Tuesday, June 28, 2016

There's good anger and bad anger. Here's how to tell them apart

"[Anger] diverts one’s thoughts from the real problem to something in the past that cannot be changed. It makes one think that progress will have been made if the betrayer suffers, when, in reality, this does nothing to solve the real problem. It eats up the personality..., it impedes useful introspection. It becomes its own project.... Far from being required in order to shore up one’s own self-respect, anger actually impedes the assertion of self-respect in worthwhile actions and a meaningful life.~Martha Nussbaum, philosopher 
Anger. To those of us following the news, it seems the world is fuelled by it. And why not? There's plenty to be angry about. An economy that, even with figures that show it improving, has left many behind. A rapidly shifting world that requires us to shift with it or wither. A news cycle that churns out many dozens of stories daily, each capable of inspiring outrage, from garden-variety mud-slinging among politicians to a recognition that the world holds little hope for so many displaced or forgotten or just unlucky people who, let's be honest, aren't so different from us. 
I've watched with helpless horror as anger has burned hotter in recent months. And I saw it again on another infidelity site that occasionally takes pot-shots at this one. And as I read comment after comment that gleefully detailed cheaters' various flaws and the lunacy of those of us willing to consider reconciliation (or, as I prefer, rebuilding, which is far more indicative of the hard work involved) as a viable post-infidelity path, I wondered, briefly, if I was the crazy one. Anger, after all, is so easy. There's righteousness in anger, beautifully articulated in that anthem of the betrayed, Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats". It would be a whole helluva lot of fun to kick the shit out of someone's "pretty little souped up four-wheel drive". It can feel good to unleash on the idiot who cheated on us, to catalogue the myriad ways in which he's a no-good loser that we unwittingly chose for, well, why exactly? No matter. We wipe our hands of him. Onward!
Anger can feel like power. And I've written before that it can be empowering. If anger is channelled to give you the strength to create boundaries for yourself, to refuse to be disrespected, to wake you up just how deeply you've lost yourself in a desire to be loved or secure, then that's a good thing.
Just don't confuse it with moving on.
As Nussbaum warns us, anger can become its own project. It can feel so intoxicating that we stoke it constantly. We tell our story, gathering fuel from others' outrage, over and over and over. I entirely support the desire and the need to tell our stories – it's how we process trauma and is crucial to our healing. It's just...at a certain point the hero of our story – us – needs to stop cataloguing the wrongs done to us, stop relishing the myriad ways in which karma is going to kick the wrongdoers' butts, and move into our own transformation. What happened to us is not the whole story. It can't be the whole story if we are to create a life in which we are not simply a victim. The thing with those who traffic in anger – the Trump-like authoritarians who need us to stay angry because their power is built on it – is that victimhood IS the story. There is no transformation. There is only me vs. him. Introspection? That's for idiots, the ones who think that reconciliation is possible. Far better to stay focussed on the crime. The easier to maintain our anger.
And yet, as Nussbaum says in characteristic understatement, introspection can be "useful". I would take it further and say that introspection is necessary. Not introspection as self-blame but introspection as in "what role did I play in keeping myself stuck?" Or "were there ways in which I betrayed myself?" Or "how do I create the life I want either with or without my partner?" You might find yourself angry with yourself because you can see the times you let yourself down, disrespected your own boundaries (or lacked them altogether), didn't keep yourself safe, ignored your intuition. That sort of anger can fuel a transformation in yourself. It can inspire you to fight for yourself more than for your marriage. It can lead to a declaration of self-respect and self-love even while working to acknowledge and address our own flaws. 
Its probably not nearly as fun as focussing your fury (and your baseball bat) on a cheater's truck. 
But far more likely to take us where we want to go. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wednesday Word Hug

"Only in the darkness can we see the stars."
~Martin  Luther King

Monday, June 13, 2016

Discovering Healing in Your Shadowlands

"Novelist Robertson Davies writes, "One always learns one's mystery at the price of one's innocence." The word innocent comes from the Latin for unwounded or not harmed. The innocent one hasn't yet learned from his or her wounds, and therefore doesn't know his or her full reality yet. Human life only develops in the shadowlands, never inside of pure light or total darkness."~Father Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

We hate the shadowlands. The shadowlands are where we are neither blissful nor so consumed by our pain that we can barely breathe. The shadowlands are where we wait, vigilant, in neither full darkness nor light. It's where we dwell when we're unsure about what happens next. When our wounds have stopped bleeding but have not yet formed a scab. 
But the shadowlands are also where healing can take root if we make our hearts fertile enough. If we keep them soft, if we orient them to whatever light is in our lives, if we treat them gently. If we wrap our hearts around our pain, loving ourselves fiercely, then healing will take root. The kind of healing that moves us into a different version of ourselves. The kind of healing that remembers innocence but no longer envies it. The kind of healing that remembers the wound but isn't hardened by it. The kind of healing that we can trust.
One of my favorite poems has always been William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I studied it intensely in school, going over it and over it, knowing there was a message there for me if only I could discern what it was.
It took me a couple of years and few academic papers to fully take in what that message meant for me: My childhood innocence, interrupted by my mother's alcoholism and mental illness, hadn't kept me safe. It was my response to the wound itself that transformed me. The experience I gained from moving through that pain, from healing it alongside my mother who dedicated herself to AA meetings until she could trust herself to BE my mother, was where I realized my full self. It was in those shadowlands where healing took root.
In no way am I celebrating childhood trauma, neglect or abuse. Nobody should have to experience trauma from the people trusted to keep us safe. And none of us should have to experience betrayal from the one who promised us fidelity and devotion. 
But not many of us escape this life without pain, often debilitating, agonizing, drop-to-our-knees agony. The heartbreak of those reeling from yesterday's tragedy in Orlando. The private heartbreak of countless others who've lost children, friends, partners, parents every single day. The pain of addiction, of mental health issues, of loneliness.
But I know that transformation is there for those who walk through this pain with hearts soft and fertile so healing can take root. In the shadowlands. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

And this... (on boundaries)

"If a reasonable boundary hurts a relationship then usually what that [means] is you're dealing with an unreasonable person."

(More wisdom from Dear Sugar podcast. Though the episode is on weddings, it's really all about boundaries)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Boundaries 2.0

This, my BWC warrior sisters, is hands down THE best description of boundaries and our society's trouble with them.
Some of you have been lamenting the fact that you have to set boundaries with your partners, noting that boundaries are for kids. Not true. Boundaries are for every one of us – as BrenĂ© Brown notes, they are no more and no less than simply expressing "what's okay and what's not okay."
I bow down to the Queen, Brené Brown.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Healing from Betrayal: How to Counter Counter-Moves

My daughter is frustrated. She has a friend who routinely suggests grabbing something to eat after school but who inevitably turns out to be broke and unable to pay for her part of the snack. 
A third friend, whose parents keep her well supplied with money, will usually step in and pay for friend #2. This drives my daughter, who works hard for her money, crazy. 
"She taking advantage of [Friend #3]," my daughter wails. "And it makes me look cheap when I won't also chip in to cover [Friend #2's] meal."
I try to remind my daughter that she can only control her own actions, not those of her friends. And to pay for a friend and then resent having to pay isn't respecting her own boundaries now is it really respecting the friendship. 
Thing is, my daughter has choices in this situation. She just doesn't like them. 
And who can blame her? Drawing that clear line around our boundaries is really uncomfortable. We want people to like us. We want people to think good things about us. 
Besides, counter-moves are almost inevitable whenever we make our boundaries clear.
Counter-moves are the responses we get from people who far prefer our boundaries to be fuzzy and easily manipulated.
We see them most transparently with kids. Think of the last time you told a child he/she couldn't do something – watch TV, have a cookie before dinner, stay up late. Did the child respond with, "I understand. And I appreciate you even considering my request."
Uh...don't think so.
More likely you heard something like "You're the meanest person in the world. Jeremy's mother lets him [fill-in-the-blank-here] any time he wants. I hate you." Or maybe you heard: "You're not the boss of me. I can do whatever I want." Or perhaps it was something like: "Fine. I don't care. I didn't want that anyway." There's usually some eye-rolling, or arm crossing, or stomping involved.
Depending on our own personalities and understanding of boundaries and counter-moves, we're likely to get hooked into one type of counter-move more than others. For me, it's anger. The minute someone in my family gets angry at me, I'm hooked and I'll match them holler for holler. 
With my kids, it became easier to see when they were delivering counter-moves. Sometimes they were quite hilarious, like the time my then-five-year-old daughter packed her bags to leave home because we had said "no" to something and she had no choice but to leave a home in which she wasn't treated well (ie. given whatever she wanted). We said we would miss her very much and that if she ever changed her mind and felt that she could live with our rules, then she was always welcome back. After testing our resolve, she harrumphed and went upstairs to unpack. 
The adults in our lives aren't always so transparent. 
Do any of these sound familiar?
"You're just like your mother."
"You only think of yourself."
"You're so controlling."
"You're acting crazy."
"Stop being jealous."
"Nothing makes you happy." 
Every single one of those statements is about getting you to back down. And they often work. The last thing we want is to sound like our mother. Or feel selfish. Or controlling. Or crazy. And so we insist that we're not doing that at all...are we? And in that instant, our boundaries get fuzzy. We soften things a bit. "It's just that, I can't sleep until I know you're home..." or "I just need to know that you're not in touch with her...." Those "just"s or "I only..."s weaken your boundaries. 
Barbara Coloroso, who's a parenting expert but whose advice works with anyone in our lives, calls these typical counter-moves "cons": 
Con 1 is weeping, wailing, begging, bribing, gnashing of teeth ("Please don't check my texts. I promise there's nothing there. You have to trust me. I would never ever hurt you again...") 
Con 2 is anger and aggression. ("How dare you check my phone! You violated my privacy. If you won't trust me then there's no point in staying married.")
Con 3 is sulking/pouting. ("Fine. Do whatever you want. I don't care....")
Cons are powerful. They hook us and, if we're not good boundary-enforcers, next thing we know, we've backed down. 
But when we back down, we poison the relationship with our own negative feelings. Resentment. Frustration. Anger. Hurt. Fear. 
We might have kept the peace for the moment but we've paid for it by contributing to the dysfunction.

What does this look like after betrayal? Well, let's continue with the example above – to have total transparency around your partner's phone or computer. We want passwords and access to all records and accounts. 

It would be lovely if our partner responds that he understands that this is part of rebuilding trust. Many, however, give us countermoves. You're never going to trust me again, are you? No matter what I do, you find fault with it. I can't win with you. 
Or: I refuse to live like a prisoner in my own home. I told you I wouldn't cheat again. I've learned my lesson. If you can't believe me, that's your problem.
Or: You need to just trust me. Let's put this in the past and move forward. It's unhealthy to keep hashing it out.
What's more, some of it is probably true. You likely are hard to please right now (uh, duh. Wonder why?). You are also doubting you'll ever trust him again. But that doesn't make the counter-moves less toxic. And it doesn't change the fact that you are making a reasonable request under the circumstances. You're making clear boundaries in order to respect yourself within the relationship. 
You can commiserate if you'd like ("I'm sure it does seem humiliating to have to show me your phone messages but I need to see them in order to silence my fears that you're still cheating on me."). You can murmur sympathetically that, "yes, it does seem as though I'm hard to please right now." But that doesn't change the fact that you're respecting yourself and what you need within the relationship.
Recognizing and responding to counter-moves gets easier with practice. 

I asked my daughter what might happen if she began to ask her always-broke friend if she had any money before agreeing with her to go out for food. My daughter admitted she'd feel really uncomfortable asking and that her friend might only hang out with the other friend who paid. Or she might tell people my daughter was a cheapskate. And then, before I could even respond, my daughter said, "I know, I know. Counter-moves."

At a certain point, when we consistently refuse to back down, the people in our lives realize that the counter-moves aren't going to work.
And they either stop...or find others with whom the unhealthy dance can continue.
Either way, we win. 


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