. The responses to the anger I expressed in my (“A Scapegoat Story”) post were mostly about fixing me and/or offering advice. On first glance, the advice would seem like a kind gesture in an effort to help but, I wasn’t asking for advice or to be fixed, so their decision to offer it is not about me.
  3. My post made a friend question herself about whether she had done something wrong, even though it was the absolute furthest thing from the truth.
  4. In the past, someone actually unsubscribed from my blog and sent me a note telling me that one of my posts was too negative and they just didn’t want to be in that energy.  I was hurt but I followed my own advice and learned from it. Overall, I supported her decision to choose what felt best for her.

Now that I’m able to step back and be objective, what becomes clear is simply this:

People are sometimes triggered by my feelings.

And, that’s not about me…. that is about them.

Now, before you begin to tell me, in your head, that I’m wrong or that what I’ve just said doesn’t apply to you, take a moment to check in. 

Seriously, humour me.

1) Did you read my “A Scapegoat Story” post?

If not, please do so here.

2) Did you have a reaction?

3) If so, what was it? (Be honest)

4) What did my anger make you feel?

5) How did my anger make you want to react?

And here’s the most interesting question:

6) WHY?

After all, my anger isn’t about you. (I guarantee it)

7) Take responsibility for what you felt.

8) Learn from it.

In truth, that’s all I was asking for in my angry post :)

Feeling true anger makes us extremely vulnerable. I’ve mentioned some of the unconscious beliefs and assumptions that I make which are connected to anger (mine and/or others’) and there’s not a person on this planet who doesn’t have a set of their own. What I want us all to explore is where those beliefs and assumptions came from and how we have chosen to cope with them.

If there’s one thing that takes the most courage for me to do it’s to let my anger be seen and expressed. 

Because I grew up witnessing the explosive anger and rage of others, I never really understood the importance of anger and certainly never learned about healthy anger. I just assumed that all anger was bad and had to be contained or eliminated. Like most people, I have the ability to explode in the moment to let off steam but, in the past, I was ashamed if it. Now that I have a better understanding of what anger can teach me I realize that suppressing healthy and productive anger will only lead to displaced anger, resentment and passive-aggressive behaviour. The fact that I sometimes feel as if I could explode with rage indicates that I have not been honouring my feelings or expressing my anger in a healthy way.

For me, to feel real, authentic anger, being mindful of it’s source and it’s triggers and expressing it so it can be heard and validated can be anything from frustrating to terrifying. Frustrating in the sense that others might need me to feel different than I do and therefore they try to “fix”, offer advice or outright shut me down. In the latter case, I want to withdraw from them because I don’t feel seen or heard at all. When I feel like I’ve left myself open to judgement and the subsequent abandonment it brings with it, that’s terrifying. I’m judged because I’m not calm enough, together enough, in control enough or rational enough or because I’m being “too” dramatic/selfish/unreasonable.

In both cases, I end up feeling alone because the other person isn’t able to hold the space for me in that moment. They’re triggered by my feelings and they aren’t skilled enough to put their own feelings aside, wait their turn and support me for as long as it takes for me to get things off my chest and feel better.

And, it does take skill. And it takes practice. But mostly, it requires us to care enough about the needs of the “other” to commit to learning and practicing these skills in the first place.

It’s not enough to simply have good intentions or to want a better relationship. We have to show up for that other person in ways that might feel uncomfortable, unfamiliar or downright difficult. We might have to put our own needs aside just long enough to let them know they matter enough to us to do so.

It’s not about fixing them or trying to improve them in any way so that we can feel better. In that moment, it’s about giving them what they need, not the other way around. 

The truth is, I felt better the moment after I wrote that post. I didn’t need fixing. I just needed to be heard and for my feelings to be validated. 

I appreciate the good intentions of others and, god knows, I’m guilty of doing all the things I’ve mentioned, but here’s the difference:

Now that I know better, I want to do better. 

We must realize that when one of us is being vulnerable enough to share their anger honestly (or any other feelings, for that matter) we must honour that and do our best to hold that space for them. It’s natural for us to feel triggered, and that is what this post is all about. It’s an effort to help us to be honest with ourselves about how other people’s feelings affect us and what we do to try and “manage” them.

Nobody wants to feel as if their feelings are being “managed”. 

It’s invalidating.

In fact, it’s insulting. 

And, if we love and respect someone, why would we ever want to do that in the first place?

Why would we risk alienating them and make it impossible for them to feel safe about being that vulnerable ever again?

Think about it.

And, thanks for listening.

Just before I go, I want to share a video that my son sent me today. I thought it was pretty well timed. It’s good to laugh about stuff and Will Ferrell is one of my all-time faves.  Apologies for the coarse language… 

And this was shared by a wonderful woman whom I had the pleasure of having in my recent  Self Love: The Daring Way™ workshop. It’s an inspiring spin on vulnerability and courage which we can all relate to: