Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year, A New Beginning

I love New Years! It is my favorite holiday. I thrive in the festivities, I love staying up until midnight and counting down to the next year, I love that there is football the entire next day.........many of the things that bring me joy are wrapped up into this holiday. I think what I like the most is that it has, since I was a little girl, brought my attention inward and forward. I am into new beginnings and reflecting on where one is. And, wouldn't you know, I end up in a profession that is about new beginnings, reflection, change, and reflecting upon where one is and where one is moving towards.

Change is an interesting thing though. It seems to me that humans think it is easy when it is someone else that is working on change, and we bump up against how difficult it is when it is our own process. Someone announces they want to start exercising and their helpful support system tells them, "Well, just go to the gym." That word just, like it is just about getting in the car and driving to the gym. It seems like it should be, right? That change is about deciding to do something differently and then creating actions to bring about the desired result. If you look around, the evidence is staggering that this is just not that easy!

I love my job because I get to see people change all of the time! I love that sometimes I can see it coming, but that other times, I get to be fascinated by the timing and the circumstances of the shifts when they happen. Sometimes it is about deciding, but time and again the shift seems to come from deeper within and has an emotional component. The thinking part is the last to know but often gets the credit! It often seems to come from accepting (the kind that comes without judgment) where and who one is, warts and all, that allows one to finally shift out of the pattern, the behavior, the perspective, the relationship, the job, the pain.

Change cannot come about without walking through, and with, the fear. No way around that one. If you want the deep, loving relationship you have to confront the fear of loss and abandonment. If you want the new adventure, career, education, you have to confront the fear of failure or, more often, of success. By the way, if you try to "kill" your fear, it will only make it stronger. Countries have played that one out since the beginning of time.

So, as you count down to 2010, reflect on where you are and meet yourself there with compassionate acceptance. From that place, what awaits will unfold.

Blessings to all in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Some Things My Job Has Taught Me, Part 2

It is exciting that, with this blog, "Some Things My Job Has Taught Me" will officially be a series! As I have commented, I do often say to my clients, "Well, one thing my job has taught me.....". It is true for me that there is a difference between reading something in a book and seeing it play out over and over in your life and the lives of others. This leads me to tell you another thing my job has taught me........

Boundaries are the key to happiness!

Okay, maybe a bit overstated, but, well, not by a whole lot. I often see poor boundaries being at the foundation of anxiety, depression, and difficult interpersonal relationships and when my clients take steps to improve their boundaries, often the results are transformative. Truly. I have also experienced this in my own life. Sometimes defining and honoring our own boundaries can be very painful emotionally, the decisions aren't easy and the aftermath can be tough. But they realign us with our value system, the path best for us, and set life in motion in a different and better direction. One can look back months and years later and see how changing one boundary from unhealthy to healthy changed the course of their life for the better. It is often a leap of faith at the time, as this change is often counterintuitive or emotionally upsetting, or, when they are real doozies, both!

So what are boundaries? Hard to put into a nutshell. Boundaries are how we define ourselves and they are a way we take care of and protect ourselves. Boundaries can be relational, physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. Too much to go into here (I think I might need Part 2 of Part 2).........

Have you ever asked someone for something and had them say "yes" only to have them later, by their action tell you that their answer was actually "no." Ever done it yourself? The truth is we cannot be honest (a basic requirement for a healthy relationship) and be a people pleaser at the same time! If you "can't say no", you are not living an authentic life and you are not able to live with honesty and integrity. Sorry, it is a brutal truth. Now, I know, many of you have been taught that self-sacrifice is supreme and that you are "selfish" if you say "no." Self-sacrifice is a beautiful thing. But it is only genuine when it flows from one's value system and true calling, when it is about avoiding anxiety and worrying about hurting others feelings it IS self-serving and selfish, just hiding under the facade of "doing for others." The price is exhaustion and resentment. Boundaries are about defining for ourselves what we value and adjusting our priorities accordingly. But, first, if you do not value yourself you will have your priorities off and all will be out of balance. Those who take time to sleep, relax, enjoy a hobby, pray, exercise, maintain friendships, eat healthy, maintain finances, and deal with their emotions as they come up have more to give others (yes, including children), their vocations, their causes, and their faith, not less. Told you that it was counterintuitive!

The previous paragraph was mostly about relational boundaries and how we spend our time, critical aspects of healthy boundaries. I now want to briefly touch on emotional boundaries. Emotions are not good or bad, they just are. Emotional boundaries are about recognizing, honoring, and expressing in a healthy way our emotions and allowing others to do the same. One of the common manifestations of unhealthy emotional boundaries is when somebody feels the feelings of somebody else, for example sadness, because the don't have a strong enough boundary in place. They don't like feeling sad and they often also feel quite anxious because of the powerlessness they feel, so then they result to unhealthy caretaking of that person to fix their sadness, and in turn, their own. It is a great anxiety reducer and becomes addicting (this is when it crosses over to codependency). Lets face it, we keep doing unhealthy behaviors because they often work in the short run. Unfortunately this fixing comes at a very high price and it always destructive to the relationship. The flip side of this coin is feeling numb when someone else is in distress. Sometimes one compensates for a leaky emotional boundary by putting up a wall.

The balance between the two is empathy. Empathy comes from knowing ourselves and spending conscious time in our own emotional worlds and experiencing acceptance of all of the emotions in our emotional range. Then when people in our lives are feeling something, we tap into our own experience and can therefore "get it." We can hold the space for them and allow them to go through it in their own way because we can tolerate our own experience of that emotion. It is very freeing to not have to fix other peoples feelings and personal relationships thrive when caring, healthy boundaries are in place.

If this blog resonates with you, try something this week:

Whenever you feel distressed (anxious, hurt, angry, resentful) take a minute to have a conversation with yourself. Ask yourself, "What about this situation is creating this distress in me?, Am I feeling any other feelings? What in this situation, if it changed, would eliminate or reduce my distress? If I were feeling courageous, what action could I take to bring that about? Just observe, just listen. The first step to working on boundaries is becoming conscious.

Here is an inspiring quote for the road:

"When you are doing what is right for you, it's okay to say it once, simply, and then refuse to discuss anything further"-Toby Rice Drews