Is it you or is it me?

Do you ever walk away from a conversation feeling worse about yourself than you did before the conversation?

I do. Sometimes. When this happens I ask myself, “Was that them or was that me?” Was I being thinned skinned, as my mother told me I was or were they being superior, mean, passive aggressive?

Yesterday I reached out to a co-worker by asking her some “How are you questions?” I listened to her answers, nodding, laughing. I felt interested. I was getting her. Then she asked me a specific question about myself concerning an issue that was public enough  for her to know some details. As I responded, she interrupted with a moralistic sounding interjection. What I heard her saying was…if only I had thought like her I wouldn’t be in this jam.

“Wow I was stupid. I should have known this. She did. That’s because she is a better therapist than me.” My mind was racing.

I began to give her more details, hoping my explanations would explain my decisions.  I was grasping for her understanding. I was feeling increasingly pathetic. The more I told on myself the more I seemed to reinforce her “take” on my situation. I finally stopped talking. Defeated. I walked away not liking myself as much as I did before we engaged. I walked up the stairs to my office with heavy feet.

Since this was not my first I-am-inadequate rodeo, I knew what I needed to do. Over the years I have developed coping strategies for this kind-of-thing.

  1. I decide I never liked her anyway. I call on my best-junior-high-mean-girl to internally trash talk her. My adolescent self believes this will make me feel better.  It never does.
  2.  I decide I better get busy being a better, stronger, more successful version of myself. I’ll take a class. Read a book. Dress more sophisticatedly. Share less of my vulnerability. I usually just feel tired at the end of this option and take a nap.
  3. I eat some chocolate. I haven’t found a down side to this.
  4. I call a trusted friend to vent hoping they will agree that she is just not that nice. I love it when my smart, loyal, accomplished friend says, “Yeah I always thought that of her too. You poor thing. I think you are wonderful.” For a moment I feel victorious.
  5. I ask myself what got touched in me that I am reacting so strongly. This one is the hardest and the least fun…”Really? Do I have to look at myself again? Do I have to get honest about me? Damn!” Sometimes it helps do combine this one with #3.

So after quickly moving through #1, #2, skipping #3 & #4 — since I had no chocolate or time to call a friend — with a sigh I moved into #5.

I remembered the book The 4 Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. The 2nd agreement is Don’t Take Anything Personally. The premise is that what others say is more about them then me. That we all come from our own projections that are a result of our view of the world. The stories we make up.

This was comforting. I realized that my co-worker had her own reasons for commenting the way she did that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her experience. I no longer had to be angry at her or quickly read a self help book.

Not taking anything personally is liberating.

But, it may not be the finish line.

If the relationship is significant enough to me I realize I need to say something about how I felt as a result of what was said. Even though I am not taking it personally I may still feel bruised. So coping strategy #6 is talking to the person about how I felt when they said what they said. (I lied, this one is harder than #5.) It takes courage and trust in the relationship to be strong enough for vulnerable honesty.

Deciding when to speak up and when to let-it-go is a constant process of discernment.

Chocolate makes this easier…

 

 
waxseal2

 

 

 

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…

Each morning, on my “power walk” route, I pass an older gentleman, standing in the same spot, looking out over the city. Perhaps this is his morning ritual. Each morning he tells me I look beautiful as I trudge by him. Recently he added that my nails looked pretty too.

I dismiss these compliments somewhat automatically. Is he kidding? I’m sweaty. I haven’t washed my face. Or showered. I do not resemble the young women that pass me on the left in their color coordinated Lycra. I wear an old sweat shirt from the kids high school sports teams  — a politically incorrect Native American’s profile plastered on the front. I did recently buy some pretty snazzy sneakers though…although I don’t think they are called sneakers anymore.

I easily decide he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Today on my way back past him he added, “You look like a movie star.” I smiled. “Lily Tomlin, that’s it, you look like Lily Tomlin.”

Really?

Now…I think Lily Tomlin is funny as hell, but I don’t think she is pretty. I actually think she is a bit homely, in an Edith Ann kind-of way.

For as much as I thought I had disregarded his compliment, I noticed the impact his comparison had on me. My feet felt heavier.

Almost home, my front steps in the distance, I realized I had “done it again.” I had dismissed a compliment but readily believed a slight — even though I knew he hadn’t meant it as such. Why was being compared to someone I didn’t think was particularly attractive a perfect fit, while being told I looked pretty rolled off my back?

Do you do this?

I remember many years ago speaking at a conference for therapists. I was the last speaker on the last day of the conference. Not a great placement.

I did my talk. I saw heads nodding which I took as a good sign. People were a bit ansi to get on their way, but I thought I held their attention.

At the end of the presentation I read through the participants evaluations. They were filled with good to excellence scores and comments. Except for one person, who clearly HATED me and everything I said. She, I assume it was a ‘she’ from her floral penmanship, wrote that my presentation was not based in the real world of addictions, that my ideas were pompous and that I should park my Mercedes at the door.

Ouch. The air left my lungs.

“But I don’t own a Mercedes,” I countered to myself as I read her responses. “I once had a Oldsmobile Bravada but got rid of it because I felt pretentious driving it.” I wanted her to know this.

I drove home hunched over the wheel, replaying her assessment of me. Not one of other kind, positive, complimentary comments, from the other 100 evaluations, made it into my long term memory.

I was told as a kid, more often than I needed to hear, “Don’t get too big for Scanyour britches.” Or worse yet, “You’re getting to big for your britches.” I had been caught thinking well of myself. I had the audacity to consider myself, even for a moment, special, smart, funny, or cute. If my mom got the faintest whiff of my ego’s presence she would escort it quickly out of the room.

I didn’t learn to believe well of myself.

My mentor in grad school told me that 50% of the people were always going to like me and 50% would not. He suggested, for me to have a happy life, I might want to stand with the 50% that liked me.

Huh. Novel idea in my world. What if I did?

So I will take the compliment. I chose to believe I look pretty — just like Lily Tomlin. My nails look pretty too. Not bad for a Thursday morning. I will take all the positive comments that come my way until I begin to believe them.

It takes 7 compliments to undo 1 criticism.

But whose counting?

XO

waxseal2

 

 

 

I confess…

…after being called out on it…

…that  last weeks re-post of my first 2010 post was a lame attempt to seem engaged when Iimageswasn’t. It was also kindly brought to my attention that I was still celebrating my 100th post at post # 102.

Can’t blame a gal for trying…

So here’s the truth.

I confess…I had nothin’ to say. NOTHIN’.  I had paid attention all week to events that occurred and nothing captured my attention or  my heart. Nothing stirred me. So I wrote about going to dinner with another couple and how I didn’t enjoy myself. The spin I took in the 600 word masterpiece was how it was me I didn’t enjoy. Not them. I was astutely noticing that when I say, I didn’t enjoy myself, I often make it about the other, when it is really me that was being a poop. I spent 2 ½ hours Sunday morning, using my evolved hunt and peck typing skills to write this brilliant piece. At 2 hours and 45minutes I reread it and said, “Who gives a crap?”

I was tired of myself. I felt self absorbed and whiny. I was impersonating someone who had something of importance to say. Like I said earlier, I had nothing.

So I reposted.

Secondly, I confess…about a month ago I had a stalker. He contacted me through Facebook, snail mail, phone, Psychology Today and finally here, my precious blog, where I bare myself to you. Where I use names and places of my dear ones. Did you notice in the post, I just went for a salad and got a life lesson, I didn’t say what grocery store I was in? That was purposeful. I was scared. I didn’t want him knowing where I shop.

Since then he has been caught, reprimanded and has stopped contacting me. But, my hesitancy — about what this means to my blog and how should I proceed — has not been resolved inside of me. Perhaps I was naive to think I could put myself into the cyber world and not have something creepy happen. My sense of good will and safety has been shaken. Now, instead of thinking about each of you as I write, I have to push him out of my head.

My therapist reminded me how much I love to write. He also helped me to remember what this blog means to me. He encouraged me to persevere, to not to give up what I love out of fear. I love him.

Finally, I confess…I wonder if anyone out there is reading this? Some of you tell me how much you enjoy being Boswell — which very honestly keeps me writing, but as you can see there are no comments. I started bB to have conversation. Some of you may remember Conversation Cafe where Jodi and I, for 2 years, made space for women to gather and talk about heart felt issues. That was a very special event for us and for the woman that attended. I hoped bB would invite conversation too.

So the truth is, I want/need something from you. Talk to me. Talk to each other. Make this your place too. I’m feeling lonely out here all by myself…

Also, tell a your friends about bB. Send them links to your favorite posts. I have been working to build readership by figuring out SEO’s (search engine optimization), increasing FB page likes and daily tweeting. This exhausts me and my head feels like it is going to explode. Recently, when I was close to detonation, a left brained man suggested I stop all that and use word of mouth. My energy returned and my head remained on my shoulders. I never wanted to do all the shenanigans and contortions the blog world requires. I just wanted to write for you, and for me.

So would you help me build my readership? Please?

That is my confession. I never quite understood the value of my Catholic friends going to confession, but I think I understand now. I feel better after having leveled with you.

Thanks for listening. Would love to hear from you : )

 

 
waxseal2

 

 

 

An unanswered question

This weeks assignment was to write about something unresolved in my life. It had to have urgency and tension.

Tom suggested I post something “light” this week as my last two posts have been “heavy”. I didn’t know if I agreed with him or not, but in the end decided to share my “dark” assignment because I worked so fucking hard on it. And I’m all worn out…

So here it is…the saga continues…

I recoil at the question that invades my day. I close my eyes willing it away, but it inevitably returns, like a puppy undeterred by my avoidance to get the attention it needs.  I have wrestled all my life with my need to belong to my family. The reality is that no matter what role I play to please, I just don’t fit. So if I don’t make the trek home when mom dies, I will be cast as the deserter. But going could be emotional suicide.

The last time I made the journey east across the Delaware was for the dual purposes of following my brother Rob’s edict to sell the family home and to visit mom in the assisted living facility he unilaterally decided to move her into. My plan was to meet with the realtor, visit mom, take her to lunch, drive her around the neighborhood she grew up in, then head west-putting a safe distance between me and my only sibling. I intended to slip in and out of NJ, under my brother’s radar, like a CIA Ninja.

The realtor was referred to me by Andy, my hairdresser and recently licensed real estate agent. He said he had asked for someone that would sell for a long distant client and wasn’t afraid of family ghosts. Debbie Leigh, about my age, with a slight NJ accent and a warm smile, took the job.

Debbie liked the house and was excited she was to sell it. She seemed unfazed as I filled in some of the family dynamics. As we sat in the living room, still full with the furniture of my childhood, Rob, unsuspectedly, blew in through the front door. His puffed up chest, reddened face and clipped speech stopped us in mid sentence. The air was sucked out of my lungs-like a baby in a wind storm. I smelled danger. I wondered how he knew we were there, at that specific time, on that particular weekend. What tracking devise did he have? My paranoia rose in direct proportions to his hostility.

He announced to the room that he had rented the house beginning next month…so selling it would not be an option. I was absolutely silent and my body was still. I learned at an early age that if he doesn’t see me, he will leave me alone. Debbie spoke through the tension, like an experienced family therapist, offering a dual plan of renting while showing the house.

Later, when Rob found me alone, searching for my misplaced sunglasses and car keys, he insisted I knew he had rented the house and went on to conclude I was trying to undermine his plans. I told him I didn’t know. This only infuriated him more. The poison in his voice turned my legs to jello and the saliva left my mouth.

I headed toward my car begging my legs to carry me. As I crossed the lawn I got a whiff of freshly cut grass despite the snow covered ground, an olfactory reminder of a childhood memory. Adolescent Rob shoving grass clippings into my elementary school shirt and pants. I remembered how he would wrestle me to the ground, pin my arms with his legs and sit heavily on my rib cage. I couldn’t breathe or move, then. I was determined to save myself now.

I reached the car. As I opened the car door I felt my right shoulder spasm. My body reminded me of the many times my arm was pulled back behind my back, yanking my hand to the opposite shoulder blade, until I fell to my knees. He wanted to hear me say, Uncle. I always did. I hated him for hurting me so badly. I hated myself for surrendering to the pain.

He didn’t start out mean, at least I don’t think he did. He just didn’t want a sibling. When mom was still in the hospital, after my birth, she called Rob. He was staying with her mother, our grandmother. Rob tearfully asked mom if she had had a baby. My new mom told her almost 4 year old, No. That response sealed my fate and secured her lack of protection of me. He hated me and distrusted her, and I never felt wanted by, or safe with, either of them. I was a kid on a hot tin roof.

I have little defense against his life long bullying, despite the years of therapy I have spent on it. I inevitably end up bloodied and self recriminating for putting myself in harms way, again. So I ask myself, what if I didn’t go to mom’s funeral? What if I stayed where I am safe, finally refusing to cross the state line? Mom and Rob have not been an integral part of my life for well over 30 years. I designed it that way and they didn’t seem to notice. So in an ‘everyday way’ I will not miss mom after she passes. I will not hear myself say, “Oh I should call and tell mom this,” or “ I’ll talk to mom, she’ll understand.”

But deep inside, behind my belly button where we were once joined,  there is a little girl who will still be looking for her mom. When mom dies so does my hope of finding her.

With Love,
waxseal2

 

 

 

Bubble Poppers

I met a woman at a party last night. We were introduced because we were both therapists. Well, actually, she is a clinical psychologist. A differentiation that seemed quite important to her as she corrected several people that lumped up together as therapists. We all stood corrected.

We were also introduced because we both have entrepreneurial minds that invent interesting projects and business’s.

So I told her about my blog. I confided my hope to be named one of the top 100 women bloggers. I divulged my book ideas. She listened with seeming interest. She is, after all, a therap….psychologist.

When I was finished spilling my guts she began to point out how ridiculous my ideas were. She did, she really did! I was expecting…sounds like you have really big plans. How does that make you feel? I’m curious about…You know, the useful things therapists say. Instead, in her best patronizing voice she asked if I knew how many bloggers there are in the world trying to do the same thing? How the chances of my making any money through my writing was absurd.

If they hadn’t run out of beer I would excused myself to get a bottle.

My spiritual teacher, Christine Page, talks about Bubble Poppers. People that deflate the dreams of another. There are many explanations of why someone does this.

*A motherly attempt to keep someone safe from a harm they may not foresee-I confess I am guilty of this with my kids.

*A perceived threat to the bubble poppers ego-ugh, I have done this too.

*Meanness-I hope I haven’t done this.

*A belief they (the bubble popper) know what is RIGHT and TRUE. I think my psychologist not-friend falls into this category.

As we left the party I told Tom what had been said. He offered go beat her up.

Instead I said something that surprised me. Has this ever happen to you? You hear yourself say something so profound that you wonder where or who it came from. I said to Tom with a certainty I didn’t feel moments earlier, “I think the universe is testing me. It/She is trying to see how committed I am to my dreams. I have to know if I can hold my self in the face of a wind storm(bag)?”

Who said that?